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Malanda, QLD

Charming rural service town on the Atherton Tablelands

Malanda, a pleasant rural service town, is synonymous throughout North Queensland with milk. There are even places where 'Malanda' milk is slightly more expensive than 'common' milk. It is, in the opinion of the locals, the best in the world. The  local tourist promoters have seized upon the fact that Malanda milk is sold in the Northern Territory and as far north as Weipa and declared Malanda to be 'the headquarters for one of the largest and longest milk runs in the world'. In fact the milk is also exported to Indonesia and Malaysia. The town's main attractions include the charming Malanda Falls with the swimming pool in the pool below and the impressive mosaics which are spread around the town. 


Malanda is located 1,669 km north of Brisbane, 76 km south-west of Cairns and 732 m above-sea level.


Origin of Name

Various sources claim that "malanda", in the language of the local Ngadjon-Jii Aborigines, meant "waterfall". It probably means "upper Johnstone running rivers".


Things to See and Do

Malanda Falls
Located on the North Johnstone River at the northern entrance to the town, the Malanda Falls, are small and rather elegant. They fall no more than four metres over a basalt rockface (an ancient volcanic lava flow from a volcano 15 km away) and the town's swimming pool lies at the bottom. The falls were surveyed in 1906 and, at the time, they were partly covered in water lilies with the rainforest reaching to the edge of the falls and the pool. By the 1920s the townsfolk had cleared the pool and it became a popular swimming hole with the surrounding area being used for picnics and social gatherings. The pools were upgraded during World War II by Australian soldiers who were living in the area. For a more detailed description check out the Queensland Heritage Register at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602733. It is on the register because of its aesthetic appeal with its manicured lawns and terraced gardens.

Malanda Falls Conservation Park 
Located on the Malanda-Atherton Road just opposite the Malanda Falls the park offers a short walk (1 km return - about 30 minutes) through a remnant of tropical rainforest and an opportunity to see a wide range of rainforest trees. It is also possible to see saw-shelled turtles and rainbow fish in the North Johnstone River and the Lumholtz's tree kangaroo, Australian brush turkey and Boyd's forest dragon. Check out the excellent National Park brochure which can be downloaded at https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/tablelands/pdf/atherton-tland-journey-guide.pdf. There is information about the two easy walks - the Tulip Oak Walk and the Rainforest Walk - in the Conservation Park at https://www.malandafalls.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/walks.pdf. It is a downloadable map.

Rainforest Dreaming Guided Walks
There are guided walks through the Malanda Falls Conservation Park which are led by members of the local Ngadjon-jii Aboriginal people. The walks tell the story of the traditional owners while looking at the unique flora and fauna of the Wet Tropics. Tours are available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9.30 am and 11.00 am and last 45 minutes. For bookings and prices check out https://www.malandafalls.com.

Malanda Hotel
Located in the heart of Malanda, the Malanda Hotel was reputedly the largest timber hotel in Australia when it was built in 1911. Note the extensive use of local timbers including the magnificent silky oak staircase. The English family, known as the founding settlers of Malanda, still own the hotel and the walls have an extensive photographic display of the history of the local area.

