South 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 Ten we take you to South West Queensland.

Drinking at the bar of the Quilpie Hotel, ca. 1921John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 76024

Bordering New South Wales and South Australia, South West Queensland is a hot, dry, dusty, and vast region, characteristic of Australia’s ‘outback’. Fertile red soils and water from the Great Artesian Basin have overcome the region’s otherwise challenging conditions to make the South West an important site for the production of beef, cotton, and wool. The discovery of oil, gas and opals further expanded the economic importance of the region.

Major towns include Charleville, St George, Roma, Tharagominda, Cunnamulla, Windorah and Augathella. There are also a number of small towns, including Quilpie, Dirranbandi and Wyandra. Many towns have extremely small populations; for example, Cooladdi is home to just six people.

Places to Shop

Given the vastness and semi-aridity of the West, the number of reputable department stores, drapers, and outfitters that have traded in the area is surprising. Pastoral wealth encouraged both settlement and trade throughout the region, as well as a market for retail. From the late 19th century onwards, clothing and textiles could be bought easily in the larger centres. Among the many merchants were Wilson’s Emporium in St George; D. McNaughton & Co., Hunter & Harding, and Golders Cash drapers and clothing store in Roma; and in Charleville there was E. E. Farnsworth’s clothing store, Patrick Kelley’s drapery, Lemon and Enright store, Cook & O’Malley mens’ store, and Austin’s.

Family business, Fitz-Walter and Co discovered trade opportunities in the region early on, having run a number of businesses in neighboring towns in the late 19th century before opening their Charleville department store in the 1920s—known at that time as the biggest in the West. Other Queensland chain-stores recognised the South West market too: W.J Overell established a branch of his Brisbane ‘Universal Providers’ store, Overells, in Charleville, and the department store Penneys also had a store in Charleville.

Outside these centres, mail order shopping wasn’t the only way to purchase clothing. For faraway residences, door-to-door salespeople peddling fine garments, jewellery, fabrics, and sewing machines were a welcome trade. Goods were carted over great distances by horse, goat, bullock, and camel. The journey of an Iranian hawker through the channel country from the deserts of South Australia to the Queensland border was described evocatively in a 1948 issue of Worker:

“In the utter silence of the outback a Persian hawker, Said Ali, lazes along in his covered wagon with a team of eight camels. He has been coming to the backcountry from Innaminka in South Australia for 30 years. Ali, who has a greying beard reaching almost to his waist recently brought £5000 worth of jewellery, silken goods and clothing to Western Queensland. His trip will take 18 months and he says he won’t take back a pennyworth of goods. He brings presents for all the children, and many adult ones he has seen grow up. When he does not reach a station at dusk he beds down on a clay pan. His tent is finer than parachute silk. Persian rags cover his earthen floor and Said Ali brews his Eastern coffee and meditates.”1

Design, Manufacture, and Production

Wool and cotton industries have played a large role in the European settlement of the rugged South West landscape: Queensland’s largest wool-loading station is based in Cunnamulla, and Australia’s biggest cotton farm, Cubbie Station, is located near Dirranbandi. Drought and flooding have presented ongoing challenges to this industry, and, controversially, irrigation is heavily relied upon.

Cubbie station was originally a grazing property, but it shifted to cotton production in 1983. After a period of financial administration due to a decade-long drought, it was sold in 2013. 80 percent of the station was purchased by the major Chinese textiles company, Shandong Ruyi, and the remaining 20 percent was bought by Australian wool company, Lempriere.

Opal mining has been another important source of wealth for the South West. After the world’s only black opal field was discovered to the north of Quilpie, the area became a lure for many miners hoping to strike it rich. As a newspaper reported in the late 1940s: “So rich is the field that at an exhibition at Quilpie a refrigerator set with 900 opal specimens was shown. Miners are fashioning for their women folk pendants, ear-rings and bracelets, which would make a duchess envious.”2

Fashion Scenes

A major landing strip at Charleville connected this remote destination to some of the most fashionable people in Australia and abroad. In the 1920s, famous British aviatrix, Amy Johnson stopped in Charleville (and other Australian destinations) during her highly publicised solo flights between England and Australia.

At a time when air travel meant looking your very best, what Amy wore was hotly discussed by local press. She favoured modern designers, such as Elsa Schiaparelli, and her look was highly influential on Australian fashion.

Removing her helmet during press conferences revealed her cropped hair, and subsequently, a frenzy of requests for the Amy Johnson, or ‘Johnnie’, bob and shingle at local hairdressers.

