Toowoomba is located a few hours drive to the west of Brisbane, on the crest of the Great Dividing Range and services a rich farming region. Not only is it the 2nd most populous inland city in Australia (after Canberra, the nation’s capital) it is also the oldest, founded in 1849 on the lands of the indigenous Giabal and Jarowair people and often referred to as the capital of the Darling Downs. 1
It’s a picturesque drive from Brisbane through rolling hills covered by pastures of many different species, vegetables, legumes such as soy beans and chick peas, and other crops including cotton, wheat, barley and sorghum. Between the farmlands there are long stretches of crisscrossing roads, bushy ridges, winding creeks and herds of cattle; farms with beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and lamb stock. Windmills are dotted about, rusty old woolsheds , train tracks and restored railway stations from a bygone era of early exploration and settlement.1
At an altitude of 700 metres (2,300ft) Toowoomba has a temperate climate and renowned for its beautiful gardens. Each September the city hosts the Carnival of Flowers, showcasing breathtaking gardens, flowers and topiary in its beautiful parks, the streets are filled with colourful flower beds while many private gardens are open to the public.
Since its inception in 1949, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers has flourished and is now an iconic Queensland event. Read a short summary of the history by clicking on the bookmark below. I love the early photo of the street parade.
With some friends I visited Toowoomba in October, 2023. We just missed the carnival and the crowds, but still the parks and gardens were ablaze with colour, roses blossomed and garden beds remained immaculate.
We wandered through Laurel Bank Park to admire the topiary – as you can see below -the little train a work of art. There were no children at the park when we visited, but we could picture them piling onto the seats behind the friendly engine - setting their imaginations going. To the right, the topiary represents the Sydney Opera House - not the best angle for my photo though.
The Ju-Raku-En Japanese Gardens were a delight and as we meandered the winding paths in the early morning, the light was especially beautiful on the water with crisp reflections. The bridge, although a vibrant red here, reminded me of Monet’s waterlily garden in Giverny, France.
Opened in 1989, we were lucky enough to chat with one of the gardeners - he helped with the original planting of the garden and is very proud of the results today and rightly so.
The town itself is vibrant with lots of cafes and street art. It's a cultured town with a tastefully restored art deco theatre – The Empire. We were lucky enough to catch a performance of Sleeping Beauty at the theatre, by the Czech Ballet Company, a great chance to admire the theatre.
Not only are the locals proud of their culture, they are keen to retain their history too. No more so than the railways. Spring Bluff Railway Station is surrounded by colourful flower beds. While we were there a locomotive came through with about 40 wagons - each feature unique graffiti. Not as exciting as a steam engine, but still fun to count the wagons.
The Downs Railway Museum is a real gem - enthusiastic volunteers transformed what looked to be an almost bare paddock to a functioning railway station and museum in a mere 7 years. As you can see below - what an achievement.
There is a lot to see from old trains, engines and a plethora of paraphanelia. Like every museum they acquite junk too eg the image at bottom right, states that unless all these books are reviewed quickly they are headed for the trash! Let's hope someone jumps to it and a possible gem is not lost.
It was such a surprise to enter one old railway carriage - the walls and ceilings completed painted by Domi, an inmate of the Prisoner Rehabilitation Program. That didn't stop DownsSteam employing him to undertake this incredible artwork.
The Dreamtime Journey Coach Project was initiated by DownsSteam members wanting to acknowledge the contribution made by indigenous people to building of the range railway. As a result one SX coach has been re-purposed as a permanent art installation.2
They thank the Westbrook Correctional Centre for allowing “Domi” (meaning thunder) to solely undertake this unique and extensive art project over very short 19 weeks, as many other artists had declined due to the magnitude of the project.2
For copyright reasons no photos were allowed, but I urge you to click on the bookmark and admire the images of this incredible art installation. They are even better close-up!
For train enthusiasts there is plenty of information of the exhibitions on display as well.
The Downs Explorer offers a range of unique heritage rail experiences through some of the most picturesque countryside in Australia.
We hope to make it back to Toowoomba again next year - there is so much to see and do - this train trip is definitely a must do!
Did I mention the ice creams and rainbow cake were excellent too!