The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in southern Queensland, Australia. The downs are to the west of South East Queensland and are one of eleven major regions of Queensland.
The landscape is dominated by rolling hills covered by pastures of many different vegetables, legumes and other crops including cotton, wheat, barley and sorghum. Between the farmlands there are long stretches of crisscrossing roads, bushy ridges, winding creeks and many herds of cattle. There are farms with beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and lamb stock. Other typical sights include irrigation systems, windmills serving as bore pumps to get water from the Great Artesian Basin, light planes crop-dusting, rusty old woolsheds and other scattered remnants from a bygone era of early exploration and settlement.
The principal town is Toowoomba about 132 km west of Brisbane. Other towns situated on what is now called the Downs include Dalby, Warwick, Roma, Oakey, Mitchell, Pittsworth, Allora, Clifton, Cecil Plains, Drayton, Millmerran, Nobby, and Chinchilla in the west.
It is in the drainage basin of the Condamine River and Maranoa River and tributaries. On the northern boundaries of the Downs are the Bunya Mountains and the Bunya Mountains National Park. The region to the north is the South Burnett and the Maranoa lies to the west. A section of the western downs lies over coal deposits of the Surat Basin. Towards the coast, the mountains of the Scenic Rim form the headwaters of the westward flowing Condamine.
Cunningham's Gap and the Darling Downs were first explored by Allan Cunningham (botanist)and Charles Fraser in 1827. Cunningham returned in 1828 to further research the area and try to find a way through to the coast which was still off limits being a penal colony. Cunningham climbed to the top of Mount Dumareque (near what is now Maryvale) and after wrote in his diary that this lush area was ideal for settlement. The original Darling Downs as quoted by Allan Cunningham was named after Governor Darling and stretched for 100 miles or as far as the eye could see from Mt Dumaresque. Ludwig Leichhardt in 1844 saw the remains of a camp showing the signs of white men through ridge polls and steel axes.
News of the lush pastures quickly spread resulting in a land grab that authorities in the distant New South Wales colony found difficult to stop. Patrick Leslie was the first person to settle on the Darling Downs in 1840, establishing a sheep property at Canning Downs on the Condamine River in 1846. Other well-established residences on the southern downs include Glengallan Homestead, Talgai Homestead, Pringle Cottage and Rosenthal Homestead.
In 1854 Charles Douglas Eastaughffe settled in the area. Spicer's Gap Road opened up the area in the 1850's. Later the expansion of Queensland Rail's train networks and Cobb and Co's stagecoach transport greatly assisted access to the region. Gold was found in the district around this time, however it was agricultural activity that provided for the boom times ahead.
The Darling Downs experienced a water crisis as the Condamine River dried up during the severe drought of 1994/1995.
The Queensland Gas Pipeline oil pipeline and the Roma to Brisbane Pipeline, Australia's first natural gas pipeline both cross the region from west to east. There are a few coal mines and a number of power stations situated on the Downs, including the Milmerran Power Station, Oakey Power Station and the Kogan Creek Power Station.
Before European settlement many areas on the Darling Downs were fertile wilderness. For example around Ma Ma Creek, rich swampy wetlands provided a haven for many animal species not currently found on the downs. The Hopping mouse and Paradise Parrot have both become extinct since cattle farming begun.
The town of Jandowae gained fame after offering vacant block of land for just $1. This was down to encourage resident to settle in the small town with less than 1000 people in 2001.
The region has uncovered important megafauna fossil finds. The rich discoveries have lent weight to the theory that humans were not a factor in the extinction of the ancient megafauna species.