Isis Shire, an area of 1701 sq km, and generally 60 km west of Hervey Bay, was amalgamated with Bundaberg City and two other shires in 2008 to form Bundaberg Regional Council. It was named after the Isis River which has headwaters in the south-west of the shire and enters the Burrum Inlet on the west side of Hervey Bay. The river was named by its European discoverers, two colonial surveyors who likened it to the Isis River in Oxfordshire, England.

The dominant natural vegetation was the Isis scrub, a thickly forested and fertile area of about 360 sq km around Childers. The scrub was examined by William Howard in 1863, a small pastoralist who discovered the Burrum coal deposits and after whom the coal town of Howard was named. He described the scrub as a 'mass of (hoop) pine tops ... an enormous supply of timber ... growing on an exceedingly fertile area, in the heart of a forgotten country'.

The scrub was first exploited for its timber, and in the mid-1870s farm selections were taken up. James Noakes occupied his Doolbi selection in 1878 and four years later planted an experimental plot of sugar cane on land thought generally to be too dry. Doolbi, 5 km east of Childers, successfully grew cane and farmers achieved the same result at nearby Horton. The Doolbi juice mill opened in 1888. The Isis Investment Company (1885) promoted the development of the scrub and the building of a branch railway line from the North Coast line to Childers. In 1886-87 the Isis local government division was formed by severance from the Burrum division and the railway line was opened.

There was a proliferation of mills as cane was planted on scrub land progressively being cleared in a westwards direction. Selectors at the Cordalba village settlement using the precedent of government-assisted central mills, floated the Isis Central Sugar Mill Company in 1894. By 1896 the railway line was extended from Childers to Cordalba - essential for transporting cane - and in 1897 the Isis central mill began operation. Within 35 years it was the only mill operating in the Isis district.

After years of agitation a final railway extension, looping southwards from Cordalba to Dallarnil, was opened in 1913. (The terminus was just 15 km from the Biggenden-Gayndah line.) The extension lasted 42 years and the remaining line closed in 1964. Mill-owned tramways took over.

The Isis division's administrative centre was installed at Childers. Other significant towns in the shire were Apple Tree Creek and Cordalba. Woodgate, on the coast north of Burrum Heads, became the shire's watering place.

In 1946 Isis Shire was described in the Australian Blue Book:

The Shire's agricultural economy was not limited to sugar. In the north-west dairying was widespread until the late 1960s: dairy cattle numbers fell from 2600 to 250 between 1960 and 1973. Their place has been taken by beef cattle, which have also been grazed in the south of the shire. Supplementary molasses feed was cheaply available. Pressure on sugar prices and the availability of irrigation enabled cane farmers to diversify into fruit and vegetable production, assisted at harvest times by casual labour from touring backpackers. Tourism was also assisted by Childers' historic built environment, many of its significant commercial and civic buildings dating from 1920 or earlier. A pharmaceutical museum was opened in 1987 in a chemist's shop (1896). Ten years later the Council took steps to preserve a rare surviving stand of Isis scrub.

In the 1970s the coastal settlement of Woodgate experienced rapid growth, warranting a town water supply scheme and the shire's first town planning initiative. A planning scheme was later extended to the entire shire. Another population centre to emerge was Apple Tree Creek, six km west of Childers.

Isis Shire's census populations have been:

Census Date Population
1911 4374
1933 3378
1966 3718
1986 4082
1991 4825
1996 5878
2001 6045
2006 6298

John Kerr, Only room for one: a history of sugar in the Isis district, Childers, Isis Central Sugar Mill Co, 1996

B.W. O'Neill, Taming the Isis, Childers, Isis Shire Council, 1987

Diana J. Beal, Shire handbook Isis, Brisbane, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 1974

Apple Tree Creek, Childers, Horton and Woodgate entries


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