|List||Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)|
|Legal Status||Registered (26/10/1999)|
|Place File No||1/06/312/0009|
|Statement of Significance|
The Old Gundagai Town Site is important for its association with the exploration of southeastern Australia in the 1820s, the history of settlement on the Murrumbidgee River, the development of the main road link between Sydney and Melbourne, and early friendly cultural contacts between Aborigines and Europeans.
It is also significant as the site in June 1852 of one of the worst flood disasters in Australia's history and the site of one of the worst peacetime disasters Australia has ever experienced.
(Historic Themes : 3.2 Surveying the continent and assessing its potential,
4.2 Supplying urban services, 8.5 Forming Associations, 4.6 Remembering significant phases in the development of towns and services and 8.9 Commemorating significant events and people).
The Old Gundagai Town Site is rare in Australia as a place that was destroyed by flood and not rebuilt, leaving the original pattern of streets and the foundations of most of the town's buildings in situ under a covering of alluvial material. (Criterion B.2)
The Site has been assessed as having potential to contribute to a wider understanding of town layout development, the relationship between buildings, and building scales, techniques and materials in colonial Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. The place may be additionally important as the site of a bora ring on a flood plain. (Criterion C.2)
The Site is important to both black and white members of the Gundagai community for its symbolic, cultural and social associations. The great flood of 1852 and especially the heroic deeds of Yarri and his Wiradjuri clansmen in rescuing many Europeans, are remembered as the most significant events in Gundagai's history. There are still many residents of Gundagai who have direct ancestral links with people who died, survived or performed heroic rescues in the flood. For them, the old town site on the river flats crossed by the two landmark viaducts and bridges is a cultural landscape of outstanding significance. The local community has erected a number of memorials to the flood and to its heroes and victims. In recent years, the courageous deeds performed by the local Wiradjuri men at the time of the flood have come to be regarded in the area as a historical reference point for Aboriginal-white reconciliation and cooperation. (Criterion G.1)
The Site is important for its associations with individuals who have played a significant part in the history of the local region, as well as in the wider state and national contexts. Such individuals include the explorer Charles Sturt, the local Wiradjuri people, Yarri and Jackey, who saved many Europeans in the 1852 flood, and James Gormly, Edward Flood and members of the Lindley and Sheahan families, all of whom have taken prominent roles in politics and business affairs at the local and state level. (Criterion H.1)
|Official Values Not Available|
The place comprises all of the known built or developed areas of the original Gundagai township on the floodplain.
Only the extreme eastern and western extensions of the former township site are not included, previous historical research having been unable to demonstrate that any building took place in these areas.
The place also includes on land controlled by the Gundagai Common Trust a regular circular feature that may be a bora ring.
This is now under investigation both by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and by the Tumut-Brungle Aboriginal Land Council.
It may be noted that further research on separate historical sites in South Gundagai which are related to the 1852 flood, notably the exact burial place of flood victims, may lead to further nominations to the RNE. |
The old town of Gundagai was located on the river flats between the Murrumbidgee River and Morley's Creek, the site originally forming part of the lands of the Wiradjuri people. In late 1824, Hamilton Hume and William Hovell passed through the Gundagai district on their journey of exploration to Port Phillip. Hard on their heels, European settlers soon made their way to the Murrumbidgee and began to establish squatting properties in the Gundagai district. On the northern side of the river, the sites of both the original and the modern town of Gundagai were included in a squattage owned by Ben Warby. It was at this point on the Murrumbidgee that the brothers Peter and Henry Stuckey found a suitable place to cross the river and gain access to land on the southern side where they set about establishing their 'Willie Ploma' station. Peter Stuckey was responsible for introducing the weeping willows which are still a feature of the river banks at Gundagai. He is reputed to have grown the willows from cuttings taken by William Balcombe, the NSW Colonial Treasurer 1823-29, from trees that shaded Napoleon's grave on St Helena.
