Monday, November 3, 2014

Happy Birthday ! The NSW Library Act 1939 turns 75

November 3rd 2014 : 75th anniversary of the New South Wales Library Act and the Free Library movement 
The Wagga Wagga Free Library was established in 1946. The Free library movement within New South Wales had been agitating for library services since around 1935/36, and the local representation of the movement had Mayor Gissing as the president. The resources on offer at the library were much simpler than today, with books, newspapers and later on recordings, films and other materials. Over the years the library service has kept up with the demands of the changing times –currently wifi, and online services such as ebooks and audio books, online magazines and music are available in order to provide the best possible service to the communities in the local area.
Items on Wagga Wagga library history available in local studies include a detailed study by C E Case, written in 1984 :  A study of the development of the Wagga Wagga Municipal Public Library from 1946 – 1971.
Some of the information I used to research this post comes from this fabulous study, which has a great deal of valuable background material. After the first establishment of the Library Act 1939, World War Two intervened and funds were not available until the end of the war to implement schemes to build and promote the library service as a whole across the state.
There are also some photo albums that chronicle the many and varied incarnations of the library service over the years – the photographs I have chosen come from the Gurwood Street era, in the 80s, and from the seventies, when the library occupied the basement of the council bulidings just behind the Historic Council Chambers on the corner of Baylis and Morrow Streets.

Wagga City Library at Gurwood Street, circa 1982

The State Library of New South Wales has information on the history of the Act and information and photographs on the 75th Anniversary celebrations

If you have any library memories you would like to share you can post them on Wagga Wagga City library’s Facebook page , if you spot any mistakes in my dating the photographs here email  or come into the library to share your memories with the library staff to celebrate the beginnings of the free library movement and the anniversary of the law that made everything library possible!

Display at the library, Council buildings basement circa 1970s

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wagga Wagga Confidential : personal advertisements from 1939

Looking for the undocumented life of a city’s past can be difficult – on the surface what records remain appear to give few clues to the day to day reality. I’m always intrigued by the idea – what was it really like, in the background, beneath the surface?  and found in the tiny personal advertisements in the Daily Advertiser from years gone by, a world of daily concerns. If you’re looking for local stories and glimpses of local characters, you’ll find much to interest you in the personal ads. If time travel ever becomes a thing, I’ll be signing up to visit Wagga Wagga between 1870 and 1945, because looking through the newspapers of the time it was quite an exciting and interesting place.
I chose the first week of 1939 to do a quick search, as there was quite a bit going on in the world at the time : the Spanish Civil War, the Nazification of Germany, and all the associated unease that was approaching due to Hitler’s growing power, just to mention a few.

So what were the good people of Wagga Wagga doing in January 1939? They were going dancing, consulting Chinese Herbalists, and losing an inordinate amount of odd objects which they then tried to recover by placing an ad in the Daily Advertiser: Gent’s blue spotted dressing gowns, spectacles, bread baskets, and bags of wool.

The employment  advertisements  frequently asked for “clever girls” or “strong girls” for jobs like housekeeping and office work, presumably in an effort to weed out the “stupid” ones before they took the trouble to answer the advertisement. Sometimes businesses would run a series of short advertisements  one after the other, in conversational tone,  exhorting readers to buy used cars, get bargains in dress materials, or attend special meeting or shows.

If you are interested in using the Daily Advertiser as a research resource, you can come into the library to use the microfilm (we have all the Daily Advertisers on film up to the third last current month) or you can access early Wagga Wagga newspapers (including some of the Daily Advertiser) up to 1954.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Food, mail, madness: the Wealth and Progress of New South Wales 1893

So what was important to the average civic minded person in 1893? Assuming you were on the right side of the law, that is.  The Wealth and progress of 1893 gives us a good idea. Social, agricultural, political, meteorological statistics, religion, insanity and public libraries all get a mention. A cross between an almanac and statistical record, there is a great deal worth reading especially if you are looking for accurate historical detail.

