The Queanbeyan-Palerang region is home to a diverse set of distinctively unique towns and villages. To give you an insider’s look into the hidden gems the region has to offer, we’ve enlisted the help of our trusty locals who will share their stories and local loves from the towns they call home.
In the first feature of the series, we talked to Helen Ferguson of The Queanbeyan Hive, a born and bred Queanbeyanite with a passion for community and the arts.
Born and bred
“I was born right here in the Queanbeyan Hospital and spent my entire childhood here. My parents are actually still living on a farm in the Queanbeyan area,” Helen recollects her early years.
Having gone to school in the familiar surroundings of both Queanbeyan and Canberra, Helen went on to study graphic design and flew the coop all the way to the bustling metropolises of Europe.
After a 4-year stint living in Germany and England, Helen returned to Australia, spending eight years in Sydney before returning to her roots in Queanbeyan. “I’m a country girl at heart, so when I had my first child, the time seemed right to come back to enjoy that family lifestyle that Queanbeyan has to offer,” she reminisces. Since then, Helen has settled down in her grandparents’ old house right in the heart of Queanbeyan.
“Moving from Newtown to Qtown was a bit of a shock,” Helen laughs. Despite the initial shock, Helen and her family have spent the past 14 years in Queanbeyan. “I love the community here – it’s a very diverse and multicultural group of people who are down to earth and genuine. I’ve had great experiences with the community groups I’ve been involved with and there are so many fascinating stories to hear, such as that of local artist Connee-Colleen Cameron.”
Setting up shop
Helen’s Queanbeyan Hive project was born out of a need for an alternative space in the city for people to come and gather in – one that would also support local artists and musicians. The Queanbeyan Artists Shed and Benedict House, loved by many of the locals, had closed down by then, so the time was right to bring something new to the table.
“I’d been eyeing out the unique cottage with a sunny north-facing backyard for a couple of years and wanted to create something special for the arts community,” Helen says. Although the floodplain location and heritage status of the building introduced some complications to the process, the building was beautifully restored and its bright yellow, bee-inspired façade now stands proudly in the corner of Crawford and Rutledge Streets in Queanbeyan CBD.
“Since moving away in my 20s and travelling, I have grown to really appreciate and love old buildings with character. My Dad worked as an architect in Queanbeyan, so I have grown up watching the transformation and additions to old buildings, so when I received grant funding to activate the 1910 cottage to the greater public, I jumped on the opportunity to not only restore one of the city’s great old cottages, but to offer the community and visitors something new.”
But the hidden gems of Queanbeyan do not end there, as Helen points out. “There are so many beautiful historic buildings here in Queanbeyan. I recommend anyone to take a walk around town and the riverside to see them all and get a feel for the positive, welcoming vibe of the city. Queanbeyan has a lot of character, it’s not as cookie cutter as some other places around, and you get to enjoy the more relaxed, country atmosphere and sense of community.”
It is clear to see that community and arts are near and dear to Helen’s heart. “It’s been great to see and take part in revitalising the local arts scene. Not only do we now have the Hive, but Rusten House, which used to be the old hospital, has now been brought back to life as an arts centre as well,” Helen says. She also goes on to highlight other local artists and art groups, such as Dennis Mortimer’s The Bunker, a gathering for artists and art classes, and the Queanbeyan Arts Society, a great community art society and gallery located on the banks of the Queanbeyan River. “There’s also lots of public art around the centre of town, such as Neil Dickinson’s sculptures in Ray Morton Park,” she notes, and adds, “The QPRC Art Awards always draw in a lot of entries as well from artists all around the larger region, which is fantastic to see.”
When Helen isn’t working on her passion project, The Queanbeyan Hive, she enjoys grabbing a coffee at one of the many great cafes in town and taking a walk along the riverside, or heading out further afield for a nice bushwalk. “I like to take my kids and our dog Dalha out to Molonglo Gorge for the Blue Tiles walk. Dalha loves to rock hop and go over the boulders there – it’s a nice quiet spot.”
For those looking for more action around Queanbeyan, Helen recommends trying out some of the city’s many events. “There’s always something happening in town, particularly at the Showgrounds. Events such as The Queanbeyan Show and Oktoberfest always seem to bring in the crowds.”
When asked where she likes to take her friends when they come for a visit, she’s quick to give a shout out to the local op-shops. “The op-shops are great in Queanbeyan! I have friends who say they’ll come to Queanbeyan just to do a spot of shopping at the op-shops,” she chuckles.