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Rich Mine of Heritage in Ipswich

9 March 2013

Architectural treasures abound in Ipswich, writes Alison Cotes

USELESS but interesting fact of the day: Walter Burley Griffin, the architect who designed Canberra, had a thing about civic incinerators and built at least 18 in Australia.
One of the proudest is in Ipswich, Queensland’s second-largest city, where it is part of the city’s hidden heritage and today functions as a venue for live theatre.

Ipswich – too long regarded as a down-market coal-mining town – has some of the finest 19th-century buildings in the state.

The beautiful Queen’s Park – the oldest public park in Queensland, built in 1863 – contains many hidden treasures, including the Ipswich Nature Centre, with exotic as well as native animals, and the Frank Manthey Bilby Burrow, where these cutest but randiest of endangered animals can be seen fraternising (but nothing else, I promise) with the rare spinifex hopping mice.

Queens Park is a good place to start your introduction to the hidden glories of Ipswich because, whether you’re walking or driving, you do need guidance, as the
architectural treasures are not all conveniently located together.

So drop in at the Visitor Information Centre, where the staff will go out of their way to tell you what to do and how to get there. Their brochures and guides are ideal for self-drive tours, and they’ll also book you on the valuepacked three-hour heritage bus tour, which shows you all the best places and includes a proper cream tea in one of the heritage
houses. They only run on the first Saturday of the month.

I was taken on a private tour in a car with my own guide, and saw some houses and precincts that I didn’t know existed. As you drive into Ipswich from Brisbane, you may see on your right, opposite Queens Park, a peculiar squat semi-pyramid made out of local stone.

Neither a primitive Tower of Babel nor a remnant of ancient Mayan culture, it marks the spot where Alan Cunningham first camped and saw his famous Gap, which opened up the
Darling Downs to white settlers in 1828. It was also a place where the local Aboriginal people camped on their way to the annual bunya nut festival, because there was a erpetual
spring there.

Moving right along, we went past houses of the 1860s made of Helidon sandstone, and down streets including Woodend Rd, where all the houses are set at an angle to the street
to catch the breezes.

Arthur St is a good example of the contrast between the houses of the rich and those of the labouring class, and the Catholics claimed the best sites, building St Edmund’s and St
Mary’s colleges in the 1860s.

You’ll also learn something of the city’s mixed settlers’ heritage – first the Irish and then the Welsh when the mines were opened – and a few minutes in the heritage precinct of
Blackstone Rd is time well-spent.

You can drive this route on your own with the help of the excellent DIY brochure from the Visitor Information Centre, and walk the famous Top of Town with its old hotels and houses, which has now become something of an urban hub, with trendy little shops and cafes, as well as the renovated Stumps Hotel, where you can get a plate of tapas for $14 a person.

For authentic heritage value, stay overnight at the House of Agnes, about 10 minutes out of town in a quiet little cul-de-sac in Booval. It used to be a corner store in 1854, so
isn’t one of Ipswich’s stately homes, but South African Lianne Hynes and her partner Karen Creighton have resisted the temptation to make it what it never was, and what you get is a genuine little wooden cottage with all the original features with the added comforts of airconditioning, ceiling fans and a claw-foot bath.

The writerwas the guest of House of Agnes and the Ipswich Information Centre.

GETTING THERE: Ipswich is 45 minutes from Brisbane by car. Take either the M5 or the M7 south and follow the signs. There are hourly train services from Brisbane.

STAYING THERE: House of Agnes, 1 Roma St, North Booval; houseofagnesbedandbreak Tariff $80-$130 a night. If House of Agnes is fully booked, or if
you want to be closer to the city centre, try Mary’s Place. See

DOING THERE: Heritage architecture tours; Incinerator Theatre (David Williamson’s Amigos March 6-23);

Ipswich Antique Centre, 86 East St, is in a heritagelisted 1895 building and has its own cafe;

Queens Park Japanese gardens, nature centre, bilbies and amphitheatre, bush chapel, plant nursery;

eat at Fourth Child orStumps Hotel (both in Brisbane St, Top of Town).

Self-drive tour brochures or monthly heritage bus tour bookings at the Visitor Information Centre, ph 3281 0555, see discoveripswich