Central Highlands


The Central Highlands is a robust region that sits at the heart of Queensland’s resources and agricultural sectors.

Spanning almost 60,000 square kilometres, the region includes a significant portion of Australia’s largest coal reserve, the Bowen Basin, and is strategically located to service Australia’s newest mining province, the Galilee Basin.

Sustained by irrigation sourced from water storage on the Nogoa and Comet Rivers, the Central Highlands is also characterised by thriving farming industries, including beef, cotton, grapes and citrus.

Major freight routes intersect the region, with the Capricorn Highway linking the coast to the outback and the Gregory Highway connecting northern Queensland and New South Wales.

Pristine natural attractions, such as Carnarvon Gorge and the Sapphire Gemfields, are driving an emerging tourism market. A population of more than 28,000 with a median age of 33 helps to underpin the Central Highlands’ economic strength of a skilled, locally based workforce.

All below data has been sourced from the 2021 Central Highlands Economic Profile and the 2019 Central Highlands Development Register

Central highlands Regional Council priority projects


The Central Highlands can be characterised by its safe and friendly communities, active healthy lifestyles and abundant natural resources.

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 has top-quality restaurants and cafes, a range of pubs and bars, live performance venues such as the Capella Cultural Centre, and a cinema in Emerald.

Emerald, Capella and the Sapphire Gemfields each have modern aquatic centres, while the Fairbairn Dam and Bedford Weir are hotspots for water sports. 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, skateparks, learn-to-ride and BMX tracks.

The Central Highlands is home to some of Queensland’s most unique attractions, from the soaring cliffs of Carnarvon Gorge National Park to the largest sapphire gemfields 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 region enjoys a sub-tropical climate with nearly half of its annual rainfall (average 636mm) falling in the summer months of December to February. Average summer temperatures range from 22-34 degrees Celsius, while the mild winters mean April to September is peak tourist season.


As of 30 June 2020, approximately 28,727 people live in the Central Highlands. The median age is 33 years old, a younger population when compared to Queensland. 4.3% of the population are Indigenous and 75.1% live and work in the region. The gross median weekly income per household is $1,823*.


The Central Highlands has a mix of religious, independent and state school options. A variety of sporting, academic, music and cultural activities are 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 do school-based apprenticeships and vocational training.

Primary Schools

23 primary schools

High Schools

6 high schools

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. There are also a large number of Registered Training Organisations (RTO) delivering vocational training and short courses in mining, trades and other industries.


Approximately 17,019 Central Highlands residents had employment in 2020 and there were 4,232 non-resident workers.

The unemployment rate in the Central Highlands was 4.2%. The rate of unemployment consistently remains below Central Queensland (6.2%) and the state average (7.2%) in the same period.

Mining is the highest employer of residents, followed by agriculture and retail trade. 23% of Central Highlands residents earn $1,500 or more weekly, compared with 15.1% of the Queensland population.

Workers in the region are predominantly in the 25 to 44 year age group.



Agriculture, forestry and fishing






Electricity, gas, water and waste services




Wholesale trade


Retail trade


Accommodation and food services


Transport, postal and warehousing


Information media and telecommunications


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Rental, hiring and real estate services


Professional, scientific and technical services


Administrative and support services


Public administration and safety


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Gross Value Add
($ million)



Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services


Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing




Education and Training


Transport, Postal and Warehousing


Retail Trade


Administrative and Support Services


Public Administration and Safety


Wholesale Trade


Financial and Insurance Services


Healthcare and Social Assistance


Accommodation and Food Services




Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services


Professional, Scientific and Technical Services


Other Services


Information Media and Telecommunications


Arts and Recreation Services




The Central Highlands’ Gross Regional Product was $6.44 billion in 2020. This has increased 2.2% and accounts for 1.8% of Queensland’s GRP.

The following key industry sub-sectors have been identified as the key drivers of the Central Highlands region’s economy:

  • Mining
  • Livestock, grains and other agriculture
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Retail trade
  • Education and training

The December 2019 Central Highlands Development Register estimates more than $9.6 billion worth of major developments and projects have been completed, are underway or are planned for the Central Highlands.


The Central Highlands is the hub for major road and rail freight routes east-west and north-south, linking Charters Towers and northern New South Wales.

Flying time from Emerald to Brisbane is a convenient 90 minutes, offering easy connections to other capital cities for work or play. QantasLink operates over 40 return flights each week, and Virgin Australia offers up to four return services each weekday.

Our closest regional centre Rockhampton and the nearby Capricorn Coast are within a three-hour drive.


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

After record highs in 2012, property sales and media prices reduced as a result of the downturn in the coal industry. However, since 2017 the market has undergone significant recovery.

The median house price in the Central Highlands in 2020 was about $280,000, compared to $160,000 in 2017. The median weekly rent for a four-bedroom house as at December 2020 was $390 and $240 for a two-bedroom unit.

Health Services and Aged Care

The Central Highlands has 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 a range of allied health clinics.
Blackwater – a 16-bed facility incorporating four 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 10 clinics, including a $5.5 million GP Super Clinic. There are 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 variety of visiting specialists including psychiatrists, obstetricians, ophthalmologists and cardiologists.

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 that provides respite, low and high care services, enabling family members to remain in their communities. Council has 92 community housing properties available for youth and seniors in Emerald, Duaringa, Capella, the Sapphire Gemfields and Springsure.

Take a Look At The Beautiful Central Highlands

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