Surrounded by fields of green rooted in rich red earth, Childers was established to service the sugar cane industry in Queensland’s Wide Bay-Burnett region.
Today it’s a very popular stopping point for the road travelling tourist en route from Brisbane to Bundaberg. The main street, lined with period buildings and large Brazilian leopard trees, is a hive of activity. Here you’ll find funky cafes and restaurants, historic pubs, and quite a few museums.
If you happen to be heading through Childers in late July, it’s worth stopping over for the Childers Festival. This four-day event celebrates the town’s culture and history and ends on a high when the mighty Bruce Highway is closed to make way for over three hundred market and food stalls.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Childers.
Built around the turn of the 20th century, the Palace on Churchill Street was a thriving hotel in its heyday. It was converted into a backpacker hostel in 1960, and infamously, was the target of a deadly arson attack in 2000. Fifteen lives were lost — many of them international travellers, and most aged in their 20s. Today the building houses the Visitor Information Centre and Palace Backpacker Memorial. The glass memorial wall and large group portrait of the victims is very emotive, and few visitors will leave dry-eyed. Despite such a tragic happening, the town maintains a lovely vibe.
A few blocks along on the opposite side of the main street, and dating back to the 1920s, The Paragon Theatre is a true ‘grand old dame’. Stepping into the foyer, you’ll see the original ticket booth and other period details. Sadly, it’s not possible to view the rest of the restored theatre unless you’re attending a ticketed event, so check the website to find out what’s on during your visit. We can tell you it has an original sprung timber dance floor and cool canvas sling seats that have long cupped couples cozying up to watch a flick.
Visitors can enjoy a coffee in the foyer espresso bar in the company of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Oh, and is that Elvis over there in the corner? These fabulous murals were painted by a very talented employee.
The opportunities to travel back in time in Childers don’t end there. As you enter The Old Pharmacy on Churchill Street, it’s hard not to be amazed by the hundreds of medicine bottles, lotions and potions, mortars and pestles and more that line the impressive cedar shelves. This museum is full of original 19th century charm (even the cash register is a work of art!). Be sure to purchase a bag of old-fashioned locally made sweets before you leave.
Just a short walk from there, the Military and Memorabilia Museum offers an impressive collection of war-related artefacts from many countries and conflicts. Also call in to the Clockwork Curiosities vintage toy museum, which is packed with dolls, bears, bikes, puzzles, and collectables. Who knows, you might see something that brings back a cherished childhood memory.
A lesser-known chapter in Queensland’s history is fast getting the recognition it warrants. Take a walk through the series of three-dimensional structures that make up the Kanaka Memorial in the main street. Over 50,000 Pacific Islanders were ‘blackbirded’ (coerced, or worse) to come to this region in the early years of the sugar cane industry. Working in often appalling conditions, they played an integral part in establishing a multi-million-dollar industry.
It’s time for another coffee break. Seek out Insane Caffeine, which has an eclectic décor and is full of soul. The coffee is the best, as are the bagels. And don’t be surprised to find yourself dining at an old sewing machine table or the like. Check out the al fresco area with its colourful wall mural and many succulents. This place is a gem!
Want to get chatty with the locals? Head for the heritage-listed Grand Hotel and strike up a conversation at the bar. Built in 1892, it would be equally wonderful if these walls could talk. You may hear mention of ‘Luke the Spook’, who’s reputed to have haunted the pub for decades (don’t worry, he’s said to be a ‘friendly ghost’). The pub serves icy cold beer and great food. The live entertainment is a bonus.
Roadside produce stalls are pretty common in this part of the world, and peanut lovers will want to make a stop at The Peanut Van on Thomson Street. This permanent stall stocks a variety of peanut products produced in Kingaroy. Choose from a range of flavoured peanuts, including massam curry, maple bacon, and lime and chili (just to mention a few). And who could resist taking home a jar of fresh and crunchy peanut paste?
Situated east of the town centre, Snakes Downunder Reptile Park and Zoo is home to Australian creatures great and small (and a number of exotic ring-ins). Enjoy the informative keeper talks and get up close and personal with some iconic critters, including koalas, kangaroos and crocodiles! If you’re a birding enthusiast, head over to Flying High Bird Park on the opposite side of town. The huge free flight aviary houses some 3,000 birds.
It’s appropriate that the sweetest of treats should be found among the cane fields, although this one is derived from another local crop. Famous for its award-winning macadamia ice-cream, Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream occupies a humble farmhouse just a stone’s throw from the zoo. Blow your calorie count on the ice-cream or go for a healthy fresh fruit sorbet; they offer both.
A winery in the subtropics is out of the ordinary, and The Hill of Promise Winery and Cellar Door — four minutes’ drive from the centre of Childers — is no ordinary winery! Tasting its wines on the verandah of a 100-year-old Queenslander while chatting with your hosts is a delight. Everything produced here is free of preservatives and full of flavour, and there’s a story behind every bottle. Don’t leave without asking to hear the one about ‘The Three Marys’…
For more information, visit www.bundabergregion.org/childers.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Childers? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock