Old Courthouse, Margaret Street

The Toowoomba Region has a fascinating past, full of rich history. Many of these locations of historical importance can still be visited in our country areas and our city today.

Discover some of our historic locations below.

Location: King Street, Clifton

In 1918 a number of bottle trees were planted by EP Wells, the National Bank Manager, and his wife to honour the bank staff and local men who served in World War One.

The remaining four bottle trees are located in King Street, Clifton.

Location: Heritage Plaza, 400 Ruthven Street, Toowoomba City

Toowoomba Permanent opens for business

In November 1874 after a public meeting, the Toowoomba Permanent Investment and Building Society was established. W.H. Groom was a great supporter of the Society and was its first chairman. In April 1875 the Toowoomba Permanent opened for business.

The Society struggled during its early years to build business and good financial management, but by the end of their first decade in operation business had improved, and by applying smart practices the Society survived the 1890s depression.

Strong competition enters the market

During 1897 the Darling Downs Permanent Building and Investment Society was formed and expanded their business to outlying regions such as Dalby and Pittsworth, while the Toowoomba Permanent Building Society remained mainly local.

It wasn't until 1908 that the Darling Downs Society was considered a rival to the Toowoomba Society and was the second-largest society in Queensland, just ahead of the Toowoomba Society. It took just ten years to establish their strong market hold, but by comparison, it had taken the Toowoomba Society 33 years.

By 1914 the Darling Downs Society had become the largest society in the state while the Toowoomba Society was the third largest.

During World War One, both Building Societies were able to survive due mainly to the Darling Downs region supplying food and other materials to the armed forces. After the war, both Societies expanded their business in Brisbane. Toowoomba Society was the most successful with these endeavours and became the largest building society in Queensland in 1923.

The Wall Street crash of October 1929 slowed the growth experienced during the 1920s and the depression that followed was tough, however, the two Societies remained in business.

Becoming the largest building society in the state

Towards the end of the 1930s, both societies were again prospering, and the two societies were competing for first place as Queensland's largest building society. Throughout World War Two housing construction slowed and manpower was in short supply but both societies continued to operate.

The housing boom that followed saw both businesses prosper and their reputations as safe and reliable brought in business from outside Toowoomba and the Darling Downs. When the Toowoomba Society celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1950 it was the largest building society in the state.

In 1954 the Darling Downs Society moved from Neil Street where the business had started to Margaret Street. The late 1950s saw continued expansion and growth from both societies, with the Darling Downs Society staying ahead.

In the 1970s the Metropolitan Permanent Building Society located in Brisbane became the largest society in Queensland.

The Darling Downs society expanded in 1971 and its head office was moved to Ruthven Street. In 1975 the Toowoomba Society celebrated its centenary and they also moved to larger premises in Ruthven Street at the end of that year.

The merging of two societies

By the early 1980s, talk was rife of an amalgamation between the two societies. On October 6 1981 general meetings were held between the two societies and members were asked to support the merging of the two societies to form the Heritage Building Society. The members agreed and on October 30 1981 the new society was launched and registered. Business was conducted from both locations in Ruthven Street.

In 1982 the $6 million Heritage Plaza building opened, it was Toowoomba's first high rise office building and housed Heritage Society. In April 2005 Heritage celebrated its 130th year of operation and reached the milestone of $5 billion in assets under their management.

In 2011, the name was changed to Heritage Bank.


Hinchcliffe, Bruce. (ed)(1984) They Meant Business. Toowoomba Darling Downs Press. LH/HER - Heritage Building Society LH/HER - Heritage Bank

Heritage Treasures of the Toowoomba Region 2013 showcases the heritage treasures from across the Region.

This record of our hidden history provides a wonderful insight into the richness and diversity of the heritage sites that have helped to shape this Region’s identity. 

Access the booklet online - Heritage Treasures of the Toowoomba Region 2013

Location: 264 Jondaryan Evanslea Road, Jondaryan

A historic icon in the Region - the oldest and largest operating shearing shed in Australia

Built in 1859, the Jondaryan Woolshed is the centrepiece of the Jondaryan Woolshed Historical Museum and Park, a major cultural tourist attraction and event venue. It is located 45 kms west of Toowoomba just out of the village of Jondaryan, and is open daily to visitors.

Jondaryan Station was registered in 1842 by Henry Coxen, then only 19 years old, who had led an expedition of six men including three convicts and an aborigine to claim land for his uncle Charles Coxen. The station was first called Gundarnian, which meant ‘Fire Cloud’ or ‘Place of the Fire Cloud’ in the local Jarowair dialect.

Coxen immediately recognised that the Darling Downs was well suited to wool production and arranged for the first sheep, descendants of John Macarthur’s famous flocks, to arrive in October 1843. Life was tough in the early settlement, and Aborigines killed two men working on the station only a few months after it was established.

With the imminent arrival of the first woman on the station – the wife of the ‘head man’, convict John Chatman – Coxen ordered the construction of a permanent homestead. It was completed in July 1844 and Coxen and the Chatmans moved in just in time for the Station’s first birth in August. The famed explorer Ludwig Leichhardt was entertained in the homestead when he visited in September.

The homestead was built on an ironstone knob on the banks of Oakey Creek which attracted so much lightning during electrical storms that Coxen decided to dismantle and relocate the homestead to a site two miles upstream where remained until it was destroyed by fire in 1937. John Chatman and another man were killed by Aborigines in December 1844 and this proved to be the last straw for Charles Coxen who, under pressure from the banks during an extended rural recession, decided to sell the station. In its first 17 years, Jondaryan Station changed hands seven times and it was not until 1858, when William Kent and Edward Weinholt took over its management (and ownership in 1863), that it eventually became profitable.

The Kent and Weinholt era

With complementary personalities and skills, the Kent and Weinholt era was good for Jondaryan, as evidenced by the commencement of construction of the Jondaryan Woolshed in 1859, even though the Station was often in great debt. It wasn’t uncommon for Kent and Weinholt to wait for four years to be paid for the wool produced at Jondaryan.

The Jondaryan Woolshed was designed by James Charles White, then the Manager of Jondaryan Station, who also designed St Anne’s Church, various Station buildings and improvements to the homestead. The timber slab building was “the finest in the colony” in its time and cost a total of £3300 by the time it was completed in 1861. At almost 300 feet (91 metres) long, it boasted 52 shearing stands and could process 3000 sheep at a time.

White originally planned a shingle roof for the woolshed but then heard about a new invention: galvanised iron. The Woolshed had a canvas roof until the hand-rolled, hand-dipped, hand-wrought and hand-corrugated galvanised iron arrived in the colony. Shearing commenced in the shed in 1861 and it was still the Darling Downs’ largest shearing shed in 1892.

A visit from His Royal Highness

The Woolshed hosted the first shearers’ feast in 1861 to celebrate the first shear and to farewell its designer and Station Manager James White. The two-day event featured horse racing, foot races, novelty events and competitions as well as a feast and a ball. It was so successful that White’s replacement made it an annual event and the shearers’ feast became a major social festival for the whole district.

The railway reached Jondaryan in 1868 and HRH Prince Alfred was despatched to open the new extension to the line. The visit was fraught with mishaps, faux pas and bureaucracy, starting with the late arrival of the Prince’s train and ending with a welcomed hunting trip being cancelled because it didn’t fit into the Prince’s schedule. The Prince wrote to his mother, Queen Victoria, that his visit to Jondaryan was ruined by “overzealous officials”.

Playing an important role in Queensland's industrial history

Jondaryan Station’s first woolshed was burnt down in 1849 by striking shearers who were angry that the station owners would not pay for about half the sheep that had been shorn. In 1874, 53 Jondaryan shearers became the first Australian shearers to form a union.

Although Jondaryan Station’s shearers enjoyed the conditions stipulated by the union, the Station was selected as the first site of a shearers’ strike in 1890 because of Edward Weinholt’s high-handed attitude towards his staff. The agreement reached then kept Jondaryan Station out of the much larger shearers’ strike in 1891 but the waterside workers’ union still blacklisted the station’s wool.

