Gundagai is a town in New South Wales, Australia. Although a small town, Gundagai is a popular topic for writers and has become a representative icon of a typical Australian country town. Located along the Murrumbidgee River and Muniong, Honeysuckle, Kimo, Mooney Mooney, Murrumbidgee and Tumut mountain ranges, Gundagai is south-west of Sydney, the state capital and largest city in Australia. Gundagai is the administrative centre of Gundagai Shire Council local government area. At the 2011 census the population of Gundagai was 1,926. The town's population was 1,997 in 2001 and 2,064 in 1996.
The Gundagai area is part of the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri speaking people, while there is a considerable folklore associated with Aboriginal cultural and spiritual beliefs in the area. The floodplains of the Murrumbidgee below the present town of Gundagai were a frequent meeting place of the Wiradjuri.
The first moves to establish 'Gundagai' as a township were in 1838 with plans for the new settlement of Gundagae on the Murrumbidgee, about 54 miles beyond Yass ... advertised for viewing at the office of the Surveyor-General in Sydney.
Explorers and settlers
Australian-born Hamilton Hume and British immigrant William Hovell passed through the region in November 1824 when they passed to the south, near the future site of Tumut. Hovell recorded seeing trees already marked by steel tommyhawks.
On 25 September 2011, the Right Reverend Trevor Edwards, Vicar General of the Anglican Church and Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, dressed in traditional white mid-nineteenth century garb, led the commemorative church service for the 150th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of St John's Anglican, (formerly Church of England), Church, Gundagai. Bishop Edwards noted that following on the path of the explorers Hume and Hovell, the first Gundagai settlers found a wonderful land on which to establish a town, which was gazetted in 1838 but until 1850, relied on ministry from Yass. A local settler named 'Warby' is recorded as having followed Hume and Hovell's tracks to the junction of the Murrumbidgee and Tumut Rivers and having taken up a pastoral lease of 19,200 acres ... at a rent of thirty-three pounds per annum. ... He called the property 'Minghee' later called 'Mingay'.
Charles Sturt travelled through the area in 1829 at the start of his voyage in search of an inland sea then believed to exist in outback Australia. Sturt again passed through Gundagai on the return leg of this journey in 1830, and returned in 1838 in company with the Hawdon and Bonney overlanding parties. At the time of Sturt's 1829–1830 journey, he found several settlers in the district: Henry O'Brien at Jugiong, William Warby at Mingay and the Stuckey Brothers, Peter and Henry at Willie Ploma and Tumblong. These settlers were beyond the limits of location as the district was not within the Nineteen Counties.
Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of the governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin, travelled through Gundagai on 27 April 1839 and noted Andrews' store and public house establishment, that had a neat verandah and shuttered hut.
Edward John Eyre, Australian explorer and later Governor of Jamaica, left Sydney in late 1838 in an effort to find a practical route to overland stock to Adelaide, and then on to open communication between Adelaide and West Australia. Eyre left the Limestone Plains near today's Canberra with stock on 5 December 1838. On reaching the Murrumbidgee River at Gundagai, Eyre, accompanied by two aboriginal youths, Yarrie and Joey, turned down the river to the westward instead of following further south and travelled along the northern bank of the river for the better supply of water and feed available for his stock. Eyre crossed the river twice at Gundagai to avoid some ranges.
Whilst living and working at William Warby's establishment, Caroline McAlister (wife of Thomas McAlister) gave birth to a son 'John' on 21 June 1832, who may have been one of the first known child of European descent born in the Gundagai area.
The herds of John Macarthur, Throsby and Ellis, were along the Murrumbidgee by late 1831.
In the 1830s, Horatio Wills and his family lived near Gundagai. The Wills' son, Thomas Wills who was born in the Gundagai area, is credited with co-inventing Australian Rules football and for being coach and captain to the first Australian Aboriginal cricket team.
Gundagai Aboriginal Elders, Jimmy Clements and John Noble, attended the 1927 opening of the new Federal Parliament House in Canberra by the Duke of York (later George VI.) Jimmy Clements also known as King Billy whose traditional name was 'Yangar', walked forward to respectfully salute the Duke and Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother), and after that the two Elders were formally presented to the Royal couple as prominent citizens of Australia.
Gundagai Post Office opened on 1 April 1843 as the township (gazetted in 1838) developed.
