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Grandchester is an historic railway town noted for its steam-driven sawmill and the first railway line in Queensland. It holds a Steamfest every 5 years, the last one being held in July 2000. It is located 76km west of Brisbane and 38km from Ipswich. Grandchester was named after a village outside Cambridge, England.

The Ugarapul Aboriginals called the area 'Googabilla' and until the 1850's held corroborees on what is now the Recreation Grounds. The Grandchester area was first explored by Allan Cunningham who came through the area in May 1829. Cunningham's party camped beside what is now known as the Railway Lagoon while searching for the source of the Brisbane River.

Grandchester was originally known as Bigge's Camp, after the pioneering pastoralist Frederick Bigge who camped by the lagoon in 1842 on his way north to Brisbane Station. The first settlers in the area were Thomas and Maria Mort who took up the Franklynvale run in 1849. Mort later expanded his holdings with the acquisition of Laidley Plains and Rosevale. Descendants of the Morts still live on Franklynvale.

In 1865 the first railway line in Queensland was built from Ipswich to Bigge's Camp. At the opening ceremony, governor Bowen suggested that the name be latinised from 'Bigges Camp' which sounded like 'Big Scamp' to Grand (big) Chester (camp).

With the arrival of the railway line, Grandchester became the centre of the district.

Things to see

Grandchester Railway Station

The Grandchester Railway Station was built in 1866 and is the oldest station in Queensland and is listed by the National Trust. The colonial style building served as the station master's residence.

Grandchester Sawmill

The fully operational sawmill is powered by a steam engine nicknamed 'Old Reliable'. It was established in the 1940's by the Gillam family, to process the hardwood timber from the nearby forest. A steam boiler from a C-17 class locomotive built in the 19th century provides the power for the engine . The steam engine was made in 1911 and was imported from England by the Nestles Company for their factory in Toogoolawah. It provided power for the equipment for the factory until it went to the Lowood Butter Factory and later the sawmill at Gatton. The Gillam family acquired the engine in 1940.

The mill is fully self sufficient. The owner actually fires the steam engine with the sawdust and waste produced by the mill. This is a truly cost efficient use of resources. The sawdust heats the water which drives the engine which cuts the timber producing sawdust which heats the water and so on. The Gillams estimate the costs of running the mill at a few dollars for oil and grease.

You are not able to actually tour through the mill for safety reasons but you can drive in the grounds and see the engine.

Grandchester Model Live Steam Train Club

The Steam train Club runs on the first Sunday of the month. Covered footware is essential for riding the trains. There are two gauges - 7 1/4 and 5 inches. The signal cabin was made in 1891 and came from Yarongmaloo between Grandchester and Laidley. The club started in 1995.

Grandchester Hotel

From 1842 Bigge's Camp was used by travellers making their way between Ipswich, Toowoomba and the north.

Various inns were established to cater for the needs of the travellers , the first of these being opened by a Frenchman, Wellmand Prosper Douyere in 1854. The building was across Western Creek opposite the present day Railway Station.

In the year 1860, John Moran became the licensee of Douyere's Inn and changed the name to the 'Jockey Club Inn'. In March of that year he wrote to the Surveyor General requesting twenty acres of land, including the Jockey Club Inn, which would allow Moran to purchase the Inn under 'pre-emptive rights'. He also stated that he had purchased the inn from Douyere, enlarged the house, made gardens and fenced the paddock.

Beside the present day Roman Catholic Church the 'Postman's Arms' once stood. It was a slab and shingle building owned by John Cook. The name was appropriate as Cook had operated a mail and passenger service between Ipswich and Toowoomba, as well as a small farm. Cook was listed as the proprietor of the Inn in 1864 and in 1870 as the licensee of the Railway Hotel. It is thought that the Postman's Arms Hotel changed to the Railway Hotel soon after the Railway came. The Railway Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1955. In place of the old hotel with its charming shady verandahs the present hotel was built. It became known as the Grandchester and was issued with a license on 21 October 1965.

Grandchester Park

The park is situated beside the Grandchester Public Hall and contains barbecues, picnic tables and toilets. A plaque, one of the three describing Cunningham's journey to the area, has been placed on a granite boulder. The park overlooks the Railway Lagoon where Cunningham and his party camped on the 18th of June, 1829, before crossing the Range and following the Laidley Creek.

The park was developed by the Grandchester Progress Association. Money for the Plaques as donated by the Director of Tours for the Queensland Royal Historical society, Douglas Jolly.

Bigge's Camp Park

The park is situated in Gordon's Road and contains barbecues, picnic table, toilets and playground equipment. A plaque has been placed in the park and was unveiled by Cr. M. Gehrke on 31 July 1988, when the park was officially opened.