NOT ALL IT SEEMS: Darker Side Tour organiser Paul Herbert looks out from his office on a Toowoomba that hides many historical secrets.
NOT ALL IT SEEMS: Darker Side Tour organiser Paul Herbert looks out from his office on a Toowoomba that hides many historical secrets. Kevin Farmer

Take a walk on Toowoomba's darker side

DO YOU remember the 'six o'clock swill'?

Did you know that blokes raced across from the pub to the railway station to buy their ticket ... not to ride but to continue drinking?

For decades, from 1916, it was illegal for Australian pubs to serve alcohol after 6pm both as an austerity measure in the war years and in an attempt at "temperance".

But Toowoomba blokes were ingenious fellows and worked out that the refreshment rooms at the railways were allowed to keep serving alcohol so long as you had a train ticket.

Many a train would apparently leave almost empty, despite having been just about fully booked.

This is just one of the great tales you'll hear on Toowoomba's Darker Side Tour with Paul Herbert, as part of the Carnival of Flowers.

But the dark side gets a whole lot darker.

For instance, did you know Toowoomba was just one of four places in Queensland that had public hangings, right up to the late 1870s?

Or that you could at one time buy a matchbox at a certain hotel bar for a pound, and discover inside it the key to a hotel room above, and the comforts of a lady of the night?

Paul said Toowoomba has a host of fascinating stories, from the quirky and eccentric to the truly dark, which even many of its residents won't know.

Paul said he always enjoyed finding tours on his own travels that were "a little quirky, or off the beaten track, that give you a look behind the scenes and explore the background of the place, so you get a picture of how people really lived".

"Every town and city has its interesting people and Toowoomba has a number of little interesting asides and stories that people have forgotten," he said.

While this is the first Darker Side Tour, Paul and architect wife Stephanie Keays have run a number of successful tours in connection with the National Trust's annual Open House, which are also incorporated into the festival.

The Railway Precinct Tour, celebrating 150 years of rail, includes one of Queensland's best preserved air raid shelters, and tales of the ghost that haunts the tracks.

Then there's the CBD Architecture and Hidden Laneways Tours, embracing the city's architectural history and its developing street art.

"I think people today are a lot more discerning. They want to see the sights, but they want to learn more about where they are as well - to look a little deeper," Paul said.

For locals, the tours are a chance to learn a different aspect of your town and look at it with a new appreciation, while for visitors, whether from a neighbouring area or from as far as Sydney, it can be a revisitation due to family links, or simply a new adventure.

The tour, which will be kept to a maximum of 30, runs for two hours from 3-5pm on Saturday, September 23, meeting at Queens Park and finishing with a drink at the historic Irish Club Hotel.

For more information on this or any of the tours, or to view the full Carnival of Flowers program, which runs from September 15-24, go to

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