This story is about Longreach in its early days and one of its pioneer families. It is inspired by six illustrated postcards of Longreach I found in my late mother Evelyn’s collection of photographs and memorabilia. The postcards reveal key features of this small Central Western Queensland town in the late 1800s and early 1900s and introduce us to four members of the Searles family of Longreach.
Gazetted as a town in 1887, by 1901 Longreach had a population of 1,690. Twenty years later, in 1921, the population of the Longreach Shire was 4,260. These early years were marked by rapid growth and development. The postcards provide evidence of public buildings, structures and establishments, roads and transport, and social norms, dating from this period of Longreach’s history.
All six postcards are examples of “divided backs”. The illustration is large and fills one side of the postcard; the other side (the back) is divided, to allow for a message and the recipient’s address. Divided back postcards were adopted in Australia in January 1905 and, over the next couple of decades, postcards (including ones displaying real photographs) were a popular means of communication. My mother’s collection contains commercially-produced postcards depicting places (such as Longreach) and postcards produced from studio portraits and candid photographs of family members. I have written previously about my mother Evelyn, her early years, and her collection of photographs and memorabilia: My mother, a young woman.
Five of the Longreach postcards were never written on: They are blank. They belong to a single series produced by the Australian Enamallers (RPN). The postcards depict, in sepia, the Longreach Railway Station, Thompson [sic.] River Bridge, Longreach; Longreach Shire Hall and Post Office; Eagle Street, Longreach, Looking South (1) and Eagle Street, Longreach, Looking South (2). Amazingly, these five postcards, which are about 100 years old, are in near mint condition.
The sixth postcard, showing the Longreach Shire Hall, is slightly larger than the other five. But most importantly, it contains a message on the back. It is addressed to “Harold” and signed “Stanley Searles”. This postcard was included in a letter from “Elsie” to “Evie”. Mention is made of Harold’s horse-riding, and “Harry” and “Mervyn” going for drives in the buggy with “your Granny”. Given the content and people named in the message, I have deduced that it was written (and the postcard sent) in 1926.
Reader, please note: CLICK on each image in this post to view an enlarged image in a lightbox.
The Searles and Beaumont families
Stanley Searles (who penned the message on the postcard) was the second son of Charles and Catherine Searles, of Longreach. In 1926 he would have been 14 or 15 years old. Harry and Mervyn were two of Stanley’s brothers. They would have been about 8 and 5 years old (respectively) in 1926. Elsie Searles was their aunt, one of their father’s sisters. The family lived with Charles’ parents, Henry William and Sarah Searles, in their Ibis Street (Longreach) home. Elsie, who was single at the time, lived there too.
Harold and “Evie” (Evelyn) Beaumont lived at Rannes, 65 miles (104 km) southwest of Rockhampton. Harold was Evelyn’s older brother. Their parents were Donald and Flora Beaumont, of “Woolein View”, Rannes. Harold would have been 12 or 13 years old at the time; Evelyn 10 years old.
Elsie, Stanley, Harry and Mervyn Searles, and Harold and Evelyn Beaumont, were cousins. Sarah Searles (nee Beaumont), Elsie’s mother and the boys’ grandmother, and Thomas Bloomfield Beaumont, Harold’s and Evelyn’s grandfather, were siblings. Their parents were Alfred and Emma Beaumont, who arrived in Australia from England in 1853. Alfred and Emma, who settled at Deeford (Wowan), had 10 children, including Thomas Bloomfield (born in 1853) and Sarah (a twin, born in 1861).
Thomas Bloomfield Beaumont married Elizabeth Mary Ann (Ellen) Tancred in 1878. Thomas and Elizabeth and family settled at Rannes. They were Harold’s and Evelyn’s paternal grandparents. Elizabeth is the one referred to as “your Granny” in the postcard message. Read my earlier story about Thomas and Elizabeth Beaumont and family: Mons: Whose house is that?
