Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The mystery of Tent Town

The earliest mention of Tent Town I can find is in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, on Thursday March 12 , 1903. Tent Town is one of Wagga's most interesting areas, long disappeared. Tent Town could have been active or established before 1903 but did not come to the attention of the town's authorities as a place of interest or notoriety before this time.

From : The Wagga Wagga Advertiser, March 12, 1903

The Benevolent Society is, according to Wikipedia, an Australian Charity (perhaps the first founded in Australia) created by one Edward Hall in 1813 in New South Wales. The Society performed such charitable works as providing food, clothing, and paying hospital fees.

In 1911 the Sanitary Inspector in Wagga Wagga inspected Tent Town and returned a "satisfactory" report on the "sanitary arrangements" and the conditions of the various types of huts, tents and shacks.

from The Daily Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1911.

In February 1913, in the Wagga Wagga Express, Tent Town was called Bag Town, due to the large amount of dwellings created using hessian bags :

from : Wagga Wagga Express 22 February 1913

Tent Town was, despite many inspections by the Sanitary Inspector, also periodically drawing attention to itself because of the lack of proper sewerage and water amenities. There was a communal well there, but apart from that, the conditions were not amenable to good health. Here is an example of diphtheria being reported in November 1913:

from The Daily Advertiser, Friday November 14 , 1913

Though interestingly here the complaint is the Matron not divulging private information, not the diphtheria itself. Earlier in the year the Sanitary Inspector had given Tent Town a pass: 

from: the Wagga Wagga Express, Saturday March 7, 1914

Over the years the public fortunes of Tent Town fluctuated greatly, with reports and complaints to the local shire council growing, but equally some citizens of Wagga Wagga calling for a more humane approach to the problem of affordable housing for the low paid or unemployed worker, the pensioner, and families, and Indigenous persons and families.

Kath Withers, Wiradjuri Elder of Wagga Wagga, remembers living in Tent Town as a small child, and describes her memories in Wiradjuri Reserve- Gobba Beach (Murrumbidgee River) Statement of Significance for an Aboriginal Place Declaration, compiled by Go Green Services Wagga Wagga, 2012 :

From about age 5 to 9, our family lived at Tent Town, also known as Tent City or Tin Town. We lived in a lean-to and a patched tent like many others. The lean-to was made out of flattened tins and hessian and the tent, which we slept in, leaked. 
 p. 62, Wiradjuri Reserve - Gobba Beach, 2012

Tent Town grew , reaching its peak in the 1930s. During this time-in 1934-  the famous Hand in Glove case hit the headlines and Wagga Wagga's Tent Town emerged into the national consciousness as a place of squalor and infamy. Murdered  in Tent Town itself, the body of Moncrieff Anderson was found in the river in 1933 and his identity was established by checking his fingerprints - the skin of his hand had come away during decomposition. The full story is told in Hand in Glove by George H. Hawkes. The Wagga Wagga City Library has a photocopy of the original book, so if you would like to read the full story, you can look at this copy within the library.

According to a newspaper report the police took photographs of Tent Town  ( Daily Advertiser, Thursday 26 July 1934, p.2 ) which would be amazing to see, as there do not appear to be any remaining photographs of the area.

In the latter years of the 1930s and well into the 1940s greater efforts were made to clear the area :

from : The Daily Advertiser, Thursday 8 April 1937 , the Editorial.

Once the decision had been made to clear Tent Town preparations went ahead quite quickly - and during the Second World War too.  This item from March 1941:

from : The Daily Advertiser, Monday March 31, 1941

"Removals" from Tent Town occurred regularly over this period of time, probably from the late 1930s. I haven't yet seen an account from someone who underwent the process of being removed, or any account from the perspective of the removers or how the process was actually carried out. The mentions in the Daily Advertiser were as follows : in 1941, a paragraph under the heading of Municipal Matters : 

from : The Daily Advertiser, Friday 13 June 1941, p.4

And lastly, from 1942, some statistics from in the Municipal Activities column in the Daily Advertiser : 

The Daily Advertiser, Saturday 28 November 1942, p.4

"..in 1933 there were 63 inhabitants, [...] reduced to 13 dwellings in 1942." How those inhabitants fared, how long they stayed in Wagga Wagga, or how their lives turned out in their new circumstances is probably lost to us, though I'm hoping some more accounts of life in Tent Town itself are found. The whole story of Tent Town is yet to be told.

All the books mentioned above can be read in the Wagga Wagga City Library, if you would like to make further discoveries about Tent Town you can also search on Trove as I did :


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