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Girilambone, NSW

Tiny town on the Mitchell Highway between Nyngan and Bourke.

The long, straight road from Nyngan to Bourke runs through this tiny village. There's a dead railway line, a general store and a few houses. It is sleepy and often passed by people who barely register its existence. Yet it is here that the body of Helena Kerz, murdered by Jimmy Governor, was brought and buried. A footnote in Australian history, Kerz is part of a story immortalised by the combined efforts of Thomas Keneally and Fred Schepisi. It is the story of Jimmy Governor or, as Keneally preferred to call it, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.

Location

Girilambone is located 604 km north-west of Sydney via the Great Western Highway. It is 195 m above sea level and 42 km north-west of Nyngan.

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Origin of Name

It is widely accepted that Girilambone is an Anglicised version of an Wongaibon Aboriginal word meaning "place of many stars" although there is some evidence it might have meant "falling star" or "meteorite". It was originally called Gidalambone but was changed in 1880.

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Things to See and Do

The Grave of Helena Kerz
If you turn east at the General Store in Girilambone, take the road which is marked 'Brewarrina' and drive approximately 1 km you will see a sign to the cemetery. You have to pass through two gates to reach a tiny, lonely cemetery in the bush with signs clearly marking the denominations of the graves. In the Roman Catholic section is a grave, surrounded by other members of the Kerz family, which reads: 'In loving remembrance of our dear daughter Helena Kerz. Born 2 December 1878. Died 20 July 1900.' Her body had been brought home from Breelong so she could be buried with the rest of her family. This tribute gives little indication of the events behind Ms Kerz's death at the hands of Jimmy Governor.

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Other Attractions in the Area

The Story of Jimmy Governor or The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith
In 1900 at Breelong, 18 km to the south-east of Gilgandra, one of the most infamous multiple murders in Australian history took place. It is a story so complex, so tainted with racism, and so ugly and violent that it was probably told best as a novel which Thomas Keneally did brilliantly with The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.
It is a story of the licensees of the Breelong Inn, John and Sarah Mawbey, who employed a number of Aboriginal workers, including Jimmy Governor and Jacky Underwood.
Jimmy Governor was a part-Aborigine who had worked as a police tracker at Cassilis before marrying a 16-year-old white woman. He had been contracted by the Mawbeys to build a fence. Contemporary records show that Governor was hard working. He  wanted to succeed in white society.
Initially Governor was on good terms with his employers but things took an ugly turn when Governor's wife, who worked in the Mawbey house, was belittled for marrying an Aborigine by Mrs Mawbey and Helena Kerz, the local schoolteacher who was living with the Mawbeys.
Furious at the humiliation, Jimmy and Jacky Underwood on 20 July, 1900 confronted the women. Jimmy claimed that Mrs Mawbey called him "black rubbish" and told him that he should be shot for marrying a white woman. No one will ever know the precise details. What is known is that Governor and Underwood were so incensed they murdered Sarah Mawbey, three of her daughters and Helena Kerz with clubs and a tomahawk. In the melee Sarah Mawbey's sister was badly injured.
Jimmy, his brother Joe, and Jacky Underwood then went on a three-month, 3,200 km rampage, during which they murdered five more people, wounded another five, committed seven armed hold-ups and robbed 33 homes.
A massive manhunt involving hundreds of policemen and trackers and 2,000 volunteers failed to capture the men who ridiculed their pursuers by advertising their whereabouts and sending satiric letters to the police.
By October, 1900 a £1000 reward for their capture had been posted and later that same month they were outlawed, meaning they could be shot on sight. By the end of October Jacky Underwood had been captured; Joe Governor had been shot and killed near Singleton; and Jimmy was eventually captured by a group of farmers near Wingham two weeks after being shot in the mouth. Jimmy and Jacky were hung in January, 1901. In his last days Jimmy sang native songs, read the Bible and blamed his wife.
The sites on the old Mawbey estate have all been demolished and are now on private property. Sarah Mawbey and her three daughters are buried together in Gilgandra cemetery. There is a large stone monument behind a wire fence in the Church of England section. And Helena Kerz's grave stands in the cemetery at Girilambone.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to people from the Wongaibon Aboriginal language group.

