25 November 2023

Great family holiday, Gundagai New South Wales

Gundagai court house

, a small rural town in NSW, was surprising well known around Australia. The town is located at a crossing place of the Murrumbidgee River. There were several places at Gundagai that travellers used to cross the river. In 1858 the Great Southern Road, from Sydney via Goulburn, Gundagai then south to Albury, became one of the three main roads in the NSW colony. It was, however, very rough.

A second important issue was the growing riverboat trade on the Murrumbidgee River that made Gundagai a natural port. Capt Francis Cadell ran the first three steamer on the Murray River in 1853. In 1856 two sister steam­ers, the Albury and the Gundagai were bought from Scotland, assembled locally then stationed at Gundagai’s Albury Wharf.

Gundagai NSW
On the Mrrumbidgee River

And Capt Robinson’s 1855 survey of the Murrumbidgee in the Explorer was to examine if the river was suitable for internal nav­i­g­ation. The steamer Nangus was powerful, towing two iron barges.

Thirdly the Gundagai area had been terrorised by armed bush rangers for years. But once gold was located, the hold ups became worse. 4 bushrangers held up a farmer and took his horses. In 1843 a gang of five bushrangers, including the bush ranger called Blue Cap, held up and robbed Gundagai’s postmaster and innkeeper. Cushan the bush­ranger was known to be operating in the area from 1846-50. And bush­rangers held up the Royal Mail, stole the Melbourne mail bags, and rode off with the mail coach’s horses.

In 1862 the bushranger Jack-in-the-Boots was captured to the west of Gundagai. In Feb 1862, the bushranger Peisley was captured near Mundarlo, locked up in the Gundagai Gaol and later hanged at Bathurst. In 1863, the bushrangers Stanley and Jones were arrested after they had stolen saddles at Gundagai. Sergeant Parry was shot and killed in 1864 by the bush­ranger John Gilbert in a hold-up of the mail coach. Gilbert was a member of Ben Hall’s infamous gang that was active in the district in 1863-66. By 1869, Harry Power was committing holdups.

Early in 1879, some Gundagai residents were anxious that the infamous Ned Kelly gang was going to arrive. Special constables were sworn in and the Kelly Gang did turn up in the town. And in 1880, bushrangers held up the Chinese Miners’ Camp at Gundagai.

The North Gundagai cemetery has the graves of policemen shot in the district by bushrangers. Senior Constable Webb-Bowen was killed by Captain Moonlite in Nov 1879 in a hostage incident on a farm. Trooper Edmund Parry, killed in an en­counter with Ben Hall’s gang, was buried next to the grave of Senior Constable Webb-Bowen. Captain Moonlite’s remains were reinterred at Gundagai in Jan 1995.

Lastly Gundagai was the centre for many gold mines. Mines like Burra, Reno, Jackalass, Jones Creek and Coolac had large tent camps for the diggers near them. The hill to the north of Gund­agai once had a large tent settlement that was larger than the town itself.

Descriptions of the town highlights come from the Visitor Information Centre booklet 

Gundagai railway station

One of Gundagai’s most historically important buildings is the court house, the first stone building to be built after the 1852 flood. Completed in 1859 it was built in a commanding position and lined with red cedar. Note its connection with the bush-ranging days, the most famous trial being in Nov 1870 when Captain Moonlite and his gang were imprisoned in the old goal and tried. Early in 1943 the interior of the court building was completely burnt out. So it was rebuilt and re-lined, this time with local mountain ash, and the court house reopened in 1944.

Following the devastating 1852 flood, the town lock-up needed to be rebuilt as a fullblown gaol in 1859. The Government Architect expanded the facilities in the 1860s and the stone boundary wall arrived in 1866. See the Gaolers resid­ence, external kitchen block, original hospital, exercise yard and an outhouse. Prisoners with short-term sentences who had been sentenced at Gundagai or at courts in the surrounding district were gaoled here.

In 1870 the Gundagai Gaol was strengthened and could accommodate up to 20 prisoners. Gundagai Gaol is one of the few intact gaol compounds dating from 1859 but alas it was closed in the 1970s and a hold­ing cell was constructed at the new Gundagai Police Station.

Explore the Highlights of the Gold Trails. From the first Australian gold discoveries in 1851 and for several years after, the history of New South Wales was dominated by the search and the dramatic impact gold discoveries had on rural societies and economies in this part of NSW.

Gundagai’s Post Office was built in 1879. The town had the last official pony express who delivered mail on horseback until 1980s.

Gundagai Railway Station was built in 1885 and the new branch line started when the line was officially opened up to Gundagai. Passengers first and then mail/freight were added to the train trips. Featuring NSW’s only slate roofed goods shed, the railway station was restored to its original glory in the 1990s. Displays in the railway station today remind us of the travelling past. A photographic record of the restoration project as well as many railway items, can also be viewed.

Histoically minded visitors will enjoy the Gundagai Historical Museum, including displays of pioneer life and bushrangers. See the Wiradjuri men’s medal for saving flood victims, T-model ford, farm machinery, wagons, clothing, coins, stamps and household items from the 19th and early C20th.

