Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Maryborough are some of the major towns of the Wide Bay-Burnett region. Just north of South East Queensland, Wide Bay-Burnett is encircled by the coast and a series of mountain ranges that shape its inland borders. Maryborough was the first port to be established in the Wide Bay area, and between the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was one Queensland’s most significant sites of industry. Mining and agriculture has also been historically important to the region, with Bundaberg famous for its sugar production.Tourism represents a key contemporary industry, with picturesque Hervey Bay a drawcard on the coast, and Maryborough in particular a well-known destination for surviving Queensland heritage architecture, with excellent examples of sandstone and timber buildings. Such buildings have been the sites of some high-quality fashion retail over the decades.
Places to Shop
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bundaberg and Maryborough had bustling fashion districts, with drapers, outfitters and department stores that rivaled their Brisbane counterparts in scale and grandeur. In Bundaberg, department store Buss & Turner was established with a drapery business in 1876, later becoming a department store in 1888 on Bourbong Street in the town centre. Growing from a much smaller business, Buss & Turner quickly became the leading retailer in the rapidly growing city, booming on the back of sugar cane. Lyons and Stullznow were another successful partnership in Bundaberg retail in the first half of the 20th century.
Stuparts Drapery Palace was established in Maryborough by George Stupart in the latter half of the 19th century (Stupart started out in business as early as 1863). It had an impressive window-lined street frontage on the corner of Kent and Bazaar Streets, said to match the “best in Southern Capitals” and provide a focal point for the bustling city center1. The tailoring and millinery workrooms were home to skilled staff, reputed for their fine work—the head cutter, who had been with the company for 20 years, was described in a Queenslander article as being an “artist of first rank”2.
Another article described Stupart himself as a ‘protectionist’ who worked hard to source local manufacturers for many of his clothing items, rather than importing goods from overseas. Upmarket fabrics, garments and hats were supplied by makers in Sydney and Melbourne. By 1916, the firm had over 100 employees. George’s son Ernest took the reins in 1919, and re-launched the company as simply ‘Stuparts’. Major retailers in Brisbane, Allan and Starks, later took ownership, and in 1946, Stuparts was sold to the large manufacture and tourism firm, Burns, Philps & Co.
W. Boys & Sons was a drapers and outfitters in Adelaide Street, Maryborough. It was established by William Isaac Boys (1860-1934) who apprenticed in Brisbane under Finney Isles & Co., then worked at Messrs. Clarke & Trelevan in Queen st, and under Mr D. Sinclair, a draper in Stanley st, Woolloongabba. Major Brisbane department store, Finney Isles and Co. had a Maryborough branch for over 50 years. In 1928, rising rents were to blame for the board’s decision to close down the Maryborough store, and the remaining stock was transferred to Brisbane. They claimed that by concentrating exclusively on their Brisbane branch, they would be better able to service the Queensland regions, however, Wide Bay Burnett locals may not have felt the same way.
In Pialba, a suburb of Hervey Bay once serviced by rail, there was a well-stocked department store called Murphy and Sons. The drapery department specialised in beachwear to match local demand.
Design & Manufacture
Cotton grew very well in the Wide Bay-Burnett region, and in fact was one of the few areas of Queensland to produce a successful commercial crop. As was the case for many parts of Queensland, it was only during cotton shortages, such as during the American Civil War (1861-1865), that there was a strong impetus to grow cotton, primarily for export to England. Ultimately, the success of the sugar crop in the region meant that cotton was comparatively unprofitable. Nonetheless, newspaper reports suggest that there was some continued interest in growing cotton in the early 20th century. Using seeds from America, cotton was grown in the Hervey Bay area of Pialba. In 1905, the cotton crop was inspected by a representative of the British Cotton-growing Association and reported to be ‘healthy, clean and vigorous’ and it was recommended that a cotton gin be set up in Maryborough to encourage further production. There was renewed interest in this project in the early 1920s, with a Federal Government commitment to support the local cotton industry. Nearby towns of Munduberra and Gayndah were also cited as world-class cotton growing areas, and were additional proposed sites for cotton gins. Despite this enthusiasm, the production of cotton in the region was later deemed to be insufficient to warrant processing facilities.
