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Wagga Wagga, NSW

Largest regional centre in New South Wales - the heart of the Riverina.

Wagga Wagga, located on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, is the largest inland city in New South Wales and is considered the main commercial and administrative centre in the Riverina region. "Wagga", as it is known to the locals, is a city of fine buildings, tree-lined streets, excellent museums and galleries, parks and gardens. It is sufficiently large to ensure that visitors cannot exhaust the major attractions in less than a weekend. The city's appeal lies in its diversity. The visitor can swim in the Murrumbidgee; walk along an Aboriginal trail; visit impressive galleries and museums; have fun at a boutique brewery; and admire truly impressive historic buildings and parks. Its location between Sydney and Melbourne and its rich diversity of services have ensured that it is well catered for as far as accommodation is concerned.

Location

Wagga Wagga is located 214 m above sea-level and 460 km south-west of Sydney via the Hume Highway and Sturt Highway.

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Origin of Name

It has been claimed that "wagga wagga" is a Wiradjuri Aboriginal word mean "place of many crows" but Stan Grant, who is one of the last Wiradjuri speakers, claims that it is a word used to describe sacred ceremonies in which a man dances in circles with a wonderfully rolling, rollicking gait. “Look at that man. He is gripped by the sacred spirit. He is dancing in a trance and going round and round … yes that’s truly Wagga Wagga.”

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Things to See and Do

Parks, Gardens and Lakes
Botanic Gardens and Museum of the Riverina
Wagga’s Botanic Gardens, located off Urana Street on a hill overlooking the city, are remarkably diverse. Spread over twenty hectares they include a Shakespearian garden designed as an Elizabethan garden with formality and careful seasonal planting; a tree chapel for weddings; a large children’s play area; an island and bamboo garden; a cactus and succulent garden and a rainforest garden. There is also a zoo and aviary with a special Children’s Zoo with ducks, rabbits and chickens

The Museum of the Riverina
Located next to the Botanic Gardens on Lord Baden Powell Drive, the Museum of the Riverina features displays relating to the people, places and events surrounding the town's history. One of its most impressive possessions was a bullet fired by bushranger Dan Morgan in 1863. Sadly it was stolen. The main exhibition is housed in Yallowin Hut (1834), which originally stood on the now-flooded Tumut Valley under the waters of the Blowering Dam. The museum includes a series of buildings which depict aspects of the early history of the district. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm and Sunday 10.00 am - 2.00 pm. For more information check out http://www.wagga.nsw.gov.au/museum/location-and-opening-times.

Wagga Sporting Hall of Fame
The Museum of the Riverina includes the Wagga Wagga Sporting Hall of Fame which includes detailed biographies of such local luminaries as Mark Taylor, Peter Sterling, Paul Kelly, Michael Slater and Geoff Lawson. It is an impressive acknowledgement that the district has produced great sports people out of all proportion to its population. Like the Museum it is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm and Sunday 10.00 am - 2.00 pm

Willans Hill Miniature Railway
Run by the wonderfully named Wagga Wagga Society of Model Engineers, this miniature railway has over 2 km of track weaving through the grounds, crossing a bridge and going through a tunnel. It is located in the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens. It is great fun for all of the family, is very cheap, and runs between 10.30 am - 4.00 pm on the first and third Sundays each month. For more information tel: (02) 6925 2249 or check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/wagga-wagga-and-riverina/wagga-wagga/attractions/willans-hill-miniature-railway.

Victory Memorial Gardens
The Victory Memorial Gardens are edged by the Wollundry Lagoon, a billabong off the main Murrumbidgee River, and the little-known but peaceful Collins Park (between Thompson and Forsyth Streets) with its unusual memorial to the men from Wagga who served in the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (the one made famous in recent times by the movie Breaker Morant). It is a memorial to nearly 100 soldiers from Wagga who served in this little-known campaign fighting for the British Empire because, when the first soldiers departed on 23 October, 1899, Australia as a political entity did not exist. By the 1930s the gardens had become a hugely popular local attraction. The Daily Advertiser reported in January, 1934 that: "These delightful gardens are becoming increasingly popular, and large parties make it a rendezvous, especially in the cool of the evening. No more delightful spot could be imagined, with the big sweeping green lawns and restful shady nooks." The gardens also feature an avenue of poplar trees, a life-sized copper sculpture of the Jolly Swagman boiling his billy, the Pioneer Memorial Sundial, a sunken garden, a senses garden for the blind, a children's play area, picnic facilities, swans, ducks, geese, waterfowl, fish and tortoises.

