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St George, QLD

Rural service centre which promotes itself as Queensland's inland fishing capital

St George is a pleasant rural service centre which is located on the Balonne River with the vast flatlands of the Darling Downs stretching beyond the Great Dividing Range. The town provides services to the surrounding wheat, sheep and cotton farmers, and, in recent times, fruits, grapes, vegetables and beef have enriched the local economy. It is a town located idyllically beside the river and, as Sir Thomas Mitchell wrote about his arrival on the banks of the river on 12 April, 1846: “At an early hour we soon came upon the river where it formed a noble reach of water. The breadth was uniform, and a vast body of water was a most cheery sight. The banks were 120 yards apart; the course, in general, was very straight, contributing much to the perfection of the scenery upon it. At one turn, denuded rocks appeared in its bed, consisting of ironstone in a whitish cement of matrix, which might have been decomposed felspar. I at length arrived at a natural bridge of the same sort of rock, affording easy and permanent access to the opposite bank, and at once selected the spot for a depot camp, which we established in a fine position, commanding long vistas up and down the river. It was, in fact, a tete-du-pont overlooking the rocky passage which connected with the grass on both sides.” 

Location

St George is located 557 km west of Brisbane via Goondiwindi or 495 km via Toowoomba. It is 201 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

Sir Thomas Mitchell named the town. A plaque outside town explains: 'At this spot on St Georges Day - April 23 1846 - Sir Thomas Mitchell crossed the Balonne and established a camp calling the crossing St Georges Bridge. This was the origin of the town St George.' 

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Things to See and Do

St George Heritage Trail
There is a very comprehensive Heritage Trail brochure which can be downloaded at http://www.balonne.qld.gov.au/documents/722471/902740/Heritage%20Trail%202011%20Final%20Proof.pdf. It lists a total of 31 places of historic interest around the town of which the following are of particular interest:

2. Rowden Park
Located between the Balonne River and Victoria Street, Rowden Park was where, in 1862 Dr Ernest Seidel grew the first wine grapes in the district. The initial results were disastrous. In the first year Seidel planted 500 cuttings and only three struck, the following year he planted 1,000 cuttings and 25 struck. He persisted and eventually had two acres of grapes. The beginnings of the local wine and grape industries.

3. St George Pilots Memorial
Located in the park between St George's Terrace and the Balonne River,  St George Pilots Memorial honours two local pilots who flew in World War II. Squadron Leader John Jackson  flew at Port Moresby and was killed there in 1942. He was instrumental in preventing the Japanese advance on Port Moresby. And Warrant Officer Leonard Waters, the only known Aboriginal Fighter pilot to serve in World War II. 
Leonard Victor Waters was born at Euraba Mission in New South Wales in 1924. Being Aboriginal he was not expected to achieve anything at school. He attended Toomelah Public School and Nindigully, a tiny town south of St George in Queensland, where he studied until three months short of completing Year 8.
He had grown up in an era when it was not compulsory for Aboriginal children to go to school beyond Grade 4 because the Government of the day believed that Aboriginal people would not aspire to an occupation that required higher education. He left school when he was 13 and went to work as a ring barker (ie killing trees by ring barking them) and shearer – like his dad.
The Aboriginal website (https://webapps.acu.edu.au/onthejob/life_job/famous_people/Len_Waters.htm ) takes up the story: "Len was an 18-year-old shearer from Nindigully, Queensland, when he joined the RAAF on August 24, 1942 as a flight mechanic, (despite the formal barriers to non-European enlistment in other services the Royal Australian Air Force was willing to take people of non-European descent).
“When the RAAF called for aircrew trainees he applied and was accepted for pilot training. He undertook his initial training at No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School (1EFTS), Narrandera, NSW, before graduating as a Sergeant pilot from No. 5 Service Flying Training School (5SFTS), Uranquinty, NSW. His training continued at No. 2 Operational Training Unit (2OTU), Mildura, Vic, from where he was posted to No. 78 Squadron on 14 November 1944.
“As a member of 78 Squadron based at Noemfoor in the Netherlands New Guinea, Morotai and Tarakan, he conducted 95 ground attack and fighter sweeps over Japanese held positions and islands in New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) during late 1944 and 1945.
“By the end of the war he had completed 95 missions in his Kittyhawk fighter which was called "Black Magic". The name "Black Magic" was not his idea, it was the previous mount of John Blackmore. It was perhaps fate that decided Leonard getting this aircraft!"
What this account fails to point out, which is recorded in the very handsome Pilot’s Memorial on the banks of the Balonne River at St George (I have just finished writing up St George) is that Len was not just lucky by accident. He was genuinely clever and much smarter than most of his Australian Air Force colleagues. The memorial records: “In December 1943, Leonard volunteered for aircrew, was selected and commenced training in Victoria. He studied with 148 other students (48 were accepted as pilots. Leonard came 4th overall.)”

