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Rockhampton, QLD

The unofficial Capital of Central Queensland and a feast of glorious Victorian-era buildings.

In my personal opinion (which shouldn't really enter into this guide) Rockhampton is the most beautiful regional centre in Australia. The central business district, particularly Quay Street (which is part of the National Estate) and East Street, has the most elegant, and well preserved, streetscape in the country. The concentration of beautiful old buildings, the tree lined streets, the gently flowing Fitzroy River beside Quay Street, all make this area of Rockhampton's CBD one of the delights of any visit to the city.
Rockhampton is a large and prosperous city which has become the unofficial capital of Central Queensland. It has a wide range of attractions for the visitor and, combined with the coastal towns of Yeppoon and Emu Park, it is in an area so rich it could easily take a week to see everything.


Rockhampton is located on the Tropic of Capricorn (the marker is outside the Visitor Information Centre) 617 km north of Brisbane, 40 km upstream from the mouth of the Fitzroy River, and 8 m above sea level.


Origin of Name

Rockhampton was named as a simple combination of "rock" (it was located where there was a rock barrier across the Fitzroy River) and the English suffix "Hampton" which denotes a place near water (as in Northampton, Wolverhampton, and Southampton) to produce a name which means "place near the rocks in the river".


Things to See and Do

Heritage Walks
There are two excellent, detailed brochures available from the Visitor Information Centre. A series of A4 sheets simply titled Rockhampton Heritage Buildings Walk lists a total of 20 buildings and includes mention of a Memorial to the Archer family. All the buildings are on Quay Street. This is an excellent introduction to the highlights of the city centre.
There is another, much more detailed, 56 page brochure titled Rockhampton Heritage Walk - Take 10,000 Steps which lists 103 buildings and places of interest around the city.
It is a comment on the richness and density of the city's grand buildings that you can spend an hour or a day exploring them. The choice is yours.

Buildings on Quay Street
A walk along Quay Street starting at the Criterion Hotel (the numbers are those on the Rockhampton Heritage Buildings Walk):

1. The Criterion Hotel
This prime location at the end of Quay Street was originally the site of Rockhampton's first hotel, the Bush Inn which was built in 1858 and owned by Robert Parker. Such was the wealth from the goldfields which poured into Rockhampton in the 1880s that Parker's daughter, a Mrs Dorinda Ann Curtis, commissioned the architect J Flint to build this extraordinary and ostentatious three storey Neo Classic Revival building in 1889. It was completed in October 1890. At the time it was characterised by a flagged marble entry. It is worth noting that the colonnaded verandas have hoods to protect the rooms from the harsh Queensland sun. It remained in the Curtis family until 1946. Over the years it has been host to such luminaries as the actor Gary Cooper, the US General Douglas MacArthur, Donald Bradman and Sir Robert Menzies.

4. The Rockhampton Club
Originally built as a family residence by Thomas McLaughlin, this elegant building was constructed in 1887 as a classic Colonial style residence. It remained as an exclusive "men only" club until 1999 when women were finally admitted. It closed in 2002 and is now occupied by private businesses.

5. Union Trustee Chambers
Built in 1887 and located at 170 Quay Street, the Union Trustee Chambers is one of the earliest of the elegant buildings beside the river. It was originally a residence and surgery for Dr William Callaghan.  Designed by the Rockhampton architect, J W Wilson, it is an important example of the 'Classic Colonial' style with an interesting combination of Classical columns and cast iron balustrades. The National Trust consider it a building of exceptional historical significance.

8. Cattle House
This elegant building was constructed in 1864 as the Union Bank of Australia but by 1898 it had been rebuilt and extended. It was a typical country bank with the business on the ground floor and the manager's residence on the first floor. The building was taken over by the Cattleman's Union in 1977 and renamed Cattle House.

9. Luck House
Luck House was built in 1862 for PD Mansfield who was the town's first Postmaster. When he died in 1869 the building was leased although it remained in the Mansfield family until 1941.

10. Rees R & Sydney Jones - Solicitors
Located on the corner of Quay Street and Denham Street, this handsome building was completed in 1880 to a Neo Classic Revival design by the architect, F D Stanley. Originally constructed for the Queensland National Bank its cast iron balustrades and Corinthian columns make it a very distinctive and prominent corner building. It was designed with an eye on the hot tropical sun hence the cool verandas. Rees R & Sydney Jones are the oldest legal firm in Queensland. The company was founded by Rees Rutland Jones who moved to Queensland in 1864 having graduated from Sydney University.

11. Royal Bank of Queensland
Designed by JW Wilson the Royal Bank of Queensland, just beyond the Denham Street corner, was built in 1889 to capitalise on the riches from the gold mine at Mount Morgan. It is a typical Rockhampton building of the era with a neo-Classical style and a Colonial influence. Like most banks at the time the upper storey was the residence of the manager and the ground floor was for banking.

13. The Customs House
This huge and remarkable building was constructed in the Classic Revival style which was all the rage in Rockhampton around the turn of the century. Built between 1898-1901 of Stanwell sandstone the building has a huge copper dome and an elaborate semi-circular portico with a Corinthian colonnade. The building was designed by the Queensland Government architect, A B Brady, and is a demonstration of the importance of Rockhampton as the major Central Coast port. The building is constructed on a river bank and consequently, to ensure it was solid, wooden piles which were 10 m x 6 cm and were driven into the ground to a depth of 7 metres and then tied with steel rails and the tops embedded in concrete. Rockhampton ceased to be a river port in 1958 but Customs remained in the building until 1986.

14. Heritage Tavern
Located on the corner of Quay Street and William Street and built in 1898 as Mrs L Johnson's Commercial Hotel by the architect J W Wilson, the Heritage Tavern is one of Quay Street's dominating hotels. It adopted a colonial style which is best exemplified by the superb iron columns and lacework on the three storey verandas. When the hotel opened it had 46 rooms all of which looked out over the street or over an internal courtyard. The iron lacework is particularly impressive.

15. Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Built in 1897 as the head office for the Mount Morgan Mining Company, this neo-Classical revival style building was designed by JW Wilson. It contained a vault where the gold from Mount Morgan was stored before being shipped out of Rockhampton's port. In 1963 the ABC moved into the building. They used the gold vault as a sound proof studio.

17. Avonleigh Chambers
A superb example of iron lacework, these chambers were built in 1885 as a home for Frederick Morgan, one of the brothers who found the gold at Mount Morgan. In 1908 it was converted into a private hospital.

19. Walter Reid Building
Located on the corner of Quay Street and Derby Street, this solid Victorian style building was completed in 1894 as warehouses for Walter Reid & Company. It was used by the US Forces as accommodation for troops during World War II. It is still used as accommodation.

On The Fitzroy River Side of Quay Street
In recent times a number of art works have been placed in the narrow park between the Fitzroy River and Quay Street. Historically there has been a memorial to the Archer Brothers who explored and settled in the area.

Archer Memorial
A simple stone monument with an inscription: "This stone has been erected by the Rockhampton District Historical Society as a memorial to Charles and William Archer - Discoverers of the Fitzroy River and Valley in May 1853. First settlers in the district at Gracemere in August 1855."

Flood Marker Project - The Mercantile History of the Fitzroy River
This sandstone sculpture by Sarah Larsen "is a testament to the pioneering spirit of Rockhampton capitalising on the resources and opportunities the river has provided over time. One of the natural resources sourced from the area is the sandstone - the element chosen to depict the relationship between the Fitzroy River and the mercantile history of the region.
The sculpture is a visual and tactile journey with its waved obelisk shape that gently mirrors the movement of the river. The ancient sandstone is transitioned to the modern city of Rockhampton with the inclusion of laser printed images on stainless steel embedded in the sculpture. The mercantile history and flood marker levels have been recorded on this sculpture to ensure that it will become a lasting testament to the relationship that the people of Rockhampton have with their Fitzroy River."

