Townsville [tounz-vil] is a city on the north-eastern coast of Queensland, Australia. Adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, it is in the dry tropics region of Queensland. Townsville is Australia's largest urban centre north of the Sunshine Coast, with a 2012 population of 196,219, Considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland, Townsville hosts a significant number of governmental, community and major business administrative offices for the northern half of the state.
Popular attractions include "The Strand", a long tropical beach and garden strip; Riverway, a riverfront parkland attraction located on the banks of Ross River; Reef HQ, a large tropical aquarium holding many of the Great Barrier Reef's native flora and fauna; the Museum of Tropical Queensland, built around a display of relics from the sunken British warship HMS Pandora; The Townsville Sports Reserve"; and Magnetic Island, a large neighbouring island, the vast majority of which is national park.
Such indigenous groups as the Wulgurukaba, Bindal, Girrugubba, Warakamai and Nawagi, among others, originally inhabited the Townsville area. The Wulgurukaba claim to be the traditional owner of the Townsville city area; the Bindal had a claim struck out by the Federal Court of Australia in 2005.
James Cook visited the Townsville region on his first voyage to Australia in 1770, but did not actually land there. Cook named nearby Cape Cleveland, Cleveland Bay, and Magnetic(al) Island. In 1819, Captain Phillip Parker King and botanist Alan Cunningham were the first Europeans to record a local landing. In 1846, James Morrill was shipwrecked from the Peruvian, living in the Townsville area among the Bindal people for 17 years before being found by white men and returned to Brisbane.
The Burdekin River's seasonal flooding made the establishment of a seaport north of the river essential to the nascent inland cattle industry. John Melton Black of Woodstock Station, an employee of Sydney entrepreneur and businessman Robert Towns, dispatched Andrew Ball, Mark Watt Reid and a small party of aborigines to search for a suitable site. Ball's party reached the Ross Creek in April 1864 and established a camp below the rocky spur of Melton Hill, near the present Customs House on The Strand. The first party of settlers, led by W.A. Ross, arrived at Cleveland Bay from Woodstock Station on 5 November of that year. In 1866 Robert Towns visited for three days, his first and only visit. He agreed to provide ongoing financial assistance to the new settlement and Townsville was named in his honour.
Townsville was declared a municipality in February 1866, with John Melton Black elected as its first Mayor. Townsville developed rapidly as the major port and service centre for the Cape River, Gilbert, Ravenswood, Etheridge and Charters Towers goldfields. Regional pastoral and sugar industries also expanded and flourished. Townsville's population was 4,000 people in 1882 and grew to 13,000 by 1891. In 1901 Lord Hopetoun made a goodwill tour of northern Australia and accepted an invitation to officially open Townsville's town hall, occasioning the first ever vice-regal ceremonial unfurling of the Australian national flag. With Brisbane, in 1902 Townsville was proclaimed a City under the Local Authorities Act.
The rural land surrounding the city was initially managed by the Thuringowa Road Board, which eventually became the Shire of Thuringowa. The shire ceded land several times to support Townsville's expansion. In 1986 the Shire became incorporated as a city, governed by the Thuringowa City Council. The cities of Townsville and Thuringowa were amalgamated into the "new" Townsville City Council in March 2008, as part of the Queensland state government's reform program.
In 1896, Japan established its first Australian consulate in Townsville, primarily to serve some 4,000 Japanese workers who migrated to work in the sugar cane, turtle, trochus, beche de mer and pearling industries. With the introduction of the White Australia policy, the demand for Japanese workers decreased, causing the consulate to finally close in 1908.
Second World War
During World War II, the city was host to over 50,000 American and Australian troops and air crew, and it became a major staging point for battles in the South West Pacific. A large United States Armed Forces contingent supported the war effort from seven airfields and other bases around the city and in the region. The first bombing raid on Rabaul, in Papua New Guinea, on 23 February 1942 was carried out by six B-17s based near Townsville. It was common for B-26 Marauders, B-17 Flying Fortresss or B-25 Mitchell bombers to take off on long range bombing raids from Garbutt air base.
Within the town a great deal of construction occurred during World War II. Apart from rebuilding the air base, the American forces converted several of the main roads to use as taxiways and subsidiary airstrips, and maintenance workshops were built along these roadways. The remains of some of these installations and airstrips are still evident.
Some of the units based in Townsville were:
General Douglas MacArthur allegedly had his headquarters in an underground bunker that still exists under an office building in the suburb of Garbutt. There have also been references to numerous hidden air raid bunkers, reports of secret tunnels and similar secret units.
In July 1942, three small Japanese air raids were made against Townsville, which was by then the most important air base in Australia. Several 500-pound (230 kg) bombs were dropped in the harbour, near the Garbutt airfield and at Oonoonba, where bomb craters are still clearly visible. No lives were lost and structural damage was minimal, as the Japanese missed their intended target of the railway and destroyed a palm tree. Although the Japanese aircraft were intercepted on two of the three raids, no Japanese planes were shot down.
On Christmas Eve 1971, Tropical Cyclone Althea, a category 4 cyclone, battered the city and Magnetic Island, causing considerable damage. Other tropical storms have threatened the area in the intervening years, but with less effect.
Two very significant hotels on Flinders Street were lost, Buchanan's Hotel (regarded by architectural historians as Australia's most significant building in the Filigree style) to fire in 1982 and the Alexandra Hotel to demolition in the 1970s.
Eddie Mabo, who later became famous for his involvement in overturning the legal fiction of terra nullius, worked as a gardener at James Cook University in the 1970-1980s. It was here where he first learned of the implications of the terra nullius doctrine and decided to take on the Australian government. The James Cook University Douglas campus library is now named after him.
In October 2000, a Solomon Islands Peace Agreement was negotiated in Townsville.