Tablelands Regional Council was formed in 2008 by the amalgamation of Atherton, Eacham, Herberton and Mareeba Shires. As well as the Atherton Tableland, there is the Evelyn Tableland to its immediate south-west and the Hann Tableland (a national park) about 60 km north of Atherton. The tablelands were named after: John Atherton (1817-1913), grazier and explorer; Evelyn Stubley, the wife of Francis Stubley (c1833-86), owner of the Evelyn pastoral property and the MLA (1876-83) for Kennedy; and William Hann (1837-89), explorer and pastoralist.
The new council's eastern boundary adjoins the coastal Cairns and Cassowary Coast Regional Councils. The boundary's most distant point from the coast is 60 km inland; near Cairns it is only a few kilometres from the coast, and Kuranda (up the range from Cairns) is in the Tablelands Regional Council. The most westerly point of the council's boundary is nearly three-quarters the distance across Cape York. Tablelands Regional Council area is 64,999 sq km.
Over 80% of the council's area is the former Mareeba shire (53,645 sq km). The other three shires hugged the west of the dividing range: Atherton Shire (623 sq km), Eacham Shire (1127 sq km) and Herberton Shire (9604 sq km).
The history of local government in the tablelands region began with a couple of large divisions, followed by the creation of smaller shires around mining districts and intensively farmed areas, and in 2008 a return to the beginning. Woothakata local-government division (1879) and Tinaroo division (1881) were the beginning. Walsh division at Irvinebank (1889-1932) and Chillagoe Shire (1908-32) were excised from Woothakata. Herberton division (1895) and Eacham Shire (1920) were excised from Tinaroo. Part of Tinaroo passed to Woothakata, and the remainder was renamed Atherton Shire. With the decline of mining, Walsh and Chillagoe Shires returned to Woothakata Shire in 1932, which was renamed Mareeba. All came together as one in 2008.
The transport of ore to coastal ports, or materials to inland smelters, depended on railways. Later, dairy produce from tablelands farms needed railways, and the need continued into the 1940s when Allied troops were trained and billeted around Atherton.
Building the railway from Cairns to Mareeba took six years, reaching there in 1893. Mine freight was the motive. A private railway from Mareeba to Chillagoe was built, and there was a branch tramway to Irvinebank (1907). Agricultural railway extensions were pushed south from Mareeba, to Atherton (1903), to Malanda (1910), and to Millaa Millaa (1921). A branch from Atherton went to the tin-mining towns of Herberton (1910) and Ravenshoe (1916).
The tropical landscape gives way to the sub-tropical and mildly temperate as the tableland is ascended. The soils around Atherton, Yungaburra, Malanda and along the Walsh valley south-west of Mareeba are good for cropping and dairy herds. Dairying is centred on Malanda where there is a Dairy Farmers factory. Despite farmers retiring from the land there is quite a good demand for milk and allied products in rapidly growing Cairns and Townsville. Former tobacco farms around Dimbulah in the Walsh valley have been converted to sugar cane. Other crops include bananas, macadamias, mangoes, avocadoes and pineapples. There has been very little dairy farming in the former Mareeba Shire. Its range lands have been grazed for beef cattle, often trucked in for fattening before sale.
Wholesale retail distribution and agriculture are the region's leading employment sectors. Their proportions of total employment in 2001 were:
The populations of the Tablelands Regional Council's main towns in 2006 were:
The total census population in 2006 was 40,906.
In March 2013 more than 60% of voters in Mareeba opted to leave the Tablelands Regional Council in a de-amalgamation vote. From April 2013 transition committees and interim CEOs would be in place in the Mareeba Shire leading to elections in late 2013 and a separate Mareeba Shire council from 1 January 2014.
Atherton, Eacham, Herberton, Mareeba and Walsh Shires entries