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Townsville Ross Creek Castle Hill.jpg
Townsville's CBD viewed from Central Park, with Castle Hill in the background.
Population 180,333 (2015) (13th)
 • Density 259.025/km2 (670.87/sq mi)
Established 1865
Area 696.2 km2 (268.8 sq mi)(2011 urban)
Time zone AEST (UTC+10)
LGA(s) City of Townsville
County Elphinstone
State electorate(s)
  • Townsville
  • Thuringowa
  • Mundingburra
  • Burdekin
Federal Division(s) Herbert
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
28.9 °C
84 °F
19.8 °C
68 °F
1,134.7 mm
44.7 in

Townsville is a city on the north-eastern coast of Queensland, Australia. It is in the dry tropics region of Queensland, adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef. Townsville is Australia's largest urban centre north of the Sunshine Coast, with a 2015 population estimate of 180,333. Considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland by locals, 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; Castle Hill, the most prominent landmark of the area and a popular fitness destination; The Townsville Sports Reserve; and Magnetic Island, a large neighbouring island, the vast majority of which is national park.


Early history

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.


StateLibQld 1 137127 Panoramic view of Townsville and surrounds, ca. 1870
Townsville ca. 1870
Queensland State Archives 1345 Anzac Memorial and Esplanade Townsville c 1935
Anzac Cenotaph and Esplanade, Townsville, circa 1935

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.

Townsville 1937 parade of 31st battalion kennedy regiment
Parade of 31st Battalion, Kennedy Regiment, marching down Flinders Street, Townsville, Queensland, 1937

The foundation stone of the Townsville Cenotaph was laid in Strand Park on 19 July 1923. It was unveiled on 25 April 1924 (ANZAC Day) by the Queensland Governor, Sir Matthew Nathan.


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.

Japanese influence

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.

World War II

Robert Towns Statue
A statue of Robert Towns was placed in Flinders Square in recognition of his contribution to the establishment of Townsville.

During World War II, the city was host to more than 50,000

Some of the units based in Townsville were:

  • No. 3 Fighter Sector RAAF, Wulguru & North Ward
  • 1 Wireless Unit, Pimlico & Stuart & Roseneath
  • North Eastern Area Command HQ, Townsville, Sturt Street (now the Federation building)
  • Castle Hill, Townsville underground tunnels & bunkers
  • Green St. Bunker, West End, Sidney Street West End, Project 81 (now the SES building)
  • 96th Engineer Battalion (which mutinied in April 1942.)

In July 1942, three small Japanese air raids were conducted against Townsville, which was by then the most important air base in Australia. Several 500-pound (230-kilogram) 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.

1970 onwards

On Christmas Eve 1971, Tropical Cyclone Althea, a category 4 cyclone, battered the city and Magnetic Island, causing considerable damage.

Two very significant hotels on Flinders Street were lost. Buchanan's Hotel was regarded by architectural historians as Australia's most significant building in the Filigree style was lost 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 1970s and 1980s. It was here 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.

Urban layout

Inner city high-density development has also created population growth and gentrification of the central business district (CBD). One significant contributor to CBD development was the construction of a new rail passenger terminal and moving the railway workshops, releasing prime real estate which formerly belonged to Queensland Rail for the development of residential units, retail projects and a new performing arts centre. The skyline of Townsville's central business district has undergone dramatic changes over the last few years, with a number of new highrise buildings, both commercial and residential, constructed.

In the short term, much of the urban expansion will continue to the west and the north, in the former City of Thuringowa. The most significant of these is North Shore Estate, a new A$1 billion 5,000-lot housing estate, located close to the Bruce Highway, just north of the Bohle River. Medium term expansion of Townsville will be focused on two major urban developments anticipated to start soon. Rocky Springs, a satellite city to the south of Townsville, is expected to eventually be home to 55,000 people. Additionally, the State Government announced it will be offering 270ha of State-owned land (the former abattoir reserve), just south of the Bohle River, for future urban expansion.

Townsville City viewed from Castle Hill at sunrise


Ross River from Riverway
The Ross River that runs through Townsville

Townsville lies approximately 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) north of Brisbane, and 350 kilometres (220 mi) south of Cairns. It lies on the shores of Cleveland Bay, protected to some degree from the predominantly south-east weather. Cleveland Bay is mostly shallow inshore, with several large beaches and continually shifting sand bars. Magnetic Island lies 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) offshore, to the north of the city centre.

The Ross River flows through the city. Three weirs, fish stocking and dredging of the river in these reaches has resulted in a deep, stable and clean waterway used for many recreational activities such as waterskiing, fishing and rowing. Thirty kilometres from the mouth (at the junction of Five Head Creek) is the Ross River Dam, the major water storage for the urban areas.