Sarah Beaumont married Henry William Searles, from Maitland (New South Wales), at Rockhampton in 1881. Henry was a teamster, based at Westwood, carrying goods between Rockhampton and settlements in the Central West. Henry and Sarah Searles were among the early settlers of Central Western Queensland, first Barcaldine then Longreach. They had nine children, three sons and six daughters. Their first child, Charles Alfred, was born in 1882.
In 1908, Charles (“Charlie”) married Catherine Miller and the couple settled at Longreach. Together they had seven sons and one daughter: Geoffrey, Stanley (“Stan”), Leslie, Sidney Graham (“Graham”), William Henry (“Harry”), Mervyn, Francis (“Frank”) and Mavis. Three of their sons (Stanley, Harry and Mervyn) are mentioned in the postcard message.
Stanley Searles, who wrote the postcard message, won many prizes for his handwritten schoolwork. For example, in 1920, he won first prize for “Best copy book (boys under 10)” at the Brisbane National Show . In 1925, he won first prize for “Exercise book, used in school, work by boy or girl, 14 years or under” at the Longreach Show . Stanley attended St Joseph’s Convent Primary School, Longreach.
The history of the Searles family is intertwined with the story of Longreach and its early years. This account is just a snippet of that history.
Longreach in the late 1800s
Longreach is so named because it lies on the “long reach”, a long deep stretch, of the Thomson River. Explorer Edward Kennedy named the Thomson River in 1847 after Edward Deas-Thomson, a Colonial Secretary based in Sydney.
By the late 1800s, a small settlement had sprung up on the western side of the long reach of the Thomson River. In December 1887, a month after Longreach was gazetted as a township, anticipating that the railway line (when extended) would not cross the river, lots of town land on the eastern side of the river were put up for sale. Apparently sales were slow until, in 1891, the Queensland National Bank bought an allotment on the corner of Eagle and Swan Streets. In fact, the township (on the eastern side of the river) did not really start to grow until completion of the railway line from Rockhampton to Longreach and connection of telephone services in 1892.
In 1892 Henry and Sarah Searles and family moved to Longreach. They relocated from Barcaldine, where they had been living for 6 years. In Longreach they bought a house lot in Ibis Street. The house they built, in 1894, is still owned and occupied by members of the Searles family in 2017. Henry sold his carrying business and purchased an aerated water business (a first for Longreach) from James Cronin, some 10 months after it commenced, in December 1892. The Searles’ Cordial Factory, as it was known, under his management, operated continuously until 1927 .
A special commissioner of the Pastoralists’ Review, writing in 1895 , described the first Longreach Show, the rail service from Rockhampton to Longreach and the fledgling township in the following way:
“…the Longreach Show promises to become one of the most important, if not the most important one in Queensland. Longreach is a town of some thousand inhabitants, situated close to the Thomson River and on all sides it is surrounded by a vast area of some of the most magnificent wool growing country in Australia. …
The distance from Rockhampton to Longreach is 424 miles, and it takes nineteen hours to accomplish it. … Longreach is reached at five in the afternoon. It is like the usual bush towns in the interior, where pavements are unknown. But its hotels are numerous and comfortable. It has a fine club-house and a large pastoral hall, otherwise there is nothing out of the common to strike a visitor. A School of Arts is being built, and the first function of the Governor on his arrival was the laying of its foundation stone.”
A railway line from Rockhampton to Longreach
The railway line from Rockhampton to Central Western Queensland was extended from Ilfracombe to Longreach and officially opened on 15 February 1892. It was an important milestone in the development of the township. From 1892 until 1926 Longreach was the terminus of the rail service from Rockhampton, which helped it become the administrative centre of western Queensland. The opening of the railway line was reported  in this way:
“Application has been made to the Colonial Secretary for the day to be proclaimed a public holiday, and perhaps the Commissioners will put on a special train at excursion fares, so that the many residents of the townships along the line between Alpha and the new terminus may have an opportunity of making acquaintance with what is already beginning to be known as the Queen City of the west.”