The Kent-Weinholt partnership was dissolved in 1894 and ownership of Jondaryan Station was transferred to Jondaryan Estates of Australia Pty Ltd. Jondaryan Station was broken up in 1946 and in 1973 the Rutledge family offered the Woolshed and 12 acres of land around it to the people of the district. The Jondaryan Shire Council assumed ownership and management of the Jondaryan Woolshed in 2002.

Protecting and preserving the history for future generations

Today, the Jondaryan woolshed historical museum and park is a popular tourism attraction and educational resource. It remains the only shearing shed in Australia with steam power, as regularly demonstrated to visitors.

As well as the Woolshed, the complex features historic buildings, machinery, equipment and collections. Wagon rides and demonstrations of working horses, blacksmithing, sheepdog skills, wool spinning and machinery operation complete the picture of 19th century life.

Self-guided tours with detailed information and insights into pioneer life are available.

Jondaryan Woolshed website.

Historic photo of Toowoomba street from 1910

Controversy surrounds the various theories of the naming of Toowoomba. Opinions vary and verifying is difficult with some having little if any written evidence to support them.

We explore some of these theories below. 

Theory 1

When Toowoomba was first discovered, it was known as the ‘Drayton Swamp’ and was often referred to as ‘The Swamp.’ It is believed that Aborigines trying to say ‘The Swamp’ pronounced a word sounding like ‘Tawampa’, which easily becomes Toowoomba.

Theory 2

A second version features a letter to the Toowoomba City Council from Steele Rudd claiming that his father had told him that in 1848 he first saw Toowoomba and in 1849, attached to J C Burnett, he assisted to lay it out. He believed that it was derived from the Aboriginal name of ‘Toogoom’ because of the reeds that grew here.

Theory 3

A third version and a widely accepted theory of the use of Toowoomba's name comes from Mrs Alford, wife of James Alford, one of the first businessmen in both Drayton and Toowoomba. It is believed that Mrs Alford asked the local Indigenous people what they called the area. They replied 'Woomba Woomba' meaning 'the springs and the water underneath.' The Alford's realised that two woombas would not be a suitable name for their house and store but by using TOO which is also a type of plural it would become Toowoomba.

Theory 4

In 1875 W H Groom wrote an account of Toowoomba, stating the name 'Toowoomba' derived from an Aboriginal word meaning 'great in the future' however, he gave no source to this information.

Theory 5

The fifth theory came from a botanist by the name of Archibald Meston. In 1895 Meston wrote a book titled “A Geographical History of Queensland,” which included his explanation of the name “Toowoomba”. “Toowoom” or “Choowom” was the local Indigenous peoples’ name for a small native melon (Cucumus pubescens) which grew plentifully on the site of the township. The terminal “ba” is equal to the adverb “There,” so the whole word means “melons there,” and to an Aborigine, it meant “the place where the melon grows”. This melon still exists and can be found growing in the Balonne and Warrego areas as well as areas closer to Toowoomba however there is no evidence that the melons grew in or near the Toowoomba swamps.

Theory 6

The sixth version came from a man called Enoggera Charlie who wrote his story in the Sydney Morning Herald. He claimed when he was looking for work as a tar boy, he had camped overnight near the Toowoomba Swamp. Questioning an old shepherd sage of the naming of the Toowoomba Swamp, he was informed that near the junction of the East and West Swamp there was a log with the inscription informing tramps the way to a well-known homestead where there was a certainty to rations. The inscription read 'To Woombrah.'

Theory 7

At around the same time that Enoggera Charlie wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald another man by the name of Ardlaw Lawrence put forward his theory. He suggested that the name Toowoomba may be an Anglicised version of the 'Boowoomga' which meant 'thunder' in the dialect of the Upper Burnett and Gayndah tribes. However he could give no reason for the name being transferred to the Darling Downs.

Theory 8

Writing in a pamphlet in 1899, George Essex Evans wrote that the name Toowoomba meant 'meeting of the waters' however this was again written without authentication.

There are many theories regarding the naming of Toowoomba. In the final analysis though, Toowoomba became "Toowoomba" regardless of which theory is correct.


Dansie , R.A.(1989) "A Melon, a Swamp and a Piece of Red Calico."

Marriott, R.S. (1960) 100 Years of Progress: the story of Toowoomba.

Location: Perkins Brewery was located where Grand Central Shopping Centre is today.

Historic photo of the Perkins Brewery

Queensland's first brewery built in Toowoomba in 1867

By 1869 the brewery was one of the largest breweries in the southern hemisphere. The brewery's original and official name was the Downs Brewery but came to be known as Perkins Brewery.

Paddy Perkins was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1838 migrating to Australia in 1855 with his father Thomas, and brothers James and Thomas. Arriving in Victoria Paddy and his family travelled the Ballarat and Bendigo goldfields.

Paddy and his brother Thomas set up a merchandising store in Castlemaine, Victoria and later held an interest in the Castlemaine Brewery in Victoria.

After testing water quality in Brisbane and Ipswich, the Perkins brothers located a reliable spring providing the quality they required in West Swamp Toowoomba. In 1867 the brothers purchased land in Margaret Street (where Grand Central is today) and contracted Mr John Garget to construct Queensland's first brewery.

The first commercial brew

In December 1869 Perkins Brewery brewed its first commercial hogshead of light ale in Queensland. At this time, the brewery was one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere with the capacity to produce 400 hogshead (113,650 litres) of XXX (Extra Exhilarating Extract) beer per week.

Another product from the Perkins Brewery was Carbine Invalid Stout that was promoted for fortifying the blood and as a tonic for nursing mothers.

The Perkins brothers also founded the malting industry in Toowoomba, building a malt house in addition to their Dent Street brewery. In 1871 maltster J. G. Sims processed 14,000 bushels of barley on the floor of the Perkins' malt house (1 bushel = 0.363 litres).

The opening of the brewery in Toowoomba saw an increase of barley growing on the Downs which led to experiments in the cultivation of hops, all of which were unsuccessful. The malting process was discontinued in the 1880s and 1890s until a duty was imposed on imported malt and processing of local barley was again encouraged.

Perkins and Co described their beer as “A good, light, drinkable and nutritious ale, having been a long-felt want in Queensland, the proprietors beg to announce that they are now prepared to supply unlimited demand with a sound and nutritious ale, such as they trust will command general favour and support.”

Paddy Perkins later purchased the City Brewery, Mary Street Brisbane in 1872.

Castlemaine takes over

In August 1876 tragedy stuck the Perkins family when Thomas was killed aged 35, whilst riding his horse in Grandchester. Thomas Perkins is buried at the Toowoomba & Drayton Cemetery.

Paddy continued running the breweries in Toowoomba and Brisbane which prospered and expanded up until the 1920s. Profits began to decline due to competition from the new and extremely popular XXXX Bitter Ale, a stronger beer which was bought out by Perkins' competitor Castlemaine Brewery Brisbane. The Perkins and Co. Ltd Downs Brewery in Toowoomba and the City Brewery in Brisbane were sold to the Castlemaine Brewery in August 1928. The company was then restructured as Castlemaine Perkins Ltd.

The Downs Brewery ceased brewing in 1958 after it had operated continuously for 89 years.


Talbot, Don & Larkin, John. (2003) Strange & Unusual Tales. Volume 1.

Location: 381 - 391 Ruthven Street, Toowoomba City

Historical photo of Pigotts & Co department store Toowoomba art deco style building.Pigotts - one of Toowoomba's largest retailers and a household word in a bygone era

M.D. Pigott set up a drapery business in Brisbane soon after arriving in Australia in 1885. He opened his first store in Russell Street, Toowoomba (next to the Criterion Hotel) on 6 July 1896. Pigott & Co advertised that at their opening there would be the 'most marvellous bargains ever offered in Toowoomba.'

