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Roma, QLD

Major centre known as the Capital of the Western Downs

Roma is a substantial rural service centre which lies at the heart of a rich sheep and cattle grazing area. From the 1840s it has been seen as a land of plenty with Sir Thomas Mitchell describing the countryside as "the finest country I had ever seen in a primeval state - a champaign region, spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope could reach." Today, calling itself the Capital of the Western Downs, it is a prosperous town with a number of historic buildings and considerable pride in the fact that it was the first place, in the vast Surat Basin, to discover gas and oil.

Location

Roma is located 476 km west of Brisbane via Toowoomba and Dalby. It is 300 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

When it was surveyed and gazetted the settlement, which was really nothing more than three pubs, was named Roma after Lady Roma Bowen, the wife of the Queensland Governor of the time. Before her marriage she had been known as Countess Diamantina Georgina Roma. For some years locals continued to call the settlement either The Bungil or Reid's Crossing.

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Things to See and Do

Roma's Historic Walk
There is an excellent brochure which details the 25 places of interest in Roma. Check out http://www.mymaranoa.org.au/residents/sports-recreation/Documents/Trails%20of%20the%20Maranoa.pdf. There are some places that no longer exist - fire seems to have played particular havoc with historic pubs. However, of particular interest are:

1. Uniting Church
Located in Bungil Street, this church was built in 1896. Prior to that church-goers worshipped at the Congregational Church (it is located in Arthur Street) which was built in 1872. 

2. St Paul’s Anglican Church
Located on the corner of Bungil and Arthur Streets, built in 1913 and consecrated in 1915, it replaced a timber church which had been built in 1875. The main features of this attractive church are the superb stained glass windows, some of which were shipped from England in the 1870s. The building was designed by Sydney-born architect, Walter Carey Voller. The organ, which cost £1288 and was constructed in Brisbane, was installed in 1927. 

3. Christian Outreach Centre
Located on Arthur Street and wedged between Elders Real Estate and Go-Farm, is a building which was once the local Congregational Church. It was built in 1872 and is possibly Roma’s oldest surviving public building.

6. Western Star
Located at 120 McDowall Street this marvellously incongruous timber building with a bullnose veranda is the home of the Western Star which was established in 1875. Today it is one of the longest serving local newspapers in Queensland.

7. School of Arts Hotel
Standing proudly on the corner of Hawthorne and McDowall Streets, this hotel was opened in 1918. It has a huge veranda and, unusually, a glassed turret which was used as a lookout for enemy aircraft during World War II.

8. Queen’s Arms Hotel and Hunters Emporium
Located on McDowall Street, this historic hotel was built in 1916 and today trades as Irish McGann’s. Next door, and extending to Arthur Street, is the Queensland Heritage Register-listed Hunters Emporium (now Ace Draper) which was also built in 1916. The register notes of the building's importance: "Hunter's Emporium, a two-storeyed brick department store constructed in 1916 for Roma businessman and MLA for Maranoa, John McEwan Hunter, is important in demonstrating the consolidation of Roma as a major regional centre during the first three decades of the twentieth century, when many of the principal buildings in the town were being rebuilt in brick, and provides evidence of the quality of design and manufacturing skills available in Roma at this period. As the headquarters and signature building for a chain of western Queensland drapery and general stores established by Hunter and Co. (later Hunter's Ltd) in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the building is important in illustrating the provision and expansion of general retailing in regional Queensland, in particular reflecting the growth of western Queensland at this period. The place remains substantially intact and is significant as a rare surviving, early twentieth century masonry department store in a Queensland regional centre, one of a small group of similar establishments which includes: the former Daking-Smith & Co. Department Store (c. 1909, Pollard's Store) in Charters Towers; the former Boland's Department Store (1912 with 1930s extensions, Bolands Centre) in Cairns; and the former Piggot's Department Store (1909-10 with later additions, Pigott's Building) in Toowoomba." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601775.

