History & Heritage
Tales at every turn in the heritage city
Ipswich is a region steeped in history. From its early coal mining and railway heritage through to its landmark churches and grand old homes, the district is a dream for anyone who loves a wander back in time.
Ipswich was established in 1827 as a convict out-station. That era ended in 1839 and free settlers began to arrive in 1842. It has at times been known for its limestone quarries, its coal mines, its busy Bremer River port and its railways. These days, Ipswich is the gateway to the Lockyer Valley and Darling Downs, but with the massive number of pre-1946 homes and a large number of heritage-listed commercial buildings, old churches, antique and collectable shops, stunning facades and mansions, Ipswich is showing itself as a city with depth as well as diversity.
If you’re on a mission to connect with the history and heritage of this riverside city, here’s where to start:
There are 12 trails in the Ipswich Then & Now Heritage Trails series, covering geographical precincts like the City Centre and Marburg, as well as key heritage themes like Churches & Cemeteries and Coal Mining. Each trail covers people, places and historical events. The city trail features sites around the Ipswich CBD including the old town hall, convict stockyard and shearing sheds, and the lime hummock at Cunningham’s Knoll. All-in-all, there are more than 40 sites described as part of the trail with three pocket-sized maps making it easy for day-tripping. Your best bet is to drop into the Ipswich Visitor Information Centre at 14 Queen Victoria Parade.
Cooneana Heritage Centre is managed by the Ipswich Historical Society and situated in wide open landscaped grounds. As well as being home to a number of historical buildings, it houses local mining groups, spinners and weavers, a historic motorcycle club, the Ipswich Genealogical Society and the Queensland Metal Artisans’ Collective.
Cooneana Homestead, which is being painstakingly restored is a rare example of a large, above-ground, vertical slab construction, built by Samuel Pearson Welsby in 1868. There’s the building which was once the pay office for Rhondda Colliery, a heritage home with gable roof and stained glass interior and Jim Donald House – an example of ablate 19th century workers cottage. The main building houses a museum, library and archive rooms. Completely managed by volunteers, the museum includes artefacts from the region’s coal-mining days, mine-rescue equipment and photographs. An ANZAC Day exhibit honours the region’s soldiers as well as those who contributed to the effort from home.
The centre is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 2pm and the second and third Sundays of each month and entry is $5 with children under 12 free.
Don’t be fooled into thinking The Workshops Rail Museum is just for children.
The very first train ever to run in Queensland steamed from here more than 145 years ago and during its peak during WWII, 3000 people worked on the site which is now a world class rail museum as well as the oldest continual operating railway workshops in Australia. And it’s a train-lover’s dream. From the spacious kids’ play area, old locomotives, video and interactive exhibits, a recreated tilt train and a large café with big shady decks, there’s honestly something for everyone.
And the cool thing about the exhibitions in this museum is that they’re all larger than life, and more often than not, totally acceptable for kids to touch. You can see inside a diesel locomotive and drive the simulator, explore the collection of railway heritage items, see a massive model railway layout and a 1930s rail carriage, and get lost in a big cloud of steam. The museum is open every day apart from some public holidays from 9.30am – 4pm.
The first mail route awarded to Cobb & Co in Queensland ran from Brisbane to Ipswich, but mail and passengers going further west were taken by rail to Grandchester and then another Cobb & Co coach to Toowoomba. Now that route is a scenic tourist drive. The Cobb & Co Tourist Drive, which starts at the Workshops Rail Museum gives people a glimpse at both the lifestyle and the landscape of a time long past. There are stops at the Ipswich Art Gallery and Henry Lawson Bicentennial Park – with the text of Lawson’s haunting ‘Babies of Walloon’ poem carved into railway sleepers. You’ll see a full-sized replica of a Cobb & Co coach and the unspoiled hamlet of Forest Hill as well as the picturesque Spring Bluff Railway Centre before finishing at the Cobb & Co Museum and its National Carriage Collection – which includes coaches, delivery carts and more. The Cobb & Co Tourist Drive is a 120km self-drive tour which takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete.
Yes, when it comes to Ipswich, even the restaurants and cafes are in on the heritage act. Fourthchild, located on Brisbane Street is housed in a 100-year old building that was once the Commonwealth Bank. While you’re sipping a soy latte or fuelling up on house-made sausages for breakfast, you can get a sense of the majesty of the old building, with some of the original roof detail and skylight visible. And there are dozens of eateries, just like Fourthchild, that are housed in buildings with serious Ipswich history. Try The Cottage for fine dining in a heritage cottage with its own story to tell.
88 Limestone is another example. Previously the Ipswich Technical College, the heritage-listed buildings here have been lovingly developed to house Pumpyard Bar & Brewery. When we stop in at Dovetails for lunch, there’s a mixed crowd. Groups of office workers are enjoying the winter sun on big outdoor tables, while inside there are small groups – couples, families and workers – dining together in the spacious rooms. There’s nothing heritage about the Dovetails menu, though. With lunch options that include oysters, brisket sandwich, arancini, slow-cooked pork belly, lamb kofta and seafood linguini as well as a comprehensive wine list to match, it’s an unforgettable dining experience with slick service and a contemporary child’s menu to boot.
And the longest-running pub in Queensland can be found in Ipswich too. Booval, to be precise. The Prince Alfred Hotel, established in 1891 and rebuilt in the 1960s after a fire, these days features the biggest craft beer and cider offering in the southern hemisphere with 72 on tap at any one time in its Tap’d Bar.