New South Wales was still referred to by its inhabitants as a colony, mail still mostly came in envelopes and packages, and language was used very differently to how it is now. This almanac reads more like a literary novel than a straight out statistical report and is therefore easier to read.
Other items of note include: some  information from the census of 1891; land holdings, foodstuffs of all kinds (manufacture of bacon and ham gets two pages to itself, of course), how society dealt with destitute children, the insane, and oddly, an epigrammatic end to the “social conditions and charities” section with a paragraph on the “Intellectual progress” of New South Wales. Libraries and reading rooms get a mention as a major part of the progress of the state in this regard: “The State, conscious of the value of literature in softening the minds and manners of the people, encourages with great liberality the establishment of libraries and reading rooms.” (p.561 The Wealth and progress of New South Wales 1893)

The local studies collection at Wagga Wagga City Library has many more gems for you to discover. Come into the library or peruse the catalogue online – go to the library homepage and click on the catalogue button

Have fun researching!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On the road: The Olympic Highway realignment at Kapooka

Local studies at Wagga City Library now has copies of the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services report on the realignment of the Olympic Highway at Kapooka, the little brick bridge constructed in 1880 and it’s sharp and dangerous approaches to be streamlined in a long overdue overhaul . 
The benefits of in depth studies like these are that they give a really detailed view of a particular place or area, with information on environmental impact on flora and fauna, historical background, and extensive mapping, clearly labelled. And this makes the studies perfect for research!
The New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services website has the documents available in full for you to peruse if you prefer to view them online:  
To view the online documents you can bring your own ipad, laptop or tablet in and use the free wifi available in the library or you can log onto one of the public access computers with your library card.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

New resources in local studies

New to local studies, four very different books and research studies- a selection  of new resources now available in the local studies collection at Wagga Wagga City Library :

Fusion : stories and recipes from local people who have come from diverse communities such as Burma, Chile, Poland and China. This book is from the publishers fourWpress in Wagga.

The Waterhole Project: Combaning Creek to Lake Cowal , by George Main. Described by the author as “a work of environmental history” of a small area in New South Wales this is a printed copy of the blog written by George Main and hosted by the National Museum Australia, with a  very detailed focus on a small area of land.


Blood and Circuses : an irresponsible memoir by Lex Marinos

The life story of actor/comedian/social commentator Lex Marinos.  Lex Marinos grew up in Wagga Wagga and went on to have a successful career in comedy.


7th  / 21st Australian Horse : A brief history of the Regiments, by Ken Telfer : useful reference for those researching military history in Wagga.
If you are a member of the Wagga City Library you can borrow and read any of these within the comfort of the library !

Friday, July 25, 2014

The heyday of the outlaw : Bushrangers in the Riverina

A recent query regarding bushranger Ben Hall prompted some interest in whether Wagga Wagga or the surrounding districts had produced any outlaws of note. The local studies collection in Wagga City Library provided some answers : Wagga Wagga Thrillers by Sherry Morris and Riverina Rogues by Kevin J Passey are just two of the resources available.If you are interested there are many other books available in the general collection and the local studies collection has some parish maps as well, to add to the fun of researching. Cross referencing with the places named on parish maps shows the progress of celebrity bushrangers and their gangs across New South Wales and more particularly the Riverina. For more contemporary accounts, you can search Trove newspapers online.

The main local bushranger talent was the Blue Cap Gang, headed by Robert Cottrell. Their targets included stations such as Barellan, Berembed and Berry Jerry. One of the endearing traits of the Blue Cap gang ( and indeed some other bushrangers ) was to get their captives to do odd things like play their favourite tunes on the piano, or play draughts, a welcome change from the usual fare of rape and violence associated with bushrangers and their gangs at the time. The gang's exploits across the region made it into newspapers as far away as The Argus( Melbourne) , The Townsville Daily Bulletin ( Queensland) and The Cornwall Chronicle (Tasmania). Robert Cottrell was tried at Wagga Court on 20 April 1868.According to Sherry Morris, Cottrell only served six of his ten year sentence, and was set free because "His sentence was only light as he had never actually shot or wounded anyone and had no prior convictions". (p 15, Wagga Wagga Thrillers) 
Tales of notorious bushrangers and their exploits across the region are just the thing for dreary winter days. Come into the library and explore the world of the bushranger through our collections !

