Mary Street just after the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Mary Street just after the turn of the Twentieth Century.

A birthday for Gympie city

GYMPIE, the major settlement of our Local Government region, officially came of age when it was declared a city on this day in 1905 – although no-one seemed to take much notice at the time.

We did a lot better in marking the occasion on its 100th anniversary however.

Then-Premier Peter Beattie was a popular figure in Mary Street in 2005, when he was guest of honour at the anniversary celebrations, which saw him launch The Gympie Times book, City of Gympie – 100 Years of News.

The book, written by Pat Towner and edited by The Gympie Times editor Nev McHarg, detailed the major events in the intervening Century, including the observation by then-editor Michael Roser that the paper had not seemed to give much attention to Gympie’s new city-hood at the time.

While other cities might have made a fuss of such an event, Roser observed: “The declaration made a mere three paragraphs on page three at the top of a column of news briefs from around the region.

“Of far greater import on page one was the weekly mining report (and) a column on chess...The Russo-Japanese war which warranted two full broadsheet columns and another two full columns on ladies’ fashions seemed to have more significance to Gympie readers than the prosperous gold mining centre being declared a city.”

On Saturday, January 7, 1905, the paper reported on the declaration almost dismissively.

“Gympie was proclaimed a city on Thursday last, as was also Maryborough. The title appears to have an ecclesiastical origin for in England, where a State Church exists, a city is a corporate town which is the see of a bishop. In Queensland where no State Church is recognised the term city can have no meaning and can confer no privileges. On the same day (Thursday) the Mayor (Ald G Garrick) received a congratulatory telegram from the Attorney-General.”

“Well, whoop-dee-doo,” we might well say. “No need to get too excited!”

As Gympie Library historian Elaine Brown wrote in the book: “In 1905, the town of Gympie, population 13,500, was creating prosperity for Queensland as it had done since 1867.

“Gympie was then at the peak of both its gold production and its population.

“At the same time, timber getters were working in the surrounding forests, providing building materials and fuel for the mines, shops and houses.

“Recognising that the gold would not last forever, far-sighted community leaders such as the editor of The Gympie Times, Jacob Stumm, were encouraging dairy farmers to clear land to produce milk and butter.

“Thus, when gold mining declined after World War I, Gympie did not become a ghost town, but, with its sawmills and butter factory, continued as the service centre of a thriving farming and timber district.”

The whole “city” thing finally made the front page 100 years later – and even not quite then really.

The front page story, published on Australia Day, 2005, led mainly with the presence of the then popular Mr Beattie, who, in those far off pre-Traveston Crossing dam days, made a big impression on the Mary Street crowds, engaging brilliantly in that face-to-face, flesh-pressing brand of politics which was his major talent.

Talking to shoppers and generally giving his protocol and security people some of their biggest headaches, he charmed the crowd face to face, included everyone in the occasion and clearly enjoyed himself.

Fetching a cup of tea from the Salvation Army stand, he joined a small group of ladies on a bench nearby and settled in for some old fashioned Mary Street conversation.

“I can take as long as I like about this,” he told Gympie resident Violet Davis. “I’m the boss.”

Gympie Times

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