Home of one of Toowoomba's best known sons, Sir Littleton Groom
Sir Littleton and Lady Groom with Sister E. Kenny (date unknown)
UNARA, 9 Tourist Road, Toowoomba
Sir Littleton and Lady Groom purchased land on the Toowoomba Range in 1904. They built a substantial house there in about 1906 and named it ‘Unara’. It is not clear what the name meant. It may have been named after the old electorate area proposed for northern New South Wales in 1900. The building contains many rooms and has been extensively altered and repaired internally. Leadlight windows, tiled fireplaces, hessian-backed wallpaper and a few metal ceilings were some of the reminders of the interior which could still be seen some 20-30 years ago.
Sir Littleton & Lady Groom
William Henry Groom - Sir Littleton's father.
Sir Littleton was born in Toowoomba on 22 April 1867. He was a son of William Henry Groom who was elected Toowoomba’s first Mayor in 1861. William Henry had an inauspicious start in life. He was convicted of theft when only thirteen years old and was transported to Australia in 1849. He was later given a pardon and eventually ended up in Toowoomba where, as well as being a politician, he was involved in many business enterprises and voluntary groups.
He served continuously in State parliament until 1901; then being elected to the Federal Parliament. He died while attending the first session of Federal Parliament on 8 August 1901.
Sir Littleton Groom’s Education
When his father died, Sir Littleton announced that he would stand for his father’s seat in Federal Parliament. In the Toowoomba Chronicle of 20 August, 1901, he gave readers some details of his educational background. He was educated for a few months at a private school conducted by Mrs Waraker, who was the wife of the local Congregational minister. The school was held in the area where St Luke’s Church now standsm in Herries Street. Sir Littleton then attended Toowoomba North State School with Mr Hodgson as Head Master for some years.
Toowoomba Grammar School was the school chosen for Sir Littleton’s further schooling. He won many academic prizes at the school including the W. H. Kent Gold Medal and the Caledonian Society Medal. He was captain of both cricket and football teams and played for Toowoomba in inter- city matches.
In 1886 Sir Littleton entered Ormond College at Melbourne University to study law and graduated with honours. In 1887 he won the Scholarship for modern languages, taking first class honours, a scholarship and a University prize. At the honours exam for the final year, he was the scholar for the year, being awarded first class honours, a scholarship and a University prize. He was then awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Two years later he was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Laws and again won a scholarship as well as being scholar of the year. He then took out a degree of Master of Arts and in 1893 he was awarded the Master of Laws degree. He was an active debater in University activities as well as being editor of student magazines.
Legal & Political Career
Sir Littleton was admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1891, He took up a position working for a judge in the Supreme Court in Brisbane as well as lecturing on Constitutional Law. He edited several legal publications in his spare time. He is thought to have been one of the driving forces behind attempts to establish the University of Queensland political life.
Sir Littleton won election to Federal Parliament in 1901. He became a Minister in the first Deakin government and continued to hold a Cabinet position in every non-Labour ministry. He became Minister of State for Home Affairs; Attourney General; Minister for External Affairs; Minister for Trade and Customs; and Minister for Works; until he retired from the office of Attourney General in 1925 to become Speaker of the House. He lost his Darling Downs seat in 1929 for 3 years but regained it and remained in parliament until his death in 1936.
Sir Littleton was an Anglican and was a member of the synod of the diocese of Brisbane. He was a lay preacher at both St Luke’s and All Saints churches in Toowoomba. When in Canberra he was very active in St John’s church there.
All Saints Anglican Church, Toowoomba
Sir Littleton's knighthood was conferred on him for his service to the public.
Unara overlooks the Lockyer Valley with the Liverpool Range outlined in the distance. Sir Littleton is thought to have designed his own home as well as planting many fine trees which he brought from Canberra. The views, together with the fine gardens, were conducive to a happy and peaceful home environment.
Hundreds of men and women came to Unara seeking help from their parliamentary representative. It was ‘open house’ nearly all the time. Sir Littleton loved little children and he was often found walking hand in hand with them in the garden while they gathered flowers and talked about the trees, birds and butterflies. Sunday at Unara was always a day of rest, with politics and everyday affairs put aside. The family attended All Saints church in Arthur Street and afterwards they read or met friends.
Sir Littleton had ‘a cheerful book-lined study’. He always encouraged local people involved with the arts. One of his very good friends was George Essex Evans, a famous Australian poet. Essex Evans always visited his friend to show him his latest verse or proposed poem. When George Essex Evans died, Sir Littleton lead the movement towards the erection of a monument to him in Webb Park. When the memorial was erected, the Grooms made an annual pilgrimage to it each 18 June, the poet’s birthday. There they were joined by many others with an appreciation for Evan’s poetry.
