The area around Toowoomba was first explored by Allan Cunningham. Cunningham is attributed with discovering and naming the Darling Downs area (which at the time was full of fertile farming land). Cunningham named the area after the then New South Wales Governor, Sir Ralph Darling in 1827. Around 13 years after this, Toolburra Station was established south west of Toowoomba. The first settlers began arriving at the station and quickly established a larger town called Drayton. The area grew and developed quickly and soon had its own newspaper, general store, trading post and inn. The inn’s first proprietor was William Horton, a convict from Worcestershire in England. The Royal Bull’s Head Inn still stands today and Horton is generally recognised around town as the founder of Toowoomba!
By the 1850’s Drayton was growing rapidly with a population of more than 700. To allow for even more growth a new municipality was announced in 1860. The area was a convenient stopping point on the route from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to the pastoral holdings in the west. This was a very busy route at this time.
In 1852 Thomas Alford settled to the north of Drayton and called his property Toowoomba. The rest, as they say, is history! Slowly area grew. As the story goes the areas original name was ‘The Swamp’. This was officially changed in 1858. Funnily enough, the Aboriginal word ‘Toowoomba’ is said to mean ‘the swamp’. In 1860 Toowoomba was officially declared a municipality and a city in 1904.
In the later part of the 19th century the town was connected to cities further afield by a railway line (which still exists today but is largely unused). Stately Victorian houses and manors were built and impressive trees and parklands were planted. These features still remain a distinctive part of the city’s appearance today.
During the Second World War troops took over the parklands and used them, along with major buildings, for recreational purposes, as hospitals or for military training exercises. Since the 1950s Toowoomba has steadily built up a range of industries including tertiary services, public service and retail facilities to assume its traditional and current role as a commercial, agricultural and educational hub.
Today Toowoomba is known as the Garden City and throughout Toowoomba’s history the abundant parklands and recreation areas have been well utilised, maintained and looked after. A number of heritage-listed buildings remain in Toowoomba’s town centre and others have been lovingly restored to reflect the colonial grandeur of yesteryear.
Toowoomba has an active historical society and there are a number of publications and landmarks available to be seen and viewed throughout the city. These landmarks recognise the rich history of the area. There is an historical town centre walk that is run by the Tourist Information Centre which is an excellent way to experience Toowoomba’s history first hand.