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Toowoomba’s film set-worth train station often doubles as event venue
Credit: Instagram

When the future king of the British Commonwealth (as in William, not Charles) visited the Southern Queensland city of Toowoomba in 2011, what we saw beamed around the world in images afterwards was a bulls-eye of the country stereotype city-folk expect of the inland cathedral city.

There to support the still grieving region that was devastated by the Queensland floods just months before, the affable young prince was appropriately dressed in the unofficial uniform of Aussie rural gentry: open-collared striped shirt tucked into khaki chinos, topped off with a tan leather belt and matching Akubra hat. The sleeves, of course, rolled up.

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The many murals dotted around the city centre are photo backdrop perfect
Credit: Instagram @thefinches

While a lot has changed in the picturesque location since HRH’s visit, one thing remains constant – it’s a litany of surprises. For those who haven’t visited Toowoomba in the Darling Downs region, it’s easy to stereotype it as just another country town that’s tricky to spell and offers a handful of antiquities museums, but 48 hours there is literally all it will take to convince you otherwise.

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There are 150 public parks and gardens in the flower festival capital
Credit: Instagram @toowoombaliving

There’s rural charm in buckets, but also an edgy underground arts movement, café culture and progressive street style tone sported by local university students – something that GRAZIA’s fashion director Charlotte Stokes returned raving about after leading top photographer Steven Chee and a full crew to the area for a photo shoot. (Their high fashion story The Stationmaster’s Daughter was captured on location at the iconic Jondaryan Woolshed just outside the city.)

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Scenes from GRAZIA fashion story The Station Master’s Daughter, shot just outside Toowoomba
Credit: Steven Chee

Here are 6 reasons to add a trip to your outlook calendar

ONE: It’s the biggest inland city in Australia outside Canberra. With 110,000+ official residents and more in outskirt farming areas, plus the whole of Brisbane less than two hours away, it stands to reason the only thing ‘country town’ about this place are the original sandstone buildings on the main street that have been converted into cafes and private residences. (The spectacular former post office and courthouse building, set behind ornate black gates and manicured hedge gardens, is now a private residence. Worth seeing for the envy-factor alone.) There’s a buzzing café culture, restaurant scene and retail industry (more on that below) befitting a city of this size.

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A spectacular sunset over historic architecture in the main street 
Credit: Instagram @allthingsskw

Two: There’s an edgy modern art scene that’s social post perfect. The Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, which opened in 1937, is the oldest public space of its kind in Queensland. It’s now housed in a swanky, award-winning modern facility and joined by a scattering of other galleries supporting both local and distant talent. But its Toowoomba’s outdoor art that’s the real crowd pleaser. With mural genius that would give Melbourne’s famous laneways a run for their money, countless inner city alleyways and building walls are adorned with clever and often poignant art. Even the most selfie-shy person would be unlikely to resist a snap for posterity here.

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Celebrity stylist Penny Hunt foxed around in Toowoomba during her recent trip to present at the GRAZIA x Grand Central Style Sessions
Credit: Instagram @penny_hunt_

THREE: It has a shopping centre there that deserves its own postcode. City folk tend to be spoiled for choice with big retail shopping destinations, but it’s hard to imagine one being bigger than Toowoomba’s Grand Central – or at least, as it will be when the $500million redevelopment is finished in the first half of 2017. Current stores range from cool (H&M, Factorie), to mass (Country Road, Seed, Witchery), to luxe (MYER, Mecca Maxima, Rodd & Gunn) and street (HYPE DC, Universal Store, Surf Dive ‘n Ski) and the first of the new extensions opened several months ago has the same feel as the spacious, high-ceiling malls of Dubai.

Grand Central’s management team is so committed to it becoming a fashion and beauty hotspot for the region, they invited GRAZIA to present four masterclass workshops on centre stage for customers in October, drawing on the expertise of fashion influencer Helen Chik, celebrity stylist Penny Hunt and international make-up artist Angie Barton. (You can still watch the presentations in full on the Grand Central Facebook page.)

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One of the images from The Station Master’s Daughter fashion shoot we produced in collaboration with Grand Central
Credit: Steven Chee

Four: THE CARNIVAL OF FLOWERS SHOWCASES WINE AND FOOD TOO. What in life’s not made better when showcased amidst a sea of blooms? Easily the region’s biggest event, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is held over 10 days in September each year, and is the longest-running floral event of its kind in Australia. It’s a ticketed event with a big food and wine-tasting element, but also features plenty of free offerings too: garden competitions, street parades, live entertainment, concerts and of course, floral displays around the entire city centre. If you’re visiting outside festival time, it’s good to know there are 150 parks and gardens in the city that tick the nature stroll boxes.

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Looking up at an installation during last year’s Carnival of Flowers
Credit: Instagram @toowoombaliving

Five: The Jondaryan Woolshed is like stepping onto a movie set. Once a working wool station, now a hotel and convention venue popular for weddings, it’s one of the region’s biggest draw cards and a must-visit if you’re anywhere near the area. There’s a working museum there, amazing onsite restaurant and you can either camp on the property or stay in one of its picturesque cabins, making it ideal for an overnight stop or never-forget lunch as you’re passing through. It’s also where GRAZIA fashion director Charlotte set The Station Master’s Daughter, published in the premium Fashion Shoot section of GRAZIA.com.au last month.

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GRAZIA fashion shoot The Station Master’s Daughter captured at Jondaryan Woolshed
Credit: Steven Chee

SIX: The mesmerising downhill drive from there to Brisbane or the Gold Coast. It may feel deceptively flat once you’re there, but Toowoomba is actually the fifth highest city in Oz, situated on a giant tabletop on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, 691m above sea level. And trust us, the drive between there and the coast is both an easy cruise and spectacular. The ideal scenario is to fly into the Toowoomba’s swanky new privately-owned international airport (confusingly named Brisbane West Wellcamp), because the view of the landscape from above is spectacular. Then, hire a car from the airport for the course of your stay, and then drive down the mountain to Brisbane (125km) or the Gold Coast (180km). It’s almost entirely cruisey motorway with a very pretty view.

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WATCH STEVEN CHEE’s CREATIVE ‘stationmasters daughter’ video FILMED near TOOWOOMBA

 

 

produced in association with Grand Central

Helen Chik is founder of fashion and travel blog CH1K.com. Follow her on Instagram @helenchikx.

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