Malanda Mosaics
Since 2001 there had been nine mosaics installed around the town. They are known as the Centenary of Federation Mosaics and were created by Natalie Foster and Felicity Wallis and are, as the brochure explains, "a beautiful portrayal of the people and environment of Malanda."
The nine can be seen as follows:
* The original inhabitants (Malanda Falls) - a depiction of the culture of the Ngadjon-Jii Aboriginal people who lived in the area before European settlement. Look carefully for the Rainbow Serpent, the campsites, and the two men with tribal shields. The signage explains: The Ngadjon-jii people lived in small family groups in the rainforest. Protected by the Rainbow Serpent, they hunted and gathered food from the forest. At death their bodies were carried to Mt Bartle Frere and their spirits were set free.
* Hardships and Struggles (Mitre 10 store) - a record of the natural disasters - cyclones, floods, the introduction of cane toads - which have affected the area around Malanda.
* Transport (Malanda Pharmacy) - the central image is of a steam train which carried timber and butter to the coast.
* Commerce (Wait-a-While Craft Studio) - the wheel in the centre depicts the arts in the area (ceramics, woodwork, music, textiles etc) while the border tiles depict poultry farming, tea growing, sugar cane plantations and crayfish farming.
* Looking Ahead (Post Office) - the town's commitment to reafforestation, replanting river banks and creating wildlife corridors.
* Recollections (Malanda Public Library) - the central image is the Malanda Hotel which was once the largest wooden structure in Queensland. The border images recall moments in the town's history.
* Early Settlers (Melanda Rural Supplies) - depicts the men clearing the rainforest while the early settler women maintained life at home.
* Dairy Industry (SPAR Supermarket) - recalls the history of the dairy industry in the district. The dairy industry has been an integral part of Malanda's economy since the 1940s.
* Recreation (Majestic Theatre) - sport and dancing with the famous Don Bradman cricket team which played in Malanda in 1931 and the Majestic Theatre where dances were popular. "The border tiles show the huge range of sporting and cultural activities that are a credit to the town."
There is a much more detailed description of each art work which can be downloaded at https://www.malandafalls.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/mosaics.pdf.

Queensland Heritage Buildings
Majestic Picture Theatre
Located at 1 Eacham Place and designed by Bob Hassall in 1929, the Majestic Has been running continuously since it was opened and now claims to be the longest running picture theatre in the country. The Queensland Heritage Register records that "The theatre is a large timber framed building with a decorative curved and stepped parapet concealing the Gabled roof auditorium and skillion roofed aisles of the theatre behind. The building is supported on concrete stumps and local rainforest hardwood is used throughout the building for framing, cladding and flooring.
The building's facade facing Eacham Place to the north-west is lined horizontally with painted chamferboards. Accessed from the footpath by three concrete stairs, the entrance to the theatre is recessed and comprises a pair of single light three panel doors with single panel sidelights. A poster bill frame hangs on the wall between the entrance and a double-hung two light sash window to the north and a mosaic mural (created as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations) hangs on the south side of the entrance.
Six timber posts fixed to raised concrete footings support a later metal sheeted timber framed awning over the footpath. Centred in the wall above the awning, four pairs of two light Casement windows provide natural light and ventilation to the projection room. Fixed above the windows is an awning and above that is signage bearing the name: "Majestic Theatre"."
The Register goes on the point out that "The Majestic Picture Theatre is a good example of a 1920s regional picture theatre adapted to Queensland's tropical climate. Constructed using local rainforest timbers, the building's interior and exterior intactness is notable, and the place is important in illustrating the principal characteristics of its type, including: the distinctive form and curved and stepped front parapet; the entrance foyer with early ticket box and display of early film projection equipment; the projection box located above the entrance foyer; the large auditorium with its ceiling ventilation panels, mezzanine "dress circle", and early seating; and the early stage and associated dressing rooms." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601743.

