Croydon, a rural town of 250 people, is 170 km inland from the south-east corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria (Karumba) and 480 km north-west of Townsville. It was named after the Croydon Downs pastoral station which was partly owned by William Browne, formerly of Croydon, England.
In 1885 the owners of Croydon Downs discovered gold at the site of the future township. There was a considerable rush and by 1886 batteries were brought in and installed along with masses of corrugated iron for buildings - including two storey hotels. With a population of 2000, a town hospital was opened; with several crushing batteries in operation a foundry was established, continuing until 1920.
The Croydon local government division was established in 1887 and a borough council in 1892. Goldfield towns were established around Croydon: Tabletop, 13 km north; True Blue and Golden Gate, 2.5 km and 6 km respectively north-west and Croydon King, 10 km west. All of these had local schools, and Croydon's first school was opened in 1890. By 1899 the estimated population of Croydon and its satellite towns was about 6000.
In 1886 the colonial government decided to build a railway from Cloncurry to Normanton (on the Norman River upstream from Karumba). With the discovery of gold at Croydon a 21 km deviation to the new town was decided on. Beginning in 1888, the Normanton railway reached Croydon in 1891, ending there and never to be extended. It survives as the Gulflander tourist railway.
Still in a state of continuing prosperity, Croydon was described in the Australian Handbook in 1903:
By 1915 the output of gold was beginning to decline and within ten years it had virtually ended. Croydon was reverting to a Croydon Downs economy. From over a dozen hotels in 1900, just three (Club, Imperial and Queens) were listed in the Post Office directory of 1931. The school of srts was still going, and the aeronautical age arrived when a plane landed on the racecourse. An aerodrome was opened by the shire in the mid-1930s, inaugurating a service to Cairns.
Croydon has the Gulflander railway station, the restored shire offices (heritage registered), a museum, a tourist information centre, a general store, a hospital, a hotel, a caravan park and a primary school. A former hospital, the former court house and the shire hall are listed on the Queensland heritage register, along with nine other sites (including three cemeteries) in and around Croydon.
Croydon Shire, an area of 29,581 sq km, recorded a census population of 322 in 2001. About 40 were estimated to be tourists and visitors. Of the total of 144 employed people, 30% were engaged in agriculture, mainly beef cattle. Government services employed 24%, followed by construction (10%) and education (8%). Tourism, though, is of some importance to the shire's economy.
The census populations of Croydon have been:
Vincent T. Corbin, ed, Back to Croydon week: August 13th to 17th 1958: souvenir booklet of Croydon, Croydon, Back to Croydon Week Committee, 1958
Glenville Pike, Croydon Gold: an illustrated history of Croydon, North Queensland, Mareeba, Pinevale Publications, 1986