Just a year after opening Pigott & Co moved into specially remodelled premises in Ruthven Street on 24 August 1897.

M.D. Pigott, his wife Mary Josephine and eight children moved from Brisbane to Toowoomba following the success of the store.

During the later years of the 1890s and into the early years of the twentieth century, branch stores were opened at Boonah, Beaudesert, Chinchilla, Pittsworth, Dalby and Warwick.

Tragedy strikes in 1909

In 1908 the store was completely remodelled including vestibule windows. Tragedy struck Pigott & Co when fire broke out on 8 July 1909 only a month after the renovations were complete. The building and stock were completely destroyed. To continue the running of the popular store a temporary building and offices were arranged the very next day. Warehouses rallied to supply goods and after a couple of weeks, business had increased and the temporary premises had to be extended.

On 18 April 1910, the new Pigott & Co store opened with twice the floor space, enlarged departments and new departments added.

Mail order service takes off

Extending the business to provide for country customers, the company promised careful and speedy orders received through the post. Postage charges were paid by the company on all drapery parcels to any railway station in the colony. Pigott's became one of the largest mail order department stores in 1920.

Pigott & Co was declared a limited company in 1910 with Mr M.D. Pigott as the Managing Director. Known simply as M.D. to the staff and family, the founder of the store was held in high regard by his staff and customers alike. Staff of the Pigott's store were treated to staff balls, picnics and social cricket matches. Other advantages of working for Pigott's included a subsidised insurance scheme and eventually a full superannuation scheme. Many staff members remained with Pigott's for a lifetime of service.

M.D. Pigott also treated customers generously. At Christmas time in 1898, The Chronicle advertised that all toys unsold at Pigott's by 6pm on Christmas Eve would be given to needy families that visited the store.

Taking over the family business

After returning from service with the Army Medical Corps, M.D. Pigott's son, Francis Joseph Pigott became Managing Director of the department store. F.J. was the only one of M.D. Pigott's four sons to show interest in the family business.

M.D. Pigott died on 11 May 1929. F.J. Pigott continued to run his father's department store guiding through great expansion and prosperity during the 1930s and 1950s. Eventually, Pigott's become Toowoomba's largest retail store. F.J. Pigott died on the 16 June 1957, after ill health.

In 1962 (the same year that Myers came to Toowoomba), Pigott's extended their building into Margaret Street. This was the same time that cash registers and escalators were installed in the building. Towards the end of the same year, Pigott's opened a food hall to compete with Myer's cafeteria.

Pigott's operated in Toowoomba for 87 years eventually being bought by McDonnell and East on 28 July 1983.

Today, the Art Deco style of the Ruthven Street Pigott & Co store still remains.


Hinchliffe, Bruce. (ed) (1984) They Meant Business.
Pigott, Dr L J. (2003) Pigott & Co PTY LTD: a short history of the Pigott Store and four generations of the Pigott Family.
Pigott Archives (ARC 38)

Location: 1105 Manapouri Road, Pilton

Pilton Hall, erected in 1920 was the first Soldiers’ Memorial Hall in Australia. The hall was erected to commemorate those who served in World War One. An extension to the hall was officially opened on 1 November 1949. 

Location: 59 Brisbane St, Drayton

Royal Bulls Head Inn historic photo

An important meeting place

The original Royal Bull’s Head Inn was built by William Horton at Drayton in 1847. The slab–built inn with a shingled roof, served as an important meeting place for the squatters.

The inn was large and well equipped with a parlour and all the requirements for a constant stream of visitors, including travellers, clergymen, settlers and anyone travelling to the area from the coast.

In 1848 the Rev. Benjamin Glennie conducted the first Church of England service on the Darling Downs at the Royal Bull’s Head Inn. 

In 1859 William Horton the proprietor of the inn and the surrounding land built a large extension. It was made of brick, cedar and timber. The entire inn was beautifully furnished and was regarded as the best on the Darling Downs and better than some in Brisbane and Ipswich.

Changing hands over the years

William Horton died in 1864 and the inn’s furnishings sold at auction in 1865. The hotel was then managed by a succession of businessmen, some of whom were Timothy Larkin, Samuel Mann and Henry Neale. 

In 1875 most of the original building and the stables were sold for removal leaving only the 1859 extension and the original kitchen. These are the buildings which are standing today. 

In 1879 just over 30 years after the inn was established Thomas Price Horton, William Horton’s son sold the inn to Richard Stephen Lynch a saddler, and his wife Sarah Neale, daughter of Henry Neale.  The Lynch family renamed the Royal Bull’s Head Inn “The Terrace” and it became their private residence for more than 90 years. 

The Lynch family also ran the Drayton Post Office in the building for 60 years and the office remained there until 1952 when Frances Lynch daughter of Richard and Sarah retired.

Restoring the inn back to its early trading days

In 1973 the last surviving son, Mr Alan Campbell Lynch, died and the National Trust of Queensland acquired the building.

A long program of preservation and restoration began. In 1984 the inn celebrated its 125th birthday and a year later in 1985, the ground floor had been fully restored. In 1987 work began on restoring the second floor of the inn.

In 1988 the Governor of Queensland Sir Walter Campbell Q.C officially opened the Royal Bull’s Head Inn on May 2. The Governor unveiled a plaque to commemorate the occasion. In 1998 the 25th anniversary of the National Trust was celebrated at the inn. The renovations of the kitchen area were officially opened during the celebrations.

Restoration of the grounds and outbuildings also took place, starting in 1983. The fences were replaced and the dairy and stables were restored. The inn’s gardens are a classic example of 19th century gardens.

Restoration is still continuing on the building today and the inn is open to the general public.

Royal Bull's Head Inn website.

Location: 45 Tooth Street, Nobby

Rudd's Pub was built in 1893 and was originally called the 'Davenporter' Hotel. Located at Nobby, the name changed to Rudd's Pub in the 1980s in recognition of Steele Rudd (Arthur Hoey Davis), author of 'On our selection' and creator of 'Dad & Dave'.

Rudd's Pub contains a large collection of memorabilia from yesteryear. Steele Rudd wrote three of his Dad & Dave stories while living in the district.

Rudd's Pub website

Location: Steele Rudd Road, East Greenmount

The 'selection' where the Rudd family settled was at Emu Creek (now East Greenmount) and a replica of the old shingle hut where Arthur Davis lived, is located on the site of the long-departed original dwelling.

The hut is located about 3km east of the New England Highway and just south of East Greenmount.

"The site is the location of the boyhood home of Arthur Hoey Davis, "Steele Rudd", who was the author of classic Australian stories including 'On Our Selection' which led to the 'Dad and Dave' radio series. The small park includes a memorial post which was chiselled by Arthur's brother Edward at the age of 74 back in 1938, along with a replica Shingle Hut. The original hut was built on the site by Arthur's father in 1870. Take a wander around the site and read the various informative plaques all set against pretty rural surrounds." (Source: RACQ)

Location: 22 - 36 Scott St, Toowoomba City

The Sisters of Charity

Sister Mary Augustine Aikenhead founded the religious congregation of the Sisters of Charity in Dublin in 1815. In December of 1838, five of the sisters of this order arrived in Sydney. In 1920 the sisters, after having established their order in Sydney and Melbourne, journeyed to Brisbane on the invitation of His Grace Dr Duhig, Archbishop of Brisbane, and the Right Reverend Monsignor Fouhy to discuss a new Catholic Hospital for Toowoomba.

An early site considered for a new hospital was the Cock’s family residence Longview in North Street, Mount Lofty, but lack of a good water source removed it from consideration.

Mother Berchmans, the Superior General, acting upon local information, met with Mrs Hogan, the owner of a parcel of land on the range. After negotiations, the sisters secured the land for £2300 and donations began to accumulate for a new hospital. One of the major sponsors was the prominent businessman, Michael Pigott, who later became a member of the Finance Committee organised by Monsignor Fouhy. Also supportive of the sisters' efforts were the remarkable Mrs Ellen O’Brien who successfully managed the Defiance Flour Mills following her husband’s early demise and local butcher P.P. Venaglia.

