Tinaroo, a small town, is on the shoreline of Tinaroo Dam, 35 km southwest of Cairns and on the north side of the Atherton Tableland. It was named after the Tinaroo Creek where John Atherton found traces of tin in the late 1870s. Atherton probably devised a name rhyming with kangaroo.
Postioned near the headwaters of the Barron River, the Tinaroo Gorge was chosen for the site of the dam in the course of considering postwar reconstruction projects in 1944. Work began in 1955 on Queensland's first inland diversion of water and first large dam for the conservation of water for irrigation. Its capacity is about three-quarters that of Sydney Harbour, occupying about two-thirds of the Harbour's area. Waters are released to keep the downstream Kuranda hydro-electric station operating.
A construction township within walking distance of the worksite was built to accommodate over 700 employees, with 240 dwellings for married personnel. The township included meeting and recreation halls, medical facilities, a shopping centre, a school and a police station. Work was completed in 1958 when the spillway began operation. Irrigation waters run through 600 km of main and distribution channels to the west beyond Dimbulah and to the north through Mareeba and beyond Bimboohm. At the time of commissioning, 1100 farms comprising 53,000 ha were irrigated.
The Tinaroo Range defines the north-west limit of the Atherton Tableland, and when local government was conferred on the district the governing body was named the Tinaroo Division (1880). It became a shire in 1903, its area including Eacham and part of Mareeba Shires, and was renamed Atherton Shire in 1935. The Tinaroo Progress Association was an active agitator for closer-settlement on the Tablelands around 1900.
Tinaroo Dam is better known as Lake Tinaroo, with considerable recreation and accommodation facilities. There is also a sailing club, but the local population no longer sustains the provision of a primary school. Tinaroo's census populations have been:
Tinaroo, Brisbane, Queensland Irrigation and Water Supply Commission, 1958 (brochure)