Gundagai, New South Wales

Gundagai, New South Wales

Infobox Australian Place | type = town
name = Gundagai
state = nsw

caption = The town and the Murrumbidgee floodplain in July 2005. The Hume Highway can be seen in the middle distance.
lga = Gundagai Shire Council
postcode = 2722
pop = formatnum:1998
pop_footnotes =
est = 1838
elevation= 232
maxtemp = 22.4
mintemp = 8.6
rainfall =713.6
county = Clarendon
stategov = Burrinjuck
fedgov = Riverina
dist1 = 390
dist2 = 95

Gundagai is a town in New South Wales, Australia. Although a small town, Gundagai is a popular topic for writers and has become the representation or an icon of the typical Australian country town.cite web|publisher = Sydney Morning Herald|title = Gundagai|date = 8 February 2004|url = |accessdate = 2008-05-08] . Located along the Murrumbidgee River and Muniong and Yambla Mountain ranges, Gundagai is 390 km south-west of Sydney, the state capital and largest city in Australia. Gundagai is part of the Gundagai Shire Council Local Government Area. At the 2006 census the population of Gundagai was 1,998.Census 2006 AUS|id=UCL136600|name=Gundagai (Urban Centre/Locality)|quick=on|accessdate=2008-02-28] The town's population was 1,997 in 2001 and 2,064 in 1996. [Page 24 of cite web | year = 2003 | url =$File/20161_2001.pdf | title = 2016.1 Census of Population and Housing: Selected Characteristics for Urban Centres and Localities, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory | format = PDF| work = 2001 Census Data | publisher = Australian Bureau of Statistics | accessdate = 2007-04-10]


Gundagai is an inland town with an elevation of convert|250|m|ft|0|lk=on.cite web
url =
title = Summary statistics GUNDAGAI (WILLIAM ST)
work = Climate statistics for Australian locations
publisher = Bureau of Meteorology (Australia)
accessdate = 2008-03-17
] As a result it has a warm temperate climate. Almost all of the shire is located in the South-Western Slopes bioregion and is part of the Riverina agricultural region. The eastern part of the shire is considered part of the South Eastern Highlands bioregion.

The Shire has been extensively cleared for agriculture and more than 80% of the area is used for dryland cropping and grazing. Less than 1% of the shire is managed for conservation. There are few remaining examples of the original vegetation cover.

Gundagai is a primarily rural shire with a small population. Eighty percent of the shire's population live in the town of Gundagai. There are four villages in the Shire: Coolac, Tumblong, Muttama and Nangus, with populations ranging from 40 to 90 people.


The Gundagai area is part of the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri speaking people before and post European settlement, and also holds national significance to Indigenous Australians.

The geology of the Gundagai Shire and its situation on a sizeable prehistoric highway, (the Murrumbidgee River), indicates it would have been an important mining, manufacturing and trading place before the arrival of the Europeans.Fact|date=February 2007 The floodplains of the Murrumbidgee below the present town of Gundagai were a frequent meeting place of the Wiradjuri. Initiation ceremony areas, known as bora rings have been identified close to town.cite web | year = 2006 | url = | title = Gundagai Shire | format = | work = State of the Environment Reporting for the Australian Capital Region | publisher = ACT Commissioner for the Environment | accessdate = 2006-07-18]

Some believe the name "Gundagai" derives from the word "gundabandoo - bingee" which is said to mean 'cut with a hand-axe behind the knee' based on "gunda" meaning 'sinews at the back of the knee' and "bingee" meaning cut with a tomahawk. The significance of the meaning is not clear though it has been suggested it might refer to the shape of the river bend. It has also been suggested that the name may mean 'going upstream' or 'poor crows'. In 1826 it was the name of a station run by William Warby and owned by his brother Ben. [ [ New South Wales Geographical Names Board] and cite book | last = Butcher | first = Cliff | year = 2002 | title = Gundagai:A Track Winding Back | publisher = self-published | location = Gundagai, NSW | id = ISBN 0-9586200-0-8 |pages = pages 8 - 10 Note Butcher states that William Warby, not his brother Ben, was associated with the Gundagai area. Ben Warby was not an early settler although the land was held in Ben's name.]

