Monday, August 5, 2019

Fitzmaurice Street in the 1880s - 1884

So here we are , four years on, returning to the Wagga Wagga of 1884, and walking around our town. To start things off , by happy chance the Wagga Wagga Advertiser featured a little editorial piece called "Wagga as seen by a four years absentee", in November of 1884. After quoting Irish poet William Allingham's poem Ballyshannon, the writer praises various aspects of the town : the schools, the hospitals, new businesses, and lastly, gas lighting, which was a relatively new development (especially introducing street lighting).

The new year in Wagga Wagga kicked off with scorching heat, with the school term commencing on Tuesday 15 January, but with few children being sent to school as temperatures hit 45 ° in the afternoon, and made worse by a dust storm that covered the district. 

As the year progressed, some of the important events in the town were based on bridges: the Company Bridge was bought by the government and made toll free in March of 1884, with a parade, dinner and amusements marking the moment.

Above, from the Sydney Illustrated News 1876: the Company Bridge in Wagga Wagga

1884 is also the year the Wollundry lagoon bridge started construction. There was some resistance by the people of Wagga Wagga to paying for the essential construction of the rebuilding of the bridge connecting old Wagga with Newtown and in the end it was paid for by the government, costing 3,000 pounds. 

Wagga Wagga was a very social town in 1884- picnics, balls, and dances in abundance, for all manner of groups in the community- Freemason groups, religious institutions, schools, all held events that were well attended and were big news at the time. 

The Freemason's Hall was in use almost every evening it seems with a dance, ball or travelling theater troupe. These social events were so popular that various businesses popped up offering catering and a cab business started as well to ferry people to and fro :

There were many entertainments over the course of the year, and actors and comedians of note visited Wagga Wagga, Grattan Riggs being one . His show was much anticipated and the show was written up in the newspaper :

Above : Wagga Wagga Advertiser, April 19, 1884

Grattan Riggs is remembered as an actor comedian, and he died in Tasmania in 1899. He gave signed photographs to his fans, like the one shown here (image is from the State Library of New South Wales collection) from 1891. Mr Riggs would have strolled along Fitzmaurice Street and maybe regaled the passers by with quip and a tip of his hat and popped into a pub or two before the show to converse with the locals (and down a pint or two as well). 

After agitating for some time to get a gas lamp installed on the bridge so people crossing at night could see their way, finally in October the lamp was installed and lit, to light the weary traveler on their weary progress to Fitzmaurice Street:

Above: from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, October 18 1884

Interestingly, insurance agents, sensing a way to capitalize on the increasing popularity of gas, had a category of of insurance that covered "gas explosions". Gas lighting was all the rage in 1884, and advertisements promised "gas-lit" ballrooms, halls, shops (even billiard rooms in pubs) to lure customers. Smith & Jaye became Wagga's gasfitters in 1884 : 

Above :  from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser 29 November 1884

The gas lamp in Fitzmaurice Street was regularly vandalised by the yobs of the town (they would smash the glass panels in the lamp itself) and this behavior was called "larrikinism".

The year drew to a close, with Christmas being celebrated by local businesses offering the usual festive fare of toys, cards, and food, shops along Fitzmaurice Street getting into the Christmas spirit:  

Other businesses in Fitzmaurice Street included Lorrimer and Martin, Dyring's, Corthorn's, W. Tatham's (next to the Australia Hotel) , and E. Rand (chemist). This image (below) from the State Library of New South Wales Mitchell collection, is from about ten years earlier,  but it gives a good idea of what the street may have looked like around that time, a wide dusty street with buildings still being constructed on either side.

The Commercial Hotel ( current day Romano's ) is on the right hand side of the photograph and just beyond it you can see where Edward Rand the chemist (or druggist as he was known on the signage) was situated. 

If you would like to do your own history detective work, try starting with Trove :

And as always, the friendly and helpful staff at the Wagga Wagga City Library can help get you started. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fitzmaurice Street in the 1880s

There is an increasing interest in the early days of the town of Wagga Wagga , and there is still a great deal to be done to piece together a detailed chronology of the life of the first streets as set out by Surveyor Townsend in his original plan. 
The evolution of the town , as chronicled through the newspapers of the time, is fascinating to follow: businesses, court reports, advertisements, snippets of local news, are some of the pieces that make up the puzzle that was early town life. In the next few posts,  I'll be looking at three years from the 1880s - 1880, 1884, and 1888, to give you just a little window into the bustling hive of activity that was Wagga Wagga in the late 19th century.


