Take a trip down memory lane in these 7 heritage towns
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.
– Marcus Garvey
That’s why it’s important to holiday with heritage, every now and then.
If you’ve been looking for early Australian history but weren’t sure where to find it, we’ve pulled together a wrap up of Queensland’s best heritage towns.
These top towns promise to leave you walking away an expert in Queensland’s story:
Numero uno on this list is none other than the second-oldest local government in Queensland, Ipswich.
If the state had an autobiography, you’d find an entire chapter dedicated to this town. After all, the ‘Swich was right in the middle of the colonisation debate about whether Queensland should have its own separate identity to New South Wales.
Arguably, if Ipswich hadn’t fought so hard in 1859 we’d all be wearing blues jerseys at the State of Origin right about now.
Today, a visit to Ipswich will reveal a town kept in somewhat of a time capsule, with heritage buildings, a grand old park, and ample infrastructure to reflect its growing population.
We think a trip to Queens Park – Queensland’s oldest park – is one of the most revealing places to see the city’s historic heart.
One of the best ways to soak up what Walter Hill (the designer of this park and incidentally, Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens) intended is to throw down a picnic rug among the 26ha of lush lawns and gardens.
In Queens Park, you’ll also see architecture influences from Walter Burley Griffin, the man who designed Canberra. One of his incinerators can be seen on the edge of the gardens – although now the only thing that lights it up is the audience who come to watch the Ipswich Theatre Company perform here.
It’s not just municipal history here, Ipswich is the birthplace of Queensland’s rail history too. In fact, the very first train to run in Queensland was a steam train that travelled from Ipswich to Bigges Camp (now Grandchester) over 145 years ago.
The Workshops Rail Museum is the best place to see it all – this workshop-turned-railway-buff’s-paradise celebrates the 200 locomotives that have been constructed here.
Of course, if you prefer your history and heritage through a bit of retail therapy, look no further than the Ipswich Antiques Centre.
Where to stay:
The miraculous preservation of this town that dates back to 1847 could equally be put down to its small population or some sort of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Mary Poppins effect. After all, this town is pretty darn proud of its connection to PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, so anything is possible.
From a history buff’s perspective, a few things really stand out about Maryborough beyond Mary Poppins and its magnificent architecture.
First is its port, which was used as the major entry point for immigrants from all over the world in the nineteenth century (and don’t forget a squiz of the Portside Heritage Gateway while you’re at it).
The second is its ghosts. Oh yes, Maryborough’s history could fuel an entire American Horror Story plot line, because it’s the only town in Australia hit with the pneumonic plague. Today, this horror story is an unlikely tourist attraction on the ‘Ghostly Tours and Tales of Maryborough’ ghost tour, which winds through the cemetery after dark.
As legend goes, the plague started at the port in 1905 when a freighter from Hong Kong docked into the port of Maryborough. One of the wharf workers took home some sacking from the wharf for his children to sleep on, which started the plague.
The outbreak was contained to just eight people thanks to the dedication of two nurses who sacrificed their own lives to prevent the further spread, which could have killed tens of thousands across Australia.
The eight people who died included all five children from the wharf worker’s family, a neighbour who assisted the family by laying out the corpse of the first victim, and the two nurses who cared for the other six.
You’ll find their ghosts and more in the historical Maryborough Cemetery.
For more things to do in Maryborough and Hervey Bay to maximise your time on the ground, here’s an itinerary to follow.
Where to stay:
- Maryborough Caravan and Tourist Park
Back in 1871 Charters Towers became a household name after a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy, Jupiter Mosman, discovered gold at the base of Towers Hill.
Since then, Charters Towers dug up over 200 tonne of the Midas stuff and Jupiter Mossman went on to be a household name for a different reason: when a famous Gold Coast casino launched into the market in the 1980s, wearing his name.
These tours explore Charters’ main streets, opulent arcades which were used gold auctioning sites, and Tower Hill where gold was first discovered.
Your hosts will point out spots where you can dig for more than just gold history, like the Zara Clark Museum and The Miner’s Cottage.
For gold-rush enthusiasts, a visit to the Venus Gold Battery is a must-do to see a relic of Charters Towers history, which crushed gold and other minerals for over a century (1872-1973). Today, it’s a tourist attraction with 3D videos and sound effects to demonstrate the process of extracting gold from ore – heads up, it gets noisy!
