Ezra Firth took up Mount Surprise sheep run in 1861. Firth converted to cattle after selling his sheep profitably on the new Palmer River Goldfield in 1873. When the Etheridge Railway was built from Almaden to Forsayth in 1910, the Queensland Government resumed a section of the property for Mount Surprise Township. In the same year the Junction Creek telegraph office, built in 1871, was moved to the town.
Mount Surprise developed as an important cattle trucking and telegraph centre for the western section of the Tablelands. The town's importance was reduced as railway traffic from the mining and cattle industries declined in the 1930s. Reconditioning of the railway in 1951 and construction of the Gulf Development Road in the 1960s revitalised Mount Surprise as a livestock trucking centre and, more recently, a tourist stop. The Mount Surprise Hotel was one of two erected opposite the railway station about 1910 when Mount Surprise was established as a cattle trucking siding on the new Etheridge Railway.
It is the first town in the Gulf Savannah region encountered by visitors travelling from the east. The settlement lives up to its name with a range of adventures including tours to the nearby geological wonders such as the Undara Lava Tubes and fossicking expeditions to O’Brien’s Creek.
The Undara Lava field which was caused by ancient volcanic eruptions in the McBride Plateau is now a thriving tourist destination. With tours run daily, Undara is one of the main attractions which draws people to the region.
For the professional rock hound or amateur collector Mount Surprise also has O’Brien’s Creek a mere 37km north-west of the town. Established in 1995 by the Department of Mines and Energy with the help of the landholder and the Etheridge Shire Council it is now a renowned fossicking area.
In the town itself, there are many hidden treasures such as Pete and Pam’s Gem shop where you can experience true country hospitality whilst watching stones being faceted on site. Further down the main street, the Tourist Park is home to an intriguing display of local gems and is also a stud for miniature horses. Planet Earth Adventures holds regular interactive snake shows for the tourists and has just started hosting an annual Bull Ride.
- Spot the Rufous Bettong - Down along the banks of Elizabeth Creek at dawn or dusk you may just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Rufous Bettong. Being nocturnal and the largest of the Rat Kangaroos, it lives in open forest and feeds on grasses, herbs and roots, etc. When alarmed the Rufous Bettong will make a long hissing noise and stamp its hind feet.
- Tour the Town - Check out the signage at historic buildings around town and discover their heritage and of course stop in at the railway shed to view pictures depicting the early days of Mt Surprise.
- Go Birdwatching - See how many of the 130 species of resident birds you can spot.