Queensland experiences considerable inter-annual and decadal rainfall variability, which impacts water-resource management, agriculture and infrastructure. To understand the mechanisms by which large-scale atmospheric and coupled air–sea processes drive these variations, empirical orthogonal teleconnection (EOT) analysis is applied to 1900–2010 seasonal Queensland rainfall. Fields from observations and the 20th Century Reanalysis are regressed onto the EOT timeseries to associate the EOTs with large-scale drivers. In winter, spring and summer the leading, state-wide EOTs are highly correlated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO); the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation modulates the summer ENSO teleconnection. In autumn, the leading EOT is associated with locally driven, late-season monsoon variations, while ENSO affects only tropical northern Queensland. Examining EOTs beyond the first, southeastern Queensland and the Cape York peninsula emerge as regions of coherent rainfall variability. In the southeast, rainfall anomalies respond to the strength and moisture content of onshore easterlies, controlled by Tasman Sea blocking. The summer EOT associated with onshore flow and blocking has been negative since 1970, consistent with the observed decline in rainfall along the heavily populated coast. The southeastern Queensland EOTs show considerable multi-decadal variability, which is independent of large-scale drivers. Summer rainfall in Cape York is associated with tropical-cyclone activity.