Toowoomba – Australia’s second largest inland city after Canberra – is all too often missed by grey nomads taking their Big Lap … and that’s a blooming shame.
The Garden City, as it’s known, sits 700 metres above sea level on the crest of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland’s much-loved Darling Downs region.
As well as its location in a remarkably beautiful part of the country, it boasts stunning parks, a rich heritage, superb markets, a thriving arts scene … and that really is just the start.
The city has a population of around 170,000 and lies 125 kilometres west of Brisbane along the Warrego Highway.
The first European known to have arrived in the area was English botanist Alan Cunningham in 1827, and the rich pastoral lands he found ensured many others followed in the subsequent decades. This led to conflict with local indigenous tribes.
One of the most famous clashes was the Battle of One Tree Hill which took place near Toowoomba.
In September 1843, a large group of squatters with three drays pulled by 50 bullocks were attacked by 100 indigenous men led by the warrior, Multuggerah. A memorial plaque to Multuggerah, recognising the defence of a site of spiritual significance of his people, has been erected at Duggan Park.
European settlers continued to arrive though, and the railway reached Toowoomba in 1867, and banks, a court house, and churches were built as the settlement grew.
Toowoomba’s history has been preserved in the gracious buildings which line its wide and elegant streets. Highlights include the Toowoomba City Hall, the court house, post office, several churches built in the late 19th century, and some memorable historic houses including Vacy Hall, Clifford House, and the Smithfield Homestead.
Also not to be missed are the Empire Theatre which opened in 1911, and the National Trust-operated Royal Bull’s Head Inn which was built in 1847. History buffs will not want to miss a visit to the Cobb & Co Museum which traces the iconic mail company’s history, and that of horse-drawn transportation in Australia. The museum houses Australia’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles.
For all of its history though, this is known as the Garden City for a reason. There are some 150 parks and gardens in the city limit, including Queens Park and the magnificent Botanical Gardens.
The big floral celebration though is the annual monthlong Carnival of Flowers featuring stunning parades, sideshows, food tours, live music … and the nearly 200,000 spectacularly blooming plants.
While Toowoomba’s roots are very much in agriculture, it has grown to become a sophisticated tourist destination with great cafes, restaurants, shops, and a really arty heart. The city’s giant outdoor art gallery is centred in Neil Street where there are 50-plus murals.
As you would expect for a city of its size there are a number of good van parks here, and some superb camping areas in the surrounding area, including those at Lake Cressbrook, Bowenville Reserve, and Yarramalong Weir Reserve.
As mentioned earlier, this is a city which sits in some stunning countryside and a great place to get some context is at Picnic Point where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Great Dividing Range and the Lockyer Valley. The landscape is dominated by jaw-dropping Tabletop Mountain – previously known as One Tree Hill.
Like the city itself, it is an experience that will live long in the memory.