I’m guilty of complacency. As Saturday rolls around I’m happy staying at home, reading the weekend newspapers and catching up on a few TV shows. Get out in the garden if the sun is shining.
But staying home means I’m missing out on exploring fabulous sections of south east Queensland. And because everything is so accessible and within easy reach – making a day trip a pleasant experience – there really should be no excuses for not getting out. So, when the offer was extended by the City of Ipswich to explore more of Marburg, a small country community, a 50 minute drive south-west of Brisbane, I jumped from my couch and left my home-bound attitude behind.
Where is Marburg?
Just off the Warrego Highway, Marburg is 55 kilometers south-west of Brisbane, 20 kilometres west of the Ipswich CBD and 69 kilometres east of Toowoomba.
How to get to Marburg?
You can take a train to Ipswich then a bus to Marburg, but if you have access to a car, driving will be the easiest mode of transport and will allow you to stop and explore further.
Or groups can book a bus tour to Marburg through the Discover Ipswich Visitor Information Centre.
Why visit Marburg
Back in the day Marburg was a bustling town. But with the construction of the Warrego Highway and people potentially in a hurry to get to Toowoomba, Miles, Chinchilla, Roma or Charleville, Marburg suffered a similar fate as many other towns had by modern infrastructure. It was being by-passed!
But bypass Marburg and you are missing out!
There are antique shops, cafes, four churches, including a former German Baptist Church that’s been converted into a boutique gift shop, a heritage listed hotel, mansion and community centre.
The day I explored this quaint historical town we were not in a hurry. And being an easy 50 minute journey from Brisbane (via Ipswich) this is a pleasant day-trip, not a hard driving slog!
The town’s history
Around 1870 the first Europeans who were predominantly of German heritage arrived in the region, settling in a valley below a scrubby forest – land traditionally owned and occupied by the Indigenous Jagera people. Before the Germans migrant’s arrival, historical records show, around 1842, Sam and Sarah Owens, ran sheep on the Tarampa sheep station in the valley. Formerly known as Sally Owen’s plains, the region was renamed “Marburg” because the German settlers likened the geographical features somewhat to the Prussian city of Marburg (now in Germany.)
Not everyone settling in the region was of German Heritage. Charles Smith emigrated from England in 1864, acquired land and built a sawmill to capitalise on the timber he’d planned to log from the nearby scrubby forest. In 1870 Smith purchased 568 acres calling it the “Woodlands” Estate and relocated the sawmill to the western end of the property. As timber supplies dwindled, in 1881, Charles Smith’s son Tommy diversified into sugar cane, building a sugar mill adjacent to the saw mill a year later and a rum distillery in 1886. Unfortunately with a lack of rainfall in the area, sugar cane wasn’t a successful crop, so the farmers switched to maize and dairy farming. Tommy, being an entrepreneurial character, also planted grapes, mango and olives.
Tommy married the daughter of the headmaster of the local school, Mary Stuart and they had 11 children. Tommy must have realised as the family expanded they’d need space to house them all. In 1890 they built the Woodlands Mansion on a hill, overlooking the Marburg Valley. The two-storey plantation-style building, surrounded by jacaranda and bunya trees, has been restored and is now heritage listed (and is where you can hold functions or stay overnight).
First Stop – the Girls’ Coffee Bar
As you turn off for the Warrego Highway into Edmond Street there’s one place many travellers pull into, especially If you’re hankering for a coffee or a sweet treat: The Girls’ Coffee Bar.
Recently celebrating 10 years in the business of serving coffee, cake, breakfast or lunch, this pit stop cafe is perfect for those wishing to stretch their legs and satisfy any hunger or for a caffeine fix. Their homemade baked goodies display looked very enticing to this sweet-toothed gal. In particular, their signature choc ginger cheesecake – we were lucky enough to taste a few of their baked goodies!.
Owners Katrina and Julie are boasting something memorable, claiming on their Facebook page to be the home of the “Orgasmic Coffee.” Sorry to let you down, I cannot personally comment as I’m not a coffee drinker, but I can say their choc ginger cheesecake – was close to orgasmic. The perfect marriage of two of my favourite flavours. And just in case I haven’t mentioned it already, all the baked treats are home made and baked on the premises, including their sausage rolls, which apparently “walk out the door!”