Honouring Land Connections
Created by the Capricornia Arts Mob Collaborating artists - Pamela CroftWarcon, Howard, Kaylene and Trey Butler. Media: Local ironbark timber, gutuna (ochre), text, resin and found objects. "The artists' story depicts connections that community has with Toonooba/Tunuba (Fitzroy River) and this park. Munda-gadda the Rainbow Serpent and the bigandy (totems), Barraru (green frog) and Yugu (water lily) of the Dharumbal peoples demonstrate honour, respect and acknowledgement of their country in which we live, work and play. Each memory pole depicts the diversity of environmental connections to country. Images on the memory poles are of fishing spear with Wina or Guya (fish), net and a flowing water symbol: Guwa (yam), Gumbaru (ancestors), Dakandy (goanna), Badbara (echidna), Wuru (kangaroo) and Gundulu (emu). Six of the poles are markers, with the fitted boomerangs and other significant symbols showing years of major floods depicting that flooding will return."

The CBD - Beyond Quay Street
In total the Rockhampton Heritage Walk lists 75 buildings beyond Quay Street in the city's CBD. These buildings are all located in either East Street or Bolsover Street between Derby Street and Archer Street.
Of particular interest are:

The Post Office
Located on the corner of East Street Mall and Denham Street this huge two storey Classical Revival building dominates the CBD. It was designed by the architect G Connolly and constructed of Stanwell sandstone by Collins and McLean in 1895. The most striking features of the building are the superb colonnades and the clock tower and belfry. The interior has been modernised but the facade and clock tower remain intact.

The Supreme Court
Located at the western entrance to the East Street Mall, the Supreme Court is a Classic Revival building designed by G Connolly, the Government Architect. Set back from the street the combination of the fine wrought iron gates, the palm trees in the forecourt, the solid Ionic columns, and the pale sandstone make it a particularly impressive public building. It was built in 1887.

The area beyond the City Centre.
If the centre of Rockhampton is full of architectural delights the suburban area and the outlying regions are equally interesting. Some of the highlights include:

Kershaw Gardens
Located on the Bruce Highway and on the north side of the Fitzroy River, these impressive gardens were created in 1974 specifically as an educational conservation resource to feature native plants. The gardens, to be known as the Native Plant Botanic Gardens, were commenced in 1976 and officially opened in 1988. There is a 3.7 km track through the gardens which passes the waterfall, People's Forest, Sensory Garden, Northern and Southern Rainforest, Moores Creek, The Rapids and the Grevillia Garden. Particular highlights are the Corkwood in the Northern Rainforest which is the food plant for the Ulysses Butterfly; the Golden Orb Weaver spider which spins perfect webs between the branches of the trees; the tea tree oil bush, lemon myrtle and murraya in the Sensory Garden; the artificial wetlands and lagoons and the cascading waterfalls at the northern end of the park. For more information tel: 1300 225 577.

The Ward Street Buildings
Located between the Visitor Information Centre and the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and Zoo, Ward Street is a distillation of the best of suburban Rockhampton.
(a) Mater Hospital, now surrounded by more modern buildings, is a delightfully ostentatious late Victorian building built in 1890 for John Ferguson by the architect James Flint. It has an impressive tower, a grand staircase and decorative rendering. The original gates have remained and they, too, are impressive.
(b) 74 Ward Street (and well hidden by mature trees) was also designed by James Flint. This time the owner was John Ferguson's daughter. Built in 1897 its grand colonial design and elaborate lacework make it one of the most interesting and dramatic residences in Rockhampton.
(c) Mr and Mrs Jeha's Residence at 86 Ward Street is a classic Queensland colonial house elevated from the ground to let the cool summer breezes reduce the heat and with elaborate timber work which is a reminder of the superb timber craftsmanship which existed in central Queensland around 1898 when the house was built.

