It is believed that the traditional Aboriginal people first arrived in Queanbeyan around 20,000 years ago. With two major rivers flowing through the area it was an ideal settlement point with the rivers providing rich food sources in the form of fish, shellfish, water fowl and edible roots. The inter-fluvial country provided good grazing for emu, kangaroo and wallaby. Queanbeyan is on Ngambri/Ngunnawal land.
While searching for the Murrumbidgee River, Joseph Wild, James Vaughan and Charles Throsby Smith came across the present location of Queanbeyan. They were the first non-indigenous persons to see the present location of Queanbeyan when they discovered the junction of the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers about a mile from the present town on December 8, 1820.
The first use of land at Queanbeyan was by an unauthorised occupant Timothy Beard, who called his property "Quinbean" which is thought to be an Aboriginal word for "clear water". This gave the city its modern name, Queanbeyan.
With the increasing population during the 1830s, agitation for the establishment of a courthouse and post office led to a post office at Queanbeyan being established in 1836, followed by the appointment of a resident magistrate and the establishment of a court in 1837.
Queanbeyan was formally proclaimed as a settlement on 28 September 1838.
In 1841 there were three brick buildings and seven wooden buildings in Queanbeyan. There were 372 residents in 1851 and 526 in 1861 and Queanbeyan was the service centre of the district. There were three large stores and two hotels. Another six inns were doing business on the roads leading out of the town. There were two steam mills and a new hospital was being erected.
There were three fine churches - Christ Church, St. Gregory's and the Methodist Church and schools were in existence at both Christ Church and St. Gregory's. A newspaper, The Golden Age, was founded by John Gale in 1860 and is still being published under the title of Queanbeyan Age. The new court house was built in 1860 on Monaro Street.
During the 1860s communications were improved by the extension of the telegraph line from Braidwood to Queanbeyan which opened in 1864 and the approach of the railway which reached Goulburn in 1869. In 1869 the Queanbeyan Post and Telegraph offices were combined and the first permanent Post Office was opened at the corner of Monaro and Lowe Streets in 1880. The first official train reached Bungendore on March 4, 1885, but engineering difficulties and the need to construct two large bridges delayed the opening of the section to Queanbeyan until Septmember 8, 1887.
Queanbeyan's fourth church, St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church opened in 1874 and its second bank, the Bank of New South Wales, opened in 1878. A new public school was built in 1877. Construction of St. Benedict's convent and boarding school run by the Good Samaritan sisters was begun in 1880.
In February 1885 Queanbeyan was proclaimed a Municipality containing an area of 5,700 acres. At the first municipal elections in April 1885, nine aldermen were selected from 14 candidates and John James Wright became the first mayor.
The first bridge across the Queanbeyan River was opened in 1858 but closed in 1899. Another bridge opened in 1900, which was later replaced by a new bridge in 1974. The adjacent weir and the Suspension Bridge were opened in 1901. The Suspension Bridge was destroyed by the flood of 1925 and a replacement was re-built in 1938.
The building of Canberra created new avenues for employment and stimulated business and housing development. The recommencement of the building of Canberra in 1921 resulted in a second boom in Queanbeyan when many new buildings were erected. Benefits resulting from the expansion of the early 1920s included supply of electricity (1920) and water (1926).
By 1972 the population had risen to over 15,000. The city had proved that while it was in close proximity to Canberra it was an independent entity and Queanbeyan was proclaimed a city on July 7, 1972. The population in 2011 exceeds 40,000 and it is estimated that this will increase to around 70,000 by 2036. New developments will occur at Googong and in the Jerrabomberra Valley over the years, making Queanbeyan one of the fastest growing centres in NSW.