Darling Downs

TFA’s People & Places is your road-map to the key sites, figures, and scenes that have shaped fashion in Queensland from the late 19th century onwards. In Issue Five we take you to the Darling Downs.

Palmerin Street, Warwick, ca. 1940John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 421921

The Darling Downs, with its cool climate and rich pastures, has been known as the ‘Garden of Queensland’. Indeed, the fertile soils on the western slopes of Great Dividing Range have made it one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions. Pioneer Patrick Leslie was the first European settler on the Downs in 1840, opening a sheep station there in 1846, and the lure of bountiful grazing land proved strong for squatters, who profited well from pastoral activities and established a number of impressive homesteads. Gold was discovered in the mid 19th century, but it was always agricultural industries, including wool and cotton, that carried the region’s wealth.

Its commercial centre and largest city, Toowoomba, lies just over 130km west of Brisbane. Other major towns include Stanthorpe—known for its apples and dairy produce—Warwick, Roma, Oakey, Chinchilla, Dalby and Goondiwindi. The region is well connected to the coastal centres along the east of Australia, with the Queensland Rail network and three major highways on the national link running through the Downs.

The lush and picturesque environs of the Darling Downs have long provided a romantic scene for tourism, art and literature. This natural beauty, coupled with attractive and thriving towns, have made the Downs a vibrant backdrop for local fashion.

Places to Shop

The major towns of the Darling Downs offered some exemplary shopping experiences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Two department stores are standouts of this period, and some of the most successful in Queensland’s retail history: Pigott & Co. in Toowoomba and Barnes & Co. in Warwick.

Barnes & Co. was among Queensland’s largest and most established general merchants of its time, and was a household name. Trading since 1880 as a produce firm, the company opened its ‘Emporium’ in 1883, containing numerous specialised departments that sold everything from “a needle to an anchor”. The clothing and drapery department offered a diverse range of fashion goods, including a large selection of ready-to-wear clothing, hosiery and accessories, the latest in imported dress fabrics and haberdashery, as well as made-to-order millinery. One newspaper reporting on shopping in Warwick described Barnes & Co. in great detail, and noted that “select, high-class styles, excellent taste, and very moderate prices are the leading features of the dressmaking department”.1 Other reports focused on the quality of the Emporium building: among the ‘superior’ shop-fittings described in one newspaper article was a ‘roomy little caboose’ made of glass for showcasing millinery.2 This was later trumped by the Barnes & Co. ‘Trade Palace’—an even more luxurious department store that opened in 1911 on the corner of Palmerin and King Streets in Warwick. The building is a good model of Australian department store architecture of the period, boasting a large glass frontage, impressive electrical lighting, elevators, and custom-fitted counters made from a variety of Queensland woods.

Pigott & Co. was a fixture of Darling Downs retail for 87 years. Having established a drapery store in Brisbane close to a decade prior M.D. Pigott opened his first store in Toowoomba on Russell Street in 1896 and relocated to Ruthven Street the following year. Growth and expansion was a key feature of the Pigott business: the Toowoomba store doubled in size in 1910, following a fire that tragically destroyed the recently remodelled store in 1909, and new stores were established in the Queensland towns of Boonah, Beaudesert, Chinchilla, Pittsworth, Dalby and Warwick. Other country towns were able to access the store’s extensive mail-order service—it was one of the largest in Australia and provided free postage to any railway station.

The Toowoomba and Warwick branches of Pigott & Co. boasted some of the largest retail premises outside the metropolis. Pigott’s ‘The Model Store’ in Warwick advertised direct imports of Japanese silks and French muslins, a great variety and quality of men’s and women’s clothing, a reputable milliner, and a well-staffed tailoring department that made use of tailors and facilities in the larger Toowoomba store. The Pigott Christmas window displays were a major spectacle, and delighted passersby in Toowoomba and Warwick.

In 1962, the Toowoomba store met with competition from new arrival, Myer, and added significant extensions to the premises (including a new food hall to rival the Myer cafeteria). Metropolitan influence eventually won out to this successfully provincial business, however; in 1983, Pigotts in Toowoomba was sold to the Brisbane department store McDonnell and East.

Design, Manufacture & Production

Sheep farming has been central to the development of the Darling Downs. The early European settlers set up sheep stations in many parts of the region. In particular, the Downs built a reputation for producing high-quality merino wool—a soft and fine variety used widely in textiles.

For a short time, the Leslie family property at Canning Downs saw the introduction of llamas in 1857. This was a response to the reduced value of wool at auction, and the comparative success of other fibres like mohair on the European market. Ultimately however, the llama never beat the tried and tested success of the merino.

