There’s absolutely no doubt that the people who established the first settlement in Bowen had high hopes for the future of the town.
Queensland had recently been separated from New South Wales, and there were frequent suggestions over the next couple of decades that northern Queensland would become a separate colony in the future. Anyone looking at the Parliamentary Votes & Proceedings from the 1870s will notice frequent references to Cape Palmerston, which would have been the point on the coastline where the new border would meet the sea. You probably don’t know it as a landmark but it’s just south of Sarina.
Right from the settlement of Bowen it’s fair to assume the townsfolk expected that the town would become the capital of a new colony. That wouldn’t have been an irrational assumption given that it was, at the time, the only town north of Rockhampton.
Of course, none of those hopeful expectations came to fruition.
It seems that the settlers, supremely confident in the town’s future prosperity, thought that they could pick and choose between development proposals, rejecting anything that would impact adversely on the town’s aesthetic appeal.
The settlement had been intended as the port for the new Kennedy District, which was the latest continuation of the spread of sheep across the continent. In the days before refrigeration there were two saleable export commodities that came out of sheep - their wool and the tallow produced by boiling down the carcasses of those animals deemed to be surplus to requirements.
Among those who had invested in pastoral holdings in the hinterland was a certain Robert Towns, who proposed to establish a boiling-down works on Poole Island, more or less adjacent to the current settlement at Brisk Bay.
Unfortunately, as far as the townsfolk were concerned, the process was smelly and the proposal was therefore rejected.
As a result Towns instructed the manager of one of his stations to locate an alternative site.
If you take a look at the coastline between Mackay and Cairns it’s fairly obvious why the majority of towns along the highway are there, and, in most cases, the reason is sugar. Unfortunately between Proserpine and Rollingstone that part of the coastline forms part of the “dry tropics” and, while they can grow sugar around Ayr and Home Hill that’s only possible because of the aquifers associated with the Burdekin River.
Given that consideration, added to the fact that there aren’t too many natural harbours along the coastline between Bowen and Cardwell, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would have decided to start a settlement around Townsville prior to the discovery of gold at Ravenswood and Charters Towers unless someone gave them a reason to do so.
In hindsight it’s fairly obvious that by rejecting Towns’ proposal the early settlers of Bowen were providing the reason and, in effect, consigning the town to the backwaters.