How did Darra get its name?

The Railway Commissioner’s Annual Report for 1876 celebrates the new Brisbane-Ipswich service, and includes additional information that pinpoints the location of Darra – “a stop at nine mile forty four chain gate.” There was then no settlement – or even a house – at that location. The “stop” was to allow locals to board or alight from the train by arrangement.
The “nine mile forty four chain gate” was given the name “Darra gate” probably in 1876.

The Queensland Railway Nomenclature: origin of names of Queensland Stations,” appeared in The Queenslander in April 1914: Darra was one of the few names with no explanation at all. However, we can provide some relevant information.

It seems it was the responsibility of the engineers to “site and name” railway stations and stops – with reference to the Post Office to avoid duplication. There was no local community to offer suggestions, so the decision was likely made in the Railways office.

Some of the planners were Scottish engineers who had built railways in Scotland, where Darra is an old name in Aberdeenshire. This also suggests that Darra was named by the Railway engineers.


The barque “Darra” at Newcastle 1897 Source: Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle

There was another link with Scotland. In 1865, the sailing ship “Darra” was launched in Aberdeen. One of the fastest clippers on the Orient Line’s tea run from India, this “splendid” ship visited the colonies regularly from 1867, carrying goods and immigrants. She came to Brisbane in 1874 – and Darra was named soon after. It has recently been suggested that the name may have originated from that of the Roman Catholic bishop’s residence in Brisbane. However, there appears to be no reference in church records suggesting a link from the house “Dara” to the naming of Darra. Further, there was still some concern at that time about the perceived influence of Catholicism, of Queensland becoming “Quinn’s Land,” so naming a public place after Bishop Quinn’s home would not have been prudent.

It seems unlikely that “Darra” is of Aboriginal origin. By 1876 the local indigenous population had practically disappeared and was not part of the regional vision of progress. There is no record of specific Aboriginal presence in the immediate area, and no local anecdote concerning a “thighbone” (an Aboriginal word “durra” with that meaning has been suggested). In addition, Aboriginal suburb names all predated the railway line: the new stop names allocated by the Railways Department were British – Wolston and Darra.

It seems the link to the Scottish shire of Aberdeen – through the Railways office – remains the most likely origin of the local name “Darra.”