9. Ladbrook’s Butchery
Located at 75 Arthur Street, and originally built in 1919 as one of only six purpose-designed State butcher shops, this store has supplied meat to Roma for a century. It is significant enough to be included on the Queensland Heritage Register which points out that it: "is important in illustrating the pattern of Queensland's history. In particular, the place is illustrative of the highly co-ordinated, statewide system of State butcheries which provided cheaper meat to thousands of Queensland families in the years 1915-1929. During this period successive Queensland Labor governments established various State enterprises, with the network of State butcher's shops being among the more successful of these experiments. The Roma State Butcher's Shop was considered an important distribution centre for meat supplied from the State-owned Charleville Meatworks, which is illustrated in the construction of a substantial brick building with state-of-the-art butchery equipment and facilities." For more detailed information and the background history to the State butcher's shops, check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602155.

10. James Saunders Chemist
There is still a chemist shop on the corner of McDowall and Arthur Street and it has been there, continuously, since James Saunders (his name is above the awning) established his chemist and dentist business on the site in 1871. It is claimed to be Australia’s longest surviving continuous pharmacy site.

13. Commonwealth Hotel
Located on the corner of Wyndham Street and Bowen Street, the Commonwealth Hotel opened in 1927 and replaced the original Queensland Hotel or Diggers’ Arms which had been built in 1881.

The Big Rig
Located at 2 Riggers Road, this visitor information and museum complex includes the Oil Patch Museum, a $7 million living memorial to the pioneers of Australia's oil and gas exploration industry. The memorial explores the development of the Australian oil industry from the nation's first discovery of petroleum in Roma in 1900 through a series of twelve interpretative panels. There are also audio and other visual presentations and fully restored historic rigs and equipment. There is also the Big Rig Night Show, a 35 minute show using current technology and multimedia to tell the history of the oil and gas industry in Australia. It operates three nights a week - Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Tel: 1300 007 662 or check out http://www.maranoa.qld.gov.au/home/-/asset_publisher/7ksF/content/roma-s-big-rig-and-visitor-information-centre-open-7-days-a-week. 

Three Dimensional Mural
Located in the Roma Cultural Centre, which is on the corner of Bungil and Quintin Streets, this unusual 18 square metre mural, created by John and Maureen Morrison, is made up of 17 local elements which depict the history of the district. The mural is enhanced by audio and moving lights. 

War Memorial and Heroes Avenue
Located on Wyndham Street this is a unique monument comprising 93 bottle trees, one for each person from the Roma district who died during World War I. The first tree was planted in 1918 to honour Lieutenant Corporal Norman Saunders who was killed in France in 1916. That tree is now known as the Tree of Knowledge. The rest of the avenue was planted by 1920. The inscription reads: "On the 20th of September 1918 the people of the Roma District gathered to pay tribute to their sons who fell in WW1.  In their honour, a bottle tree was planted for each soldier as a living memorial to their duty to their nation.  The gathered citizens pledged that 'their lives would live on.  As long as Roma existed they would never be forgotten'." For more information check out https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/ww1/display/92464-heroes-avenue.

