The idea of an irrigation scheme involving the Dawson River was considered by the Queensland Parliament for many years in the early 1900s. However, it was not until February 1920, that the Premier of Queensland, Edward Granville Theodore announced his support for a Dawson River irrigation scheme and in 1923 the government resumed the land from the larger properties in the district.
The Dawson Valley Irrigation Scheme was the first of its kind in Queensland and included plans to dam the Dawson River at Nathan Gorge with a series of dams and weirs downstream. The total Scheme, to include five proposed zones – Isla, Castle Creek, Huon, Moura and Coolibah – was deemed to be able to provide 5,000 new farms and a livelihood for a projected 50,000 people. The plan was to develop a sophisticated irrigation system and sell small blocks of land that could be intensively developed.
Work commenced in 1923 on surveying and building the infrastructure of the town of ‘Castle Creek’, the pilot scheme for the Dawson Valley Irrigation Scheme. River water would be pumped through canals to individual ‘one-man’ irrigation blocks of 10 to 24 acres. Intending settlers were required to have £800 in cash. Selectors had the option of taking up two blocks, if the Commissioner was satisfied the settler could handle the larger area, as well as a dry area of between 80 to 500 acres. Settlers were provided with the Irrigation Commission’s ‘Little Green Book’, full of extravagant claims and painting a glowing picture of a giant irrigation scheme. The ‘Little Green Book’ declared: ‘Tens of thousands of acres of glorious land lie in idleness, awaiting the day when agriculture will awake them into fruitful activity. And, as the land is conquered, wealth and population will follow.’
The Theodore Irrigation Zone was officially opened in late 1926 as 264 irrigated farms with 109 separate dry blocks. The system operated on uncontrolled river flow on the assumption that the Nathan Dam would be built. Cotton was the main crop of the scheme with crops grown on a demonstration farm yielding 2 1/2 bales per acre.
Being under the control of the Commissioner of Irrigation and Water Supply, Castle Creek was the first town in the now Banana Shire to have urban conveniences such as its own power station and electricity, a water supply and a beautification program that provided employment for five gardeners. The palm trees that are a feature of Theodore’s main street, The Boulevard were planted in June 1925. The Theodore Shire was taken over by the Banana Shire in 1958.
On the 1st December 1926, Castle Creek was renamed Theodore after the then former Premier, Mr E.G. ‘Red Ted’ Theodore, who had been a major supporter of the Scheme.
Despite optimistic projection and an initial growth spurt, further settlement of Theodore was slow and within ten years, only 124 selectors remained. Severe flooding with two floods within three years, distance to the dry block, infestation of prickly pear on the dry blocks, inexperience, exorbitant rates, rentals and freight charges, as well as the looming Depression were blamed. Then the price of cotton slumped – many settlers tried dairying but sandflies and the distance to the Wowan butter factory were hindrances until Theodore’s Cheese Factory was opened in 1940. The Cheese Factory was a ‘war orientated’ business, primarily supplying cheese to the Defence Forces and it closed in 1951.
In March 1933, a Royal Commission was established to investigate the Dawson Irrigation Scheme, which at $17,000 per selector, was one of the State’s most expensive schemes.
The remaining settlers took the opportunity to extend their cultivation areas and by sheer hard work the district became one of the State’s leading irrigated cotton, farming and grazing production areas.
On 1 October 2018, the Theodore Channel Irrigation Scheme transitioned from government ownership and management through SunWater to ownership by the Scheme’s allocation holders as Theodore Water Pty Ltd.