About our History and Heritage
Billabongs and Grassy Slopes
The Wiradjuri tribes’ presence in this district is evident in the use of aboriginal names, such as Billabong. Billabong Creek, which flows through Greater Hume Shire, is the longest creek in Australia, eventually flowing into the Murray River. The creek was a source of food, from fish and yabbies to snakes and marsupials. Grass seeds were collected by the women in their ‘coolamons’ and ground with grinding stones which weren’t carried from camp to camp but buried, and today are ploughed up by farmers. Aboriginal artefacts such as the stone ‘hand axe’ indicate a presence up to 40,000 years ago. The stone axes were used to strip bark off gum trees to make canoes, shields and coolamons. Most of these trees have disappeared through clearing and bushfires, but an occasional oval shaped scar, up to two metres by one metre, can be found. The Wiradjuri Tribes roamed between the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers during autumn migrating to Tumut to trade with the coastal tribes.
Hume & Hovell and Major Mitchell
Explorers Hume & Hovell were probably the first Europeans to see the area and travelled through parts of the shire in the early 1800’s on their expedition south to Port Phillip (Melbourne). Upon climbing Tabletop, Hume & Hovell cast their eyes around, noting the extensive grass cover over parts of the region and the potential for future grazing and development.
Major Mitchell passed through the Riverina area in 1836 and reported on the lightly timbered, well-watered lands which he referred to as ‘Australia Felix’. Settlers with their stock, wagon, provisions and workmen followed the ‘Major’s Line’, to select this good land. Hastened by a severe period of drought, which began in 1835 and lasted until 1844, ‘Squatters’ began settling on the great fertile country of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers.
Within 30 years the ‘Major’s Line’ led to total settlement of the area. Many small holdings supported large hard working families during trying conditions. The presence in a paddock of a group of pepper trees, gnarled fruit trees or a pile of stones is the only reminder that a plucky family lived there, willing to take on the land. From 1836 pastoral runs were being established, many with ill-defined boundaries. Runs varied in size from 30,000 up to 350,000 acres, with names such as Walla Walla, Dudal Comer (Henty), Round Hill (Culcairn), Carabobala (Morven), Yarra Yarra (Holbrook), Gerogery, Mountain Creek, Mullengandra, Tabletop, Battery mountain (Table Top), Brae Springs (Gerogery), Dights Forest (Jindera) , Piney Water Hole (Walbundrie), The Olives (Moorwatha), Coppabella, Kinross (Holbrook) and Woomargama just to name a few.
During the 1800s many Scots were ousted from their traditional homelands by Scottish land owners and clan leaders wanting to use clan lands to graze sheep. Ships loaded with wool bound for Scottish mills were used on their return, to transport agricultural labourers and their families from the overcrowded Scottish highlands to Australia. Scottish labourers were considered hard working and were encouraged to move to the area to work the large runs, with the Robertson Land Act of 1861 also contributing to the inland migration of small settlers.
Mad Dan Morgan-Bushranger
Daniel Morgan was one of the more infamous characters in the history of this region. Also one of the most feared and admired bushrangers of Australia’s past. Morgan born in Sydney in 1833 joined the NSW gold rush at Lambing Flat in 1853. Unsuccessful he turned to petty crime, was caught and given 6 years on the floating hulk ‘Success’ and on chain gangs in Sydney’s quarries. On release he returned to this region bushranging and became a hero to the working class and aboriginal population. He targeted station owners (squatters) who under paid or maltreated employees, robbed wealthy travellers and shared booty with the under privileged. Morgan was literate and an excellent bushman. He had many hiding places and vantage points throughout our region. The most prominent being Morgan’s Lookout, 6kms north of Walla Walla, which provided 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.
In August 1863 he held up Mr Henry Baylis the Wagga Wagga police magistrate near Urana. Upon being informed by Baylis on who he was holding up, Morgan returned his purse and cheques. Baylis returned with police trackers, caught up with Morgan, where a gunfight ensured and Baylis was wounded. Morgan later shot a shepherd known as Haley, whom he believed had betrayed his whereabouts. A reward of 200 pounds was offered for Morgan’s capture.
On 19 June, 1864 he visited ‘Round Hill Station’, when departing Morgan thought someone fired at him. When he demanded manager Sam Watson step forward to be shot, Mrs Watson protected her husband and Morgan shot Watsons raised hand. Realising his mistake Morgan ordered station hand John McLean to ride to “Walla Walla Station’ to fetch Dr Stitt. Later suspecting that McLean would alert troopers, Morgan rode after him, fired a warning shot which mortally wounded McLean.
The NSW reward for his capture increased to 1,000 pounds. On 29 June he confronted Sergeant Maginnerty near Coppabella where he shot and killed him. Morgan and accomplices ambushed trooper’s on 3 September at ‘Doodle Cooma Station’, mortally wounding their leader, Sergeant Smyth. Victorian police dared Morgan to cross the Murray; he accepted and outsmarted them for four days. Sleep deprived he was surrounded and shot at ‘Peechelba Station’, 9 April 1865.