Laying of the foundation stone

On Sunday afternoon, May 22 1921 a ceremony was conducted for the laying of the foundation stone. This honour was afforded His Grace Archbishop Duhig, who then blessed the site and addressed the crowd.

Sydney architects, John F. Hennessy and Jack F. Hennessy were to be responsible for the design of the new hospital, which was to exhibit most of its decoration on the entrance section. Featured are geometric plasterwork and neo-Palladian pillars, topped with an elaborate plaster capping and a niche for a devotional statue of St. Vincent. The remaining portion is of a very solid appearance, being unadorned brick, with arches revealing the verandas on the first two storeys and simpler square openings for the top floor.

Insufficient funds

The successful building contractor was Mr Matthew Williamson who was the person to suffer most from the Sisters' financial situation. By October, Mother Berchmans reluctantly admitted that insufficient funds had been raised to continue with construction. The Bank of Queensland advanced the sum of £10 000 on the guarantee of Monsignor Fouhy and Mr P. Venaglia, which restored Mother Berchmans confidence in the realisation of the Sisters' dream. Renewed response to fund-raising projects and unswerving support from local business people ensured the continued construction of the building, but even at the time of the official opening, which was held a few months prior to completion, debts were mounting and resources were diminishing.

At the height of financial strife, under threat of legal action, and still with an unfinished western wall, Mother Candice, then in charge of the hospital, began to accept patients and in two years the hospital’s 66 beds were occupied.

A new era of growth and development

Following these earlier troubles and the harsh depression and war years, St Vincent’s Hospital was to eventually experience a period of growth, beginning with the opening of a maternity hospital in 1952, a new $650,000 surgical block in 1959, at which time Sister Mary Paul could proudly state that the hospital was debt-free, a new chapel in 1960, and a new convent in 1963. It was in this year also that a Board at St. Vincent’s was established to better guide the financial dealings of the hospital.

The 1997 addition, the Mary Aikenhead Wing was a $28 million development project. Today, St Vincent's Hospital Toowoomba is a 191 licensed bed, acute care facility with the addition of a Clinical School on the hospital campus.

Location: Table Top Drive, Rangeville

Toowoomba’s first Indigenous Land Use Agreement 

Toowoomba Regional Council and the Jagera, Yuggera and Uragapul People, as the traditional owners of a part of Table Top bushland reserve, were signatories of Toowoomba's first Indigenous Land Use Agreement. This significant agreement was signed in an official ceremony at Picnic Point on Wednesday 27 February 2008. The area covered by the Agreement is especially significant as the location of what is known as ‘The Battle of One Tree Hill’ – one of the last major battles between traditional owners and European settlers in 1843.

The Agreement marked the beginning of a partnership between Council and the traditional owners for this particular part of Toowoomba. The partnership has worked together to protect and care for the reserve and to promote awareness and understanding of the culture and heritage of the traditional owners in the community.

As part of the Agreement, Council as Trustee of the reserve:

  • consults the traditional owners about the management of the reserve
  • promotes the history, culture and heritage of the traditional owners of this part of the city with signage, website and other information sources
  • complies with any State and Federal Government legislative requirements on the preservation of cultural heritage
  • maintains a consultative committee representing Council and the traditional owners to facilitate ongoing communication between the parties to achieve valuable outcomes for the community. 

Location: 163 Margaret St, Toowoomba City 

Queensland's longest continually operating cinema

Situated in Margaret Street, The Strand Theatre stands on the site formerly occupied by the Crystal Palace Picture Gardens.

The Strand Cinema was the 'brainchild' of John Patrick Newman an alderman of the Toowoomba City Council who owned the Crown Hotel on the adjacent site and saw the Strand as an extension of his hotel.

Tenders were called by the Architect George Addison in July 1915 and the contract was awarded to the builder Luke Halley.

The American-inspired design was similar to picture theatres erected in other Australian cities. There was seating for 1000 people with a solid masonry façade and marble facings at the main entrance. A large monogram ST was set in front of the projecting biograph box with 44 coloured lights. There was also a female figure set in a niche holding a globe of light.

The Strand was officially opened by the Mayor of Toowoomba, Alderman A McWalters, on Saturday 15th April 1916.

Australia's first female projectionist

Patrick Newman leased the theatre to Senora Spencer, Australia's first female projectionist who named it The Strand after her theatres in Brisbane and Newcastle. The opening programme included a film by Ashmead Bartlett The Men Who Made Australia followed by Mary Pickford in Rags. The films were accompanied by the Strand Symphony Orchestra.

In 1918 Senora Spencer gave up her lease and it was taken over by Union Theatres who repainted and decorated the theatre during its temporary closure in 1919 due to the Spanish Influenza epidemic.

The 1920s saw the Strand leased by various independent operators.

The golden age

The 1930s were considered to be the "Golden Age" of the Strand. The motto was "always first with the latest and the greatest". During Toowoomba's cold winters the boast was that the Strand was "as warm as your own fireside".

Sound projection was installed thus the "talkies" came to Toowoomba. In 1933 the Strand was lavishly refurbished in the Art Deco style by the Sydney architect and theatre designer Guy Crick.

The 1950s saw the introduction of a wide screen format and renovations again took place in the 1960s and 70s.

In 1992 saw a major redevelopment with four small cinemas being erected around the original cinema. In 1993 a fifth cinema was added in the balcony space. The theatre was then known as Toowoomba Five owned by Birch Carrol and Coyle. In 1999, with the opening of the second cinema complex in Toowoomba the original name "The Strand" was restored to the cinema complex which continues to be a popular venue for cinema patrons today.

Location: Mutz Street, Wilsonton

The first flights on the Darling Downs

On the mid-summer morning of 15 December 1911, a young Englishman named Arthur William Jones, flying his Bleriot-copy monoplane, made a series of 90-metre hops. The first recorded attempt at flight on the Darlings Downs. Unfortunately, the Bleriot was grossly underpowered, so the six metre high leaps didn’t fulfil the criteria of a true powered flight.

Jones’ experiments in Warwick led him to acquire a French-built Caudron G-11. His first flight over Warwick was on 30 May 1913. A local journalist witnessed this remarkable sight and wrote that it was of 'a quite entrancing aerial journey'. Jones’ triumph happened only 10 years after the Wright Brothers achieved the impossible at Kitty Hawkin, and when the motorcar was still comparatively rare.

Arthur 'Wizard' Stone was another notable showman-flyer who emerged on the flying scene in 1912. Wizard was a 'barn-stormer' who became famous for his presence at various shows throughout Queensland. His first visit to Toowoomba was on July 27 1912.

Toowoomba was once a port of call on a Qantas International Airline Service and a Qantas flight between Brisbane and Toowoomba was the first unsubsidised passenger service in Australia. This regular daily service commenced on 9 May 1928 with a DH50A. Qantas charged 2 pounds, 15 shillings for the 50-minute trip. Unfortunately this service was discontinued in December of the same year.

Notable landings

Several notable people have landed in Toowoomba. Bert Hinkler born in Bundaberg, Queensland, was another pioneer aviator. In 1928 he flew the first solo flight from England to Australia, for this achievement he flew his Avro Avian G-EBOV. It was on 16 June 1928 that Hinkler landed in Toowoomba at the Clifford Park racecourse flying G-EBOV.

On 29 May 1930, the first woman to fly from England to Australia landed at the Werrington Park aerodrome – now called the Toowoomba Airport (also known as the Wilsonton Airport). She was, of course, Amy Johnson or 'Johnnie' as her fans called her.

In August 1932 Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, a pioneer Australian aviator, landed at Toowoomba in his Fokker Trimotor named the 'Southern Cross'. In this plane, he made the first non-stop flight across the Australian Continent and the first flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

In 1929 he completed a round-the-world flight. Unfortunately in November 1935, on a flight from England to Australia, he and his flying companion disappeared in typhoon weather over the Bay of Bengal.