Cotton has been another highly successful crop of the fertile Downs, and its export potential was recognised early on in the region’s settlement.

Fashion Scenes

The relationship between agriculture and fashion in the Darling Downs doesn’t start and end with textiles manufacture. Indeed, the region has cultivated a poetic association between what is grown and what is worn.

In the 1930s, the Courier Mail was quick to pick up on the symbiotic relationship between floral flocks and floral scenery in its numerous reports on fashion at the Toowoomba races. Fashion parades were an annual New Year’s Day event at Clifford Park racecourse, and attracted Brisbane and country visitors alike. Reports of the events suggest that the display of dahlias, roses, chrysanthemums and carnations provided inspiration for many of the garments on show. Toowoomba’s annual Carnival of Flowers (running since 1949) has also provided a vibrant backdrop for swimsuit fashion parades.

Stanthorpe’s famous apple orchards were similarly inspiration for local style. In the 1950s, the town’s Apple Blossom Ball crowned the Miss Apple Blossom Queen ‘Miss Orchardist’.

An opinion piece appearing in Queensland Country Life in 1940 urged the Australian Wool Board to consider Toowoomba and Warwick as sites for staging wool publicity events, such as fashion parades. The piece argued that Toowoomba and Warwick shouldn’t be made to suffer from the Board’s blanket exclusion of country venues for shows and displays, because they are important social hotspots as well as significant centres of wool production. Highlighting the Darling Down’s fashionable assets, including a ‘brisk climate’, abounding tourist attractions and carnival atmosphere, the writer persuades that “there does not seem any good reason why Toowoomba, for instance, should not be the mecca, at least once a year, for the dictators and followers of fashion in all the eastern states”. 3

 