Friday, June 27, 2014

SHOWTIME! 61st Annual Wagga Show

A recent conversation in the library with a visitor from Emu Plains made me curious about the subject she was researching - special trains that ran straight to the Wagga showgrounds early last century.
The local studies collection has a slim volume of the history of the Wagga Show on the occasion of it's 100th year, written by Keith Swan and mentions the "cheap excursion trains" coming from nearby towns such as Albury, Urana, and Leeton. Swan's history has the showground siding being completed in 1889.
This excerpt from the Daily Advertiser (left) has details for a day's rail timetable in August 1925.

On Thursday 27 August 1925 the Daily Advertiser
devoted a large amount of the front page space to the events and details of the 61st annual show, giving a lively description of the day's events , morning to night. 1925 was the year that "the spirit of spring permeated the air", with records broken in attendance and takings at the gate, and the year that "congestion" in the cloakroom was "so great , that a police officer was was given the duty of seeing that order was maintained". Local businesses also got on board the the Show bandwagon, (right) offering special deals while the Show was running, many businesses having displays at the Show itself.
This was also the year a restroom in the form of a tent was run by the Country Women's Association and the Church of England, to much critical acclaim.

 Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Troupe also visited when the Show was on, and theatres and other venues took advantage of the influx of visitors to the town, presenting vaudeville, comedy nights, dramatic plays from travelling acting companies, and bands played on the pavement in the evenings outside the theatres to attract customers.

If you are researching early Wagga Wagga, or just curious about former times, the city's newspapers are a great source of information. You can access these by coming into the library to use the microfilm (the library holds microfilm of all Wagga Wagga newspapers) or you can search online through Trove
or you can use the links on our local history page to take you straight to some of the Wagga Wagga newspapers available through Trove.

Happy researching !

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A river runs through it: John Fairfax, his canoe journey to Wagga

“ Next day we paddled on to Oura, a little village, and bought eggs from a lady who lived in a mud house which was beautifully made in blocks and whitewashed with the result that it looked, and was, cool.
                        Waterway to Wagga, p. 38, Run o’ waters

John Fitzgerald Fairfax, 1904 – 1951, of the Fairfax news empire, visited Wagga Wagga on one of his car and canoe journeys through the New South Wales countryside. 
Starting at Gundagai, John and his travelling companion Stephen, paddled down the Murrumbidgee, camping on the riverbanks by night, and following the river to Wagga Wagga by day. Their progress along the river is given in enough detail so that anyone interested in recreating the journey could do so, as they passed by local stations and landmarks and eventually ended up on Wagga beach.
There were many such trips around New South Wales, through the Illawarra, along the coast to Kiama, Bateman’s Bay ( via the Clyde River) and luckily for us  Fairfax wrote about his experiences which were then compiled into “Run o’ waters”, illustrated by Cedric Emanuel. These essays were originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Walkabout, and the Bega District News.  
John Fairfax was a journalist in the Fairfax newspaper business, served in the AIF during world war two, and after the war resigned from the Fairfax board and retired from journalism. Fairfax committed suicide in 1951, on his property at Gocup, near Tumut in New South Wales. 
A copy of  Run o' waters is available in the Wagga City Library local studies collection and can be read within the library. It's a great travel read and particularly interesting with so many local references. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Journey to the West : The Chinese in Wagga

If you could time travel, which period of Wagga's history would you travel to ? I think one of the most exciting times would have been during the 1880s, when the town had a bustling Chinese community on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, down near Hampden bridge.
Historian Sherry Morris quotes a report from 1883 on the Chinese camps ; according to this report, 233 persons lived in the main camp, and businesses included lottery houses, opium shops, and general stores.
Six European wives in the camp apparently caused a great deal of trouble through gossip and violence, to the point of the majority Chinese population signing a petition for the women to be removed from the camp
(Morris, Daily Advertiser, 2/12/95, p. 26).
Wagga City Library's local studies collection has some great resources to get you started in your research. One of these is Golden Threads: The Chinese in regional New South Wales 1850 - 1950, by Janis Wilton. There is also a website :
Local studies also holds a folder, The Chinese in Wagga Wagga, containing information collated from the Golden Threads website, material on the Chinese graves in Wagga, and news items from early Wagga newspapers and much more.
The Chinese community in Wagga Wagga have made and continue to make a significant and welcome contribution to the city.Come down to the library to discover more about the hidden history of our local area!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gurwood Street : the Paris end of Wagga