Archer Park Railway Museum
Located at 51-87 Denison Street between Cambridge and Archer Streets, the Archer Park Railway Museum (it opened in 1999) is centred around an old timber railway station which opened to the public on 11 December, 1899. The building is characterised by a long front veranda with cast iron columns, some attractive lace ironwork and an elaborate entry porch. The exhibitions are designed to allow the visitor to experience what a railway station was like in the 1930s and 1940s. It is open Monday to Thursday from 10.00 am - 3.00 pm and on Sundays from 9.00 am - 1.00 pm during which time the Purrey Steam Tram (it operated through Rockhampton from 1909-1939) operates from 10.00 am - 1.00 pm in the spring, winter and autumn. For more information check out http://www.qldrailheritage.com/archerpark or tel: (07) 4936 8191.

St Paul's Anglican Cathedral
Located on the corner of Alma and William Streets St Paul's Cathedral. It was constructed out of Stanwell sandstone and built between 1879-83 in classic Gothic style. Amusingly its building was a response by the congregation to the criticism that  the previous, rather modest, church had been too small. Other cities had grander cathedrals and the citizens of Rockhampton wanted something more dramatic. Building started in 1874 but stalled due to a lack of funds. It started again in 1879 when Bishop Stanton laid the foundation stone and it was finally consecrated in 1883.

St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral 
Located on the corner of William and West Streets was built of Stanwell stone in Victorian Gothic style in 1889-90. A beautiful twin-spired building. The interior features a dramatic, large scale timber vaulted roof and some particularly impressive joinery work.

The Visitor Centre and Tropic of Capricorn
Apart from collecting excellent maps and guides to the city at the Visitor Centre, it is fun to stand at the Tropic of Capricorn Spire knowing that one foot is sub-tropical and, if you are standing correctly, the other foot is in the tropics. This is an activity which can only be repeated on the Stuart Highway more than 2,000 km to the west.

Botanic Gardens and Rockhampton Zoo
Located to the west of the Tropic of Capricorn Spire and Visitor Information Centre, the city's excellent Botanical Gardens were first proclaimed in 1869 and are amongst the oldest public gardens in Queensland. The highlights of the gardens include banyan fig trees, a special ANZAC cenotaph, a tropical fruit arboretum, a colonial experimentation garden and a particularly beautiful Japanese Garden which was created by Kenzo Ogata in 1982. Next to the gardens is a small zoo specialising in Australian animals and exotic animals from around the world. It has twenty areas with animals which include the cassowary, jungle python, Boyd's forest dragon, lace monitor, grey kangaroo, emu, red-tailed boa, freshwater crocodile, lorikeet, koala, wombat, saltwater crocodile, dingo as well as the chimpanzee, Asian small clawed otter and lion-tailed macaque.Tel: (07) 4932 9000.


Other Attractions in the Area

Gracemere Homestead
Located 11 km south-west of Rockhampton via the Capricorn Highway at 234 Gracemere Road is Gracemere Homestead, a remarkable example of early pioneer architecture. The builder and architect was Colin Archer (one of the Archer brothers who were the first European settlers in the area) who later became an eminent naval architect. The National Trust listing of the building notes "A fine slab homestead (completed May, 1858) with cedar linings and joinery ... The slab walls are arranged in sections with the studs meeting the tie beams. Each section contains a ventilation opening, window and door. The contents include fine crafted furniture made for Gracemere by the Archers. Sited on a peninsula and overlooking a lagoon, this homestead and its garden is of great local and State significance and remains in the ownership of the Archer family." It is covered by bougainvillea in season. For more information the Queensland Heritage Register of the home is particularly detailed. Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600508. It is not open to the public.

