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7 historic Queensland towns to explore

Queensland is a state steeped in history, and visiting one of its many historic towns is the best way to feel the past come to life around you.

Walk among heritage-listed buildings, hear stories from locals that date back generations, uncover century-old mysteries, and take a journey back in time visiting lovingly restored homesteads, relics and museums.

These historic Queensland towns promise to leave you an expert in Queensland’s unique story.

Ipswich

The second-oldest local government in Queensland, Ipswich is only forty minutes’ drive from Brisbane, but has a rich history all of its own.

A visit to Ipswich will reveal a town kept in somewhat of a time capsule, with heritage buildings, a grand park, and a booming city scape to support its growing population.

The city’s historic heart is Queens Park – Queensland’s oldest park, first surveyed in 1842. The 26 hectare park was designed by Walter Hill, who also designed the Brisbane Botanic gardens. The park has retained much of its old world charm and in it 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. Opened as the Ipswich Municipal Incinerator in 1936, it is now a heritage-listed theatre.

Ipswich is the birthplace of Queensland’s rail history. 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 former workshop is now a railway buff’s haven, and celebrates the 200 locomotives that have been constructed here.

And Ipswich’s history and heritage comes alive in the Ipswich Antiques Centre.

Where to stay:

Maryborough

Maryborough Heritage Centre | Take a trip down memory lane in these 7 heritage towns in Queensland

Nestled between the northern reaches of the Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay sits Maryborough, a town known for its historical buildings and Queenslander-style houses.

Dating back to 1847, Maryborough’s claim to fame is its connection with Mary Poppins’ author, PL Travers. Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough in 1899. Visit the bronze statue in the Maryborough City Hall Visitor Information Centre, the only significant acknowledgement of Travers that exists in Australia.

But this unique literary connection is only the start of Maryborough’s historical intrigue.

Maryborough’s port was used as the major entry point for immigrants from all over the world in the nineteenth century. Step back in time at the Portside Heritage Gateway where you can experience early life in Maryborough when it was a thriving river port.

Maryborough was the only town in Australia to be 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 may meet their ghosts and more in the historical Maryborough Cemetery.

Make the most of your time on the Fraser Coast with this list of things to do in the area.

Where to stay:

  • Maryborough Caravan and Tourist Park

Charters Towers

Charters Towers | Take a trip down memory lane in these 7 heritage towns in Queensland

Home of Queensland’s gold rush beginnings, Charters Towers is a historic town brimming with adventure and old-world charm, and only a 90 minute drive inland from Townsville.

Charters Towers became a household name in 1871 after a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy, Jupiter Mosman, discovered gold at the base of Towers Hill, and a great mining boom began.

Since then, over 200 tonne of gold has been uncovered in Charters Towers and the town remains a thriving monument to its rich heritage as a goldfield.

The best way to experience the history and heritage of Charters Towers is a walking or bus tour of the town centre, which both take off from the Visitor Information Centre on Mosman Street.

These tours explore Charters’ main streets and lovingly restored heritage buildings, opulent arcades which were used gold auctioning sites, and Tower Hill where gold was first discovered.

Take a step back into the past at the Zara Clark Museum and The Miner’s Cottage. And, to experience the rush of the gold fields first hand, visit the Venus Gold Battery, a relic of Charters Towers history, which crushed gold and other minerals for over a century (1872–1973). Today, it’s a favourite spot with visitors with 3D videos and sound effects to demonstrate the process of extracting gold from ore.

Looking to stay a while? This list of 10 things to do in Charters Towers has more historical things to do.

Where to stay:

Charleville

The story of Queendland’s history is hard to tell without Charleville. This bustling country town eight hours’ drive inland from Bundaberg was home to 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 left the town forever changed, 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, and the company went into liquidation. Today, this vibrant time in the history of Charleville is still evident wherever you turn.

But this isn’t the only time in the town’s past worth exploring. The Charleville airport was a secret military site in World War II, and you can visit this spot in your own vehicle on a Top Secret World War II tour.

Photo by @rnrwanderers

Visit the Charleville historic house museum, a building whose history dates back to 1887 when it was the town’s first national bank. It’s now a museum where you can find historical treasures dating back to 1800.

Looking for more things to see and do in Charleville? Here’s a guide to spending 48 hours in the historic outback town.

Where to stay:

Childers

Childers | Take a trip down memory lane in these 7 heritage towns in Queensland

To visit a town which has its own heritage listing, make a detour from the coastline to stop in at the North Burnett character-filled town of Childers.

A walk under the shady leopard trees reveals perfectly preserved colonial buildings. And 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 a listing too.

A self-guided walk along the main street or historical bus tour is the ideal way to experience what it would have been like for the first Europeans who arrived in the area in the 1850s.

Childers’ delights go well beyond architecture – sample a taste of Childers’ modern history by visiting the winery trail, which includes Hill Of Promise Winery, Vintners Secret Vineyard, Ohana Winery and Exotic Fruits, and Brierley Wines.

Stay a little longer, with this guide to things to do around Bundaberg.

Where to stay?

Toowoomba

Toowoomba | Take a trip down memory lane in these 7 heritage towns in Queensland

Known as the Garden City, Toowoomba, was fittingly 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 one of Queensland’s oldest settlements, and the perfect sport to start exploring Southern Queensland. 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 in these pastoral precincts that most of the region’s exciting stories took place.

Toowoomba | Historic Towns in Queensland

Photo by @sqcountry

To experience Toowoomba’s pioneering history for yourself, visit 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, poverty and a prickly pear plague. Stay on site as you soak up 160 years of history, with caravan, cabin, and pet-friendly camping accommodation available, and wander the Jondaryan remains to gain an appreciation of life on the land and hear the story of Australia’s first shearers strike in 1849, which saw the original shearing shed burn to the ground.

Looking for more history and heritage in Toowoomba? Here’s a guide to spending 48 hours in town.

Where to stay:

Barcaldine

Barcaldine is a Queensland Outback town that is humble about its notable past, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll uncover a wealth of Australian firsts and notable achievements.

The town was the home of the Labor Party, it outplays New Zealand when it comes to a sheep-to-population ratio, and was the also first town to discover artesian water. Not bad for a town 1070km west of the capital, Brisbane.

The town was the birthplace of the Australian Labour Party. A shearing strike over pay in 1891 was the genesis for the Labor Party, which was said to be born 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 and memorial that now stands over the tree to commemorate its place.

But Barcaldine’s place in history doesn’t end here. 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.

The town’s water is artesian and visitors are encouraged to try it – the water has won Queensland’s best tasting water awards.

Make your first stop a visit to ‘The Globe’, a historic pub which has been transformed into a world-class Visitor Information Centre and Art Gallery space. Hear the town’s history straight from the mouth a fourth-generation Barcaldine resident aboard a heritage bus tour.

Where to stay:

  • Barcaldine Country Motor Inn