The Strange Story of the Chisholm Fountain
Chisholm Fountain, a particularly beautiful and ornate fountain, was presented to the Wagga Wagga Hospital, which used to be located on the corner of Tarcutta and Johnston Streets, in 1885 by the Hospital's committee president, Fredrick Chisholm. In 1929 the hospital was moved and the fountain was relocated to the north-western corner of the Victory Memorial Gardens. In 1977 the fountain was moved to the Civic Gardens site. Then the fountain was removed from the old Civic Centre site to make way for the new Civic Centre and was sent to Castlemaine in Victoria for refurbishment. In 2003 the Council moved the fountain back at the Victory Memorial Gardens.It is impressive and beautiful - enough to be moved five times?

Walking and Swimming
The Wiradjuri Walking Track
Wagga Wagga has the best indigenous walking track in the state, and possibly in the country. The Wiradjuri Walking Track is a 30 km trail around the city which starts at the Visitor Information Centre on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, makes its way under the railway viaduct, rises up to the Botanical Gardens, has panoramic views across Lake Albert, then descends to make its way along the Murrumbidgee passing Flowerdale Lagoon, Gobba Beach, the Wiradjuri Reserve and Bridge, and Wagga Beach. There’s a brochure outlining the route which is available from the Visitor Information Centre.

Lake Albert
Covering 125 ha the lake was constructed in the 1890s on what was known as Swampy Plain and was named after Prince Albert. It is a popular destination for those wanting to go water skiing, boating, swimming and fishing. There is a track around the lake which is suitable for walkers and cyclists.

Wagga Beach
While Wagga is not ordinarily associated with swimming, it is not surprising that the Wagga Beach, towards the end of the Wiradjuri Walking Track, is a tempting place in summer. If you have never swum in an inland river this is about as good as it gets. The beach is substantial and sandy and there is something refreshing about swimming in fresh water which has come from the Snowy Mountains.

Art Galleries
Wagga Wagga Regional Art Gallery
The Wagga Wagga Regional Art Gallery is located in the Civic Centre, at the corner of Morrow and Baylis Streets. It has no permanent exhibitions but rather showcases a range of travelling exhibitions throughout the year. Tel: (02) 6926 9660. Check out http://www.wagga.nsw.gov.au/art-gallery for details of upcoming exhibitions.

National Art Glass Collection
In the same building as the Regional Art Gallery (the Civic Centre) is the National Art Glass Collection (it was formally designated with this title in 1992) which contains one of the largest collections of studio glass in the country. The National Art Glass Collection is so good it can justify a trip to the city. The curator, Michael Scarrone, is passionate about glass and has collected a superb and representative cross-section of the very best of the art in Australia from the 1970s to the present day including a stunning stained glass work by Leonard French titled “Toorak Ceiling” and a fascinating mixed ceramics and glass work by South Australian artist Stephen Skillitzi titled “Bush Play”. The gallery holds over 500 pieces with only a small number being on display. It is open from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm from Tuesday to Saturday, from  midday to 4.00 pm on Sundays and it is closed Mondays, tel: (02) 6926 9660. There is no admission charge.

The Thirsty Crow
A novelty in the town is the Thirsty Crow, a microbrewery located at 31 Kincaid Street, tel: (02) 6921 7470. Check out http://www.thirstycrow.com.au. With a fine sense of fun they offer beers including such exotic brews as Vanilla Milk Stout and Dark Alleyway IPA. The signature dish from the kitchen is the Sunday Roast Pizza which comprises seasoned lamb, thick gravy, roast potato and kumera, peas, mozzarella, rosemary and mint. There are also brewery tours at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