4. Andrew Nixon Bridge/ Jack Taylor Weir
The first bridge across the Balonne was a timber structure which was completed in 1890 with the help of shearers who were on strike at the time. It was destroyed by the 1950 flood and the Andrew Nixon Bridge replaced it and was completed in 1953. The construction of the Jack Taylor Weir was approved by the St George Irrigation Project. The weir, a concrete construction, has a storage capacity of 10,000 megalitres. It is nearly 6 metres high and is fitted with 13 vertical lift gates. There is a pump station on the eastern bank of the river. 

5. Mitchell’s Cairn
On the 12th of April 1846, Sir Thomas Mitchell reached the spot on the Balonne River which he named St George’s Bridge. There is a cairn and plaque, located on the western side of the Balonne river, which was erected by the Balonne Shire Council. It reads: "At this spot on St Georges Day - April 23 1846 - Sir Thomas Mitchell crossed the Balonne and established a camp calling the crossing St Georges Bridge. This was the origin of the town St George."

6. Old Gaol & Police Station
These two buildings were built in 1892; the building to the left is the gaol while the building to the right was the St George Police Station, which is currently used as the Heritage Museum. These buildings were relocated in 1989 so the new police station could be constructed. The Heritage Museum also has a blacksmithing shop, a printing press, local Aboriginal artefacts, an extensive harness collection, and a steam engine in working condition. The complex is located at the western end of Victoria Street. It is staffed by volunteers. Check with the Visitor Information Centre for opening times.

15. The Cobb & Co Hotel
Located on the corner of Henry Street and Victoria Street, the Cobb & Co Hotel was licenced to John Roberts in 1886, and was previously the booking office for the Mungindi Coach. It was renovated from 1914 to 1919, and once advertised electric light, aerated waters, cordial, as well as a select brand of wine and spirits.

16. Butchery / Cobb & Co Station
Located on the corner of Henry Street and Victoria Street, these two low lying buildings were the original Cobb & Co changeover station for St George. The last Cobb and Co Coach left from this site in 1923, heading for Surat.

The Unique Egg
Located at 108 Victoria Street, the Unique Egg houses is an unusual collection of beautifully hand-carved emu eggs. The eggs were designed by Steve Margaritis over a period of more than 60 years, they have been displayed at World Expos but are on permanent display in the store, which is open 9.00 am to 4.00 pm on weekdays and from 9.00 am to midday on Saturdays. Check out https://www.weekendnotes.com/the-unique-egg-museum-st-george/ for a detailed description. For more information, tel: (07) 4265 3490.

Riverbank Walkway
Stretching for 2 km from the Jack Taylor Weir to Church Street, this is a delightful walk beside the Balonne River. The walk includes the Jack Taylor Weir; the commemorative stone which reads: 'At this spot on St Georges Day - April 23 1846 - Sir Thomas Mitchell crossed the Balonne and established a camp calling the crossing St Georges Bridge. This was the origin of the town St George.'; and there are markers along the way that indicate the height of the waters when the river flooded.

Bauhinias
The bauhinia, commonly known as the Hong Kong Orchid Tree, is a heartstoppingly beautiful tree which makes St George a place of wonder in the months of September and October.  The trees are everywhere - particularly outside the Visitor Information Centre and along the banks of the Balonne River- and are characterised by being 6-12 metres high, having branches which spread 3-6 metres from the trunk, and having flowers which range from pink to red, purple, orange, yellow, magenta, mauve and white. They have impressive seed pods (15-25 cm long) which explode and release the seeds.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Exploring the local Cotton industry
The Balonne Shire Visitor Information Centre has a brochure which guides visitors to suitable places where they can learn about the scale and complexity of the local cotton industry. There was a time when visitors could experience the workings of the local cotton gins but this ceased when Work & Safety Regulations became more stringent. Equally there was a time when, during cotton picking time, the sides of the roads looked as though they were covered with snow as cotton bolls fell from trucks delivering to the local gins. The Self Drive Route starts at Jack Taylor Weir, continues on to Beardmore Dam, then passes through the St George Irrigation Area towards Buckinbah Weir before passing the St George cotton gin and returning to town along the Carnarvon Highway.
There is also an organised tour - St George Cotton Farm & Vineyard Tour - which can be booked at either the Visitor Information Centre or from Riverlands Vineyard, tel: (07) 4625 3643. It starts at 9.45 am and lasts four hours. The tour includes visits to local cotton plantations and vineyards. It operates between May and September.

Beardmore Dam & Lake Kajarable
Located 21 km north-east of town, off the Carnarvon Highway, is Beardmore Dam. Completed in 1972, the Beardmore Dam holds 81,000 megalitres and is of earth-fill construction. When full, it covers 3350 hectares. The lake is known for its excellent fishing with Murray Cod, Golden Perch (yellowbelly) Silver Perch dominating as well as populations of Tandans and Spangled Perch. Boating, skiing and fishing are permitted and there is a boat ramp, although no camping is allowed and fishing is prohibited 100 metres upstream and 200 metres downstream from the dam wall. 

Rock Wells
Located 37 km, and clearly marked, along the Moonie Highway (the road to Dalby), is an Aboriginal rock well that was created thousands of years ago. The reservoirs were designed to store precious water and were usually covered by a stone or branches to prevent evaporation and fouling by animals. 

Weengallon Aboriginal Rock Wells
Located 67 km south-east of St George beside the Barwon Highway, the Weengallon Rock Wells hold special significance for the Goomeroi and Bigumbul peoples, and are of cultural importance to Traditional Owners as far afield as Mt. Isa. Known in the local Aboriginal language as ‘Ngaru-gi Gali’ (to drink), there are six wells at the site, some of which are up to three metres deep. The rock wells are clearly signposted from the road with signs also providing visitors with insights into the history and spiritual significance of the site. It is known that the Weengallon rock wells were a very important water source for Aboriginal people in the journey that many tribes used to make every three years to attend trading and ceremonial activities at Boobera Lagoon, near Goondiwindi. For more details check out http://www.qmdc.org.au/module/documents/download/246.

Nindigully Hotel
Located 46 km south of St George, with its sawn timber walls and proudly boasting about its its status as Queensland's "oldest pub in its original condition and location", the famous Nindigully Hotel (1864) was once used as a staging post for Cobb & Co when they ran extensive services through central and western Queensland. It was built in 1864 and parts of the original building still remain. The hotel - thought to hold one of the longest continual licences in Queensland (it has been owned by 21 different licensees) - has featured in commercials. It is claimed that the Moonie River, which runs by the hotel, is excellent for fishing. The original 1885 bridge still stands. Accommodation is available in the pub and caravaners can also stay overnight along the riverbanks and use the free showers in the hotel. For more detailed information check out http://nindigully.com/about. Tel: (07) 4625 9637 or 0487 795 932.

Thallon Grain Silos - The Watering Hole
Located at Thallon, 78 km south of St George, the Thallon Grain Silos were built in the 1970s and now are one of the largest grain delivery sites in the country. They processed 29,000 tonnes of grain in 2016. The mural painted on the four silos "showcases icons of the district in the Moonie River and one of the area's amazing sunsets. It also recognises members of Thallon's indigenous community by the inclusion of a scarred tree and celebrates the area's agricultural base. The sign at the viewing platform explains "The design titled The Watering Hole was developed by artists Joel Fergie (The Zookeeper) and Travis Vinson (Drapl) in consultation with the Thallon Community. The striking image takes inspiration from the works of three local photographers. Chantel Mcalister's First Light, The Moonie River by Lila Brosnan and Gary Petrie's shot of two pale faced rosellas."

Fishing
The rivers and creeks around St George are known to be good for boating and fishing, particularly yellowbelly and Murray cod. The Balonne Shire Council recommends eleven locations in the district where the fishing is good.
• Warroo Bridge, St George 
• Beardmore Dam, St George
• Balonne River, St George
• Buckinbah Weir, St George
• Jack Dwyer Park, Dirranbandi
• Balonne Minor Bridge, Dirranbandi
• Bokhara River, Hebel
• Wallam Creek, Bollon
• Moonie River, Nindigully
• ‘Barney's Beach', Thallon
• Barwon River, Mungindi
For information about purchasing fishing gear check out http://www.balonne.qld.gov.au/fishing.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around St George was home to the Bigambul Aboriginal people.

* On St George's Day, April 23 1846, Sir Thomas Mitchell crossed the Balonne and established a camp calling the crossing St Georges Bridge. 

* St George officially became a town in 1862. That year saw Dr Ernest Seidel grow the first grapes in the district. He planted 500 cuttings and only three were successful.

* A town survey was carried out in 1863.

* A postal service was established in 1864 although an actual post office building was not built until 1872 (still standing). 

* In 1864 the Nindigully Hotel was opened. That same year St George got its first Post Office.

* A Court House was built in 1870.

* The town's first hospital was opened in 1872.

* The first school was built in 1873 and opened in 1874. 

* A Catholic church was built in 1874. 

* In 1876 William Charles Smith, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's father, became the manager of the Bank of New South Wales.

* Tattersall's Hotel opened in 1877.

* In 1880 the first edition of the St George Standard was published.

* The School of Arts was opened in 1884.

* The Metropolitan Hotel was licensed in 1886.

* An Anglican church was built in 1889.

* A wooden bridge across the Balonne River was completed in 1890. The river flooded that year. It reached 13 metres.

* A police station and gaol were built in 1892.

* St George was incorporated as a municipality in 1902, with a population of around 900.

* The first meeting of the Balonne Shire Council was held in 1903.    

* A bore, drilled to a depth of 2,709 feet (825 metres), was completed in 1904. The initial flow was 570,000 gallons a day.

* In 1905 a bakery, the newspaper premises, a butcher's shop, saddle shop and Cobb & Co offices were burnt down in a major fire.

* A special maternity ward was built at the hospital in 1922. It was the first in Queensland.

* Local airman, Leonard Waters, became the first Aboriginal fighter pilot during World War II.

* A weir was built across the Balonne River in 1948.

* The town was hit by a severe flood in 1950.

* The Andrew Nixon Bridge was completed in 1953.

* Cotton was first grown in the St George area in 1957.

* The Dexter Theatre was opened in 1959.

* The Shire Civic Centre was opened in 1963.

* In 1967 the construction of Beardmore Dam facilitated the development of the cotton and horticultural industries. 

* Pests retarded the development of the cotton crop until the 1970s but the shire has since become one of the country's major cotton producers. 

* In 1972 the Beardmore Dam was completed.

* The St George Cotton Gin was opened in 1974. 

* In 1978 George and Jenny Faessler started growing table grapes in the district. The current High School opened that year. 

* In 2010 a levee was built beside the Balonne River which flooded again that year.

* The river flooded in 2011 reaching 13.4 metres.

* In the census of 2011 the town recorded a population of 3,292.

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Visitor Information

Balonne Shire Visitor Information Centre, 114 St George's Terrace, tel: (07) 4620 8877. Open 8.30 am - 4.30 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am - 1.00 pm on weekends.

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Useful Websites

The official local website - http://www.balonne.qld.gov.au/st-george - has lots of useful information.

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