SWITCHING IT UP
The CITY OF IPSWICH, poised on the edge of the SCENIC RIM, is rewriting ITS STORY with cafe culture, CRAFT BEER and country music.
IPSWICH, YOU MIGHT THINK, is Queensland’s coulda-been, almost-was, maybe-one-day town. It coulda-been the capital in 1859, but Brisbane got the nod. It almost-was the state’s country music capital in the 1970s, with highprofile festivals and awards, but the impetus stalled by the mid-’80s and Gympie grabbed the reputation. Well, it’s time to rethink Ipswich. Maybe with your stomach. Maybe-one-day is today, maybe, with the relaxed provincial city emerging as a coffee-foodie getaway from Brisbane, poised on the edge of the Scenic Rim region and its blossoming agri-tourism scene. Ipswich is the fastest-growing city in Queensland, both in people and – if a stroll down Brisbane Street is any clue – cafes. The last time Ipswich was this happening, men with bushranger beards were sometimes actually bushrangers. Heritage-listed Victorian piles signpost a prosperous 19th-century, when wool and coal were carried down the Bremer River by paddle-steamer to port at Brisbane, then still economic second-banana. These days downtown Brissie is 40 minutes by car, by which time a Nutella cappuccino at ’50s-style Deann’s Coffee House will go down a treat, although for cyclists pedalling into Cactus Espresso Bar before 9am, coffee is half price. Fourthchild’s (fourthchildcafe.com.au) pancakes are popular, and global cuisines include Heisenberg Haus (heisenberg.com.au; German) and Behind Our Picket Fence (South African). Also refreshing Ipswich is the return of country music, back with a twanging vengeance. CMC Rocks (Australia’s largest international country music festival; CMC is Foxtel’s Country Music Channel) left the Hunter Valley in 2015 for Ipswich’s Willowbank Raceway and has sold out the last two years running. A laid-back larrikinism prevailed as 2017’s capacity crowd of 15,000 cheered the American (Little Big Town, Dixie Chicks) and Australian (Lee Kernaghan, Morgan Evans) big guns rocking out under the gum trees. Constellations shone overhead, but stargazers focused on the stage. Other star spotters might have seen some acts, such as Evans, popping into Rafter & Rose cafe, an Ipswich favourite. The food is local, often organic, and the honey’s in-house – note beehive on outside wall. Sipping an Uncle Joe’s coffee, I ponder starting a conspiracy theory about Rafter & Rose being abducted by UFO from Melbourne and beamed down here, hanging-plant and flowerpot-filled laneway intact. A similar yarn could be spun about 116 Laneway cafe and bar; set between two heritage-listed buildings, the bar is a converted shipping container. I reckon I’d get away with it, especially after a few cold ones at the Pump yard Bar& Brewery (4 hearts brewing. com)
– or Tap’d (pahotel.com.au), which serves 72 tap beers and ciders in the historic Prince Alfred Hotel. Mention the Pumpyard anywhere around Ipswich and the standard response is: ‘How good is that place!’ Which isn’t a question. “We keep our beers really approachable,” explains owner-brewer Wade Curtis, citing his top-selling pale ale, but he’s clearly not averse to adventure, as his ale ice-cream or experiment in making ‘Wabbit Saison’ carrot beer attest. His gleaming fermenters are also approachable, lining the bar/restaurant walls. Opening in a century-old ex-tech college in 2015, the Pumpyard is Ipswich’s first brewery since 1903 and one of many grand old edifices converted to cooler purpose. The Incinerator Theatre has been a playhouse longer than it was the council incinerator, and is Queensland’s only Walter Burley Griffindesigned building (1936). The Old Courthouse (1859) is also well into a new stage of life hosting musical theatre. Studio 188 does rock, jazz, theatre and comedy in an ex-Baptist church (1877, followed by a 1938 Art Deco makeover); the old Town Hall (1861) houses Ipswich Art Gallery. The region just south of Ipswich is also finding new purpose. See why it’s called the Scenic Rim via Captain Mike’s Pterodactyl Helicopters (pterodactylhelicopters.com.au). From 500 feet in a buzzing metal dragonfly you’ll admire a sprawling dish of farmland, sprinkled with bush and rimmed by jagged mountains in all directions. The genial captain does flying wine, food and pub tours all over the Rim, humorous banter AUSTRALIANTRAVELLER.COM included. The phrase ‘dropping in for a beer’ hits literal heights with Mike’s spectacular descent into Harrisville (28 kilometres from Ipswich), more T-junction than town, with the Royal Hotel (royalhotelharrisville.com.au) staring down the gunbarrel main street at the intersection. De-choppering in a nearby vacant lot, we step onto the Royal’s shady balcony, feeling very country-rock star. A fancier option is Spicers Hidden Vale (spicersretreats.com), a luxury hilltop resort on a working farm. It’s only 30 minutes’ drive from Ipswich, but fly-by-Mike to be greeted with Champagne before ambling into Homage restaurant in the main homestead. The property was once home to Sidney Cotton, an MI6 spy in the Second World War who, as a friend of author Ian Fleming, partly inspired James Bond. Knowing this adds much dash to disembarking a helicopter with a tuxedo-clad waiter on standby – you half expect a note from M on the drinks tray. Homage’s produce is 100 per cent local (often farmed on-site) and cooked with wood and coal fire, and flair. Executive chef Ash Martin says a chef ’s job is to put their “heart and soul on the plate”. His restless creativity extends to cheeky ‘Grandchester truffles’, which aren’t truffles or kangaroo droppings, although substituting for one and resembling the other.
Once dairy-dominated, the Scenic Rim now pushes gourmet food tourism – olives, wine, coffee, nuts, jams, dukkah – with Eat Local Week on every June. Grove Cottage near Boonah offers accommodation in an elegant Queenslander, overlooking a hand-harvested grove producing quality olive oils (lemon myrtle for me). Under an hour from Ipswich brings you to tiny Mount Alford, where the old (1884) general store has been relaunched as Scenic Rim Brewery (scenicrimbrewery.com.au). A copper beer vat sits beside the original broad wooden counter and shelves that “have been there since day one”, says owner Mike Webster. Three beers are brewed on site, and the vibe is family-friendly, with home-cooking, coffee and lolly jars. Mike’s wife Wendy draws on her Dutch heritage, preparing snacks including bitterballen and bratwurst. But the bestseller is her unique ‘Food of the Gods’ with tomato, avocado and Mexican-style chilli sauce transforming “an actual Chiko Roll hidden underneath”, she explains enthusiastically. Wendy could be summing up what’s happening all over the region; Ipswich retains its essence and heritage: it still has its inner Chiko Roll. But new layers have brought new meaning, new life, new tastes and, indeed, new roles.
CLOCKWISE FROM MAIN: Spicers Hidden Vale is a luxury hilltop resort on a working farm; You could easily mistake Rafter & Rose cafe for a Melbourne transplant; Try a craft beer or some ale ice-cream at the Pumpyard Bar & Brewery. WEEKENDS | Ipswich
FROM TOP LEFT: Once home to the spy who inspired James Bond, Spicers Hidden Vale is the perfect place to land in style with Pterodactyl Helicopters; Mount Alford’s old general store has been transformed into the Scenic Rim Brewery.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Enjoy spectacular views from Worendo Cottages; Beers on tap at Scenic Rim Brewery; Catch live music at honky tonk bar Johnny Ringo’s; Camping out in style at Australia’s largest international country musical festival, CMC Rocks.