Patrick Leslie Christening Gown and Slippers, ca. 1815, (Miegunyah Collection)
Patrick Leslie Christening Gown and Slippers, ca. 1815, (Miegunyah Collection)The Fashion Archives
Apples from sunny Queensland are used in the Stanthorpe District Exhibit at the Brisbane Show, undated
Apples from sunny Queensland are used in the Stanthorpe District Exhibit at the Brisbane Show, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 140185
Elegantly dressed ladies and small child watching Winstead Falls flowing through granite rocks north of Stanthorpe, 1909
Elegantly dressed ladies and small child watching Winstead Falls flowing through granite rocks north of Stanthorpe, 1909John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 24239
Interior of Messrs. Alexander and Munro's store Toowoomba, 1897
Interior of Messrs. Alexander and Munro's store Toowoomba, 1897John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 203825
Barnes & Company Ltd. in Warwick, ca.1920
Barnes & Company Ltd. in Warwick, ca.1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 2332
Fashion showroom inside Pigott & Co., Toowoomba, Queensland, ca. 1920-1929
Fashion showroom inside Pigott & Co., Toowoomba, Queensland, ca. 1920-1929Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Pigott & Co., Toowoomba, Queensland, 1936
Pigott & Co., Toowoomba, Queensland, 1936Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Pigott's mail order room, Toowoomba, ca 1922
Pigott's mail order room, Toowoomba, ca 1922Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Wool classing at Jimbour Shed on the Darling Downs, ca. 1907
Wool classing at Jimbour Shed on the Darling Downs, ca. 1907John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 194885
Fete held in the grounds of Jimbour House, Darling Downs, 1925
Fete held in the grounds of Jimbour House, Darling Downs, 1925John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 7650
Toowoomba Clothing Company, ca. 1940
Toowoomba Clothing Company, ca. 1940Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Shade house at a Toowoomba residence, ca. 1889
Shade house at a Toowoomba residence, ca. 1889John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 138763
Grandstand at Clifford Park, Toowoomba, ca. 1925
Grandstand at Clifford Park, Toowoomba, ca. 1925John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 255383
Grand day out at the Toowoomba Show, 1941
Grand day out at the Toowoomba Show, 1941Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Duke and Duchess of Yorks visit to Warwick, 1927
Duke and Duchess of Yorks visit to Warwick, 1927John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 49214
Patrick Leslie, ca. 1875
Patrick Leslie, ca. 1875 John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 9895
Mrs William Norman Leslie (wife of Patrick Leslie's only son), ca. 1880
Mrs William Norman Leslie (wife of Patrick Leslie's only son), ca. 1880John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 45530
Viewing the stump of the tree under which the Leslies camped, Canning Downs station, Warwick district, ca. 1938
Viewing the stump of the tree under which the Leslies camped, Canning Downs station, Warwick district, ca. 1938John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 202716
Mrs Percy Howe in costume for a theatre production by the Stanthorpe Amateur Company, undated
Mrs Percy Howe in costume for a theatre production by the Stanthorpe Amateur Company, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 140673
Maryland Street, Stanthorpe, ca. 1937
Maryland Street, Stanthorpe, ca. 1937John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 191333
Two women at a W.A.A.A.F. function, Toowoomba, ca. 1943
Two women at a W.A.A.A.F. function, Toowoomba, ca. 1943Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Pigott & Co. cricket team, Toowoomba, 1907-1909
Pigott & Co. cricket team, Toowoomba, 1907-1909
Refuelling at Elvery's Motor Garage, Toowoomba, Queensland, ca 1925-1930
Refuelling at Elvery's Motor Garage, Toowoomba, Queensland, ca 1925-1930Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Ruthven Street, Toowoomba, ca. 1910
Ruthven Street, Toowoomba, ca. 1910Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Margaret Street, Toowoomba, 1909
Margaret Street, Toowoomba, 1909Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Ladies cricket team, Toowoomba, Queensland, 1928
Ladies cricket team, Toowoomba, Queensland, 1928Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Michael Slattery in Stanthorpe, 1872
Michael Slattery in Stanthorpe, 1872John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 140907
Lady Lamington with a cockatoo, Toowoomba, ca. 1899
Lady Lamington with a cockatoo, Toowoomba, ca. 1899John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 171799
Bottle tree near Roma, ca. 1877
Bottle tree near Roma, ca. 1877John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 239110
Women in riding habits seated sidesaddle at the Warwick Showgrounds, 1940
Women in riding habits seated sidesaddle at the Warwick Showgrounds, 1940John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 193285
Barnes & Company in Allora, ca. 1918
Barnes & Company in Allora, ca. 1918John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 189445
Pigott & Co. Ltd. General Store in Warwick, ca. 1908
Pigott & Co. Ltd. General Store in Warwick, ca. 1908John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 12214
Pigott & Co. staff, Ruthven Street store, Toowoomba, Queensland, 1927
Pigott & Co. staff, Ruthven Street store, Toowoomba, Queensland, 1927
Thomas Merrys general drapery mens clothing millinery and fancy goods store, Stanthorpe ca. 1873
Thomas Merrys general drapery mens clothing millinery and fancy goods store, Stanthorpe ca. 1873John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 20331
Landy and Browns Queensland Stores in Dalby, ca. 1890
Landy and Browns Queensland Stores in Dalby, ca. 1890John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 64455
James Teague's tailor shop on Chinchilla Street during the floods of 1921-22
James Teague's tailor shop on Chinchilla Street during the floods of 1921-22John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 4498
Employees outside W. G. Johnson & Son Drapery Store, Warwick, ca. 1910
Employees outside W. G. Johnson & Son Drapery Store, Warwick, ca. 1910John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 96371
Staff photograph of A.C.B., Toowoomba, 1929
Staff photograph of A.C.B., Toowoomba, 1929Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Annand Brothers, Toowoomba, ca. 1930
Annand Brothers, Toowoomba, ca. 1930Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
McKinney's Barber Shop, Toowoomba, undated
McKinney's Barber Shop, Toowoomba, undatedLocal History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Staff of Cramond and Stark drapery, corner of Ruthven Street and Margaret Street, Toowoomba, Queensland, ca. 1917
Staff of Cramond and Stark drapery, corner of Ruthven Street and Margaret Street, Toowoomba, Queensland, ca. 1917Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library
Alexander & Munro, Drapers, Toowoomba, ca. 1894
Alexander & Munro, Drapers, Toowoomba, ca. 1894John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 6795
Two women standing in front of the dressmakers shop operated by Mrs Corbett, Pittsworth, ca. 1903
Two women standing in front of the dressmakers shop operated by Mrs Corbett, Pittsworth, ca. 1903John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 20
1 1901 ‘SOME OF THE BUSINESS ESTABLISHMENTS.’, The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), 30 March, p. 611, viewed 16 October, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21255056
2 1883 ‘Messrs. G. P. Barnes and Co.’s New Premises.’, Warwick Argus (Qld. : 1879 – 1901), 1 December, p. 2, viewed 16 October, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75654469
3 1940 ‘WOOL PUBLICITY ON THE DOWNS.’, Queensland Country Life (Qld. : 1900 – 1954), 8 February, p. 8, viewed 18 October, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97059490
The Fashion Archives' Reading List:

Published in , on October 22, 2013.