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Hay, NSW

Important service centre on the flat Hay Plains in the heart of the Riverina.

Hay is a wonderful sleight of hand. Drive through the town and you feel you are in a prosperous and substantial rural town. Drive out of the town and you are on the great, flat Hay plain with its low-lying saltbush. Every famous person who has visited or stayed has commented on the flatness of the surrounding land. The great Australian novelist, Joseph Furphy, who lived in Hay while bullock carting about the region in the 1870s, described the countryside as: "the dark boundary of the scrub country disappears northward in the glassy haze, and in front, southward, the level black-soil plains of Riverina proper mark a straight sky-line, broken here and there by a monumental clump or pine-ridge. And away beyond the horizon, southward still, the geodesic curve carries that monotony across the zone of salt-bush, myall and swamp box." The Hay plain is rich and consequently the town thrives on the surrounding rural industry: some of the best merino sheep country in Australia; feed crops, market gardens, grains, legumes and cattle. The appeal of the town for the visitor lies in its impressive, historic buildings; its genuinely interesting 19th century gaol; and its state-of-the-art Australian Shearers Hall of Fame.


Hay, which is only 93 m above sea level, is equally accessible from three of Australia's major cities. It is located 724 km west of Sydney via Wagga and Narrandera at the junction of the Sturt, Cobb and Mid Western Highways. It is 653 km east of Adelaide and 415 km north of Melbourne.


Origin of Name

Originally known as Lang's Crossing (named after three brothers named Lang) the settlement was officially named Hay in October, 1859. It wasn't because there was lots of hay in the area but rather because there was a local squatter and politician, a Secretary of Lands and Works, named John Hay. He was later knighted and became Sir John Hay.


Things to See and Do

Hay Heritage Walk
There is a downloadable map and information brochure about 18 places of interest all of which are very conveniently located in an area bounded by Lachlan, Bank, Pine and Moppett Streets. Check out http://www.hay.nsw.gov.au/VisitHay/TheGreatOutdoors/TheHeritageWalk/tabid/146/Default.aspx.

The highlights of the walk include:
1. Sunbeam Cobb & Co Coach - Located on the corner of Lachlan Street and Moppett Street  is 'Sunbeam', a Cobb & Co. coach. Built locally in 1886 by Henry Proctor it ran between Deniliquin and Wilcannia and made a brief appearance in the 1975 film Mad Dog Morgan.
3. Witcombe Fountain - On Moppett Street, and still on its original site, is an ornate, cast-iron fountain given to the town in 1883 by its mayor, John Witcombe.
4. Shire Office - Built by the prominent town builders, the Witcombe Brothers, the shire office (1877), with its stout veranda posts, was originally the town's second courthouse. It became the town's Athenaeum in 1885 and the Council Chambers in 1942.
5. Lands Office - The Lands Office, built by a Mr McDonald in 1896 to a design by the well-known architect W.L. Vernon, it has distinctive veranda posts, as well its walls and roof are designed from corrugated iron with ventilation from ceiling grills and floor level hatches. It was one of the first buildings designed specifically for the outback climate.
6. Post Office - The Post Office (1881), with its stuccoed front facade as well as its multiple arches and beautiful cast-iron railing along the second storey balcony, was designed by the architect, James Barnet, and built by Robert Duncan. It is situated on the site of the town's first courthouse and lockup which had been completed in 1860. The clock tower was added in 1901.
7. Westpac Bank - The Westpac Bank building, built in stuccoed brick in 1877 by the Witcombe Brothers, has changed ownership over the years. It originally housed the A.J.S. Bank. In 1910 it became the Australian Bank of Commerce. In 1931 it became the Bank of New South Wales and in 1982 it became Westpac.
9. St Andrew's Presbyterian Church - The oldest known building in Hay it was designed by the Witcombe Brothers in 1872. The vestry and adjoining schoolroom were built in 1892 and the spire was designed by a Mr Franklin, who built the first Hay Bridge. The spire was capped with copper in 1978.
10. Presentation Convent - Built in 1900 it has a beautiful front door of painted glass, French tiles on the roof and Wunderlich panelling inside. It was built by John Witcombe for Susan Tyson. Purchased by the Sisters of the Presentation Order in 1921, it was their convent until 1993 when they withdrew the Order from Hay after 110 years.
13. St Paul's Anglican Church - Built in 1885) it became the pro-cathedral for the Anglican Diocese of the Riverina. It was renovated in 1991.
14. Court House - this substantial and stately brick courthouse was the town's fourth. It was built in 1892 with some alterations made in 1920. The original slate roof has been replaced with tiles and the interior panelling replaced with Queensland maple. The building has been carefully restored. There are stained-glass windows, marble fireplaces and furniture dating back to 1818. The veranda is of solid brick with arches.
19. Paragon Restaurant - Built in 1924 it has been owned continuously by the Panaretto family since 1932. Admire the Wunderlich pressed metal ceilings.
20. Japp's Pharmacy - Surely the most elegant pharmacy in rural Australia, Japp's Pharmacy was built in 1913 to house a saddlery and tailor. It is distinguished by attractive turned timber posts and some highly ornate cast-iron lacework along the upstairs balcony. It has been a pharmacy since the early 1930s.

