Sarina, a rural town of about 3300 people, is on the Bruce Highway, 30 km south of Mackay. The town was named after Sarina Inlet, about eight km east of the town, which was named by surveyor William Wilson in 1869. The source for Wilson's naming of the inlet is unrecorded.
The land around Sarina was first occupied by the Plane Creek pastoral run (1865). Lands were selected in the early 1880s, but there was no concentrated settlement or development for as long as the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) headquartered its activities in nearby township of Homebush. In 1894 local sugar growers took advantage of the government's long-term finance provisions to build a central mill on Plane Creek, around which the town of Sarina was to grow. The Plane Creek mill began operation in 1896, and within a few years the settlement of Plane Creek had a postmaster, a storekeeper and a blacksmith. By 1905 there were two each of blacksmiths, storekeepers, butchers and hotels (the Commercial and the Grand Central).
Plane Creek was renamed Sarina in about 1908, according to Pugh's post office directory. The 1911 directory recorded about double the number of farmers (mostly cane growers supplying the mill) compared with 1905 and four hotels, the two new ones being the National and the Palace. There was also a primary school (1897), a Catholic church (1907) and a Church of England (c1910). Wesleyan Methodist and Presbyterian churches followed in 1912 and c1914.
Sarina and its surrounds came under Pioneer Shire, governed from Mackay, and in 1912 Pioneer Shire Council relinquished the Sarina district, then constituted as Sarina Shire. In the following year Sarina was joined to Mackay by rail. Further extensions followed, in 1915 to Koumala and in 1921 to St Lawrence, which completed that part of the North Coast railway route down to Brisbane.
A Catholic primary school opened in 1925 and an alcohol distillery began operation in 1927, using the previously discarded molasses waste from the mill. In 1935 reticulated electricity was switched on in the town, and bowls and golf clubs were started, 1936. Postwar development intensified in the 1960s, with the town hospital (1962), a high school (1964) and the formation of a show society (1965). The next decade's development came from further away, the Bowen Basin coal fields. Late in the 1970s plans were made for coal export terminals north-east of Sarina, at Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point. The beaches south of Hay Point - Sarina, Grasstree and Half Tide beaches - also grew as retirement and holiday spots. From 1960s-90s there was a steady increase in Sarina's population from the low 2000s to 3200.
Sarina is a compact town with three of its churches, three of its hotels and the offices (1960) of the former Sarina Shire grouped around Broad Street. The median in Broad Street is the site of a fine war memorial which is listed on the Queensland heritage register. A short way south there are the railway station, the central mill (operated by CSR since 1987) and the power alcohol plant.
John Kerr, Pioneer pageant: a history of Pioneer Shire, Mackay, Pioneer Shire Council, 1980.
Patricia Phillips, Sarina Shire in retrospect, Sarina, Sarina Bicentenial Committee, 1988.
Half Tide Beach entry