Historic Toowoomba – Indigenous History

Gumbi Gumbi Gardens, Toowoomba, QLD

As a student of history I love learning about the past. I love learning about the way people lived, the challenges they faced, and the developments that have occurred over time. The history of humanity is a pretty mixed bag, though. There have been great achievements and there have been many terrible lows that can leave us shaking our heads and wondering about the future of the human race. When we study history, we strive to be as truthful about the past as we can be, without swinging from one extreme to the other. Facing up to the bad is just as important as celebrating the good.

The city of Toowoomba has a long history. One of the things that I love about living in Toowoomba is the preservation of its colonial architecture. I love old buildings. I love their graceful and elegant designs and the architectural detail. Toowoomba has a lot of old buildings and the Regional Council has designed a number of historic walks around the CBD that highlight the history of each one. But Toowoomba’s history goes back long before the arrival of the first European settlers in the 1820s and the construction of these beautiful buildings.

For thousands of years the Toowoomba area was home to the Jagera, Giabal and Jarowair people. The Giabal people inhabited the area we now call Toowoomba, while the Jagera people lived on the foothills and escarpment of the Great Dividing Range, and the Jarowair people came from further north, towards the Bunya Mountains. Every few years they would hold the Bunya Nut Festival, a large gathering of Aboriginal people from around the Darling Downs and even as far north as Gympie. The festival was an important event for holding ceremonies and corroborrees, as well as celebrating the harvest of bunya nuts. But everything changed with the arrival of the European settlers.

Initially relations between the Indigenous people and the Europeans were friendly, but as the numbers of settlers increased tensions began to arise. The Europeans didn’t understand the Indigenous way of life or their connection with the land. Sacred sites were desecrated and the introduction of diseases, such as smallpox, influenza and measles, had a devastating impact on the indigenous population. Things came to a head at the Battle of One-Tree Hill in 1843. By 1870, the Indigenous people of the Toowoomba area had almost been completely wiped out.

The twentieth century brought new levels of hardship to Indigenous people as they came under the total control of the Queensland Government. Removed from their traditional lands, they were sent to live on reserves and missions. It had a devastating impact, destroying family and tribal relationships, and the traditional indigenous culture and way of life. After World War Two attitudes towards Indigenous people changed somewhat, but assimilation was the policy of the day. Today there is a growing awareness of the importance of learning about the history and culture of our Indigenous people. We cannot undo the past but we can endeavour to move forward, developing respectful and supportive relationships. You can read more about Toowoomba’s Indigenous history here.

At the University of Southern Queensland, here in Toowoomba, the Gumbi Gumbi Gardens provide a place for recreation, quiet reflection and education about the important relationship between Indigenous people and the land. Opened in 2013, the garden is populated with species indigenous to the area and also features a “yarning circle, a fire pit and a dry creek bed” (ABC 2013). One of the landscape architects involved in developing the project, Mary Kearney, hopes it will encourage local residents to incorporate indigenous species into their own gardens.

These Gardens tell the story of the growth journey we all take; learning from our past to inform our future. It is a story of mutual dependence, of walking and growing together and of confidence in the future.

University of Southern Queensland

I like that idea of walking together as a diverse community on a journey into the future, creating history for the generations yet to come. I wonder what they will think as they look back at us. I hope they will be proud of our achievements and forgiving of our mistakes.

2 thoughts on “Historic Toowoomba – Indigenous History

  1. I am really interested in trying to grow some of the plants that were used by our first nation people. I am sad that our history meant we overlooked so much knowledge back then. I really do think we are beginning to walk together now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the interest and respect that people are showing now is encouraging, and I am finding that the more that I learn, the more that I notice the absence or exclusion of the Indigenous perspective.


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