A weekend with my mother-in-law in Stanthorpe reminded me to investigate a bit further the colonial botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham who famously described the Rosewood Scrub as “impenetrable.” In 1828 he passed through the Rosewood Scrub on his way to explore the eastern side of what had become known as Cunningham’s Gap.
Today, the main route from Brisbane to Stanthorpe runs though this gap. It is a picturesque drive with a road looping upwards through deep rainforest. We always open the car windows to listen for the whipping tone of bellbirds. It is also sometimes a bit of a driving adventure with the huge B-doubles grinding slowly uphill, lapped by impatient motorists.
For many years explorers had sought some way through the Great Dividing Range to link up the lushly fertile Darling Downs and the penal colony at Moreton Bay. Cunningham is credited with the discovery of the downs and also the crossing. Ironically, according to official historical information the gap found and used by Cunningham was not easily accessible, nor useful for transport. Apparently transport companies objected to having their goods lowered over cliffs by rope. For a fairly contemporary idea of what the range crossing looked like,
Conrad Martens painted this picture in 1856. A much easier route was found through Spicer’s Gap – the route used by aborigines moving between the downs and the bay area. This route was used by bullock carts for many years until in 1927 when a road was constructed through Cunningham’s Gap.
This road is not the only route over the Dividing Range. We often choose instead to travel via Gatton and Ma Ma Creek, coming out of the hills onto the plains at the Toowoomba-Warwick Road. It’s a marvellous overview of how soil type and geology have influenced settlement and farming in a small area. Even the small valleys on the Downs side of the range are intensively planted with grain crops. The fields of the Lockyer Valley around Gatton are irrigated vegetable crops drawing water from creeks and bores whereas any farming still done in the Rosewood Scrub tends to the equine and bovine-type (yes I just like using those words).
I asked my family if they thought Allan Cunningham was surprised when he came over the gap and found all these prosperous grain farms on the Darling Downs. My facetiousness was received only with rolling of eyes. I guess I should be grateful that I wasn’t left to walk home.