Central Highlands

The Central Highlands covers an area of almost 60,000 square kilometres, including a significant portion of the Bowen Basin – Australia’s largest coal reserve. This prosperous and vibrant region has a diverse economy based on:

  • An enviable global coal mining industry
  • Robust and resilient agricultural and horticultural industries, including beef, grain, cotton, grapes, melons and citrus
  • A growing tourism market supported by natural attractions
  • Dynamic small and medium businesses
  • Professional and government sectors
  • Availability of commercial, industrial and residential land

Other competitive economic advantages include a booming regional airport in Emerald and a concentration of government facilities and major health and education services. With multi-billion-dollar infrastructure and construction projects under way, this region has plenty to offer!


The Central Highlands region enjoys a sub-tropical climate with nearly half of its annual rainfall (average 636mm) falling in the summer months of December through to February. Average summer temperatures range from 22-34oC, while the mild winters mean April-September is peak tourist season.


The population of the Central Highlands region was estimated at 31, 595 in June 2014. It is expected to reach 55,000 by 2031, a growth rate of 2.5%, compared to the average figure for Queensland of 2.3%.
Source: Economy.id, Central Highlands Economic Profile 2014

Our Society


Safe and friendly communities, active healthy lifestyles and abundant natural resources characterise the lifestyle of the Central Highlands.

The region’s social scene rivals that of larger centres, with horse racing, rodeos, agricultural shows, art and craft markets and various family fun days all regular features on the calendar. Major annual events include the Central Highlands Multicultural Festival, Gemfest – Festival of Gems, and the Easter Sunflower Festival. The Central Highlands is also blessed with top-quality restaurants and cafes, a range of pubs and bars, large-scale live performance venues, and a cinema in Emerald.

Active communities are healthy communities and in our sub-tropical climate, water sports are always popular. Emerald, Capella and the Sapphire Gemfields each have modern aquatic centres. The Council and other organisations have also invested heavily in other sporting facilities, such as a multi-million-dollar netball and tennis precinct, a driver training and karting precinct, and learn-to-ride and BMX tracks in Emerald.

The Central Highlands is home to some of Queensland’s most unique attractions. Carnarvon Gorge is one of the most visited National Parks in Central Queensland, and the soaring cliffs and natural beauty make it a major tourist attraction for the region. The Sapphire Gemfields are the largest of their kind in the southern hemisphere. The Blackwater International Coal Centre houses the Australian Coal Mining Museum, while Capella’s Pioneer Village and Springsure’s Old Rainworth Fort showcase the region’s European and Indigenous heritage.


The Central Highlands boasts a mix of religious, independent and state school options, providing educational and employment opportunities for students and teachers. A wide variety of sporting, academic, music and cultural activities are readily available across both primary and secondary campuses. As well as offering traditional academic paths, the high schools have close links with local businesses, allowing students to complete school-based apprenticeships and vocational training.

Primary Schools

23 primary schools cater for the region’s towns and rural districts, while the Capricornia School of Distance Education in Emerald provides schooling services to isolated children in central and western Queensland.

High Schools

Emerald – Emerald State High, Marist College Emerald, Emerald Christian College
Capella – Capella State High
Blackwater – Blackwater State High
Springsure – Springsure State School P-10

Tertiary Education

Emerald has one of the most extensive educational opportunities of any regional centre. The CQ Institute of TAFE merged with CQUniversity in 2014 to become Queensland’s first dual-sector university, designed to provide smoother pathways between vocational training and higher education programs. Courses are also available at the Emerald Agricultural Research and Training Campus and there are a large number of Registered Training Organisations (RTO) delivering vocational training and short courses in mining, trades and other industries.


It is estimated that 17,832 Central Highlands residents had employment in June 2014*.
Further to that, the number of non-resident workers (Fly-In-Fly-Out and Drive-In-Drive-Out) was 3,380 in June 2014**.

In the 2014 December quarter, the unemployment rate in the Central Highlands was 3.62%. That’s down from 4.81% the previous year but generally consistent with the previous five years.
Mining is the highest employer of residents, followed by agriculture and retail trade.
Approximately 25% of Central Highlands residents earn $1,500 or more weekly, compared with 12% of the broader Queensland population.

The median wage for Central Highlands residents has grown at 7.3% annually for the past ten years. The median weekly personal income reached $896 in 2011, up from $654 in 2006.

Cost of living pressures in the region have likely reduced in the region, in line with reduced rental prices since 2013.

The region is experiencing continuous growth in the mining and resource sectors, construction, tourism, and also in the traditional agricultural areas of cattle, grain, cotton and horticulture. This expansion, together with a growing population and an increasing demand for support industries, means there are positive prospects for employment and professional career development.

Employment by Industry***

Industry Jobs
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing 1,446
Mining 5,691
Manufacturing 514
Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services 113
Construction 1,499
Wholesale Trade 434
Retail Trade 1,144
Accommodation and Food Services 1,030
Transport, Postal and Warehousing 648
Information Media and Telecommunications 73
Financial and Insurance Services 158
Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services 263
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services 459
Administrative and Support Services 313
Public Administration and Safety 559
Education and Training 936
Health Care and Social Assistance 682
Arts and Recreation Services 61
Other Services 686
Inadequately described 135
Not stated/not applicable 14
Total 16,858
* Source: economy.id
** Source: Bowen and Galilee Basins non-resident population projections, 2015 – 2021
*** Source: Central Highlands Economic Profile 2014


The Central Highlands’ Gross Regional Product was $5.18 billion as at June 2014.*

The region’s growth in recent years has been primarily driven by rapid resource sector expansion. This rapid expansion has begun to ease in the past 18 months but at the same time, agriculture, construction and wholesale trade sectors have improved considerably. All three have led significant growth in contribution to GRP.

