Toowoomba is Australia’s largest inland city, 120 km west of Brisbane, perched atop the Great Dividing Range. It seems intrinsically linked to the comings and goings of my family. My parents lived there for a number of years, teaching at the TAFE. Both my brothers attended Southern Cross University though there was a 15 year gap in between. Even Mr Tiffin attempted some further education there before the lure of the student club outweighed attendance at lectures. Yet somehow, I’ve spent very little time in Toowoomba. I have visited Sydney and probably even Melbourne more times than I have visited Toowoomba. I’m not exactly sure why or how this occurred but after all these years, I know very little of Toowoomba. An invitation* to attend the launch of the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers gave me an opportunity to redress this situation.
The Garden City
Toowoomba is known as the Garden City. The Carnival of Flowers is a showcase for the cool and temperate climate gardens and fabulous floral displays that burst into life as the city shrugs off its frosty Winter blanket. The Carnival has been running for 65 years and was originally conceived as a project to re-invigorate a depressed town after the Second World War. In my mind’s eye, I thought that the Carnival of Flowers was about this:
and indeed, it is still very much a focal point for the community. These days though, the Carnival has broader appeal with much more to offer, showcasing gardens, regional produce, live entertainment and family activities.
Flowers – Both Laurel Bank Park and Queens Park are planted out with the most spectacular blooms for people to wander through. Queens Park alone has 45 000 seedlings just starting to peep through and timed to POP! the day before the Carnival starts. The public parks are wonderful but there’s another major drawcard for flower lovers. The Toowoomba Chronicle runs a garden competition where residents, business and community groups enter the 44 categories, hoping to win prizes to the value of $50 000 including the Grand Champion visiting Singapore, famous for its orchid gardens. There are hop on, hop off shuttles to the gardens as well as downloadable ‘drive yourself’ maps. For those that are keen, local garden societies such as the Orchid Society put on special shows, there are gardening demonstrations such as ‘Creating An Edible Landscape’ from ABC’s Gardening Australia Team and a ‘Ready Steady Snip’ floral arranging competition. A floral frenzy!
Food – these days you can’t go to any big event without their being a food and wine angle and Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is no exception. Queens Park will host a Food Festival with live cooking demos, regional produce and 20 cellar doors representing wineries from the region. Still hungry? Maybe you’d like to go on a Paddock to Plate tour or jump on board the Progressive Food and Wine Tour.
I was lucky enough to attend a special degustation dinner at The Angel Cafe, prepared by Chef Rick Osborne and hosted by larger than life Toowoomba superfan and Carnival advocate Cr Geoff McDonald. The menu was identical to the one that will be on offer at the Signature Mayor’s Dinner, to be held under the laurel avenue in Queens Park. Rick has worked at La Gavroche in London under Albert Roux and Michele Roux Jnr as well as with Shannon Bennett at Vue de Monde. He calls Toowoomba home and his world of experience shines through in technique and local ingredients. I won’t reveal the full menu as it’s nice to have some little surprises but if you do decide to attend the dinner, one of the courses will be Quail Ballotine w Smoked Baby Onions and Jerusalem Artichoke Puree.
Fun – It’s not all about flowers and food. There’s all sorts of activities such as a Classic Car day with hot rods, street machines and timeless motoring beauties; sideshow alley; Kids Day Out for those that are young; and, a live concert series for those that are young at heart featuring acts such as Icehouse and tribute band Bjorn Again. As their musical inspiration, ABBA sang ‘Beautiful gardens full of flowers and songs’…
Of course, there’s the Grand Central Floral Parade through Toowoomba CBD on September 20th. The parade started in 1950 with bullocks pulling the floats but these days there’s not just the floats but street performers and a chance for the kids to join in and decorate the footpath with free pavement chalk being distributed by the volunteers. There will also be complimentary cheering sticks (as far as I know, not made of gladioli). The theme this year is ‘A Storybook of Colour’ and at the end of the parade, you have a chance to buy potted colour, flowers, fruit and vegetables straight off the floats.
Insider’s Tip – One of the parade marshals gave me some great advice: ‘Head to the corner of Herries and Hume where the parade starts so you can have a good look at the floats before they head off and have an opportunity to take photos. This is the best place to come with kids.’
Got a Curly Question? – Of course, no big event like this can do without its volunteers and TCOF is no exception. Year after year, local volunteers spend inordinate amounts of time making sure the Carnival goes off without a hitch. This isn’t something they do a few months in advance though. It’s a year round operation. And, they bring their friends along to help out, when they return the next year. If you’re visiting and have any questions about the Carnival, the volunteers are the people to ask. You can readily identify them by their t-shirts printed with the slogan ‘Got a Curly Question For Carnival? Ask me!’
So there you have it. Ten days of festival fun perched on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, only 90 minute’s drive from Brisbane. You can easily do a day trip or, as the Carnival slogan suggests, make a weekend (or longer of it) and Eat. Laugh. Play. Stay.
Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers 2014
Friday 19 – Sunday 28 September
*TIFFIN came up to Toowoomba and smelled the roses when she attended the launch of the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers as a media guest of TCOF and Kath Rose & Associates. All travel, meals, activities and accommodation were supplied.