Australian-born Hamilton Hume and British immigrant William Hovell were the first European explorers to visit what is now Gundagai when they passed through the region in 1824. Hovell recorded seeing trees already marked by steel "tommyhawks". [Hovell, W.H. nyg. 'W.H.Hovell Papers' Frame 27, page 42, CY Reel 529, Safe 1/32B (Database no. 37) Manuscript Collection, State Library of New South Wales]
Charles Sturt traveled 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. [Sturt, C. 1844 'Course of the Hume River, From the Hilly Districts to the Junction of the Morumbidgee', in "Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London", Vo. 14, pp.141-144] 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. This meant that the Government was not obliged to protect them.cite web | year = 2005 | url = | title = Potted History of Gundagai | publisher = Gundagai Shire Council | accessdate = 2006-07-12] Conversely it also meant that settlers were not under the control of British law.Fact|date=March 2008

Gundagai was located at a crossing of the Murrumbidgee River and the route eventually became the Great South Road which in 1914 was declared a main road of New South Wales and named the Hume Highway in 1928. The "Main Roads Management Act" of June 1858 declared the Great Southern Road, from near Sydney through Goulburn and Gundagai to Albury, as one of the three main roads in the colony. However, its southern reaches were described as only a 'scarcely formed bullock track' as late as 1858. The road was improved in the mid 1860s with some sections near Gundagai "metalled" and all creeks bridged between Adelong Creek (approximately 10 kilometres south of Gundagai) and Albury. [cite web|url = | title = Hillas Creek Bridge| work = Heritage and conservation register| publisher = Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales | year = 2004 | accessdate = 2008-03-16 ] The highway bypassed Gundagai in 1977 with the opening of the Sheahan Bridge.cite web | year = 2004 | url = | title = Prince Alfred Bridge over Murrumbidgee River | work = Heritage and conservation register | publisher = Roads and Traffic Authority (NSW) | accessdate =2008-03-10 ] 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 [cite web | publisher = | title=Tumut Branch | url =|accessdate = 2006-12-11 ] and Batlow and Kunama in 1923. The line was finally closed after flood damage in 1984. [cite web | publisher = | title=Kunama Branch | url =|accessdate = 2006-12-11 ]

In 1911 the population of the town was 1,921. It changed little in the course of the twentieth century being 2,308 at the time of the 1981 census and 1,998 at the 2006 census.

Aboriginal leaders Pat Dodson and Noel Pearson, along with senior retired military and vice regal appointees; and current Australian business leaders, met at a remote property on the Murrumbidgee River near Gundagai in September 2008 on the first stages of an Australian Dialogue to promote constitutional reform and structural change for Indigenous Australian people. [Rintoul, S. 12 Sept 2008 'Dialogue gets under way at indigenous leaders' retreat' The Australian,,25197,24332900-5013172,00.html]


The original European town that was gazetted in 1838 was situated on the right hand bank of the Murrumbidgee River floodplain at the place colloquially known as 'The Crossing Place'. This town was hit by several large floods of the Murrumbidgee River. The June 25, 1852 flood swept the town 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. 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. [State Records of NSW, The Surveyor General's Maps and Plans, map G.7.1028, 1850, Showing the Proposed Extension of the Town of North and South Gundagai, Surveyor Larmer, and map G1028d, 1845, Survey of the Site proposed by Commissioner Bingham as an addition to the town of Gundagai on the South Bank of the Murrumbidgee River, Surveyor J. Larmer ]

The efforts of Yarri, Jacky Jacky, Long Jimmy and one other Indigenous man in saving many Gundagai people from the 1852 floodwaters were heroic. Between them, these men rescued more than 40 people in bark canoes.cite web | author=Mr Carr (Maroubra—Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Citizenship) | date=25 June 2002 | url= | title=Gundagai Flood Sesquicentenary | work=NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard; Ministerial statement | publisher=Parliament of New South Wales | accessdate=2006-01-14 ] Yarri and Jacky Jacky were honored with bronze medallions for their efforts, and were allowed to demand sixpences from all Gundagai residents, although Yarri was maltreated on at least one occasion after the flood. ["Gundagai Times", 29 June 1879, as cited in cite web|author=Bodie Asimus|date=22 September 2003|url=|title=Yarri - a Frontier Story|publisher=Australian Broadcasting Corporation|accessdate=2006-10-05] Long Jimmy died not long after his rescues, possibly from the effects of being exposed to the freezing cold and wet conditions.

