Tully area was first settled in the early 1870s when James Tyson's nephews tried to grow sugar as well as raise cattle.
Tyson was a remarkable man. The son of a female convict who had been transported for theft (his father, a free man, had travelled to Australia on the same ship as his mother) he made his fortune on the Bendigo goldfields as a butcher and by the time of his death in 1898 owned pastoral properties in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland with a total acreage of 5 329 214. For five years he was a member of the Queensland Legislative Council during which time he only made one short speech.
In 1872 the river running through the area was named after William Alcock Tully who was the under-secretary for public lands and chief commissioner of crown lands in Queensland at the time. In 1935 the river was dammed for hydro-electricity and it is now a major supplier of electricity for both Cairns and Townsville.
Tully (originally known as Banyan) was surveyed as early as 1883 but, at that time, the town was not built. It was not until 1924, when the government decided to build a sugar mill in the area, that thesettlement began to grow. The mill was completed in 1925 the same year that the town was formally gazetted. At the time it was the largest mill in Australia.
Today, Tully is one of the main sugar-producing regions of Queensland with more than 22,000 ha of sugar cane extending from the Kennedy Valley in the south to Feluga in the north. The harvest season is usually from June to mid-November each year with approximately 1.8 million tonnes of cane crushed at the Tully Sugar Mill. During this time the mill operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and employs close to 220 full-time, and 80 additional seasonal staff.
Another major industry in the district is bananas, with about 5000 ha of land in the area devoted to the crop. It is, in fact, the largest local, and regional, employer, with many seasonal positions filled by young people on working holidays, making it something of a working backpacker destination. About 8.5 million cartons of bananas, with a wholesale valuie of $200 million are exported out of the district each year.