I was reliably informed by one of the volunteers on our bus, the meat for the sausages comes from Schultes Meat Tavern in Plainland in the Lockyer Valley. And one on our bus trip offered me a taste test and a small sample of their sausage roll. I know why they fly out the door.
Make sure you check their specials board:
The girls Brekkie Muffin Bacon, egg, hash brown, cheese and hollandaise sauce on a warm English Muffin ($7 at time of publishing).
The Mega muffin bacon, egg, sausage patty, hash brown, tomato relish and cheese on a warm English muffin!
207 Edmond Street
Open Mon- Fri 6am – 2pm
Open Sat and Sun 7am – 3pm
Scotland Yard Antiques store
Discover The Birnie family connection…
On either side of Marburg’s main thoroughfare, Edmond Street, are restored heritage buildings. And on the left hand corner, it’s impossible to miss the white weatherboard building with the sign: “Antiques.”
You never know what you’re going to find inside the Scotland Yard Antiques store but most days you will find owner, Les Birnie. A witty character hailing from Scotland originally, you’d be forgiven for thinking he only recently left his home village of Tomintoul in the Cairngorms mountains a few years ago rather than decades, his Scottish brogue remains strong. In the antiques game since 1961 (proudly declared on the signs above his store) 73 year old Les Birnie has run this eclectic antiques shop for nearly 30 years.
“When I started there were around 15 antique stores between Brisbane and Toowoomba, now there is only one!” he says matter of factly.
Birnie’s store specialises in rustic country Australian furniture but as your first step inside, you’ll find so much more than furniture on display. From clay pots, to large cedar wardrobes, gilt-framed paintings and old wall phones, to leather bomber jackets that would suit anyone visiting the Antarctic anytime soon, to rustic workbenches and taxidermied animals – this is rare, vintage and very, very eclectic.
Even if you’re not in the market for antiques, you’ll be entertained by Les’s distinctive humour on the various descriptive hand-written cards attached to the objects for sale.
I was having a smile at one of the signs on a large painted ceramic urn: “Has been on the ‘randah of a Darling Downs Homestead for a bloody long time! Has JK inked under, that’s all I know. Could be worth thousands?! I’ll take $650.”
Les walked past and I asked him about his collection of taxidermied animals and whether there was much interest in them. In his strong Scottish drawl, he suggests I follow him out to the back of the store.
“I’ve got some more interesting pieces including 15 specimens of taxidermy.”
I dutifully follow him to a large shed, crammed (jammed) with more objects. Les points to a large table.
“That’s a nice table there,14 feet long with 14 chairs,” he waves his wiry arm towards the massive piece of furniture.
“The table was made with cedar prior to the flooding of Wivenhoe Dam. People had all this cedar on their properties so they had them cut down and this table is made from single sheets of cedar, dating back to the 1800s.”
I ask Les what the demand for tables of this size is nowadays.
“I can only sell it once and it won’t be easy,” is his dry response
Spend some time with Les and you’ll have a history lesson or three thrown in about the area.
Special Branch Collective
When you need a break from shopping antiquities you don’t have to wander far to find a little oasis where you can grab a coffee and a piece of cake or a melting moment. Next door to the Scotland Yard Antiques store is The Special Branch Collective, owned by Emily Birnie.
Yes, another member of the Birnie family, Les’s daughter Emily runs this cafe and plant store. The coffee is local, from Ipswich’s only coffee roasters, Dancing Bean and the range of healthy looking plants comes from another Birnie sibling, sister Lucie Plant, who with husband Sam Plant (yeah, appropriate surname hey?!) run Green Cloud Nursery in Childers.
Emily has a welcoming, relaxing manner about her and when she admits in a past career for 17 years she was a long-haul Qantas flight attendant – that helps explain the welcoming hospitality.
The Black Museum
Next to the cafe, the Birnie family connection continues with The Black Museum, owned by Athol Birnie (Les’s son). Athol had left Marburg for a while but returned to be with his partner.
Regular visits to his father’s antique shop in his childhood, to later restoration work in the back shed rubbed off, creating a love for nick-nacks, bric-a-brac and antiquities. Now Athol is running his own place, selling contemporary furnishings, decor and art in his little space.
The shop is named after the museum in London’s Scotland Yard headquarters where they stored any associated crime memorabilia.
“Dad is old school, I do my own thing in this place,” says Athol eagerly showing me a 1950s vintage replica lounge chair.