Prominent tailors in the Wide Bay-Burnett region in the early part of the 20th century included John Norman, based in Maryborough. He became a distinguished local citizen, due to his subsequent political career—he was an alderman on the Municipal Council, and for a time, he served as the Mayor of Maryborough.
An unusual scene for women’s fashion could be found in rural parts of the Wide Bay-Burnett region. At the turn of the 20th century, the ‘Lynch sisters’ were famous for their wood-chopping skills, displayed in numerous competitions and carnivals around the Wide Bay Burnett region and South East Queensland. Described alternately as ‘muscular’, ‘emancipated’ and ‘pioneering’ women, Mary, Maggie, Kate and Nellie were claimed to be as strong as, or stronger than, the ‘average bushman’.
The sisters had grown up working on their father’s farm, near Gympie, as bullock-drivers and later worked as timber cutters around Nanango and were early European settlers in a rural area of Kingaroy. The four sisters were a headlining attraction in events like the Kingaroy Show, competing—and sometimes winning—against men. Photographs portraying their wood-chopping attire provide a glimpse into their fascinating lives as hard-working rural pioneer women. They toiled in the long skirts that were typical of the period, but favoured simple, unembellished styles and durable natural fibres, and almost always wore a sturdy hat. Their more elaborate costumes worn for competitions indicate their sense of showmanship.
Picture theatres were once glamorous places that provided an occasion to dress up, and there are some prime examples of grand theatres in Wide-Bay Burnett. Bundaberg’s Queens Theatre was built in 1888, and was the first brick theatre in the town. It was a popular venue for dances and balls, and also screened Bundaberg’s first films, as early as 1905. The influential Queensland cinema partnership, Birch, Carroll and Coyle, erected Wintergarden ‘picture palaces’ in both Bundaberg and Maryborough in the late 1920s. Another important theatre in Bundaberg was the Paramount; with its grand façade and plethora of events, it remained a fixture of the town’s social scene until it was torn down in 1973.
- 1905 'MARYBOROUGH.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 10 January, p. 5, viewed 1 December, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19346791
- 1908 'KINGAROY.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 12 June, p. 5, viewed 26 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19533823
- 1908 'IN A WOMAN'S MIND.', Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 - 1955), 15 August, p. 11, viewed 26 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70870715
- 1911 'Death of Mr. E.R. Stupart.', The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 - 1939), 18 November, p. 4, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121460960
- 1912 'MR. JOHN NORMAN.', Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 15 July, p. 7 Edition: DAILY, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113085733
- 1913 'WOOOCHOPPING CARNIVAL.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 10 January, p. 3, viewed 26 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19867159
- 1916 'MR. GEORGE STUPART HONOURED.', Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 3 March, p. 4 Edition: DAILY., viewed 26 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113138564
- 1920 'MUSCULAR WOMANHOOD.', Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 17 February, p. 3 Edition: DAILY., viewed 26 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121912347
- 1922 'COTTON INDUSTRY.', The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 - 1929), 18 November, p. 8, viewed 1 December, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72030268
- 1923 'MARYBOROUGH FIRST COTTON GROWING CENTRE.', Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 25 April, p. 7 Edition: DAILY., viewed 1 December, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111468902
- 1928 'TO CLOSE DOWN.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 14 February, p. 8, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21223200
- 1931 'Murphy and Sons.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 13 November, p. 21, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21764027
- 1934 'Mr. W. I. Boys.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 26 March, p. 19, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1183269
- 1946 'DRAPERY FIRM.', Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 11 October, p. 5, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42521955
- 1946 'ON THE TRACK.', Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), 25 October, p. 4, viewed 26 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62998068
- Bonaventura, A. 2009. 'Lights, Camera and Gym Equipment: the final resting places of Bundaberg's theatres' Idiom, Central Queensland University.
- Queensland Places. "Bundaberg" http://queenslandplaces.com.au/bundaberg
- Queensland Places. "Childers" http://queenslandplaces.com.au/childers
- Queensland Places. “Hervey Bay” http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/hervey-bay
- Queensland Places. “Maryborough” http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/maryborough
- Queensland Places. “Wide Bay-Burnett” http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/wide-bay-burnett
Published in Issue 8, on December 3, 2013.