When the railway line to Longreach was opened, there were no railway buildings, apart from a small Post and Telegraph Office that was built to service the telegraph line which advanced with the railway line. The first railway station was a small timber shelter shed and office, 60 feet by 14 feet (approximately 18.3 metres by 4.3 metres) . This building proved grossly unsuitable for its purpose.
Several deputations were made to the Queensland Government for a new railway station at Longreach. According to a 1907 report : “It is held not only that the station is altogether unsuitable for the amount of traffic, but that it is on the wrong side of the line, being on the side opposite the town.” A 1912 report  was more scathing:
“That a town of this importance should have to put up with such an apology for a station is a positive disgrace and a scandal. … That men should be asked to work in the summer months under the conditions which obtain at the Longreach station is a disgrace to any government. The shade readings at the station in the summer would astound the Commissioner.”
A new railway station, a grand Edwardian-style timber building, became a reality in 1916. It was designed by architect Henrik Hansen, who also designed the Emerald (Queensland), Mount Morgan and Archer Park (Rockhampton) railway stations. Although not quite finished at the time, the new building was occupied by the Station Master and his staff in October 1916. One report  described the new railway station as “indeed a decided change to the little old dog-kennel that did duty for so long”.
The postcard above shows the Longreach Railway Station, which opened in 1916. The photograph was probably taken in the early 1920s. It shows at least 11 motor vehicles parked at random in the street in front of the station. The road is unsealed.
The Longreach Railway Station is heritage-listed and still in use today (2017). The people of Longreach can be justly proud of this splendid century-old building. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 12 December 2005.
A road traffic bridge for Longreach
Tenders for construction of a road traffic bridge over the Thomson River at Longreach closed on 6 December 1895 . The bridge was to be located on the site of the ferry service. At this spot the Thomson River was only 62 yards (approximately 57 metres) wide. The bridge was to be built on 20 piles, each driven 25 feet (7.62 metres) in the ground. The width of the bridge was to be 16 feet (4.88 metres) .
The timber bridge was completed by January 1897, at cost to the Queensland Government of £2,300 (more than AUD 300,000 today). It was situated on the main road to the railway station and was 263 feet (approximately 80 metres) in length. The government architect who inspected the bridge after its completion reported that the work was “well carried out” .
The postcard shows the 1897 road traffic bridge built over the Thomson River at Longreach. One motor vehicle is pictured crossing the bridge. The photograph most likely dates from the early 1920s.
The bridge served the Longreach community until 1935, when it was replaced by a second bridge, of reinforced concrete. The new bridge opened for traffic in October 1935. A contractor, Mr W. E. Kelly, dismantled and stacked the old (1897) bridge.
The Longreach Post Office
The first Longreach Post and Telegraph Office proper opened on Monday 5 June 1893. It was located in Eagle Street, at the corner of Eagle and Duck Streets. Unfortunately, on the evening of Thursday 3 April 1902, this building along with 13 other establishments was destroyed by fire. According to one report of the fire : “The Post Office was completely destroyed, but Mr. W. H. Morrison, the Postmaster, with the assistance of his staff, saved all the mail and instruments. Mr. Morrison, who resided in the Post Office building, lost everything.”
A new Post Office building was constructed on the site. It cost of £1,339 (about AUD 190,000 today) and was operational by May 1903. It seems not everyone was satisfied with the new building : “[It] does not seem to be so well adapted for the public convenience as the old one. And the absence of a verandah on the south-western side is an omission which will be severely felt in the summer months.”
The postcard shows the second Longreach Post Office, which opened in 1903, and the Longreach Shire Hall (obscured), which dates from 1905. The photograph was probably taken in the early 1920s. The sepia photograph has been treated with coloured highlights.