With a number of celebrities making stop-overs at Charleville (including the Duke of Gloucester, Gracie Fields, Peter Dawson, Elly Beinhorn, and Sir Charles Kingsford Smith), coupled with a burgeoning wool industry, there was a market for a high-class hotel. In 1929 the Corones Hotel was opened and became the focal point for this glamorous side of the South West. In addition to accommodation, it offered a grand jazz hall, and elegant dining rooms featuring ornate plasterwork and monogrammed wooden furniture.

The hall played host to fashion parades, including ones organised by Brisbane retailer Mrs. Betty Cowlishaw, using local models. Newspaper articles from the 1940s describe her response to the Charleville fashion scene:

“’Women here are equally as well dressed as Brisbane women, with one exception—they are inclined to spoil the effect of their dresses by wearing their hats on the front of their heads,’ she said last night. ‘I talked to them for half an hour on the effect gained by wearing them with a backward tilt, and I think I have converted them.’ The hair styles of Western women would be a credit to women in the most up-to-date fashion centre, Mrs. Cowlishaw added.”3

However, by and large, high-fashion runs in contrast to the romantic image of the South West as a grand, but ultimately rugged, pastoral site. This is the image that inspired Banjo Paterson’s poem T.Y.S.O.N. The poem tells the tale of legendary Tinnenburra pastoral millionaire, James Tyson, whose dress was conspicuously incongruous with his personal wealth. Tyson reputedly passed himself off as a tramp to South West locals in order to avoid the flashy trappings of his fame and fortune.