Walking Tour of Wagga Wagga's Historic Buildings
The Wagga Wagga City Library has produced an excellent and very detailed Walking Tour of Wagga Wagga's Historic Buildings which "reflects the grown of the town and the fortunes of its people from the 1870s until the 1920s". Simply print it out (http://waggalocalhistory.wikifoundry.com/page/Walking+Tour+of+Wagga+Wagga's+Historic+Buildings) and go for a very pleasant and informative walk. The highlights include:
St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Cross Street  "The church was built in 1869 in Gothic Revival style by local builders Macintosh and Hodson. The spire was built in 1915, as was the hall, and an extension in 1961."
* St John's Church of England in Church Street, "The first church on this site was begun in 1850 and Wagga was declared a parish in 1855. The foundation stone was laid by Police Magistrate Henry Baylis, and the first services held in 1860. There was concern from the parishioners that this might not be the best site, being so close to the flood prone river, and the church did own some land in Baylis Street." The current church was built in 1876 according to a design of William Blacket although extensive alterations and additions have greatly changed its character. The main window is from an English church and is of an unknown age. One of the memorial tablets is to Corporal John Edmondson who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross in 1941 for an act of bravery which saved an officer's life at Tobruk.
* St Michael's Catholic Cathedral in Johnston Street was erected in two stages. The original structure (1885-87) served as a parish church and the second stage (1922-25) converted it into a large Victorian Gothic sandstone cathedral. "It consists of a large nave, side aisles, porch, chancel, sacristy, chapel, gallery and tower. Roof framings are exposed timber internally and sheeted with slates externally. Walls are rock faced ashlar generally with dressed window and door surrounds and mullions. Internally the altars contain some finely crafted marble pieces and large stained glass windows in groups of three, giving a soft filtered light." Highlights include the gothic arches, some beautifully crafted marble in the altar and the Edwardian presbytery, St Michael's Cathedral Presbytery (started in 1871 and completed in 1902), which has some impressive timber detailing around the verandas, bay windows and gables.
*  Riverine Club, Sturt Street was "registered with the National Trust because it is a good example of a peculiarly British and male institution directly related to the grand clubs of the West End of London and closely resembling those built for the same class, with the same tastes, throughout the British Empire. The original portion of this building was built in 1860 by McIntosh & Cruikshank as the first Public School in Wagga Wagga ... The Riverine Club was formed in 1881 and was where the very wealthy gentlemen socialised." The street also has a red brick police station (1880s and 1927) and the Sturt Monument which commemorates the completion of the Flood Levee Banks in 1960.
* Court House, Fitzmaurice Street is one of the most impressive public buildings in the city. This remarkable Edwardian Court House complex (1901-1903) with its massive square clock tower, belltower, cupolas, decorative iron work and cedar joinery and fittings, is considered one of the finest court houses in Australia. It was designed by the famous architect, Walter Vernon. It replaced an earlier Court House which floated away in the 1852-1853 floods.
* Fitzmaurice Street Buildings - include Romano's (1857), the National Bank building (1881) at 53-55 Fitzmaurice Street and the Post Office (1886-88) - the bank and post office are two fine buildings in the Classic Revival style - and the Old Bank of New South Wales (mid-1870s).
* Wagga South Public School was built in Edward Street in 1890-91.
* The Railway Station - At the end of Baylis St was built in 1880-81 and is a reminder of the importance of rail before the arrival of the motor car.
* The Union Club Hotel, the only old building in town to retain its original lacework veranda, was built between 1851-1858.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Charles Sturt University Winery
In recent times the area around Wagga has become increasingly important as vineyards have been developed and courses in all aspects of wine making have been held at Charles Sturt University. Amazingly the vineyard at Charles Sturt University was first planted in 1893 as part of an experimental farm. The wine science and viticulture courses were started at the university in 1976 and the grapes from the 6 ha vineyard (mostly cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and muscat) are processed in a purpose-built winery which was constructed in 2002. Combined with the Charles Sturt campus at Orange, the two cellar doors make and sell approximately 10,000 cases of wine annually. The Charles Sturt University Winery cellar door is on McKeown Drive off Coolamon Rd, 9 km north of the city centre. It is open from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm on weekdays and from 11.00 am to 4.00 pm on weekends. Tel: (02) 6923 2435. Check out http://winery.csu.edu.au for prices and available vintages.

RAAF Museum
Located at Forest Hill, 10 km east of Wagga, the RAAF Base Wagga Heritage Centre is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Entry is free. The website (see http://www.airforce.gov.au/Interact/Displays/Heritage_Centres/?RAAF-FZUA0LNFLVzUZ3PIwhDx4V7fX6dsdDlY) explains that "The RAAF Wagga Heritage Centre showcases Air Force history along with representing the significant involvement of the RAAF in the Riverina Region of New South Wales. The static aircraft display adjacent to the Heritage Centre represents over sixty years of RAAF flying history and is accessible for public viewing." There are 5 planes at the main entrance. They are a Canberra Bomber, a Mark 8 Meteor fighter from the Korean War, A Winjeel training aircraft, and Sabre and Mirage fighters. The base museum focuses on the history of the RAAF in Wagga and the Riverina. It is located just outside the main gates in the old Guard House, the first building erected on the base. Tel: 1300 333 3623 for more information.

Wagga Wagga and Bushrangers
While there is little tangible evidence of their presence in the area, it is still true that in the 1860s and 1870s the Wagga District was a hotbed of bushranger activity.

Mad Dog Morgan
Wagga police magistrate Henry Baylis was held up by Mad Dan Morgan in 1863 and was shot and wounded when he and some policemen tracked Morgan to his camp. Morgan expressed his contempt for the Wagga police when, wanted dead or alive, he attended the Wagga Christmas races in 1864, walking freely among the police, attending the race meeting luncheon and sitting near the police magistrate without detection. Baylis kept the bullet that shot him. It was later donated to the museum where, sadly, it was stolen.

Blue Cap
The notorious bushranger known as 'Blue Cap' was sentenced to 10 years hard labour at Wagga Court House in 1868 but was released in a general amnesty in 1874 and never heard from again.

