AS Queanbeyan prepares to celebrate its 175th anniversary, a local freelance writer has penned a new history of the city that could give Canberrans a finer appreciation of “Struggletown”.Author Nichole Overall says there’s a lot we don’t know about our more mature satellite, which was built into a prosperous regional centre by hard-working pioneers “before Canberra was even a twinkle in a politician’s eye”.
For starters, there’s that nickname. It makes Queanbeyanites bristle defensively and is generally used condescendingly by ACT residents, who should know better than most how it feels to have one’s hometown sneered at by outsiders.
However, after years of research into local history Nichole says there is good reason for our nearest New South Welshmen and women to wear the label “Struggletown” with pride, and for Canberrans to respect their organically grown neighbour a little more.
“Queanbeyan has battled and faced hardship and some adversity, but at one point in time it was also considered one of the wealthiest districts in the colony,” she says.
“They’ve gone through all of those ups and downs, and yet they’ve managed to thrive as a growing cosmopolitan centre, so I see it as a badge of honour.”
Nichole traces the name to a 1950s scheme that allowed post-war migrants to live in makeshift housing while permanent homes were built. The policy made Queanbeyan “a bit scrappy looking” to outsiders, she says, but the new Australians it brought in worked hard and helped make the city what it is today.
And despite the unflattering view many Canberrans hold of present-day Queanbeyan, the facts tell a different story.
“Much to the astonishment of many, I think, Queanbeyan is actually one of the safest cities in NSW,” says Nichole, rattling off some facts from Census data. “We have one of the lowest average unemployment levels for non-metropolitan NSW as well, and we also have one of the most ethnically diverse populations anywhere outside of Sydney or Melbourne.”
Nichole happens to be married to the mayor, Tim Overall, but her mostly self-funded book is independent of the city’s official 175th birthday celebrations. She even eschewed applying for a City Council grant to spare Tim from any conflict-of-interest suggestions, but luckily won some funding from IMB Building Society’s Community Foundation this year, which helped with printing costs.
So what makes Queanbeyan a city of champions?
“A couple of reasons,” says Nichole. “The first is the prodigious sporting talent that’s come from here… but the other thing that people probably don’t realise is that we’re actually a city of champions in every sense from community service to regional leaders, industry to artistic endeavours and cultural pursuits. The breadth of talent that has come from the town, but is not as widely recognised as it should be, is quite extraordinary.”
The list of illustrious Queanbeyanites is indeed long, and many of them are thought of as being from Canberra, including “something like 40 per cent” of the Canberra Sporting Hall of Fame, according to Nichole.
Current and former Raiders Ricky Stuart, David Furner, Glen Lazarus, Trevor Thurling and Terry Campese were all born in Queanbeyan, as was Terry’s uncle, former Wallaby David Campese. There’s also Matt Giteau and Matt Henjak, both of whom have played for the ACT Brumbies and the Wallabies.
A couple of hip-hop artists who were born across the border have also made both cities proud: Triple J radio announcer Hau Latukefu, of the hip-hop duo Koolism which formed in Canberra, and his fellow wordsmith Omar Musa, whose books and performances have earned high praise in recent years.
Local graphic designer Dana Stewart-Thompson worked with the photography of Trudy Taylor, nee Woods, whose family owned and ran “The Queanbeyan Age” for many years. While the author says it was originally intended to be “far less comprehensive”, she still offers apologies for any omission.
“The problem is, with a history as extensive as this, there’s no way you can cover every event, milestone and personality.”
Copies of “Queanbeyan City of Champions” can be pre-ordered from qbncityofchampions.com.au for $49, or $80 for the limited edition hardcover.