Surat is a town on the Balonne River, about 500 km. west of Brisbane and 80 km. south of Roma. The town of St. George, about 116 km. southwards, is also on the Balonne River.
The district was first mapped by Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1846. By the end of the 1849s pastoralists had penetrated the area, and in 1849 Mitchell directed a surveyor, Burrowes, to select a township site on the Balonne River. Burrowes did so and named it Surat, after his former place of residence in Madras Province, India. The town was appointed as a place for holding Courts of Petty Sessions, and a Police building erected. A hotel was opened in 1859 and there were seven buildings in the town by 1863. A school was opened in 1874. Surat had been the administrative centre of the Maranoa District until St. George superseded it in 1865. It remains the administrative centre of the Warroo Shire.
In 1872 Surat’s population was 108, and the district was mostly occupied by grazing (119,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle).
In 1879 a Cobb and Co. coach run was started from St. George to Surat and thence to Yuleba. The last coach run in Australia was from Surat to Yuleba (75 km.), on 14 August, 1924.
By the turn of the century Surat was a medium size town, as described in the 1904 edition of The Australian Handbook –
While the carriage of perishable foods over long distances was difficult, Surat had local dairying and market gardens. A market garden was still recorded in the town directory in 1968. The Balonne river was a ready source of water, as well as occasional floods. It continues to be a source of good fishing. In 1951 reticulated water was supplied from a tower, to which treated water was pumped from a weir. In 1961 a new 16 bed hospital replaced the one built in 1929.
The town directory in 1968 included three churches, primary and secondary schools, two general stores, cafe, baker, newsagent, two butchers and the Astor picture theatre. In 1996 the shops were fewer but the theatre remained.
Surat is part of the name of a sedimentary natural gas basin – the Surat-Bowen Basin. Its best known production centre is the Moonie gas field, discovered in 1961.
In 1993 the dominant pastoral industry in the Warroo shire was sheep and lambs (485,000) followed nu beef cattle (53,000). Cereals were planted on 27,139 ha.
Surat’s census populations have been 582 (1911), 592 (1954) and 468 (1991).
- Armstrong, G.O., The Changing Years: A History of the Shire of Warroo, Warroo Shire Council, 1970.