Emerald, Queensland is situated on the intersection of the Capricorn Highway and the Gregory Highway section of the Great Inland Way. One of the largest towns on the Central Highlands, Emerald is the regional centre and thriving hub for many government facilities including council, education, and health and industries including mining, beef cattle, cotton, cropping, sunflowers, gemstones, tourism and citrus. With so much activity going on, there is always something to see and do around the town.
Emerald is a large, friendly country town that was established in 1879 as a base for the building of the western railway. Although the famous Sapphire Gemfields are situated close by, Emerald was named after the lush green pastures on ‘Emerald Downs’, a property settled by early pioneers just north of town.
In 1972, the construction of Fairbairn Dam and the Emerald Irrigation Scheme allowed for the significant development and expansion of agriculture across the region. Located 25 kilometres southwest of Emerald, almost on top of the Tropic of Capricorn, the dam was built across the Nogoa River, to create Lake Maraboon, Queensland’s second largest lake. At capacity, Fairbairn Dam can hold up to 5 times the water in the Sydney Harbour, and is a favourite spot for skiing, boating, and fishing. The lake is stocked with several kinds of fish, including barramundi, perch, bass, saratoga and red claw crayfish.
The primary purpose of Fairbairn Dam is for irrigation, with farmers supplied with water for cotton, citrus and other horticulture operations. The construction of the dam also assisted the development of the large-scale coal mining within the Bowen Basin, which today produces around 80 per cent of Queensland’s total coal exports.
Further down on the banks of the Nogoa River are the Emerald Botanical Gardens, which are a ‘must-see’ on any visitor’s list. Situated on both sides of the river, the 42 hectares of gardens include a rose garden, maze, wedding chapel, sculptures, rainforest, and 6 kilometres of walking tracks leading to different plant communities.
After admiring the different species of plants in the Botanic Gardens, check out the ‘big sunflower’. Building on its reputation as a major sunflower producer, Emerald is now home to the world’s biggest Van Gogh sunflower painting on an easel located in Morton Park. The superstructure is 25 metres high with approximately 13.6 tonnes of steel involved in its construction.
Adjacent you’ll find the ‘straw bale’ Visitor Information Centre where the friendly staff can provide information on exploring Emerald and the surrounding Central Highlands.
There are great photo opportunities down the street at the National Trust listed Railway Station. Built in 1900 and restored in 1986, the building has elaborate wrought iron lacework and pillared portico.
For more history, head into the Centre of Town and to view the ancient fossilised tree at the Town Hall aged 250 million years. Discovered in 1979 when a new railway bridge was being built across the Mackenzie River, it was presented to the town by BHP, who operated the Gregory Crinum Mine.
Emerald is the perfect place to stay and explore or base yourself while you experience the rich diversity of the Central Highlands, Queensland region.