That wouldn’t have been obvious at first. Prior to the gold rushes at Ravenswood and Charters Towers Bowen and Townsville grew slowly and, for a time, were part of the same electorate in the colonial parliament.
The influence of gold rush was always going to mean that one of the two settlements would end up gaining an advantage over the other, and the advantage came when the decision was made to start the railway line into the hinterland from Townsville rather than Bowen.
There was only ever going to be one railway line from the coast to Charters Towers, just as there was never going to be more than one refinery to process the copper from Mount Isa, more than one University College campus outside Brisbane in the early 1960s or more than one major military base in the region.
So as soon as the railway line to the interior started from Townsville things were more or less settled, just as they were when Cairns rather than Port Douglas or Cooktown became the terminus for the rail line onto the Hodgkinson gold-field and the Atherton Tableland.
The subsequent growth of Townsville hasn’t been the result of inevitable and inexorable forces grinding their way forwards.
For a substantial part of the twentieth century, Townsville’s economy depended on the employment opportunities provided by the meat-works at Alligator Creek and Ross River, the railway yards and the wharves and any other development must have been the result of substantial lobbying on the part of the business community in Townsville.
On the other hand, once the city was there it became the obvious location when various government agencies (the Australian Tax Office, for example) were looking to establish a regional presence.
That’s not to suggest that everything that has subsequently ended up in Townsville would have ended up in Bowen if Towns’ boiling down works hadn’t been rejected by the first Bowenites.
Even if Townsville hadn’t been there the potential locations of all sorts of projects would have been the subject of considerable argy-bargy between Mackay, Bowen, Cairns and various other smaller centres.
On the other hand, had the rail line to Charters Towers started from Bowen, it’s fair to suggest that it would have been extended further west, that projects like the Townsville copper refinery would have ended up in Bowen, and that the minerals from Mount Isa would have been exported through Port Denison.
But the circumstances that brought Townsville into existence have come back into play in the twenty-first century.
When Towns instructed John Melton Black to find a suitable location for the boiling down works the site needed to be able to accommodate wharf facilities so that the tallow could be shipped to the south (or overseas).