The land on which the ground sits was first set aside for use as a cricket ground in 1895 and the first cricket match was held on the site on 19 December 1896, between Parliament and The Press. Prior to this, cricket was played at the cricket ground located in the area then known as 'Green Hills' (then located beside Countess Street Petrie Terrace opposite the Victoria Barracks – now occupied by the Northern Busway), since at least the early 1860s.
The Gabba shared first-class cricket matches with the Exhibition Ground until 1931. The first Sheffield Shield match at The Gabba was scheduled to be played between 31 January 1931 and 4 February 1931, but it was washed out without a ball being bowled. The first Test match at The Gabba was played between Australia and South Africa between 27 November and 3 December 1931.
Between 1993 and 2005, The Gabba was redeveloped in six stages at a cost of A$128,000,000. The dimensions of the playing field are now 170.6 metres (east-west) by 149.9 metres (north-south) to accommodate the playing of Australian Football at elite level. The seating capacity of the ground is now 42,000.
The First Test between Australia and England is played nowadays at Brisbane. Nobody seems to know why, and all sorts of arguments are ventilated for and against more cricket Tests on the Woolloongabba ground. I am all in favour of robbing Queensland of its greatest cricketing occasion, for the ground depresses. It is not a cricket ground at all. It is a concentration camp! Wire fences abound. Spectators are herded and sorted out into lots as though for all the world this was a slave market and not a game of cricket. The stands are of wood and filthy to sit on. The dining rooms are barns, without a touch of colour or a picture on the wall. Everywhere there is dust and dirt...Forgive me if I am bitter about the Woolloongabba ground...the city has many good points, and the people who live there are generous and hospitable to the highest degree, but once one goes to the cricket ground the advantages are overwhelmingly lost in the mass of rules and regulations... – John Kay, 1950–51 Ashes series
The Gabba is used from October to March for cricket and is home to the Queensland Cricket Association, the Queensland Cricketers Club and the Queensland Bulls cricket team. The venue usually hosts the first Test match of the season each November in addition to a number of international one-day matches usually held in January. The pitch is usually fast and bouncy.
The Gabba's amenities were greatly improved in the 1980s from a very basic standard, especially in comparison with the other Australian cricket grounds. Test cricket was first played at the ground in November 1931, the first Test of the series between Australia and South Africa. In December 1960, Test cricket's first-ever Tied Test took place at the ground when Richie Benaud's Australian team tied with Frank Worrell's West Indian side. Queensland clinched its first-ever Sheffield Shield title with victory over South Australia in the final at the ground in March 1995.
The Gabba was the first Australian venue to host an International Twenty20 cricket match.
In November 1968 Colin Milburn scored 243 – in the two-hour afternoon session he scored 181- in a Sheffield Shield match for Western Australia vs. Queensland 
For the first day of the first Test of the 2010–11 Ashes series between Australia and England the Gabba was almost sold out. Australia's Michael Clarke holds the record for number of runs scored in one Test innings at The Gabba with 259 not out, breaking the previous record set by Alastair Cook.
Australia has quite a good test match record at the ground. In the 55 matches played at the ground, Australia has won 33, drawn 13, tied 1 and lost 8. Australia has also not lost at the Gabba in 24 matches, a record dating back to 1988.
Australian football has a long association with the ground. The Queensland Football League, a precursor to AFL Queensland played matches at The Gabba from 1905 to 1914, 1959 to 1971, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s. AFLQ matches resumed in 1993 as curtain-raiser events to AFL games, along with occasional AFLQ Grand Finals.
Interstate games, including the 1961 national carnival have also been played there, as was a demonstration game during the 1982 Commonwealth Games. In 1991 the Gabba was host to Queensland's only victory over a Victorian side.
On 8 May 1909 the first match of rugby league was played in Brisbane at the Gabba. Norths played against Souths before a handful of spectators at the ground. The Gabba hosted its first rugby league Test match on 26 June 1909, when Australia defeated New Zealand 10–5. The Kangaroos continued to play Tests at this venue until 1956, and a ground record crowd of 47,800 people saw Australia play Great Britain in 1954. From 1932 to 1959 The Gabba was also used to host interstate matches and Brisbane Rugby League grand finals.