James Kelly
In 1877 James Kelly, the younger brother of Ned Kelly, was sentenced to ten years gaol at Wagga Court House after being convicted of stealing two horses from two Wagga hoteliers. He had just completed four years for cattle theft, a sentence he began serving at the age of 15. When released he gave up bushranging and lived until 1946.

Captain Moonlite
On November 15, 1879, 'Captain Moonlite' (Andrew Scott) and a group of five young supporters requested work at Wantabadgery Station, 38 km east of Wagga, but were turned away. They soon returned and bailed up 39 people at the station. Some accounts suggest 'Moonlite' terrorised the household, casting himself in the role of judge and executioner at a 'trial' of three neighbours who were sentenced to hang for carrying arms against the bushrangers. He apparently relented due to the pleas and distress of the women. He seems to have shot at least one horse through the head, allegedly because it reared when he roughly mounted it, although other accounts say he killed several. One hostage escaped and alerted three policemen who arrived from Wagga at 4.00 am but they retreated under fire. The bushrangers fled but paused for refreshments at McGlede's farmhouse. While there, police reinforcements from Gundagai and Adelong arrived and a shoot-out occurred in which two of the bushrangers (one aged 15) were killed. One trooper died from his wounds six days later. The others bushrangers surrendered (one, Rogan, thought to have escaped, was found hiding under a bed in the McGlede homestead the next day). Scott passionately defended himself and protested his innocence. After initially being sentenced to death, Thomas Williams and Graham Bennett were granted clemency due to their youth (20 and 19) and the belief that they were led into crime by Scott. They were sentenced to hard labour for life. Rogan (22) and 'Captain Moonlite' were hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol in 1880.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area had been the home of the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people for at least 20,000 years.

* By the 1820s small numbers of squatters had moved into the area and were establishing pastoral properties.

* In 1829 Charles Sturt made an historic journey down the Murrumbidgee from Gundagai. This opened the whole area up to settlement.

* Properties were established on both the north and south banks of the Murrumbidgee. In 1832 Robert Best built a homestead on a property he called Wagga Wagga.

* Best's property became an important river crossing. It was ideally located at the intersection of the north-south track between New South Wales and Victoria and the east-west track along the Murrumbidgee.

* By 1846 grazing had evolved and the first crop in the area was farmed.

* By 1847 a police building and court premises were established in the settlement.

* Wagga was proclaimed a town in 1849.

* In 1850 a regular punt service across the Murrumbidgee was established.

* The first store in the tiny town opened in 1851.

* The gold rushes of the 1850s meant that many workers left the area.

* There were major floods on the Murrumbidgee in 1852-53.

* Wagga became an important stock sales centre in the late 1850s.

* The first paddle steamer on the Murrumbidgee arrived at Wagga in 1858.

* The first Anglican church was built in 1860.

* The town's first school opened in 1861.

* In 1862 a gaol replaced the old police lock-up. Prior to the lockup, prisoners had been chained to a log while awaiting their hearing.

* A toll bridge across the Murrumbidgee River was opened in 1862.

* In 1864 a man calling himself Thomas Castro arrived in Wagga and claimed to be Roger Tichborne, the heir of a Hampshire baronetcy. It was believed that he had drowned when the ship he was travelling on disappeared off South America. In 1874 Castro was sentenced to 14 years gaol for perjury when it was determined that he was Arthur Orton, a butcher. The Tichborne case gave Wagga international notoriety.

* In 1870 the town's population reached 1,000.

* The railway reached North Wagga in 1878.

* A 2,500 m trestle bridge was built across the Murrumbidgee in 1879 to allow the railway line to continue to South Wagga.

* By 1881 there were nearly 4,000 people living in Wagga.

* Sir Thomas Blamey, later to become commander of the allied land forces in the South-West Pacific, deputy to General MacArthur, commander-in-chief of the Australian forces and the country's first Field Marshal was born at Lake Albert in 1884.

* In 1895 Mark Twain visited Wagga because he had become fascinated by the Arthur Orton-Roger Tichborne case.

* Successful experiments by William Farrer at the Wagga Wagga Experimental Farm in the 1890s produced new disease-resistant strains and higher yields of wheat.

* The toll bridge was replaced in 1895 by the Hampden Bridge across the Murrumbidgee.

* The first cinematograph reached the town in 1897.

* The city's impressive Court House was built between 1901-1903.

* The last paddle steamer to visit Wagga travelled up the Murrumbidgee River in 1905.

* Electricity was connected to the town in 1922.

* Wagga was declared a city in 1946.

* In 1951 Frank McEncroe sold the first Chiko Roll at the Wagga Wagga Show.

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Visitor Information

Wagga Wagga Visitor Information Centre, 183 Tarcutta Street, tel: 1300 100 122. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm seven days a week.

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Useful Websites

The official town website can be found at http://www.waggawaggaaustralia.com.au.

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