Other Buildings of Interest
Terminus Hotel and the Railway Buildings
Built some time before 1880 the Terminus Hotel was constructed specifically to serve railway passengers. It remained in operation until it was de-licensed in 1940. Over the road from the hotel is the elaborate Victorian-era brick railway station (1882) with ornate ridges hanging from the roof. Both these and the platform's veranda columns are made from cast iron. The central section is two storeys high, the surrounding area has been landscaped and the whole has been returned to its original heritage colours. Railway cottages built for porters, drivers and tappers are located at 429-439 Murray Street. Dating from 1882 these cottages are excellent examples of low-cost government housing in the 1880s. The station master's residence, like the station itself, was built by Charles Hardy in 1882. The last train ran in 1983.

Hay's Five Museums
1. Hay Gaol Museum
Located at 355 Church Street, the Hay Gaol Museum is structured around the Hay gaol complex which was built in 1879 to replace an earlier prison probably dating from 1871. Over the years the buildings have been altered but they still remain a fine example of a 19th century country town gaol. Historically the gaol was mostly used for short-term offenders. Closed in 1915 it became a maternity hospital in 1921. It became a prison again in 1930, doubling as a lock-up for those waiting to have their sanity assessed. During World War II the gaol became part of the town's complex of POW camps.  After the POWs were repatriated in 1947 it fell into disrepair. Then, in 1961, it was made into an experimental centre for incorrigible girls. Ringleaders from the Parramatta detention centre were sent to Hay for three months of constant surveillance, supervision and discipline. This phase of the building's existence lasted until 1974. Hay Gaol now operates as a museum and cultural centre where artefacts of local history are displayed. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily, tel: (02) 6993 1003 or (02) 6993 4045. Check out http://www.hay.nsw.gov.au/Museums/GaolMuseum/tabid/98/Default.aspx for more information.

2. Shear Outback, Australian Shearer's Hall of Fame
Located on the corner of the Cobb and Sturt Highways, Shear Outback is a museum which was opened in 2002 and describes itself as "Showcasing the stories, artefacts, technology and culture of the Australian shearing industry, the facility comprises an iconic 'purpose built' interpretative centre and an historic woolshed relocated from the banks of the Murray River." Shear Outback is a complete experience of shearing and sheep. There are five separate aspects of the experience starting with The Shearer's Hall of Fame which honours the achievements of shearers and the sheep industry. There are also an interactive experience - a Murray Downs shearing shed where an exhibition of shearing is held at 10.30 am, 1.00 pm and 3.30 pm, and an extensive historic archive. The Museum is open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily. Tel: (02) 6993 4000 or check out http://www.shearoutback.com.au.