The historic waterfront on Ross Creek, site of the original wharves and port facilities, has some old buildings mixed with the later modern skyline. However, the central city is dominated by the mass of red granite called Castle Hill, 292 metres (958 ft) high and just 8 metres short of being a mountain. There is a lookout at the summit giving panoramic views of the city and its suburbs, including Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island. There are a number of parks scattered throughout the city, including three botanical gardens — Anderson Park, Queens Gardens and The Palmetum.


Townsville is characterised as a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification Aw). Owing to a quirk of its geographical location, Townsville's winter rainfall in particular is not as high as elsewhere in the coastal tropics of Queensland, such as Cairns. The winter months are dominated by southeast trade winds and mostly fine weather. Further north the coastline runs north/south and the trade winds are lifted to produce rainfall right through the year. Townsville, however, lies on a section of coastline that turns east/west, so the lifting effect is not present. As a result, winter months are dominated by blue skies, warm days and cool nights, although at times significant rainfall may occur.

Kenneth Wade Robinson summarised the climate as follows:

The sunshine attracts many tourists; but the high temperatures, bright sunshine, lack of moisture in the winter, and the prospect of flooding in the summer have a profound effect on all aspects of life and landscape. Special techniques are required for successful farming, sub-tropical crops are important items of production, pastures grow only in summer, and transport may be dislocated when it is needed most. Since the onset of white settlement, pastoralists and farmers of the North-East Coastlands Region have faced problems for which there are no answers in the agriculture practices of temperate lands.

The average annual rainfall is 1,143 millimetres (45.0 in) on an average 91 rain days, most of which falls during the six-month "wet season" from November to April. Because of the "hit or miss" nature of tropical lows and thunderstorms, there is considerable variation from year to year. Annual rainfall has ranged from 397.6 millimetres (15.65 in) in 2015 to 2,399.8 millimetres (94.48 in) in 2000. Rainfall also varies considerably within the metropolitan area; it typically ranges from 1,136 millimetres (44.7 in) at central Townsville City to 853 millimetres (33.6 in) at Woodstock, a southwestern suburb. The wettest 24 hours on record was 11 January 1998, with 548.8 millimetres (21.61 in) falling mostly in a 12-hour period after dark, which has since been dubbed the "Night of Noah" by Townsville residents.

Climate data for Townsville Airport, Australia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 44.3
Average high °C (°F) 31.4
Average low °C (°F) 24.3
Record low °C (°F) 18.7
Precipitation mm (inches) 270.1
Avg. precipitation days 14.5 15.5 12.6 7.7 5.8 4.2 3.0 2.6 2.4 4.7 7.3 9.8 90.1
Sunshine hours 244.9 204.4 235.6 234.0 232.5 234.0 263.5 279.0 288.0 303.8 282.0 279.0 3,080.7
Source: Bureau of Meteorology
Townsville Rainfall Data mm (inches)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
Highest rainfall 1,141.7 (44.9) 960.8 (37.8) 696.2 (27.4) 546.2 (21.5) 180.8 (7.1) 111.4 (4.4) 173.7 (6.8) 258.2 (10.2) 84.4 (3.3) 252.8 (10.0) 345.2 (13.6) 458.0 (18.0) 2,399.8 (94.5)
Highest 24-hour rainfall 548.8 (21.6) 317.6 (12.5) 366.5 (14.4) 271.6 (10.7) 96.0 (3.8) 93.0 (3.7) 89.8 (3.5) 134.2 (5.3) 64.6 (2.5) 89.4 (3.5) 132.8 (5.2) 206.8 (8.1) 548.8 (21.6)
Average rainfall 270.1 (10.6) 298.7 (11.8) 192.4 (7.6) 66.4 (2.6) 31.7 (1.2) 21.2 (0.8) 14.9 (0.6) 16.1 (0.6) 10.4 (0.4) 23.4 (0.9) 58.4 (2.3) 127.7 (5.0) 1,134.7 (44.7)
Lowest rainfall 8.8 (0.3) 4.2 (0.2) 2.0 (0.1) 0.3 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 0.2 (0.0) 0.0 (0.0) 397.6 (15.7)
Bureau of Meteorology

December is the warmest month of the year with daily mean maximum and minimum temperatures being 31.5 °C (88.7 °F) and 24.1 °C (75.4 °F) respectively. July is the coolest month with daily mean maximum and minimum temperatures being 25.1 °C (77.2 °F) and 13.7 °C (56.7 °F). Townsville experiences an annual mean of 8.5 hours of sunshine per day, averaging 120.8 clear days per year.