The crossing found by the Stuckey brothers rapidly assumed great importance. Captain Charles Sturt used the crossing to ford the Murrumbidgee at the start of his second journey of discovery in November 1829, Ben Warby having guided him to the spot. A modern memorial cairn on the northern bank of the Murrumbidgee within the boundaries of the place commemorates Sturt's crossing of the river. As the only known crossing point on the Murrumbidgee, the ford was also used by land-hungry settlers pushing southward towards Port Phillip. In the 1830s, it thus developed into the established crossing point of the Murrumbidgee on the main route between Sydney and Port Phillip (or Melbourne from 1837), and it accordingly became known as 'The Crossing'. The location on the northern bank of the river where the Stuckeys first found their way across the river and which was subsequently used by Sturt and many later travellers is included within the boundaries of the nominated place.
For people heading south, the river flats on the northern side of the crossing provided a convenient camping ground at those times when they had to wait for the river level to drop before they could cross. The place was a natural halting point on the journey to Port Phillip and, as such, was an obvious site for the development of a permanent settlement. Some minor structures were built on the site in the period 1836-7, but it was not until early 1838 that the first building of any substance, a public house, was erected. This was quickly followed by the opening of a blacksmith's shop by a man named Johnson who later started a punt service across the river. The settlement was officially gazetted a town in October 1838, the town taking its name somewhat erroneously from Henry O'Brien's 'Gundagai' property a mile or two upstream.
Soon after the gazettal, the Deputy Surveyor-General in Sydney, Captain William Augustus Perry, laid out a regular grid of streets on the designated site for the town on the river flats. This was despite the fact that the field suveyor's plan clearly showed the area as a backswamp. In 1840, Assistant Surveyor James Larmer measured out allotments for sale, but the first land sale in December 1842 proved a failure with only two purchasers buying allotments. At about that time, a Dr Robert Davison (or Davidson) erected a two-storey weatherboard structure in the town site to serve as a general store, while in April the following year a post office was established. Notwithstanding these signs of development, further land sales in 1843 and 1844 met with no more success than that of 1842.
Various local historical sources indicate that, from the time that the European settlers first contemplated establishing a township on the river flats, the local Wiradjuri people frequently warned them about the danger of floods in the area. These friendly warnings are remarkable because, over the period 1838-c. 1842, the Wiradjuri were engaged in deadly conflict with the European settlers further west along the Murrumbidgee. Conflict had broken out when the Wiradjuri came to realise that the Europeans had come to stay and saw that they were steadily depriving them of their land and access to sources of food and water. The outbreak of hostilities may have been triggered in particular by the occurrence of a severe drought in 1837-8 when the Murrumbidgee ceased to flow, an event that subjected both the Wiradjuri and the Europeans to severe stress as they competed for the same dwindling resource.
It is possible that the Wiradjuri around Gundagai may have been better disposed towards the Europeans because the settlers in the area continued to allow them access to land and to food and water resources, or provided them with paid work or directly with food supplies. Thus, the squatters, Henry O'Brien and Frank Taafe, permitted large groups of Aborigines to camp on their squatting runs, and on frequent occasions they even supplied the Aborigines with food. Gormly reports an apparently not unusual occurrence of a large group of Aborigines camping near the township in 1845, the particular occasion sticking in his mind only because it was the instance when a hostile band of Aborigines attacked the encamped group while they slept at night and killed three of their number. Other local Aborigines were employed from an early date by settlers in and around Gundagai. The most noteworthy example of this occurred with the Aboriginal, Jackey, who was employed by Major Joseph Andrews, a retired military officer who erected the first public house in Gundagai in about 1844. Jackey was one of the Aboriginals who later distinguished themselves by rescuing many European settlers from the waters of the 1852 flood. The site of Andrews' hotel, where Jackey probably worked, is included within the boundaries of the nominated place.
The first inkling of trouble for the chosen town site occurred in June 1844 when floodwaters inundated the site and its buildings up to a depth of about four feet. Fortunately, no lives were lost and no great damage was done, as the flood built up from slow-moving back-water. Nevertheless, as a consequence of the flood, the District Commissioner for Crown Lands suggested that a new site for the town should be laid out on higher ground on the southern side of the river and that the owners of allotments in the existing township on the river flats should be given allotments in the new site. The suggestion was acted upon to the extent that a new town site was laid out at South Gundagai, but the Governor, Sir George Gipps, would not agree to any gifts of land to settlers in the original town site, saying that 'what a man buys, he buys for better or worse.'
