In 1952, the Queensland Government approved construction of a dam on the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland. It was the first dam built in Queensland solely for irrigation, and to this day it remains one of the region’s biggest infrastructure projects. It took six years to complete and cost 12 million dollars. The Tinaroo Falls Dam supplied much-needed water to the region’s tobacco farmers – not all of whom could otherwise count on receiving some of the 1300mm average annual rainfall. Irrigation channels were built to carry water from the dam to what became known as the Mareeba-Dimbulah irrigation area.
These days, the dam area is generally known as Lake Tinaroo, a popular spot for fishing, boating, camping and outdoor recreation. It supplies about 200,000 megalitres of water to the irrigation scheme, supporting a great diversity of crops, except the one it was built for – the FNQ tobacco industry is no more.
The dam holds a volume of water roughly 75% of that contained in Sydney Harbour, behind a wall that stands 45 metres high. It was a massive construction project that required a lot of workers – and they lived in a purpose built town near the construction site. It was the first of its kind in Australia – a temporary township with barracks to house hundreds of men.
There were social halls, shops, buildings for police and fire brigade. They even had a very active amateur theatre group. None of it is there anymore – when the dam was finished, the town was taken apart and moved away. Some of the buildings were relocated around the Tablelands, to be used as sheds on local farms. There was nothing left to give any hint the area had once been a vibrant community.
That’s about to change. Signs telling the story of this long-ago town and the people who lived there are about to be unveiled on the Lake Tinaroo foreshore. Staff at the Tablelands Regional Council library used a community heritage grant to create the project Tinaroo – Traces of the Past. Signs featuring the history and photos of the old town will be placed along the foreshore walkway.
Local historian Gwen Price tells the story of the old town and the construction of the dam.
Gwen Price has compiled several books on far north Queensland history, including More Than Just A Dam – The Story of Tinaroo Falls, From there to here – The development of Atherton Shire, and A Diary of a Country Hospital – the story of the Atherton District Memorial Hospital.
Read more about the history of Tinaroo Dam
View images and postcards of the area from the 50s & 60s.