St George, a rural town in southern Queensland, is 420 km west of Brisbane and 100 km from the New South Wales border.
In 1845-46 the New South Wales Surveyor-General, Sir Thomas Mitchell, carried out his fourth expedition, north-west toward Port Essington. In April 1846 he came upon the Balonne River, crossing it on a bed of denuded rocks where he established a depot. He named the crossing St George because of the proximity of the date of the feast day of England's patron saint, St George. Already there were squatter-settlers in the nearby district of Moonie, east of St George, and in a short time the Balonne grazing areas were under occupation.
In 1864 the St George crossing had a post office for Maranoa mail deliveries, and a hotel was built. A town survey was carried out in 1863, but the sale of town lots did not succeed for several years. By 1868 there were also a store keeper, a commission agent, a pound keeper and a plan for a court house (built in 1870). In 1874 a school was opened, with an initial intake of 45 children, indicating that the school was overdue. That year also saw the opening of the Bank of New South Wales and the connection by telegraph to Surat and Roma. Later in the 1870s a Catholic church and hospital were opened, the Balonne Jockey Club was formed and local government instituted - the Ula Ula divisional board (1879).
During the 1880s St George developed an urban identity, with the St George Standard (1880), a school of arts and its own municipal council (1884). Its agricultural links were acknowledged with the formation of the Balonne Pastoral and Industrial Association. St George was described in 1903 in the Australian Handbook:
The absence of a railway connection to St George was noted in the Handbook. Despite periods of intense lobbying, no railway was built.
St George continued as the district centre of a mainly wheat-sheep area, but envious eyes were cast on the Balonne River as an alternative source of water to the artesian supply. In 1948 construction of a weir began at the old Mitchell crossing, and a higher bridge replaced the timber structure. The weir supplied both town water and the St George irrigation area, where farms were created from resumption of the Boombah pastoral property. With areas averaging 120 ha, the farms were designated for fodder crops, lucerne and cotton. A tenfold increase in irrigation supply from the Beardmore dam (1972) greatly increased cotton growing, and the St George cotton gin was opened in 1976, 20 km to the south.
The irrigation scheme and a prosperous agricultural economy ushered in a 30% increase in population during 1954-66, which was reflected in new Catholic and Anglican churches and a new shire civic centre (1963). Although the weir increased the water for river swimming carnivals, a swimming pool was also built. The shire's population declined slightly during 1960-2000, but the town's population grew by nearly 20%.
St George has several hotels and motels, a hospital, an aerodrome, a visitor information centre, a showground, bowling and golfing clubs, State and Catholic primary schools and a high school (1978). The town is on the south-east bank of the Balonne River, where the Balonne and Carnarvon Highways intersect.
In 1890, the Balonne River reached a peak of 13 metres and flooded the town. A similar peak was reached in March 2010, but a month before a protective levee was built along the south-east river bank to a river height of 14.5 metres. Most of the town’s built-up area was kept dry in 2010. Heavy rains in December-January 2010-11 again threatened the town, and the river peaked at 13.4 metres. The highway river crossing was under water along with the golf course and other land on the north-west river bank, but very few homes were affected.
St George's census populations have been:
G.O. Armstrong, In Mitchell's footsteps: a history of the Balonne Shire, Brisbane, Smith & Paterson, 1968
Carolyn Nolan, St George's Bridge: a sequicentennial history, St George, Balonne Shire Council, 1996