Updated: May 5, 2020
Small towns often hold more history than their larger neighbours and having just spent a few days in the Riverina area of NSW I found that Junee ( just north of Wagga Wagga ) has more than its fair share. These days its bypassed by the new freeway but back in its heyday Junee was the hub of the area due to being mid way between Melbourne and Sydney.
Discovered back in 1840 when graziers moved in and set up huge pastoral leases throughout the area, a town soon emerged known as ‘Jewnee’ but as years went on it was renamed Junee. In the 1860’s as the town grew several hotels were built and soon became the centre of attention when the infamous Kelly gang held them up when they raided the village. The next 40 years there was great growth with gold being found, more infrastructure and the railway was put through the town. In 1876 a chap by the name of Mr Christoper Crawley decided to buy 840 acres for he had a vision that the railway would subdivide his land and it did. He also built the grand and beautiful Railway Hotel that still stands and trades today with its magnificent wrought iron displays and original timber work. As the town grew, he sold his land off at high prices becoming extremely rich, eventually selling his Railway Hotel to retire and to build an exorbitant mansion overlooking the town named the Monte Cristo.
The railway grew as it was midway between cities, it carried troops north for the war effort and transported livestock, passengers and grain. In 1953 the largest wheat terminal was built in the southern hemisphere nearby. Junee soon became known as the railway town. The centre of town revolved around the railway station, and when the original timber one burnt, a French inspired building set as a square was erected in 1883 covering two stories, including staterooms, fully furnished, bedrooms, sitting rooms and much more. These days the station still operates but adjoining buildings have been rehoused as glorious coffee houses and delightful gift shops.
When Christopher Crawley built his magnificent Monte Cristo it was the most stately house in the district built as an impressive two story Victorian inspired mansion. Along with stables at the rear, servants quarters, ballroom, workshops and storage sheds it was very grand. Over the next few years, Mr Crawley passed away and his wife soon after and the house fell into disrepair where no one lived in it for nearly 20 years. Present owners have restored the heritage homestead to its former glory where it is open to the public daily to explore the house, museum and grounds. Monte Cristo is now known as the most haunted house in Australia, now if this is true or not - you’ll have to visit the estate and see for yourself.
In 1934 the Junee flour mill was built to compliment the huge amount of grain being shipped from the area but production soon slowed and it shut down but in its day it was regarded as one of the most efficient mills in Australia. This stunning stone building has now been restored and houses the Junee Liquorice and Chocolate factory where you can tour the inner workings of how they make these delicacies and for an extra fee even make your own. The owners of the factory also own a 1100 acre organic Olive farm from where the process starts to make Liquorice the original way with the highest level of organic certification.
When the railway came to town a huge round building was built that housed a 100 foot turntable with a 42 bay workshop inside and when built it was the largest in the southern hemisphere. Here they serviced engines, washed them and used the turntable to reconfigure the way the engines pointed where it worked until 1993 when diesel loco’s started replacing steam engines. Original plans were to bulldoze the site but thankfully the town rallied together to save this magnificent building and workshops. Today most of the building houses rail memorabilia from the surrounding area, as well as a huge working scale model rail set kindly donated to the Junee Roundhouse Museum and sitting proudly on 20 of the tracks are restored rail carriages, engines from different eras and other track machinery where the public are allowed to climb inside to view these stunning pieces of history. The turntable still operates with work crews maintaining and restoring engines.
Its hard to believe that Junee holds so much history within, century old buildings have been restored and being reused, the hub of the town is clustered around the station square where no less than 4 pubs still operate and another 20 historical buildings sit proudly for another 100 years. This is one town not to be missed.