Roma Court House
The Roma Court House, although sadly not the present building, was the scene for the famous, and hilarious, trial of Harry Redford. 
The history of Harry Redford is a tale of daring, chicanery and the outback's admiration for a criminal bushman which the novelist Rolf Boldrewood used as the basis of his famous novel Robbery Under Arms.
Redford was born in the Hawkesbury River district of New South Wales in 1842. It is likely that his father was the convict, Thomas Redford, who had arrived in Australia in 1826. By the time he was a teenager Redford was working as a drover and by 1870 he was in Central Western Queensland working on the vast Bowen Downs station which, at the time, covered 1.75 million acres. Today Muttaburra stands was at one end of where this vast holding once stood.
At the time Bowen Downs was running about 70,000 cattle and Redford felt that the station owners wouldn't even know if they were a thousand short on muster. Redford knew that if he stole the cattle (all of which had been branded) that he couldn't sell them in Queensland or New South Wales. So he devised a plan to drove the cattle down the Cooper Creek into South Australia. To understand how daring this plan was it is worth remembering that Burke and Wills had died attempting to make a similar journey only nine years earlier.
Amazingly Redford was successful. He drove the cattle 1,300 km to the Blanche Water station in northern South Australia where he sold them for £5000. However the loss was noted and in February 1871 Redford was arrested and brought to Roma to be tried. The charge was "that Redford, in March 1870, at Bowen Downs station, feloniously did steal 100 bullocks, 100 cows, 100 heifers, 100 steers, one white bull, the property of Morehead and Young."
From the outset the trial had the elements of an entertainment rather than a serious investigation. Locals, captivated by Redford's consummate bushcraft and daring, packed the courtroom. The white bull stood in a yard outside the courthouse. Forty-one of the forty-eight people called as possible jurors were dismissed because they were prejudiced. The white bull took part in a line up with twenty other bulls and was immediately identified by its owner.
The evidence against Redford was overwhelming. The defence offered no witnesses and complained that Redford had been gaoled without trial.
The jury retired for an hour and then delivered their verdict. The court transcript reads as follows:
Judge: What is your verdict?
Foreman of the Jury: We find the prisoner 'Not Guilty'.
Judge: What?
Foreman of the Jury: Not guilty.
Judge: I thank God, gentlemen, that the verdict is yours, not mine!
It was an example of admiration of bushcraft overwhelming justice and on 5 April, 1873 the Governor of Queensland ordered that the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court at Roma be withdrawn for two years.
After his acquittal Harry Redford headed into northern Australia. He worked as a drover on the Atherton Tableland and around the Gulf country. In 1883 he moved the first herd of cattle from Queensland to the Brunette Downs station where he was appointed manager. For many years he managed the McArthur River station on the Gulf of Carpentaria and was known around Burketown as the model for Captain Starlight although he refused to acknowledge the obvious similarities.
It is sad that the Court House where Redford's trial took place no longer stands. The present Court House which was built in 1910 and is a typical, impressive country town building. The original Court House was located to the west of the present building.
It is still worth the effort to drive to the Court House and reflect on the wonderful perversity of the people of Roma who let a clearly guilty man go free simply because they were in awe of his bushcraft and his droving skills.

Roma Bush Gardens
Located at the corner of Duke and Mayne Streets, the Roma Bush Gardens are 14 ha of gardens which include the Railway Dam and which feature brigalow, coolibah, mulga and a total of eleven vegetation communities. Not surprisingly it is a pleasant place for walking and an outstanding place for bird watching.

Giant Windmill
Located at 128-132 Ragland Street, the Southern Cross windmill, which was built in 1950, has blades which are 9 metres across and it stands 15 metres high. it was the largest commercially made windmill  in Australia.

Lenroy Slab Hut
Located in Riggers Road near the Big Rig, the Lenroy Slab Hut was built from rough hewn cypress pine in 1893. It is a reminder of the simplicity and harshness of life for early settlers. The hut originally had a bark roof which has been replaced with galvanised iron.

Adungadoo Pathway
Starting in Bungil Road at the Loam Reserve and making its way along the banks of Bungil Creek, this 2 km (30 minutes) pathway is ideal for walkers and cyclists. The bank is edged by ancient river gums and the creek is a delight for birdwatchers. The local Aborigines had names for sections of the river and Adungadoo was the name given to this section of Bungil Creek by the Mandandanji tribe. There are interpretative signs and it offers access to the town's huge Bottle Tree. Download http://www.mymaranoa.org.au/residents/sports-recreation/Documents/Trails%20of%20the%20Maranoa.pdf which provides a map of the route. 

Roma Saleyards Visitor Tours
Located on the Warrego Highway just before The Big Rig, the Roma Saleyards are the largest cattle selling facility in the southern hemisphere. They process over 400,000 cattle a year with auctions happening every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Tours are available on sale days free of charge. No bookings are required, simply meet at the Bull Ring area at 8.15 am for an 8.30 am tour.

Boobook Eco Tours
With extensive ecology and farming experience Boobook guides are recognised as authorities in the natural history of the Carnarvon Ranges and surrounding region. They offer a one day tour to the Carnarvon Ranges which departs from Roma at 7.00 am. The tour includes the cycad-filled gorges, dramatic rock formations and unique Aboriginal Art Sites, while also including views of the fertile Arcadia Valley and Australia’s native wildlife. This is their Discover Carnarvon Ranges Day Tour. Check https://www.boobookecotours.com.au/tours/discover-carnarvon for details.

