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From its 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 was 10,000.

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 Foodstuffs Fund.

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 Australia.

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 2004.

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.


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