beginning in 1903 as the Austral Choir to its renaming
in 1905 as the Toowoomba Philharmonic Society, it has
played an important role in the cultural life of
Toowoomba and district. Early Festivals were held in a
three sided and roofed building opposite Queen’s Park,
which had been part of the old gaol. Seating capacity
By 1906 the Philharmonic Choir numbered 120 and was
successfully competing in festivals and in eisteddfods
in many places in Queensland. The large silver cups in
the display cabinet in the foyer are testimony to this
success. Concerts were held in the Toowoomba Town Hall
for a rental of 3 pounds ($6) and an orchestra was
founded to boost the concerts.
A tender of 700 pounds was paid for the Philharmonic
Hall in Herries Street and rehearsals were commenced in
this venue in1913. The Society’s first venture into
Musical Comedy was in 1914, when all costumes and
scenery were hired from Sydney. World War 1 broke out at
the time the first musical was due to go on stage and
profits of 76 pounds ($152) were donated to the Wartime
The war had a big impact on the fortunes of the Society
and both the ranks and the finances were seriously
depleted. For the next two years things were very lean
and the City Council granted a subsidy from which rate
arrears were paid. To maintain viability, dances were
held twice a week in the Hall and the success of these
was the Salvation of the Society’s funds, and it finally
became debt-free in 1933.
Musical Comedies, Oratorios and Concerts were given, and
also in that year a Junior Choir was formed.
Then came World War 11, and the Hall was taken over by
the Army. Many members joined the services, finances
were low, and the dances were held in the Paragon Café
to keep things going. First Choir Conductor Mr. Stanley
Hobson was forced to resign from this position due to
ill health in 1946 and Mr. Walter Emerson became the
Choir Conductor. Success by the Choir in competition
continued and in 1953 a Golden Jubilee Dinner was held
in the Dining Hall in the Showgrounds in Campbell Street
with 400 people in attendance. By this time the choir
had 140 active members and an orchestra of 40. In
addition to three subscription concerts per year, the
choir performed an open air concert in the Botanical
Gardens for the Carnival of Flowers and assisted at the
City Council’s Carols by Candlelight.
In 1956 Mrs. Chamberlin retired as accompanist after 26
years with the choir and six years with the orchestra.
This record of service was considered unequalled in
The Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in 1963 with another
large dinner in the Soldiers Memorial Hall. Over the
years Operas were staged with outstanding success and
astonishing support from the public. Mr. Emerson retired
as conductor in this year and Mr. W.R Smith, Miss Madge
Chamberlin and Mr. Geoff Langdale conducted the choir
for the next 7 years. During the latter period the City
Council required our land for the Civic Square, and
another home had to be found.
“Laguna” was purchased in 1975 for $42,500 and a
catering business was commenced to assist with finances.
One of the previous owners, Mr. C. Weis, had carefully
converted the building from its former grandeur as a
private home to a venue for weddings and parties with
fine catering, and for many years this was “the” place
to hold social functions.
Rehearsals began in the Society’s new home in 1976 and
bookings flooded in for wedding receptions and other
functions. Mr. Langdale stepped down as Conductor in
1978 and Miss M. Chamberlain was again appointed to this
position when family health problems were resolved.
In 1989 it was decided to extend the Laguna premises to
cope with the needs of a growing Society and together
with the sum of $100,000 which had been raised for the
purpose, and a Government Grant of $130,000 this became
a reality. A new Youth Choir was formed in 1990 and has
continued on until 2006. The choir in 1993 numbered 100
with a Youth Choir of 80, an Orchestra of 20 and a
subscription members list of 200.
The Society celebrated its Centenary in October 2003
with a Gala Concert at the Empire Theatre with
performances from most of Toowoomba’s Choirs and musical
groups in participation. This was a most spectacular
community event with support from major sponsors
Toowoomba City Council, Empire Theatres, Heritage
Building Society and the Toowoomba Chronicle.
By this time it became obvious that times were changing
fast and brides were choosing to have their receptions
at hotels, in marquees and various alternative venues.
Changes to Public Liability laws and public standards
had also presented difficulties in dealing with these
functions, and it generally became very hard for
volunteers to safely manage these functions. Insurance
companies were also hesitant to consider a wooden
building in need of refurbishment for the use of these
functions and the last Wedding Reception was held at
Laguna in September 2003.
At a Special Meeting of members on 25th November 2003 it
was decided that the Society could no longer afford to
support the Laguna premises at a maintenance cost of
$40,000 per annum now that Wedding Receptions were no
longer to be held and the decision was made to sell
Laguna and move to other premises.
These premises were found in a church complex for sale
at Matthews Street, and after many negotiations,
compliance with various Council and State regulations
and a lot of help from our Solicitors, Real Estate Agent
and loyal members we finally made the move in November
A lot of work has been done by a small band of dedicated
volunteer members to improve this facility in stages,
and it will probably take a long time into the future to
“get it right” as we still don’t have the funds we would
like to have for all of the improvements we would like
to make. It is however, an ideal complex for all of our
activities, and we are able to provide Intimate Theatre
and wonderful Concerts and Theatre Restaurants for the
entertainment of all. Our Complex can also be hired out
providing extra income for building maintenance, and
with the availability of two halls and three meeting
rooms most needs can be well satisfied. Weddings and
Wedding Receptions, private parties,
music exams, weekly Bible Meetings and U3A Classes are
all held at our premises.
From the beginning of concentrated electronic home
entertainment, such as television, Videos, CD’s etc
young people today have access to an amazing array of
mobile electronic music gadgets, the supply of which
continues to escalate. In previous generations there was
a void to fill, and it was done by self entertainment
within family and church groups, and Societies such as
ours. The Social contacts and friendships made this way
will never be replaced.
Live Theatre and Performance is now part of school
curriculums and our Universities have large Musical and
Theatre Faculties which have the means to professionally
cater for the talents of our young people.
The future activities of our Society will need to be
focused on greater versatility but still comes down to a
basic love of music, giving an opportunity for our
members to both perform and hear good music.