Nanango, a rural town, is 150 km north-west of central Brisbane. It was named after the Nanango pastoral run (c1842), and is one of Queensland's oldest towns. It is believed that the name of the run was derived from an Aboriginal word ascribed to an Aboriginal elder or referring to a waterhole. An early European settler described the locality as Nooganida Waterhole, later known as Bright's Waterhole.
Nanango was at the junction of tracks from Brisbane to the Darling Downs and the Burnett Valley. In the late 1840s Jacob Goode opened an inn at the junction, and in 1861 the town was surveyed, with first lots sold the following year. The discovery of gold, south of the town in the mid 1860s created a minor rush which brought an influx of people to the new town. A school opened in 1866 and further lots were surveyed and sold in 1870.
In 1877 farm selections were taken up, marking the beginning of closer-settlement which continued until 1904 when the last of the Nanango estate was resumed. A local government division named Barambah, the forerunner of Nanango Shire, was established in 1879. Shortly before the turn of the century the Nanango News (1899) began publication and a hospital (1898) was opened. It was in the next decade, however, that rapid growth occurred as dairying was taken up and a local agriculture, pastoral and mining society (1900) was established. In 1903 Nanango received a lengthy description in the Australian Handbook:
A substantial butter factory was built in 1906, which later provided Nanango's first source of electric power. (The butter factory was twice destroyed by fire and replaced. The current structure dating from 1926, is listed on the Queensland heritage register.) Catholic and Presbyterian churches had been erected before 1900, but Anglican (1908), Methodist (1911) and enlarged Catholic (1917) churches provided a substantial religious infrastructure for the town.
In 1911 the railway was extended from Kingaroy. Nanango's population was by then 1500 people, at which it largely plateaued for the next 65 years. In the 1960s the Queensland government was forming plans for large-scale electricity generation. Proximate coal deposits and the availability of water coolant from the Burnett headwaters (both south of Nanango) made the town an attractive location for a new power station. In 1986 the Tarong coal-fired power station was opened , after a six year construction period. Nanango's population doubled between 1976 and 1986, its civic infrastructure also being enlarged or refurbished, as instanced by the new high school opened in 1982. The only significant setback was the closure of the railway line in 1964, a typical development in regional Queensland's post-war years as road transport superseded the rail network. Somewhat slower coming was the closure of the dairy factory in 1985, ending a slow decline dating from the early 1970s.
Nanango has a substantial shopping area with trades and local businesses. It has a range of sporting facilities, including a golf course and a racecourse (eight meetings a year), State and Catholic (1912) primary schools, a high school, an agricultural show society (1900), a hospital, four churches and the former Nanango Shire offices. The court house (1937) is listed on the Queensland heritage register, and the historical society is in a Queenslander house designed by Robin Dods.
Nanango's census populations have been:
Judith Grimes, Pioneering into the future: a history of Nanango Shire, Maryborough, Wise Owl Research Publishers, 1998
J.E. Murphy & E.W. Easton, Wilderness to wealth: being a history of the shires of Nanango, Kingaroy, Wondai, Murgon, Kilkivan and the upper Yarraman portion of the Rosalie Shire: 1850-1950, Brisbane, Smith and Paterson, 1950
Tony Matthews, Landscapes of change: a history of the South Burnett, Wondai, South Burnett Local Government Association, 1997