St James Catholic Church and Altar
Located on Monash Avenue this timber church, designed by Bob Hassall and built by Alby Halfpapp, was consecrated in 1926. It is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register because "The simple design, incorporating carved internal detailing and furniture, demonstrates a high level of craftsmanship using local timber. The reredos, a remarkable and highly ornate original fitting, has been retained and adapted to suit changes in the liturgy" and "The St James Catholic Church has a special association with the life of the English Family. Known as the founders of Malanda, Mr James and Mrs Catherine English were early selectors who arrived in the region when the district was opened up in 1907 under the Queensland Government's Group Settlement Act." 
Of particular interest is the church's altar which is described as "The original ornate timber altar transforms this otherwise simple, unadorned country church into a highly evocative place of worship. The altar is comprised of a flat-topped table supported by eight columns. A panel situated behind the columns has been carved with gothic designs and a Celtic cross, which has been highlighted with gold paint. Motifs painted in gold in the centre of each of the gothic panels include single grape leaves and a chalice surrounded by grapes and heads of barley. Located at the centre of the altar table is a tabernacle. Above the tabernacle is a crucifix, housed within a narrow pointed arch. Three decorative pointed arches are located on either side of the tabernacle. These are topped with ornate timber carvings. Details on the white painted carved timber are highlighted with gold paint. A Celtic cross forms the apex of the altar, which reaches upwards towards the false ceiling." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601283.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Geology of Malanda Falls
The signage at the falls explains: "The Tablelands are the result of several periods of volcanic activity between 4 and 1 million years ago. Lava flowed out from at least six shield volcanoes on the southern Tablelands, and the basalts that form the Falls are believed to have come from the Malanda volcano 3-4 million years ago.
"As the lava spewed out from the volcanoes, it flowed down and filled ancient valleys. Weathering changed the black basalt to the rich red soils of the Tablelands, and erosion cut gullies into the lava forming deep river valleys. Over time, the North Johnstone River eroded upstream, and the waters now tumble over the basalt rock wall known as the Malanda Falls.
"If you look closely at this basalt you will see there is a series of fractures derived from cooling cracks as the basalt contracted."



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Ngadjon-jii Aboriginal people.

* Malanda came into existence in the 1880s when tin was discovered at Herberton. This saw miners moving through the tiny settlement on their way from the coast.

* In 1886 a decision was made to bring a railway into the area but the problems of construction were enormous. 

* By 1890 the railway had reached Kuranda from Cairns.

* The railway reached Mareeba in 1893.

* The railway reached Atherton in 1903. 

* The Malanda Falls were first surveyed in 1906.

* In 1908, James English (later the publican of the Malanda Hotel) and James Emerson, moved into the area. English brought cattle from Kiama and the Richmond River areas in New South Wales and Emerson had a herd of 1026 cattle overlanded from Lismore. English helped pioneer the dairy industry in the area.

* In 1910, in response to a developing local timber industry, John Prince established a sawmill in Malanda. The railway reached the town that year.

* The mill cut the boards for the Malanda Hotel which was built in 1911. A railway bridge was bult across the falls in 1911. 

* A local school opened in 1913.

* In 1916 the town held its first Agricultural Show.

* In 1918 the area below the falls was cleared of logs and became a popular swimming hole.

* By 1919 Malanda had its own butter factory. 

* By 1920 there was a diving platform at the pool below the falls.

* By 1925 the town had two cheese factories and two dairy factories. That year a local swimming club was formed.

* The Majestic Picture Theatre was opened in 1929.

* During World War II the Malanda Dairy Factory took milk across to Mount Isa - the longest milk run in the world.

* A separate high school was opened in 1963.

* The railway line closed in 1964.

* In 1973 Malanda and Millaa Millaa butter factories amalgamaated to form the Atherton Tablelands Co-operative Dairy Association.

* In 2001 the Malanda Mosaic Trail was opened with nine mosaics spread around the town.


Visitor Information

Malanda Falls Visitor Centre, 132 Malanda Road, tel: (07) 4096 6957, Open 9.00 am - 4.30 pm.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out https://www.malandafalls.com.

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • How sad to hear of the decision to cut down the camphor laurel trees in Mary street Malanda, a small country town to be overtaken by regimented car parking facilities is vandalism taking the quiet country ambiance away from what makes a country town appealing

    Helen power
  • I wished to visit Malanda I wonder how many more visitors have walked away…. there is no way to get there or back to the coast by public transport. We don’t drive and don’t have finances to spend taxi and hire cars etc. I would have rather spent my money in the town than on transport. How sad for the town, 8 visitors who won’t be coming to see what you had to offer. We’re off to stay in Ravenhoe and visit other towns on route via the bus from Cairns.

    Yvonne Streton
  • I have a friend living in the North Johnston area. I am looking for local businesses for xmas gift ideas that I could possibly shop locally for.

    Cheryl harridsn