Dimbulah, a rural town, is 75 km south-west of Cairns. It is on the railway line to Chillagoe. It is thought that the name was derived from an Aboriginal word describing a permanent waterhole on the Walsh River.

The waterhole brought about a rudimentary settlement for the servicing of the railway locomotives, and a hotel was opened in 1908, seven years after the completion of the line to Chillagoe. A tent school was opened in 1914. The Chillagoe smelters depended on coal hauled from Cairns, but the discovery of coal at Mount Mulligan, 45 km north-west of Dimbulah, provided a cheaper supply. A coal line from Mount Mulligan was opened in 1915 making Dimbulah a railway junction. Freight from the Mount Garnet branch line (1902) and the Einasleigh/Forsayth line (1909) also passed through Dimbulah. Ore from Wolfram also came through the town, and there are two heritage-listed rare metals treatment plants at Dimbulah (1906, 1911).

About 40 km east of Dimbulah, Mareeba had its first tobacco crop in 1930. Within a few years tobacco was planted at Dimbulah, coinciding with the arrival of Italian migrant farmers. A local tobacco growers association was formed in 1935, later joining with Mareeba growers to lobby for an irrigation scheme. The war delayed the scheme, as well as leading to the internment of some Italian men. Some families left behind suffered considerable hardship.

Migration was resumed after the war, including Yugoslav (Croation) families and others from southern Europe. Fire severely damaged the town in 1953, but local prosperity enabled rebuilding in a few years. A Catholic school was opened in 1966, and a well appointed church a few years later. The primary school added a secondary department in 1968.

Closure of the Mount Mulligan line in 1958 and the contraction of tobacco growing resulted in a population decline. Nevertheless, an annual ethnic festival is celebrated by over 20 nationalities residing in Dimbulah; it was estimated that about two-thirds of the population came from postwar migration. The closure of two banks in 1992-94 inflicted a loss of town morale, and several shops closed. Farmers, unable to sell their properties, felt forced to stay on. Dimbulah was implicated in the illicit sale of untaxed tobacco – 'chop chop' – by the end of the 1990s. Some farms switched to navy beans and tropical fruits, and some older farmers left their holdings fallow. A coffee plantation was started in 1995.

Dimbulah has a memorial hall, local shops, a hotel, caravan park, soccer, bowling and swimming facilities.

In 2012 the town of Mutchilba, considered to be part of nearby Dimbulah, was officially added to the State Government's Places and Names database.

Dimbulah's census populations have been:

Census DatePopulation

At the 2011 census, 6.7% of the population was Indigenous.

Golden reef to golden leaf: a history of Dimbulah, Dimbulah, Dimbulah History Committee, 1989

Australian Geographer, March 2002, pp. 43-61



Copyright © Centre for the Government of Queensland, 2018. All rights reserved.

UQ Logo