At the end of 2014, my daughter and son-in-law announced that they would be relocating to Koumala in 2015. My son-in-law had been appointed Principal of Koumala State School.
I had heard of Koumala and remembered passing through it once or twice, as it is on the Bruce Highway (the main road linking Brisbane and Cairns). However, I confess that before my first visit in January 2015, I knew next to nothing about Koumala. And I’m not alone in this.
When I tell people I am going to Koumala, or that my family live in Koumala, invariably they look at me blankly and ask: “Koumala: Where’s that?” Clearly, not many people have heard of Koumala, know where it is or much (if anything) about it.
So, let me take you on a tour of Koumala and district, checking in at its major sites and landmarks, and along the way learning a little about its history and the Koumala community today.
Koumala is a tiny town located approximately 900 km by road or rail north of Brisbane. Via the Bruce Highway it’s 280 km (about 3 hours’ drive) north of Rockhampton, 62 km south of Mackay and 22 km south of Sarina. The township is about 20 km inland from the coast. Lots of travellers pass through Koumala as they head north (pictured) or south on the Bruce Highway.
It’s worth having a stopover in Koumala. It’s a convenient place to break your journey, especially if you are not in a hurry. You can stay a night or two at the caravan park or the pub. Why not stop and have a counter lunch at the Koumala Hotel? Or you may prefer to buy homemade pies or cakes at the Koumala Grocery Store and have smoko or lunch in the park at the northern end of town.
Koumala Caravan Park is located at 2 Mumby Street. Travelling north, take the first turn left into Andrews Street (Ewart Road) and you’ll find the caravan park on your right, at the corner of Andrew and Mumby Streets. It’s small, but very clean. It has individual concrete slabs, a manicured lawn and the managers live on site.
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The Koumala Hotel is located on the town side of the Bruce Highway, at 13 Brown Street. You can’t miss it. A bright yellow oversized Castlemaine XXXX beer can perched on top of an old tank stand is one of the first things you’ll notice (as you travel north). Next (and don’t get a shock) there is a large lifelike sculptured crocodile above the name of the hotel. Why? Because crocodiles inhabit nearby Rocky Dam Creek, where many of the locals like to go fishing and crabbing!
The majestic two-story timber building, constructed in 1939-1940, is one of Koumala’s oldest. A side annex houses an open-air beer garden; a lounge or parlour with more seating is located inside, at the rear of the building. There is a separate bush-style function room out the back. The accommodation is located upstairs. The hotel’s upper level features spacious open verandas on the front and one side.
Inside, the hotel bar is a must-see for visitors. Its four walls are covered floor to ceiling with local artifacts, photographs and memorabilia (sporting, historical, Australiana). For the locals, I’m sure these help in maintaining a connection with the past. Over the years, the Koumala Hotel has had a number of owners. Since it changed hands early in 2016 its new owners, Ray and Rowena Colgrave, have been renovating the property and revitalizing the business. The pub is a popular gathering place for the locals, especially after a long day’s work on the farm.
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The Koumala Post Office is next door to the hotel, at 15 Brown Street. Koumala’s first Post Office opened in 1898. At first a receiving office only, it was located in a slab hut, some distance out of town, to the south. A local woman, Mrs M Davis, was Postmistress, a position she held for 10 years.
Several years later, after the railway was extended from Sarina to Koumala (1915), the Post Office relocated to the railway station and was managed by railway officials. In 1929, it moved to its present site where the building served as a Post Office, store and home for its owners. The store owner, Mr George Neal, was Postmaster. There have been many Postmistresses and Postmasters over the years. Mrs Jenny Patroni (nee Hatfield), a descendant of early settlers in the district and a well-known local identity, is the current Postmistress. Jenny has held this position for 37 years (since 1979).
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The Koumala Community Hall is next door to the Post Office, at 17 Brown Street. The hall, which is managed by a committee of local people, is used for community events and functions. The first hall on the site burnt down in 1925, not long after it was built. The current building replaced it. For many years, until 1967, the hall functioned as a picture theatre under private ownership.
The hall has been used for events such as Ca$h 4 Tra$h Nights, Mother’s Day High Teas, Trivia Nights and Koumala Hoy. The Koumala Markets are held in the hall every 2 or 3 months.
