With the Narrandera Show approaching in early September, it’s an opportune time to take a look back at
some early reminisces of the annual event and the town where it is held.
Earlier issues of the “Narandera Argus” (spelt with a single R in those days) were not preserved and complete files go back only as far as 1895. Records of the Pastoral and Agricultural Association were also destroyed by fire when a fruit shop and offices situated on the site of the present Council Chambers were gutted. Mr W H Canton, a former secretary of the Narrandera P and A Association, was located in the buildings and although Mr Canton’s successor had been appointed, the records had not been moved before the fire occurred. Thus it was that fire that not only destroyed what might be regarded as the early history of the P And A Association, but also the history of Narrandera from its earliest days, for it was also by fire that the files of the “Argus” for the first 14 years of its publication were destroyed.
There is no doubt that “Narandera” was an Aboriginal word. It was “Narandera” when all living residents arrived here, but one or two former residents state that it was originally known as Flood’s Crossing on account of it being a place where the Murrumbidgee River was forded by people travelling northward or southward of the river. Whether that was the case or not is not proven.
It can, however, be taken for granted that it was not until the late 1870s that the settlement began to develop into a hamlet and from that time its growth was marked.
Large stations were the order of the day and they were on every side, including a large area of the present town. Waverley (later Ferriertown) and Jonsen Estate were a part of Lake Midgeon, as well as areas to the north of the town. Buckingbong embraced the greater part of the country now known as Gillenbah. Yanco embraced a large area to the west and Bundidjarie was and in close proximity to the town on the east. Thus the little settlement on the river banks was hemmed in, but it was not until many years afterwards that there was any need for subdivisions.
The early “squatters” developed the country, cleared it for the agistment of their stock and above all led the way from the then uninhabited lands westward of Wagga and Gundagai. It was somewhere in the late seventies that Narrandera was placed on the map. There was no railway nearer than Junee at that time and goods were brought either by wagon from Wagga or boat from Echuca.
Much of the population consisted of Chinese, who made Narrandera their headquarters and took contracts of clearing land for the station holders of the district. As was the case with all of the old
settlements along the river, the towns were planned on the river flats. Old parish maps show that it was also the case with Narrandera. The proximity of the water supply was the greatest factor to be considered when mapping out a village and as there were no water schemes in those times, the river flats were selected for the settlements.
Apparently the Narrandera to Hay portion of the Riverina wielded great influence in the Parliament of the colony, for as early as the late seventies the construction of the railway to Hay had become within the range of practical politics. It was from that time that the district seemed to forge ahead and it was on account of the construction of the railway that many old residents first came to Narrandera. Not long after the opening of the railway from Junee to Narrandera the P and A Association was formed.
Mr J F Willans, who afterwards occupied the office of Mayor, was the first secretary and held the office for a number of years. Mr Angus Robertson was the first President. The committee was a foresighted and energetic body for it secured an excellent showground and set to work to fence the land and erect the buildings necessary to enable the first show to be held.
The first show in 1882 later saw some reminisces published in the Argus, including one from John L Bull, who although the president of the P and A Association was not one of those who attended the first show.
However his father had already been settled in the district several years before the first show was held. It was in 1876 that Mr Bull’s father (the late Thomas W Bull) settled at Coonong on the Yanko Creek. Stock raising was the principal industry, but Mr Bull remembered hay being grown on the holding.
As J L Bull was only a boy when his father came to Coonong, he and other members of the family remained in Victoria, where they attended school until 1883. It was not until 1885 that J L Bull first visited Narrandera.
Larmer Street was then the principal business centre and remained so for many years afterwards. In 1884 Mr Bull went to the Whitton district with his father and brothers, where a property known as Meadow Bank was selected. In 1898 Mr Bull selected a property known as ‘Larravale,’ also in the Whitton district. Both of the last mentioned properties were later resumed by the Irrigation Commission when the Yanco Irrigation scheme was inaugurated.
In 1912 Mr Bull acquired land at Sandigo, known as Malwa, and on moving to Sandigo he took a deep interest in local government matters in the Yanko Shire and soon after his arrival there was elected to the Shire Council. He was also a member of the committee of the P and A Association and a former president. Mr Bull was also a member of the Local Land Board and a prominent member of the local Farmers and Settlers’ Association. It was men of the type of Mr Bull and his colleagues on the committee of the P and A Association who founded it and conducted its affairs through some lean years.
The property, first acquired by Mr Bull’s father at Coonong, was later owned by Mr A E Bull, a brother of Mr J L Bull and also a member of the committee of the P and A Association. Mr John Jones, of Railway View, Gillenbah, was the proud possessor of a first prize card from the inaugural show, which he and his father the late Mr Evan Jones of Yanko Valley, Jerilderie, won in the sheep section, which was a principal attraction at that and subsequent Narrandera shows. The prize card was awarded on 18th August, 1882, to Evan Jones and Son for best ram 14 years and under, class F, section 2, pen 54.