If you’re a collector of vintage style pieces or simply looking for that special something to be a centerpiece in your home, Athol’s Black Museum may have what you’re after.
Lunch at the Marburg Hotel
If all that pursuit of old golden treasures has worked up an appetite, you can stroll across the road to the The Marburg Hotel, inside the grand old classic Queenslander building built in 1881 and now heritage listed.
Initially a single-storey building, owned by Marburg farmer and publican, Weigand Raabe, the two acre site was the first hotel in town and a popular drinking hole. The second storey was added around 1890 by new owners.
When a supercell hail storm passed through the town in September 2018 causing widespread damage to the roofs of many properties in town, the hotel’s signature red corrugated iron hipped roof was replaced by a steel one. The hotel also received a face lift with a new coat of paint to its current light grey colour.
The Marburg Hotel is a family owned business. Danny Bowden’s parents arrived in town in 1936 and in 1944 they became the hotel’s licensees. Dan remembers growing up in the country pub, helping out where he could and sleeping not far from the room where we are currently eating lunch (now the dining room).
The freehold over the hotel was acquired by the Bowden family in 1986 and Dan’s grandson Matt now runs the business with mum and dad still involved in the hotel’s operations.
On the day we visited Dan dropped in while we enjoyed our generous pub meals in the restaurant. He happily shares a few tales from times gone by, including visits by American General McArthur during WWII and the occasional appearance of a ghost upstairs. Dan says weekend lunches have become popular as the town becomes better known as a country road trip destination.
Some might consider the pub the heart of any country town and as we exit after lunch through the pub’s bar, I notice the Birnie siblings – Emily and Athol – enjoying a counter meal.
Marburg Hotel 69 Edmond Street Marburg
Phone 5464 4230
After lunch if you feel like walking your pub meal off you can wander across the road over to the Marburg Park to see the historical society hut, or the Marburg Street Library. Or you could stroll down Queen Street to the old church.
The Soul Nook Collective
Inside a former German Baptist church The Soul Nook Collective is a boutique shop offering boho fashions, giftware and for those who want to linger longer, artisan workshops.
On certain days outside the church in the expansive grounds, you will find an enterprising initiative created by Creator Director of the Soul Nook Collective, Taryn Ryan.
“There’s a lot of people heading to Toowoomba and Marburg is the halfway point,” says Taryn. “We want to offer these people unique tourism experiences,” she explains. “If you’re looking for something romantic, our luxury picnics are ideal.”
Under a bunch of shady trees Soul Nook can set up a collection of pop up bell tents in two sizes, the more intimate 4.5 metre for 2-7 people or the six metre Soul Gathering Bell tent for anywhere from 8-30 people. And the cutest of all are the PODs. These little private swinging booths (Tiipii Pods) are filled with comfy pillows and throws perfect for cosying up with someone special and spending quality time together as you snack on fresh food from your gourmet grazing box (BYO wine and beer.) Every Saturday they have live music.
Soul Nook offers creative workshops, some with partners Sip ‘n’ Dip. They vary so best check their website if interested. You can learn how to make candles, crystal bracelets, ceramic jewellery, and posy flower creations. You can even learn about making alcohol.
This place is about relaxing, taking a moment and finding the zen and a few gifts for either yourself or someone else.
If you’re thinking about spending quality time with a loved one, or doing something different with a bunch of friends, or want to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, The Soul Nook Collective is worth considering.
(Noted on their website: there is a MAX. weight limit of 220kg for the Tiipii Pods)
89-93 Queen St Marburg
Wed 9-2pm, Thurs 9-2pm, Fri 9-2pm, Sat 9-3pm
Imbibis Craft Distillery
On the way back home (via Ipswich) make sure to stop in at the shed that once belonged to Warrego Wines. Here you will find the enthusiastic Jason Hannay, the man behind Imbibis.
Hnanay was the chief winemaker at Warrego wines. He also had 20 years of winemaking experience around Queensland. After being made redundant in 2019, Hannay decided with a passion for wine, gin and brandy, it was time to start his own operation creating bespoke spirits using Queensland produce.
The name, Imbibis, is a clever play on imbibe – to drink, absorb, assimilate and conceive an idea. Hannay informs our group that Imbibis is a Latin derivative of the word Imbibe.
Hannay set up the operations, creating a signature self-designed still, a unique label, and within six months was ready to share his premium quality gins and brandies in December 2019. Then COVID hit!