Despite the 1844 flood, a more successful sale of allotments was held in the original town site in 1845. From then on, the town grew steadily. By about 1848, it boasted 87 inhabitants and consisted of thirteen houses, some stores, at least one hotel, a post office, a water-powered mill and a number of tents. In the ensuing year, Thomas Henley (or Hanley) and Edward Flood, who was then the Mayor of Sydney and later became a long-serving member of the NSW Parliament, erected a substantial steam-powered flour mill of brick and stone which is still standing on the northern part of the area covered by this nomination; it was the first flour mill erected on the Murrumbidgee. By 1850, the town had twenty houses and four hotels with another two on the southern side of the river, while a courthouse and lock-up were under construction. A combined National School and teachers' residence, constructed in weatherboard on stone foundations, was erected the following year. Part of these foundations have been uncovered in an recent amateur attempt at excavation.
As the local Aboriginal people had been warning, a major flood struck the town of Gundagai in June 1852. After a period of drought in 1851-2, the rain set in and continued to pour down almost every day for three weeks. On Thursday 24 June, the river broke its banks and began to rise rapidly over the river flats. Lulled into a false sense of security by the previous flood, the town's residents, both permanent and temporary, were caught completely by surprise. As the waters rose to the roofs of the houses, people desperately sought refuge in lofts and on rooftops. But such was the scale and violence of the floodwaters that most of the buildings and many of the town's residents were swept away during the night and following day. Whole families were drowned in the disaster and the town was almost completely destroyed. Many of the dead were buried in a makeshift cemetery hastily improvised on the heights above the river in South Gundagai.
At least 89 people lost their lives in the flood, though the death toll was almost certainly higher. The exact number of fatalities will never be known because, at the time of the flood, the town's population was inflated by the presence of many temporary residents, travellers who were waiting for the floodwaters to subside so that they could continue their journeys. The fact that relatively few of the victims' bodies were ever recovered further militated against the compilation of a precise death toll from the disaster. While it has been estimated that up to 250 people were permanently or temporarily resident in the town when the flood struck, an official list compiled soon after the tragedy put the number of survivors at 110. This suggests that the actual death toll was of the order 100-140. Even so, with its official toll of 89 dead, the 1852 Gundagai flood remains to this day (1998) as the greatest loss of life suffered in any flood in Australia. In terms of lives lost, it is also one of the greatest peacetime disasters Australia has ever experienced. The official death toll from the flood has only been exceeded by the foundering of the ship Cataraqui off King Island in Bass Strait in 1835 (406 dead), a cyclone off Bathurst Bay in Queensland in 1899 (400) and the Mount Kembla mine explosion of 1902 (96).
Serious as it was, the disaster would have been even worse had it not been for the courage of at least four Aborigines who braved the turbulent waters mainly in bark canoes to rescue many of the European inhabitants of the town. On the Friday and the Saturday, an Aborigine named Yarri made repeated trips in his canoe to rescue a total of 49 people who were clinging to rooftops and trees in the midst of the violent current. The Aborigine named Jackey, who was employed by Major Andrews, rescued a further nineteen people. In recognition of their heroic and selfless efforts, the grateful townspeople later presented both men with metal gorgets bearing inscriptions that testified to their good deeds. Both gorgets are now housed in the Gundagai Historical Museum. Yarri was later baptised into the Roman Catholic faith, taking the European name, James McDonnell. On his death, he was buried in the Catholic Section of the North Gundagai Cemetery on 25 July 1880, but the precise location of his grave is unknown.
Among the survivors of the flood were James Gormly who later served for a period of 37 years in the NSW Parliament, first as an MLA and later as an MLC. A youth of sixteen at the time, only Gormly and one of his brothers survived out of a family of seven. Another survivor was Jeremiah Sheahan, grandfather and great grandfather respectively of William F. and Terry Sheahan, both of whom held the state seat of Burrinjuck for many years and served as ministers in several NSW governments. Thomas ('Long Tom') Lindley, licensee of the Rose Inn, escaped the flood by dint of the fact that he happened to be away from Gundagai at the time buying sheep in Yass. Lindley, however, lost his wife and four children in the flood. Gundagai's Mayor in 1998, Gordon Lindley, is a direct descendant of the new family that Long Tom Lindley had by his second wife after he remarried.