In 1926, Elsie Searles would have posted her letter to “Evie” (Evelyn Beaumont) at this Post Office. The postal service was an important and much valued means of communication in those days (and indeed, until the advent of digital communication technology).
The neat well-maintained timber building located at 100 Eagle Street still houses the Longreach Post Office in 2017. That it is in such good condition, and in use over a century after it was built, is a credit to the people of Longreach.
A Shire Hall for Longreach
The township of Longreach was originally part of the Aramac Shire. The Longreach Shire, based in Longreach, was created in May 1900. Over the next few years, the Shire Council made plans for the construction of a Shire Hall at Longreach.
Apparently there was controversy over the site of the proposed Shire Hall . Some members of the Shire Council wanted to acquire the School of Arts reserve, a magnificent block right in the centre of town, for the new hall. Accordingly, the new hall would incorporate the School of Arts. However, the School of Arts Committee vehemently opposed the plan. In the meantime the Shire Council secured an option over a reserve near the railway line, at the northern end of Eagle Street. When a poll was taken to determine the site on which the hall would be erected, the railway site won (much to the surprise of many locals).
The Shire Hall (Town Hall) was built in 1905 by Renshaw and Ricketts, of Rockhampton, to a design by Mr Thomas Parker, also of Rockhampton. It was an impressive building, well and substantially built, the finest hall of its kind in Central Queensland outside Rockhampton. It was especially adapted for western conditions, well-lit and well-ventilated, with spacious verandahs .
The postcard features the façade of the 1905 Longreach Shire Hall. A lone horse is pictured (at right) standing in front of the white picket fence. The road is unsealed. The photograph may have been taken as early as 1910.
When completed, the Shire Hall, which adjoined the Post Office at the northern end of Eagle Street, greatly enhanced that portion of the town . It had a frontage of 71 feet (about 22 metres) to Eagle Street and extended back from the street 132 feet (about 40 metres). The photograph shows the entrance porch and the massive 10 feet (3 metres) high pillars each side, and the 28 feet (8.5 metres) long by 10 feet (3 metres) wide front verandahs. The verandahs were enclosed with a fancy railing and decorated with an ornamental frieze.
The front gable was adorned with a large ornamental circular centrepiece. The Elizabethan style gable featured circular cedar barge boards supported by moulded brackets. The flagpole, which was 36 feet (approximately 11 metres) long, was made of Oregon pine and had a gilded trunk. The exterior of the building was painted a warm stone colour, picked out with bronze and chocolate. The roof was 45 feet (13.7 metres) from the ground at its highest point and featured two ornamental campaniles .
The building comprised the Council Chambers, clerk’s office (with a large counter for the public), manager’s office, main hall and verandahs. The main hall was 70 feet long by 40 feet wide (approximately 21 metres by 12 metres). The full-width stage was raised 3 feet 6 inches (about 1 metre) above the hall floor. It had an inclined floor. With regard to seating, there were 252 chairs, and wooden forms, the back ones raised above the front in a similar manner to those in the Rockhampton School of Arts, seated many more. When finished the building and its fittings cost about £2000 (AUD 300,000 today) .
Unfortunately, the Shire Hall suffered the same fate as many other significant buildings in Longreach over the years. In the early hours of 26 February 1927, it was destroyed by fire .
“At half-past 12 there was apparently not the slightest sign of fire, but a few minutes after the place was well alight. The Fire Brigade turned out and made every effort to extinguish the fire, but without avail. The building burnt fiercely and inside three-quarters of an hour was nothing but a smoking ruin. A good deal of uneasiness was felt in regard to the postmaster’s residence and post office adjoining. The intense heat cracked the windows in the residence but, fortunately, there was no wind, and the place escaped.”
A new Shire Hall was constructed, using reinforced concrete and brick. The building was opened on 15 May 1928 by the Governor of Queensland, Sir John Goodwin, in the presence of 1500 to 2000 people from the township and surrounding district . This building is still in use today.
