The Moreton District is the south-east corner of Queensland. Its boundaries were defined in the mid-nineteenth century for the survey and management of land, mainly for pastoral and agricultural uses. It is slightly bigger in area than the Moreton Statistical Division, which has been used for census purposes for much of the twentieth century.

The Moreton district's borders are:

Coastline from the New South Wales border to Peregian Springs, Sunshine Coast.
New South Wales border, from the coast to near Wilson's Peak, where a mountainous range trends north-west to Toowoomba.
The trending mountainous boundary follows a ridge line from Wilsons Peak to the escarpment east of Toowoomba, and then an irregular boundary along ridge lines, west of Crows Nest, Cooyar, Yarraman and Blackbutt, (parts of the former Crows Nest, Rosalie and Nanango shires) to the headwaters of the west branch of the Brisbane River.
From the Brisbane River's headwaters, following a ridge line to Lake Weyba and Peregian Springs.

Ridgelines provided convenient boundaries which avoided splitting land holdings. They were mostly followed for shire boundaries.

Moreton District was named after Moreton Bay, which was shown on Captain James Cook's chart for his Endeavour voyage, 1770. The spelling departed from Cook's original name, which was given in honour of the Earl of Morton, President of the Royal Society (1764-68). The society was a financier of Cook's voyage.

The difference between the Moreton District and the later Moreton Statistical Division is that the latter omits the parts of Crows Nest, Rosalie and Nanango Shires. The district's area is approximately 22,870 sq km, 1.33% of the area of Queensland. Its main water catchment is the Brisbane River system which drains about 60% of the district. The river system's main features:

  Catchment Area
(sq km)
Brisbane River system 13,550
Tributary Stanley River 1530
Tributary Bremer River 2050
Tributary Lockyer Creek 2990

The other streams in the Moreton District include the Logan River (3100 sq km catchment, headwaters in McPherson Range), Albert River (790 sq km catchment) and Coomera River (440 sq km catchment). These are all in the Gold Coast district. In the north the streams are mostly smaller, although the Maroochy River's catchment is 560 sq km.

East of the dividing range, particularly around the McPherson Range, annual rainfall is plentiful, although by Ipswich the rainfall is around 890 mm compared with about 1270 mm along the coast. Around the western edge of the Moreton District annual rainfall is about 790 mm. North of Brisbane annual rainfall rises to around 1500 mm, and 2000 mm on the Buderim plateau.


The settlement of the Moreton Bay district came about from the Sydney authorities wanting somewhere remote as a receptacle for difficult convicts. Surveyor John Oxley happened upon the mouth of the Brisbane River, and found that its well-watered banks had an abundance of vegetation. The river also appeared to be readily navigable. Although Oxley chose the slightly more remote Redcliffe (Humpybong) for the convict settlement, he had chosen a good agricultural district. (The propensity for river floods to wash away farms would later be revealed.) In any event, the Humpybong settlement was soon abandoned in favour of Brisbane in 1825, which remained officially out of bounds to free settlement until 1842. Free settlement in the form of pastoral incursions nevertheless began in 1839 in the Brisbane River valley, the Fassifern Valley (Boonah – Harrisville area) and the Beaudesert district.

The Ipswich area's coal had been known since the late 1820s. Government-sponsored immigration began in the late 1840s, mostly settling along alluvial river flats, good for cotton growing while the American Civil War cut off cotton supplies, and equally good for maize and sugar cane. Higher ground was taken for pastoral runs, although agricultural reserves were proclaimed around emerging towns.


Ipswich was a transport hub for inland pastoralism, and the Bremer River was navigable to its junction with the Brisbane River. A railway was built in stages west from Ipswich: Grandchester (1865), Helidon (1866), Toowoomba (1867) and Dalby (1868). Brisbane's importance was asserted when the rail connection from there to Ipswich was opened in 1876. A network of railways fanning out from Brisbane was in place by 1890, including Roma (1880), Sandgate (1882), Beenleigh (1885), Boonah (1887), Beaudesert (1888) and Landsborough (1890). With the exception of Sandgate, all the lines' primary purpose was the transport of primary produce. By the late twentieth century most had evolved into urban transport corridors.

