Ilfracombe, the administrative centre of the former Ilfracombe Shire in central-western Queensland, is on the Capricorn Highway, 600 km west of Rockhampton. The nearest large town is Longreach, 30 km to the west.
Situated west of the Barcoo River, the Ilfracombe district was explored by the New South Wales Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell in 1846, by Edmund Kennedy in 1847 and by William Landsborough in 1862. Pastoral occupation followed Landsborough's expedition, the first pastoral station occupied in 1863, and the Portland Downs station (which continues until this day) taken up soon afterwards. In the early 1870s the New Zealand and Australia Land Company (headquartered in Scotland) acquired a vast tract, 'Wellshot' comprising almost half of the territory of the future shire. Wellshot station, named after a major shareholder's Glasgow estate, was broken up for closer-settlement in 1948.
In 1890 the colonial government indicated its intention to extend the railway line from Barcaldine to Longreach and named a temporary terminus 'Ilfracombe', apparently so as to clearly distinguish the new railhead from Wellshot station, the latter name having given over to the district generally. Ilfracombe had a brief boom: its status as temporary railhead in the early 1890s gave rise to five hotels and several businesses. A school opened in 1893, Anglican and Catholic churches within a few years, and artesian water supplemented the meagre town dam supply in 1896. A wool-scouring works opened in 1899.
In 1902 widespread drought depressed the local economy, and, according to local historian Peter Forrest, within two years Ilfracombe's 'golden years were over'. Ilfracombe Shire was severed from the existing Aramac division in 1903 and the post office was converted to a shire office, which functioned in that manner until 1966. The surrounding pastoral stations employed workforces sufficient to keep three town hotels going up until the 1920s. During its heyday Ilfracombe was very much a town of firsts - in the 1890s Wellshot station boasted the largest head count of sheep in the world, while Beaconsfield station, to the town's north, developed innovative sheep wash that was at the forefront of wool processing technology (the ruins of which are listed on the Queensland heritage register). The motorised postal service from Ilfracombe to Isisford, begun in 1910, was Australia's first.
Other town facilities, though, were rudimentary, the galvanized iron housing decidedly primitive by the onset of the postwar years. The wool-boom of the 1950s saw a spurt of civic improvements; a swimming pool was built in 1948 a war memorial park (1951), reticulated water (1953), shire hall (1956) and new shire offices in 1966. The collapse of wool prices in the late 1960s ended Ilfracombe's second episode of prosperity, with many rural workers laid off, sheep properties operating on rationalised workforces.
Ilfracombe today is a one-pub town, (the Wellshot Hotel), and has a shire hall, racecourse (two meetings a year), caravan park, the State primary school, a swimming pool, a golf course, two churches and machinery and heritage museum. Romani Hall (1999) has a display dedicated to the 2/14th Ilfracombe Light Horse Troop. Ilfracombe's best known citizen is Quentin Bryce, Governor of Queensland 2003-08 and Governor General of Australia since 2008.
There is a heritage-registered timber house in Mitchell Street. Named the Langenbaker House, it was brought to Ilfracombe in 1890 by a teamster, Harry Langenbaker.
Ilfracombe's census populations have been:
In 2008 Ilfracombe shire (6576 sq km) was amalgamated with Isisford and Longreach shires to form Longreach Regional Council.
The shire's census populations were:
Peter Forrest, A rush for grass: a history of the Western Queensland district of Ilfracombe, Ilfracombe, Ilfracombe Shire Council, 2003
G.W. Lilley, Barcoo saga: the story of Portland Downs, a Queensland sheep station, Melbourne, Portland Downs Pastoral Co, 1975