Central Highlands Regional Council was formed in 2008 by the amalgamation of Bauhinia, Duaringa, Emerald and Peak Downs Shires. The town of Emerald, 250 km west of Rockhampton, is nearly in the middle of the regional council's area. The foothills of the Carnarvon National Park are in the south, the Blackdown Tableland is in its east and the Drummond Range is in its west. The council's area is 59,884 sq km.
The town of Emerald is on the Capricorn Highway and the Central Railway (1879) from Rockhampton. So too are Duaringa and Blackwater. There is a railway (1970), southwards from Blackwater to coal mines, and another northwards to the Gregory mine (1980). The Gregory Highway intersects the Capricorn Highway at Emerald, going north to Capella and south to Springsure. Railways run parallel with the Gregory Highway, to Capella and Clermont (1882-84) and to Springsure (1887).
Peak Downs Shire was on the Gregory Highway and the Capella railway, and Duaringa Shire (the east of the new regional council) was on the Central Railway and the Capricorn Highway. Emerald is centrally positioned on the whole of the network. Bauhinia Shire, largest in area and smallest in population, constituted the southern part of the new council area. It had the Springsure railway terminus and was traversed by the Dawson Highway.
Each shire began with an agricultural economy, but since the 1970s this has been overtaken by the fossil energy economy, especially coal. This has been most marked in the north and east of the council area, as well as around Emerald. Incomes have been correspondingly high, and families with children have made for relatively youthful populations. Bauhinia Shire maintained a predominantly agricultural economy. High wages and subsidised house rents were clearly evident in the coal regions.
When amalgamation was first recommended by the Local Government Reform Commission, the proposed name was Emerald Regional Council. A less obvious choice was substituted. In any event, the coal economy was the dominant factor, with the region's incomes supporting Emerald town's service economy.
Between Duaringa and Bauhinia towns and north of Duaringa there are areas of 391 sq km not belonging to the Central Highlands Regional Council. They are the Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire, with a population of 945 (2011).
A study in 2015 identified the potential for a new meat processing facility in the region to tap into the growing export opportunities to south east Asia and strong domestic demand for premium beef products.
Central Highlands's census population was:
Bauhinia Shire, Duaringa and Duaringa Shire, Emerald Shire, Peak Downs Shire and Woorabinda Shire entries