Tropical cyclones

Like most of North Queensland, Townsville is susceptible to tropical cyclones. They usually occur between December and April, forming mainly out in the Coral Sea, and usually tracking west to the coast. Notable cyclones to affect the Townsville Region have been: Cyclone Yasi (2011), Cyclone Tessi (2000), Cyclone Sid (1998, in particular damaging The Strand), Cyclone Joy (1990), Cyclone Althea (1971), Cyclone Leonta (1903) and Cyclone Sigma (1896).

Townsville and Thuringowa experienced major flooding in January 1998 due to Cyclone Sid.


Townsville has a younger population than the Australian and Queensland averages. The city has traditionally experienced a high turnover of people, with the army base and government services bringing in many short to medium term workers. The region has also become popular with mine workers on fly in/fly out contracts. In 2005–06, the Townsville Statistical District grew at just over 3 per cent and was the fifth-fastest-growing district or division in Australia. Between 2000 and 2005 the annual average population growth in Townsville was 2.5%, compared with 2.2% for Queensland overall. However, growth has slowed in more recent years with population growth over the 2014–15 period being 1%, compared with the state average of 1.2%.

Panorama of Flinders Street at night
Flinders Street, with revellers heading towards the pub and club precinct

Population statistics

Historical yearly population statistics
Year Population Percentage
Population estimate
1988 110,300
1991 114,063 figures from 1991 census
1996 122,415 figures from 1996 census
1999 127,873 ABS final
2000 131,100 ABS final
2001 134,073 9.5
(since 1996)
figures from 2001 census
2002 137,507 2.6 ABS revised
2003 140,761 2.4 ABS revised
2004 144,417 2.6 ABS revised
2005 148,767 3.0 ABS preliminary

Culture, events and festivals

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music is an international chamber music festival held over ten days each July in Townsville, North Queensland. The festival has been running since 1991, and attracts many acclaimed international and Australian musicians. Townsville also has its own orchestra, the Barrier Reef Orchestra, which presents concerts throughout North Queensland. The Townsville Entertainment Centre, seating more than 5,000 people, is host to many national and international music shows, as well as sporting and trade shows.

The region has many renowned festivals, many which celebrate the international heritage of many that call North Queensland home. The Annual Greek and Italian Festivals are popular with the locals and tourists alike. The Townsville South hotel and restaurant strip hosts an annual Palmer Street Jazz Festival, as does nearby Magnetic Island (The Great Tropical Jazz Party). The Stable on the Strand is celebrated each Christmas.

Cultural Fest in The Strand 2009
Cultural Fest in the Strand

The Townsville Civic Theatre is North Queensland's premier cultural facility. Since its opening in 1978, the Theatre has been a centre of entertainment and performing arts, providing an environment to further develop the performing arts in Townsville and the North. The Full Throttle Theatre Company is a professional theatre company based in Townsville. Full Throttle showcases the talents of local actors, designers, directors and playwrights. It presents four major shows a year.

The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery is the public art gallery of Townsville. Located on the eastern end of Flinders Mall, the Gallery focuses on artwork relevant to North Queensland and the Tropics. Every second September the gallery presents sculpture artworks and art festival called Strand Ephemera, exhibited over the two kilometre beachfront strip.

The Townsville City Council and Townsville Intercultural Centre annually organises Cultural Fest in mid August in the Strand. The Cultural Fest showcases the cultural diversity of the city and dance, food, and music from different ethnic groups in the region.

The city has many restaurants, concentrated on Palmer Street in South Townsville, Flinders Street and to a lesser extent along the Strand. The city also has a vibrant pub and night-club scene, many of them located in Flinders Street East.

Townsville is the stunning setting for the state-of-the-art futuristic city in the 2015 novel, 'A Tango with the Dragon.'

Media and communications

Townsville is the media centre for North Queensland, with four commercial radio stations, North Queensland ABC radio station, three commercial television stations, one regional daily newspaper and one community weekly newspaper (both owned by News Ltd). There are no local Sunday papers although The Sunday Mail (Qld) — based in Brisbane — does have a North Queensland edition. Media distributed on the World Wide Web include the Townsville Bulletin.

Sport and recreation

Riverway (Townsville)
One of Riverway's swimming lagoons, a free swimming and recreation area.

Townsville hosts several sporting teams that participate in national competitions. These include the North Queensland Cowboys (National Rugby League), the Townsville Fire (Women's National Basketball League) who play at the Townsville RSL Stadium and the Townsville Crocodiles, (National Basketball League) who play out of the Townsville Entertainment Centre, known as The Swamp during Crocs home games.