"The dog sat on the tucker box, 5 miles from Gundagai"
The statue was installed in 1932

The iconic dog statue is located 8 km north of Gundagai, off the Hume Highway. The legend began in the 1850s with a poem Bullocky Bill, describing the bullockies who opened up the land to settlers, and the guard dogs who accomp­anied them. The move to create a monument to the early pioneers, featuring the now famous dog, grew through the 1920s. Finally they unveiled the Dog on the Tucker Box statue in 1932 and immortalised him in popular song .


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The Gundagai court house is a handsome building, reminiscent of the Greek Revival buildings in America. It sounds like many of those bushrangers ultimately found out that crime does not pay. Belated kudos to those brave early policemen who kept some semblance of order in that lawless time and location,

roentare said...

You can research to get all these details about Gundagai. I have visited the town before but I never learnt so much about its history. The dog statue is fabulous.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

Hi there it has been years since I have been to Gundagai, just saying
I enjoyed the post

DUTA said...

How very interesting, and yet 'nothing new under the sun'. Riverboat trade and gold explorations led both to prosperity and to violence and crime.
I suppose the Gundagai museum , and the restored railway station, are well worth a visit.

Margaret D said...

Good post on Gundagai Hels.
It's a great area with so much history and many stories to tell. Thank you for the reminder.
We've been there several times and went up on a hill and looked over the place whilst we ate lunch.

hels said...

The impressive court house on high showed the importance of law and order in NSW, the very state that had been started with convicts and guards. If the state was ever going to move into the modern, moral world, cities and towns had to quickly develop professional police forces and goals, as well as schools, farms and every necessary community facility.

hels said...

I knew the words of the song long before I'd ever seen the dog statue. It was a delightful surprise, for me :)

hels said...

Me too. I had never been to Gundagai until our children were in primary school and learning Australian history. Thankfully we finally got there.

hels said...

Especially in a state that was based on British convicts, yes. But by the time the town build its railway services, museums and other resources, there was no more violence than elsewhere. Thankfully

jabblog said...

Rough, tough times in the 19th century. Bush ranger sounds an innocent name, like forest ranger, but so very, very different. Fascinating post.

Visit Gundagai said...

Gundagai has a rich and proud history, in architecture, indigenous history and agriculture. Discover the hunts, tours and options in
Visit Gundagai

hels said...

It is a big continent we live in, so that makes it even more important to study the history, architecture and natural resources of other states. Good on you for making yourself familiar with southern NSW

hels said...

Very rough and tough. :( I would not have liked having my family in the early decades of colonisation at all.

hels said...

Visit Gundagai
Many thanks for a very useful reference. Especially The Gabriel Collection which I have not seen.

River said...

We drove through Gundagai a few times but most often at night on our way to Albury/Wodonga and from there we'd cut axcross Victoria to the SA border. This was back in the days when we lived in Brisbane and packed the car full of kids (only two back then) and pillows and drove overnight to Murray Bridge to visit his parents.

hels said...

I have no idea why my family drove all around regional Victoria in the 1950s until 1965, but never outside the state. It was a really great experience later discovering Gundagai, Deniliquin, Albury and other historically important sites.

mem said...

Well IMO the best things about Gundagai that you haven't mentioned is the Niagra Cafe which is straight out of the 1930s . Its a wonderful place and was the site of some amazing history during the war when I seem to remember that some very hush hush meetings happened there .
I haven't been there for years but I do remember that I was able to have my very last "Cold Collation" there complete with shredded iceberg lettuce and a pineapple ring . They may have even had " Mayonnaise " made with vinegar, sugar flour and water as the used to make it . I think it was known as salad cream .
The other amazing site is the wooden trestle bridge which goes for ages across the flood plain of the river . Well worth walking under .The main street sits on a ridge and is a very solid stately example of country town centres . I agree with you about the court house . Its a very beautiful part of Australia IMO.

mem said...

Actually just read that the bridge has been demolished !!!!!!! That was a very dumb idea . The good news is that the cafe has been restored and is now threatening to dislodge the Tucker Box as Gundagai's claim to fame !

hels said...

Of the four historic bridges built over the river, only the Prince Alfred was demolished for safety reasons on 2021. In its place, the city placed a memorial to remind citizens and tourists of what they lost. :(

hels said...

The Niagra Cafe first opened in 1902 and although I have only seen pictures on-line, it must be an achievement to keep a place going for 120+ years, including two world wars. I wonder how many other classy Greek cafes were in rural NSW then.

mem said...

You must visit Helen , Its wonderful . Probably now there are more On trend offerings than when I last visited . It seems to have been taken over and resurrected as a more viable concern . Its such relief that it has been . It would have been a tragedy had it not . There is another wonderful café in Katoomba called The Paragon which is also worth a visit . It is similarly a classy Greek joint .

hels said...

I am a big city type of woman but I read your comments about Gundagai and Katoomba when we were in the small rural town Horsham. You are spot on...our dinner last night was in a gorgeous restaurant called Capital, with great food.