History of the Capricorn Coast
The Ross Family
By 1861, European settlers had claimed most of the land around Raspberry Creek, near Byfield, and Cawarral in the coastal hinterlands east of Rockhampton.
In 1865, the Ross family reached the coast and staked out large tracts of land. Andrew Ross and his sons, Robert and James soon owned most of the seafront land from Byfield to the Fitzroy River, an area that nowadays constitutes most of the Capricorn Coast.
Robert Ross, who would go on to both fame and infamy, set himself up at present-day Taranganba. He set aside a reserve a few kilometres north and named it Bald Hills. In 1867, the town reserve was surveyed then proclaimed as suitable for settlement.
The Government Surveyor reported the site as, “Yapoon, a spot northward of Emu Park about nine miles, was most suitable as a watering place”.
The name, especially given its definition, is believed to have come from the Darumbal people, the indigenous tribe local to the region. Indeed, on the western fringe of Rockhampton City, an expansive wetlands system was named Yeppen-Yeppen Lagoon. On that basis, the etymology of the two districts is generally believed to be the same.
For the sake of completeness, another theory for the naming was recounted in the Morning Bulletin some sixty years later in 1923, that Yeppoon gained its name from an Aboriginal word meaning thunder, or the roar of surf, or a very loud noise.
With the release of land in 1867, initial settlement was slow. Though intended to become a township, the region’s rich soils attracted farmers rather than townspeople.
By 1882, only seven buildings existed in the settlement at Yeppoon and were predominantly holiday accommodation for travellers.
This changed the following year with the commencement of regular stagecoach services from Rockhampton, and the continued mining of copper and gold in the coastal hinterlands around Cawarral and Mount Chalmers.
A Growing Community
By 1889, the town was growing steadily, and boasted several hotels and boarding houses, a sugar mill, a telegraph service, a Methodist-Presbyterian church, and Yeppoon’s first state school which is today a heritage listed building.
With primary production the lifeblood of the town, better transportation was needed, not only to Rockhampton but along the coast as well.
Bullock trains were proving unwieldy, especially when passage to the north of town meant waiting for the tide to go out, so in 1893, a new road was hewn into the cliff-face of The Bluff on Yeppoon’s Main Beach.
Steam wagons followed and the north of Yeppoon opened up to new commerce and communities.
Even at this early stage of Capricorn Coast history, Emu Park and Yeppoon shared an odd rivalry, with Emu Park attracting the more elite section of Rockhampton and Mount Morgan society, while the “common man”, especially gold miners from Cawarral and Mount Chalmers gravitated towards Yeppoon.
With Emu Park separated from Yeppoon by the expansive Causeway Lake and the shifting dunes of Kinka, that sense of separateness between the two seaside towns continued for another fifty years until a permanent tide-proof causeway was finally constructed to join the two ends of the coast.
That separate history however, allowed Emu Park and Yeppoon to develop distinct personalities that are still apparent today.
Emu Park’s beautiful public places and grand old buildings are evidence of a very rich history and the wealth bestowed upon it by its patrons.
The rail line also made access easier to Keppel Sands, at least for half of the journey, with a siding located at Tungamull.
From there, the fifteen kilometre trek to Sand Hills (renamed Keppel Sands in 1927), was fraught with peril, not least of which was the permanent wetlands that effectively made the town an island. Monsoonal rains could isolate Keppel Sands for several weeks.
It was because of this inaccessibility that Keppel Sands failed to grow at the same pace as its sister towns across Coorooman Creek, but nonetheless a pioneering spirit from local residents saw the township prevail. In 1893, the Sand Hills State School opened.
Six kilometres south of Keppel Sands yet even more inaccessible, Joskeleigh was settled by pastoralists around the same time.
The first of these was Paul Alexander Joske and his wife Leigh for whom the district is named.
Keppel Sands and Joskeleigh are linked due to their mutual isolation but also because of their closeknit and somewhat disturbing history.
To the present day, Joskeleigh remains a testament to times that many white Australians might prefer to forget, as it is home to one of Australia’s most prominent South Sea Island communities; descendants of peoples blackbirded from their native homes to work as indentured labourers in the sugar and tobacco plantations of the day.
The late 1850s ushered in a feverish period of growth and expansion with the fast-growing town of Rockhampton at its centre. Gold finds at Canoona brought prospectors who hoped to make their fortune. Pastoralists came in vast numbers too, their eyes on settlement of the lush grazing delta surrounding the Fitzroy River to feed the growing population.
By 1860, farms and settlements were spreading out along the coastal flats and dunes, while in the hinterlands, prospectors panned for gold.
The gold rush lasted for fifty years, and with it came the railway, new towns, and a diverse mix of people from all corners of the globe.
Some made their fortune while others perished, and others still were caught up in infamous scandal. Reports of gold finds in the central interior of the Capricorn Coast began around 1860 at Mount Chalmers.
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Andrew Thompson, editor | historian