The numerous streams in the Moreton District formed valleys and alluvial flats for agriculture. The hills, when cleared of valuable timber, were good for grazing and dairying. The exception was coastal plains, particularly the north coast wallum country, but later it became valuable as residential real estate. On the south coast, the swampy flats were handy for dry-spell agistment, and later as a real estate bonanza when the soft ground was hilled up for canal estates at the back of the Gold Coast beaches.

The by-products of sheep and cattle were locally processed. Fellmongeries, tallow works and tanneries dotted the banks of Kedron Brook, the Bulimba Creek and other outer-urban waterways. Woollen mills and coal mines underwrote Ipswich's industrial growth. More sophisticated manufacturing was initiated by the need for local production around Salisbury and Acacia Ridge during World War II.


The Moreton District's 1.33% of Queensland's land surface held 45% of Queensland's population in 1933. The City of Brisbane's share was 32%. In 1981 the District's share of the State population reached 60%, and in 2006 it was 67%. In 2006 Brisbane City's share was 25%. The Moreton District's coastal areas explained the change, which is traced in the following tables.

Municipal Area* 1933 1961 1981 1991 2001 2006
Brisbane 300 594 737 763 871 956
Gold Coast 24 65 267 546 739 835
Ipswich 38 57 98 123 123 140
Sunshine Coast 30 67 217 345 475 555
Beaudesert 5 11 18 36 53 62
Boonah 6 6 6 7 8 9
Esk 8 6 8 11 14 15
Gatton 6 8 10 14 15 16
Kilcoy 2 2 2 3 3 3
Laidley 5 5 6 9 13 14
  424 821 1369 1857 2314 2605
% of State Population 45% 54% 60% 63% 65% 67%

* Municipal areas before amalgamations in 2008. 'Sunshine Coast' comprises former Caboolture, Maroochy and Pine Rivers Shires, Caloundra and Redcliffe cities, but excludes Noosa Shire which was outside Moreton District. If it were included with its urbanising neighbour, Maroochy, from the 1980s, the Moreton area's share of Queensland's population would be slightly higher than shown in the table. 'Gold Coast' figures include Redland Shire and Logan City.


The Moreton District's postwar urbanisation has changed employment patterns. Selected industries are compared below for 1954 and 2001:

Industry 1954 2001
Agriculture, forestry, fishing 7.5 2.3
Mining, quarries 1.1 0.6
Manufacturing 25.5 15.9
Building, construction 9.6 10.0
Transport, storage 7.2 6.6
Finance, insurance, property
and business services
3.1 20.4
Wholesale and retail 17.8 28.7
Accommodation, restaurants,
3.2 7.4

* Other industries such as education and community services were included with other categories in 1954. The figure for accommodation, restaurants is an estimate.

Although employment in agriculture lessened, dairy output did not change a lot. Dairying is advantaged by having a large nearby population catchment. In 1933 the Moreton District had 36% of Queensland's dairy cattle, and in 1995 the share was about 33%. On the other hand, sugar production changed dramatically (see entry on Sugar Regions). After the Moreton mill at Nambour closed in 2003 growers went into 'cow candy' production of sugar cane for beef and milk herds.

Large postwar employment shifts were in agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying. (The boom in building probably kept up employment in sand and clay extraction.) Considering the labour-saving mechanisation in building and transport, the stable employment levels in those industries seems remarkable. More remarkable, though, was the increased employment in finance, property and related industries, and in retailing despite the widespread change to self-service.

Employment in education increased as secondary schools were built. Beginning in the 1950s, new high schools markedly increased in the 1970s and 1980s. A few had run their course with the tailing off of baby-boom suburbs by the 2000s, and their sites were used for medium density housing. Examples were Acacia Ridge and Richlands.


The University of Queensland (1909) finally moved into its St Lucia Campus in 1949, and remained in charge of the tertiary field until a number of new universities were opened in Brisbane and elsewhere in the state:

  • Griffith University (1975)
  • Bond University, Gold Coast (1987)
  • Queensland University of Technology (1989)
  • University of the Sunshine Coast (1998)

Griffith University has campuses at the Gold Coast and Logan, QUT has a campus at Caboolture, and the Toowoomba-based University of Southern Queensland has a campus at Springfield (Ipswich region).