With his entrepreneurial outlook and desperation for cashflow, Hannay capitalised on his ability to produce pure alcohol in his still and created a product that was in demand: hand sanitiser! A product that helped his business stay “afloat” during the lockdowns and lack of visitors to sample his product.
Hannay uses locally grown Australian ingredients, including bottle brush, lemon myrtle and native pepper berry he forages for on his property. He’s partnered with local olive grower Cedar Gully Olives in the Lockyer Valley.
“There was one particular olive tree I wanted the leaves from,” explains Hannay.
Their three signature gins are Clarity, using wine from South East Queensland; Three Myrtles Dry Gin, with Australian native ingredients including lemon myrtle, cinnamon myrtle and anise myrtle; and Passion Pink Gin.
“I made it pink by using the native rosella flower growing in Marburg,” says Hannay. “ We try to get local people involved in the product.”
Just in case you’re more of a brandy lover – Imbibis offer a brandy but not just any old brandy – this is a shiraz brandy! Hints of dried dark fruit combine with notes of vanilla, caramel and roasted almond, a brandy straight from the barrel. At 63% alc/vol, you will NOT be driving if you taste test this one!
In April 2021 Imbibis Craft Distillery was awarded two silver medals at the 4th London Spirits Competition for Three Myrtles Gin and Shiraz Brandy. The Shiraz Brandy also scored highly in all judging aspects and was the only Australian Brandy to win a medal.
Imbibis Craft Distillery
9 Seminary Road Haigslea
Beyond Marburg are the pretty villages of Haigslea and Rosewood, you may wish to explore their history and local experiences.
If you decide to stay in the Marburg area there are numerous accommodation options.
Where to bunk down in the area:
The Marburg Hotel
If staying in the heart of town appeals book a room at the historical Marburg Hotel they offer a number of rooms with sleeping options.
Tallvalley Farm B&B
Tallavalley Farm B&B is a three-bedroom two-bathroom cottage at Tallegalla, a short drive from Marburg’s town centre. This working 47-acre farm is owned by locals David and Joanne Baker who live on a neighbouring property. They launched their farmstay in early 2019 and have families returning to the property to enjoy the country lifestyle. The cottage offers affordable accommodation for up to six people.
“I’m overwhelmed by how quickly the cottage has taken off,” says David when asked if the place has been booked during Covid. “Toowoomba is up the road and Ipswich is 20 minutes away.”
On this small working farm the Bakers run 30 head of cattle, have chickens, goats, horses and offer peaceful country serenity. The house has an open plan kitchen, living room, laundry and deck. If you happen to be a horse owner, there’s a horse paddock at the rear of the house. You can saddle up and explore the property and nearby riding trails.
“We only come over if guests want us to be here,” says David. “Otherwise it’s all theirs.”
Dogs are welcome on the fully-fenced property but must remain outside of the main house (the front covered deck has a gate.)
During the cooler months, after a day exploring the Marburg area the fireplace can be cranked up. Add a warm Imbibis brandy and you will be all cosy.
Tallavalley Farm B&B
453 Tallegalla Rd Tallegalla
Woodlands of Marburg
The heritage listed grand historic mansion building has been renovated and is an attraction on its own. The Woodlands Country Inn opposite the Mansion, once a home to missionaries has now been renovated into motel rooms, with 10 deluxe suites and four executive suites available. Named after its founder, the Tommy Smith Cafe is a popular choice for breakfast or lunch (please check website for opening times at time of publishing showing it is open for weekends only).
For an evening of fine dining consider the Sugarmill Restaurant, in the elegant dining room inside the Woodlands Estate. The Restaurant is open Friday and Saturday nights – 5.30pm – 10pm (food is served between 6 – 9pm.)
Spicers Hidden Vale
At the luxury end is the beautiful Spicers Hidden Vale. Located only 20 kilometres from Marburg or an hour’s drive from Brisbane, Spicers Hidden Vale is a destination where space – 12,000 acres of it – and serenity is plentiful. A mixture of Queenslander style country cottages, cabins and suites are available. The dining is award winning (and lunch can be booked without having to stay overnight).
This is a bush retreat for those who want a luxe escape.
Enough reasons why you should visit Marburg.
At just under an hour’s drive from Brisbane, the country town of Marburg welcomes visitors. I hope my story has convinced you to turn off the Warrego Highway and discover a little community filled with friendly locals and a few surprises.