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Groceries and petrol may be purchased at the Koumala General Store, next door to the Community Hall, on the corner of Brown and Molinas Streets. The two-story timber building dates from 1954. At the time of writing, the store is operated by John Harmon and his sister-in-law Michelle Gardner, who are well-known for their homemade pies and cakes.
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Across the road, on the other corner of Brown and Molinas Streets, you’ll find Koumala Mechanical. It’s a motor repair business owned and operated on this location by members of the Blyth Family since 1960. Its current owner is Darryl Blyth.
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At 33 Brown Street, between Molinas and Bull Streets, there’s a quaint little cottage painted white with a blue door and blue trim, the Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA) Rest Room. The building opened in October 1953. According to Norma Lovelace (2012), one of the main objectives of the QCWA in its early days was to provide a suitable resting place or “rest room” for country mothers and their children and women about to give birth. These rest rooms provided a much-needed place for rural women to meet and connect with their peers. Most country towns in Queensland boast a QCWA Rest Room.
The Koumala QCWA Branch was formed in 1928. It closed during World War II and, like many other QCWA branches, as part of its contribution to the war effort a branch of the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) replaced it. The Koumala QCWA Branch reopened in 1947. The Branch is still active although, sadly, the number of members has dwindled in recent years. Mrs Jenny Patroni is the current President.
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You’ll find a park and rest area by the Bruce Highway at the northern end of town. It’s on the corner of Brown and Bull Streets. It provides tables and chairs under cover, and toilet facilities, which make it a popular place for travellers to stop and take a break. The park is situated next to the town’s recreation area, which includes tennis and basketball courts and a large sports field used for cricket, football, gymkhana and rodeo events. A well-attended Christmas Fair has been held here for the last few years.
Adjacent to the recreation area, overlooking the township on its northern outskirts, is one of Koumala’s landmarks: a water tower. You can’t miss it. It’s high and imposing, and visible from many vantage points around the town. The township has had a reticulated supply of bore water since 1966. The bore water is hard, so it’s not surprising that many of the townsfolk have rainwater tanks as well.
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Let’s take a short walk down Bull Street (Koumala-Bolingbroke Road) to the Koumala War Memorial on the corner of Bull and Mumby Streets. This is an important and revered landmark in Koumala. Built as a public memorial to six local men who served in the armed forces overseas and died during World War II, it was dedicated on 18th April 1959. It honours James Browne, Lionel Mumby, Wilson Graham, Claude Bull, Frank Molinas, Albert Andrews, and William Bonsop and John Greene as well.
The Koumala War Memorial is a heritage-listed site, added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 1999. The concrete monument is painted white and comprises a double stepped base, square plinth, obelisk and small Latin cross. A flagpole is located behind it. On Anzac Day, members of the community gather here for a Service of Remembrance following the Anzac Day street parade. Morning tea is always provided afterwards by the ladies of the Koumala QCWA, at the Rest Room in Brown Street.
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At the 2016 Australian Census, the total population of the township and district was 831. Koumala’s a tiny town. The township comprises just six streets, dividing it into four large rectangular street blocks, with about 60 private dwellings. Neat modestly-sized houses, mostly low-set on large blocks of land, line the wide bitumenised streets.
Here are three interesting facts about Koumala:
- Its streets (Brown, Mumby, Graham, Bull, Molinas and Andrews) are named after six local men who served overseas in the armed forces, and died, during World War II.
- Koumala was originally called “Kelvin Grove”. For a time both names were used. The official change of name from Kelvin Grove to Koumala occurred in the mid-1880s.
- Koumala is most likely an aboriginal word for sweet potato or yams, which apparently grew freely here in the past.
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In Bull Street next to the Koumala War Memorial and over the road from the water tower, we find Koumala State School. The school is one of Koumala’s enduring establishments. As is common for small towns and rural communities in Queensland, the ups and downs of the Koumala township and district are mirrored in the status of its public school.
Here’s a little about the school’s history.
The first school in the district, the Provisional School of Koumala, was established at Inneston (north of Koumala). It opened in March 1889 but closed 2 years later, in August 1891, due to low attendance. Various obstacles, including lack of funds, meant that the Koumala Provisional School at Inneston did not reopen until 1916.