Rockhampton Historical Society Museum
Rockhampton Historical Society Museum is located in Stapleton Park off Bridge Street on the north side of the Fitzroy River near the Fitzroy Bridge. This gracious colonial building was built by JW Wilson and completed in 1885 for the North Rockhampton Borough Council. The Museum contains an interesting collection of local memorabilia and is open from 10.00 am to 2.00pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, tel: (07) 4927 8431.

St Christophers Chapel
Located on St Christopher's Chapel Road, Nerimbera, St Christophers Chapel is an unusual open air non-denominational church which was built in 1943 by American servicemen who were stationed in the area. Built from bush timber with a concrete floor and corrugated iron roof, it is an interesting example of a modern church designed out of simple, inexpensive materials. There is a very detailed history of the construction at http://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/places/?id=1002 which includes the observation that "Between mid 1942 and early 1944 the area surrounding Rockhampton sustained thousands of US soldiers who were fighting in the Pacific and this non-denominational chapel was constructed to service the religious needs of those troops. Erected within Area 'A' of Camp Nerimbera (a convalescent camp for US personnel) in 1943, by the US 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, St Christopher's Chapel is located west of St Christopher's Chapel Road, to the southeast of Rockhampton. The single storey chapel is open at the front (east) and to both sides, with a low stone wall around the perimeter. The chapel has a wide centre aisle with timber pews to either side and a random rubble stone wall at the west end of the chapel creates a recessed central altar with a door to either side accessing rear side rooms, which are enclosed with fibrous cement sheeting. A free-standing stone pulpit is located at the southern side of the altar. A later octagonal band rotunda is located on the northern side of the chapel. This structure has a concrete and stone base, and is constructed of timber."

Dreamtime Cultural Centre
Located on the Bruce Highway 6 km north of Rockhampton is the Dreamtime Cultural Centre. Set in 12 ha of gardens, including a small waterfall and a pond, it introduces visitors to the culture of Central Queensland Aborigines and the peoples of the Torres Strait Islands. It is possible to visit and explore the exhibits but the recommendation is to join a conducted tour where visitors are shown how to make and play a didgeridoo and how the local Aborigines use the plants of the area and how they built their dwellings. The building at the centre of the park was constructed to recreate a cave in the Carnarvon National Park which, according to Aboriginal legend, is haunted by an old Aborigine who only appears to women. He apparently lost his wife to a younger man and spends eternity seeking to find her once again. The centre is open from 9.00 am - 3.30 pm Monday to Friday. For more information check out http://www.dreamtimecentre.com.au. Tel: (07) 4936 1655.

Glenmore Homestead
Glenmore Homestead is one of the many interesting old buildings in the rural hinterland around Rockhampton. Classified by the National Trust, the Homestead complex consists of the original log cabin (1858) which features log walls, slab flooring and a shingle roof. There is also a slab house which was once a Bush Inn and a stone and adobe house built by a Mexican stone mason in 1862. The turnoff to Glenmore Homestead is only 200 metres beyond the Dreamtime Cultural Centre on the Bruce Highway. The old homestead is now used for special functions and bus groups. Tel: 0408 322 559 or check out http://www.glenmorehomestead.com.au.

Rockhampton Heritage Village
Located 10 km north of the city centre at Boundary Road, Parkhurst, the Rockhampton Heritage Village covers 11.4 ha of bushland and is a celebration of the district's pioneer history. There's Woods Cottage, a slab hut from the late 19th century without running water or electricity; a working amateur radio station; a celebration of the 1st Central Queensland Lighthorse; a restored hospital from Mount Morgan with one of the first iron lungs used as part of the treatment for polio; a Hall of Clocks; a range of vintage cars as well as antique farm equipment; a collection of historic fire engines; a range of impressive cars from the 1920s; Rosewood Homestead with its pressed metal ceilings and hand poured panes of glass; a one-teacher school which was opened in 1915; a collection of over 1,500 dolls; and a coach factory with a range of carts specifically for butchers and bakers on display. It is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm daily, tel: (07) 4936 8688 or check out http://www.heritagevillage.com.au.

