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Evolving from John Davy and Francis Gooding's sugar plantation, Beenleigh is often referred to as the town with three beginnings. This was because of three different attempts to start a township in the region. Davy and his brother-in-law Gooding settled in 1864. They named their property Beenleigh after the Gooding family property in Devonshire, England. Both men arrived aboard the Young Australia in 1862, Davy with his wife Mary, who was Gooding's sister.
Michael Tansey began The Planter’s Rest Hotel on the road to the Noyea sugar plantation in 1867. He was the first receiving officer for the mail. At that time, he also had a butcher's shop and a store. In 1868, James Savage started a general store at the crossroads of the five roads leading to the Logan and Albert Rivers. By 1871, Tansey moved into the current Beenleigh township and built a new hotel of the same name. His old hotel became the National Bank. The same year, a police station, courthouse and school were established in Beenleigh. The township continued to grow. Other hotels were built and operated by Peter Betz in 1873, and Franz Meyer in 1874. Michael Tansey left Beenleigh in 1873. It's believed that either Betz or Meyer took over his hotel.
The Church of England in Beenleigh opened in 1875. It was designed by well-known architect F D G Stanley. He made extensive use of yellowwood, Noosa pine, ironbark and polished cedar timbers.
Community cultural and sporting activities evolved in the town. A dramatic society, a cricket club and the show society were established in 1871. The first Beenleigh Show was held in 1872.
By 1881, the town had a population of 303. By 1885, Beenleigh boasted a range of services and professions including:
- brick maker
- cordial maker
- three distilleries
- an engineer
- a telegraph office
- three hotels
- its own newspaper, the Logan Witness.
In late 1879, a new system of local government was introduced. Divisional Boards were formed in the region, including Beenleigh, Waterford, Tingalpa, Yeerongpilly and Tabragalba. The Beenleigh Divisional Board ran from Holmview Road through Beenleigh, Yatala, Eagleby, Alberton and Ageston to the mouth of the river and south towards Coomera.
The German population purchased the Good Templars hall in Beenleigh and transformed it into St Peter's Lutheran Church in 1884.
Tenders were called to construct a railway from Yeerongpilly to Beenleigh in 1883. The Fountain Brothers won the contract for the section of railway to the north bank of the Logan River. It was due for completion by 1 July 1884. Overend and Co. won the contract for the bridge work and the extension to Beenleigh and Logan Village. This was due for completion by May 1885. The Beenleigh line opened on 25 July 1885.
The Beenleigh Rum Distillery evolved from the still of the old S.S. Walrus, which was a floating sugar mill and distillery. It was notorious for avoiding state duties on its rum production. It ran aground on the bank of the Albert River in 1884.
During the late 19th century, Beenleigh remained the centre of the local sugar industry. Following the devastating 1887 floods, the industry declined. The flood destroyed the cane crop at Davy and Gooding's Beenleigh plantation. Cane cuttings waiting to be milled were washed away, as did more than 5,000 gallons of rum from the distillery.
Labour issues also encouraged the decline of the sugar industry. Many of the sugar farmers in the region relied on Kanaka (South Sea Islander) labour. Australia’s impending federation and the White Australia Policy in 1901 meant that Kanaka labour would no longer be available. Many farmers left the industry.
Beenleigh remained viable, but it did not grow much in the early 20th century. The Beenleigh ambulance service was established in 1919 and a rural school operated from 1925. The school taught male-dominated industries such as leatherwork, metalwork and woodwork.
A new road bridge over the Logan River linking Loganholme and Beenleigh opened in July 1931. It replaced the ferry, which had operated from the site since 1868.
The Beenleigh Boy Scouts have operated since 1942. The foundation stone for their den was laid by Premier F Cooper on 23 September 1944.
Further changes occurred in a post-war, local government boundary realignment. Beenleigh, Nerang, and parts of Tingalpa and Waterford Shire merged into the new Albert Shire. The councillors initially met at Beenleigh, but quickly changed the location to Southport.
Beenleigh became an important place for travellers to stop on the road to the South Coast. The South Coast became known as the Gold Coast from 1950. Changes to the Pacific Highway in the late 1960s saw Beenleigh by-passed, and the town suffered a decline.
In 1961, car ownership increased and focus turned to road transport, both private and commercial. The railway between Beenleigh and the Gold Coast closed. Yatala suffered from this decision, with the 1968 closure of the hotel that Frank Chardon had built on high ground to replace the one washed away in the 1887 floods. The old railway bridge was also assigned for removal in 1969. In 1968, a new concrete bridge was built at Loganholme as part of the duplication of the highway.
In 1964, Beenleigh State High School and Beenleigh swimming pool opened.
In the 1960s, the tourism industry developed along with the urban sprawl. Both Ashton’s and Bullen’s Circuses pushed for the Albert Shire Council to approve and build lion parks. In December 1968, Bullen’s negotiated to buy land in Stapylton. This became the Beenleigh/Yatala African Safari when it opened in June 1969. Ashton's Animal Kingdom Park opened in 1969 on the corner of Bryants Road, Loganholme. Both of these ventures were short-lived. The Myer Corporation bought Ashton’s in 1977. The Westpac Corporation bought Bullen’s in 1987. They had plans to build an international Formula One race-track and other facilities, which never eventuated.
Continued growth in the region meant greater demand for public transport. The railway department maintained the line to Beenleigh, but removed the old track to the Gold Coast in 1977 to make way for roads on the rail reserve. The old timber railway bridge at Loganlea closed on 25 June 1972, when the new concrete bridge opened.
By 1984, the State Government accepted a transportation study which recommended the redevelopment of a rail link between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Land resumptions started early in 1986, but two years later they put the project on hold. Electrification of the railway to Beenleigh was completed in March 1988. During 1990, a new line and bridge were built over the Logan River. The south coast line as far as Helensvale was completed on 17 April 1996.
The headquarters for emergency services in the region remained in Beenleigh. A fire station, police station and ambulance centre were built between 1981 and 1983.
In 1986, with the help of bi-centennial funding, a new bridge was built at Loganholme. Drivers still used the 1968 bridge and the old 1931 bridge was closed down. Motorway construction led to more bridge construction during 2000.
In April 1996, plans for the Pacific Motorway were announced after a change of government. The proposal included a new route south, with a tunnel under the Daisy Hill State Forest and a bridge over the Logan River between Carbrook and Alberton at the old ferry site. The Queensland opposition and organisations like VETO (Veto Eastern Tollway Organisation) opposed the project and argued for upgrading the existing Pacific Highway. The tollway project did not go ahead.
Plans for the upgraded Pacific Motorway were announced in April 1996 after a change of government. The northern section of the motorway included duplicating the Logan Motorway. Construction began in late 1997, and finished by September 2000.