Three years later (1885), Mr Jones and his father won a handsome trophy (a pair of cut glass jam jars on a solid silver stand) which was presented by the late Mr R Goldsbrough, founder of the well known firm of woolbrokers. The trophy bore the following inscription: ‘Narandera P and A Association, 1886 — presented by R Goldsbrough and Co Limited for the best pen of two sheep, one ewe, 4 tooth and over; one ewe, 4-tooth and under; won by Evan Jones and Son, Yanko Valley, NSW.’
Mr James Thomas was a competitor at the second show in 1883 in the hunting sections. He competed with a horse named Oddfellow, which was well known to many residents of that era. In 1883 Mr Thomas
became the licensee of the Gillenbah Hotel.
Although Messrs William Roach and A Watts were not competitors at the first show, they became regular
exhibitors at subsequent shows, especially in the farm produce sections. Mr and Mrs Roach both attended the first show. Among their cherished possessions was a cup won by Mr Roach’s father at the third show, inscribed as follows: ‘Narandera Pastoral and Agricultural Association, 1884, presented by W. Jones and Co for best collection of farm produce, won by N Roach senior.’ Their daughter (Emily) was perhaps the best known show ring equestrienne in the State and certainly one, if not the most, accomplished. When Mr Alfred Watts retired from farming to reside in Narandera, his son Mr E J Watts, of Euroley became a well known exhibitor in the produce section and won a large number of prizes. Mrs Watts also has had her share of exhibits notably in the cookery sections.
Mr William Whittaker’s association with local shows was often as a ‘dispenser of music.’ He was actively connected with bands in the town for a much longer period than any other person. His association extended over half a century and he was bandmaster on a number of occasions. The band was a permanent fixture at the show until the practice of engaging it was discontinued.
Mr Whittaker told the Argus that the buildings at the earlier shows consisted chiefly of sheep pens and a shed for farm produce, etc. The bulk of the sheep pens, which numbered between 200 and 300, were erected by the Bright Brothers (Walter and George), who in those days had a carpentry business. Later the grandstand was erected by Mr Schuler, who afterwards went to Jerilderie. Mr E S Laver, later of Cootamundra, was the architect. An industrial hall was erected by the late Mr Charles Bundock under the supervision of Mr Percy Higgins, who was Town Clerk.
Mrs John Jones, of Twynam Street, came to Narrandera with her father and mother the late Mr and Mrs Alfred Dale. Her father had been the manager of Burrabogie and on coming to Narrandera took over the licence of the Riverina Hotel. It was in this hotel that Mr Dale died. The family left the hotel and Mrs Dale took over the licence of the Bolero Hotel at the place now known as The Willows. She married a second time, her second husband being the late Mr Chas Hilton. Mr and Mrs Hilton and family bought a farm near Ardlethan, but seven years of drought, in which their stock perished, drove them off the farm, and they came to Narrandera to live. When Mrs Jones first came to Narrandera the sight of a household cow was a novelty, as the goat was the source of the milk supply and also the butter supply at that time.
The Aboriginals had for years been in touch with civilisation, but roamed along the Murrumbidgee. She recalled they were issued with red Government blankets, which they wore as capes and often called on residents for food.
When the railway was extended from Narrandera to Yanco many residents went to Yanco to help celebrate the event. This was at the end of the year 1881. Mr J H Douglas was the owner of Yanco and was one of the prominent figures at the opening celebration.
Mrs Jones was one of the passengers on the train that made the trip from Narrandera. Mr Jones was the proprietor of the Narandera Hotel, which was located at the west end of Twynam Street. The Jones family were in the Narandera Hotel for only two years, when Mrs Jones disposed of the licence to Mr F Mathers’ father. Mr Jones, who was a carpenter by trade, secured a position as bridge carpenter on the Jerilderie line construction work and remained with the contractors until the line was completed to Jerilderie. Mrs Jones was present at the first show held in Narrandera.
Naturally it was not a very elaborate show as there was practically no produce grown here. Stock was the principal attraction and her brother (Mr John Dale) brought several horses from Cowabbie Station to the show. A Mr Tucker owned Cowabbie at that time.
Asked whether she could remember the first store in the town, Mrs Jones said that the first store established here was housed under calico on a site near the old brickyards near the late Mr Andrew Miller’s residence on the flat south of the canal. This business was owned by a man named Knox Ellis and it was afterwards destroyed by fire. Another store that was housed under calico was that conducted by Messrs Monash and Jonsen, near the old Crown Hotel (now Wollundry Private Hospital) until the firm moved into East Street.
When the railway line was under construction past Narrandera the land in the vicinity of the cemetery was a tent town and workshops were located near Mr Raglass’ old woolscour. In order to obtain water, a light line was constructed from a site near the cemetery to the river near the workshops.
Narrandera was nearly all pine scrub at the time and the road to the showground was only made by traffic. The road from the south end of East Street to the railway station was also cut through thick pine scrub.
The first lock-up was on the site of St Thomas’ Church of England. Later it was moved to the building occupied by Messrs Griggs and Muller, building contractors.
TO BE CONTINUED…