North Queensland is a region of the state located on the East-Coast, with Far North, North West, Central West and Central Queensland surrounding its informal regional borders. North Queensland’s largest city is Townsville, established in 1864 and located 1150km north of the capital, Brisbane. Townsville also ranks as Queensland’s largest city after Brisbane and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Other North Queensland towns include Ayr, Charters Towers, Ingham, Thuringowa and Home Hill, as well as popular tourist destination Magnetic Island.
The North Queensland region has been known as a centre for industries including farming (sugar cane and cattle in particular) and mining, as well as for United States and Australian military bases in and around Townsville since the 1960s. North Queensland has a reputation for extreme climatic conditions and weather events including regular cyclones and flooding. The region is not typically associated with fashion and dress. However, the area’s large population and economic strength due to industries such as mining (the discovery of gold in the region in the 19th century brought substantial early wealth), have at various times produced vibrant shopping districts and fashion scenes.
Places to Shop
In the late 19th century the major North Queensland towns of Charters Towers and Townsville were undergoing rapid expansion in terms of population and industrial growth. With this development also came shopping hubs, including local drapers, outfitters and even arcades. And though smaller towns, such as Ingham and Ayr, had their own local dressmakers, tailors, draperies, and the occasional franchise of a city department store, the major towns of Townsville and Charters Towers provided greater access and greater choice when it came to clothing retail.
Thriving on the back of a Gold rush, Charters Towers was a major financial centre during the late 1800s. It opened a Stock Exchange, the only one of its kind outside of a capital city at the time. Its peak population of 27,000 made Charters Towers the state’s biggest city outside of the capital, Brisbane. While Charters Towers is no longer the regional financial centre (its current population is approximately 8000) reminders of the city’s former grandeur remain. The Stock Exchange took up residence in the local shopping arcade, known as The Royal, which originally opened in 1888. The arcade was a grand building at the height of fashion in its day; a time when shopping arcades sprung up in Paris and London as the dominant model for refined consumption. Now known as The Stock Exchange Arcade, the building is maintained by The National Trust as a rare example of an arcade in Queensland.
Charters Towers was also home to local independent stores including drapers, such as George Jenkins, who operated in the late 1800s, and country outfitters store W. Titley and Co., a later addition. Established in 1926 by the Titley family, the store still continues to be operated by contemporary generations in the same building on Gill Street in the town centre. Another significant shopping establishment was introduced by the Arida brothers, Joseph Dominique and Richard Dominique, who came to Queensland from Lebanon in the 1880s. After a failed business in Brisbane, they set up a drapery in Charters Towers that continued well into the first half of the 20th century. In the late 19th century the Arida business expanded to include stores in other Queensland towns, such as Winton, Collinsville, Hughenden, Normanton, and Cloncurry. Their enterprise also incorporated mail-order services.In present-day Charters Towers local stores such as W. Titley & Co. exist alongside larger Australian retail giants like Target Country.
In 1913, one of Townsville’s most prominent stores was Lennon’s Drapers & Footwear Importer. Located on Flinders Street (still one of Townsville’s main shopping districts) Lennon’s was a large-scale department store-style shopping destination stocking men and women’s clothing, along with haberdashery, footwear, and millinery. Lennon’s also had a smaller location in Ayr’s Queen Street; its main shopping strip. One hundred years later, in 2013, Townsville saw its first Myer open within its major shopping centre, Stockland. This shift towards large-scale Australian retail chains and stand-alone air-conditioned shopping centres aptly signifies the general move away from the business model that made stores like Lennon’s successful in their time.
While online shopping is thought to be a recent transformation in the ability of remote Australia to access the latest fashions, mail order was a booming trade in the late 19th and throughout a large portion of the 20th century. Most major department stores—including Brisbane’s McWhirters and Finney Isles & Co. and Townsville’s Lennon’s—offered a mail order service, thus connecting remote Queenslanders to goods and services regardless of their location.
Design, Manufacture and Production
From the late 19th century up until the mid-to-late 20th century, small, independent dressmakers and tailors were common in North Queensland, with fabrics supplied by local haberdashery stores or fabric departments within larger establishments. Such materials were generally imported, but transformed into a custom garment for a local client. Dressmakers and tailors would frequently advertise their services in local newspapers.
It was common for Brisbane department stores like Finney Isles & Co. to send their own dressmakers to regional towns on special visits where they would receive clientele for fittings, and also showcase supplementary items (such as millinery or footwear) from the store. Often these dressmakers would stay in a local hotel and set up a room as a kind of salon to welcome local women. These trips would be announced in newspapers such as The Townsville Daily Bulletin or The Northern Miner (Charters Towers).
While the majority of Queensland wool production has centred around the Central West, South West, and Darling Downs regions, Charters Towers was home to the New North Australian Worsted and Woollen Mills Ltd, established in the 1920s. Farming industries such as sugar dominated North Queensland towns, in particular Ingham. Such industries were driven by men, who overwhelmingly outnumbered women until well into the 20th century. Men’s workwear was supplied by local outfitters who generally imported their wares from Brisbane, interstate, and overseas.
Cinemas, theatres, the races, country shows, and balls have all been significant social scenes in regional Queensland. A visit to the local theatre was a regular social outing in North Queensland towns, and theatres such as Ingham’s ‘Kelly’ and Ayr’s ‘Delta’ were key meeting places. The Delta Theatre officially opened with a bachelors’ ball in 1910 and remained a central performance venue for local theatre groups and social events. It is also thought to be one of the first in Queensland to show ‘talking pictures.’
The Queensland cinema partnership of Birch, Carroll and Coyle, established in the 1920s, led to a suite of theatres being built throughout the state. At this time a number of ‘Wintergarden Tropical Theatres’ were established in towns such as Ipswich and Rockhampton, with Townsville soon following. Designed with cool comfort in mind, such environments promoted the cinema as a leisurely social pursuit, and brought glamorous big-screen styles to regional towns.
Country shows have also been mainstays of the social calendar in North Queensland since the late 19th century. The Townsville Show was established in the 1880s and remains a major local event in the 21st century. As they did in the past, most country shows continue to feature Arts and Crafts competitions that generally include fashion categories for design and dressmaking prizes.
- D. Cryle, "Regional Cinema", Queensland Historical Atlas, http://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/regional-cinema accessed 3 September 2013
- D. Menghetti, "Arida, Joseph Dominique (1863–1924)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/arida-joseph-dominique-9380 accessed 4 September 2013.
- "Finney's Fashion Experts Visit Townsville", Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), Thursday 19 April 1917, page 6
- Queensland Places, Ayr, http://queenslandplaces.com.au/node/44
- Queensland Places, Charters Towers, http://queenslandplaces.com.au/node/199
- Queensland Places, Ingham, http://queenslandplaces.com.au/node/443
- Queensland Places, Townsville, http://queenslandplaces.com.au/node/855
Published in Issue 2, on September 10, 2013.