3. The Story of the Dunera Museum - Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp Interpretative Centre
Located in two restored train carriages at the old Hay railway station, 421 Murray Street, the display relates to the internment camps in Hay. The process of internment started  in 1940 with the first arrivals being 1,984 Jewish internees from Nazi Germany and Austria - mostly professionals who had simply fled for their lives - along with 451 German and Italian POWs who had been transported from England on the HMT Dunera. Conditions on the ship were harsh. The refugees (and POWs) were transported to Hay via train with the first arriving on 7 September, 1940. The internees were moved to Tatura in Victoria and Cowra in New South Wales in May 1941. A few weeks later, about 2,000 Italian POWs arrived from the battlefields of Egypt. They worked on farms making the camps largely self-sufficient. The repatriation of the POWs was carried out in 1946 and the camp was dismantled and all building materials auctioned in 1947. The museum which houses exhibits, photographs, stories and music about experiences of internees, POW's and townsfolk is open from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm daily, tel: (02) 6993 4045 or 0428 932 161 Check out http://www.hay.nsw.gov.au/Museums/DuneraMuseum/tabid/99/Default.aspx.

4. Hay War Memorial High School
This very unusual museum is a rare commemoration of a town very directly impacted by World War I. The website explains: "The Hay War Memorial High School Museum commemorates both Hay and district war service and the life of the school itself in a unique war memorial which has served the Hay community since 1923. As a museum within a school it aims to connect young people today to young people from the past. The Hay War Memorial High School was opened in 1923 as the town's war memorial. It was built to honour those volunteers who lost their lives on active service during Word War I. Of the 641 men who served in World War I, 103 did not return. This impacted greatly on the Hay and district community, who had one of the largest enlistment rates for a small town in Australia. Honour rolls hang in the school hall and stone tablets listing those who died in World War I flank the entrance to the school. The large numbers of names on these honour rolls represent the extraordinary commitment made by this district to the Great War. The museum's collection preserves  medals, photographs, uniforms, letters and diaries of local servicemen and women and the history of the school and its students. During school terms the museum is open between 9.00 am and 4.00 pm." For a group or guided tour please contact the school in advance to make a booking. Tel: (02) 6993 1408. For more information check out http://www.haywarmem-h.schools.nsw.edu.au/museum. The website has an excellent short video.

5. Bishop's Lodge
Located on the corner of Roset Street and the Sturt Highway at 351 Moama Street, the Bishop's Lodge was the residence of the first Anglican bishop of the Riverina, Sydney Linton, who supervised its construction in 1888. It was designed by the prominent architect, John Sulman, with the assistance of Linton and, somewhat unusual architecturally, was built of corrugated iron and timber, with sawdust for insulation. The aim was to create a suitable dwelling for the harsh, hot summer conditions of the Riverina. It has been restored and the exterior paintwork returned to its original colours. Surrounded by a magnificent nineteenth-century garden it is currently open for inspection from 2.00 pm - 4.30 pm Monday to Saturday, tel: (02) 6993 1727. For more information check out http://www.bishopslodgehay.com.

Hay Water Tower Art
Located at 111 Pine Street, and painted by Melbourne artist, Adnate, the huge murals on the town's water towers were completed in December, 2020. They depict the faces of five locals who all went to war - Lieutenant Lorna Margaret Whyte, Private Victor George Murray, Corporal Clifford Leslie Farlow, Private William 'George' Cannon and Private Norman Charles Flack. There is detailed information about each of the portraits at https://www.australiansiloarttrail.com/hay.


Other Attractions in the Area

Hay Nature Trail
There is a pleasant walk along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River from the Lions Park to Orson Street. The walk is ideal for bushwalkers interested in the native flora and the birds in the district.. The walk also passes by the Warakirri Murals on the pylons of the bridge over the Murrumbidgee River.

Water Activities
There are several large sandy beaches along the Murrumbidgee River which are ideal for swimming, boating, canoeing, water skiing and fishing for golden perch, silver bream, Murray cod, redfin, catfish, crayfish and yabbies. Sandy Point Beach, at the end of Water Street, has a boat ramp. Soap Works Beach, 1 km down the road towards Maude, has a picnic area and is a safe swimming spot. 13 km along this road is Hay Weir which has picnic and free electric barbecue facilities.