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Every town likes to lay claim to being the birthplace of an Australian company and for Charleville, it’s Cobb & Co, a company which revolutionised transport throughout Queensland.
Even though this outback town was first explored in 1847, it only really came into its own in 1886 when Victorian-based Cobb & Co established a Queensland head office in Charleville.
Cobb & Co revolutionised the town, allowing the otherwise isolated community to maintain contact with the rest of Australia through a fleet of 120 coaches, stationed here.
However, the expansion of railway networks and emergence of Air Mail superseded the need for Cobb & Co, before going into liquidation. Today, this town wears its history on its sleeve, with no shortage of references to the mark this revolutionary company left on the town.
Cobb & Co aside, one of our favourite kooky stories from Charleville’s history books can be found on the outskirts of town where you can see two cannons in a park. These mark the attempt of a local grazier in 1902 to fire the cannons at the clouds in an attempt to break the drought. Hats off to his creative thinking!
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The colonial buildings are preserved to perfection and look completely at home among the shady leopard trees.
It’s not just one or two buildings that have caught the attention of the historical society, it’s almost all of them: Gaydon’s pharmacy was identified as a museum, the four hotels – Royal, Federal, Grand and Palace – were noted for their historic and architectural qualities, and the Paragon Theatre secured listing too.
A self-guided walk along the main street or historical bus tour is a great taste of what it would have been like for the first Europeans who arrived in the area in the 1850s.
After pounding the pavement in town, reward your efforts with a taste of Childers’ modern history by sampling its winery trail, which includes Hill Of Promise Winery, Vintners Secret Vineyard, Ohana Winery and Exotic Fruits, and Brierley Wines.
Where to stay?
It comes as no surprise that the Garden City, Toowoomba, was discovered by a botanist. Englishmen Allan Cunningham laid claim to the 4 million acres which later became known as the Darling Downs in 1827.
However, it wasn’t ’til 13 years later when settlers arrived on the Downs that the settlement was established, making Toowoomba easily one of Queensland’s oldest settlements. In 1860 the town was declared a new municipality – and from there, the rest is history, upgrading to township status and later named Australia’s largest regional city.
It’s hard to believe when you see the urban sprawl of the city now, that in the early days, Toowoomba was carved up into the pastoral land. And it’s the pastoral precincts which are where most of the exciting stories took place.
For a dose of pioneering history, look no further than The Woolshed at Jondaryan, one of the oldest and largest operating woolsheds of its kind in the world
This site was home to four counts of gruesome murder, grappling poverty and a prickly pear plague – and then there are the shearers’ stories!
You can spend a day wandering around the Jondaryan remains to gain an appreciation of life on the land and understand what fuelled the fire behind Australia’s first shearers strike in 1849, which saw the original shearing shed burnt to the ground.
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Barcaldine is the kind of Outback town that is pretty quiet about its royal flush of Australian firsts and notable achievements.
For a start, it’s a town that brought the Labor Party to fruition, it outplays New Zealand when it comes to a sheep-to-population ratio, and was the also first town to discover artesian water. Not a bad effort for a town 1070km west of the capital, Brisbane.
What started as some shearers striking over their pay in 1891, quickly became the birthplace of the Labor Party under the leafy boughs of the Tree of Knowledge (a stop into the Australian Workers Heritage Centre will tell this story best if you’re passing through town).
So special is this location, the tree became protected on the Queensland Heritage Register. Even after the tree was poisoned in 2006, the government invested millions into a sculpture that now stands over the tree to commemorate its place.
But more than just a town with a famous tree, Barcaldine has some aqua with serious accolades too. Australia’s first artesian bore was found 35kms west of Barcaldine in 1887. You can find newspaper clippings in the Barcaldine and District Historical Museum that announce the discovery of the entire Great Artesian Basin.
All town water is artesian and the locals encourage visitors to try it. Did you know their water has won Queensland’s best tasting water awards two years in a row?
The best way to hear about this town’s history is direct from the mouth of a fourth-generation Barcaldinite aboard a heritage bus tour.
Make your first stop a visit to the ‘The Globe’, a historic pub which has been transformed into a world-class Visitor Information Centre and Art Gallery space.
From there, you can book in for their daily bus tour to discover why Barcaldine is worthy of a place on this list.
Where to stay:
- Barcaldine Country Motor Inn