Alpha, a rural town, is 400 km west of Rockhampton. It was named after the Alpha pastoral station (1863) which grew to the massive size of over 1600 sq km by the 1890s. The town is south of the Belyando River system which was partly explored by the New South Wales Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell, in 1846.
Mitchell's report on the region's prospects brought pastoral explorers in the 1850s and a scramble for runs in the 1860s. The coastal town of Rockhampton wanted to capture the beef trade and began the construction of its central railway line 1867. The line reached Emerald in 1879 and surmounted the Drummond Range to Alpha in 1884. Apart from the railway pausing there for a short while, Alpha became a coach stop for a service to Tambo and its settlement preceded a run of good years for rain. It also had a source of underground water.
A school opened in 1886 and churches (unusual along the frontier railway) were built – Catholic (1890) and United Protestant (1894). A convent school opened in 1904, coinciding with the return of drought. Several selectors lived in Alpha, along with graziers and station managers. A sawmill opened – there were three by 1915 – and refreshments were had at the Criterion and Comet hotels. A hospital opened in 1913.
The Alpha district was divided between Belyando and Tambo Shires and residents were generally unhappy about being neglected. In 1917 it was severed from both shires and made Jericho Shire; parts were also taken from Aramac and Barcaldine. The shire offices were placed in Jericho, a township to the west of the shire. For more than 50 years there was an uneasy municipal relationship between the two towns but Jericho's lack of water during droughts made Alpha the preferred place of living. Each town, however, suffered losses from fires: Alpha's bakery was lost in 1976.
During the 1950s and 1960s good wool and (US hamburger) beef prices brought sustained prosperity. Alpha gained a new hall (1957), a golf course (1964), a secondary school department (1967), and a swimming pool (1980). A Jockey Club and a Show society were formed in 1967. Rural depression in the 1970s led to the closure of the lay-staffed Catholic school in 1979. Government help, however, saw the bush-nursing hospital replaced with a modern building.
Alpha has the former Jericho Shire offices, a hospital, recreation reserve, golf club, a swimming pool, a drive-in theatre, hotel-motel, caravan park, general store, café and a tourist and development association. There are also Anglican, Catholic and Uniting churches and a historical society. A steady loss of population, however, has been a cause for concern, and in 2003 the mayor appealed for refugee families to settle in Alpha.
Coal exploration companies confirmed the presence of a number of thermal coal seams between Jericho and Alpha across a large area known as the Galilee Basin in 2007. Thermal coal was first discovered in the area in the 1970s. Companies including Waratah Coal (Clive Palmer) and Hancock Prospecting (Gina Reinhart) proposed to extract 20 billion tonnes of thermal coal. Their plans met resistance and legal challenges from environmental groups, farmers and landowners over environmental impact from both the mines and the rail and port proposals. The impact on the town of Alpha affected house and land prices and community infrastructure.
After a ten year hiatus, the Alpha Jockey Club held a horse race meeting in 2013 under the State government's push to support country racing. The community had worked to rebuild the racecourse.
The town's census populations have been:
Janice Cooper, Sufficient for living: a history of pastoral industries in the Alpha district, Alpha, Alpha Historical Society, 2005
Isabel Hoch, Alpha Jericho: a history 1846-1984, Jericho, Jericho Shire Council, 1984