Looking to the future, the coal sector will continue to be important to the region’s economic health. New projects in the Bowen and Galilee Basins will seek to build on the strengths of Central Highlands business contributions to the sector’s supply chains, further consolidating the role of the region as a hub for the Central Queensland resources sector.

The four growth industries in the Central Highlands have been identified as agriculture, resources, tourism and construction.

The April 2015 Central Highlands Development Register features more than $9.7 billion in major project investment either recently completed, currently underway or planned for the Central Highlands.

Industry Gross Value Add ($million)
Mining $2,854
Construction $273
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing $196
Wholesale Trade $119
Education and Training $103
Public Administration and Safety $82
Retail Trade $81
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services $78
Transport, Postal and Warehousing $77
Manufacturing $67
Health Care and Social Assistance $42
Accommodation and Food Services $41
Other Services $33
Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services $29
Administrative and Support Services $28
Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services $25
Financial and Insurance Services $17
Arts and Recreation Services $2
Information Media and Telecommunications $0

* Source: economy.id


The region is the hub for major road and rail freight routes east-west and north-south, the link between Charters Towers and northern New South Wales which has been identified as an inland alternative link between Cairns and Melbourne.

Flying time from Emerald to Brisbane is under 90 minutes, which is convenient for both business and leisure, and offers easy connections to other capital cities. QantasLink operates over 40 return flights each week, and Virgin Australia offers up to four return services each weekday. Alliance Airlines, usually focused on chartered flights for the mining industry, has also recently started offering seats to the general public. Our closest regional centre Rockhampton and the nearby Capricorn Coast are within a three hour drive.


There are a variety of options for residential property, ranging from new housing estates in different stages of development to traditional ‘Queenslanders’ on quarter-acre allotments.

Although the region did grapple with a lack of housing availability and affordability, these challenges have largely been overcome in the past 18 months.

Properties listed for sale increased dramatically from the second quarter of 2012 onwards. Values had peaked and demand was reducing as a result of the downturn in the coal industry.
Rental values, after being at record highs, rapidly adjusted downwards to currently be at about levels in the early 2000’s.

Available vacant residential land has increased as stocks, developed to take advantage of the strong demand in 2011/2012, have now reached the market, meeting subdued demand.
The median house price in Emerald in 2014 was about $370,000, compared to its peak in 2012 of about $470,000. For the same time period in Blackwater, it was about $230,000, compared to $450,000.
*Source: RP Data

Health Services and Aged Care

The Central Highlands boasts an established healthcare infrastructure with a comprehensive network of support services.

There are three public hospitals offering a full range of acute inpatient, accident and emergency, pharmacy, outpatient and urgent radiology services:

Emerald – a 36 bed facility providing surgical, paediatric and maternity services, as well as an extensive range of allied health clinics.
Blackwater – a 16 bed facility incorporating 4 aged care beds and community and allied health clinics.
Springsure – redeveloped in 2004 and is now a combined 22 bed hospital and 10 bed aged care facility.

The region has 18 GPs across ten clinics, five dental clinics, seven pharmacies and many allied health professionals, including physiotherapists, speech therapists, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and podiatrists. There is also a large variety of visiting specialists including psychiatrists, obstetricians, ophthalmologists and cardiologists.
A $5.5 million GP Super Clinic is expected to open in Emerald in mid-2015 to deliver extended hours, provide more integrated care, and improve access to a broader range of services.

There are several facilities providing care and support services to the broader community. Access Accommodation operates units in Emerald which provide community based, long-term living and supported accommodation arrangements for people with a disability. Semita House and Yumba Bimbi provide learning, lifestyle and respite services to people with disabilities living in Central Highlands and Western Queensland communities.

Emerald has a residential aged care facility which provides respite, low and high care services, which enables family members to remain in their communities. Council has expanded to 92 the number of community housing properties available for youth and seniors in Emerald, Duaringa, Capella, the Sapphire Gemfields and Springsure.


With young people and families making up a big part of the population, the region’s events calendar is consistently full throughout the year.

There are race carnivals, rodeos, campdrafts, art and craft markets, quiz nights, charity film screenings, family fun days, sporting carnivals and agricultural shows, to name a few.

The month-long ‘Arts in August’ program culminates in the Central Highlands Multicultural Festival. This annual Festival showcases our vibrant and diverse region, attracting crowds of over 7,000 people. Other major annual events include Gemfest – Festival of Gems, the Easter Sunflower Festival, Emerald Mud Run, and Capella’s Old Machinery and Craft Fair.

The Capella Cultural Centre is the region’s largest cultural and conference centre. The 500-seat auditorium has hosted everything from international acts and big name entertainers, to rock bands and touring comedy shows.

Other large-scale venues such as Emerald Town Hall, Emerald Showgrounds and the Blackwater International Coal Centre also attract major performances to the region.



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