In 1880, there were coaches carrying mail, people and goods  across the countryside. The Australian Hotel in Fitzmaurice Street was the booking office for the Royal Mail  at this point in time. 

Steamers also plied their trade along the river, and hotels were popular as offices for bookings, in this case the Pastoral Hotel in Fitzmaurice Street, or, as the advertisement below says, just ask the Captain on board the steamer (Wagga Wagga Advertiser, Saturday 6 March 1880).

There was concern about flooding eroding the riverbank and the impact of this in the town, and under the heading "Items of news" the writer expresses this worry of the weathering of the bank by "every freshet that comes down the river" (Wagga Wagga Advertiser, Thursday February 19 1880). A freshet was a flood from ice or snow melting and rushing down a river, thus causing damage from flooding, and the term was in popular use in America during the 1800s.
An editorial in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser on the same day in February calls on the Municipal representatives to impose sanitary measures on the residents and businesses in Fitzmaurice Street. Wagga Wagga as a town was reluctant to take on modern measures that would improve the health of the town and it was the job of the council at the time to implement the measures despite the unwillingness of the populace. 

Another major event was the fire in the Fitzmaurice Street that destroyed the Criterion Hotel, the Mason's Arms, the Masonic Hall and other buildings on Friday the 15th of October 1880. 
The fire was reported in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser on  Saturday 16 October 1880 :

As you can see from the excerpt above, the damage done by the fire was extensive. A further detailed report was written in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser on Tuesday 19 October 1880, describing the injuries of firefighters and volunteers and details of insurance for all the people and businesses involved. Here is an excerpt from that article : 

The fire was big news, and in subsequent days the response of the fire brigade was called into question: why hadn't they taken the fire truck to the river to get a steady supply of water, instead of the yard of the Criterion Hotel ? The Municipal Council of the time examined the matter thoroughly and it was decided that the "newly formed" fire brigade had done an excellent job in the circumstances. 

From the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, Saturday 30 October 1880 :

The new fire station was built in Newtown, which is probably more commonly known as South Wagga Wagga ( or as historian Keith Swan described it, "the area south of Wollundry Lagoon").

Businesses in Fitzmaurice street were many and varied, as were hotels. Although I can't cover everything here, a few businesses of interest were the IXL Furniture Arcade, Ye Chong Drapery and Grocery Store,  W MacArthur Tailor and Clothier, and H J Williams , Family and Dispensing Chemist.The Masonic buildings, housed businesses as well as the Masonic Hall.

Although we may think of the 1880s as a time of difficulty and isolation in country areas like Wagga Wagga and it's surrounding districts, quite a busy social and cultural life existed in the town and recitals, concerts, and entertainments were held at the School of Arts and the Masonic Hall. People also held these events at different venues including people's homes and other shops. The Wagga Wagga Brass Band gave outdoor concerts, this one held by the light of the full moon on Thursday 9th of December, as seen by this entry from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser below:

As you can see by the advertisement (left) from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser Thursday 1 July 1880, entertainments could be a mixture of all sorts- singing, a form of play known as a farce that was mostly buffoonery with very little story to back it up, and in this case, ventriloquism , (it's easy to imagine the doll would have looked pretty scary) but these troupes were quite popular in the country towns.

Shakespeare recitals, literary recitals, musical concerts , or combinations of any of these sorts of entertainments livened up the evenings and the seasons were mostly ignored. If rain or bad weather stopped an event, it was merely postponed, until the weather was more amenable.

The development of the life of Wagga Wagga as a town as it unfolds through the years is absorbing to watch. Meanwhile, if you are interested in doing your own research Trove is a great place to start -and here is a link to Trove's online newspapers :

If you have any queries the friendly staff at the information desk at the library can help.


Monday, April 29, 2019

Aspects of local farming history : droving, dairying, shearing

The history of farming in the Wagga Wagga district is extensive, so I have chosen three books from local history that cover some diverse facets of the farming industry.

Heroes of the long paddock, by Chris Anderson, is a collection of interviews with drovers in regional New South Wales. Areas covered include Gundagai, Hillston, Deniliquin, and Howlong. Combining interviews, historical information, stories, photographs from the personal archives of the drovers and occasional poetry by the author, this book gives an insight into a rarely spoken about part of farming in Australia. 

Just in case you didn't know, the long paddock refers to the public stock routes where drovers take cattle and sheep to provide food relief in times of drought. 

Dairying: from foundation to deregulation by Des Cowley, is a detailed history of the dairying industry in Wagga Wagga and the surrounding district and shows a very active dairy industry in Wagga Wagga. The first dairy established was at Orange Tree Point in East Wagga Wagga, right next to the Murrumbidgee River, in 1890. This dairy was destroyed in a flood in June 1891. 

