Bowen Shire (21,085 sq km), a grazing, mining and horticultural area was centred on the coastal city of Bowen, midway between Mackay and Townsville. It was formed from the union of Wangaratta Shire and Bowen town in April 1960. In 2008 it was amalgamated with Proserpine Shire to form Whitsunday Regional Council.

The Wangaratta divisional board was formed in 1879, 16 years after the town of Bowen was proclaimed a municipality. The town had ambitions to be a port and a cattle processing centre, but for the most part its endeavours were frustrated. Its railway development went coastal, connecting to Townsville, denying it improved access to inland cattle holdings. An inland route was not opened until 1922, for the Collinsville coal mine, south-west of Bowen.

The shire's equable climate made for a year-round grazing season, but dry spells during summer held back horticulture. The alluvial soils in the Don River Valley are underlain by aquifers, and these have been tapped for fruit and vegetable growing. By the early postwar years over 800,000 cases of fruit and vegetables were exported, tomatoes comprising 80% of the total crop. There was also a meatworks at Merinda, six km out of Bowen, and a cokeworks which converted Collinsville coal for the Mount Isa silver, lead and copper refinery. Solar evaporation salt works (1926) produced 10,000 tons annually. In 1949 the Wangaratta Shire was described in the Australian Blue Book:

When Wangaratta Shire and the town of Bowen were amalgamated in 1960 each was experiencing a steady increase in population, which continued until the late 1990s. Cattle numbers exceed 250,000 by the 1970s, the grazing properties ranging from humid coastal plains to drier inland brigalow areas. Horticulture absorbed more of the rural work force and tomato cropping doubled during the 1970s. Melons, cucumber and capsicum were grown in increasing quantities. The shire's work force in 2001 had 29% employed in agriculture, horticulture and fishing. Bowen was an important distribution centre, with wholesaling and retailing employing 18.4% of the work force. The next largest work force components were health and community services (6.8%), education (6%), transport (5.5%), mining (4.8%) and accommodation (4.7%).

In 1993 Bowen shire had 230,000 beef cattle, nearly 3000 pigs and grew 55,500 tonnes of tomatoes. By 2002 tomato production had risen to 80,000 tonnes. In addition, 23,000 tonnes of capsicum and chilli, 6500 tonnes of sweet corn, 8250 tonnes of beans and 2000 tonnes of cucumber were grown. Total production of all vegetables was over 155,000 tonnes, grown on 6812 ha, centred on Bowen township and Gumla. Mango plantations produced 5250 tonnes.

Cheetham Saltworks (1925) near Bowen has an annual production potential of 29,000 tonnes of crude salt. Collinsville (see separate entry) transports coal to the bulk port at Abbot Point, 20 km north-west of Bowen, Gold mining has been revived at Mount Coolon, about 120 km south-west of Collinsville.

During the 1990s agriculture and horticulture emerged as the shire's chief future prospects. Collinsville power station was shut down in 1989, the railways workshops were closed during 1992-93, mining employment was downsized in 1991 and the Borthwicks meatworks at Merinda, eight km west of Bowen, were closed in 1997. A satellite coastal town, Whitsunday Shores, is 10 km south-east of Bowen.

The shire's census populations have been:

Census Date Wangaratta Shire Bowen Town Bowen Shire
1911 1154 1513 -
1933 4924 2619 -
1947 4807 3276 -
1961 - - 9421
1976 - - 11,292
1991 - - 14,161
2001 - - 13,698

M.C. Finlay, Bowen Shire handbook, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 1976

Bowen and Collinsville entries



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