Helidon, a rural town of 550 people, is 18 km east of Toowoomba and 95 km from central Brisbane. It is renowned for spa water, sandstone which has been quarried for several of Queensland's finest buildings and, as recently as the 1990s, for a controversial rift in the local Catholic church.
The town was named after the Hellidon pastoral run, taken up in about 1841 by a Sydney investor. The name was, possibly, inspired by Hellidon in Warwickshire or Hallidon Hill, Scotland. In 1866 the Ipswich to Toowoomba railway line was opened through Helidon, and the pastoral run was opened up for farm selections in the 1870s. Many of the selections involved clearing of the Helidon scrub, from the town westwards to the Range. A school was opened in 1874 along with a convent school.
In the early 1880s the Helidon Spa company was established to bottle the waters rising naturally from the ground about five km south of the town. Later the water was transported in bulk for bottling at South Brisbane. The spa water gained medals at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London (1886) and the Melbourne International Exhibition (1888). Further medals were won at the San Francisco exhibition in 1915, and the water's quality was compared with that of the famous Baden Baden spa. In 1926 a spa pool was built.
Several sandstone quarries were established at Helidon, possibly from the time of the opening of the railway. By the 1890s there was a steady increase in population; settlers on scrub farms grew potatoes, maize and lucerne, and most holdings ran dairy cattle and raised pigs. The population exceeded 600 by 1900, and Helidon had three hotels, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic churches, a Salvation Army hall, State and Catholic primary schools, several stores and tradespeople. A cyclone destroyed the Catholic church and convent in 1912 and a larger replacement building was erected.
Hydrotherapy baths were opened in the 1930s. The pool and the spa drinking water were active concerns until the 1980s when traces of radium in the water caused a public scare, and pool-water purity required chlorination, which detracted from its reputation. The quarries also declined, but Cornerford Sandstone re-opened a former State Government quarry in 1985. The industry's monuments are readily visible at the Brisbane general post office, Brisbane City Hall, Anzac Square, the Treasury Building and the University of Queensland, among others.
In 1963 the convent school closed and the town's population edged downwards to under 400. Recovering to over 500 in the 1980s, a community centre (1990) and a new Catholic church (1991) were opened. About four years later a member of the church, claiming to see visions, created the Magnificat Meal Movement, causing a rift with the traditional congregation. The controversy gained national news coverage.
Helidon has a local shopping centre, a primary school, the spa resort, a hotel, and local firms exploiting the sandstone deposits and spa drinking water. In 2006 the Helidon Spa Resort Village, based around a spa park, was marketed for over-50s residents.
Its census populations have been:
Suzanne Hogan, The history of Helidon 1841-1991, Helidon, Suzanne Hogan, 1991
Don Talbot, History of Withcott and the Upper Lockyer, Withcott, D. Talbot, 1991