Town of Theodore

The original people of the Theodore region of the Dawson, who hunted its lands and foraged within its fertile valley were the Wulli Wulli people.  Whilst there is limited documentation of their early inhabitation, the new ‘Keeping Place’ located in Cracow and maintained by Evolution Mining provides a safe haven for important artifacts and historical data.
 
Brisbane based Joseph Thompson was the first white settler given leases over the runs that were to comprise the future irrigation town of Theodore.  He tendered for Oxtrack Creek and Okangal in November 1850 and then the riverfront Coteeda run with the leases granted in 1855.  He then applied for Delusion Creek, Macoom, Hope, Thalba and Woolthorpe.  James Reid was traveling through when lambing forced a stop on these lands with Reid and Thompson later reaching an agreement that Reid would stock and work the land for shares.  Reid’s tender for the Boam run was approved in 1856 and on Thompson’s death the following year, his eight runs were transferred to Reid.  Reid went on to amass another eight conjoining runs covering 525 square miles.  He then sold Woolthorpe, Hope and Thalba to A.Ferguson (of Walloon) and acquired Oxtrack West, Macoom, Moocoorooba and Kandoonan East.
 
In 1864, a small township of Woolthorpe was surveyed however only four of its eighty allotments were sold and they later reverted to the Crown.  William Woolrych took up a 13,000 acre riverfront block in 1893, later extending with the selections of partners to form Woolthorpe Station.  He was the sole owner when in 1920 the entire 32,000 acres were resumed under the Dawson Valley Irrigation Act of 1922 and this, with 800 acres resumed from Blighty became the Theodore Shire which was controlled by the Queensland Government’s Commissioner for Irrigation and Water Supply.
 
This Dawson Valley Irrigation Scheme was the first of its kind in Queensland and included plans to dam the Dawson River at Nathan Gorge with a series of dams and weirs downstream.  The total Scheme, to include five proposed zones – Isla, Castle Creek, Huon, Moura and Coolibah – was deemed to be able to provide 5,000 new farms and a livelihood for a projected 50,000 people. 
 
Work commenced in 1923 on surveying and building the infrastructure of the town of ‘Castle Creek’, the pilot scheme for the Dawson Valley Irrigation Scheme.  River water would be pumped through canals to individual ‘one-man’ irrigation blocks of 10 to 24 acres. Intending settlers were required to have £800 in cash.  Selectors had the option of taking up two blocks, if the Commissioner was satisfied the settler could handle the larger area, as well as a dry area of between 80 to 500 acres.  Settlers were provided with the Irrigation Commission’s ‘Little Green Book’, full of extravagant claims and painting a glowing picture of a giant irrigation scheme.
The Theodore Irrigation Zone was officially opened in late 1926 as 264 irrigated farms with 109 separate dry blocks.  The system operated on uncontrolled river flow on the assumption that the Nathan Dam would be built.  Cotton was the main crop of the scheme with crops grown on a demonstration farm yielding 2 1/2 bales per acre.
 
Being under the control of the Commissioner of Irrigation and Water Supply, Castle Creek was the first town in the now Banana Shire to have urban conveniences such as its own power station and electricity, a water supply and a beautification program that provided employment for five gardeners.  The palm trees that are a feature of Theodore’s main street, The Boulevard were planted in June 1925.  The Theodore Shire was taken over by the Banana Shire in 1958.
 
1924 was a year of phenomenal growth with the Commission employing more than 200 workers and thirty administration staff.  Water and power to the town were switched on, on the 7th July.   The first unofficial post office commenced operating from the newsagency and general store, later to be moved to the QIC offices.  Allan Holmes Snr, one of Theodore’s first entrepreneurs, set up a saddlery and boot repair business in a tent in front of his home and in 1939 erected a store on the Boulevard where he founded a stock and station agency and an electrical goods store whilst his wife opened a drapery section. The drapery, Holmes Enterprises is still owned and operated by the Holmes family as is Allan R Holmes and Co. electrical goods store.  Other businesses in the then Castle Creek, included a grocery shop, butcher shop, cordial factory, cafe and bakery.  The Castle Creek Model Band was formed as was the Tennis Association (with six teams), the football club and the town hosted its first ANZAC parade on the 24 April 1924.  The Castle Creek Picnic Race Club was also formed that year and held its first official meeting – the first race meeting was held at the Woolthorpe track on the 8th December 1923 – and ball at Woolthorpe homestead in December.  The Sub-branch of the RSL was formed on 30 July 1924 and arrangements were made to build a Hall which was completed in 1927.  This Hall served as a community centre, dance hall and picture show until Allan Holmes built his open-air theatre.  There was a boarding house catering for around thirty construction workers and later for the new settlers on the site of the current Hotel.  The Irrigation Commission had a modern sawmill on the river which provided employment for those workers initially employed in the development of the canal system.  As well as providing cheap timber it was a source of ready cash for the farmers who could sell the surplus timber from their blocks. 
 
