Gundagai has long been home to the Wiradjuri people, and ancient river red gums still bear the marks of early Wiradjuri history. The 1820s saw the arrival of the first Europeans in the area. Following Hume and Hovell in 1824, settlers had pushed out with their sheep and established themselves in the area. Sturt’s party passed through in 1829 and the original township of Gundagai began at the appointed crossing place of the Murrumbidgee River.
THE GREAT FLOOD
The village of Gundagai continued to develop on the Murrumbidgee floodplain and was officially gazetted in 1840. This was despite repeated warnings by the Wiradjuri people of the risk of large floods to the low-lying alluvial flats.
On the night of June 24, 1852 the flooded Murrumbidgee raged through the small township, drowning more than one third of the 250 inhabitants and an unknown number of travellers, and destroying 71 buildings. The old Mill (pictured) is the only building of the original town left standing today.
The heroic actions of a number of Wiradjuri men saved many lives. Yarri and Jacky in particular, spent the wild night ferrying men, women and children to safety, from the rooftops and branches of giant river red gums. The medallions presented to these Aboriginal heroes were lost for many years but are now proudly on display in the Gundagai Museum.
Rebuilding took place on the slopes north and south of the floodplain. Through the mid 1800s to the early 1900s Gundagai boomed, with discoveries of gold and a rich agriculture industry. The many fine heritage buildings throughout town today stand as a testament to these prosperous times. Photos from the Gabriel Collection bring to life the bustling energy of Gundagai at the turn of the century.
Gundagai’s iconic association with Australian history is reflected in the numerous poems and songs that mention the town, including the works of Banjo Patterson who had a fondness for the town and nearby station Kiley’s Run.
WILD COLONIAL BOYS
Bushrangers were active in the area as early as 1838. In the 1860s with discoveries of gold, a new breed of bushrangers emerged. First generation Australians, young men born and raised in the district and disenchanted with the constabulary became the new bushranging threat. Infamous outlaws such as Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert and John Dunn were active in the district.
One of the local bushranging tales surrounds the exploits of Andrew George Scott – better known as Captain Moonlite. Unlike other bushrangers, Scott was from a wealthy, educated family. With a shady background as a trickster and robber, he assembled a gang of five in Victoria, then moved north to Wagga Wagga, and on to Wantabadgery where they held up Wantabadgery Station.
A seige led to the death of two gang members and police Constable Webb-Bowen was shot dead. Moonlite was held in the Gundagai Gaol before facing trial in the local Courthouse. Scott was finally tried and hanged in Sydney in 1880, and buried in Rookwood cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Moonlite’s final wish was to be buried near his two friends in the Gundagai cemetery. In 1995, some 115 years later, two local women sought to bring Captain Moonlite back to Gundagai and today Moonlite’s grave is in the North Gundagai Cemetery, under the shade of a eucalypt.