There’s a special connection between the Searles family and the (new) Longreach Shire Hall.
On 27 December 1939, Corporal Stanley Searles and Private George Moll of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) were guests of honour at a public farewell in the Shire Hall . They received numerous gifts from organisations which had been formed since the outbreak of World War II. Corporal Searles, who had been associated with most sporting bodies in Longreach, received gifts from these bodies at and prior to the farewell. Corporal Searles and Private Moll were the first Longreach “boys” to be officially farewelled prior to active service.
It is worth mentioning that five of Charles and Catherine Searles’ seven sons enlisted in the 2nd AIF: Stanley, Graham, Harry, Mervyn and Frank.
The Commercial Hotel, Longreach
The Commercial Hotel was one of numerous hotels established in Longreach in its early years.
The postcard shows the Commercial Hotel and buildings on the same side of Eagle Street, looking south. The photograph was probably taken in the early 1920s. It depicts half a dozen well-dressed men outside the hotel and two or three motor vehicles parked down the street. The road appears to be unsealed. Several doors down the street from the Commercial Hotel is a two-storey building with flags flying overhead. This building, and several others pictured here, are still standing today. In 2017 the building with the flags is occupied by Solleys, one of Longreach’s leading general stores since 1902.
The Commercial Hotel pictured was the third of four so-named hotels constructed in Longreach over its 130 year history. Alas, fire destroyed each successive building (in 1902, 1915 and 1990). The current lowset brick building on the site is nothing like the grand two-storey buildings that graced the corner of Eagle and Duck Streets in bygone days.
The first fire, on 3 April 1902, destroyed 14 buildings in Eagle Street, including the Post Office, Klugh & Co Stores and the Commercial Hotel. The damage bill was estimated as £30,000 (more than AUD 4 million today).
A second fire, on 6 February 1915, destroyed 17 buildings, including the Commercial Hotel, and damaged many more. It was Longreach’s fourth disastrous fire in 16 years. According to a report of the fire, the second Commercial Hotel was a very big building, having a frontage of 99 feet (30 metres) to Eagle Street and about 100 feet (30.3 metres) to Duck Street . The report continued:
“From the time that the Commercial Hotel caught fire till the time it fell in only twenty minutes elapsed. Very little was saved from in it and a number of boarders and girls working there left with what they were standing in. When the lower portion of the Commercial Hotel fell in there was a great shower of sparks. The heat from this building was so great that the Post Office on the northern side of Duck Street was badly scorched. It was actually smoking time and again, but the timely application of water and wet bags kept it intact. The damage was so great that the staff had everything shifted out.”
Longreach’s third Commercial Hotel building was completed by November 1915, 7 months after the fire. This is the building pictured on the postcard. The new two-storey building on the corner of Eagle and Duck Streets was substantial, even bigger and grander than before. A brick wall comprising 20,000 bricks, was constructed on the southern end of the building, extending over the footpath, as a protection against future fires . This firewall is visible in the postcard picture.
It had a frontage of 99 feet (30 metres) to Eagle Street and 151 feet (46 metres) to Duck Street. A balcony 12 feet (3.7 metres) wide ran right round the front portion of the second storey. At the back there was a verandah 8 feet (about 2.4 metres) wide. There were 42 bedrooms, including six double rooms, bathrooms and servants’ quarters upstairs. The lower storey housed a lounge, offices, sample rooms, billiard room and a large coffee room. The building was lined throughout with Wunderlite (pressed metal panels) which apparently added greatly to the appearance.
On 22 February 1925, Longreach experienced a cyclonic gale . Trees were uprooted and roofs blown off. The Commercial Hotel’s brick firewall collapsed, completely demolishing the adjacent butcher’s shop owned by the Savage Brothers and damaging another shop occupied by a commission agent. The damage bill to the hotel alone was £1000 (approximately AUD 80,000 today).
