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.

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).

The mouth of Ross Creek provided a suitable anchorage for small ships, but once larger vessels were involved, the breakwaters that created the current port of Townsville were constructed. The resulting harbour, being located in shallow water, needs dredging to keep it open.

The location of the port at the mouth of Ross Creek has also created inevitable traffic problems as the goods passing through the port of Townsville have to be moved through the urban areas of South Townsville and Railway Estate.

Those considerations, added to the fact that there must be substantial constraints on the size of ships using the port, suggest that once those responsible for planning infrastructure in the region start looking at Abbot Point it’s highly likely that we’re going to end up with a major commercial port out there regardless of any heavy industrial development in the area.

That’s why I’m suggesting that major development around Bowen is, more or less, inevitable.

Since Townsville has become the de facto commercial and administrative centre of North Queensland the city has probably reached the point where further growth will be self-sustaining, regardless of any Federal Government decisions regarding the size of the military facilities in the city.

Given Townsville’s self-proclaimed status as the “Garrison City” you wouldn’t be expecting the numbers of Army and Air Force personnel to decrease without creating a substantial electoral backlash.

That prospect of self-sustaining growth means that in the future there will be projects put forward that Townsville’s business community just won’t be interested in and, there are more than likely a couple of projects that they wouldn’t mind losing, should the opportunity arise.

Just after the closure of the meat-works at Merinda there was a suggestion that Abbot Point would be suitable for live cattle exports. That proposal was immediately claimed by Townsville, though I suspect that there are a number of residents of the unit developments in Townsville’s city centre who are less than impressed by the decision when the live cattle export ships are in town.

Regardless of whether that facility is relocated to Abbot Point, it’s clear that the projects that have attracted all the attention to date are the tip of the iceberg as far as Bowen’s concerned and that the population growth that’s been bandied around is more or less inevitable, regardless of whether Chalco goes ahead.

That means we need to take a serious look at some of the implications for the town before decisions that will have a major impact on our lifestyle are made.

Looking at some of those considerations drives the content of the remaining pages of this site.