The Koumala Township State School opened in 1922 in makeshift accommodation, with 13 pupils and Mr John Blair as Head Teacher. A one-room building with verandas on two sides was constructed on the site of the present school, which they occupied from August 1923. The name “Koumala Township State School” changed to “Koumala State School” in September 1926.
With increasing enrolments, the school needed a second teacher. Miss Noreen Moyce was appointed as the first assistant teacher in August 1929. Mr Blair remained Head Teacher and Miss Moyce Assistant Teacher until October 1931. In 1973, John Blair and Noreen Moyce were special guests at the Koumala State School’s Golden Jubilee Reunion. Miss Moyce cut the 50th anniversary cake. A monument commemorating the school’s 75th anniversary in 1998, located in the school grounds, honours John Blair as the first teacher of Koumala State School.
Noreen Moyce was “Moycie” to me. My husband Tony and I met Moycie in 1994, in her later years, when she came to live at Rockhampton’s Munro Home. In fact, for a brief window in time, Moycie was a dear friend of mine. Like Moycie, I had been a schoolteacher, so we had that in common. We also discovered that we shared a birthday, which gave us a special connection.
As Assistant to the Minister of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Rockhampton, Tony provided a pastoral ministry to residents of Munro Home. This included group Bible studies, which Moycie always attended. She loved studying the Bible, and her mind was as active as ever, despite her years. Tony remembers Moycie as an attentive, inquiring, keen and well-spoken lady. In the photograph below, Moycie is pictured (front right) during a Bible Study at Munro Home in July 1996.
When Moycie died on 14th November 1997, aged 89, Tony conducted her funeral service. In his eulogy he made mention of Moycie’s teaching career (a major part of her life), which included her time at Koumala State School. Here are a couple of extracts from that eulogy:
“Growing up, Moycie didn’t want to be a schoolteacher. She wanted to be a salesperson. But we all know that she became a teacher, first as an apprentice at Mount Morgan State School, followed by formal training at the Teachers’ College in Brisbane.
Moycie’s first appointment after college was Gracemere State School, followed by Koumala State School. Here accommodation proved to be a problem, at least initially. She was offered a room at the end of a block that accommodated ringers. She could use their facilities as well: hot water and…you can guess what else! No wonder she decided to board at a farmhouse with a married couple, even though it meant riding a horse to work each day!”
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What is the status of the school today?
Over the years, enrollments at Koumala State School have fluctuated, as have staff numbers. If the public school is a barometer of the life of a small town or rural community, then the Koumala community is alive and well today.
At the beginning of 2016 Koumala State School had 109 enrolments from Prep to Year 6. Its staff comprises Principal (Mr Cameron Brown), two full-time and six part-time teachers, four visiting teachers (Music, Japanese, Physical Education, Special Education), a chaplain, four teacher-aides, administration officer and two cleaners. There is an active Parents’ and Citizens’ Association.
The school consists of two classroom blocks, modern well-equipped library, computer room, staffroom, administration area, tuckshop, covered playground areas, tennis courts and large sports field.
The Principal’s residence is located on a large allotment adjoining the school, at 10 Bull Street. The highset weatherboard timber house, constructed in 1932, is typical of Queensland Department of Education houses of that period. Over the years, various improvements and modifications have helped to make the residence a comfortable home for the school Principal and family.
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When I was researching this story, I met Tom Huddleston, a local canefarmer, in the bar of the Koumala Hotel. When I mentioned that my son-in-law is Principal of Koumala State School, he told me about his family’s long history and connection to the school.
Tom’s wife Kay (nee Sleeman) and her four siblings attended Koumala State School (I am guessing this was in the 1960s), and Tom and Kay Huddleston’s four sons (Neville, Brendon, Daniel and Simon) also attended the school. Two of Tom’s grandchildren, a third generation, currently attend Koumala State School.
Tom told me that his wife Kay worked in the school tuckshop for 10 years and that Kay’s mother, Beth Sleeman (nee Lyons), worked in the school tuckshop for 25 years prior to that. Tom said he contributed to upkeep of the school grounds for many years by slashing the grass on a regular basis.
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Let’s continue our tour of the township.