When the country was opened up for smaller settlers with the passing of the Robertson Land Act in 1861, many German families from South Australia (where they had been finding it very difficult to buy good land) arrived by wagon train and settled in Jindera and the surrounding area. Word spread back to South Australia of the fertile land available here and in January 1869, 56 people of German origin arrived in the region from Ebenezer, South Australia. The group settled in the Walla Walla area, bringing their culture and customs with them, as seen today throughout the region from the architecture of the Zion Lutheran Church in Walla Walla to the road and farm names dotted throughout the shire.
Cobb & Co
Cobb & Co ‘changing stations’ were established by 1877. The route for the run was Wagga Wagga, Cookardinia, Morven, Gerogery and Albury, via Mangoplah six times a week by 2 or 4 horse coaches. Changing stations were set up as places where the horses were changed or rested and passengers could take a break. The Squatters Arms Inn, Cookardinia and Round Hill Hotel, Morven were local ‘changing stations’ and also important meeting points for local communities, centres for news, deliveries of goods, refreshments and company. Cobb & Co were undoubtedly the largest firm contracted to convey mail, but were never granted any exclusive title to that role, and there were literally hundreds of other mail contractors operating all over the colony.
Riding on the Sheep’s Back / Reaping the Golden Ear
With the big runs and development of smaller blocks the area became well known for its wool, wheat and meat production. In 1861 the Riverina region had carried 1 million sheep; by 1891 it carried 13 million. In the 1890s Walbundrie Run had a 36 stand shed, and blade-shore 60 to 80 thousand sheep a year. Albury now had its own wool-buying and selling agencies with the year’s clip delivered by teams of up to 32 bullocks. Henty, Culcairn and Gerogery were developed on the Main Southern Line ensuring a close relationship with the railway, and becoming transportation and storage terminals for the expanding wheat industry. During the 1880s increasing amounts of wheat were grown; the drier climate of the region increased the gluten content and improved the baking quality, making it more competitive on the world market. German families who had settled around Walla Walla and Jindera were leaders in increasing output of wheat from the district. Wheat or chaff was harvested by the simple methods of the scythe and the sickle, then progressed to the Sunshine Stripper (invented by Hugh V McKay in 1865) before Headlie Taylor from Henty invented the Header in 1913, which revolutionised the whole of the grain producing industry across the world.
Coming of the Railways
On 10 July, 1867, Mr John Whitton, Engineer-in-Chief for Railways, presented a proposal to the Victorian and New South Wales governments to build a line linking Melbourne and Sydney. By 1881 the line was completed and train ‘crossing’ stations established at Henty, Culcairn and Gerogery, along with many subsidiary tracks to outlying villages, many of which can be seen but are not now in use. The Wagga Wagga to Albury line did not require heavy earthworks or bridges and with no curves to limit speed, grades could be kept to 1 in 80 with and against the load. The railway opened up the region ensuring produce and passengers alike a quicker journey to the major cities of Australia.
Indian Hawkers were quite numerous in the district at the turn of the 20th century. They were seen driving around selling goods from covered wagons drawn by two horses. Farmers and families in isolated areas were able to buy drapery and clothing. The children were delighted when an Indian Hawker opened the back of his van to view all the goods he had for sale. Recently a dedication of the Indian graves, located in the Henty Cemetery was made with the Indian Ambassador to Australia in attendance in recognition of their contribution to our farming communities.
World Wars I and II
The outbreak of World Wars I and II thrust communities into organising fundraising activities such as fancy dress balls, street stalls, sports carnivals and regattas to support the diggers. Families and communities grieved following the loss of many men and women and increasingly assumed the physical and financial burden of caring for their families. World War II labour shortages forced the government to allow women to take a more active role in war work through the Women’s Land Army. Women were paid by the farmers and provided formal farming instruction and housed in hostels.
Anti-German feeling emerged with many Germans living in Australia being sent to internment camps. In townships where the majority of people were of German origin, the problems were not so bad, as they were allowed to retain their culture including Lutheran beliefs and German language. Germanton was renamed Holbrook in August 1915 and during both wars many people viewed their German neighbours with suspicion, which was to continue until the end of World War II.
Today ANZAC Day is commemorated at the many memorials throughout the shire dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives for Australia. Stands of trees have also been planted in memory of our Diggers in a number of towns/villages in the shire, Walbundrie and Woomargama providing fine examples.
At the end of World Wars I and II the government sponsored a scheme for settling returned men on the land. A significant share of the government’s £29,000,000 was used to purchase private land in this region. Large stations were purchased and divided up into Soldier Settler farms, averaging about 640 acres each. The new settlers either brought wives with them or married local girls, and displayed the camaraderie and zest learned during the hard years of the World Wars I and II. As the years passed the weaknesses in the Soldier Settler Scheme saw many returning to large towns due to climatic variances and cash depletion; however descendants of Soldier Settlers are still farming in the region.
The great depression of the late 1920’s and 1930’s caused many farmers to go bankrupt. The situation was so serious that the government brought in the Moratorium Act so that interest only was paid, but no principal was needed to be repaid. During this time many capable and learned men walked the shire roads looking for work with some farmers offering a meal for labour. The Henty Man located on the Olympic Highway is dedicated as a memorial to ‘The Men of the Road during the Great Depression’.