As for the town's buildings, only some six or seven survived the flood, including the flour mill and Joseph Morley's Noah's Ark inn which stood nearby. As it was, the inn and some of the other surviving structures lasted little more than a year, as they were destroyed in an even larger flood in July 1853. The mill, however, survived this and all subsequent inundations. Though logs borne on the 1852 floodwaters punched a hole in its wall, the mill was repaired and put back into service, with Henley and Flood leasing the building to James Hayes and Sons in c. 1853. Its walls were again breached by floating debris in the 1900 flood, but it was once again repaired. In about 1918, the building was converted into a freezing works operated by Regan and Davis, and in 1924 it was purchased by the Adjungbilly Freezing Company. D.H. Roberts took over in the early 1930s and used the building as premises for his rabbit export business. Though now unused, the mill remains as Gundagai's oldest surviving building and the only surviving structure from the 1852 flood.
The flood disaster fully exposed the folly, as the local Aboriginal people had warned, of building a town on the river flats and no attempt was made to rebuild there in the wake of the flood. Instead, with the Murrumbidgee crossing at Gundagai one of the most important river crossings on the whole Sydney-Melbourne route, it was decided simply to rebuild the town on the site it occupies today, the higher ground to the north of the river flats. The importance of the crossing was demonstrated in 1865-7 when the Prince Alfred Bridge and viaduct were built, respectively, over the Murrumbidgee and the site of the old town on the river flats to take the Sydney-Melbourne road traffic. Originally 1,030 feet long, the bridge and viaduct had to be substantially extended in 1896 after the floods of 1870 and 1891 covered the approaches and completely disrupted traffic on the Sydney-Melbourne route. The extensions brought the total length to 3,025 feet, making the viaduct one of the longest timber structures ever constructed in Australia. Though the viaduct section is now closed to traffic, the bridge is still in use. The bridge and viaduct are entered as a single entity in the Register of the National Estate (RNE No. 000703).
In similar fashion, a railway bridge and viaduct of substantial length were built in 1901-3 across the river and flats to take rail traffic south to Tumut and Batlow. The bridge and viaduct stand adjacent to the Prince Alfred Bridge and have not been used since the suspension of rail services in 1983. The approaches to the bridge, though not the bridge itself, have been entered in the Register of the National Estate (RNE No. 015895). Taken together, the bridges and viaducts constructed to take road and rail traffic form the dominating element in the Gundagai landscape as they span the river and the wide river flats where the original town stood.
The 1852 flood and the heroic deeds of Yarri in particular are still remembered as the most significant events in Gundagai's history. In 1998, many residents of Gundagai and district still have direct links variously with those who died, survived or performed courageous rescues in the flood. Moreover, in recent years, the actions of Yarri and his Wiradjuri clansmen in the flood have come to be seen in the area as an historical reference point for Aboriginal-white reconciliation and cooperation.
The ongoing interest in the flood and its heroes and victims is also evidenced by the erection over the years of quite a number of memorials both within and outside the area covered by this nomination. In 1952, the Horsley family presented a sundial to Gundagai in memory of their forebear, Frederick Horsley, who was rescued from the floodwaters by Yarri. The sundial, which was originally positioned in front of the Court House, now stands at the entrance to the Historical Museum located a little to the north of the nominated place. In October 1977, the Area Director for Education in Gundagai unveiled a memorial cairn erected on the site of the National School which was destroyed in the 1852 flood, with the loss of the lives of the teacher, Allan McKenna, his wife and their five children. Around the same time, a memorial cairn was erected over the spot where Thomas Lindley's Rose Inn stood (inside the southern boundary of the nominated place). The Tourist Information Centre near Gundagai's main intersection features a large model of the old town before it was swept away by the flood.
