THOSE WERE THE DAYS: Mary St was quickly identified as the economic centre of the gold rush, and has remained the heart of Gympie and the region ever since.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS: Mary St was quickly identified as the economic centre of the gold rush, and has remained the heart of Gympie and the region ever since. Contributed

The big bang: Mary St born in fireworks

GYMPIE'S heart for almost the city's entire life, it is only fitting that Mary St started with a literal bang - or several.

Now a calm and peaceful shopping precinct, it was anything but during Gympie's burgeoning years.

"Because a lot of the places stored explosives, there was continually explosions and fires so a lot of the street got burnt down and blown up,” developer Greg Martoo said.

While much has been made of the decision to build Gympie's CBD on a flood plain rather than the top of a hill - which might have saved a lot of anguish over the years - Mary St's beginnings lie not in careful planning.

Rather it was born of the simple practicality of having gold discovered near where they five ways was, and the gold commissioner setting up shop on a nearby hill.

View of Mary Street Gympie Queensland ca. 1910 Identifier Negative number 147199
View of Mary Street Gympie Queensland circa 1910: Identifier Negative number 147199.

"There was pedestrian traffic between where they discovered the gold, and where (the commissioner) had set up, so the Governor sent an overseer up to clear the trees to make it safer,” Mr Martoo said.

"As he was cutting down the trees people picked up that this was the base place for Mary St.”

"All the business entrepreneurs came through and thought 'oh, this is the most popular thoroughfare in Gympie' and put up their shops.”

With the area overflowing in riches, it naturally attracted people looking to take advantage of opportunity.

Ruins of fire in Mary St 00091 Record number 288225
Ruins of fire in Mary St 00091 Record number 288225

"You had hotels and you had banks, and a lot of the substantial buildings were generally one or the other,” Mr Martoo said.

Of course, with so many people vying over expensive goods, it was not long before lawyers moved into Mary St too, and a stock exchange in 1890.

Gold, like all good things, came to an end, with the majority of veins played out by the 1920s.

Absent the driving force, Mary St began its shift to a more diverse retail world, selling a range of items including clothing and timber.

Mary Street Gympie 1879 Identifier Negative number 113141.jpg
Mary Street Gympie 1879 Identifier Negative number 113141.jpg

"It was a bit of commerce hub, and then during this period it came to service the rural centre as well,” Mr Martoo said.

Until the 1950s, Mary St was still the Bruce Hwy, with traffic - wheeled and on foot - constantly flowing through, and the hub continued to grow until it encountered several new challenges: industrial estates, and the development of the shopping centre.

"They were very keen when Coles came to town to approve the shopping centre,” Mr Martoo said of the council at that time.

"It divided Mary St completely.”

Cars parked in Mary Street Gympie 1928 Identifier Negative number 79500
Cars parked in Mary Street Gympie 1928 Identifier Negative number 79500

Goldfields Plaza was eventually joined by Gympie Central Shopping Centre and the Southside Town Centre, and with the centres attracting big name retail outlets, Mary St once more shifted direction.

Small businesses moving into the street, continuing the trend of renewal which Mary St was born in, only this time without the fireworks.