Roma is an attractive centre located 479 km west of Brisbane and 300 m above sea level. This thriving community of nearly 7, 000 people approximately 15,000 in the surrounding region lies at the heart of a rich cattle grazing area and boasts the largest store cattle market in Australia. Other industries in the area include farming of winter cereals and pulse cropping, summer forage and grain cropping. Sheep and wool growing, cypress timber milling, development associated with nearby energy reserves and tourism round out the regions industries.
Lying to the west of the Darling Downs the Roma district was first explored by Europeans when, in 1846, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the New South Wales Surveyor–General, passed through the area looking for a route from Sydney to the north coast of the continent. On 7 May 1846 Mitchell reached Mount Abundance (he named it because he was impressed by the richness of the region). In his book Tropical Australia (1848) he recalled his first impression of the area.
'I ascended an elevated north-eastern extremity of Mount Abundance, and from it beheld the finest country I had ever seen in a primeval state - a champaign region, (meaning ’undulating country’ in an archaic French dialect) spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope could reach.'
With such a rosy picture presented to them it was not surprising that in the next few years squatters began to move into the area. In 1848 Allan Macpherson reached the region and laid claim to about 400 000 acres (162 000 hectares) of land which he called Mt Abundance Station. Here Macpherson built a simple wooden hut. On 4 April 1848 he was visited by Ludwig Leichhardt who was attempting to cross Australia from east to west. Leichhardt wrote his last letter in Macpherson's hut. Other explorers including Edmund Kennedy also passed through and some early squatters, realizing the potential of the district, took up land holdings for cattle and sheep grazing.
The first sign of a township occurred in 1861 when a couple of crude public houses were built near to the Mount Abundance homestead. The owner at the time, Stephen Spencer, objected to this change in land use finally agreeing with a Government surveyor that a town could be laid out at a place known as Reid's Crossing. The town was gazetted in 1862 and it had three hotels before any homes were built. The new town, or rather the three pubs, was named Roma after Lady Roma Bowen, the wife of the Queensland Governor of the time. Before her marriage she had been known as Countess Diamantina Georgina Roma. The locals resisted the change and continued to call the settlement either The Bungil or Reid's Crossing. Roma has the distinction of being the first town gazetted in the new colony of Queensland. It grew quite quickly once the area had been surveyed and by 1863 it had its own court of petty sessions, police station, doctor, chemist, and postmaster. It was proclaimed a municipality in 1867. Seven kilometres out of town is the historic Mount Abundance homestead, one of Roma’s gracious old homes and the site of the Maranoa’s first settlement, Winnathoola, on Northern Road, is another famous Roma residence
Wineries are becoming a common sight across Queensland, but there is nothing common about Roma’s historic Romavilla Winery. The oldest winery in Queensland, the Romavilla vineyard was established in 1863.
The heritage-listed Heroes’ Avenue features more than 100 bottle trees. Each of these trees is a memorial to local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I
Roma Saleyards is the largest cattle selling centre in Australia with 376,550 cattle sold through the yards in the 2005-2006 financial year. Auctions are conducted twice weekly with special sales such as Bull Sales, Herd Dispersal Sales and Special Breed Sales held according to demand. Cattle are regularly consigned to Roma from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. The saleyards are both NSQA and EU accredited and offer a modern, safe and fully maintained facility that is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, sited on almost 50 hectares. Established in 1969 the Roma Saleyards is a local government facility jointly owned by the Bungil Shire and the Roma Town Councils .
Surrounding Roma is the Bungil Shire, the Shire has a large natural gas and oil resource within the Surat/Bowen Basin. The extraction of natural gas has been occurring in the Shire for some 35 years with rapid expansion in recent years. Roma is known as the cradle of Australia's oil and gas industry and is a fitting location for the oil and gas museum. Roma was the very first site where oil and gas was discovered in Australia
The Roma Court House has undoubtedly been the scene of many interesting trials and judgements but few can quite match the trial of Harry Redford.
The history of Harry Redford is a tale of daring, chicanery and the outback's admiration for a criminal bushman which the novelist Rolf Boldrewood used as the basis of his famous novel Robbery Under Arms.
Redford was born in the Hawkesbury River district of New South Wales in 1842. It is likely that his father was the convict, Thomas Redford, who had arrived in Australia in 1826. By the time he was a teenager Redford was working as a drover and by 1870 he was in Central Western Queensland working on the vast Bowen Downs station which, at the time, covered 1.75 million acres. The area upon which modern day Muttaburra stands was at one end of this vast holding.
At the time Bowen Downs was running a herd of about 70 000 cattle and Redford felt that the station owners wouldn't even know if they were a thousand short on muster. Redford knew that if he stole the cattle (all of which had been branded) that he couldn't sell them in Queensland or New South Wales. So he devised a plan to drove the cattle down the Cooper Creek into South Australia. To understand how daring this plan was it is worth remembering that Burke and Wills had died attempting to make a similar journey only nine years earlier.
Amazingly Redford was successful. He drove the cattle 1300 km to the Blanche Water station in northern South Australia where he sold them for £5000. However the loss was noted and in February 1871 Redford was arrested and brought to Roma to be tried. The charge was 'that Redford, in March 1870, at Bowen Downs station, feloniously did steal 100 bullocks, 100 cows, 100 heifers, 100 steers, one white bull, the property of Morehead and Young.'
From the outset the trial had the elements of an entertainment rather than a serious investigation. Locals, captivated by Redford's consummate bushcraft and daring, packed the courtroom. The white bull stood in a yard outside the courthouse. Forty-one of the forty-eight people called as possible jurors were dismissed because they were prejudiced. The white bull took part in a line up with twenty other bulls and was immediately identified by his owner.
The evidence against Redford was overwhelming. The defence offered no witnesses and complained that Redford had been gaoled without trial.
The jury retired for an hour and then delivered their verdict. The court transcript reads as follows:
Judge: What is your verdict?
Foreman of the Jury: We find the prisoner 'Not Guilty'.
Foreman of the Jury: Not guilty.
Judge: I thank God, gentlemen, that the verdict is yours, not mine!
It was an example of admiration of bushcraft overwhelming justice and on 5 April 1873 the governor of Queensland ordered that the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court at Roma be withdrawn for two years.
After his acquittal Harry Redford headed into northern Australia. He worked as a drover on the Atherton Tableland and around the Gulf country. In 1883 he moved the first herd of cattle from Queensland to the Brunette Downs station where he was appointed manager. For many years he managed the McArthur River station on the Gulf of Carpentaria and was known around Burketown as the model for Captain Starlight although he refused to acknowledge the obvious similarities.