The railway reached Gundagai in 1886 with a branch line to Tumut from Cootamundra on the Main Southern railway line. The branch line was extended reaching Tumut in 1903 and Batlow and Kunama, at the end of the Tumut and Kunama railway lines, in 1923. The line was finally closed after flood damage in 1984.
Gundagai was still considered a frontier town in 1852. The 25 June 1852 Murrumbidgee flood swept the first colonial town of Gundagai away, killing at least 78 people (perhaps 89) of the town's population of 250 people; it is one of the largest natural disasters in Australia's history. Local Aboriginal men, Yarri, Jacky Jacky, Long Jimmy and one other played a role in saving many Gundagai people from the 1852 floodwaters, rescuing more than 40 people using bark canoes.
Following an even higher flood in 1853, North Gundagai was redeveloped at its current site on Asbestos Hill and Mount Parnassus, above the river, and at South Gundagai on the slopes of Brummies Hill, using pre-existing surveyors plans. The town commemorated the sesquicentenary of the flood in 2002.
The flood of June 1891 left several pastoral workers and four rescuers who set out in a boat, stranded in trees just to the south of Gundagai. Edward True dragged a light skiff several miles over hills to the rescue site and managed to save several men from drowning.
In recent years the Gundagai wetlands and marshes that were home to many bird species, have disappeared, largely as a result of ground compaction by cattle and Gundagai Shire Council diverting ground water into underground pipes. These wetlands were on the North Gundagai Common; adjacent to the Gundagai High School; between Bourke and West Streets to the north of Punch Street; to the west and north of the North Gundagai cemetery; and at Coolac.
Major floods also occurred in 1974 and 2012.
As early as 1838 the Gundagai and Yass areas were being terrorised by armed bushrangers. Four men held up Robert Phillips and took a horse, the property of William Hutchinson, (who had possession of the land to the immediate north of Gundagai), of Murrumbidgee. On one occasion in 1843 a gang of five bushrangers, including the bushranger called 'Blue Cap', held up and robbed Mr Andrews, the Gundagai postmaster and innkeeper. Cushan the bushranger was known to be operating in the area in 1846, and in 1850, to the south of Gundagai near Tarcutta, two bushrangers held up the Royal Mail, stole the Albury and Melbourne mailbags and rode off with the mail coach's horses. In 1862 at Bethungra to the west of Gundagai in the Gundagai Police District, the bushranger Jack-in-the-Boots was captured. A plot to rescue Jack-in-the-Boots whose real name was Molloy, from police custody while he was being transferred from Gundagai to Yass gaol, was discovered. In February 1862, the bushranger Peisley was captured near Mundarlo and by that evening was lodged in the Gundagai Gaol. Peisley was later hanged at Bathurst. In 1863, the bushrangers Stanley and Jones were arrested at Tumut after they had allegedly stolen saddles at Gundagai and hatched a plan to rob Mr. Norton's store. Stanley could not be identified. In 1864, Jones was found not guilty. Sergeant Parry was shot and killed in 1864 by the bushranger John Gilbert in a hold-up of the mail coach near Jugiong. Gilbert was a member of Ben Hall's gang that was active in the district in 1863-64. Patrick Gately and Patrick Lawler held up Keane's pub at Coolac in April, 1866. Also in the 1860s, to the north of Adelong, the bushranger Hawthorne mistook a man by the name of Grant for William Williams the gold mine owner, and killed Grant. By 1869, Harry Power, early mentor of famous Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, was committing holdups near Adelong and as icing on the cake, by 1874 the bushranger prettily known as Jerry Blossom, was entertaining the district. In 1880, bushrangers held up the Chinese Camp at Gundagai then fled on horseback towards Burra, a locality known to harbour louts and for the ferocious fires that roar through the area.
Early in 1879, some Gundagai residents were in fear that the Ned Kelly gang was going to pay the town a visit and while Extra rifles and ammunition to defend the town.. were applied for and special constables were sworn in, the Kelly Gang did turn up in the town.
The North Gundagai Anglican cemetery contains the graves of two policemen shot in the district by bushrangers. Senior Constable Webb-Bowen was killed by Captain Moonlite in November 1879 in a hostage incident at McGlede's farm. Trooper Edmund Parry, killed in an encounter with Ben Hall's gang near Jugiong, lies at rest next to the grave of Senior Constable Webb-Bowen. Captain Moonlite is also buried in the North Gundagai Anglican cemetery. Captain Moonlite had been asked to be buried at Gundagai near his friends James Nesbitt and Augustus Wernicke . Both had been killed in the shoot-out at McGlede's Hut. Moonlite's request was not granted by the authorities of the time, but his remains were exhumed from Rookwood Cemetery and reinterred at Gundagai near to the unknown location of Nesbitt's grave in January 1995.
