Fascinating history comes back to life in new book by Nichole Overall
In 1828, an ex-convict and inn-keeper settled with his small herd of cattle on the shores of an inland river that coursed from high in the surrounding hills before snaking its way across a vast flood plain.
Assigning a certain level of proprietorship to his illegal occupancy, the interloper, a man named Timothy Beard, called his new digs Quinbean, reputed to be the Aboriginal word for ‘clear waters’ – although also alleged to translate to ‘beautiful woman’, or parts thereof. A decade later and only 50 years after European colonisation of the continent, the township of Queanbeyan, with a population of some 50 residents, was officially proclaimed.
Early wealth and commerce and a strong sense of community
During its early days, the burgeoning settlement benefited from a brief gold rush and the founding of lead and silver mines, dealt with bushrangers of the infamy of Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner, endured numerous natural disasters including floods, droughts and fires, and earned a reputation as one of the most affluent districts in the colony.
At the advent of a new century, the by-then municipality was a thriving and bustling place of shops and theatres, pubs and churches and above all, a strong sense of community.
It could boast a hospital with 16 beds, a public school, and a variety of commercial operations, from breweries which utilised the “excellent brewing potential of the waters of the Queanbeyan River”, to up to seven flour mills, and at a time when there were only a handful of provincial newspapers in all of NSW, two well-entrenched local publications.
New national capital to be ‘near Queanbeyan’
As the heart of the district, in 1913 when the vision for the new National Capital was only beginning to be realised, Queanbeyan had elected its first local government almost 30 years earlier and some of the town’s most significant community leaders, including two ‘fathers’ – ‘father of Canberra’ John Gale and ‘father of the Australian wheat industry’ William Farrer – were instrumental in the decision to site the Capital in the region. Amusingly, Canberra’s placement was routinely described as ‘near Queanbeyan’.
Canberrans relied heavily on the more established centre in a commercial and social sense, perhaps never more so than during the reign of King O’Malley, himself a character of interesting repute who claimed to be Canadian rather than US-born in order to be able to stand for Australian Parliament, and his imposition of a 17-year ban on alcohol in the Federal Territory.
While Canberra is now busy celebrating 2013 as its centenary year, Queanbeyan presaged the fanfare in 1938, marking the occasion of its own 100th birthday with a ‘monster’ street parade, no less than a Military Tattoo, a seven-foot tall, 100 pound birthday cake and a Centenary Dinner, the guests of honour for which were Prime Minister Joseph Lyons and his wife Dame Enid.
Celebrating 175 years
Over the course of the 175 years since Queanbeyan was officially recognised as a township, it has travelled a fascinating and often little-known path, moving from grazing district to wealthy pastoral centre, regional hub to multicultural modern city.
Home to more than its share of famous faces, colourful characters and upstanding citizens, its record is replete with tales of mystery and marvels, tragedy and inspiration. Queanbeyan – City of Champions provides an overview of this journey, revealing some of the more momentous events, milestones and identities as well as tackling some of the pre-conceived notions that surround the city.
Queanbeyan – City of Champions is an independent project, self-funded and published, by Nichole Overall with photography by Trudy Taylor and design by Dana Stewart-Thompson of Fresh Creative. It will be launched in late September as part of the celebrations for Queanbeyan’s 175th anniversary.Pre-orders can be made at www.qbncityofchampions.com.au.
Main photo: A scene from an early floral festival. Photo courtesy of the Queanbeyan Museum.