‘They Came and They Stayed’: Settlement Patterns of the German-Queensland Communities
Unlike South Australia that had a large immigration episode in the mid 1800s from the Silesian province of Germany, the situation in Queensland is more complex in terms of immigration from the provinces of Germany and eventual settlement patterns.
The attached settlement map shows the extent of the massive German influx into southern Queensland in the mid-late 1800s and until the First World War, when German immigration came to a halt. Today the number of Queensland town named from this large influx is a legacy of the German diaspora into Queensland.
In simplistic terms, German immigration commenced with the settlement of the Gossner group missionaries at ‘German Station’ (Nundah) in the 1830s – soon after Queensland gained separation from New South Wales as a free colony, until the era just prior to World War I with the influx of assisted German migrants for the Apostolic Church of Queensland community ventures.
After the small settlement of missionary pastors and their families at Nundah (now a suburb of Brisbane), the next major phase of immigration and settlement was in the 1850s/1860s with the need for shepherds in the Darling Downs region of southern Queensland.
Large pastoral holdings were being established and assisted passages were provided to many folk – the chance for a shepherding position for 2-3 years with an established wage. This enabled many immigrants work, ‘learn the country’ and then set themselves up with their own (small) property. German labour was well regarded and the possibility of an assisted passage to Queensland was looked upon favourably.
Many hundreds of Germans partook of this opportunity, and with the associated need for skilled tradesmen, large regional centres, such as Toowoomba, were centres of this ‘second phase’ of German settlement. Many labourers and shepherds brought their families.
The first really concentrated German group settlement occurred between August 1863 and January 1864 when 23 families from the Uckermark region (northeastern Germany) established a village/farming enclave at Bethania on blocks relinquished by English cotton-growers. This Logan settlement became a focus for a continued stream of later German migration which spread into the regions immediatelt surrounding the south of Brisbane – Beenleigh, Eagleby (previously called Philadelphia), Mt Cotton, Carbrook, Gramzow, Steigltiz and Pimpama districts.
To the north of Brisbane farming settlements were taken up in the 1880s in the Zillmere, Pinkenba (‘Germantown’) and Eagle farm suburbs – now taken up by the Brisbane Airport and suburban expansion.
The ‘third’ major phase of immigration was in association with the development of closer settlement and the intensive agricultural expansion in southern Queensland. In the period from the 1870s until as recently as 1910 many areas of southern Queensland were converted from virgin scrublands into a farming mosaic landscape.
Districts such as the Lockyer, Fassifern, Logan, Brisbane Valley, Darling Downs and the southern Burnett as well as the coastal districts of Southport, Maryborough and Bundaberg were earmarked for closer (farming) production and attracted large numbers of German pioneers intent on making a living from small cropping or mixed farming on their small 40 or 80 acre blocks.
For instance both the Lockyer and Fassifern districts were settled by hundreds of German pioneering families – forming close religious communities and many areas were exclusively pioneered and populated by German immigrants. Clearing of the scrubland vegetation was undertaken and the rich volcanic and alluvial soils were farmed intensively – supporting the many large families. For a generation the many families were viable but eventually the quest for extra farming land was a necessity – as many of the pioneers produced large families. Families with more than 10 children were commonplace – but the record stands with the Stephan family of the Fassifern district with 23 youngsters!
The first ‘Australian’ generation ventured in a number of directions, to take up newly ‘opened up’ selections.in more distant districts. For instance young men from the Logan district made their way to the Fassifern, North Coast and Witta areas; from the Lockyer region their was an extensive movement of the first generation onto the Darling Downs and the South Burnett (Kingaroy/Wondai/Murgon) district.
The ‘fourth phase’, or last phase, of the influx of the German diaspora, involved a series of separate groups of immigrants from Central Germany. Three of the groups were brought out under the direction of Apostle Heinrich F Niemeyer of the Apostolic Church of Queensland (Hattonvale) and these immigrants formed communities at Tansey, Binjour, Riverleigh and Baffle Creek. Pastor Bernoth sponsored five separate groups between 1908 and 1910 and these trades people settled at Mt Etna, Alligator Creek and Milman (all in the districts north of Rockhampton). These distinct ‘group settlements’ persisted to varying degrees. The Binjour settlement has persisted until today, with most descendants still farming on the verdant plateau.
In addition to this expanding of these internal ‘cluster’ movements there were other smaller internal migrations of German pioneers from other regions of Australia – often movements of religious affiliations. The migration of a number of families from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA) from the western district of Victoria to the newly opened agricultural settlements of Headington Hill, Mt Kent (near Clifton), Greenwood (north of Oakey) and Kumbia (south of Kingaroy) took place in the early 1900s.
The German settlement of Downfall Creek (Gulugaba) occurred in 1909 when a group of South Australian setllers from the Barossa district took up land holdings in the vine-scrub ridge country north of Miles. The Stiller, Hoffman, Bahnisch and related families were the original settlers from the South Australian German community and these families still farm in the Guluguba district.
In addition large urban centres such as Brisbane, Toowoomba, Warwick, Maryborough, Bundaberg and Rockhampton had considerable numbers of skilled German tradesmen and merchants by the 1890s. For instance stonemasons, blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, undertakers, medical doctors and butchers were positions in which many German migrants were known to succeed. In centres such as Brisbane and Toowoomba German clubs and societies were established to cater for the social and welfare needs of these large urban settlements. Today’s Brisbane German Club is a legacy of this earlier urban settlement group.
Even though the bulk of German immigrants settled in southern Queensland rural regions, other small communities were established throughout the huge State of Queensland. Germantown Road, in the Mena Creek district of South Johnstone, supported a number of German farmers who grew sugarcane. Today the road sign is all that remains of this former settlement. German workmen and billockies spread throughout Queensland and most rural towns had at least a small number of settlers of German origins. Even towns in far western Queensland, such as Barcaldine, had a number of German residents.
For a more detailed and comprehensive account of German settlement and history in Queensland the book ‘Queensland and Germany’, written by Alan Corkhill and published by Academia Press in 1992.