Werrington Park offered to the Defence Department unconditionally

"The aerodrome at Toowoomba was not required by the RAAF and there has not been any RAAF occupation there known to this Department".

In January 1944 the RAAF's Directorate of Works and Building (DWB) responded thus in writing to Mr William Rankin who owned land adjoining the southern boundary of the Civil aerodrome, Mr Rankin had requested to have various fences re-erected.

Fences were legitimately removed to allow the dispersal and better operation of 5 Sqn's Wirraways. Inevitably, cattle made it onto the aerodrome, at times causing the obvious hazard.

On the 12 February 1942 when patriotic fervour knew few bounds, Mr Rankin wrote to Gp Capt. Lachal CO of 3 SFTS AMBERLEY.

"Sir, in reference to a recent telephonic conversation with your Assistant, in which I expressed my desire to assist the Defence Authorities by placing my Toowoomba property at the disposal of the Air Force without charge for the duration, and to call today by an Officer of your Department requesting me to place the matter in writing, it gives me pleasure therefore to confirm my offer as follows: To give my property at Toowoomba, known as Werrington Park, to the Defence Department for use of the Air Force unconditionally and absolutely without charge for the duration of the war and for six months thereafter"

However, persistence won out and satisfaction was finally achieved. The RAAF did use Mr Rankin's land and the aerodrome on the 12th May 1942. A flight of No 5 Army Co-op Squadron moved to Toowoomba and was quartered and its Wirraways were dispersed in trees across the Western Highway some 200-300m north of the Wilsonton Post Office.

By June 1942 3 SFTS was disbanded and DWB was advised by the Director of training of no further requirement for Toowoomba and No 5 Squadron moved out.

Over the years, many other pilots have helped put the Toowoomba Airport on the map

Some of these are familiar names, such as Dr Mervyn Hall, first President of the Aero Club, Mr John Bange and his rare Porterfield and who was also a designer of a Primary Glider and well known Australian and International pilot, Mr Guido Zuccoli. Toowoomba is the home of the famed Zuccoli Collection. 

The Darling Downs Aero Club established in 1946

Initially the club operated only on the weekends (out of a borrowed tent), and flying training was conducted for and on behalf of the Club by the Royal Queensland Aero Club (Archerfield).

This was until 1951 when the Darling Downs Aero Club purchased its first aircraft (a Tiger Moth) and began flying training in its own right. It was at this time that the Club employed its first flying instructor, and commenced full-time operations. It has been in continuous full-time operation ever since. 

The Aero club has operated a number of different aircraft types such as the:

  • de Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth
  • de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk
  • Beagle Pup
  • various Piper aircraft including PA-22-160 Pacer, PA-38 Tomahawk and PA-28-161 Warrior
  • various Cessna types as C152, C172 and C182, Mooney 21 and Beechcraft B-35. 

The aerodrome has come a long way since those early times. During 2011 the aerodrome entered another chapter after the completion of the runway extension and upgrade project.

The Zuccoli collection of historic aircraft

Sea Fury VH-HFG "Baghdad Express" built in England by Hawker in 1947:

  • Powered by a Bristol Centaurus sleeve valve, fuel-injected, supercharged 18 Cylinder radial engine of 2470 hp.
  • (1841kW) fastest piston engine fighter ever built.
  • Top speed in excess of 460 mph (740 km/h).
  • Served with Iraqi Air Force in the 1976 7-Day War.
  • Armed with four 20 mm Hispano Mk5 cannon, plus a mix of bomb and rockets.
  • Fuel consumption 260 gph Imperial (572 lph) at take-off.
  • Aircraft Number Royal Navy WJ298 Iraqi Air Force 308.

Fiat G 59B VH-LIX "Ciao Bella" Advanced military trainer:

  • Painted in North African desert Italian colour scheme.
  • Built in 1949 and powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 500.20 engine of 1420 hp (1060 kW).
  • Capable of a maximum speed of 420 mph (675 km/h).
  • Armed with one 7.7 mm gun.
  • De-commissioned by the Italian Air Force in 1953 and restored in the U.S.A. in 1987.
  • Best Warbird at Oshkosh 1987.  

CAC-19 Boomerang A46-208 VH-BOM "Milingimbi Ghost":

  • The only Australian designed and built fighter.
  • Served with distinction in New Guinea in a ground support and strafing role.
  • Powered by a Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp 14 cylinder radial of 1200 hp (895 kW).
  • Maximum speed 296 mph (476 km/h).
  • Armed with two 20 mm Hispano cannon and four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, plus a 500 lb (226 kg) bomb.
  • "Milingimbi Ghost" served on the Arnhem Land coast, with 83 Squadron RAAF, and is the only one of the type flying in the world.
  • Fuselage Number A46-206. New Wings.

Trojan T-28D VH-ZUC "Just Dreamin":

  • Built by North American in the U.S.A. it was used for training and ground attack.
  • Powered by a Wright Cyclone 1820-86, cylinder radial of 1425 hp (1062 kW).
  • Max. level speed 188 mph (461 km/h)
  • Max. range 1008 miles (1612 km)
  • VH-ZUC was refurbished by Aerotec.
  • Aircraft Number US Air Force 91576.

Toowoomba aerodrome memorials

Air Vice Marshal Bennett memorial

Near the aerodrome terminal, a memorial is situated where a lad once stood to watch aircraft come and go. This young man went on to become a pioneering aviator.

Date of birth: 14 September 1910

Place of birth: Toowoomba, QLD

Donald Bennett, senior RAF officer and commander of Bomber Command's Pathfinder Force, was born in Toowoomba, Queensland on 14 September 1910. The youngest of four boys, he began his schooling in Toowoomba before his family moved to Brisbane. A self-confessed lazy student, Bennett left school and became a jackeroo on his father's cattle property but returned to Brisbane after just three months. There he attempted to join the RAAF. He eventually succeeded, enlisting in Melbourne 12 months after being rejected on health grounds in Brisbane. Having enlisted in 1930, Bennett was transferred to 29 Squadron RAF the following year.

In 1940 he was sent to the United States to take charge of aircraft-ferrying operations between America and England, making several flights himself. In 1941 Bennett returned to the RAF as an acting wing commander in command of an air navigation school. In December that year, he was given command of Bomber Command's 77 Squadron. Bennett was transferred to command 10 Squadron in April 1942. He flew many operations himself and shortly after taking up his new appointment was shot down over Norway in an attack on the Tirpitz. He managed to evade capture and reach Sweden and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for this episode.

On 5 July 1942 Bennett, now an acting group captain, was given command of Bomber Command's new Pathfinder Force - whose job was to find and mark targets for main force crews. In January 1943 Bennett was again promoted, to air commodore, and placed in command of Bomber Command's 8 Pathfinder Force Group. Bennett took his responsibilities extremely seriously and explored every possible option for minimising aircrew losses and maximising the destructive power of the bomber force; he later admitted the enormous strain he experienced conducting such operations over a period of years.

A keen advocate of an international police force that would prevent war, Bennett acted on his convictions by winning a seat in Parliament as a Liberal Party member. Ultimately he was disappointed at his inability to exert influence. He also became a critic of the United Nations, which he believed could do little to prevent future wars.

After the war, Bennett also designed and built several light aircraft and cars. He died on 15 September 1986.


It is with appreciation that this information was supplied by the Australian War Memorial for the sole use of this memorial page. Please note that this information is copyright protected by the Australian War Memorial.

Australia War Memorial website.

Guido Zuccoli

Guido Zuccoli was of Italian heritage but made Australia his home and established a career in the construction and engineering Industry. Guido became involved in aviation in 1969. He was one of a small group that made a major contribution to the Australia Warbird movement, where these impressive ex-military aircraft can still be flown, principally, under those regulations. Guido was also an accomplished aerobatic pilot, a founder of the Northern Territory Aerobatic Club and one of the original members of the Australian Aerobatic Club. Guido represented Australia on three separate occasions overseas in his Pitts Special.

After he gave up competition aerobatics on medical advice, he maintained his focus on aviation and since that time Guido purchased, was involved with importing and restored a number of aircraft. During 1980 both Guido and Lynette got involved in the Warbird aviation industry when Guido secured 4 ex-Iraq Air Force Hawker Sea Fury's. The Sea Fury is an aircraft that demanded respect, and Guido was one of only a few who gained a reputation worldwide for his skills and abilities to operate complex aircraft like the Hawker Sea Fury. He delighted and thrilled many airshow attendee's, not only throughout Australia but around the world.

In 1987 Guido became the first Australian outside of the US to race in the Unlimited Silver Class of the Reno Air Races, flying the Italian design and Built Fiat G-59 4B. This aircraft remains one of two airworthy examples in the world and is still currently part of the Zuccoli Aircraft Collection.

Unfortunately, Guido is no longer with us. In 2007 a fly-in, as part of the David Hack Classic Vehicle and Aircraft Meet, was named in his honour. Lynette Zuccoli has continued with the operations as a family operated business as Aerotec QLD. In doing so Lynette has not only continued operations but with her team has become a Warbird owner and restorer in her own right!


A rich history traced back to 1816

English botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham arrived in Australia from Brazil in 1816, where he had been searching for native trees and plant life that would be suitable for the Australian climate.

In June 1827, he was rewarded for his many explorations when he discovered four million acres of rich farming and grazing land bordered on the east by the Great Dividing Range and situated 100 miles west of the settlement of Moreton Bay (later to become Brisbane). Cunningham named his find Darling Downs after Sir Ralph Darling, Governor of New South Wales.

It was not until 13 years later when George and Patrick Leslie established Toolburra Station 56 miles south-west of Toowoomba that the first settlers arrived on the Downs.

Other settlers quickly followed and a few tradesmen and businessmen settled and established a township of bark-slab shops called The Springs which was soon renamed Drayton.

Towards the end of the 1840s Drayton had grown to the point where it had its own newspaper, general store, trading post and the Royal Bull's Head Inn which was built by William Horton and still stands today. Horton is regarded as the real founder of Toowoomba, although he was not the first man to live there.

Discovering the swamp

Early in 1849, Horton sent two of his men, William Gurney and William Shuttlewood, to cut away reeds in a marshy swampland area a few miles away that nobody from Drayton ever visited.

When Gurney and Shuttlewood arrived they were surprised to find a pitched tent among the reeds. The tent's owner was bush worker Josiah Dent who was the first man to live in "The Swamp".

This extraordinary news was the main talking point in Drayton for weeks and people became interested in developing The Swamp as useful farming land.

Plans were drawn for 12 - 20 acre farms in the swamp (later to be drained and become the foundation for the establishment of Toowoomba) in the hope of attracting more people to the area to support the land and build up the town. Two years later people began purchasing the land but not new settlers. The new farm holdings attracted buyers from Drayton.

The naming of Toowoomba

In the year Thomas Alford moved into his new home, his wife gave birth to a son, Henry King Alford and, shortly after Josiah Dent's wife bore him a daughter, Pamela. These were the first white babies born in Toowoomba.

On August 29 1852 the town's only churchman, the Rev. Benjamin Glennie who had lived in Drayton since 1848, christened both children at the Alford home. It was the first Church of England service held in Toowoomba and the first day the word "Toowoomba" was written on a public document.

It is common knowledge that the Alfords had given the town its name, but how the name Toowoomba was derived is still a point of argument. Read more about the naming of Toowoomba below.

A new municipality declared

Drovers and wagon masters spread the news of the new settlement at Toowoomba. By 1858 Toowoomba was growing fast. It had a population of 700, three hotels and many stores. Land selling at £4 an acre in 1850 was now £150 an acre.

On 30 June 1860, a petition of 100 names was sent to the Governor requesting that Toowoomba be declared a Municipality. Governor Bowen granted their wish and a new municipality was proclaimed on 24 November 1860.

The first town council election took place on 4 January 1861 and William Henry Groom, who had led Toowoomba people in their petition for recognition, polled the most votes.

On August 12 1862, Alderman Groom was elected to State Parliament as Member for Drayton and Toowoomba. Also in August 1862, telegraphic communication was opened between Toowoomba and Brisbane.

In April 1867 Toowoomba's rail link with Ipswich was opened. In 1870 Alderman Spiro replaced William Groom as Mayor (read more on Toowoomba's Mayors). In 1873 Council was granted control of the swamp area and offered a prize of £100 for the best method of draining it.

The Toowoomba Gas and Coke Company was floated in 1875 and the Council pledged to erect street lamps to assist with the establishment of the fledgling company.

Due to its financial situation Council leased part of the swamp to town brickmakers and also approved construction of the Toowoomba Grammar School. The school's foundation stone was laid in this year.

Construction of Town Hall

In 1892 the Under Secretary of Public Land proclaimed Toowoomba and the surrounding areas as a township. By 1898, the existing Town Hall was inadequate for the demands of a growing community.

In July, Council agreed that new municipal buildings and a Town Hall should be constructed on the site of the School of Arts which had been destroyed by fire earlier that year, pending the sale of the old Town Hall for £2000 to the Roman Catholic Church.

Council offered a prize of 25 guineas for the best design. Architect Willougby Powell's design was awarded first prize and the contract to erect the building at a cost of £10,000 went to Alexander Mayes who later was elected Mayor.

The new building was opened in 1900 and still stands in Ruthven Street today. At noon on 20 October 1904, Toowoomba's status of a township was changed to a city and every bell and horn was sounded for half a minute to celebrate the event.

A refurbishment program was completed in 1996 at a cost of $3.4 million and Council meetings are once again held there.

The Second World War saw an invasion by American and Australian troops who took over the parks and major buildings for recreational, hospital and training purposes.

Since the 1950s, Toowoomba has added the provision of tertiary services, military installations, public service departments and a university to its traditional role as a commercial, agricultural and educational centre.

Location: 541 Ruthven St, Toowoomba City

The first Toowoomba town hall was built in 1862 in James Street and was the first town hall ever built in Queensland. In 1881 the original timber building was demolished and replaced with a brick building. However, by 1898 the town hall was inadequate for the demands of a growing community.

In July, Council agreed that new municipal buildings and town hall should be constructed on the site of the School of Arts which had been destroyed by fire earlier that year, pending the sale of the old town hall to the Roman Catholic Church for £2000.

The current City Hall was opened in 1900 at a cost of £10,000. The building was refurbished in 1996 at a cost of $3.4 million and Council meetings are once again held there.

Mayoral robesMayoral robes

Throughout history, the Mayor of Toowoomba City and later Toowoomba Regional Council has worn robes during official events.

The black fur-trimmed Mayoral robe was presented to Mayor Thomas Stephen Burstow on Monday 7 November 1904. James Tolmie MLA, along with some other citizens, presented the Mayor with the robes at the Town Hall at 2pm.1

Mayor Burstow was the first Mayor of the City of Toowoomba, which was declared a city on Thursday 20 October 1904.

Mayoral wig Mayoral wigThe red fur-trimmed Mayoral robe and black Town Clerk robe were ordered from S&M Supply Company, located in Brisbane, from their Sydney Office. It was ordered on 16 November, 1979.2 S&M Supply Company were distributors for the UK firm – Ede and Ravenscroft. According to the Ede and Ravenscroft brochure (circa 1979), if fur was required musquash (muskrat) fur would be used.

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers crowns and robes

Since its inception in 1949, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers has flourished and is now an iconic Queensland event.

The brainchild of Essex Tait and the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce, Carnival was introduced as a way for Toowoomba to use their “Garden City” reputation to promote increased economic activity following the hardships of war.

