North West Queensland covers an area of 308,098 square kilometres, yet the region’s population accounts for less than 1% of the state’s total. It is a largely arid district known as the Gulf Country. Its northern border runs along the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, with its western border adjoining the Northern Territory. Towns in this region include: Mount Isa (whose zinc, copper, silver, and lead mines dominate the region’s economy), Cloncurry, Richmond, Croydon, Hughenden, Kowanyama, Julia Creek, Normantan and Camooweal.
Agriculture and mining have played a major role in North West Queensland’s development for over a century. In more recent years tourism has become integral to the region, particularly given the rich dinosaur fossil deposits throughout this area of the state.
The discovery of gold in towns like Croydon in the late 19th century ballooned populations and injected money for several decades. The population of Croydon is now around 300, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was 7000, making the town the fourth largest in the state during this time. These transformations on the back of industry have impacted the rise and fall of the North West region, and subsequently the lives—and dress—of its inhabitants.
Places to Shop
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, North West Queenslanders were reliant on horse-drawn coach and motor vehicle services to connect them with the rest of the state and country. Salespeople travelled to deliver all manner of services and supplies. Rail also impacted the movement of goods and people.
Most towns had a general store or merchant incorporating access to fabrics, clothing, footwear, and accessories such as hats and handbags. Major merchants included A.J. Smith’s Store in Richmond, Normanton, and Cloncurry, still operating in the mid 20th century; Elmslie Limited Stores in Croydon; Harrington’s in Richmond; and Wilks and Harrop in Hughenden.
There were also stand-alone drapers, tailors and private dressmakers. Mail-order connected people to larger towns and a greater variety of goods. Laister & Co. in Hughenden was a prominent clothing and drapery business that was run by the Laister family from 1928 to 1966, featuring a mail-order service. Verner’s Tailors and Outfitters, also in Hughenden, catered to men’s fashion and accessories.
The Arida brothers, Joseph Dominique and Richard Dominique, who had locations throughout North and North West Queensland, operated one of the largest fashion businesses in the region. Beginning with a drapery store in Charters Towers in the 19th century, ‘Arida’s – The Centre of Fashions’ could also be found in Winton, Hughenden, Normantan, and Cloncurry.
But despite these examples, shopping choices were limited compared to other parts of the state. Women looked forward to opportunities to travel to Brisbane for the abundance and variety of shopping. An article in The Courier Mail from 1952 titled ‘Visitor from the West’ tells the story of a teenager on holiday from the North West, eager to buy up big—with the climate in mind, of course:
“For attractive teenager, June Murphy, of Cheviot Hills, via Hughenden, her Brisbane holiday meant a chance at last to go shopping. Cheviot Hills is a remote cattle station, 107 miles north of Hughenden in the basalt country, and about 1000 miles from Brisbane. Since she came down, June has spent ‘hours and hours’ window shopping for fashion ideas, and more hours buying up a supply of floral cotton frocks—the only ones practicable in the hot summer months.”1.
Design, Manufacture, and Production
Like the Central West and South West regions of the state, sheep grazing and wool production have been key industries in the North West. Eddington Station, outside of Julia Creek and located on the Flinders River, was one of the largest sheep properties and wool producers in the North West from the late 1800s to the 1950s.
Hughenden was home to a large Dumping Station, where wool from the region was pressed before being transported to Townsville. The town also had a number of wool scours. Hughenden’s population peaked in the 1950s and 60s, when post-war wool prices were high, signalling the significance of the wool industry in the district. During this period, two of the most popular and populated sections of the Hughenden Show were the ‘Wool’ and ‘Sheep’ categories, attracting a record number of entries by farmers from the North West region eager to show off their prosperity.
Cinemas, balls, races, and annual shows filled the social calendar for North West residents. Established in 1883, the Hughenden show was organised by the North Western Pastoral, Agricultural and Industrial Association. The annual show included a two-day race carnival and a show ball, both events evidenced in decades of press coverage in local newspapers. The show continues to be held and remains one of the most popular in the North West region.
An 1898 fancy dress ball in Cloncurry saw “40 couples present, and dancing was kept up until 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning.” At the 1937 Cloncurry debutante ball, while the debutantes wore white, the dresses of other women in attendance were described in a range of colours and styles:
“Mrs. Howard, of Canobie, wore a striking blue floral georgette. Mrs G. Evans, of Evandean, who was accompanied by her daughter, Bette, chose a ring velvet gown in flame tonings. Miss Evans wore a gloss green satin gown cut on moulded lines. Cherry matelasse cut in directoire style was the choice of Miss S. Hulbert, of Wynberg. Mrs. J. K. Joyce, who was president of the ball committee, and presented the debutantes, chose a black net gown finished with skirt bandings.”2.
Open-air theatres were popular in the hot North West. Richmond’s Strand Cinema, Normanton’s National, and Cloncurry’s Bio Talkies were just three examples. Hughenden had an Olympia Theatre, one of several throughout Queensland. These were key social settings where everyday fashion was on display.
The Sedan Dip Race Club was formed in Julia Creek in 1948, and has held well-attended races and rodeos in the town ever since. Race-wear has been, and continues to be, an important dressing up occasion, particularly for women in rural areas of Queensland.
- 1898 'FANCY DRESS BALL.', The North Queensland Register (Townsville, Qld. : 1892 - 1905), 29 October, p. 8, viewed 5 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81636530
- 1924 'RE-BUILDING HUGHENDEN.', The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 - 1954), 12 November, p. 2, viewed 5 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article80550867
- 1939 'CLONCURRY POLICE BALL.', Queensland Country Life (Qld. : 1900 - 1954), 10 August, p. 6, viewed 5 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97054419
- 1949 'Hughenden.', The Longreach Leader (Qld. : 1923 - 1954), 14 October, p. 12, viewed 29 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125791730
- 1950 'EDDINGTON STATION SALE.', Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), 2 November, p. 9, viewed 5 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63175765
- 1954 'HUGHENDEN SHOW.', Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), 15 June, p. 7, viewed 5 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65191214
- Queensland Places. 'Croydon and Croydon Shire.' http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/croydon-and-croydon-shire
- Queensland Places. 'Hughenden.' http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/hughenden
- Queensland Places. 'Julia Creek.' http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/julia-creek
- Queensland Places. 'Richmond and Richmond Shire.' http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/richmond-and-richmond-shire
Published in Issue 12, on April 8, 2014.