Baralaba

Baralaba’s past and present are difficult to separate.  Throughout its story natural features such as the Mountain, the Bottle Tree and the River influence the industries of agriculture and mining which have been the town’s mainstay since its beginnings.  Swings in its economy have alternated with droughts, floods, depression, and strikes.  Yet the tough times have helped Baralaba develop a resilience and means of coping with adversity.  Working together has kept stability in the town and district and maintained the old values and friendliness offered to all comers.

The story starts to unfold as you approach the iconic Mt Ramsay, for which the town is officially named.  The mountain’s appearance varies depending on which direction and time of day you approach it.  Most times it appears to be a combination of mottled green and brown, but there are times when it can be a deep blue colour.  Both the size and colour give rise to the aboriginal meanings for the town name, the official one being ‘High Mountain’ and another being ‘Land of the Blue Mountain’.

ABORIGINAL INHABITANTS who lived and hunted closest to the eventual site of Baralaba came from the possibly four Aboriginal tribes in the area of the Banana Shire.   The Gangulu and Wadja people still had camps based along the DawsonRiver until the late 1920’s with remains of their stencil art work still to be found in caves on the western bank of the River.

EUROPEAN SETTLERS gave another possible meaning for Baralaba’s name which many locals swear by – ‘Bottle Tree’.  This is an obvious reference to the many bottle trees still remaining in the district from a time when the mainly English and Scottish pastoralists took up runs in the 1860’s. Much of the land succumbed to the prickly pear scourge of the 1920’s before it was eradicated by the cactoblastis moths.

Baralaba Cattle

CLOSER SETTLEMENT began in the 1930’s with the cutting up of these large holdings.  Land was made available to would-be farmers who drew blocks of land they had never seen and then attempted to make a living from dry-land cotton and dairying.  These same properties around Baralaba now run beef cattle on land cleared for the large scale grain production of the 1960’s and 70’s.

KOKOTUNGO AND KOOEMBA are the unusual names you might still come across as you approach the town.  ‘Koko’ began its short life as a satellite town in the 1930’s development while Kooemba’s huge grain storage sheds still stand as an empty monument to the years of grain production which sustained Baralaba following the closure of its coal mine.  As former railway sidings both these places no longer exist.

BARALABA RAILWAY STATION started life in 1917 but no longer exists any more than its other railway sidings of Kalewa, Wonbindi and Bindaree.  Closure of the Baralaba railway line in 1987 came after some years of government ‘mothballing’ due to its uneconomic performance.

DAWSON VALLEY COLLIERY was one of the two underground coal mines which brought about the railway connection with Mt Morgan. While the short lived State Mine was completely wiped out by inundation from the 1928 flood of theDawsonRiver, the Dawson Valley Colliery endured and prospered until its final closure in 1969.

You can view what remains of the Dawson Valley Colliery at the end of Morgan Streeton the northern edge of the town.  This site was Heritage Listed in 2010 following a series of meetings hosted by Baralaba and District Historical Group Inc.  It is classed as a significant mining site with its ‘benign decay’ representing an important segment of our past.  Present owners of the site acknowledge the considerable safety and security issues that come with its need for preservation.

DAWSON RIVER BRIDGE AT BARALABA is also at the northern end of the town so you have your chance to see history in the making. No longer must you wonder if flooding has cut the low-level timber and concrete bridge built in the 1930’s, as there will be a new super-structure in 2012 which will allow crossing in all but a major flood.  Funding for this bridge ensures convenience for residents and travellers and has been a major commitment by owners of the open cut coal mine on the western banks of the River.

BARALABA COAL PTY LTD restarted Baralaba’s coal mining history in 2005. The open pit operation mines PCI and thermal coal which is transported by road train to Moura and then railed toGladstone for export toJapan,Korea andChina.  Owners are currently JFE Shoji Trade Corporation and Cockatoo Coal Limited.

NEVILLE HEWITT WEIR was completed in 1976 and has totally changed the uses of the River.

For practical purposes the Weir supplies water for the town, for properties on the local Benleith Water Scheme, for the Baralaba Golf Club, and for the town ofWoorabinda. Properties access irrigation for hay and grain crops and cotton production, while there has also been some diversification into fruit and vegetable farming.

Additionally it has opened up an area at the southern end of the town as a wonderful recreation playground which covers swimming, fishing, camping, skiing and boating.  There is a concrete boat ramp and a well-established picnic area, with toilets, showers and barbecues.  During the cooler months of the year, many southern ‘grey nomads’ make good use of the camping facilities and become involved in town social activities.

Baralaba

STOPFORD STREET has businesses and homes dating back to the 1930’s, and gives an insight into the life and times of early Baralaba:

  • The Baralaba Hotel has had many owners and facelifts since the late 1920’s while continuing to provide locals and visitors with typical country hospitality.
  • Major’s store has operated since 1944 as a multi-functional facility, and now also provides banking and an ATM.
  • The police station now operates from a ‘newer’ 1970’s building at the northern end of the street with officer accommodation still in the original building established in the early 1920’s.
  • At the southern extreme of the street is a modern Multi-purpose Health Centre which, in 2011, replaced the former Cottage Hospital built in 1927.  Attached to the Centre is a private doctor’s clinic and pharmacy, along with a heli-pad for emergency patient evacuations.  Additionally, about four kilometres outside of town, there is an all-weather thousand metre airstrip for medical emergencies.
  • Essential businesses such as the Post Office, a newsagency, garages, café-style stores exist alongside the local ambulance and fire stations.  All of these have undergone refurbishment in some way over the years but still maintain their historic identity.
  • The Landcare centre on the corner of Stopford and Ashfield Streets is a one-stop shop for information and internet access, as well as being the home base for the Baralaba Art Group with art work being on display and for sale.  Also based here is the Baralaba and District Historical Group Inc which has a large digitised collection of photographs as well as printed displays of Baralaba and District.

THE HISTORICAL VILLAGE is situated away from the town centre on what was formerly railway land. It is privately owned and open to the public by appointment.  Early homes of former residents of the town have been moved on site and are equipped to show what life was like in the early days of Baralaba

BARALABA COMMUNITY AGED CARE in Wooroonah Road caters for the health and wellbeing of Baralaba’s senior citizens with its service supporting frail aged and younger disabled people in the community.  The four-unit complex and offices are set in spacious grounds with delightful well-maintained gardens.

SPORTING CLUBS AND FACILITIES for netball, golf, lawn bowls, cricket and tennis abound in Baralaba as do the players.  In fact some people may consider that the most noteworthy recent export from Baralaba has been the Australian Rugby League player, Jason Hetherington.   His journey started as a schoolboy on the hard and prickle-ridden local football field.

Rough-rider Alwyn Torenbeek achieved international fame which may have been nurtured on a similar paddock but a few decades earlier.  His expertise was gained at early shows and rodeos at the Baralaba Showgrounds where the annual Campdrafts now draw competitors from throughout the country.

Another major event on the sporting and social calendar is the Saratoga Fishing Classic held over two days in September/October.  The local fishstocking group uses profits from this event to purchase fingerlings for the weir area of theDawson.