The Road To Gundagai

Popular for a little statue of a dog this town is a great spot to visit

The town of Gundagai in southern NSW makes an excellent stopover for travellers between Sydney and Melbourne. It’s often described as a typical country town and you will find that many locals love their history and are keen to hang onto it.

Various theories exist for the origin of the town’s name, but the most appealing is that it came from the local Aboriginal language for the place of many birds, which is appropriate due to flocks of budgerigars found year round. The local Wiradjuri people had made the fertile river flats home for thousands of years, and their markings and carvings still exist on River Red Gums in the area.

European settlement out of Sydney spread gradually and by the early 1830s settlers had pushed southwest in search of grazing land and gold. Renowned explorers Hume and Hovell recorded their Murrumbidgee River crossing at the site of present day Gundagai as early as 1824, and when Charles Sturt passed through in 1829, he noted several settlers already farming in the area, which formed part of the southwest slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

A store was established at the river crossing in 1839, and despite warnings from the Wiradjuri that the river flats flooded regularly, a town was developed over the next decade. Low-level flooding wasn’t enough to dissuade townsfolk from their chosen location, but in 1852 every building but the flourmill was washed away in a five-metre flood that saw seventy-eight people drown, approximately a third of the town.

In a remarkable show of bravery, a group of Aboriginal men in their bark canoes saved more than seventy men, women and children clinging to branches and rooftops over two days. In 2017 an impressive bronze statue was unveiled in the main street to commemorate the event, paid for in part by descendants of the survivors and rescuers. Medals presented to the heroes have been found and are displayed in the local museum and to this day the flood remains as one of our country’s most tragic natural disasters.

While talking about the Murrumbidgee, it is worth noting that in the days when commercial boats plied the Murray and Darling, the paddle steamer, “Albury” made the four-week voyage from the mouth of the Murray to Gundagai in 1858. It may well be the most eastern voyage of the paddle-steaming era. Such were conditions in those years that the seventy-foot “Nangus” worked between Gundagai and Hay until it was wrecked near Wagga Wagga after hitting a snag. Sadly all those rivers are no longer passable by large vessels due to siltation and other changes.

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