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
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.
- 1925 'Notable Firm.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 6 March, p. 13, viewed 17 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20911285
- 1933 'GOLDERS' CASH DRAPERS.', Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1875 - 1948), 20 December, p. 2, viewed 10 March, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98148906
- 1934 'COOK & O'MALLEY CHRISTMAS OFFERING.', The Charleville Times (Brisbane, Qld. : 1896 - 1954), 21 December, p. 7, viewed 20 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76678527
- 1935 'Advertising.', The Charleville Times (Brisbane, Qld. : 1896 - 1954), 17 May, p. 6, viewed 20 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76559225
- 1947 '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
- 1948 '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
- Black, Prudence. 2009. ‘Fashion Takes Flight: Amy Johnson, Schiaparelli and Australian Modernism’. Hecate, May-Nov, 2009, Vol.35(1-2), p.57(20)
- Byrne, Dianne. 'Corones, Haralambos (Harry) (1883–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/corones-haralambos-harry-9828/text17381, accessed 17 January 2014.
- Locke, Sarina. 2013. ‘Foreign investment success at Cubbie Station’. ABC Rural. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-17/cubbie-foreign-investment/5028296
- Powell, Owen. 2010. ‘Tinnenburra’. Queensland Historical Atlas. http://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/tinnenburra
- Queensland Historical Atlas.‘T.Y.S.O.N. by Banjo Paterson, 1898’
- Queensland Places. ‘Quilpie’. http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/quilpie-and-quilpie-shire
Published in Issue 10, on March 11, 2014.