Flowing north from its source near Booroobin in the Sunshine Coast hinterland to its mouth at River Heads on the Great Sandy Straight just south of Hervey Bay, the Mary River basin is a rich tapestry of landscapes and history.
The original name of the river was the Moonoboola. In 1842 it was given the name Wide Bay River by early explorers of its lower reaches. However in 1847 Governor Fitzroy changed the name to the Mary River in honour of his wife, Lady Mary Fitzroy.
The river winds its way though farmlands, orchids, rainforests and unspoilt stands of eucalypts and red cedar and has a number of tributaries along the way. The entire catchment area covers a total of 9,595 km. It passes through many towns including Brooloo, Inbril, Amamoor, Kenilworth, Gympie, Tiaro and Maryborough and is bound by the Burnett, Jimma and Conondale Ranges.
The Kabi Kabi people were the traditional custodians of the land in this region, living in harmony with it for many thousands of years. When the European settlers came in the early to mid 19th Century they found an abundance of natural resources in the form of usable timber, rich soil, clean waterways and then gold. In the scramble for wealth and economic growth, vast areas of forest were clear-felled to provide timber for the mines and allow access to new reefs.
The settlers also brought new species of plants and animals for farming. Some of these were successfully established but many were not. Those that were well suited to the climate and soil included dairy and beef cattle and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
At the same time, the timber and mining industries grew at an astronomical speed requiring more and more resources both from the land and also in terms of people power. Townships sprung up as if from nowhere and immigrants from other colonies and far away countries all came for their chance to strike it rich on the goldfields. In the years between 1850 and Federation, the Port of Maryborough was one of the busiest on the Australian continent.
The extension of the railway line along the Mary Valley from Gympie to Brooloo in 1914 brought new opportunities for transporting fresh produce to markets in Brisbane and beyond. Today agriculture, dairy operations and the timber industry remain the chief economical providers in the region along with tourism.
The river is home to a menagerie of wildlife including kingfishers, Coxen’s fig parrot and the endangered Mary River Turtle. You might even spot the odd saltwater crocodile in the final reaches.
In 2006, after a several years of inland drought the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, announced a plan to dam the Mary River at Traveston Crossing. This was done with little local consultation and came after the community had just participated in a comprehensive water management plan.
The proposal was met with a wall of opposition from the Mary Valley Community. They were very concerned that the dam would endanger the habitat of hundreds of species and that the plan was far from cohesive and workable. Residents, business owners and many others began a campaign to block the proposal and save the Mary Valley.
After 3 years of intensive rallying, the campaign was successful and the proposal was rejected by the Federal Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett. An interesting outcome of this action was that the community groups who had come together as allies against the proposal now had an established communication network that is still continuing to evolve to the benefit of all parties.
Thanks to this outstanding community action visitors and locals alike can still enjoy the wonders of the river along its original course. You can go fishing for golden perch, bass or saratoga with as many as 10 access points from Gympie alone. You could spend a lazy afternoon drifting down the river in a canoe or taking a basket of local produce and enjoying a picnic at Lake Borumba near Imbril.
Following the food trails, camping, horse-riding, watching short films, or dancing up a storm at the music muster – whatever your tastes and interests, the Mary River Valley is sure to give you plenty to do anytime you choose to come and stay.