A new hobby for us while we are on the road. I should have posted this a month or so ago but was unsure how to approach it. This hobby combines my interest in history with our adventures . While we were in Gundagai, we started caching. This is what we learnt.
By the 1820’s European explorers had documented this crossing point. Being the main route from Sydney to the newly developed grazing lands, the Victorian goldfields and Port Phillip (Melbourne), a town soon sprung up which was colloquially known as the ‘Crossing Place’. This was in spite repeated warning by the Wiradjuri people of the risk of large floods. Gundagai was officially gazette in 1840.
On the night of 24 June 1852, the flooded Murrumbidgee raged through the small township drowning more than one third of the 250 inhabitants, an unknown number of travellers and destroying 71 buildings.
Rich agriculture and gold mining made Gundagai prosperous and a center for bushranging, giving the town a romantic bush appeal.
Many outback stories, songs and poems reference Gundagai, including Jack O’Hagan’s songs ‘Where the Dog sits on the Tuckerbox’ and ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’.
After a campaign for a Government School, The National School was created on the floodplain in 1850. It was a two-room schoolhouse with a loft and included accommodation for the teachers. The teachers appointed to the school were Joseph McKenna from Ireland and his Glasgow born wife Elizabeth who arrived in Australia in 1842.
Since early settlement, Aboriginal people had warned Europeans of the great floods that swept the Murrumbidgee. In June 1852, the Murrumbidgee rose 12 meters in the early hours. A wall of water cascaded through the entire town. Most people were thrown into the darkness of the raging torrent. Between 80 and 100 unfortunate men, women and children were lost from a population of 250.
The torrent collapsed the walls of the schoolhouse, drowning the whole McKenna family and their two boarders.
Yarri – Hero of Gundagai.
That is the inscription on both a tribute granite monument and headstone of an aboriginal man who rescued 49 people on the night of 24th June 1852 from the flooded Murrumbidgee River. The tribute monument is near the cache in a picturesque park named in his honor together with the nearby Yarri Bridge.
The massive flood of 1852 swept the town away, killing at least 78 people of the3 town’s population of 250. It is one of the largest natural disasters in Australia’s history.
The heroic efforts of Yarri, Jacky Jacky, Long Jimmy and one other indigenous man were incredible, rescuing over 40 people in their bark canoes at nighttime against raging torrents.
Yarri and Long Jimmy were awarded with Bronze medallions for their efforts. Later Long Jimmy passed away from the effects of being exposed to the freezing conditions.
Yarri’s is one of the most dramatic stories of Aboriginal-European interaction and certainly one of very few from an English perspective in which the Aboriginals are shown in an heroic light. More than a century after his heroic efforts a gravestone was erected in his memory in the North Gundagai Cemetery.
The Old Gundagai Goal started operating as a lockup in 1861. Horse, cattle stealing and larceny were common crimes for which offenders were imprisoned. Captain Moonlite became its most infamous inmate. He now lays at rest in a lone position in the Gundagai cemetery.
Some more serious criminals were only ever held in the goal for short periods in transit to larger goals or waiting to face court.
In 1879, Andrew George Scott, better known as Captain Moonlite, held up a farmhouse at Wantabadgery, half way between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai. Over 3 days Moonlite and his gang took 35 hostages and thus began a siege that would go down in Riverina history.
One of the hostages managed to escape and return with 9 policemen. A battle followed and one policeman and 2 of Captain Moonlite’s gang were shot dead.
Two of the gang were jailed for life. Moonlite and one of his gang were tried and hanged. On January 20, 1880 just before he faced the hangman’s noose at Sydney’s Darlinghurst Goal, Captain Moonlite wrote, “ I want to rest in the grave of my friend. Gratify my last wish if you can. Do it in the cheapest possible manner. I have 1 hour to live.”
In January 1995, Moonlite got his wish. 115 years after his death, his remains were moved from Sydney’s Rookwood cemetery and laid to rest meters from the unmarked graves of his friends James Nesbitt and Augustus Wernicke at Gundagai.
The historic Prince Alfred Bridge and the timber railway bridge dominate the landscape.
The Prince Alfred Bridge was built in 1866, the first major crossing spanning the Murrumbidgee River. The Prince Alfred Bridge is the longest timber viaduct in Australia and has bee classified by the National Trust as a structure whose preservation is essential to Australia’s heritage.
Dad and Dave
The links to Gundagai were forged when Jack O’Hagan’s ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’ was used as the serial’s theme tune.
In all we learned a bit more about this town and the part it played in Australian history. We are looking forward to finding out more as our hobby progresses. Not promising anything, but I may do the occasional post about other things we learn by geocaching our way around the country.