It is claimed that the Gundagai community developed a special affinity with the Wiradjuri people and that the flood and its aftermath was the birthplace of .

The town commemorated the sesquicentenary of the flood in 2002.


The Gundagai cemetery contains the graves of two policemen shot in the district by bushrangers.

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 which was active in the district in 1863-64.cite web | url = | title = Gundagai | work = Walkabout: Australian Travel Guide | publisher = Fairfax Digital | accessdate = 2006-07-12]

Senior Constable Webb-Bowen was killed by Captain Moonlite in November 1879 in a hostage incident at McGlede's farm.cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1999 | url = | title = Andrew George Scott (alias "Captain Moonlite") | work = Australian Bushrangers | publisher = [ Ned Kelly's World] | accessdate = 2006-07-12] Captain Moonlite is also buried in the cemetery.cite web | last = Heydon | first = Ian | authorlink = | year = 2006 | url = | title = There’s A Track Winding Back - Growing up in Gundagai | work = Australian Travel Stories | publisher = [ The Small Guide To A Big Country] | accessdate = 2006-07-12] Scott had been asked to buried at Gundagai near his friends James Nesbitt and Augustus Wernicke . Both had been killed in the shoot-out at McGlede's Hut. His 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.

Bridges of Gundagai

In 1867 an iron truss bridge, the "Prince Alfred" bridge, was completed across the Murrumbidgee River, with a timber viaduct leading to it across the river's flood plain. The bridge has a total length of 921 metres and probably was the first truss bridge built in Australia and is the oldest metal truss road bridge in New South Wales. Until 1932 when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed, the Prince Alfred bridge was the longest bridge in New South Wales. In 1902 a second (railway) bridge was built, with a total length of 819 metres.

In 1977 the Sheahan bridge was opened, a concrete and steel bridge on the Hume Highway. At 1143 metres, it is the second longest bridge in Australia after the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It replaced the Prince Alfred bridge as the crossing of the Murrumbidgee River. The bridge was named after Billy Sheahan (1895-1975), who was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for Yass from 1941-1950 and for Burrinjuck from 1950-1973 and held various ministerial portfolios.cite web | year = 1999 | url = | title = Sheahan, William Francis | work = Law and History New South Wales: Attorneys General | publisher = Lawlink NSW | accessdate = 2006-08-21]


Other than tourism generated by romantic bush appeal and the historic bridges, Gundagai's economy remains driven by sheep and cattle, as well as wheat, lucerne and maize production.

As of 2005, secondary industries in Gundagai included the "Gundagai Meat Processors Plant" and "D J Lynch Engineering". The meatworks is the shire's largest single employer with over 100 employees. The latter firm has produced work for major construction projects, including building steel spans for the Olympic Stadium.cite web | year = 2005 | url = | title = About the Shire | publisher = Gundagai Shire Council | accessdate = 2006-07-12]

Gold mining

Gold was identified by the geologist Rev. W. B. Clarke at Gundagai in 1842. [cite book | last = Mundy | first = Godfrey Charles | authorlink = | title = Our Antipodes or, Residence and Rambles in the Australasian Colonies, with a Glimpse of the Goldfields | origyear = 1852 | url = | format = pdf download | accessdate = 2006-08-25 | publisher = Originally published by Richard Bentley, London; digital publication by The Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), part of the University of Sydney Library| pages = page 669 ] A gold rush hit the area in 1858 following further discoveries of gold and mining continued initially until 1875 and following a second gold rush in 1894, mines operated again until well into the 20th Century with some mining activity still occurring in 2007. The best known historical mines were the 'Robinson and Rice's Mine' (Long Tunnel Mine) a few miles to the south west of Gundagai and the 'Prince of Wales Mine' (where Herbert Hoover, the future President of the United States, was the mining engineer in about 1900 [Hoover's assay bowl is at Gundagai Museum] ) a few miles to the immediate west of Gundagai. Both mines struck the orebody in quartz reefs along serpentine/diorite contact zones with finds of gold telluride (of bismuith origin) also found. [ Mine Record, Prince of Wales Mine, Lachlan Division, Mine record 1621, 7 June 1901, and Mine Record, Robinson and Rice's Mine, Gundagai Mining Division, Mine Record 32, 20 May 1901, Available [ online] ]

