The year was 1886 and amongst the most noticeable buildings in Narrandera was its hospital, a fine commodious structure of brick that had only recently been completed, with the external improvements still unfinished.
It was erected at a cost of about 2500 pounds, of which over 1500 pounds was subscribed in the district, the balance being Government subsidy. A long-promised unconditional grand was still withheld, for reasons which apparently were not well understood by the residents, and not likely to be until the next general election.
The Narrandera District Hospital boasted three ordinary wards and one special ward with 20 beds, four of which were for females. At the rear of the building was a large yard and a spacious kitchen garden. Adjoining the matron’s quarters was the dispensary. Dr Watt was the medical officer in charge, Mrs E L Guille the matron and dispenser. Mrs Guille had seen a considerable amount of active service and was matron at the Coast Hospital, Little Bay, near Sydney. She subsequently took charge of the Goulburn Hospital, where she remained for about five years, during which period the disastrous Cootamundra railway accident took place.
There were 15 hotels and public-houses, two banks, a sawmill, English, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches; five general stores and numerous representatives of individual trades.
There was also a public school and a Catholic school, each with a large muster roll, and a Mechanics’ Institute.
Among the numerous fine buildings either recently finished or in course of erection were the new offices of Messrs H Manning, King and Co, the leading stock and station agents in this part of the electorate. It was a substantial two-storey brick building located in Larmer Street, with every convenience for carrying on the rapidly increasing business of the firm, which compelled them to move from the old quarters in which they had trans-acted business for the past four years. These offices, although already occupied, were not yet out of the contractor’s hands, but were to completed before the event of the year -the annual races in July 1886.
In October that year Narrandera was among the numerous thriving towns of the Riverina and occupied a leading place, largely because of its convenient situation as the principal crossing place on the Murrumbidgee River for stock travelling from Queens-land to Wagga, Albury and Melbourne. It was approachable by rail from the main southern line between Sydney and Albury, was 348 miles distant from the former and 160 miles from the latter, the line branching off at Junee Junction, and traversing an extensive tract of comparatively level country, utilised chiefly for pastoral purposes, but asserted to be rich in agricultural capability, excellent cereal crops being raised in places. From Narrandera the line continued to Jerilderie, 65 miles away, and then to Berrigan, crossing the Murrumbidgee by means of a massive lattice-girder bridge, one of the most substantial structures of its kind in NSW.
In the early days the planting of shade trees in the main streets of country towns was regarded with in-difference; but when it was found that, under suitable conditions, the trees throve luxuriantly, affording a welcome shelter from the heat and dust of summer, they began to make their appearance even in the most remote townships, giving a picturesque touch to these localities.
There were nearly 16 miles of streets and roads in the municipal boundaries of Narrandera, the whole of which were kept in good repair considering the heavy nature of the traffic at times.
Among the public buildings were the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Roman Catholic Church of St Bridget and the churches belonging to the Wesleyan and Presbyterian bodies also occupied a conspicuous place. The courthouse, lands office and police station and quarters formed a line of buildings in the main thoroughfare Larmer Street. There was a fine public hall in the town, a mechanics’ institute and public library and reading-room.
The public school, of which Mr WG Heath was the energetic master, stood on elevated ground, occupying a site of about five acres, well planted with shade trees. These were one of the practical results of “Arbor Day” instituted by the Minister for Lands when at the head of the Public Instruction Department. Most of the trees had been planted some years and were well grown. There were about 300 children enrolled at the school and the average attendance was 216. There was also a Roman Catholic school in addition to two admirably conducted private schools.
The Commercial and AJS Banks were both substantial and ornamental buildings. The Bank of New South Wales also had a branch. Narrandera had a fine recreation ground of about ten acres suitably laid out and fenced in, with a large oval in the centre for cricket, football and other pastimes.
The racecourse, which was under the management of the Narrandera Turf Club, was a short distance from the township, admirably located and arranged and featuring a commodious grandstand, offices, paddock and other accessories.
The grounds of the Narrandera Pastoral and Agricultural Society were also situated a short distance from the town and occupied a good position with all necessary accommodation.
Narrandera had an abundance of good hotel accommodation, the principal hostelries being the Royal, the Royal Mail and the Criterion. There were several large stores, the leading businesses being those carried on by A Jacobs, Richards and Company, C Dyring, FS Hodge, and G Jerrom. Mr Jacobs’s premises in the main street were of considerable size and all classes of goods usually found in a large general store were attractively displayed in great variety. Messrs Richards and Company and C Dyring likewise make a fine show, and did extensive business in the town and district.
Among the various industrial establishments were the Narrandera Roller Flour Mill, which was established on the newest and most approved principles and regarded as typical of the progress of cereal cultivation in the Riverina. The owners, Wise Brothers, also had a large mill at Jerilderie and their Pyramid brand of flour was not only well known throughout the surrounding district, but also over the whole of the colony. The Narrandera mill turned out eight bags of flour per hour or nearly 100 tons per week. It was erected about 1880. The other local industries were woolscouring, brickmaking, brewing etc and also carriage manufacture, which was represented by the Narrandera Carriage and Waggon Company.
Mr FWP Rudd and Mr WR Wilson, two go-ahead businessmen, conceived the idea of benefiting both themselves and the farming community of the Riverina by supplying farming implements and farm requisites at much lower prices. At Narrandera they launched the Johnston Harvester Company, of which Frank Rudd was president and WR Wilson was secretary, to supply the district with “Bonnie” reapers and binders, made by the Johnston Harvester Company, of Batavia, New York, who had a worldwide reputation. Mowing machines, harvesters, strippers, waggons, buggies, sulkies, rabbit poisoning machines and all requisites pertaining to those occupied in farming were supplied. The company erected new buildings on the property previously occupied by the Narrandera Carriage and Waggon Company, which merged with the new company. The new buildings with a frontage of 150ft and occupied one of the most commanding sites in Narrandera. The Wilson steel frame sulky, patented by WR Wilson, was one of the special products of this company.
In addition to the industries named there were meat chilling works and Narrandera was considered to be one of the principal centres of the chilled meat business, for which it possessed exceptional facilities, as killing and chilling operations were conducted on an extensive scale.
Narrandera boasted a good water supply, the water being pumped up from the river into an elevated tank situated on a rise overlooking the railway station. Broad flats, covered with water in times of flood, separated the town from the river and across these runs a long approach to the fine bridge enables communication to be maintained with the other side of the stream which was widely used by travelling stock.
The population of the borough was over 2000 and of the district 3000. About 38 miles from the town was the Aboriginal station of Warangesda, occupying an area of about 600 acres, and it was under Government supervision.
Two local papers were published in Narrandera, the Narrandera Argus and the Narrandera Ensign, and both enjoyed a good circulation.