More recently, Yarri's achievements have been recognised by a number of memorials, places and structures named in his honour. In 1980, a local resident donated an inscribed marble plaque to his memory and had it mounted on the front wall of the Museum. A new bridge over Morley's Creek was officially named Yarri's Bridge when it was opened on 26 November 1983. The bridge stands near the spot were Yarri is reputed to have landed many of the people he saved from the floodwaters, and it is included in the nominated place. Close to the bridge on the northern bank of the creek, and also included in the nominated place, is metal plaque to Yarri which was provided by the Tumut-Brungle Aboriginal Community and unveiled by the Premier of NSW on National Aborigines' and Islanders' Day on 7 September 1990. The parklands along the northern bank of the creek where this memorial stands were named Yarri Park. At the same time in 1990, the Premier of NSW unveiled a black marble headstone which the Tumut-Brungle Aboriginal Community erected in Yarri's honour near the gates of North Gundagai Cemetery. where he is buried.
The Old Gundagai Town Site is also known as the Old Gundagai Town Common. It has been reported that commons were a significant feature of NSW rural and town landscapes in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. This aspect of the Site warrants further investigation.
|History Not Available|
|Condition and Integrity|
|The river flats have not been built upon since the 1852 flood. The land is used for grazing stock, for practising show jumping and, in part, as a golf course. In many cases, the original street alignments of the old town are preserved in modern fence lines and plantings, and can be easily recognised. The area is traversed by two tar-sealed roads and has a number of memorials erected on it. Two amateur attempts at excavation have exposed part of the foundations of the former National School and a scattering of bricks that belonged to a hotel that stood in the eastern extremity of the place near the current showground. The flour mill appears to be in a structurally sound condition, but requires conservation work. The damming of the Murrumbidgee upstream from Gundagai has had a profound influence in the mitigation of floods, such that flooding of the river flats at Gundagai is nowhere near as extensive or destructive as it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.|
|About 80ha, at Gundagai, being an area enclosed by a line commencing at the intersection of the right bank of the Murrumbidgee River and AMG easting 600450mE, then easterly via the right bank to its intersection with the alignment of the eastern boundary of Johnson Street Road Reserve, then northerly via that alignment and boundary to its intersection with the alignment of the northern boundary of OId Bell Drive, then north westerly via that alignment and the south western boundary of Portion Pt 448 Parish of North Gundagai to Morleys Creek, then westerly via the southern side of Morleys Creek to Hemans Street, then southerly via the eastern boundary of Hemans Street to Landon Street, then westerly via the northern boundary of Landon Street to the south-west corner of Lot 2 Section 18 DP 758487, then northerly via the western boundary of that lot to Sheridan Lane, then westerly via the southern boundary of Sheridan Lane to Homer Street, then southerly via the western boundary of Homer Street to Landon Street, then westerly via the northern boundary of that street to a point due north of the north east corner of Portion 443, then directly to that corner, then southerly via the eastern boundary of Portion 443, the western boundary of the Middleton Avenue Road Reserve, the eastern boundary of Portion 454 and the alignment of the latter to the point of commencement.|
Anon., Back to Gundagai: Official Souvenir and Programme, 23d to 30th Nov., 1932, Sydney, 1932 |
Articles on James Gormly and Edward Flood, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 4
A.C. Butcher, Gundagai: Its History, Verse and Song, Gundagai, 1956
Eric Carpenter, Gundagai Original Town Site, exercise for Historical Cultural Landscapes course, University of Canberra, 23 October 1995
Allen Crooks, Yarri: Hero of Gundagai, 3rd edition, 1993
Jenny Davis, 'Teaching an old dog new tricks', Sun-Herald, 17 August 1997, 6-7.
Bill Gammage, 'The Wiradjuri war 1838-40', Push from the Bush, no. 16, October 1983, 3-17
James Gormly, 'Exploration and settlement on the Murray and Murrumbidgee', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 2, part 2, 1909, 34-43
D.N. Jeans and Peter Spearritt, The Open Air Museum: The Cultural Landscape of New South Wales, Sydney, George Allen and Unwin, 1980
National Library of Australia MS 3508: The Honorable James Gormly, MLC, Newspaper articles 1902-1918
Report Produced Sat Dec 21 23:08:25 2013