Asbestos mining

Asbestos was first mined commercially in Australia, at Gundagai. [Butcher, C. "Gundagai: A Track Winding Back", p.107] Actinolite was mined along Jones Creek just to the west of the town but there are several deposits in the immediate area. Some fibres were two feet long. [Department of Mines, Geological Survey No 14, 1924,Available [ online] ] Prior to 1918 this was the only source of asbestos in New South Wales. Northern Gundagai is built on a hill sometimes known as 'Asbestos Hill' and excavations in the area free the asbestos into the air. [Asbestos Hill Gundagai Map 8527-4-N Topographic Map 1:25,000 Second edition NSW Australia]

Gundagai is situated on top of significant, Jindalee Group, Cambrian period geology from which the asbestos bearing Gundagai serpentinite originates [Geological Series Sheet 8527 (Edition 1)1990, Australia1:100 000, Tumut Mineralogical Map.] also indicating prehistoric links to the supercontinent, Gondwana.

Chromite, talc, magnesite, copper and slate were also mined at Gundagai.

Notable places

Rusconi's marble masterpiece

Local monumental mason, Frank Rusconi, carved a miniature Baroque Italian palace from 20,948 pieces of marble collected from around New South Wales. The work is 1.2 metres high and, commencing in 1910, took 28 years to complete. It can be seen in the Gundagai tourist office. Rusconi was also the sculptor of the Dog on the Tuckerbox bronze, although bronze was not his medium. [Australian Dictionary of Biography|last= Kerr |first= Joan |authorlink = |year= 1988 |id= A110490b |title= Rusconi, Francis Philip (1874 - 1964) |accessdate = 2008-03-11]

Niagara cafe

The Niagara cafe opened in 1938 and was a notable stop on the Hume Highway. [cite news | first=Michael | last=McGirr | url=
title=The road most travelled | work= Travel | publisher=Sydney Morning Herald | date=2005-02-14 | accessdate= 2006-07-18
] The cafe makes much of a brief visit by then Prime Minister, John Curtin, in 1942, with a display in the window of the cafe of the crockery used by Curtin and Curtin's link to the cafe.

Heritage listed items

A number of places in Gundagai are on the New South Wales state heritage register and on the Register of the National Estate.cite web | year = 2004 | url = | title = Places on heritage registers in or near Gundagai | work = State of the Environment Reporting for the Australian Capital Region | publisher = ACT Commissioner for the Environment | accessdate = 2006-11-10]
*Gundagai rail bridge over Murrumbidgee River [ cite web |url= |title=Gundagai rail bridge over Murrumbidgee River|publisher=NSW Heritage Office listing|accessdate=2008-03-10 ] *Gundagai Railway Station and yard group [ cite web|url= |title=Gundagai Railway Station and yard group|publisher=NSW Heritage Office listing|accessdate=2008-03-10 ]
*Gundagai Courthouse cite web|title=Gundagai Courthouse, Sheridan St, Gundagai, NSW, Australia |publisher=Australian Heritage Database|url=;search=town%3DGundagai%3Bstate%3DNSW%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=707
*Gundagai District Hospital
*Murrumbidgee River Underbridge, Gundagai
*Gundagai Rail Bridge Approaches cite web|title=Gundagai Rail Bridge Approaches, Gundagai, NSW, Australia |publisher=Australian Heritage Database|url=;search=town%3DGundagai%3Bstate%3DNSW%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=15895
*Old Gundagai Town Site cite web|title=Old Gundagai Town Site, Middleton Dr, Gundagai, NSW, Australia |publisher=Australian Heritage Database |url=;search=town%3DGundagai%3Bstate%3DNSW%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=101275
*Prince Alfred Bridge cite web|title=Prince Alfred Bridge, Gundagai, NSW, Australia
publisher=Australian Heritage Database |url=;search=town%3DGundagai%3Bstate%3DNSW%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=703

