June 16, 2020

Early Settlers Of Toowoomba

Compared to many of the largest cities around Australia, Toowoomba is relatively young.

But there’s still plenty of history to uncover in the Garden City – let’s take a look back through the eyes of our early settlers.

40,000 years of Indigenous history

Long before explorers set foot on what is now known as Australia, Indigenous Australians populated this sunburnt country. The Jagera, Giabal and Jarowair people lived in the Darling Downs for thousands of years before European arrivals.

It’s believed that approximately 1,500 to 2,000 Indigenous people lived in and around the Toowoomba region before European settlers arrived. While the Jagara and Jarowair people lived in the foothills and towards the Bunya Mountains, the Giabal people spent most of their time in what is now Toowoomba.

Local Indigenous people were said to be known for their technique of hunting by burning the grasslands. They also took part in the Bunya Nut Festival every few years, where Indigenous communities who spoke up to 14 dialects convened to celebrate and eat the nuts in a huge gathering.

While relationships with the white settlers were initially calm, tensions peaked in 1843 with the battle of One-Tree Hill that took place on Table Top Mountain. In addition to battles with settlers, smallpox and forced relocations had sadly all but decimated local Indigenous populations by the 1870s.

The explorations of Allan Cunningham

Famed botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham played a very important part in Toowoomba’s history – while he’s rarely recognised as a true founder of Toowoomba and the wider region, he is able to claim the discovery of the Darling Downs in 1827.

Not one to rest on his laurels, he continued exploring and found himself in what is today called Cunningham’s Gap just a year later. Then he was back in his home country of England by 1831 to study his collections and specimens.

The establishment of Drayton

In terms of the formation of the Toowoomba township, Cunningham is but a footnote in its history. Two other men – Patrick Leslie and Thomas Alford – played a much more crucial role in our Garden City’s expansion.

In 1840, Leslie and his party of explorers began to settle the Darling Downs in earnest. They set up the Toolburra Station about 90 kilometres southwest of Toowoomba, which started the influx of more settlers keen to make their mark on this special part of the country.

Thomas Alford was one such arrival, and he came armed with some big ideas. With a nose for business, he helped create a thriving settlement called ‘The Springs’, which would later be renamed as Drayton. Alford is commonly referred to as Toowoomba’s first businessman, with his trading post acting as a hotspot for entrepreneurs and tradesmen to move to the area.

Thanks to Alford, the Darling Downs’ first post office officially opened on the first day of 1846.

William Horton: The ‘real founder’ of Toowoomba

Ask any local about the founding father of Toowoomba and you’ll invariably get the same response: “The bloke who built the Royal Bull’s Head Inn!”

The inn was originally William Horton’s popular hotel in Drayton. However, the ex-convict’s business was so successful that in 1859 it was expanded into the Royal Bull’s Head Inn, which is still standing and open to visitors to this day.

You’ll struggle to find anywhere in the Darling Downs with as much historical significance as Horton’s inn – so much so that it’s been in the hands of the National Trust of Queensland for more than four decades.

Thinking about settling in Toowoomba?

From the Giabal people to an ex-convict hotelier, Toowoomba’s history is rich and varied.

Interested in making yourself part of the fabric of Toowoomba? There are so many spectacular suburbs to live in, so find your dream home today by contacting an experienced local agent.

Article by Jacqui Walker

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