Metropolitan railways upheld their agricultural origins with steam rail until 1979, when the Ferny Grove line was electrified. By 1983 metropolitan rail was fully electrified, and the process was extended to the Sunshine Coast (Caboolture 1986, Gympie 1989), and to the new Gold Coast line in 1996-98. On the other hand Brisbane's electric trams were decommissioned in 1969, 72 years after the first electric vehicle left the depot.

Brisbane's embrace of urban busways, and the Moreton district's embrace of a coastal conurbation and a western conurbation along the Warrego Highway, overstrained the railway tracks and highways. Motorways were opened north, south and west. The Pacific Motorway was built in stages during 1973-85, the Sunshine Motorway was opened in 1994 and the Centenary Highway – Ipswich Motorway underwent various upgrades from the 1970s onwards.

The Gateway bridge over the Brisbane River replaced a ferry in 1986 and the Centenary bridge (1964) replaced reliance on western river ferries. Metropolitan by-pass motorways from Gateway bridge to Goodna were built, via the Logan Motorway (1988-97). The Centenary Highway was extended west to vast suburbs south of Ipswich, c2000. It was financed by the Springfield land company, similar to the developers' David Low Way which enabled investors, retirees and first home buyers to buy the wallum country subdivisions in the 1960s.

Airports expanded from the Eagle Farm airfield. Cribb Island was acquired and built over for a new Brisbane domestic airport (1995). Coolangatta/Gold Coast airport's present terminal dates from 1981 and the Sunshine Coast airport north of Maroochydore opened in 1961.


When the Moreton district's wild climate climaxed in 1974, with beach erosion and floods in the Brisbane River and upstream in several of its urban tributaries, the forces of nature could no longer be shrugged off as rural misfortune. There was too much urban destruction. It had taken eighteen years to build the Somerset dam for Brisbane's urban water supply and (insufficient) flood mitigation. The Wivenhoe dam on the Stanley River, three times, larger, was completed by 1985, primarily for flood mitigation.


In the 1920s there were 44 local government bodies in the Moreton district. Inner and outer metropolitan Brisbane had two cities, six towns and twelve shires. The Gold Coast had seven shires and two towns. Sunshine Coast had five shires. Ipswich had one city and four shires. The west of Moreton District consisted of five more shires. (For the names of these bodies see Table I above, and places listed in further reading under 'Gold Coast', 'Sunshine Coast' and 'Brisbane and Greater Brisbane' entries.) In 1925 the Greater Brisbane Council was formed. In 1948 five of the Gold Coast hinterland shires were amalgamated as Albert Shire; in 1949 two of the remaining small shires near Ipswich were amalgamated with a pre-existing rural shire around Ipswich; and in 1979 Logan City was formed by an excision from Albert Shire.

In 2008 the 16 local government bodies in Moreton district were reduced to 10. Caloundra, Maroochy and Noosa became Sunshine Coast Regional Council; Pine Rivers, Redcliffe and Caboolture became Moreton Bay Regional Council; Logan was enlarged by parts from Gold Coast and Beaudesert Shire; the balance of Beaudesert was united with Boonah to become Scenic Rim Regional Council; Gatton and Laidley became Lockyer Valley Regional Council; Esk and Kilcoy became Somerset Regional Council; and Ipswich, Redland and Brisbane City had little or no change.

In 1925 Moreton District's population had been about a quarter of a million people. In 2008 its population was approaching two and three quarter millions.

D.G. Murphy, The Moreton region of Queensland: resources and industries, University of Queensland, 1971

J.R. Cole, Shaping a city: Greater Brisbane 1925-1985, Eagle Farm, William Brooks, 1984


P. Spearritt, ‘The 200km city: Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast’, Australian Economic History Review, 49, 1, 2009

Ross Johnston and Helen Gregory, ‘Choosing Brisbane’ and ‘Brisbane: making it work’ in Pamela Statham, ed, the Origins of Australia’s capital cities, Oakleigh, Vic, Cambridge University Press, 1989


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