Wall chart of Roma firms, ca. 1895
Wall chart of Roma firms, ca. 1895John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 190294
Horsebreaking at Tinnenburra Station, 1941
Horsebreaking at Tinnenburra Station, 1941John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 60470
Austins clothing store, Alfred Street, Charleville, ca. 1938
Austins clothing store, Alfred Street, Charleville, ca. 1938John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48080
Fitz-Walter & Co store in Charleville, 1898
Fitz-Walter & Co store in Charleville, 1898John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48417
Penneys store in Wills Street, Charleville, ca. 1955
Penneys store in Wills Street, Charleville, ca. 1955John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 17470
Travelling salesmen with a small wagon and a team of goats demonstrate the Singer sewing machine, Charleville, ca. 1900-1910
Travelling salesmen with a small wagon and a team of goats demonstrate the Singer sewing machine, Charleville, ca. 1900-1910John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 64760
Shearing shed at work Charleville district, ca. 1902-1904
Shearing shed at work Charleville district, ca. 1902-1904John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 196209
Wool wagons in the Charleville district, undated
Wool wagons in the Charleville district, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 5987
Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, viewing opals at the Queensland gem display in the Australia Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908
Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, viewing opals at the Queensland gem display in the Australia Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 190846
Passengers arriving at Charleville, 1937
Passengers arriving at Charleville, 1937John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 103710
Amy Johnson refuelling at Charleville, 1930
Amy Johnson refuelling at Charleville, 1930John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48431
Pilots Scott and Campbell-Black share a drink at the press conference after their arrival at Charleville, 1934
Pilots Scott and Campbell-Black share a drink at the press conference after their arrival at Charleville, 1934John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 240212
Hotel Corones, Charleville, 1930
Hotel Corones, Charleville, 1930John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48419
Reception and dance hall attached to Hotel Corones, Charleville, 1927
Reception and dance hall attached to Hotel Corones, Charleville, 1927John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 50145
Men are waiting on the platform at Roma Railway Station, ca. 1915
Men are waiting on the platform at Roma Railway Station, ca. 1915John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 204378
Cunnamulla district dance, ca. 1923
Cunnamulla district dance, ca. 1923John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 47928
Cunnamulla Stores building Cunnamulla, ca. 1920
Cunnamulla Stores building Cunnamulla, ca. 1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 299646
Espie's Drapery Store, Charleville, ca. 1929
Espie's Drapery Store, Charleville, ca. 1929John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48590
Family sitting on the verandah of a timber bush hut at Roma, ca. 1860-1870
Family sitting on the verandah of a timber bush hut at Roma, ca. 1860-1870John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 965
Four women in woollen swimsuits on the riverbank at Charleville, ca. 1910-1920
Four women in woollen swimsuits on the riverbank at Charleville, ca. 1910-1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48011
Goat team pulling a heavy load, Charleville district, ca. 1902-1904
Goat team pulling a heavy load, Charleville district, ca. 1902-1904John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 196216
Group of people gathered at the flooded Warrego River Crossing, Charleville, 1913
Group of people gathered at the flooded Warrego River Crossing, Charleville, 1913John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48171
Harry Corones, his wife and friends at the Hotel Charleville, ca. 1915
Harry Corones, his wife and friends at the Hotel Charleville, ca. 1915John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48467
Harry Corones, Jim Corones, and their sister, Charleville, ca. 1914
Harry Corones, Jim Corones, and their sister, Charleville, ca. 1914John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 49961
Having fun at the Picnic Races Ball, Charleville, ca. 1951
Having fun at the Picnic Races Ball, Charleville, ca. 1951John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48103
Hawkers horsedrawn caravan in the Windorah district, ca. 1953
Hawkers horsedrawn caravan in the Windorah district, ca. 1953John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 43547
Hotelier Mrs R. B. Lucas, owner of the Telegraph Hotel, Charleville, 1897
Hotelier Mrs R. B. Lucas, owner of the Telegraph Hotel, Charleville, 1897John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48170
Invincible Pictures, Cunnamulla, ca. 1920
Invincible Pictures, Cunnamulla, ca. 1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 299678
Jim Corones, Nancy Bird, and Mr O'Neil in Charleville, ca. 1936
Jim Corones, Nancy Bird, and Mr O'Neil in Charleville, ca. 1936John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 50127
Lady riders at Roma Show, ca. 1918
Lady riders at Roma Show, ca. 1918John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 139012
Lemon and Enright store in Charleville, ca. 1904
Lemon and Enright store in Charleville, ca. 1904John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48605
Fraulein Rasch, who was a passenger on the Dutch entrant in the Centenary Air Race, arriving at Charleville, 1934
Fraulein Rasch, who was a passenger on the Dutch entrant in the Centenary Air Race, arriving at Charleville, 1934John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 240172
Lores Bonney and her aeroplane at Charleville airport, 1933
Lores Bonney and her aeroplane at Charleville airport, 1933John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48448
German aviatrix Elly Beinhom pictured with Charleville personalities outside Corones Hotel, 1934
German aviatrix Elly Beinhom pictured with Charleville personalities outside Corones Hotel, 1934John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 49950
Mrs R Campbell, Railway Hotel, Cunnamulla, undated
Mrs R Campbell, Railway Hotel, Cunnamulla, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 72113
Office workers at Charleville Motor & Engineering Works Ltd., ca. 1929
Office workers at Charleville Motor & Engineering Works Ltd., ca. 1929John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48002
Wilsons Emporium at St. George, ca. 1924
Wilsons Emporium at St. George, ca. 1924John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg:187443
Oilfields at Roma, ca. 1927
Oilfields at Roma, ca. 1927John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 204373
Pilot Cathcart Jones and Ken Waller at Charleville, 1934
Pilot Cathcart Jones and Ken Waller at Charleville, 1934John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 240196
Portrait of the aerial survey party at Charleville, undated
Portrait of the aerial survey party at Charleville, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 49946
Pressing and dumping the wool on Nive Downs Station, undated
Pressing and dumping the wool on Nive Downs Station, undatedJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 36070
Roma State High School netball team, 1924
Roma State High School netball team, 1924John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 20795
Station hands on a property near Roma, ca.1870-1880
Station hands on a property near Roma, ca.1870-1880John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 64537
Truck loaded with wool bales outside Dalgety & Co. Ltd., Charleville, ca. 1915
Truck loaded with wool bales outside Dalgety & Co. Ltd., Charleville, ca. 1915John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48593
Coronation Ball which took place in the RSL Club Hall, Charleville, 1953
Coronation Ball which took place in the RSL Club Hall, Charleville, 1953John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48153
Well dressed gentlemen at Charleville, ca. 1909
Well dressed gentlemen at Charleville, ca. 1909John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 6618
Costume parade in Charleville, ca. 1920
Costume parade in Charleville, ca. 1920John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 48432
11948 ‘A LOOK AT THE CHANNEL COUNTRY FROM “UPSTAIRS”.’, Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 – 1955), 20 September, p. 8, viewed 21 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71435375
21948 ‘A LOOK AT THE CHANNEL COUNTRY FROM “UPSTAIRS”.’, Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 – 1955), 20 September, p. 8, viewed 21 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71435375
31947 ‘West’s Women Wild About Fashions.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 3 November, p. 1, viewed 21 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49651207
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Published in , on March 11, 2014.