In 1993 a Gundagai native, Tony Percival, was shot dead in the northern NSW mining town of Hillgrove by the perpetrators of the Cangai siege, Len Leabeater, Raymond Bassett and Robert Steele in their nine-day, two-state murderous rampage.
The old Gundagai Flour Mill in Sheridan Lane was also known as 'The Sundowners' for the swaggies that camped there each night. 'Sam the Sundowner' a famous Australian swaggie and principal character in the Australian comedy drama, 'The Road to Gundagai', was a regular resident at the Gundagai 'Sundowners' and was known for the rescues he made of near to drowning people from the inland rivers.
In 1901, there was a very large camp of unemployed men and their families at South Gundagai waiting for the proposed Gundagai Rail Line to begin construction. Five hundred of these men marched from south to north Gundagai accompanied by the town band, to try to move commencement of the project, forward. There was a railway worker canvas town near the Gundagai Rail Station. Rail workers and their families who moved to Gundagai to work on the rail line, lived in tents in that area into the 1950s. The Chinese camp was in the area of today's Bowls Club as were the Chinese gardens. Burials of deceased Chinese people were in the pagan ground. All mine sites, of which there were several around Gundagai such as Burra, Reno, Jackalass, Jones Creek and Coolac, had miner's camps at or near them. The hill to the north of Gundagai known as Flower Hill once had a large tent settlement that was larger than the permanent North Gundagai residential area. Likewise the Spring Flat goldfield adjacent to the North Gundagai cemetery resulted in a sizeable tent township appearing there.
There were several riverboats associated with Gundagai. The 'Explorer', the 'Gundagai', the 'Albury', the 'Nangus' and the 'J.H.P.'. Captain Francis Cadell ran the first steamer on the Murray River in 1853. In 1856 the sister steamers, the 'Albury' and the 'Gundagai' were bought from Scotland to Goolwa in pieces, by Captain Cadell, assembled at Goolwa then launched.
In 1855 Captain Cadell was aboard the paddlewheel steamer 'Gundagai' for the first journey in it north of Goolwa, then in 1856 explored the Edward River system as Captain of the 'Gundagai'. By 1865, the steamer 'Gundagai' under the command of Captain Cadell, was providing a transport service between Wanganui and the Waitotara in New Zealand, and getting supplies to troops, in support of the British Crown and the Crown's involvement in the New Zealand Wars. Captain Cadell became 'Superintendent of Colonial Transport (water)' for New Zealand. On 25 June 1866 near Patea New Zealand, the little paddlewheel steamer and expert crosser of sandbars, the 'Gundagai' went onshore and broke in half. All hands were rescued.
On 16 September 1858, the steamer 'Albury', under the command of Captain George Johnston with Captain Cadell on board, moored at Gundagai on the north bank of the Murrumbidgee at what was hoped to be named the 'Albury Wharf', after taking a bit over a month to ascend the Murrumbidgee from Lake Alexandrina. The 'Albury' was the first steamer known to visit Gundagai. The steamer 'Albury' was tied up to an old gum tree at Gundagai by Mr Norton of Gundagai who two years previously had the honour of naming the boat that set off from Gundagai to survey the Murrumbidgee under the command of Captain Robinson, the 'Explorer'. Captain Robinson's 1855 survey of the Murrumbidgee in the 'Explorer' was for the purpose of ascertaining If that river presents any serious impediments to internal navigation and the incentive for that survey came from Captain Cadell.
The steamer 'Nangus' was constructed by the engineer Mr. Chapman of Sydney, at Nangus Station near Gundagai for Mr Jenkins, owner of Nangus Station, to ply the Murrumbidgee River between Gundagai and Hay and she made her maiden journey in 1865. The steamer 'Nangus' was a 12 horsepower, 70 feet long iron vessel, with two side paddles and towing two iron barges. The 'Nangus' sank near Wagga after hitting a snag in 1867.
The steamer 'J.H.P.' was launched in 1866 and sank between Hay and Balranald in October 1868. It was raised but sank twice more than was dismantled in 1879. On 20 September 1870, the 'J.H.P.' then owned by Edward Warby, journeyed up the Murrumbidgee from Wagga to Gundagai without incident.