Oakey, a rural town, is 140 km west of Brisbane and 29 km past Toowoomba. It is situated on Oakey Creek in an area that was the western part of the Westbrook pastoral station (1841), and was named after oaks lining the nearby creek.
In 1868 the Western Railway was extended from Toowoomba to Dalby through Oakey Creek, and the following year the Oakey Creek post office opened, renamed Oakey in 1878. A school opened in 1874.
Within 30 years Oakey had developed into a substantial town with several industries. Much of the Westbrook pastoral station had been subdivided for selection, and dairying was well established, local farmers supplying the Oakey butter factory (in 1902). There was also a meat preserving works. About half a kilometre east of the railway station coal was mined for the Queensland railways, with further active exploration in the area given its proximity to the railway line.
The 1904 Post Office Directory recorded several stores in Oakey, along with four hotels, a bookmaker, saddler, blacksmith and a wheelwright. In 1905 a local paper, the Aubigny Argus, began publication, continuing until 1933. An annual pastoral and agricultural show started in 1908.
The search for coal moved north and good seams were found at Acland. A railway line from Oakey to Cooyar via Acland opened in 1913, and Oakey became a busy rail junction when another branch to Cecil Plains was opened in two stages (1915, 1917). Whilst Jondaryan was the district's first town, Oakey emerged as by far the dominant population centre.
By the 1920s there were four collieries being worked at Acland and Oakey. Radio Station 4AR opened in the town in 1935, and eight years later an aircraft repair and maintenance aerodrome opened north of the town, at which nearly 2000 RAAF and WAAAF personnel were stationed during World War II. Civic facilities within a few years of the end of the war included a CWA private hospital, Catholic primary school (opened 1921), a cinema, race club and Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
A State high school opened in 1964 and a Council swimming pool was completed three years later. During the 1970s-80s Oakey's population grew by over a half, reaching 3000, and its aerodrome was taken over by the Army aviation section. As elsewhere in south-east Queensland, pastoral emphasis shifted from dairying to beef, and feed lots and an abattoir were established. The Jondaryan Shire moved its offices from Toowoomba to Oakey, and later built a cultural centre in Oakey in 1960. A bronze statue of the champion racehorse Bernborough, born in the district in 1939, stands outside the shire offices.
Out of town tourist attractions include an air museum (2005) at the Army Aviation Centre, the Acland Coal Museum and the Jondaryan Woolshed heritage park. Among its other facilities, Oakey has a swimming pool, a racecourse, a showground, a district hospital, four hotels, three motels and two caravan parks.
Oakey's census populations have been: