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Toowoomba, QLD

Historic garden city to the west of Brisbane.

Whenever I visit Toowoomba, and make the remarkable climb up from the plains to the plateau, I think of Bruce Dawe's poem Provincial City which opens with:

Climbing the range
your ears pop like champagne...
You can smell the peace up here.
The proportion, the narrowness...

It is one of the remarkable features about Toowoomba. It is perched 600-800 metres above sea level on the edge of a plateau. Picnic Point offers spectacular views and behind it the city seems to float down through the suburbs to the CBD.

Today Toowoomba is the largest inland settlement in Queensland and one of the largest inland cities in Australia. It has been described as 'Regional Capital of the Darling Downs' and 'The Garden City'. Both descriptions are accurate. It is a city to be enjoyed for its history, its elegant buildings, its superb parks (particularly in spring) and the very impressive - and huge - Cobb & Co Museum.


Toowoomba is located 125 km west of Brisbane via the Warrego Highway. It sits on the edge of a plateau which is 600-800 metres above sea level.


Origin of Name

No one is entirely sure what "toowoomba" meant in the language of the local Barumggam people. It has been argued that 'toowoomba' means either 'the swamp'; a variety of melon which grows on the banks of the swamp; or the reeds on the edge of the swamp. This confusion is caused because some experts argue that the name is a corruption of 'tchwampa' - the swamp. Others say it is derived from 'choowoom' meaning native melon and others claim it comes from 'woomba woomba' meaning 'reeds in the swamp'. It is known that in 1852 the squatter Thomas Alford settled to the north of Drayton and called his property Toowoomba. This name was eventually accepted as the name for the settlement in 1858.


Things to See and Do

Picnic Point Lookout
Located to the south of the Warrego Highway at the top of the escarpment Picnic Point Lookout offers superb, panoramic views across the the Lockyer Valley and Tabletop Mountain. There are a number of excellent bushwalks from the car park:

Bridle Trail - 1564 m - Stevenson Street to Tabletop Drive (one way)
Pardalote Walk - 380 m - Tabletop Drive to Top of Fantail Walk (one way)
Entire Pardalote Walk - 1900 m (one way)
Firetail Walk - 2000 m (one way)
Fantail Walk - 850 m (one way)

The circuit around Picnic Point is a total of 5310 metres. There is a good map on a large board near the Car Park.

Cobb + Co Museum
Toowoomba's most impressive tourist attraction is the Cobb + Co Museum at 27 Lindsay Street (07) 4659 4900 which is part of the Queensland Museum Network. It is a huge museum which includes extensive ethnographic and historical collections as well as a constant program of travelling exhibitions. The Ethnographic Collection is a combination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures which includes musical instruments, archaeological remains, weapons, tools, personal adornments and utensils. The Historical Collection includes "railway, maritime, road, and aviation transport; science and technology in society; fashion and textiles; everyday domestic paraphernalia ; ceramics; musical instruments and audiovisual technology" and traces the history of Queensland from indigenous conflict and settlers through to recent social history. It also, of course, has an extensive exhibition on Cobb & Co and horse drawn vehicles. It is held in the National Carriage Collection room.

There is also an impressive series of hands on workshops where visitors can try their skills at blacksmithing, silversmithing, glass art, leatherplaiting, sandstone sculpture and tapestry weaving. There is also the National Carriage Factory where carriages are repaired and made. There is a viewing platform where visitors can watch volunteers re-creating 19th century carriages.

The museum is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm daily.There are guided tours at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm. For more information check out http://cobbandco.qm.qld.gov.au.

Parks and Gardens
If possible it is always best to visit Toowoomba in the spring or autumn when the city's gardens and parks are at their best. Toowoomba has over 1,000 hectares of parkland including the natural bushland escarpment Picnic Point Park, Redwood Park and Jubilee Park and the centrally located Queens Park.

Queens Park and the Botanical Gardens
Located on the corner of Campbell Street and Lindsay Street and owned by the local council since 1865 (it was proclaimed a reserve in 1869) Queens Park includes a number of playing fields and impressive gardens. Next to Queens Park is the beautiful Botanical Gardens, called the Queens Park Gardens, which include the Parterre Gardens, the Alfred Thomas Memorial, a Wollemi Pine, an Avenue of Canary Island Palms and fine examples of Queensland's famous Bunya Pine, Kauri Pine and Bottle Tree. There is an excellent and detailed brochure available at the Visitor Information Centre.

Laurel Bank Park Gardens
Located between Herries and Hill Streets, the Laurel Bank Park Gardens include the Scented Gardens (a heady garden filled with herbs and perfumed plants), a wisteria arbor, rose gardens, a camellia and maple walk and a topiary hedge. The gardens are a wonderland during the Carnival of Flowers. The Council gardeners plant 70,000 seedlings and 12,000 bulbs for the spring floral display.

Webb Park and George Essex Evans
Located on the edge of the escarpment with fine views towards Brisbane, Webb Park on Prince Henry Drive is noted for the broken column monument to the local poet George Essex Evans (1863-1909).

In one of those strange literary accidents, Evans was once considered the equal of his contemporaries - Paterson, Lawson, Henry Kendall and Adam Lindsay Gordon but today he is little known outside Queensland. He was a typical 19th century poet with strong poems with a patriotic and sentimental flourish combined with wry stories full of outback humour.

Toowoomba Brochures
There are a large number of brochures on Toowoomba's attractions and, if you want to experience all the historic buildings and walks it will take one or two days. The most sensible starting point is the Toowoomba Tourist Drive 1 Brochure which lists a total of 26 places of interest and, conveniently, starts from the Toowoomba Visitor Information Centre. It includes Picnic Point, the town's Waterbird Habitat, Drayton, a CBD walk, Cobb + Co Museum and Webb Park.

The city has produced a large number of brochures including:

(1) A Walk Through History - Toowoomba's Cultural and Legal Precincts - This includes twelve historic buildings all of which are bounded by Neil Street, Margaret Street, Hume Street and James Street. The most interesting are:

The Old Post Office - "This fine building was Toowoomba's second post office, built in 1877 ... and designed by the Government Architect, Mr Stanley, and built by John Garget ... the stone used was the beautiful, rich, creamy white sandstone quarried at Murphy's Creek. Located at 136 Margaret Street which was designed in an Italianate style. Over the years it has been greatly altered but the clock tower and the two storey loggia are original features of this imposing building. At the time of construction it cost £8,100.

The Empire Theatre - Built in 1911 to show both "moving pictures" and vaudeville, it burnt down in 1932. It was rebuilt and is central to the cultural life of Toowoomba.

St Patrick's Cathedral - located in James Street this impressive church was built in 1885 and stands on the original 2 acre grant.

(2) A Walk Through History - Toowoomba's Caledonian Estate - This collection of 20 buildings is an example of the houses that were built in Toowoomba after Federation. The area is called the Caledonian Estate because in the 1870s it was used by the Caledonian Society for their sports. The brochure explains the architectural styles of the estate and points the visitor towards distinctive and significant buildings to the east of East Creek Reserve.

(3) A Walk Through History - Toowoomba's East Creek Park and Paddington Estate - This is an interesting and eclectic collection of houses dating from 1900-1920 on land which was auctioned in 1866 for £1 deposit and interest free terms. The brochure draws attention to the architectural styles as well as the fauna and flora of the area.

(4) A Walk Through History - Toowoomba's Russell Street - Russell Street, which was originally a dirt track used to transport sheep and cattle, now has 22 buildings and locations of historic interest including the Railway Station (1867), St James Anglican Church (1869), Clifford House (circa 1860) and the National Hotel (c. 1883). Of note are Vacy Hall built in the 1880s. The house is characterised by beautiful bay windows, a magnificent surrounding garden, and extensive areas of patterned parquetry floors

and Clifford House at 120 Russell Street, over the road from Vacy Hall, which is recognised by many as Toowoomba's finest old home. It was built in 1860 as a residential club for squatters. It is a superb example of the way stone and timber can be integrated with the sandstone providing the solidity of the building while the upstairs timber veranda is an almost delicate addition.

(5) A Walk Through History - Toowoomba's Queens Park - is a pleasant walk around Queens Park which was started as early as 1875. It describes all of the main historic features of the park and should be read in conjunction with the Queens Park Gardens brochure.

(6) A Walk Through History - Mort Estate Group - The Mort Estate is a subdivision which dates to 1862 when Thomas Sutcliffe Mort offered 100 allotments for sale. The brochure focuses on the early cottages and houses which characterise the area.

(7) A Walk Through History - Newtown - a pleasant walk through Newtown which was surveyed in 1865 and which now has a number of interesting houses mostly dating from the 20th century.

Smithfield Homestead
Located off the road to Drayton is Smithfield Homestead in Panda Street. This historic home is now surrounded by suburbia but it was once an elegant dwelling in a rural setting.

It was designed by the architects James Marks and Sons in 1895 for James Taylor, a wealthy Darling Downs grazier and landowner. It is a superb rural residence having been built in stone with wide verandas and elegant paired timber columns and located on a 300-acre section of land

The Heritage listing from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection explains: "Smithfield House is reflective of the pattern of affluent settlement which occurred in Toowoomba in the late 19th century, demonstrating the transition of the Darling Downs from a sparsely populated rural district to one of prosperity and prominence. It is one of the many fine residences which reflect Toowoomba's leading position during the development of the rich Darling Downs. It is typical of a residence built for wealthy landowners on the Darling Downs during the period.

"Also of historical significance is the land on which Smithfield house sits. The relatively large property located amongst small suburban blocks is reflective of the pattern of land settlement in Toowoomba prior to sub-division and close urban settlement which occurred from the mid 20th century onwards. Smithfield originally occupied 300 acres and the current lot is the remnant of this early property ...

"Smithfield House demonstrates significant aesthetic value as a substantial, well-composed house displaying fine workmanship and detailing. Its spacious gardens complement the house creating a sense of the balance between the substantially sized house and its surrounding environment."

Smithfield House's most famous occupant was a German industrialist Oscar Flemmich who kept thoroughbred horses and employed a large number of grooms and servants. It is said that when he left the area he shot all his horses and dogs rather than let them go to another owner. He left during World War I possibly because of the anti-German feeling that was around at the time.


Other Attractions in the Area

Royal Bulls Head Inn, Drayton
The Royal Bulls Head Inn at Brisbane Street, Drayton was built in 1847 by ex-convict William Horton. It was the location of the first Church of England church service on the Darling Downs when, in 1848, Rev Benjamin Glennie held a service in one of the rooms.

The building was extended in 1859 and for some time it was known as the best building on the Darling Downs. It was certainly good enough for the Governor of Queensland to stay the night.

The Queensland Heritage Register records: "In 1847, an inn of superior quality was built by William Horton at what was by then called 'Drayton'. Horton (sometimes referred to as Orton), was an ex-convict who had come to the Downs to work for Henry Stuart Russell of Cecil Plains, by whom he was highly regarded. Horton had run a hotel for George Thorn at Ipswich in the early 1840s and, with this experience, set out to make his new hotel a by-word for comfort and service on the Downs. He called it the 'Bull's Head' after 'Champion' a prize Durham bull on Cecil Plains station. The hotel soon became an important meeting place for squatters and also had a thriving bar trade. It offered lodging, a staging place for animals and was  used for auctions, meetings and other social functions.

"The Royal Bull's Head Inn is a two storey timber framed building with weatherboard and chamfer walls outside and brick nog dividing walls inside at ground floor level. There are ten rooms downstairs and five upstairs. The enclosed section of the verandah which contained the 1950s bathroom and kitchen is now used as a kitchen and tea room. The roof is clad by corrugated iron and pierced by four dormer windows which are a striking and well recognised feature of the of the building. The building is set on a 1970s concrete slab which replaced the original bed logs."

Today the building is owned by the National Trust. It is open on the first Sunday of the month from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. The original 1847 kitchen, the rooms of the hotel, and the interior have all been carefully restored. Check out http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/qld/RoyalBullsHeadInn for more details.



* Prior to European settlement the escarpment was home to the Barunggam Aborigines.

* The district was first explored in 1827 by the botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham.

* By 1840 the tiny settlement of Drayton, now effectively a suburb of Toowoomba, was established. Drayton was the first town established beyond the Great Dividing Range in Queensland. It was settled in 1842

* Toowoomba grew up during the 1840s as a stopping point on the route from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to the pastoral properties on the Darling Downs. It was a natural stopping place for people who had spent most of the day moving up the steep slopes of Gorman's Gap.

* By 1847 the Royal Bulls Head Inn had been built in Drayton by William Horton, an English convict. It was a popular watering hole for the local squatters and their workers.

* It was at Drayton that the first newspaper in the area, the Darling Downs Gazette, was published in 1858. That same year saw the construction and operation of the area's first sawmill.

* Drayton developed separately until the 1860s when it declined because of the increasing importance of Toowoomba.

* In 1852 the squatter Thomas Alford settled to the north of Drayton and called his property Toowoomba. Slowly a settlement grew up in this area. Its original, and rather unromantic, name was 'The Swamp'.

* Toowoomba was officially declared a municipality in 1860.

* In 1867 the railway reached Toowoomba. That same year a branch of the Bank of New South Wales was opened, the gaol and Court House were built, and the School of Arts and a number of churches were built.

* On 14 November, 1868 Arthur Hoey Davis was born at Darling Street, Drayton. He became known as Steele Rudd, wrote On Our Selection and created the characters of Dad and Dave.

* The Railway Station was built in 1874. With the increased trade the town blossomed with a large numbers of elegant buildings being erected and the trees, which are now a distinctive part of the city's appearance, being planted.

* In 1892 Toowoomba was formally recognised as a town

* Toowoomba was declared a city in 1904.


Visitor Information

Toowoomba Visitor Information Centre, 86 James Street, tel: 1800 331 155.


Useful Websites

There is a useful and very comprehensive website maintained by the Toowoomba Regional Council. Check out http://www.toowoombarc.qld.gov.au/.

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