Giant Bottle Tree
Located at the end of Edwardes Street in the Loam Reserve is a local novelty, Roma’s largest bottle tree. It has a circumferance of 9.51 m, a height of 6 m and a crown of 20 m. It was transplanted by Roma Town Council to its present location in 1927.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Romavilla Winery
The Romavilla Winery, located at 77 Northern Road, can claim to be the oldest winery in Queensland. It started operation in 1863 and has been producing wine continuously for over a century. The present cellars were built in 1878. At one point it was processing grapes from 170,000 vines. Grape growing and wine making is part of Roma's history. The first vines in the area were planted at Mt Abundance Homestead in the late 1840s and by the early 1870s wine making was an important local industry. Today Romaville "grows and produces a wide variety of table wines including Riesling, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Crouchen, Garganega, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Merlot, and Cabernet, as well as fortified wines - Tawnies, Muscats, Imperial (Madeira style) and Amontillado." For more information check out http://www.romavilla.com. Tel: (07) 4622 1822.

Meadowbank Farm Stay and Museum
Meadowbank Museum is located 12 km west of the town on the road to Charleville. It is clearly signposted. The Museum has one of the finest and most unusual collections of memorabilia in the country. Of particular interest is the deadly 'man trap' used to trap Aborigines who were stealing cattle. It is a huge and ugly variation of a rabbit trap devised to break the leg and almost impossible to open once caught in it. There's a wonderful collection of old horse drawn vehicles and old motor cars (including a T model Ford) and a hay loft which dates to 1859. This is only to hint at the riches the museum offers. There is camping available and campers can inspect the museum during their stay. Tel: (07) 4622 3836 or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Meadowbank-Farm-Stay-and-Museum/416838098376059 which offers reviews and information about camping on the site.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to Mandandanji Aboriginal people who strongly resisted the arrival of settlers in their homelands.

* The Roma district was first explored by Europeans when, in 1846, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the New South Wales Surveyor-General, passed through the area on his fourth expedition.

* On 7 May 1846 Mitchell reached Mount Abundance. In his book Tropical Australia (1848) he recalled: 'I ascended an elevated north-eastern extremity of Mount Abundance, and from it beheld the finest country I had ever seen in a primeval state - a champaign region, spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope could reach.'

* In 1848 Allan Macpherson reached the region and laid claim to about 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) of land which he called Mt Abundance Station. 

* On 4 April 1848 Macpherson was visited by Ludwig Leichhardt who was attempting to cross Australia from east to west. Leichhardt wrote his last letter in Macpherson's hut.

* Macpherson abandoned the district because of strong Aboriginal resistance.

* The first sign of a township occurred in 1861 when a couple of crude public houses were built near to the Mount Abundance homestead. 

* The town was gazetted in 1862 and it had three hotels before any homes were built. 

* Roma has the distinction of being the first town gazetted in the new colony of Queensland. 

* By 1864 it had its own court of petty sessions, police station, doctor, chemist, and postmaster.

* The town was connected by telegraph to Dalby and Brisbane in 1866. 

* The town was proclaimed a municipality in 1867.

* A government school was opened in 1870. 

* In 1871 Cook's Royal Hotel burnt down.

* A Congregational church was built in 1872.

* The first edition of the Western Star newspaper was published in 1875.

* The railway reached the town from Miles in 1880.

* By 1881 the town had a population of 1,838.

* In 1890 the anti-union Maranoa Graziers Association was formed.

* Natural gas was discovered on Hospital Hill in 1900.

* The local Court House was opened in 1901.

* By 1903 the town had twelve hotels.

* An experimental farm, researching wheat, was opened in 1906.

* By 1909 a dairy co-op factory was opened.

* In 1916, with funds from the Roma Council, a branch railway line to Oralla was opened. The line was extended to Injune in 1920.

* A high school was opened in 1920.

* The district was seriously hit with prickly pear in the 1920s.

* By 1939 the local dairy co-op was producing 573 tons of butter a year.

* In 1957 an abattoir was opened in the town.

* The local dairy co-op factory closed in 1960.

* In 1961 gas from Hospital Hill was used to generate electricity for the town.

* In 1969 the Roma Town and Bungil Shire saleyard began to operate.

* In 1975 the Maranoa Oil Refinery was opened.

* In 2008 the Roma Regional Council was formed.

* In 2014 the Royal Hotel was destroyed by fire.

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Visitor Information

Roma Big Rig and Visitor Information Centre, Big Rig Complex, 2 Riggers Road, tel: (07) 4622 8676. Open seven days a week 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

Outback Tourism Queensland have a useful website. Check out https://www.outbackqueensland.com.au/town/roma. 

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