On October 21 1950, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers commenced with a street procession that stretched three miles in length. Led by a bullock team and watched by a crowd estimated to be 50,000 strong, it was a resounding success.

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers has been honoured to receive the Gold Award for Major Festival and Event at both the Queensland Tourism Awards (2015, 2016, 2017) and Australian Tourism Awards (2016, 2017). In addition, Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers was delighted to be awarded Hall of Fame at the 2017 Queensland Tourism Awards.

In 2017 attendances across the 10-day event skyrocketed, with 255,639 attendees recorded.

While no longer the case, the official Carnival Queen would be presented with a crown and robe. The Queen wore these during the Carnival Parade and other official Carnival events. Today, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers does not have a figurehead.

Carnival crowns

  1. The Pearl Crown - worn by the Toowoomba Carnival of Flower Queens between 1963 and 1968. Merle Beutel was Carnival Queen in 1963. Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers board member Mr H. Clark made the crown in six months at a cost of around 100 pounds. The crown, which was housed in a ‘special gold painted box’3 was based on an army helmet worn by an air raid warden during World War 2.4 A Toowoomba store supplied the jewels and gold beads.
  1. Violet Coronet - worn by the Carnival Queens between 1969 and 2001. ‘The $1000 coronet was presented by the Diamond Syndicate of Brisbane under a perpetual 99-year lease to the Carnival of Flowers Board. The idea came from the Coral Queen who wore a ‘gemstone Coronet’ in 1966. Mr John Withers of the Diamond Syndicate designed the coronet and it took Jeweller Ken Penfold 40 hours to make. It consists of 17 violets (the floral emblem of Toowoomba) each holding a rutile stone’.5

Pearl crown worn by the Toowoomba Carnival of Flower Queens between 1963 and 1968.Violet Coronet crown worn by the Carnival of Flower Queens between 1969 and 2001.  It consists of 17 violets – the floral emblem of Toowoomba - each holding a rutile stone

Carnival robes

  1. Crushed red velvet with gold flowers and edging - worn by the Carnival Queens between the years of 1953 to 1983. A blue and gold robe was worn between 1984 and 1988 however, it is not held at City Hall.
  1. Blue cape with a high silver collar embossed with red shiny flowers - worn by the Carnival Queens between 1989 and 1992.
  2. Purple and gold satin robe - worn by the Carnival Queens in 1995 and 1997. It may have also been in use between 1993 and 1998.
  3. Red robe with gold edging - worn by the Carnival Queens between 1999 and 2001.

The Drayton Seal

The Shire of Drayton was created on August 18 1887, and along with it the official Drayton Seal. The seal was presented to the then Drayton Shire Chairman Fredrick Herbert Wuth as a memento. It was used as a doorstop and a play-thing for his grandchildren until his death.

Following his death, it was presented to the Queensland Historical Society by his daughter-in-law Mary Ellen Wuth before eventually passing into the custodianship of the Darling Downs/South West Queensland Branch of the National Trust. The National Trust then presented the seal to the Toowoomba City on October 30 2001 as a gift to the people of Toowoomba.

The Shire of Drayton continued until May 27 1949 when it was abolished and joined with the Shire of Toowoomba.6

The Toowoomba Seal

Toowoomba seal 1

On October 5 1861, a design for a corporate seal was submitted to the Toowoomba Municipal Council to be made by Mr Thomas Ham of Brisbane.

On October 10 1861 we approved the design but with a change to the seal’s wording: ‘May Toowoomba Prosper’.7 The seal design includes the Coat of Arms as described below:

  • Crest - an emu is surrounded with emblems of England, Ireland and Scotland symbolising the nationality of the people taking possession of the land of the emu. Our current Coat of Arms was granted on October 20 1960. It is different from the version described above.
  • Shield - quartered by St George’s Cross which symbolised British origins. The cross is covered by the Eye of Providence (which represents the eye of God watching over humanity). The shield also includes Indian corn and vine branches to symbolise the varied productions of the soil of the district.

Toowoomba seal 2

The quarters of the shield feature:

  1. Cornucopia symbolising abundance and a plough symbolising the reward of industry
  2. a Golden Fleece to represent the pastoral interest of the district
  3. a wheat sheaf to symbolise agriculture
  4. a luggage van of the tramway or railway, loaded with casks, cases and bales to denote business interest and interior trade of Toowoomba.

It’s doubtful that the Toowoomba Seal now located in City Hall is the same one from 1861.


  1. The Toowoomba Chronicle, 8 November, 1904, p.4.
  2. Toowoomba City Council Records 01/01/76 -31/12/89. Film No. 20. File 1/5/2. Procedure, Regalia etc.
  3. The Toowoomba Chronicle, 13 June, 1963.
  4. The Toowoomba Chronicle, 4 June, 1963.
  5. The Toowoomba Chronicle, 14 June, 1967.
  6. The Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Advertiser, p.2.
  7. The Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Advertiser, October, 1861, p.2

Location: Corner of Margaret and Neil Streets, Toowoomba

Toowoomba's original courthouse

The building that is most identifiable as ‘the Toowoomba Court House’ is the two-storey Neo-Classic masonry building on the corner of Margaret and Neil Streets. This building was, however, the second of Toowoomba’s three courthouses.

The first courthouse was built on the corner of Ruthven and Russell Streets as part of a grant obtained in 1863 from the Government by W. H. Groom to establish within Toowoomba a courthouse, police station and a post and telegraph office. This courthouse was subject to many construction problems, primarily disagreements about materials, but was officially opened in June 1863. 

On September 24, 1876, the government purchased a site in Margaret Street from Arthur Hodgson for the sum of £750. In 1877 work commenced on the new building, the contract having been won by John Garget, who had in his employ an apprentice named Harry Andrews who was later to become a prominent figure in construction in Toowoomba.

The Margaret Street Court House was constructed of a pale stone cut from the Highfields area, larger heavier stones for the lower area with a lighter kind of masonry for the upper work. The building features an arcaded portico surmounted by the projecting first floor with a pedimented gable. The octagonal piazza in the centre of the building was designed to enhance natural light penetration. Of interest is the cruciform shape usually reserved for churches, which will present the longest frontage to Margaret Street and the narrow end to Neil Street. The total contract amount was for £7000 and was due for completion by April 1878.

The new building officially opened in 1878

It is largely believed though, the new Margaret Street Court House was not complete at this stage and drew from the Crown Prosecutor, Mr Power the comment; “The acoustics are very defective, but that could perhaps be corrected.”  The old courthouse was used for court hearings until the new $2.2 million courthouse in Hume Street was opened in May 1979.

In 1980 restoration began and the old building was relieved of its layer of peeling white paint and covered in a protecting clear silicone finish. It was deemed that the building would be used to house government offices and by the 1990s, when it housed the offices of the Department of Family Services, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Racing, and the Queensland Police Service, it had become exceedingly run down.

Preserving an iconic Toowoomba building

In 1986, the building was listed for entry in the Register of the National Estate. The building was sold in 2000 to Robert and Lorraine Grant to become their private residence and following several meetings with the Heritage Council, and many assessments of the site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), extensive work sympathetic to the historic structure began.

Location: 54 - 56 Neil Street, Toowoomba City

Toowoomba's first purpose built theatre

The history of the Empire Theatre is directly linked to the Austral Association which was founded by George Essex Evans in 1903.  At least four of the Austral Association members were the founding directors of the Empire enterprise. 

In 1909 the Austral Company leased the Austral Hall to show the new and exciting ‘moving pictures’ which were silent and black and white. The picture show venue was very popular with viewings three times a week. The hall was large and versatile, with crowds in the thousands attending screenings. As a result of this success the company purchased an acre of land in Neil Street and commissioned the construction of Toowoomba’s first purpose built theatre which was to accommodate both vaudeville and the new motion pictures.

Thus the Empire Theatre was born. The builder, H. Andrews and the designer George Lane incorporated the latest concepts in stage and screen design. The theatre seated 2200 people, 1700 in the stalls and 500 in the gallery, with space for an orchestra between the front stalls and the stage. 

The Empire Theatre opened on Thursday 29 June 1911 with a theatrical performance featuring vaudeville artists and a vocalist from Sydney. Seat prices for opening night were two shillings in the dress circle, front stalls one shilling and sixpence, middle stalls one shilling, and the back stalls sixpence.

Tragedy strikes

In February 1933, a fire ripped through the building almost completely destroying it with only the solid brick walls left standing amongst twisted ironwork and ashes. 

The Empire Theatre Company announced that plans for rebuilding the theatre would start immediately and whilst the theatre was being rebuilt, the Empire owners hired the town hall for their shows. Brisbane architects Hall & Phillips were commissioned to design the new Empire Theatre and construction of the new theatre was built around what was salvageable after the fire.

Rebuilding the Empire

On the 27th November 1933, the new art deco Empire Theatre opened its doors featuring state of the art facilities including seating for up to 2400 people.  At this time, the Empire Theatre was the largest theatre in Australia outside of a capital city. 

Toowoomba residents and others from surrounding districts would regularly visit the theatre regarding it the biggest and best theatre in Toowoomba. The most popular sessions, for children at least, were the Saturday afternoon matinees which showed ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Buck Rogers’. Saturday evening sessions were also well attended with bookings essential to gain a good seat.

Housing such a large stage, the Empire Theatre hosted various live theatre productions including Gilbert and Sullivan shows such as ‘The Mikado’ and ‘Iolanthe.’  However the most note-worthy performance was staged in 1935 with J C Williamson’s production ‘White Horse Inn’ which was played on a revolving stage.

The curtains close on the final show

Falling victim to the advent of television, declining audiences and commercial pressures of smaller cinemas and drive-in movies the Empire Theatre showed its last program ‘South Pacific’ in April 1971. Paying 50 cents a seat, 2000 people packed the theatre to see the Deputy Mayor of Toowoomba, Alderman Duggan, close the curtain for the last time. 

After closing, the theatre remained empty for quite some time and there were threats of demolition, however the theatre was eventually sold and used as a furniture shop.  In 1975 it was bought by the Queensland Government and was used for TAFE workshops.

Redeveloping a Toowoomba icon

In October 1994 Toowoomba City Council started negotiations for the purchase and redevelopment of the Empire Theatre.

On Saturday June 28, 1997, the Empire Theatre reopened as a premier performing arts complex which included a restaurant, bars, two function rooms, laundry and a wardrobe area.


LH/EMP – Empire Theatre Allom Lovell Marquis- Kyle. (1993) ‘The Empire Theatre Toowoomba: a conservation study’

Location: Pechey Street, Toowoomba

The worst typhoid epidemic in Toowoomba hits 1878

Due to the epidemic the government hospital, then on the corner of James and Ruthven Streets, was quickly filled. This necessitated an overflow of ‘fever’ patients to be installed at the Immigration Department on the corner of Hume and Margaret Streets, and the recovering patients to be sent to Spiro’s store, empty since his death the year before, on the south-east corner of Margaret and Ruthven Streets.

Following this, and considering the great disquiet that had long been held over the considerable cesspit near the fence line that separated the hospital from Toowoomba’s largest school, the precursor to South State School, it was decided that a new hospital was needed and that it should be ‘out of town’.

A new hospital is built

The site chosen for the new hospital was Willcox’s paddock; a 29-acre plot fronting West Street, south of James Street.

The Education Department took on the buildings in eastern James Street to be used as part of South State School.

Richard Godsall won the tender to build the new hospital for the sum of £10,000 and worked to a design from the Colonial Architect of the time D. G. Stanley Esq. The new building was a two-storey structure of Gothic Italianate style featuring a profusion of arches and columns and intricate corbelling beneath the eaves. The building was a total length of 170 feet and a depth of 40 feet and was to be erected of bricks procured from the Highfields quarries which were a deep red colour, so contrasting well with the stone used.

The building was, as most were in this area, designed to face the town and to allow maximum light and ventilation. The inclusion of numerous windows, air-pipes and flues further ensured good airflow.

The Victoria wing, named in honour of the Queen

It was decided by the committee that a new wing should be added for use as a women’s ward. In June 1897, a ‘Queen’s Fund’ was established to build the ‘Victoria wing’, so named in honour of the Queen.

Mr W. Hodgen of Toowoomba won the competition for the design of the wing and local builder James Renwick was awarded the contract.  The design of the wing was very sympathetic to the main structure erected nine years previously; it featured similar corbelling, arched windows and colour contrasts.

Dr E. Roberts opened the new wing on August 16 1899 but ten years later Mr Hodgen had to see to the inclusion of buttresses for the foundations to prevent sinkage and cracking. 

By 1914, however, cracks of a serious nature were reported. By 1975, nearly 100 years after the building was started, its structural health gave cause to begin considering demolition. The Toowoomba Historical Society sought permission to save the Victoria wing and house a museum there but was unsuccessful.  In 1981 the old edifice was finally brought down to make room for the new medical ward.


LH TOO – Toowoomba Base Hospital

Clements, J. (2004) Toowoomba General Hospital.

Dansie, R.A. (1989) Hospitals and Health, Toowoomba Education Centre: Toowoomba Qld.

Location: 136 Margaret Street, Toowoomba

In 1865 Toowoomba’s first official post office was opened

It was a single storey building located on the corner of Ruthven and Russell streets. The Toowoomba Telegraph office was also located at the Post Office and due to the growth of this service a larger building was soon needed.

In 1877 the colonial architect F.D.G. Stanley designed Toowoomba’s new post office building. His plan included keeping all the public buildings on a central site, so the new post and telegraph offices would be built next to the courthouse which was already under construction on the corner of Neil and Margaret Streets.

Classic revival style

In May 1878 an advertisement appeared in the Government Gazette inviting tenders for the building of the new post office.

Both Richard Godsall and John Garget submitted tenders for the building. John Garget who was Mayor of Toowoomba during this period and the contractor of the courthouse was awarded the contract to build the post office.

The new post office was built in the classic revival style and was constructed using pale yellow sandstone similar to the stone used on the courthouse. The stone was transported from Highfields' quarry by train at the Government’s expense. The building was completed around 1880 at a cost of £8100.

The 17-metre high clock tower dominates the building. Gillett and Bland of London made the original tower in 1877. The contract to fit the clock was awarded to Mr Schoenle who lived in Ipswich. It cost £105 to fit the clock.

The primary hub for communication

The post office and telegraph services continued to operate separately. The western end of the building was the post office and the eastern end was the telegraph office. Later the telegraph and telephone operations were moved upstairs and the eastern end became the post office.

Several extensions were added to the building, including in 1899 a new battery and mailroom. Other improvements and changes were made to the building over the years to accommodate the growth of the post office and telegraph service.

Substantial alterations took place in 1968 when much of the original features including timber valances, external cast-iron balustrades, chimneys and hearths were replaced or removed. In late 1997 it was announced that the Post Office in Margaret Street would close and relocate to new premises. The building ceased operating as the post office in February 1999 and was sold in 2001. The post office service relocated to Annand Street.

Today, the building is considered to be one of the finest remaining works of the Queensland Colonial Government. The building is heritage listed and currently houses a coffee shop and offices. 

Sources - books:

Allom & Lovell (1981) Toowoomba Post Office, an historical survey and management plan.

Dansie, Bob. (1980) Vanished buildings of old Toowoomba:  sketches and notes.

Holtze, Alex. (1911) Toowoomba 1860 - 1910.

University of Queensland: Department of Architecture (1983) Historic Post Offices in Queensland, a National Estate Study.

Sources - other:

LH/BUI - Buildings and Structures

LH/POS - Post Offices  - Toowoomba and Darling Downs

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection's Queensland Heritage Register [date accessed 11/07/2007]

A walk through history with Bob Dansie [pamphlet] Toowoomba City Council, March 2000.