Toowoomba (nicknamed ‘The Garden City’) is a city in the Darling Downs region of Queensland. It is located 127 km west of Brisbane. It has an estimated district population of 157,699. A university and cathedral city, Toowoomba hosts the Australian Carnival of Flowers each September. There are more than 150 public parks and gardens in Toowoomba. It has developed into a regional centre for business and government services. It is also the provincial capital of the Darling Downs.
It is the sixteenth-largest city in Australia, the sixth largest in Queensland, after Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Townsville and Cairns, as well as being the most populous inland city in Queensland. Toowoomba is also the most populous inland non-capital city in the entire country and is the second most populous inland city overall, after the national capital, Canberra.
Toowoomba’s colonial history traces back to 1816 when English botanist and explorer, Allan Cunningham arrived in Australia from Brazil and in June 1827 discovered 4 million acres of rich farming and grazing land, which became known as the Darling Downs, bordered on the east by the Great Dividing Range and situated 160 km west of the settlement of Moreton Bay. Thirteen years later, when George and Patrick Leslie established Toolburra Station 90 km south-west of Toowoomba, the first settlers arrived on the Downs and established a township of bark-slab shops called The Springs which was soon renamed Drayton. Land for the town was first surveyed in 1849, then again in 1853.
Towards the end of the 1840’s, 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 true founder of Toowoomba, despite the fact that he was not the first man to live there. 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. Governor Bowen granted the wish of locals 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 won. The railway from Ipswich was opened in 1867, bringing with it business development. In 1892, the Under Secretary of Public Land proclaimed Toowoomba and the surrounding areas as a township and in 1904 Toowoomba was declared a city. Pastoralism replaced agriculture and dairying by the 1900’s.
Toowoomba was named as Australia’s Tidiest Town in 2008.
Toowoomba is situated on the crest of the Great Dividing Range, around 700 metres above sea level. A few streets are on the eastern side of the edge of the range, but most of the city is west of the divide. The City occupies the edge of the range and the low ridges behind it. Two valleys run north from the southern boundary, each arising from springs either side of Middle Ridge near Spring Street at an altitude of around 680m. These waterways, East Creek and West Creek flow together just north of the CBD to form Gowrie Creek.
Gowrie Creek drains to the west across the Darling Downs and is a tributary of the Condamine River, part of the Murray–Darling basin. The water flowing down Gowrie Creek makes its way some 3,000 km to the mouth of the Murray River near Adelaide in South Australia. Rain which falls on the easternmost streets of Toowoomba flows east to Moreton Bay a distance of around 170 km.
The rich volcanic soil in the region helps maintain the 150 public parks that are scattered across the city. Jacaranda, camphor laurel and plane trees line many of the city streets. The city’s reputation as ‘The Garden City’ is highlighted during the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers festival held in September each year. Deciduous trees from around the world line many of the parks, giving a display of autumn colour.
Toowoomba has a subtropical highland climate with warm summers and mild winters and it enjoys four distinct seasons. Daily maximum temperatures in Toowoomba average 28 °C in summer and 17 °C in winter. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the highest temperature ever recorded in Toowoomba was 39.5 °C, while the lowest was −4.4 °C. Winter temperatures seldom go below freezing; however in a situation unique among Queensland cities, snow has been reported on the higher parts of the city on rare occasions. Light frost will be experienced several nights each winter in the city centre, more often in the western suburbs.
Average annual rainfall, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, is 723 millimetres. Rainfall in the eastern suburbs along the Great Dividing Range nudges 1,000 mm per year. The majority of Toowoomba’s rain falls from November to March, with January and February being the peak rainy months. Like most of south-east Queensland, severe thunderstorms can be a threat and Toowoomba may occasionally be affected by ex-tropical cyclones.
On 10 January 2011, Toowoomba experienced a catastrophic flash flood event. Unusually heavy rainfall had occurred in the preceding days, causing the city’s waterways to become swollen. Around midday, an intense storm moved in from the northeast, completely overwhelming East Creek and West Creek which run through the CBD. 149.6 mm fell in one day with rainfall peaking at 144mm/h over one 10-minute interval.
The flood caused damage to properties and infrastructure, and resulted in the deaths of 2 people in Toowoomba and a further 20 people in the nearby Lockyer Valley.
Architecture and heritage
Toowoomba’s history has been preserved in its buildings. Examples of architecture drawing from the city’s wealthy beginnings include Toowoomba City Hall which was Queensland’s first purpose-built town hall, the National Trust Royal Bull’s Head Inn and many examples in the heritage-listed Russell Street. Immediately to the east of the CBD is the Caledonian Estate, an area of turn-of-the-20th-century housing, ranging from humble workers cottages to large stately homes, in the classic wooden Queenslander style.
Toowoomba is also home to the Empire Theatre, which was originally opened in June 1911, as a silent movie house. In February 1933, fire broke out, almost completely destroying the building however the Empire was rebuilt and reopened in November 1933.
The architectural styling of the new Empire Theatre was art deco, in keeping with the trend of the 1930’s. After years of neglect, the Empire Theatre was extensively renovated in the late 1990’s, but retains much of its art deco architecture and decorations, especially the proscenium arch. Able to seat approximately 1,500 people, the Empire Theatre is now the largest regional theatre in Australia.
The City also is home to the Cobb & Co Museum, hailing to the famous mail company’s beginnings as a small mail run in the 1800’s to transport mail and passengers to Brisbane and beyond. It also houses Australia’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles. The museum underwent an A$8 million redevelopment before reopening in September 2010.
Toowoomba has many heritage-listed sites, with over fifty on the Queensland Heritage Register in addition to listings on other local heritage registers.