Capricorn Caves
Capricorn Caves, located 23 km north of Rockhampton on the Bruce Highway and 4 km down Olsens Caves Road, are reputedly the oldest tourist attraction in Queensland. The sixteen caves were first discovered by John Olsen, a Norwegian migrant, in 1882. Two years later he opened them to the public. Formed from an ancient coral reef some 390 million years ago, the caves are open daily from 8.30 am - 6.00 pm. Formed on a limestone ridge there are more than 1.5 km of passages which can be explored by guided tour, adventure caving, abseiling and a special geological tour. For more information contact tel: (07) 4934 2883 or check out http://capricorncaves.com.au. There is a caravan park with cabins and a lodge connected to the caves.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by people from the Dharambal Aboriginal language group.

* The area was first explored by Charles and William Archer who discovered and named the Fitzroy River (after Governor Charles Fitz Roy) on 4 May, 1853.

* Charles Archer settled in the area in 1855.

* In 1856 the New South Wales Government (Queensland was not a separate colony at the time) decided to establish a settlement near the mouth of the Fitzroy River. The site chosen was the rocky upper limit of navigation on the river. The town's first store and inn were opened that year.

* The discovery of gold at Canoona in 1858 resulted in a sudden influx of miners and prospectors. The rush was short lived but it did ensure a dramatic increase in the local population.

* The town and port of Rockhampton was officially proclaimed in 1858.

* In 1859 Queensland became an independent colony. The people of Rockhampton tried to establish themselves as an independent state.

* In 1860 Rockhampton was proclaimed a municipality.

* By the early 1860s Rockhampton was the home of an active and committed secession movement.

* In 1867 the Great Northern Railway was started at Rockhampton.

* The local Botanic Garden was started in 1869.

* 1871 saw the construction of a meat processing works at Lake Creek.

* In 1874 the Rockhampton Agricultural Society was established.

* By 1881 an iron suspension bridge across the Fitzroy River was opened.

* In 1882 the Morgan brothers pegged out a gold mining lease on Ironstone Mountain (Mount Morgan).

* The Morgans, with some Rockhampton businessmen, formed a six man partnership to mine the mountain.

* Many of Rockhampton's more ostentatious buildings were constructed from the wealth of the Mount Morgan goldmine.

* In 1883 St Paul's Anglican Cathedral was consecrated.

* The town's Supreme Court building was completed in 1887.

* St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral was completed in 1889.

* In 1899 the railway crossing of the Fitzroy River was completed.

* By 1900 the railway from Rockhampton had reached Longreach.

* The Customs House was built in 1901.

* The city of Rockhampton was proclaimed in 1902.

* The rail connection to Brisbane was completed in 1903.

* Between 1909-1939 a municipal tramway system operated in the city.

* In 1918 the Fitzroy River reached 10.1 metres in its worst flood.

* During World War II a total of 70,000 US servicemen lived in quarters outside the city.

* In 1961 the city's population had reached 55,024.

* In 1978 the city's Pilbeam Theatre was opened as a centre for entertainment.

* A second bridge across the Fitzroy River was built in 1980.

* In 1991 Cyclone Joy saw the Fitzroy River peak at 9.3 metres.

* In 2015 Cyclone Marcia damaged the city.


Visitor Information

Tropic of Capricorn Spire Visitors Centre, Gladstone Road, tel: (07) 4921 2311.


Useful Websites

There is a detailed, official website. Check out http://www.rockhamptonregion.qld.gov.au. Also http://www.queensland.com/en-us/destination%20information/rockhampton has lots of useful information.

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1 suggestion so far
  • Tropic of Capricorn does not actually go through the “Current Location” at the Tourist Information Centre it Actually lies several kilometers to the south of the city. It was originally recognised by monument and park land/Rest Area on the flood prone Bruce Highway near the Yeppen Lagoons.

    The council saw fit to move its location to the Tourist Centre to suit there needs when the Highway was moved to higher ground.