Rocky Road Trip Stop no. 1- Gympie

Our cars loaded to the brim with my stuff, Mum and I departed Mount Coolum on the Sunshine Coast, driving for an hour before reconvening in Gympie, our first planned respite stop.

Located in the Wide Bay- Burnett district, Gympie (pronounced gimpy) is about 160 kilometres (100 mi) north of the Queensland state capital, Brisbane. The city lies on the Mary River, which floods the town periodically. At the 2016 Census, Gympie had a population of 20,966 people.

Mum and I stretched our legs at Lake Alford Recreational Park, where we were met by an abundance of bird life including hungry ducks, cranky geese and elegant swans. We crossed the lake and made our way up to the cafe located next to the Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum, where we ordered Devonshire Tea and scones with jam and cream. The heat was pushing 30 degrees Celcius and the humidity hung heavily on the air, not ideal for drinking hot tea, but I imagine this experience was similar to what the early European settlers endured.

Swans and turtles at Lake Alford Recreational Park


Gympie’s name derives from the Kabi, the language of a tribe of Indigenous Australians that historically lived in the region. The word gimpi-gimpi, which means “stinging tree”, referred to Dendrocnide moroides. The tree has large, round leaves that have similar properties to stinging nettles. The town was previously named Nashville, after James Nash, who discovered gold in the area in 1867. The name was later changed to Gympie in 1868.

Graziers were the original European settlers. Subsequently, James Nash reported the discovery of ‘payable’ alluvial gold on 16 October 1867. At the time of Nash’s discovery, Queensland was suffering from a severe economic depression. Nash probably saved Queensland from bankruptcy. A memorial fountain in Lake Alford Park honours Nash’s discovery.

Gold mining still plays a role in the area’s fortunes, along with agriculture (dairy predominantly), timber and tourism. The gold rush’s rapid development led to streets that are set in an irregular fashion.

Mining shaft at the Gympie Gold Mining Museum

The railway from Maryborough was completed in 1881, and the North Coast Railyway linked Gympie to Brisbane in 1891. The state declared Gympie a town in 1903. 

The first recorded flood in Gympie was in 1870, and significant floods along the Mary River have caused inundations of the town between 1893 and 2013. Most of the floods occur between December and April and are typically caused by heavy rainfall in the headwaters to the south.

Flood gauge shows the water level during the 2011 Brisbane Floods

The highest flood ever recorded in Gympie occurred on 2 February 1893 when the river peaked at 25.45 m. Gympie was declared a natural disaster area during the 1999 floods, when the river peaked at 21.9 m then. Numerous highways and roads in and around the town which were destroyed or damaged during floods in 2011 was repaired under Operation Queenslander, the name given to post-flood reconstruction efforts in Queensland.

Many attractions are in and around Gympie, including the Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum, the WoodWorks Museum, the Valley Rattler steam train, and Mothar Mountain Speedway.

Gympie also hosts two festivals: The Gympie Gold Rush Festival and the Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival. The Gold Rush Festival holds 10 days of cultural events in October. The Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival is a five-day event held in March, and highlights include short films from all corners of the globe, special features and documentaries, parties, seminars, intimate Q & A sessions with filmmakers, and an award ceremony.

Author and oceanographer Professor John Church was born and raised in Gympie. Church has led a number of programs, including the CSIRO Division of Oceanography and the CSIRO Division of Marine and atmospheric Research, Polar Waters Program, Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre.

Gympie’s own Tiarn Florence is a successful Australian writer and poet, as well as an acclaimed illustrator, educator and visual artist.

After an hour exploring Lake Alford Park and the grounds of the museum, Mum and I were back in the car and on our way to Tiaro, stop no. 3 on the Rocky Road Trip.

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