Biggenden, a rural town in the Central Burnett Valley, is 70 km west of Maryborough and 240 km north-west of central Brisbane. It was the administrative seat of the Biggenden Shire. The name is thought to have been derived from an Aboriginal expression describing stringybark trees.
The site of the Biggenden township is on the north-east corner of the former Degilbo pastoral run (1851). The first non-pastoral industry in the Biggenden district was mining: iron (1887) and subsequently precious metals and magnetite at Mount Biggenden just out of Biggenden; and gold at Paradise and Mount Shamrock (1889 and 1890). There was considerable timber cutting for both mining and building materials.
In the 1880s parts of the Degilbo estate were resumed for closer-settlement and a Degilbo township was formed about 10 km north-west of Biggenden. It was the opening of the railway in 1891, the establishment of the Live and Let Live hotel and the sale of town lots at a temporary terminus that put Biggenden on the map. In time it supplanted Mount Biggenden, but in 1903 it was still the latter that was described in the Australian handbook:
(Paradise had an equally long description in the Handbook and is mentioned below in the description of Biggenden Shire.)
A school was opened in Biggenden in 1892, and the township quickly developed. The land was suited to both grain and dairying. A State Experimental Farm opened in 1898 and the Biggenden Agricultural and Pastoral Society was established the year after. By the 1920s Pugh's Queensland directory had Biggenden placed as the centre of the settled portion of the district. There were butter and cheese factories in the town along with several storekeepers and tradespeople.
A branch factory of the Maryborough dairy co-operative ran from 1911 to 1969. Culturally, Biggenden had some unexpected offerings. Its Capitol Theatre opened in the 1920s and continued until 1986 when it succumbed to television's pressure on audience levels. Biggenden was also the childhood hometown of P.R. 'Inky' Stephensen who influenced literary and political life in his writings and publishing ventures in Australia and abroad. He also ghost-wrote many of Frank Clune's popular travel books.
Biggenden's peak census population came years after the closure of the dairy factory. Since then the town's population has fallen. It continues to house a State primary-secondary school, four churches, a weekly newspaper, a show society, memorial hall, swimming pool, bowling and golf clubs, a hospital (1921) and a local history museum. Primary businesses include an abattoir, two hotels, rural and stock supplies stores, two supermarket stores and a quarry.
Biggenden's census populations have been:
The Biggenden Shire (named Degilbo, 1905-41) was formed by severance from the Burrum Shire which extended from Hervey Bay to Gayndah. Whilst Biggenden was the town with the best long term prospects, it was overawed by the Paradise and Mount Shamrock goldfields to its north. The Paradise field was proclaimed in 1890 and Mount Shamrock within a year or so. Paradise reputedly had 2000 people at the peak of its activity, and seven hotels, numerous stores and government offices. Part of its courthouse was transferred to Biggenden for a police station, (today the town's historical museum). West of Paradise is Dallarnil, a district closely-settled in the 1900s and connected by railway to Isis Junction on the North Cost line in 1909. The line anticipated sugar cane freight, which did not meet expectations. It closed in 1955.
South of the town is the scenic Mount Walsh-Bluff Range, and south-west are the Coalstoun Lakes. They are usually dry, enclosed in the twin craters of Mount Le Brun and are listed on the Register of the National Estate.
Biggenden Shire recorded varied agricultural outputs in 1993: 21,500 beef cattle, 3000 dairy cattle, 1400 ha under grain, 1000 tonnes of sugar cane and sundry other field crops. The Shire's census populations were:
Its area was 1316 sq km. In 2008 the shire was amalgamated with five others to form the North Burnett Regional Council.
The Biggenden story, Biggenden, Biggenden Shire Historical Society, 1988, 2002
Diana J. Beal et al, Biggenden Shire handbook, Brisbane, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 1974
Craig Munro, Wild man of letters, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1984