Author Aunty Lesley Williams with the 116-page fully illustrated history book, “Marching With A Mission”
Cherbourg “Champion”, the Director-General of the Department of Communities, Housing and Digital Economy Clare O’Connor, officially launched the book

June 24, 2022

The young boys had cricket and football, but what about young girls? In the late 1950s and early 1960s, they were marching!

The marching girl craze was big all around Australia, but it was especially embraced at Cherbourg which was then still a tightly controlled Mission.

The girls, many of whom were living in the Girls Dormitory, jumped at the chance to enjoy a bit more freedom, competing in local competitions in Kingaroy, Murgon, Maryborough and Dalby but also at championships in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba.

They took part in the South Queensland State Championships and then the National Championships in Brisbane in 1959 where Cherbourg teams finished in 2nd and 3rd place in different events in the Midget competition.

They also had the opportunity to march at local shows and even visited Melbourne to march during the 1962 Moomba parade, where one of the young girls, Allyson Tears, celebrated her ninth birthday and even made the front page of the The Age newspaper!

A book detailing this almost forgotten part of Australian history was launched at The Ration Shed in Cherbourg on Friday morning.

“Marching With A Mission. Cherbourg’s Marching Girls” was authored by former marching girl Aunty Lesley Williams, University of Queensland researchers Murray Phillips and Gary Osborne and members of The Ration Shed’s Marching Girls Book Committee (Sandra Morgan, Jeanette Brown, Ada Simpson and the late Bevan Costello).

Former marching girls were interviewed and their stories collected for the book, which has been published by The Ration Shed with support from the State Government.

There were originally two Cherbourg marching girls’ teams in 1957, the Fusiliers (a senior team) and the Mariners (juniors).

By 1959, there were four teams with new names: the Imparas, Dulkaras, Merindas and Magarras.

The former marching girls have kept in touch and gathered together for several reunions a few years ago, where the idea for a book was hatched.

Aunty Lesley said there had originally been about 80 marching girls but sadly many had died over the years.

Forty candles were lit at the book launch and a minute’s silence held in memory of their former colleagues.

“But we know they are watching over us. They are here today in spirit,” Aunty Lesley said.

The book was officially launched by Cherbourg “Champion”, the Director-General of the Department of Communities, Housing and Digital Economy Clare O’Connor.

Clare said readers would “laugh and cry” when they read the book.

“It’s a story of major achievement, a story of sisterhood,” she said.

Two of the Imparas veterans … Aunty Lynette (Bird) Forbes-Beitsch, from Murgon, and Aunty Joan (West) Nielsen, Goomeri; Aunty Lynette was the Imparas’ captain
LEFT: UQ researchers Murray Phillips and Gary Osborne with Cherbourg “Champion” Clare O’Connor RIGHT: The Imparas’ uniform … all the girls’ uniforms were handmade by mums and nannas in Cherbourg
Aunty Iris (Bell) Glenbar with her photo on the board … Aunty Iris was captain of the Dulkaras
Aunty Ada Simpson, from Cherbourg, points out her marching girl photograph
The Ration Shed chairperson Aunty Sandra Morgan was a member of the Merindas (Photo: The Ration Shed)
Aunty Alexandra (Gyemore) Gater came up especially from Brisbane for the book launch … she was also part of the Merindas
The Cherbourg Boy Scouts weren’t forgotten, either … Peter Hegarty and Robert West were recognised at the launch and shared a story about the fierce competition between the young girls and boys
Copies of the book were presented to former marching girls and family members … Aunty Iris Glenbar was keen to check out the many historic photos inside
Aunty Grace Bond with Tracey De Simone, from the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs
Aunty Lesley blew the whistle and the former marching girls lined up to “march” into The Ration Shed

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6 Responses to "Cherbourg Girls March Into History"

  1. I can recall watching the marching girls when I was about 12 or so. I was very impressed by their skills, precision and legs – not necessarily in that order ;).

    By the way, I was reading about Moreland City Council, Victoria, changing the name of the city to Merri-bek. This got me wondering about Cherbourg. I always thought the name had some connection with Cherbourg-Octeville in France. On checking this out I found that the name is believed to be a corruption of Chirbury, a town in Shropshire, England, first recorded in 915 as Ċyriċbyrig in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

    However some French linguists have theorised that the name of Chirbury shares a common etymology with the city of Cherbourg, France, which was Norman. Keep in mind though that the Normans didn’t invade and conquer England until 1066.

    The district (in Queensland) was renamed Cherbourg on 8 December 1931 to avoid confusion with the mail deliveries to the Barambah pastoral station. (Source Wikipedia)

    I see no reason to cling to a name that can be associated with forced labour hire, forced re-settlement, forced cessation of ancestral languages via the mixing of multiple language groups (they were not allowed to speak their own languages) and thus resulting in an almost total loss of cultural heritage.

    I believe that some thought should be given to changing the name of Cherbourg and adopting a more relevant/appropriate name.

    I do hope some people in Cherbourg have a think about this issue. The people need a town name they can be proud of, not one that harks back to the bad old days of slavery.

    Slavery = Forced resettlement, forced labour, destruction of cultural heritage.

    I’ll get off my soapbox now. Apologies for the history lesson.

  2. Please can I get a marching book. It’s great to see the history and some of the original ladies from back then.

    Marching is still going. It’s great for the boys and girls.

    • Hi Denice … we believe copies of the book are available to buy from The Ration Shed at Cherbourg. Phone (07) 4169-5753.

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