1300SMILES Stadium is the home ground for the Cowboys. Built in 1995 the stadium has a capacity of 30,302. 1300SMILES Stadium was an official venue the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup, with three matches played in Townsville. Townsville hosted the popular Japanese national rugby union team.. Tony Ireland Stadium, in the suburb of Thuringowa, has an international standard cricket and AFL stadium.

Townsville also hosts two Touch Football associations. The Townsville/Castle Hill Touch Association (TCHTA) conducts competitions annually at its grounds at Queens Park, Townsville. Thuringowa Touch Association (TTA) also conducts competitions at Greenwood Park, Kirwan. Both competitions have produced a host of regional, state and national representative players and officials.

Townsville and its surrounding suburbs host a number of junior and senior rugby league sides in the successful Townsville District Rugby League, including A-grade sides: Bindal Sharks, Brothers Townsville, University Saints and Centrals ASA Tigers. The junior league has produced a number of Australian internationals such as Gorden Tallis and Gene Miles.

Townsville and District Rugby Union run a successful Winter Junior and Senior Rugby Union competition including teams from Ingham, Charters Towers and Ayr. Townsville has produced a number of Wallabies in past including Peter Grigg and Sam Scott-Young.

AFL Townsville operate a regional Australian rules football league in the region. Jake Spencer is the first local player to play in the AFL.

Several Australian Test and ODI cricketers have come out of Townsville including fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, Andrew Symonds and James Hopes. In 2012 Townsville hosted under 19 cricket World Cup preliminary matches, semi finals and the final featuring Australia and India.

The Townsville Street Circuit is located in Reid Park in Townsville. Each July since 2009, it hosts the Townsville 400 for the International V8 Supercars Championship.

Townsville also has a go cart track and motocross track, Townsville had a 1/4-mile dragstrip, but it closed its gates on 25 August 2012 due to urban development.

Rowing occurs at Townsville & JCU Rowing Club and Riverway Rowing Club. Both clubs cater to competitive masters, social, learn to row and school-based rowing programs. In 2009 the Townsville & JCU club won its first Queensland Club Premiership and in 2010 Riverway club claimed theirs.

Townsville has 2 Tennis Clubs. The Western Suburbs Tennis Club Inc and Tennis Townsville Inc. Each year Tennis Townsville host the NQ Open Championships and Western Suburbs Tennis Club host the Townsville Open. These tournaments see Australian and international players competing for up to $10,000 prize money and the opportunity to improve their Australian Tennis Ranking.

Defence facilities

The Australian Army maintains a very strong presence in the north of Australia and this is evident by the basing of the Army's 3rd Brigade at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville. The 3rd Brigade is a light infantry brigade. The brigade consists of three light infantry battalions — the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment (1, 2 and 3 RAR) — and a cavalry contingent from 'B' Squadron, 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment. It also has integral Artillery, Engineer, Aviation Reconnaissance and Combat Service Support units. It is a high-readiness brigade that has been deployed frequently at very short notice on combat operations outside mainland Australia. These include Somalia, Rwanda, Namibia, East Timor, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to the 3rd Brigade, a number of other major units are based in Townsville. These include the 5th Aviation Regiment, equipped with Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters, co-located at the RAAF Base in Garbutt and the 10th Force Support Battalion based at Ross Island. 10 FSB is a force logistics unit that provides back up logistic support to deployed units. The battalion provides specialist transport (including amphibious) and supply support. Along with this there is also the 11th Combat Service Support Battalion and the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment.

The Army also maintains an Army Reserve brigade in Townsville designated the 11th Brigade. This formation is similar in structure to the 3rd Brigade but comprises reserve soldiers only. There is also two active cadet units, 130 ACU located within Heatley Secondary College and 15 ACU located on Lavarack Barracks as of 2010, previously located at Ignatius Park College.

As with the Army, the Royal Australian Air Force also maintains a presence in Townsville. RAAF Base Townsville, which is located in the suburb of Garbutt, houses the Beech KingAir 350 aircraft from No. 38 Squadron RAAF. This unit operated the venerable DHC-4 Caribou aircraft until late 2009; however, it has re-equipped in the short term while protracted analysis for a more appropriate Battlefield Transport and Utility aircraft continues. This detachment provides support to the Army units in Townsville. The base is also a high readiness Defence asset and is prepared to accept the full range of RAAF aircraft types as well as other international aircraft including the huge C-17 Globemaster III and the Russian Antonov transport aircraft.

Townsville is also the staging point for the movement of personnel and materials to the remote parts of Northern Australia and many overseas locations.

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