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Skip Navigation LinksQueensland State Archives > Researching the archives > Exhibitions > Queensland firsts

Queensland firsts: 50 milestones that shaped a state

Inspired by rare archival records, historians reflect on the past 150 years and map the journey that has defined Queensland. This unique exhibition unveils 50 history-defining milestones which were firsts for Queensland and, at times, the world. From the first land rights claim to the world's first general strike, Queensland firsts promises an intriguing view through the window of Queensland's cultural, economic, political and social soul.

Queensland firsts was commissioned by Queensland State Archives to commemorate the State's 150th anniversary in 2009. Historians Professor Kay Saunders and Dr Julie Ustinoff from the Brisbane Institute and Dr Shirleene Robinson from Bond University have drawn on rare documentary heritage from the collection at Queensland State Archives to research the exhibition.​

Queensland's first Governor, Sir George Bowen would be astounded if he stepped from his tiny vessel at Brisbane's Botanic Gardens and surveyed Queensland today. In the first instance, Indigenous sovereignty would apply to the territory of the Turrbal people where he first came ashore

As Bowen walked by what is now the Queensland University of Technology, past Old Government House to Parliament House, he would be overwhelmed by the speed and noise of vehicles passing over the modern freeway and bridges. From the tiny convict settlement he knew, he might recognise one of Brisbane's oldest buildings, the Commissariat Store on William Street, but little else.

A fledgling colony in 1859, Queensland's population has grown from 28,000 people to over four million. This outpost of the British Empire, inhabited by Indigenous Queenslanders tens of thousands of years before, is now a modern dynamic society. Prosperous cities and townships spread throughout vast and diverse terrains, busy ports, roads and airports bring communication and services to a scattered population. A diversified economy reliant on the export of produce and minerals, has added tourism and biomedical expertise.

Since the introduction of the first railway in 1865, the challenges of distance, climatic extremes and a widely-dispersed population have compelled Queensland to always rely on innovation. From the establishment of QANTAS at Winton in 1920, the firsts for Queensland have been numerous. There have been a number of global first achievements, with the world's first Labor Government in 1899, the world's first general strike in 1912, the abolition of the Upper House in 1922 and the world's first koala sanctuary in 1927.

As Queensland celebrates 150 years of Separation, Governor Bowen would be astonished to learn that in 2009 Queensland has a female Premier, Governor, Supreme Court judges and business leaders. His faith that the new colony would indeed become a prosperous society that fulfilled the dreams and aspirations of its varied peoples has been realised.

Queensland firsts is a celebration of the 50 history-making firsts which have defined our State. Curated by historians Professor Kay Saunders, Dr Julie Ustinoff and Dr Shirleene Robinson, the exhibition draws on rare documentary heritage from the Queensland State Archives collection. Queensland firsts is presented by Queensland State Archives to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Queensland in 2009.

View the collection


Acknowledgements and Sensitivity Statement

About the historians

Kay Saunders Professor Kay Saunders AM

Trained in political science and anthropology, Kay Saunders AM was Professor of History and Senator of the University of Queensland from 2002-06. Serving on the Council of the Australian War Memorial, she was Chairman of the Official History to the Australia at War Committee. Professor Saunders was appointed to the Council of the National Maritime Museum of Australia and was Director of the National Australia Day Council. She served as Chair of the Queensland Government's Cultural Advisory Council and was a member of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Women's Policy.

She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, the Royal Historical Society (London) and the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 2001 she received the Medal of the National Museum of Australia and in 2006 was the recipient of the John Kerr Medal from the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Her most recent books include A Crowning Achievement: A Study of Australian Beauty, Business and Charitable Enterprise (2005) and Between the Covers: Revealing the State Library of Queensland's Collection (2006).

Julie Ustinoff Dr Julie Ustinoff

Julie Ustinoff holds a PhD in History from the University of Queensland and currently lectures there in a number of history subjects. Julie is the co-author of A Crowning Achievement: A Study of Australian Beauty, Business and Charitable Enterprise (2005) and has served as a consultant to the Museum of Australia on the national touring exhibition, Miss Australia: A Nation's Quest as well as on the SBS documentary, The Pageant. Her research interests range across Australian social and cultural history, popular culture, gender studies and the media. She has contributed to a number of journals and books and has presented at international and national conferences.

Shirleene Robinson Dr Shirleene Robinson

Shirleene Robinson is a Lecturer in Australian History at Bond University. She is the author of Something like slavery? Queensland's Aboriginal child workers, 1842-1945 (Australian Scholarly Publishers) and the editor of Homophobia: An Australian History (Federation Press). She has written a number of articles that have been published in journals such as the Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of Genocide Research, Aboriginal History, Labour History, the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society and the Journal of Australian Colonial History. She has previously taught at the University of Queensland and was an Australian Studies Fellow at the University of Wales (Lampeter).


Professor Kay Saunders and Dr Julie Ustinoff from the Brisbane Institute and Dr Shirleene Robinson from Bond University

Archival assistance
Elizabeth Hawkins and Kate Wilson, Queensland State Archives

Queensland Firsts sponsors

Sensitivity Statement

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material in this exhibition may be considered culturally sensitive for some individuals and communities.

The inclusion of words and descriptions used in the past, but considered inappropriate today, may cause sadness or offend some people. Terms and annotations which reflect the author's attitude or that of the period in which the item was written may be considered inappropriate today in some circumstances.

The exhibition includes images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have passed away. In some communities, seeing images or names of deceased persons may cause sadness or distress, particularly to the relatives of these people.

Last updated 18 December 2015
Queensland State Archives Digital Image ID 2925
​Queensland State Archives Digital Image ID 2925: Chart shewing lines of electric telegraph in the colony of Queensland, 1866