Longreach is a centre for regional administration, service for the pastoral industry and a tourism centre. The Shire of
Longreach has a population of 4,400 (1996 census). The town is 192 metres above sea level. Average annual rainfall is
444 millimetres; most rain falls in January and February (79.7 and 78.9 millimetres average respectively); lowest rainfall
month is September (8.9 millimetres average). Hottest month is December (mean temperature from 22° to 37.5°);
coolest month is July (mean temperature from 7° to 23.5°).
The Longreach area was included in a pastoral lease, named Bowen Downs and covering about 2,000 square miles, granted in 1863 to a partnership of William Landsborough, Nat Buchanan and Edward Cornish. In 1887 the government broke up much of Bowen Downs into smaller blocks of about 40,000 acres which were thrown open to selectors; descendants of these selectors still live in the area.
In 1886 the site of Longreach, then a transit camp for teamsters taking supplies to an outstation of Bowen Downs, had been selected as the terminus of the railway line to be built from Rockhampton on the coast. In 1887 the township of Longreach was gazetted and the first sale of town blocks took place. The name Longreach may have been adopted because the town site was on a particularly long reach of the Thomson River.
After the railway line from the coast was completed in 1892 Longreach grew quickly as a service centre for the surrounding pastoral properties. As the wool industry boomed so Longreach grew; by 1910 the town had 14 hotels. On 16 November 1920 the newly formed airline, known as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service Limited later to become QANTAS, set up in Longreach and built a hangar in 1921 which is now incorporated in the Qantas Founders Museum. The first Qantas flight (an Avro 504) took off from Longreach on 7 February 1921 to fly to Winton.
Longreach power station began supplying the town with power for electric lights late in 1921 using charcoal gas units powering DC generators; the charcoal was locally produced. The power station location was decided because of the availability of an artesian bore drilled in 1897 which could provide water for cooling gas producers/engines but did not provide enough water for a steam driven generator. After a couple of upgrades, including installation of diesels in 1971 to drive alternators, the power station closed in 1985 when Longreach was connected with the state-wide grid.
Water in Longreach remains a topic for discussion. In 1938 the River Water Reticulation Scheme supplied water from the Town Waterhole on the Thomson River to houses in the town permitting them to develop gardens. The scheme included building a water tower behind the Shire Chambers near the main road through town. But this river water did not become Longreach's sole water supply and domestic users have two water supplies to houses, one for river water and one for bore water. Bore water is free but kills plants if used to water them. River water can be used to water plants but there is a regulatory limit to the amount of water the town is allowed to take from the waterhole and river water has run out in the past. Some houses have installed rain-water tanks to give them an additional water source when it rains. Having three sorts of water leads to visitors being asked whether they want their tea made with rain-water, bore-water or tap-water (from the river).
Main use of water from the Town Waterhole is for the town, with limits on the volume that can be taken. The only agricultural use permitted is irrigating a few hectares at the agricultural college for students as part of their course. Banning other agricultural uses of water in the Town Waterhole has caused some hard feeling since during times of drought there can be enough feed for stock around Longreach but insufficient water for them to drink.
Given regulatory limits on volumes of water available from the waterhole and from bores, and the current competition for the already available water, future growth in Longreach will require an innovative solution to find fresh water.
Longreach relied on the pastoral industry for its first hundred years; it has now diversified and adopted tourism as an additional local industry. In 1988 the Australian Stockmans Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre opened in Longreach and continues to attract a large number of visitors. The Qantas Founders Outback Museum expertly portrays Qantas' early days and the School of Distance Education (formerly the School of the Air) shows visitors the process of educating children on remote properties in south-western Queensland and into South Australia. Other tourist attractions include the Powerhouse Museum and dusk dinner cruises on the Longreach Town Waterhole which is the official designation of the Thomson River permanent waterhole at Longreach. Growth of tourism has contributed significantly to Longreach's economy and the importance of tourism is readily acknowledged by the shire.
Streets in Longreach are named after birds. Streets running east-west are named after waterbirds; streets running north-south are named after landbirds.
¶ Bureau of Meteorology at http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages
¶ Shire of Longreach at http://www.longreach.qld.gov.au
¶ Walkabout at http://walkabout.com.au/locations/QLDLongreach.shtml