Gundagai as iconic Australian town

Although a small town, Gundagai is a popular topic for writers and has become the representation of the typical Australian country town. It has been suggested that this is due to the area becoming a popular meeting place in the nineteenth century for bush travellers, swagmen, shearers and drovers. Gundagai, perhaps more than any other Australian locality, is referenced in stories, songs and poems. These include the Jack O'Hagan songs "Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox (five miles from Gundagai)", "Along The Road To Gundagai" and "When a Boy from Alabama Meets a Girl from Gundagai" [ cite web| url = | title = John Francis ‘Jack’ O’Hagan (1898-1987) Song Composer | work = Brighton General Cemetery - Historic interments|accessdate = 2008-03-16]

Other references in literature include Banjo Paterson's "The Road to Gundagai" [cite web|url = | title = The Road to Gundagai | last = Patterson | first = A. B. | publisher = staff page of the University of Queensland | accessdate = 2008-03-16] and the traditional ballad "Flash Jack from Gundagai" [cite web|url =| title = Flash Jack from Gundagai | work = Australian Folk Songs| publisher = australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory | accessdate = 2008-03-16] . Additionally, the town is mentioned in Henry Lawson's "Scots of the Riverina" [cite web|url =|title = Scots of the Riverina | year = 1917 | last = Lawson | first = Henry | publisher = | work = Selected Poems of Henry Lawson | accessdate = 2008-03-16 | quote = His name must never be mentioned on the farm by Gundagai— // They were Scots of the Riverina with ever the kirk hard by. ... There were tears at the Grahame homestead and grief in Gundagai; ... ] and C. J. Dennis' "The Traveller" [cite web | url = | title = THE TRAVELLER by C J Dennis | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-03-16 | quote = As I rode in to Gundagai, //I met a man and passed him by // Without a nod, without a word. // He turned, and said he'd never heard // Or seen a man so wise as I. // But I rode on to Gundagai.] . Miles Franklin's "Brent of Bin Bin" saga is set in the area and it includes an account of the flood of 1852. [cite web|url = | title = Miles Franklin and her 'Brindabella' childhood | last = Birtles | first = Terry | year = 2006 | publisher = M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia / Mulini Press | accessdate = 2008-03-16 | quote = This book first appeared in 1936 in "The Bulletin" as a serial under the pen-name of "Brent of Bin Bin" and it presents Stella's grandfather [Joseph Franklin] with some accuracy. ... Because family fortunes were at low ebb, Joseph then set out for the Victorian gold-fields in 1852, the year that floods washed away the first settlements at Gundagai, Tumut and even part of Yass. Crossing a flooded river south of Gundagai, Joseph lost his saddle and swag and almost died of hunger as a consequence.]

Photographs of Gundagai

In the early twentieth century, Louis Gabriel, the town's doctor, took up photography. The negatives were preserved and presented to the National Library of Australia after his death and a selection were published in 1976 as a "Gundagai Album". [Australian Dictionary of Biography|last= Santamaria |first= Catherine |authorlink = |year= 1981 |id= A080622b |title = Gabriel, Charles Louis (1857 - 1927) |accessdate = 2008-03-11 See also cite web | url = | title = Gundagai photograph collection, taken by Dr C.L. Gabriel, from the Butcher and Bell collections | publisher = National Library of Australia | accessdate = 2008-03-11]

Cultural Events

*The Snake Gully Cup festival is held each November featuring the Snake Gully Cup two-day Racing Carnival. It is one of southern New South Wales' premier race events. It is named for the Snake Gully Cup featured in the Dad and Dave 'On Our Selection' stories by Steele Rudd. The theme music to this serial was "Along The Road To Gundagai". [ [ The Snake Gully Cup Festival] ]

* The Turning Wave Festival is a music and cultural festival held each September and celebrates Irish and Celtic migration to Australia. [cite web| url= | title= The Turning Wave Festival | accessdate= 2006-09-13 | publisher= Gundagai Shire Council ]

See also

* Dog on the Tuckerbox

Notes and references

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