The Castle Creek State School was opened in a house on the Boulevard on the 6th May 1924 with 44 students.  The new school was completed the following month with a single room (now the school’s office).  Two classrooms and a teacher’s residence were moved from Baralaba to accommodate the increasing student numbers in 1928.  In May 1961, the school opened a ‘High Top’ for 22 students.  Currently the Theodore State School – Prep to Year Ten – has 153 students and 35 staff.
 
During this time, Castle Creek/Theodore was almost totally isolated with no railway and atrocious roads.  Supplies were carted from Rannes, the closest railway.  The next stage of the Dawson Line railway linking Rockhampton to Taroom commenced on 28th October 1922 in Baralaba when the first sod was turned amongst much pomp and ceremony.  The line, terminating at the then township of Castle Creek – the Taroom extension did not occur – was estimated to have cost $600,000, was designed specifically for the Dawson Valley Irrigation Settlement Scheme and was officially opened on 11th May 1927.   Three mixed trains a week were scheduled from Rockhampton at 7am for a twelve-hour, and often fourteen hour trip to Theodore with passengers changing trains at Rannes. 
 
On the 1st December 1926, Castle Creek was renamed Theodore after the then former Premier, Mr E.G. ‘Red Ted’ Theodore, who had been a major supporter of the Scheme.
 
Theodore’s first church was the Sacred Heart Catholic church which was blessed in 1934 however Castle Creek’s first wedding was solemnised in 1926.  Theodore’s CWA Branch was formed in 1928.
 
With no doctor in town, local ambulance man Peter ‘Doc’ Knudsen acted as the medical provider for Theodore and surrounds, assisted by a car funded by the local community and the Irrigation Commission.   The Ambulance Station was opened in 1925 again by the Commission with community support.   Until 1950, Theodore relied on weekly visits from the Baralaba or Cracow doctor (when available) to the Ambulance Centre.  In 1952, an Outpatients Centre was built on the hospital reserve.  Nine years later, in September 1961 after years of lobbying, a ten-bed, air-conditioned hospital, built at a cost of $140,000 was opened.  In March 1976, fire destroyed it but it was rebuilt and opened again in November of the same year. 
 
The early 1930‘s brought Theodore’s first bank – the English and Scottish Bank – to town.  Despite optimistic projection and an initial growth spurt, further settlement of Theodore was slow and within ten years, only 124 selectors remained.  Severe flooding – two floods within three years, distance to the dry blocks and the infestation of prickly pear on same, inexperience, exorbitant rates, rentals and freight charges, as well as the looming Depression were blamed.  Then the price of cotton slumped – many tried dairying but sandflies and the distance to the Wowan butter factory were hindrances until Theodore’s Cheese Factory was opened in 1940.  The Cheese Factory was a ‘war orientated’ business, primarily supplying cheese to the Defence Forces and it closed in 1951. 
 
In March 1933, a Royal Commission was established to investigate the Dawson Irrigation Scheme which as $17,000 per selector, would remain one of the State’s most expensive schemes. 
 
Those settlers that remained took the opportunity to extend their cultivation areas and by sheer hard work the District would become one of the State’s top irrigated cotton, farming and grazing production areas. 
 
At a public meeting in 1948 it was unanimously agreed to request the Commission, on termination of the existing lease, that the Hotel be converted to a community Hotel on lines similar to community hotels in South Australia.  In 1949, the Hotel Theodore Co-Operative Association was formed with seven men elected to oversee the formation of a community owned Hotel.  Mr. Allan (WGA) Holmes was the first Chairman of the Board of Directors, a position he held for 25 years. The six directors were Chris Letchford, Kick Freeman, Hamish Gunn, Ray Hart, Gerald Connolly and Fred Leader.  An eighth member was appointed at the time being Mr Bill Bloomfield, the local Area Manager.  These men became the first members of the Association, each subscribing 2/6 (25 cents).   To enable the Association to function as a Co-Operative, a special Act of Parliament was passed known as the “Theodore Co-Operative Hotel Association Enabling Act”.  On the 14th April 1950 the Government approved the lease of the Hotel for a term of five years to the Hotel Theodore Co-Operative Association.  This was the first occasion in Queensland where a hotel was operated on a community basis. 
 
In 1935, the Castle Creek Picture Theatre was built following a fire in Allan Holmes’ open air theatre.  The Picture Theatre was operational until 1999 and has since played host to a grocery store,  a home and garden retail and cafe outlet and is now Theodore’s community gym.
 
Air travel came to Theodore in 1937 with the construction of an airstrip near the then racecourse by the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission. This airstrip was the first registered field in the now Banana Shire and was handed over to the Banana Shire Council in 1957.  In 1983, the Council gravel-sealed the airstrip and in 2004, the Theodore community raised more than $75,000 to install solar lighting at the strip to ensure the continuation of medical air evacuations.
 