A third fire, which broke out around midnight on 4 September 1990, destroyed the third Commercial Hotel (the one pictured on the postcard). Tragically, one man, Major Bob Jeppesen, lost his life in the fire trying to save the 14 other occupants of the hotel at the time.
Bank of Australasia, Eagle Street
The final postcard features the Bank of Australasia building. It was located in Eagle Street, over the road from the Commercial Hotel, on the corner of Eagle and Duck Streets. The postcard also shows a couple of two-storey buildings further down Eagle Street. I am told that these buildings were hotels. In front of the bank a lone figure is seated in the gutter and a single motor vehicle is parked in the street. The road appears to be unsealed. This photograph was most likely taken in the 1920s.
The Bank of Australasia, which had been operating in Longreach since the late 1800s, relocated to this site in 1901. The one-storey timber building, which (to me) looks more like a house than a bank, was purpose-built . Mr. J. Bremner was the contractor and Messrs Hutton and Hockings the architects.
It had a frontage of 61 feet (18.6 metres) and a depth of 97 feet (29.6 metres). The building was surrounded by a verandah 12 feet (3.7 metres) wide. Inside, there was a large banking chamber fitted with cedar counters, screens and desks. The manager’s room opened off the chamber. There were four offices, a stationery room and a spacious strongroom with concrete walls and floors. At the rear of the business portion of the building there was a large sitting-room, bedrooms and bathrooms for the staff. At the time, this building was considered to be one of the finest of its kind in western Queensland.
The Bank of Australasia operated its business from the building until October 1951, when the Bank of Australasia merged with the Union Bank of Australia to form the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited (ANZ Bank) .
The building featured on the postcard is not there today. It was replaced by a lowset brick building, which housed the Longreach ANZ Bank until its closure at the end of 2012. I am told that the other buildings down the street have also gone. Sadly, none of the buildings pictured on this postcard remain today.
In March 2008 three Central Western local government areas, including the Longreach Shire, merged to form the Longreach Regional Council. From this time the Longreach Shire, as it had been since 1900, ceased to exist. Longreach remains the main business and administrative centre of the region. The population of the entire region is about 4300. The population of the township of Longreach at the 2011 census was 3356.
Longreach is located 686 km by road west of Rockhampton, on the Tropic of Capricorn, at the junction of the Capricorn and Landsborough Highways. It’s the terminus for Queensland Rail’s “Spirit of the Outback” and a popular tourist destination. The main attractions are the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Qantas Outback Founders Museum and the Longreach Powerhouse Museum.
From 21-30 September 2012, the people of Longreach and many former Longreach residents gathered to celebrate the township’s 125th anniversary.
This year, 2017, Longreach is 130 years old.
Here is an update on members of the Searles family of Longreach named on the postcard.
The information is incomplete. I would be grateful if any readers are able to provide further information about Elsie, Harry and Mervyn and their families. Elsie communicated with my mother Evelyn all those years ago, and the kept postcards are testimony to a close relationship between the Searles family of Longreach and the Beaumont family of Rannes.
Elsie Winnifred Searles married James Edward (“Eddie”) Williamson in 1928, and the couple settled at Dalrymple Heights, near Mackay.
Stanley (“Stan”) Searles spent 5 years in the AIF. After the war, he settled in Brisbane. Over his long life had two marriages and was widowed twice. He had no children of his own. Following the death of his third partner, in 2001, members of Stan’s extended family at Longreach decided to “bring him home”. Stan died at Longreach on 1 October 2005, aged 94.
William Henry (“Harry”) Searles died on 29 January 2006, aged 87.
Mervyn George Searles died on 3 March 2008, aged 87.
Finally, I acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Mrs Kaye Kuhn (nee Searles), probably my fourth cousin removed, who provided me with information and photographs of the Searles family, which I have incorporated into this story.
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 AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND BANKING GROUP. Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia_and_New_Zealand_Banking_Group