I reckon if you asked 100 people about what was at Gundagai in southern NSW most would answer the home to The Dog on the Tuckerbox. Well that’s right but what about the other amazing history that this area is steeped in
Around 1824 explores Hume and Hovell were the first white men to explore the area on their way south and a few years later the first settlers were building cottages on the floodplains near the river. Charles Sturt crossed the river nearby on one of his expeditions to the north. Knowing the river the local aboriginal’s tried warning the white people on the dangers, but this fell on deaf ears and the settlement grew as peopled travelled south the new Victorian goldfields. By the mid 1850’s there was around 70 buildings, with hotels, a school, an impressive flour mill, PO and with several streets full of houses. Some 20 years later the river flooded to the doorsteps but it wasn’t enough to deter the towns folk. But, then the unthinkable happened, after several weeks of solid rain in 1854 the river rose to unthinkable levels, covering the town with 5 metres of floodwater, washing away buildings and killing 83 people, including the whole McKenna family and two boarders who seemed shelter on the school roof, but unfortunately a wall gave way and they were all washed away. Many local aboriginal people of the Wiradijuri tribe worked tirelessly to save the drowning people using their dug out bark canoes. There was that much water in the Murrumbidgee river that for several years paddle steamers were able to get all the way to the town. Today, all that is left of where the original town was built is a memorial rock cairn dedicated to those who lost their lives. The town was moved to where it sits today, higher up the backs of the river in a flood free zone.
Gundagai is also known as ‘The town of historic bridges’. For in 1867 a huge 1km long bridge was built across the floodplain where the original town was, and at the time it was the longest in all of NSW. Just across the way in 1903 the railway bridge was completed and again is just under an incredible 1km long. It’s really impressive to see these two bridges still standing today spanning the river flats, totally unusable but very impressive by todays standard. The new freeway also boasts 2 bridges and are over 1 km long. In 1977 the Hume highway was built and the town of Gundagai was bypassed like many others, but today its very busy with locals and visitors exploring the peaceful settings.
The main streets of Gundagai have been transformed with flowing trees and gardens, boutique coffee shops line the pathways and its honestly hard to get a park. The best port of call like any other town is to head to the local info centre who will give you an array of info on where to visit, what to do and the little hidden gems around town. Of course they will mention the Dog on the Tuckerbox, but also info on the other folklore legends that roamed the area, like the bushrangers Ben Hall, Captain Moonlite and many others, also radio stars and many of the museums in town. I found a great overview of the town by heading up to Mount Parnassus which gives you an unreliable 360’ views across town and surrounds for miles.
Local aboriginals referred to Gundagai as “one big water’ which meant they new it flooded and they used the river for a source of food, water and to move in canoes up and down stream. It was a meeting place for several groups who traded and gathered food plus where they held ceremonies. With the info from the local information centre there’s a 2km heritage walk around town. This fascinating walk takes you to some amazing heritage and art-deco buildings as well as guiding you through history. Starting at the centre you’ll learn about about the iconic Dad and Dave story, head into museums where history dates back to when the town was settled that’s jammed packed into a two story building, a self guided tour of the old jail made from local stone and slate, the oldest building still standing in Gundagai, stunning old pubs dating back to 1858 and so much more.
Most of the beautiful old buildings have a story to them like the 1859 Courthouse that trailed Capt Moonlite sentencing him to death, and there’s the buildings behind the courthouse that were built in mid 1800’s, one was built from the reward money from the capture of bushranger Moonlite and then there’s the Niagara Cafe who’s history goes back to when Mr John Curtin was prime minister. This is one cafe not to be missed with a host of memorabilia from 1942 to the present time, and just quietly do an amazing menu and coffee not to be missed.
So just don’t think that Gundagai is all about the Dog on the Tuckerbox and the pioneer town that time forgot, its a beautiful country place where a stopover or a destination should be on your destination list.