Welcome back to my travel series for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z April Challenge where we’re taking a virtual tour of Places I’ve Been.
In case it hasn’t already come to your attention, this list of places seems extremely random and looks like something plucked out of a lucky dip. However, trying to allocate a place to every letter has been challenging, and I’ve also tried to give a broad smattering overview of where I’ve been within these constrains. However, I’ve still managed to leave out two entire countries…China and Hong Kong. That does seem a little unfair. However, they had some stiff competition. Well, perhaps I should’ve written about China, instead of Canberra. However, that would also have meant going looking for photos from 1989, and I wouldn’t know where to start.
Today, we’re leaving Sydney behind and travelling up North via the M1 Motorway and veering off at Hexham onto the New England Highway, which is generally known as “the inland route”. Toowoomba is is only 864 km up the road. So, we’ll be there in around 10 hours give or take. However, since you’re travelling with the likes of me, it could take a hell of a lot longer, and they could well be sending out a search party long before we arrive. I’m well-known for stops, which encompasses everything from: “Hey, look there’s a Kookaburra” to multiple toilet stops. I always end up regretting that cup of tea before we hit the road.
So, out of all the cities starting with T, why did I bring you to Toowoomba?
Well, I could’ve taken you to Terrigal, one of our local beaches. However, we went to Sydney yesterday, and I’m going local tomorrow. Besides, we really liked Toowoomba with it’s panoramic views, crisp mountain air and old-world, country charm. While it’s known as the “Garden City”, it could well be known as Queensland’s “Mountain City”. That said, at a mere 800 metres above sea level, that’s more like a hill by international standards. However, when you live in a country that’s almost as flat as a pancake, you’ve got to be thankful for whatever altitude you’ve got and it doesn’t take much for a mole hill to be reclassified.
Although we’re approaching Toowoomba from the South, it’s also located 125 km west of Brisbane by road. The estimated urban population of Toowoomba as of June 2015 was 114,622. There’s a university and it also hosts the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers each September and there are more than 150 public parks and gardens in Toowoomba. Considered the capital of the Darling Downs, it’s also developed into a regional centre for business and government services.
Although I’ve been through Toowoomba onboard the McCafferty’s bus to visit my late grandparents in Ipswich more than I’ve actually stopped off, I’ve actually been to Toowoomba a couple of times and really liked it, the views and the crisp mountain air. I had a friend who lived in Toowoomba who I actually met on one of these McCaffertys bus trips. Finding out we were both writers, we had a lot to talk about. Indeed, I think we talked all night along with the two we palled up with in the seat in front. Anyway, I ended up getting a bit of a tour and really liked the place.
I also have family connections to Toowoomba and the surrounding region. My Mum’s two younger sister were both born in Toowoomba while my grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, was Acting Principal of Concordia College in Toowoomba. It was a Lutheran co-ed boarding school , which does seem rather progressive for the times but it was strict. One of my grandfather’s many stories was about how he’d tell the students: “girls you can be friends with boys, and boys you can be friends with girls, but if we see you pair up, you’ll soon find one of us alongside you.” We’ve always felt this was a very sensible, enlightened approach, especially for the 1940s.
Anyway, all of this brings me to a family day trip we had to Toowoomba back in 2010. Back then, our son was six years old and our daughter was four and let’s just say Geoff and I were also a bit younger. We were staying with friends just outside Ipswich and having fond memories of my first visit to Toowoomba and loving the mountains, I thought we’d head up for a day trip. As usual, our trip wasn’t planned and was rather spontaneous. However, I did want to see Concordia College. I’d seen the photos of my mum and her older brother standing in front of the school gate when they were roughly the same age my kids were at the time. There were rows of Bunya trees and it was just a very quintessentially Queensland scene and my mother was part of it.
However, when we approached the school office, I never expected we’d be given a tour of the school grounds, and I actually saw my grandfather’s portrait hanging on the wall alongside the other past principles. I was pretty chuffed about that. However, I should also point out that I had Master 6 and Miss 4 in tow, and while you’d expect a school to be somewhat understanding of young kids, we were there representing my mother’s family. You know the old-style hat and gloves brigade. My grandmother always used to sit perfectly still perfectly still with her hands carefully folded on her lap, as though she she was sitting on a stage all the time. After all, especially back then, that’s what it was like for a minister’s family. They lived under the microscope 24/7, especially in smaller communities. You either had to be good, or you had to develop a very good veneer.
However, my kids didn’t know much at all about that, or sitting still. Instead, the college grounds probably seemed like one big playground to them and somewhere to run around. Indeed, to really put you in the picture, when we’d had lunch in a park in town, our son found a dead bat and thought it was absolutely fascinating. Just beautiful!
Above: My mother and her brother at the college in 1948 and our kids in 2020.
However, our tour of the school went really well, and I must commend their Public Relations Officer for being understanding and empathetic with the kids. She was beautiful!!
Another great place we went was the Cobb & Co. Museum. If you haven’t noticed by now, we’re rather fond of museums. Moreover, when the kids were small, we were particularly found of museums which knew how to educate and occupy the kids and make learning fun.
Geoff and I are also serious history buffs and what with my local German cultural heritage, I was particularly interested to find out more about the early days of settlement. Back then, I didn’t really think too much about how my ancestors might’ve displaced the Aboriginal people or even been a part of frontier conflict. It’s amazing how you can store your knowledge in separate files, and it can take awhile for the information to jump across.
Lastly, I just want to mention a great place we went to on the way up to Toowoomba, the Spring Bluff Railway Station and the Spring Bluff Cafe.It’s really worth a visit and the cafe had incredible old world charm and real artistic flair.
Well, I hope you enjoyed our brief trip to Toowoomba.
The A-Z Challenge is now starting to come to an end. I must admit it’s been a wonderful diversion during social isolation, and I’ve loved revisiting all these incredible places I’ve been. It’s also allowed me to collate a lot of personal and collective family memories and has been very productive from that point of view. I’m often so focused on trying to dig up stories from the past, that I can forget to jot down and organize our stories from the present, which probably meant a lot more to the living, that those of the dead.
How are you going with the A-Z Challenge? I’m sorry that I haven’t visited very much. Geoff and I have both found ourselves much busier than usual in lock down and it’s been hard to juggle all the balls in the air.