In following years there was an increase in dairying , with dairies and butter factories popping up in Ganmain, Cootamundra, Temora and Leeton, to name a few. 

This history covers every aspect of the commercial dairy industry in the area from early years right through changes in dairy technology and it's impact, to the foundation of of the Murrumbidgee Dairy Products company to deregulation in the 1990s. Accompanied by black and white photographs and statistics.

Above , detail : Dairying , from foundation to deregulation, by Des Cowley

Australian woolsheds, by Harry Sowden, was originally published in 1972, with reprints through to 1980. Filled with beautiful black and white photographs of shearing sheds across Australia, with New South Wales well represented, including Lockhart and other towns in the district. The old Urangeline shed at Lockhart is a particularly stunning piece of work, showing the complex carpentry needed to construct shearing sheds during the heyday of the sheep station. 
There is also a short history of the wool industry in Australia and photographs of early machine shearing handpieces. 

Above : detail showing a section of the old Urangeline shearing shed in Lockhart

As always, all these local studies items are available to look at within the library. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Look who's talking : Amplify and the voices of Wagga Wagga

"I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge"
                                          -The winter's tale, William Shakespeare

The State Library of New South Wales defines oral history as : 
"...the recording of people's unique life experiences in an interview format.'
This year, the Wagga Wagga City Library was chosen to participate in a pilot project run by the State Library of New South Wales , to make our oral history collections accessible to the public via the online platform Amplify.

We had two collections, the Wagga Wagga floods 2012 interviews, and the 2WG Women's Club interviews, ready to be converted and uploaded to Amplify. On Tuesday 11 November , our very own Amplify collections were launched , with illustrious guests attending,  including historian Sherry Morris (who conducted the floods oral histories) and James McTavish, who was the SES  Regional Control Officer at the time of the floods, and much beloved by Wagga for his leadership and work during the crisis.

The tradition of the Amplify cookie (started by Orange Library at their Amplify collection launch, as one of the participating libraries) was observed, and everyone had an opportunity to try out the Amplify website.

Another star attendee was the articulate and witty Evelyn Patterson, who was in the unique position of being interviewed for both projects. Evelyn worked at 2WG during the heyday of the Women's Club and she also survived the 2012 floods (and had memories of other floods in Wagga Wagga from the 1950s onwards.) 

The culmination of six months work behind the scenes, the Wagga Wagga oral history collections on Amplify involved library staff converting audio files, listening to hours of recordings, creating accurate summaries, finding photographs and resizing them to fit the software requirements, making records and collections in Amplify and then transferring all the data to these records to be published online. Two of our colleagues at the Riverina Regional Library made all the mp3 files and photographs available through the library catalogue, to complete the picture. 

People from anywhere in the world, at any time, can contribute to Amplify by listening to and correcting the audio transcript in real time, online. You don't need to log in (although you can create a free account to record your editing) and there are instructions for listening, editing and correcting on every oral history. 

The Wagga Wagga City Library is looking forward to making more collections available in the future- with such an easy and fun way to contribute to our collective histories, Amplify is sure to keep growing throughout the years to come.There are also many other interesting collections available, from the New South Wales State Library, and our project friends Orange Library, Wollongong Library, and Ryde Library. You don't have to confine yourself to the Wagga collections. 

Here is a link to our Amplify web page: 

If you would like a demonstration of how to use Amplify, just pop down to the library and ask our friendly staff ,who will be able to help you. 

Left to right: Sherry Morris, Historian, and Claire Campbell, Wagga Wagga City Library Manager, at the Amplify launch, November 11, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Recording and writing family and local history

"Let us from point to point this story know" - All's well that ends well, William Shakespeare
 Do you have a family or local history story you would like to have a permanent record of? Maybe you have an elderly relative with a story to tell, or know a local character whose story you think ought to be preserved?
It's not as hard as you think - at the Wagga Wagga City Library we have some guides to help you get started. 

How to write and publish your family story is a short and practical guide to preserving your family's story. Noeline Kyle starts with basic issues like what practical items you will need, how to arrange your information in an interesting and coherent narrative, through the legalities of copyright and publishing options. 

Recording a person's history or story in their own voice in an interview is called oral history. The Oral History Handbook by Beth M Robertson covers all aspects of how to set about recording interviews , though technology has come a long way  since this 4th edition was published, so anyone with a smart phone, tablet or ipad can make a very high quality recording without buying expensive equipment. This guide covers how to structure oral history projects, what kind of questions to ask, ethical considerations, how to write usage agreements, copyright, permission to publish, even the setup or arrangement of the location for the interview. 

