Also known as Capricornia, the Central Queensland region is a largely coastal stretch of the state spanning roughly from Gladstone in the south to Mackay in the north, sometimes including Bowen (which is on the border of the North/Central Queensland regional map). Other towns and cities in CQ are Rockhampton, Biloela, the Whitsundays, and Mount Morgan.
The region is known for a variety of natural features—the Whitsundays contain 74 spectacular islands, including Hayman, Daydream, Lindeman, and Hamilton; while Rockhampton’s Fitzroy River is the second largest river system in the country—and key primary industries, including mining and agriculture (particularly beef and sugar-cane farming).
These two major elements of Central Queensland have made it both a popular tourist destination, and a significant economic contributor locally and nationally. As such, the region provides a diverse and noteworthy case study when it comes to charting Queensland style.
Places to Shop
Due to the large population and significant local industries in Central Queensland towns, the region has been home to a number of prominent retailers, including several department stores. Many of these pioneering businesses became the longest running of their kind in Queensland, even rivalling major national retailers for longevity.
Mackay’s high streets bustled with local drapers, outfitters, boutiques, and department stores in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century. Its first department store was Marsh & Webster, established in 1875. This impressive retail enterprise set the tone for the other businesses that followed it, with Lambert’s opening its doors in 1887. Mackay also had its own Beirne Department Store, (an offshoot of the famous Brisbane department store T.C Beirne) located on the central shopping street, Sydney Street. It opened in 1902, and was sadly destroyed by fire in 1969.
Both Marsh and Webster and Lambert’s provided consumers with a variety of goods, spanning groceries and hardware, furniture and confectionary through to women’s clothing, jewellery, shoes and millinery. Both built a reputation for personalised service that ingratiated them in to the local community. As such, they managed to survive in to the last quarter of the 20th century, despite massive changes to the retail sector and styles of consumption.
Marsh & Webster was sold in 1963 to David Jones, and finally closed its doors in 1981. Lambert’s faired better, and remained a retail fixture of the city until the year 2000. Another long-standing local business is P. Comino and Sons, an outfitters store that opened in 1932. ‘Comino’s’, as it is locally known, is still supplying work-wear and country clothing to Mackay residents.
Since the 1960s, Mackay’s retail scene has been dominated by shopping centres. The first, Mt. Pleasant, opened in 1964, and was followed in 1979 by Caneland Shopping Centre, the city’s largest. Both still serve the majority of Mackay consumers. Caneland was renovated in 2010, introducing a Myer department store, alongside Target and other chain stores, to the market.
Rockhampton (the second largest city in Central Queensland after Mackay) also had renowned shopping districts containing department stores, drapers, tailors, and boutiques. Rockhampton’s leading department store, James Stewart & Co, was founded in 1862. Remarkably, Stewart’s is still operating in its original location (in a building that was built in 1927), on the corner of East and Denham Streets in the city’s main shopping strip. This makes it Australia’s second oldest department store, after David Jones. Today, aside from Stewart’s, Rockhampton has 7 shopping centres, all of which include national major tenants and retail outlets such as Target and K-Mart.
Gold affected the fortunes of Central Queensland; towns like Mount Morgan have risen and fallen on the waves of gold rushes. Established in 1882, Mount Morgan quickly became an early central town of the region, and thanks to the fortunes of gold, had a growing shopping precinct to match. The town had its own branch of James Stewart and Co. from Rockhampton. In the early 20th century the main street played host to a variety of tailors, drapers, boot-makers and watchmakers. A newspaper article recounting a devastating fire in the main street of Mount Morgan, in 1939, lists 17 destroyed premises; among them were 9 fashion related businesses.
Design, Manufacture, and Production
Many of the aforementioned retailers also designed and produced their own clothing and accessories for local consumers, employing dressmakers, milliners, and tailors to supply local demand. In addition, the large number of drapers, and extensive drapery sections within department stores, allowed home-sewers, tailors and dressmakers to procure their own materials to make garments for themselves, or clients.
As a region known for its agricultural production, it’s not surprising that Central Queensland has played its part in the cotton industry. Biloela has been a cotton growing area since the late 1920s. This thirsty crop is irrigated with water from artesian bores. Rockhampton was home to the Australian Cotton Growing Association Ltd’s cotton store and ginnery, one of several cotton ginneries in the city. Here cotton from Biloela was transported by horse and cart (later by truck), to be processed in to clothing and other goods.
Due to the natural wonders of Central Queensland, tourism has been a key part of the economy here since the 1930s, when coastal shipping services and the North Coast railway facilitated travel to the region. Locals and tourists alike have flocked to the beaches, islands, mountains and rainforests of the district, and this predilection for leisure activities has in turned impacted fashion. Many photographs from the 1930s-60s focus on beach and swimwear, with styles changing rapidly across these decades.
In the 1930s, Eungella developed a reputation as a spectacular destination for tourists. The Eungella Chalet, still operating today, was built in 1933 and has traded on its restorative ‘clear mountain air’ and natural beauty. While tourism took off in these decades, earlier white settlers to the region have been taking advantage of coastal paradises since their arrival. An early example is Rockhampton’s Emu Park, which became a popular recreational spot in around 1869.
The agricultural strengths of the area have meant that local shows have been, and continue to be, major annual events in Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, and Bowen. Today the Mackay Show is the largest in the region, held across three days. A place for arts and crafts since its inception, the Art on Show exhibition and award is now a key feature of the show.
The town of Bowen claims the oldest Turf Club in the North of the state, established over 130 years ago, and the races have provided a key local sporting and social event since. The social life of Central Queensland has also embraced cinemas, theatres, and dances.
A popular dancing spot among teenagers in Mackay in the 1950s and 60s was the hall at Finch Hatton, where young revellers could be spotted in the latest youthful styles of the era. While the small suburb of Finch Hatton today has a population of only 260, it was once a thriving sugar cane farming area, connected by rail.
- 1919 'SOCIAL AND PERSONAL.', Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 1 March, p. 5 Edition: DAILY., viewed 6 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120428967
- 1924 'MESSRS. BEIRNE LIMITED, AT MACKAY.', Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 2 August, p. 9 Edition: DAILY., viewed 15 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118577196
- 1934 'BUILDING AT MACKAY.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 29 March, p. 23, viewed 15 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1184643
- 1939 'MT. MORGAN BLAZE.', Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), 13 December, p. 7, viewed 12 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62835540
- 1944 'LATE MR S. GRAY.', Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954), 24 July, p. 5, viewed 12 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56313406
- Cryle, D. "Regional Cinema", Queensland Historical Atlas, http://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/regional-cinema accessed 3 September 2013
- McDonald, L. 'Rhodes, Fred (1877–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rhodes-fred-8188/text14321, accessed 10 November 2013.
- MacFarlane, R. 2007. By any criterion : James Stewart & Co. a history of pioneers, Central Queensland and a unique Australian business. Yeppoon, Queensland, Robert MacFarlane.
- Nolan, J.G. 'Buss, Frederic William (1845–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buss-frederic-william-5440/text9235, accessed 10 November 2013.
- Queensland Places. "Biloela." http://queenslandplaces.com.au/biloela
- Queensland Places. "Bowen." http://queenslandplaces.com.au/bowen
- Queensland Places. "Gladstone" http://queenslandplaces.com.au/gladstone
- Queensland Places. "Mackay" http://queenslandplaces.com.au/mackay
- Queensland Places. "Mount Morgan" http://queenslandplaces.com.au/mountmorgan
Published in Issue 7, on November 19, 2013.