The One Tree Hotel
Located 45 km north of Hay is the ruin of the One Tree Hotel. It is currently being repaired although it is said that it will cost $80,000 to get the electricity reconnected. The hotel was built in 1862 and known as Finch's Inn. It became an important stop on the Cobb & Co route between Hay and Wilcannia with passengers often having lunch at the hotel while the horses were changed. The hotel became very profitable when William Clark, who had purchased it from Alexander Finch, leased a nearby government tank which was capable of watering up to 12 000 sheep. Clark charged a penny per head to water cattle and horses. The inn changed hands again when it was purchased by the McQuade family in the 1880s. The 1862 structure burned down in 1901 but the building was rebuilt exactly as it had been so the current hotel is a replica. The pub's license lapsed in the 1940s and it became a private residence. One Tree was proclaimed a village in 1885 though it never grew. One Tree is 39 km south of Booligal, made famous by 'Banjo' Paterson's poem 'Hay, Hell and Booligal'. It is thought that the 'Hell' refers to Hells Gate, a property which lies between Hay and Balranald.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Ngiyambaa or Nari Nari Aborigines inhabited the local area.

* The explorer Charles Sturt explored the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers in 1829-30 passing by the future townsite in his whaleboat. There is a monument in Sturt Park (Lachlan St) to commemorate his journey. Sturt carved on a tree near the town in 1829.

* By the late 1830s stock was being overlanded through the area from New South Wales to South Australia.

* Squatters moved into the area in the 1830s. The 'Illiliwa' run, established in the 1840s, contained the land on which northern Hay would later be built. The neighbouring station was owned by John Tooth.

* Hay South slowly emerged on land that was part of the 'Eli-Elwah' run of William Guise.

* The Mungadingadal run was occupied by the three Lang Brothers. On their property was an important river crossing which was used by stockmen headed south to the Victorian markets or north to pasture. The ford became known as Lang's Crossing.

* The famous river-steamer captain, Francis Cadell, built a store at the crossing in 1857.

* By December, 1857 Thomas Simpson had established a blacksmith's store at Lang's Crossing.

* In 1858 paddle steamers reached Lang's Crossing from Lake Alexandrina in South Australia.

* When Canadian Henry Leonard set up a punt service across the Murrumbidgee River, and then built a hotel, a local squatter pulled a section of the hotel down with a bullock team. The hotel eventually opened in 1858.

* Leonard's appeal to the government for assistance led to the opening of the Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel and the establishment of Hay which was gazetted in October, 1859.

* The initial title of 'Waradgery' was abandoned and the town was named after local parliamentarian, John Hay.

* The first courthouse was erected in 1860 on the site of the present post office.

* Cobb & Co. made Hay the headquarters of their Victoria and Riverina operations from 1862 to 1896. The arrival of the company's coaches, feed wagons, 20 drivers, 103 horses, plus cooks and ostlers was greeted with a brass band.

* Hay was declared a municipality in 1872.

* Cobb & Co. set up a coach factory at the corner of Lachlan and Simpson Streets in 1877.

* In 1880 the town's gaol was officially opened.

* In 1882 the railway reached the town and the station master's residence was built.

* In 1883 the Anglican Diocese of Riverina was established. The bishop was enthroned in Hay in 1885.

* By 1900 the town's population had reached 3,000.

* In 1919 it was proposed that a War Memorial High School be built to remember the local men who had died in World War I. It was completed and opened in 1923.

* During World War II Hay was used as a POW and internment centre. In 1940 the first arrivals were Jewish internees who had been transported from England on-board the HMT Dunera. They became known as 'the Dunera Boys'.

* The Jewish internees were moved to Tatura in Victoria in May 1941.

* A few weeks later about 2,000 Italian POWs  arrived from the battlefields of Egypt.

* In December, 1941 Japanese internees were brought to the camp from Cowra. A number of them were Japanese Australians from Broome.

* The repatriation of the POWs was carried out in 1946 and the camp was dismantled in 1947.

* After the war, Italian migrants arrived in Hay and established market gardens.

* The last train to the town ran in 1983.


Visitor Information

Hay Visitor's Information Centre, 407 Moppett St, tel: (02) 6993 2045. It is open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am - noon on Saturdays.


Useful Websites

The local website provides extensive information on the town and surrounding area. Check out https://www.visithay.com.au.

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