There are also lots of Oral History associations and organisations you can access online for help and guidance. Here is a link to Oral History NSW organisation :

The New South Wales State Library has some excellent resources available online :

And if you would like to listen to some oral history recordings to give you some inspiration, New South Wales State Library hosts Amplify , which makes available a vast array of oral history recordings from various library and other organisations across New South Wales :

Lastly, if you are super keen, the library has a copy of Keep it for the future, published by the National Archives of Australia. This book has all the information you need to set up a small community archive, clearly and plainly set out, starting with why you might want to set up an archive, creating a policy for your collection, through to practical aspects like storage, preserving different types of records like tapes, CDs, and photographs, and what to do if flood or fire affects your collection. 
This book is a part of the local studies collection, so can only be viewed within the library. Just ask the friendly staff to help you. And, if you have any other questions about collecting or recording local or family history, we can show you how to find resources that will help you along the way. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Grave matters: resources in reference genealogy

What is reference genealogy and what does it have to do with burial or cemetery records? We have had a few questions about graves and death records so here is some basic information.

Reference genealogy is a collection of reference works that cover local, national and international records. While both local studies and reference genealogy are "not for loan" collections, to be read within the library only, reference genealogy is is an open collection you can browse within the library.
One of the most popular (if not THE most popular) sections of reference genealogy is the local area burial records.

Here is a selection of books from Reference Genealogy to get you started:

The Wagga Wagga City Library has 3 volumes of Dr Kok Hu Jin's works about Chinese Cemeteries in Australia. Volume 4 covers local area cemeteries including the Wagga Wagga Monumental Cemetery. There is an extensive glossary of names, a bibliography and a list of publications you might want to use in your research. 

Detail : The grave of the Late Honourable Ling Mu Xian of Shen Keng. From Volume 4, Chinese Cemeteries in Australia p. 38

The Old Melbourne Cemetery 1837 - 1922 by Marjorie Morgan was printed in 1982 and the presentation quality may not be as polished as some would prefer but this volume contains valuable information. It includes a short history of the cemetery, maps, black and white photographs, and a collection of inscriptions from the tombstones in the different denominational sections. 

Above : detail, tombstone transcription from the Wesleyan section of the Old Melbourne Cemetery

The last word: two centuries of Australian epitaphs by Lionel Gilbert has saved for posterity these epitaphs on Australian gravestones. It's a massive work full of humorous, poignant, sparse writings - from the famous to the not so famous, family written epitaphs alongside quotes from Shakespeare. 
Chapter nine, Poets to the rescue, is entirely devoted to the literary resources used in composing epitaphs, and other poetic sources such as hymn books, biblical verses, or even a poet's own writings. Politicians also liked using lines from their speeches. 

Detail : epitaph from Bee Miles headstone, in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney NSW

The Wagga Wagga City Council also has an online searchable map of the Wagga Wagga Cemetery. If you are unsure of how to use this great resource, come into the library and we can show you how it works. While you're here you can check the cemetery records or maybe use the microfilm reader to check death notices you can't find online. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Something old , something new : diverse history from local studies

History of Bethungra: community and place by Terry Cowled and Graham Levett covers the usual aspects that local histories do and some others you don't expect, such as local flora and fauna. It's so well put together, including an index, end notes and bibliography, you can also browse the chapters without losing any of the substance. The photographs and maps all combine to make a really interesting read.

detail: the Bethungra Hotel, also known as Hotel Shirley, circa 1950

A little history about a big subject, 150 Spectacular Years is wealth of information packed into a small space. The origins of the School of Arts in 1859, in tandem with the Mechanics Institute, shows how the organisation was formed and then flourished into the 20th century. Changes in direction in the 1940s saw the School of Arts focusing on drama and music, with the last century's interests falling out of fashion. This slim volume contains posters, reviews, photographs and more, and the prose is beautifully written and very readable. 

detail: Jean Blamey and Terry O'Connell in Hedda Gabler, 1948

Historian Sherry Morris is foremost amongst Wagga Wagga's living treasures, and her books are always superbly researched and presented. Kapooka : from engineer's camp to the home of the soldier 1942-2016 continues this seam of high quality and gives us a realistic look at how Kapooka has evolved from World War Two. Sherry Morris always seems to hunt out information or photographs that no-one else can get, making her books on even familiar subjects refreshing and suprising. 

detail: members of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) on a picnic at The Rock

As always, these books are available for viewing within the library - just ask any of our friendly staff when you visit the library.