Gurwood Street has had a large and enduring part to play in Wagga Wagga's history, right from the very beginning when Surveyor Townsend first laid out plans for the town in 1849. This wide, tree lined, gracious street retains some of it's former bohemian influences and a slightly raffish charm, and encompasses one of the nicer parts of "old" Wagga.
Cafes, lawyers, Speirs famous jewellery store, and a cinema, were just a few of the businesses that made their home in Gurwood Street over the years. According to "The progress of Wagga Wagga and District", Hanson's Butchery in Gurwood Street (at the turn of the previous century) was built on "the original site occupied by Tom Castro, the notorious Tichbourne claimant".Other businesses included H. Oates, Merchant Tailor,The State Stores Ltd.,and even a funeral director and enbalmers service, Hoye and Colbeck's,
The Wagga Wagga City Library local studies collection has a few handy references on Gurwood Street's history, including entries in the Urban Heritage study ( available to look at within the library ). Many schools were established in the street, some lasting, some active during the war years 1939-1945, and the library has a selection of these histories for loan.
If you are researching the history of a particular street another handy reference is "The street names of Wagga Wagga" compiled by William "Bill" Ellis, who was the Town Clerk of the City, from 1960 - 1984. This guide to street names also has the year the street was named- quite helpful for assisting historical research. Another fun way of researching a street is using the extensive collection of local microfilm to find businesses, people and events that may have a connection with your street. Check when your street was named, then pick the corresponding year in the newspapers on microfilm, then start searching!
Come into the library and spend a few happy hours looking into Wagga's history!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Old Wagga Wagga : Fitzmaurice Street

Photograph : commercial building,Fitzmaurice Street,1978. National Trust RRC

Wagga Wagga City Library and it’s local studies collection have some excellent resources for anyone researching or with an interest in Fitzmaurice Street. The original business district of the town, Fitzmaurice street has undergone boom and bust, floods, and a major makeover in recent years.
Three resources to get you started: 
Fitzmaurice Street: Now and then, compiled by Jill Harris of the Riverina Archives, 1989, contains a concise history, a plan of the street, and encourages the reader to carry out their own research using the book as a guide.
The Fitzmaurice Street , Wagga Wagga Streetscape Review : is the report commissioned in 2002 by Wagga Wagga City Council for a makeover of the entire street .
There is a fascinating exhibition now showing at the Museum of the Riverina, "People and place : Fitzmaurice and Baylis Streets, Wagga Wagga", until the 30th of March, at the Museum's Historic Council Chambers site, opposite the Victory Memorial Gardens. Check the Museum of the Riverina's website for further details and opening times.
The Wagga City library catalogue also has entries from the historic rate books and the local studies local history photograph collection has been partially digitised and those images are accessible through the library catalogue.
If you are a member of the library you can request to view any item in local studies, for use within the library. Have fun researching! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Back to the future : Back to Wagga 1927

There have been three “Back to Wagga” events over the years : 1927, 1956 and 1970. The pick of these, in my view, would have to be the very first, in 1927. The week long celebrations, presided over by a committee (which, ahead of its time, included two women in a group of ten) were the focal point of community interest and participation over a number of months leading up to and during the festival itself.
Community events were packed into daily programs:  athletic carnivals, tennis tournaments, Diggers “smoko” ( a gathering for WW1 surviving ANZACS) church services, movies, a massive dance line up at the Dixieland, chess and draughts tournaments, massed displays of dancing and marching by school children, and my favourite, a huge confetti battle at the end of one day’s events,  which, it seems, anyone could join in . Local bands including the City Concert Band played. Local businesses got on the “Back to” bandwagon and worked the theme into their advertising and specials.
The “Back to Wagga” souvenir for 1927 contains some over confident, self-congratulatory self -adulation, appropriate for the time, but slightly nauseating to read now, and if you can get past that, the booklet is quite a good resource for researching the mainstream side of between-the-wars Wagga Wagga just before the full force of the Depression hit.