* In 1829 the explorer Charles Sturt reached the Bogan River although he did reach Girilambone.

* The explorer Major Thomas Mitchell reached the Bogan River on 10 May, 1835 and camped near Nyngan.

* Squatters settled the area shortly after Mitchell passed through the district.

* By the early 1880s copper had been found in the area.

* In 1880 two subdivisions - one public and one private (and close to the mines) were drawn up. The streets in the Mine Town were given mineral names - Sulphate, Oxide, Malachite, Carbonate and Rue D'Enfer.

* In 1881 a store was established in the town. The store operated as a post office.

* In 1882 100 acres were sold for £200 to Tottenham Lee Richardson who subdivided and sold some lots.

* A school opened in the town in 1882.

* The Girilambone railway station was opened in 1884. It was the rationale of the town in the late nineteenth century.

* By 1891 Girilambone had a population of 162.

* In 1896 a mounted policeman was stationed in the town.

* In 1899 a police station and lock up were erected at a cost of £848.

* In 1900 the body of Helena Kerz was returned to the town and buried in the local cemetery.

* In 1925 St Paul's Anglican Church held its first service.

* By 1933 the population of the town was 156.

* The local police station closed in 1975.

* By 1986 the railway from Nyngan to Bourke had been closed.

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Visitor Information

There is no visitor information in the town. The General Store can help with enquiries.

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Accommodation

There is no accommodation available in town.

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Useful Websites

There is no website for the town.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

19 suggestions
  • Who owned the hotel in the 60’s and who had the general store?

    Kath
  • Who named all the streets in Girilambone after the name of the stars in the sky?

    Richard Poggioli
  • My Uncle used to buy the Tank Loaves in Girilambone. I wish it was open today!!!

    Douglas Bourke
  • My father Neville Walls was the police sergeant here in 1954…wife Marcia. Any info would be appreciated.

    Raymond Walls
  • My father, Claude Swilks, was the police officer at Girilambone from around 1950/51 to 1953/54.

    Graham Swilks
  • Who now owns the site on which the derelict railways station stands?

    Leo Schofield
  • I started writing then lost the page, so hopefully not repeating.
    We stayed overnight, 17th May, rhis year, in a bus converted to a motorhome.
    My husband enjoyed a shower in your toilet block, where we hooked uo to power for “a gold coin” donation (at rsl, closeby).
    I love the photo that I took of you 3 gums against the red soil.
    Thanks for your generous hospitality.

    Betty Lee
  • its great for pigging and has a great atmosphere

    maddie
  • Lots of memories there, we lived out of town on a property Gleneden in the 50’s 60’s
    Loved it

    Kath Neill ( Stimpson)
  • Visited the town in Sept 2020
    Interesting story about the reconstruction of the train station

    Peter Lloyd
  • My family was related to Lars Larsen. Annie Ellen Larsen married William Lyons my grandmothers Father.

    Mike Hayes
    • I am looking for the location of Canonba. Lars was supposed to have signed his name on the glass of a window from his Half way house. I is supposed to be at Canonba.

      Mike Hayes
  • There is a small caravan park that has powered sites and a few cabins. There are various animals, sheep, goats ducks in an enclosure at the park. A very friendly couple own this park and would make you most welcomed.
    Around town there are metal structures of a bullock team, galahs, and some wall murals. A footpath mutual is opposite the church down a side street. There is a council pool but not open when we visited.

    Barbra Bernardi
  • Whilst tracing ancestors I have found a Constable Edwin Wheatley Dedman sent from Brewarrina Police to Girilambone in 1896 and working with Tracker Toby in the area. Was he the first police in town?

    Gail Roberts
  • Big restoration going on for the railway station by Bogan Council

    Christine Hall
  • There is a free caravan camp in the Memorial Park opposite the pub . Free hot shower and toilet .

    Ken Doy
  • Is Busta Arnald still living in town and is the RSL still open

    Evan Gunton
  • Any “pay for access” properties available to licensed hunter?

    Kevin