365 Places: Toowoomba
Day 48: Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Now Toowoomba is a place that admittedly I don’t love, perhaps because I don’t know it well enough to have a strong feeling either way about the place. However, there are ancestral connections for me with Toowoomba, mainly through the paternal side of the family.
The Benson family started in Australia in the late 1880s when Norwegian merchant sailor Anton Benson arrived in Australia via the USA. He settled in the Toowoomba area, marrying Carolina Wurst of German heritage in 1888, proceeding to have 13 children. Some say that there was also a Spanish or Catalan connection on the Wurst side of the family, but we do not know for sure. He was employed as a warder at the Willowburn mental asylum which is now called Baillie Henderson Hospital.
One of the things that struck me as odd when I moved to Canberra, was the strange comparisons people made with Toowoomba, saying there were linkages. Yes, both places have flower festivals in September – Toowoomba has the Carnival of Flowers and Canberra has Floriade. Both cities have four seasons (as opposed to hot and really hot), both places are inland cities and both have similar elevation – with Canberra about 600m and Toowoomba about 690m. But for me that is where the similarities end…
Mr Wikipedia says about the colonial history:
Toowoomba’s colonial history traces back to 1816 when English botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham arrived in Australia from Brazil and in June 1827 discovered 4 million acres (16,000 km²) of rich farming and grazing land, which became known as the Darling Downs, bordered on the east by the Great Dividing Range and situated 100 miles (160 km) west of the settlement of Moreton Bay.
In regards to the Indigenous history and culture, which reaches much further back, the Toowoomba Regional Council website says:
The Indigenous tribes of the Jagera, Giabal and Jarowair people inhabited the Darling Downs for at least 40,000 years before European settlement. Estimations place the indigenous population pre-settlement from 1500 to 2500 people. The Jagara people were of the foothills and escarpment, Giabal were of the Toowoomba area and the Jarowair were of the northern areas towards and including the Bunya Mountains.
The conflict between European settlers and Indigenous people was well documented from the 1840s until the 1890s after initial good relationships turned sour because of a lack of understanding and respect for sacred lands by the Europeans. In 1843 about 25 years before Anton arrived in the region, violence escalated:
The most famous and serious of conflicts on the Downs was the Battle of One-Tree Hill which took place on what is now known as Table Top Mountain. In September 1843, an elder of the Jagera tribe called Multuggera (also known as ‘King Moppy’) sent warning to his friend – John Campbell of Westbrook Station – that an uprising was imminent. Campbell ignored the warning and on September 12, 1843, Multuggera led around 100 Aborigines in an ambush of three drays heading up the range crossing. This was an attempt to stop the drays from travelling and so starve the settlers. They were determined to first rid the Downs of the settlers and then blockade the road to prevent more invaders from coming. From Toowoomba Regional Council
My interest is learning more about this region is motivated by my need to learn and understand more about my family history on my Father’s site, which in many ways is a mystery to me except for a couple of little clues.