The lagoons site has a long and significant history intrinsically tied to the life and development of the surrounding region. The site has deep cultural and historical associations with the Aboriginal, South Sea Islander, Torres Strait Islander, and European communities.
A brief summary of the site's history follows:
- Aboriginal residents of the Mackay region used the lagoons as a supply of fresh water, harvesting local bush foods and for hunting the abundant wildlife.
- 1860 - European settlement commenced with the establishment of grazing and cane farming. Captain Mackay camped beside the Lagoons in 1860 during exploration of the region. The sugar cane industry was established around the Lagoons with several sugar mills in the surrounding area, including a mill on Nebo Road and a small mill owned by James Robb, which operated for a short time on the site of the DPI Research Station.
- 1870s - The Lagoons is proposed as a "place of recreation and a source of water supply". The Lagoons Reserve was gazetted on March 7th, 1873 as a recreation reserve and future water supply source and to prevent its deformation for brick making. In 1877 the Lagoons was proposed as a site for a botanic garden.
- 1889 - The establishment of a 52 acre State Nursery at the Lagoons trialing many different crops including varieties of sugar cane. The State Nursery was converted in 1899 to the first Sugar Research Station in Australia, and was relocated from the Lagoons to Te Kowai in 1935.
- 1892 - The Lagoons became the major source of water for Mackay with the opening of the first waterworks in 1899. The original plant comprised a well and steam driven pump, the remains of which can be seen today on the Nebo Road side of the lagoon in the form of a concrete cylinder and foundations.
- 1900s - Continued use of the site as a recreation reserve, water source for the city, and horticultural experimental station.
- 1959 - The Nebo Road Water Treatment Works were opened and have been progressively expanded over recent years. The bores and wells in the Lagoons area started to require supplementation as demand grew during the 1940s and 1950s.
- 1960s - The first detailed planting plans and land form works for the Lagoons Reserve prepared by renown landscape architect Arne Fink, commissioned by Mackay Shire Council. No works commence from these plans.
- 1985-1987 - Proposals submitted and gain momentum to Mackay City Council by the Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) Mackay branch, to establish a Botanic Gardens at the Lagoons.
- 1990 - New mainline rail crossing of the Lagoons was announced then constructed over the following years. The Queensland Government provided substantial funding to Mackay City Council to ameliorate the visual impact of the line.
- 1991 - Preparation of the Lagoons Reserve Master Plan by Catherine Brouwer, landscape architect, outlining the potential for the extensive landscape and community use development of the reserve.
- 1990s - Gradual development of the initial stages of the Master Plan including the South Sea Islander Village, the Regional Forest, south of the rail line and part of the Aboriginal section to the north of the line. Mackay City Council and SGAP involved in works and planting.
- 1999 - Commissioning of Landplan landscape architects to expand and develop the 1991 Master Plan into a Master Plan for the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens. 15 years construction planned over 10 stages of development.
- 2001 - Sod is turned and works officially commence on Stage 1.
- 2003 - Stage 1 of the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens opened on 24th May.
- 2006 - Stage 2 of the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens opened on July 2 and features extensive new gardens and new permanent wetlands created from waters pumped from the lagoons to showcase water plants and created further habitat for wildlife.
- 2006 - Stage 1 of the children's play garden "Under the Banyan" is opened.
- 2007 - June frosts severely damage many of the tropical collections including Palm Walk, the Coastal Lowlands, Torres Strait Garden and Sarina/Proserpine Lowlands.
- 2008 - A record deluge floods the gardens, causing extensive damage to infrastructure and the botanic collection. A six-month clean up ensues with gardens staff, volunteers and a correctional services prisoner work camp all digging in and working hard to restore the gardens.