Alpha - Jericho, Queensland, Australia
© Janice Cooper
This is a study of the Alpha and Jericho districts in central western Queensland. It will include information from the first 100 years (1863-1962) of the non-indigenous settlement of this sparsely populated rural area. My aim is to record the names of people who lived permanently or worked temporarily in the towns or on the pastoral stations during this time, and to outline aspects of the area’s history.
The study will provide a space in which to publicise names and events which I researched to publish a local history in 2013 – Crossing the divide. A history of Alpha and Jericho districts. Rather than repeating detailed information available elsewhere, the study will provide links and references to other sources.
Alpha and Jericho, two small rural towns surrounded by sparsely populated pastoral country, are located in the central west of Queensland, Australia.
The study is defined by the boundaries of the former local government shire of Jericho (1916-2008), an area of 22,888 km2.
Jericho Shire was divided from north to south by the Great Dividing Range, a misnomer for this part of the Range, which is not high or rugged.
With a semi-arid climate, the natural environment is generally of open mixed forest and eucalypt woodlands. The Belyando River drains the eastern part of the area, its waters eventually flowing into the Pacific Ocean on Queensland’s east coast. On the west, the waters of Jordan Creek and Alice River join Cooper Creek to drain into the inland Lake Eyre in South Australia.
The extremes of drought and flood have been noted events in the lives of town and country residents.
The population of the area reached a peak of 1,718 in 1940 following gradual growth from about 1,500 in 1916. This growth was the result of the development of sheep grazing around Jericho and of Alpha as a railway depot. During the mid-1960s a drift to city and coast began a continuous decline in the population. Cattle replaced sheep, requiring fewer employees, and services were regionalised to be located in larger towns.
Although transient populations are part of rural employment, the building of the rail line through the district in the 1880s caused the largest (although actual numbers are not recorded) increase in the temporary population in its early years.
This area was occupied by three groups of Aboriginal people, the Iningai to the west of the Range, the Yagalingu/Jagalingou to the east and Bidjara on the south-eastern fringe. Their lives were disrupted by the arrival of European settlers with both conflict and cooperation occurring. Some Aboriginals worked on pastoral stations but during the first decades of the twentieth century, many of those remaining in the area were removed to missions, generally far from their own land. Two sites of cultural significance remain in the area.
Sir Thomas Mitchell was the only widely recognised explorer to enter the Alpha-Jericho area. In 1845, he followed part of the Belyando River northward in his unsuccessful search for a great river flowing to Australia’s northern coastline. However, it was almost twenty years before pastoralists seeking land to settle reached the area. The first successful licences for land were issued in 1863 and before the end of the year about 1,950km2 were claimed by four men. Pastoral expansion continued until all suitable land was grazing either sheep or cattle on large holdings. The division of the large land holdings (up to 4,202.5km2) after 1884, to form smaller pastoral stations ranging in area depending on their location and other factors, increased the numbers of graziers and station workers. Attempts to establish agriculture around the towns from 1890 to 1923 failed without reliable water supplies and few close markets.
Three towns emerged as terminus towns for the building of a railway line west from Rockhampton, an east coast port. Pine Hill, the first terminus in the area, envisaged as a major settlement on the western side of the Drummond Range declined to become a railway siding after World War II. Other small railway sidings, including Beta, also served local pastoralists.
Alpha and Jericho emerged from their time as railway terminuses to become centres for the surrounding pastoralists. Alpha also developed as a railway depot.
Access to a supply of water has always been central for both country and town life. Pastoral industries have depended on pumping from the Great Artesian Basin to supplement the waterholes in the creeks and rivers, many of which do not last 12 months. Rain water tanks were a feature at all residences in town and country and the local Shire Council worked over many years to provide a permanent water supply for each town through bores and dams. The establishment of effective water reticulation schemes for Alpha and Jericho finally occurred in the 1960s.
Jericho and Alpha were lit by electric power in 1952; not until the 1970s was it extended to rural consumers through regional systems. Before these years, light and power had to be produced on an individual basis, at the best, using generators.
This area depends on the pastoral industries of wool growing and beef production. While sheep predominated on the west of the range for many years, they were replaced by cattle during the 1950s.
In Alpha, the railway depot employed a number of people, running and servicing trains, their passengers and goods. The small town businesses serviced needs of the pastoral industry and each town’s public servants.
Churches were first built as temporary structures to be moved to the next town as railway construction continued. Roman Catholic, Church of England and Methodist congregations built wooden churches in each Alpha and Jericho before 1900. Although only the Roman Catholic congregation could, at times, support a resident priest, clergy continued to visit each town regularly. At the end of the twentieth century, three churches were still used for regular or occasional worship in Alpha and two in Jericho.
People from all walks of life and from town and country came together to work for and enjoy service and social activities in these small communities; the schools, churches and health facilities often being their focus. Sport has always gathered people as local teams competed with those from neighbouring districts. It was not unusual for sports men and women to travel more than 100 km to play cricket, tennis, football or netball; and end the day dancing into the small hours of next morning.
Local government has performed a central role in these rural communities. From 1879, the area lay within five Divisional Boards. In 1916, the Jericho Shire Council was formed, bringing local government closer to the people. The Council supported the pastoral industries by building and maintaining roads, and through managing reserves to support the movement of sheep and cattle. For town residents, it developed public health services and built recreational facilities. Beyond this basic role, it promoted and supported the provision of a wide range of services and facilities - communication, health, sport and cultural activities. The Council was amalgamated in 2008 as part of the Barcaldine Regional Council.
Provisional schools were established soon after the permanent population of each town settled in the late 1880s and each was granted State School status before 1900. In addition, the Alpha community benefited from the services of a school and convent from 1904 until 1977-1979.
Only the Alpha State School had a large enough enrolment to support secondary levels of education on a permanent basis. Its Secondary Department (Year 8 onwards) began in 1965. A typical pattern for parents who desired secondary education for their children was to choose a boarding school in larger towns or cities, often hundreds of miles distant.
A hospital was established in Alpha in June 1915; a Bush Nursing Centre operated in Jericho from 1932. Across the years, many health services have depended on visiting personnel and people often travelled to receive medical advice and care.
The first 100 years of European settlement saw the arrival of permanent settlers from the British Isles or from the already established parts of Australia. They were accompanied by a sprinkling of Europeans and Chinese. Most public servants lived in the area for a limited time. In addition the rural and railway workforces included many itinerants – shearers, fencers, well-sinkers, drovers, railway construction workers, and so on.
Families and Notable People
The descendants of some of the early settler families remain in the area; many of these and other families have descendants in far-flung places. An early notable pastoralist was Sir Arthur Hunter Palmer (1818-1898) who was Premier of the Queensland colony from 1870 to 1874 and Lieutenant Governor in 1895-96.
Cooper, Janice, Crossing the divide. A history of Alpha and Jericho districts. Barcaldine Regional Council, 2013.
Cooper, Janice, Sufficient for living. A history of pastoral industries in the Alpha district. Alpha Historical Society, 2005.
Hoch, Isabel, Alpha-Jericho. A history 1846-1984, Jericho Shire Council, 1984.
Hoch, Isabel, To the setting sun. A history of railway construction Rockhampton to Longreach 1865-1892, Brown & Associates, 1992.