Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
July 2013

The Atherton Tableland is a plateau in the Great Dividing Range inland of Cairns, elevation varies between 500 and 1280 metres. The Tableland was formed by volcanic action which explains the deep, red, fertile soil, the numerous hills, and rock covered areas.

Main towns are Atherton and Mareeba and there are numerous smaller settlements; many specialising in specific products (e.g Malanda houses the dairy factory).

The elevation of the Tableland ensures the climate is cooler and less humid than the nearby lowlands, especially the coastal plains around Cairns. Much of the tableland is devoted to grazing dairy cattle forming an unusual tropical dairy industry. As well, there is a remarkable variety of other agricultural and horticultural activity including grazing beef cattle and growing sugar cane, maize (for stock), peanuts, strawberries, potatoes and numerous other crops. Unusually for Australia, there are tea and coffee plantations.

Tobacco was once widely grown on the Tableland but tobacco growing ceased some years ago as a result of Commonwealth Government decisions. An extensive wind farm at an elevation of 1100 metres near Ravenshoe was one of the first wind farms in Australia.

The climate of Mareeba is probably typical of the region, although climate (especially rainfall) is variable across the Tableland. Annual rainfall at Mareeba is 915 millimetres of which 746 millimetres falls from December to March. Hottest month is December (average maximum is 32°C and average minimum is 20.2°C); coolest month is July (average maximum is 25.3°C and average minimum is 11.2°C). Mareeba's climate can be described as one with a warm, wet summer.

The good rainfall keeps a number of streams flowing; many cascading over the edges of rock platforms left by volcanic action and forming a variety of interesting waterfalls (there is a Waterfall Circuit a visiting several waterfalls near Millaa Millaa). The main stream on the Tableland is the Barron River which has been dammed to form Lake Tinaroo near Atherton. Water is used for irrigation with channels beside the road to Mareeba. Lake Tinaroo is a tourist attraction as well.

Although widespread agricultural activity takes place in cleared land all over the plateau, the Tablelands also boasts a variety of national parks, forest reserves and conservation parks. Some parks preserve the Mabi forest which once grew over much of the Tableland on the more fertile soil which was prized for agriculture so most was cleared long ago. Eucalyptus woodland is also widely preserved.

Train lines were an important factor in agricultural development of the Tableland and any farm not close to a train line was recognised as disadvantaged. With the exception of a few tourist or hobby trains, the railway lines are no longer used although most have not been dismantled; the road crossings remain with the grass growing along the rails indicating their status.