Named not after the gem, but for the lush green pastures that once surrounded the town, Emerald is the hub of the Central Highlands area.

Emerald is a large, modern country town that was established in 1879 as a base for the building of the western railway. The town is named after a nearby pastoral property taken up by the MacDonald family in 1861. On arrival the family were so impressed with the green pastures that they decided to name their selection ‘Emerald Downs’. The area was first explored by the European Ludwig Leichhardt. Emerald was established in 1879 as a base for the Central Railway Line from Rockhampton and is now considered the ‘hub’ for the Central Highlands and the ‘gateway’ to the Sapphire Gemfields.


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The town has extensive infrastructure, with varied education facilities including campuses for CQUniversity, Emerald Agricultural College and private and government schools. It also features general and mining-related rail networks, a major regional airport and a hospital. The Fairbairn Dam, just south of Emerald, was opened in 1972 and is a holiday destination and a major water resource for irrigated crop production and industrial usage.

Primary industries include coal, sapphire and gem mining, cotton, wheat, maize, sorghum, oats, barley, sunflower, soybean, beef, citrus, grapes, avocados, mangos, native flowers, peanuts and many small crops.

Once famous as a major sunflower producer, Emerald is now home to the world’s biggest Van Gogh ‘Sunflower’ painting located in Morton Park on an easel at the western end of Clermont Street (Capricorn Highway). The superstructure is 25 metres high with approximately 13.6 tonnes of steel involved in its construction.

Built in 1900 and restored in 1986, the National Trust-listed railway station, with its wrought-iron lacework and pillared portico, provides visitors with great photo opportunities.

In the 1860s both gold and copper were found in the area and there was a brief flurry of interest. Unfortunately, little is left of Emerald’s early history as it was ravaged by major fires in 1936, 1940, 1954 and 1968.

Emerald would have continued as a small town had it not been for a decision made in 1948 by the British Food Corporation to grow sorghum in the area. This highlighted the suitability of the local soil to crop growing. To strengthen the agricultural base of the area the huge Fairbairn Dam, located south of the town on the road to Springsure, was built in 1972 with a storage capacity of 1,301,000 megalitres. This facilitated the shift of the region’s

For more information on the area, drop into the Central Highlands Visitor Information Centre - 3 Clermont Street, Emerald P: 07 4982 4142

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