Immediately across the road from the school, on the corner of Mumby and Bull Streets, a neat little weatherboard timber building, a church, stands proudly on the large corner allotment.
All Saints Anglican Church, built and dedicated in 1930, is one of Koumala’s oldest buildings. The church is part of the Sarina Parish of the Anglican Church and a small group of believers continue to meet for church services at All Saints on the third Sunday of each month. My husband and I joined our family and other worshippers here on two occasions when we visited Koumala, and I highly recommend it as an uplifting place of Christian worship and fellowship. Why not try it for yourself?
Saturday, November 29, saw another step forward in the steady progress of Koumala. On this day the recently built Anglican Church was consecrated by Right Rev. J. O. Feetham, Bishop of North Queensland, and dedicated in the name of All Saints. The occasion held interest for the whole district, for practically everyone helped either directly or indirectly to establish the church. But the event was especially memorable and important for the little band of church workers who have laboured so patiently and persistently for over five years to achieve their object. They must feel justly proud of the neat little church and also of the fact that it was opened free of debt.
After the reading of the petition for dedication by Mr W. J. Hatfield, the Bishop led the way into the church, followed by the large congregation, which filled the building to capacity. In the simple yet impressive service the Bishop was assisted by Rev. M. D. Collins and Rev. Mead (who played the organ). Taking the words from the Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints”, the Bishop preached an eloquent and appropriate sermon. The collection taken is to be used for further improvements to the church for, although much has been accomplished, work still remains to be done. After the service, afternoon tea was served in the church grounds.
Extract from an article entitled “Koumala”, Daily Mercury (Mackay), 10th December 1930, page 11.
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All Saints is Koumala’s only remaining church building. The Koumala Presbyterian Church (1924) and Church Hall (1952) were located in Mumby Street between Molinas and Andrews Streets. In the 1970s, these became part of the Uniting Church. In 1997, the former Presbyterian Church building was removed and for a time services were held in the Church Hall. Today this building is a private residence. Koumala’s Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family, located on the corner of Molinas and Graham Streets, opened on 30th May 1954. Similarly, it is now a private dwelling (pictured below).
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Our tour of the township is over. It’s time to explore the district and find out a little more about what makes the Koumala community tick. The community comprises not only the townsfolk but also many people who live on farms and properties in the surrounding area.
Let’s take a drive around the district.
When you approach Koumala via the Bruce Highway, from the south or north, you can’t help but notice sugarcane farms and cattle properties along the way. This is an agricultural area, with the local economy sustained primarily by the sugar, cattle and fishing industries. According to census data, people who live in Koumala are employed in growing crops (such as sugarcane) or coal mining, cattle and grain farming, agriculture and fishing support services, and rail freight transport.
The earliest settlers in the district, in the 1860s, leased large tracts of land on which they raised cattle. The first tract leased, “Mount Funnell No. 1”, comprised 26,000 acres (10,522 hectares); the second, “Mount Funnell No. 2” comprised 20,000 acres (8094 hectares). Around the turn of the century, some of this land was thrown open to selection, and subdivided, and a number of landowners tried growing sugarcane.
The Plane Creek Mill at Sarina opened in 1896. But this didn’t help canefarmers in the Koumala district, because at that time there was no rail link between Koumala and Sarina. The growers had no viable means of transporting their harvested cane to the mill.
The railway line between Koumala and Sarina opened in July 1915, which enabled sugarcane growing in the Koumala district to be established. In 1926, the construction of a tramline connecting Koumala and farms in the Bolingbroke Road area (to the west) assisted growers in that vicinity. Many years later, in 1960, growers in the Koumala district as a whole benefitted by the construction of a tramline linking Koumala directly to the Sarina mill. This tramline is still used today.
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It’s worth taking a drive west from Koumala along Koumala-Bolingbroke Road (Bull Street), past the sugarcane farms, winding your way through the Kelvin State Forest, towards the Sarina Range. I especially like Black Mountain, northwest of the township. It is huge, towering over the area, so dominant and impressive. Later, you won’t miss seeing Black Mountain as you exit Koumala and drive north along the Bruce Highway.
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Finally, we’ll take a drive east along Landings Road and Landing Road to Rocky Dam Creek. To begin, we head north from Koumala and take the first turn right off the Bruce Highway.
