Chinchilla, a rural town of 3700 people, is in the western Darling Downs, 160 km north-west of Toowoomba and 260 km from Brisbane. It is situated on Charleys Creek, a tributary of the Condamine River. Both the creek and the town have names deriving from Ludwig Leichhardt's expedition of 1844: Charley was the name of Leichhardt's Aboriginal guide, and 'jinchilla' was the Aboriginal word recorded as describing the plentiful stands of cypress pine growing on the western Downs.
Pastoral occupation of the Chinchilla district began within two years of Leichhardt's exploration, and the Chinchilla pastoral station entirely enclosed the present town; the altered spelling probably arose in 1848 when the pastoral lease was recorded in the New South Wales Lands Office.
In 1878 the western railway line was extended from Dalby and the bridgeworks at Charley's Creek occasioned a temporary construction camp. Chinchilla developed from that beginning and in later years became a railway depot with train crews and shunting staff (after 1994 there was only a railways maintenance depot). A primary school was opened in 1883. During the 1890s several communal settlements were attempted around Chinchilla, mostly unsuccessful, and it was during the early 1900s that closer-settlement made progress. Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches were opened during 1899-1904.
Settlers had the option of tree clearing or prickly pear bonus selections. Each involved hard labour, but the former yielded income as the timber was removed for milling. The prickly pear selections were never rid of the pest, and dairying struggled on in cleared patches. A dairy factory was opened in 1910 next to Charleys Creek, producing Coronation brand butter. In 1912 the Chinchilla Shire (see separate entry) was created by severance from Wambo Shire which was centred at Dalby. Shire chambers were built in Chinchilla in 1915.
After World War I the Chinchilla public hospital was built (1921) and a convent school and a soldier's memorial hall were opened (1923, 1925). The town's reticulated electricity was turned on from the dairy factory's generator in 1932. Town water and sewerage, however, were delayed until the postwar years.
A modern picture theatre was opened in 1955, a curtain-opener for the prosperous 1960s which saw an Olympic swimming pool (1962), a high school, new shire offices and a new memorial hall (1963). Town water was finally addressed in 1974 with the building of the Chinchilla weir on the Condamine River; the weir also supplies irrigation. A sense of Chinchilla's history was formed in the 1970s when the first school building, a slab farm cottage, a village hall and farm implements were brought together in a pioneer museum.
The agricultural and pastoral society had its first annual shows in 1910, the year the dairy factory opened. For 60 years dairy produce was a feature of the show, a high point occurring in 1930 when a new dairy factory was built. Dairying faded by the 1970s, replaced by grazing, cereals and, with the benefit of irrigation, grapes, watermelons, rockmelons and strawberry growing. A biennial event is Chinchilla's melon festival. Sawmilling draws on cypress timber reserves north and south, and there are several mills in the town. The Kogan Creek coal-fired power station (2007) generated additional house-building in Chinchilla.
Chinchilla has a hospital, a showground, several sports reserves, golf, bowling and swimming facilities, a student hostel for its high school, State and Catholic primary (1923) schools, an aerodrome, a racecourse, a livestock saleyard and several grain silos (1963) at the railway station. Civic facilities include nine churches, the former shire hall and offices, a cultural centre (1999) and art gallery, a hospital, a museum and a tourist information centre. Local events are reported in the Chinchilla News.
During December-January 2010-11, Chinchilla was flooded twice from Charleys Creek. They were the worst floods since 1981. The January flood was the more serious, causing the evacuation of about 70 houses and businesses. Much surrounding farmland was also flooded.
Chinchilla's census populations have been:
Chinchilla centenary 1878-1978: souvenir booklet, Chinchilla, Chinchilla Centenary Celebrations Committee on behalf of the Chinchilla Historical Society and its Historical Research Sub-Committee, 1978
K. Emmerson, From cellars to refrigerators, South Brisbane, Watson and Ferguson, 1969
W.J. McLaughlin, Chinchilla Shire handbook, Brisbane, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 1971
Tony Matthews, Footsteps through time: a history of Chinchilla Shire, Chinchilla, Chinchilla Shire Council, 2004