History of Ilfracombe



Tiny western Queensland township surrounded by large grazing properties.

Looking at the tiny settlement of Ilfracombe, with its one hotel and rather isolated Folk Museum, it is hard to imagine that, in the 1890s, the town had three hotels each with its own dance hall, a soft drink maker, a coach builder, two general stores, a billiard saloon, a dressmaker, three commission agents, a couple of butchers, a baker and a saddler. The story of western Queensland is contained in these changes. Once transportation became efficient the number of people living in the outback declined. What took a month in the 1890s can now take only a few hours.

Today there are just 350 people living in a shire which covers an area of 6500 sq. km. The old stations where anything up to 100 people were employed are now a thing of the past. Back in1892 Wellshot Station (60 km south of town) was the largest sheep station in the world, in terms of the number of sheep it ran: 460 000. Indeed, so predominant was it that Ilfracombe was, until 1890, known as Wellshot.

To the north of the town Beaconsfield Station is a reminder of the enterprise and ingenuity which accompanied the development of the area. A small section of the property has been listed by the National Trust because in the 1890s the property devised a sheep wash which consisted of a trench which was filled with water from a dam built across Brutus Creek. The sheep were washed in this trench by a combination of steam and scrubbing. The washed sheep were then transported towards the shearing shed by means of trolleys which were driven by steam power. The trolleys travelled along rails. Although it is nothing but ruins now it is an important reminder that in the 1890s Australia was at the forefront of wool technology.

Another record claimed by the shire is that of the largest mob of sheep ever moved as a single flock. In 1886 43 000 sheep were moved through the area by a droving team of 27 horsemen – and that doesn’t include the cooks, blacksmiths and hands which would have been needed to accompany the drovers. The era of the large wagon hauls was ended by the arrival of the railway in 1891, making Ilfracombe a railhead for the transportation of regional livestock to urban markets.

The changing of the times is apparent in another historical landmark associated with the town, when, in 1910, it became part of the first motorised postal service in Australia, from Ilfracombe to Isisford.

Located just 27 km east of Longreach, on the Matilda Highway, and 214 m above sea level, Ilfracome currently has a town population of 190. The huge properties which once dominated the area have been broken up into smaller units. Despite the changes of the last century Ilfracombe still survives as a service centre to the surrounding sheep and cattle stations. It possesses such facilities as a swimming pool, a 14-hole golf course, tennis, rugby league, and clay target clubs, a recreation centre, a racecourse, an hotel, a store, a post office, a school and a caravan park. It is of some interest that Fred Schepisi, the director of Evil Angels and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, now owns land in the shire.

In 1988 Peter Forrest was commissioned to write a history of the shire. The result ‘A Rush for Grass’ is much more than a local history. It provides an insight into the forces which shaped the development of western Queensland in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Ilfracombe is a microcosm of those forces.

Mohandas Gandhi

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”