The views along the way are terrific. Besides sugarcane farms and cattle properties, once on Landing Road you’ll see the picturesque local wetlands with their native birds and distinctive coastal vegetation. It’s a photographer’s dream destination! You’ll also catch sight of one of Koumala’s iconic landmarks: Mount Funnel. It’s a volcanic plug, 344 metres above sea level, with a distinguishing rocky cap. From a distance it looks like an inverted funnel, hence its name. You may be surprised to learn that English navigator Captain Matthew Flinders named it, in 1802, as he circumnavigated Australia.
Mount Funnel is located at the southwest boundary of Cape Palmerston National Park, 7160 hectares of protected undeveloped coastline that includes Cape Palmerston. Captain James Cook named the cape after Viscount Palmerston, one of the Lords of the British Admiralty, as Cook sailed along the Queensland coast in 1770. Cape Palmerston National Park is important for its natural coastal vegetation and a few rare or endangered animal species. It is accessible by boat, or four-wheel drive vehicles via Ilbilbie, which is 24 km south of Koumala on the Bruce Highway.
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At the end of Landing Road, we arrive at Rocky Dam Creek. There’s a camping area here and a boat ramp giving boat owners access to the creek. It’s a popular fishing and crabbing area for locals and travellers alike. But visitors beware: Crocodiles are known to inhabit these waters!
From Rocky Dam Creek, we must retrace our path and return to Koumala township.
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Our virtual tour of Koumala and district is over.
I hope you enjoyed your visit.
“Koumala: Where’s that?” Now you know. Furthermore, you’ve learnt a little about Koumala, its history and people. You know that Koumala’s a small town, but also part of a larger rural community.
According to The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, Australians who live in towns of less than 1000 residents, and in rural areas, have significantly higher levels of life satisfaction than those who live in major Australian cities. The study found that the kind of community a person lives in, having helpful neighbours and doing things together significantly affect people’s health and happiness.
So, what makes Koumala a great place to live and visit?
Here are a few suggestions:
- There’s a real sense of community and belonging. This is greatly assisted by online communities. The Koumala Community Noticeboard, set up “for general local advertising, queries and genuine community concerns”, currently has 599 Facebook members. The Koumala Progress Association and Koumala Community Hall also have Facebook pages, with 200-300 followers each.
- People are encouraged to get involved in local activities and their contribution is valued. For example, the Koumala Progress Association, a community group, organises events for the local community and involves community members in having a say in what activities and events they want.
- The locals are friendly and welcoming to newcomers and visitors.
- There is plenty of open space and fresh air. The sunsets are amazing and in fine weather the stars are visible in the night sky.
- There are no traffic jams or parking problems.
- Here one can escape the “rat race” (e.g. shopping centres, cinemas, traffic). It’s noticeably quieter than a big city (as long as you don’t live near the highway or railway line) and the pace of life is considerably slower.
What do you think? What makes Koumala a great place to live or visit? Let me and my readers know by adding your thoughts about Koumala in the comments section below.
The following two booklets contain significant historical information about Koumala and district, some of which I have included in my story. A copy of the 1974 publication is in the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, and available for research purposes. I recommend that a copy of the 1998 booklet, and photographs (if available), be submitted to the John Oxley Library.
Koumala Presbyterian Women’s Guild, 1974. Historical Review of Koumala and District: 1859-1974. Koumala Presbyterian Women’s Guild: Koumala, Queensland.
75th Book Committee, 1998. Koumala State School 75th Commemorative Book: A History of the Koumala District and Koumala State School 1923-1998. Unpublished.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2011. Census data and analysis, Quick Stats. Koumala (State Suburb). On-line: http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/SSC30903?opendocument&navpos=220
Lovelace, Norma, 2012. Service to the Country by QCWA: In Times of Peace and War. Queensland County Women’s Association (QCWA): Brisbane, Queensland.
Trove (National Library of Australia). Digitalized newspapers (1930). Koumala. On-line: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/170237119?searchTerm=koumala%20all%20saint%27s&searchLimits=
University of Melbourne, The, 2015. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. On-line: https://www.melbourneinstitute.com/hilda/