The Theodore Bowls Club was formed in 1945 and the Theodore Golf Club in 1960. The Golf Club celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2010 and a great time was had by all members, past members, visitors and guests.
 
The late 1940’s and early 1950’s saw Theodore retail and service precinct continue to expand with the opening of ‘Theodore Supplies’, an auctioneer and estate agency and two saleyards.  In 1958, Theodore’s Post Office became official and the Rotary Club was started.
 
The Westmoreland Brothers established the first privately owned sawmill in the 1930‘s which they sold in 1964 to Wilson and Hart.  The sawmill had thirty employees and the potential to produce 50,000 super feet a week – one of the State’s largest hardwood mills.  Sold to Boral Ltd, the mill closed for several months in 2002 due to uncertainty over licences however Parkside purchased and reopened the mill in the same year.  The mill currently employs 27 people with an output of 26 cubic metres a day with a 37% recovery out of a log.
 
In 1980, the Theodore Hotel Cooperative paid $1000 for Theodore’s disused pumping station building and the Dawson Folk Museum commenced.  The Museum’s original holding of articles from the collection of ‘Grandfather’ Allan Holmes Senior has been built upon to provide intriguing and interesting displays of our local and cultural history.
 
Mining features heavily in Theodore’s current and future position.  Anglo American and Mitsui Coal, operators of the Moura Mine have expanded their operation to Dawson South and active coal mining is being undertaken within 14 kilometres of the Theodore Township near Willawa.  Both the Moura Mine and Evolution Mining (Gold) in Cracow provide employment to many Theodore residents.
 
The projected demand on housing in Theodore saw the relocation of the town’s Showgrounds, located in the centre of the town since 1949, to a new Sport and Recreation Grounds on the outskirts of the town.  Community fundraising of $178,000, matched by State and Federal governments saw the initial development of the Grounds which now incorporates cricket, netball, football, show, pony club and campdraft facilities as well as a large multi-purpose hall.
 
The previous Showgrounds was subdivided into 39 (17 first stage – sold out; and 22 second stage – 2 sold) allotments with an average size of 1068.  Stage 2 allotments have sold for an average price of $70,000.
 
In 1977 the Theodore Council on the Ageing Inc. was formed to facilitate to development of a retirement village in the town.  The local community raised enough funds to build an initial six units and the complex opened in 1981 with an additional six units built in 1996 and a further four units built with the assistance of the RSL in 2003.  The complex now offers 16 independent living units, an 11 bed hostel and a well-utilised HACC Centre, providing excellent retirement facilities for local retirees and those from further afield.
 
Dr Bruce and Mrs Anne Chater have invested heavily in their faith in the town, building their own Theodore Medical Centre, providing an impressive array of medical services and is the envy of many small, rural towns.  The 2011 floods inundated the Centre, located in Hamilton Street and after the loan of temporary ‘donga’ style accommodations from Anglo Coal, the new Theodore Medical Centre was jointly funded by the State and Commonwealth governments and opened in September 2013.  The Theodore Hospital is one of the few rural hospitals still providing maternity and theatre services as well as aged and acute care.  The Theodore District Health Council was formed in 1983 to address concern over the muted closure of the Theodore Hospital and in its new guise as Theodore Community Link, continues to provide valuable health and social support to the town. Theodore was awarded the AMAQ ‘Healthy Town Award’ in 2002.  Theodore’s Chamber of Commerce is actively working to capitalise on Theodore’s tourism potential – Junction Park plays host to several hundred ‘grey nomads’ over the cooler months – and its rural charm.  The Chamber hosts to the very successful Dawson River Festival in October each year, an extravaganza of markets, face painting, Cracow to Theodore bike ride, luncheons and raft racing; and the Dawson River Saratoga Fishing Competition in November each year.
 
Theodore boasts several ‘people of note’ particularly in the sporting arena.  Adrian Holmes won the State and National light heavyweight boxing titles in 1947 and 1948 and represented Australia in the London Olympics in 1948.  Mal Anderson was the US Open Singles tennis champion in 1957 and the Doubles Champion the following year, a feat he repeated in 1973.  John Wittenberg moved up through the ranks of Rugby League and represented Australia in the 1960’s.  Theodore locals currently spend many Saturday evenings glued to the television to barrack for Rob Simmons who plays Lock for the Wallabies and the Queensland Reds.  Although not sporting, entertainer Gerry Connolly is another notable Theodore export, well known for his musical and dramatic interpretations.
Theodore – a town built on water, keeping its feet firmly on the ground.
 
Sources:  Notes on Theodore by Pamela Anderson from ‘Grandfather’ Allan Holmes Snr notes, diaries and memories; Dawson Folk Museum and committee members; Two Valleys – One Destiny, A History of Banana Shire by Betty Perry.