Sir Littleton was remembered by many parents during World War 1. He had the unenviable task of breaking bad news regarding sons who were serving overseas. He was always willing to help aged pensioners and enjoyed listening to the pioneers of the area. It was said that he helped more Labor people than the Labor people themselves!. He took a great interest in agricultural shows and visited as many of them as possible on the Downs.
Lady Groom was founder of the Ladies Literary Society in 1913
and was its President until 1931. She provided a fine example to all as a wife, mother and citizen. Her intellectual and cultural capacity matched that of her husband. The Grooms had a son who died at birth. They also had 2 daughters, Grace and Jessie. Jessie married a Mr Pearce, Head Master of Southport Boys School. They had a son but unfortunately Jessie died at an early age. Mrs Provan, a friend of the family, recalled in an interview in 1987 that she accompanied Jessie Groom to country shows, garden parties, etc. when they were children. Unara was the place for many balls and dances. Sir Littleton escorted her home after the dances. He was known to the family as ‘Litt’. Croquet was played on the back lawn at Unara.
Sir Littleton died on 6 November 1936. He was given a State funeral and he was buried in St John’s churchyard in Canberra. Sir Robert Menzies described him as ‘a good citizen and a good man’ whilst Toowoomba’s Mayor, Annand, described him as ‘a noble son of Toowoomba as well as ‘a distinguished Australian’ and a man ‘who characterised all that is best in manhood’
Lady Groom died in 1942.
Sale of Unara
Some time after Sir Littleton’s death, Unara was sold. Exact details are not known. However in 1939 the property was leased to the Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba, Bishop Roper and his Secretary, Father C. H. McDonald. The book West of the Range states:
This gracious home of such historic associations was set in spacious grounds and provided a suitable residence for the Bishop and gave a resident priest, the Bishop’s secretary, to the Holy Angel’s district.
The Bishop had an option to buy the property but did not do so as it was found to be not central enough for his requirements.
This delightful sandstone memorial was unveiled on 29 January 1940 by the Hon. ‘Billy’ Hughes. It was erected in memory of Sir Littleton Groom and was built opposite Unara. Bishop Roper took part in the unveiling ceremony. The memorial may have been designed by architect Charles Marks.
The property became Unara Guest House from 1940 to 1945. It was owned by a Mr Cornell.
Maternal & Child Health
The Maternal & Child Health Division of the Department of Health purchased the property as a home for mothers and babies with problems. The Division took possession on 19 November 1945 at a cost of 1432 pounds, ten shillings. The Division not only helped mothers with babies but also served as a training ground for Child Welfare Assistants. Matrons Rogers and Woodgate were two who worked there. The Division was closed in May 1977 in spite of considerable objections from local people.
Other Government Departments
The Home Help Division of the Department of Health occupied Unara in 1977, as did Child Guidance. They were followed by the Regional Assessment Clinic. A feature of the property were the beautiful gardens which in 1978 won the first prize in the Carnival of Flowers competition.
In January 1990, the Divisions of Child Guidance; Community Medicine; Aboriginal Health; Alcohol & Drug Dependence; and the Geriatric Assessment Team occupied Unara. The Department of Family Services & Aboriginal and Island Affairs also had a branch office there.
In July 1991, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Sister Beverley Grenfell interviewed an elderly man, Mr Jock McCarthy. Jock took her outside to see the conifer which could be seen in the south west corner of Unara. He said it was called the ‘Cashmeriana’ which is native to the eastern Himalayas in Bhutan as well as northern India. It grows at moderately high altitudes. The tree is also known as the Butan Cypress and is the official national tree of Bhutan, where it is often associated with Buddhist religious places. It has been widely planted around Vihara monasteries and Buddhist temples there for centuries.
Closure of ‘Unara’ as a Government Agency
For some time, the Health Department had planned a move from the old Unara to a new sterile Department, also known as Unara in the Toowoomba Hospital precint. The move occurred in May 1998.
The Health Department placed the old Unara property on the market. The Toowoomba Mayor, at the last minute, made representations to the Minister for Health. Councillor Thorley wished to acquire the property for treatment of young people who suffered from drug addiction (The venture was to be known as Sunrise Way). The Minister finally agreed to sell the property for next to nothing to the Council. Much furious activity took place over the next few years to restore the building but there is still no sign of occupation.(December 2010). When the plan for Unara became known, there was much local opposition to the development.
Researched by John Clements with thanks to Nola Robinson.
20 December 2006