North West Queensland

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 Twelve we take you to North West Queensland.

Sunbathers at the new Mount Isa swimming pool, Queensland, 1954John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 193020

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.

Fashion Scenes

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.

Hughenden, Queensland, 2008
Hughenden, Queensland, 2008Rob and Stephanie Levy
Postcard from Hughenden, Queensland, undated
Postcard from Hughenden, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 204397
A. J. Smiths store at Cloncurry, Queensland, 1952
A. J. Smiths store at Cloncurry, Queensland, 1952John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 93531
Harrington's Cash Store in Richmond, Queensland, undated
Harrington's Cash Store in Richmond, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 61512
Arida's store, Hughenden, Queensland, 1930s
Arida's store, Hughenden, Queensland, 1930sFlinders Shire Historical Photographic Project
Inside Wilks and Harrop general store in Hughenden, Queensland, undated
Inside Wilks and Harrop general store in Hughenden, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 40168
Interior of Blackall and Co. in Hughenden, Queensland, undated
Interior of Blackall and Co. in Hughenden, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 40100
Several businesses in Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1925
Several businesses in Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1925John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 169170
Washing day at a camp on Eddington Station, Julia Creek, ca. 1921
Washing day at a camp on Eddington Station, Julia Creek, ca. 1921John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42716
Afton Downs woolshed in the Hughenden district, North West Queensland, 1926
Afton Downs woolshed in the Hughenden district, North West Queensland, 1926John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42412
Portrait of shearers at the Telemon shed, Hughenden, Queensland, 1920
Portrait of shearers at the Telemon shed, Hughenden, Queensland, 1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 86061
Wool from Eddington Station on route to Richmond, Queensland, 1910-1920
Wool from Eddington Station on route to Richmond, Queensland, 1910-1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 40292
Guests at the Police Ball and wedding at Cloncurry, Queensland, 1938
Guests at the Police Ball and wedding at Cloncurry, Queensland, 1938John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 71745
Debutantes at the Cloncurry Coronation Debutante Ball, 1953
Debutantes at the Cloncurry Coronation Debutante Ball, 1953Lew Jenkin, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 172267
Fashions on the field at the Sedan Dip Race Meeting, Julia Creek, ca. 1968
Fashions on the field at the Sedan Dip Race Meeting, Julia Creek, ca. 1968Lew Jenkin, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 141399
Watching the race, Cloncurry, Queensland, 2009
Watching the race, Cloncurry, Queensland, 2009Lady Maggic
Two young women posing with a pelican-shaped rubbish bin, Cloncurry, Queensland, 1971
Two young women posing with a pelican-shaped rubbish bin, Cloncurry, Queensland, 1971Lew Jenkin, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 93536
Bushman with his dog and horse outside a humpy, Hughenden district, Queensland, 1910-1920
Bushman with his dog and horse outside a humpy, Hughenden district, Queensland, 1910-1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 60469
Jess and Alice in a goat cart on Eddington Station, Julia Creek, ca. 1921
Jess and Alice in a goat cart on Eddington Station, Julia Creek, ca. 1921John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42718
Mining pit at Mount Isa, Queensland, ca. 1931
Mining pit at Mount Isa, Queensland, ca. 1931Alan Queale, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 61554
Arida's Warehouse advertisement, The Northern Miner, 1920
Arida's Warehouse advertisement, The Northern Miner, 1920National Library of Australia
Staff outside the Verner tailor shop in Hughenden, Queensland, 1920
Staff outside the Verner tailor shop in Hughenden, Queensland, 1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 38029
Muriel Alice Lavarack, Muttaburra Doctor, Queensland, ca.1903
Muriel Alice Lavarack, Muttaburra Doctor, Queensland, ca.1903John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 249585
Group of men gathered around a table stacked with gold ingots from the Content Mine, Croydon, Queensland, 1912
Group of men gathered around a table stacked with gold ingots from the Content Mine, Croydon, Queensland, 1912John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 44867
Family in a domestic setting Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1880
Family in a domestic setting Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1880John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 204407
Meg Cameron riding the horse Sunlight at the Hughenden Show, Queensland, 1924
Meg Cameron riding the horse Sunlight at the Hughenden Show, Queensland, 1924John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 40118
Nelly McMahon, Queen of Hearts, Richmond, Queensland, 1907
Nelly McMahon, Queen of Hearts, Richmond, Queensland, 1907John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 196792
Debutantes from St. Francis Convent School in Hughenden, Queensland, 1940
Debutantes from St. Francis Convent School in Hughenden, Queensland, 1940John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 40152
Debutante photographs from Mount Isa, Queensland, 1934
Debutante photographs from Mount Isa, Queensland, 1934John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 67999
Group of bank managers stock and station agents and the Postmaster of Richmond, Queensland, undated
Group of bank managers stock and station agents and the Postmaster of Richmond, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 118022
Members of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and friends picnicing at Cloncurry, 1937
Members of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and friends picnicing at Cloncurry, 1937Dr. George Simpson, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 168082
Australian National Airlines Terminus at Mount Isa Airport, Queensland, ca. 1950
Australian National Airlines Terminus at Mount Isa Airport, Queensland, ca. 1950John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 186464
Lobston family in a carriage, Cloncurry, Queensland, ca.1902
Lobston family in a carriage, Cloncurry, Queensland, ca.1902John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 163824
Social gathering on the verandah of the Willis residence, Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1910
Social gathering on the verandah of the Willis residence, Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1910John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 40101
Unidentified gentleman from Croydon, Queensland, undated
Unidentified gentleman from Croydon, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 44887
Woman horserider in Cloncurry, Queensland, undated
Woman horserider in Cloncurry, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 163712
Young racegoers dressed up for the Sedan Dip races, Julia Creek, 1968
Young racegoers dressed up for the Sedan Dip races, Julia Creek, 1968Lew Jenkin, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 141440
Women dressed up for the Julia Creek races, ca. 1965
Women dressed up for the Julia Creek races, ca. 1965Lew Jenkins, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 93592
Violet Trundle sewing with a Singer sewing machine at her home in Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1925
Violet Trundle sewing with a Singer sewing machine at her home in Hughenden, Queensland, ca. 1925John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 35238
Mayor Hunter and some other guests at a ball in Hughenden, Queensland, undated
Mayor Hunter and some other guests at a ball in Hughenden, Queensland, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42445
Meeting of miners outside the Star Picture Theatre, Mount Isa, Queensland, ca. 1935
Meeting of miners outside the Star Picture Theatre, Mount Isa, Queensland, ca. 1935John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 41479
Frame of the Olympic Theatre under construction, Hughenden, Queensland, 1923
Frame of the Olympic Theatre under construction, Hughenden, Queensland, 1923John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42424
Cloncurry grandstand at the racetrack, Queensland, 1908
Cloncurry grandstand at the racetrack, Queensland, 1908John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 39808
Crowd outside the Town Hall, Croydon, Queensland, ca. 1900
Crowd outside the Town Hall, Croydon, Queensland, ca. 1900John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 12322
11952 ‘VISITOR FROM WEST.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 6 March, p. 8, viewed 29 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50317535
21937 ‘CLONCURRY DEBUTANTE BALL.’, Queensland Country Life (Qld. : 1900 – 1954), 12 August, p. 8, viewed 5 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97173740
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Published in , on April 8, 2014.