Friday, March 31, 2017

Dirty old town : death and disease in early Wagga Wagga 1870 to 1930

headline from the Wagga Wagga Express 1909

Drains, sanitation and the removal of waste water, garbage and other refuse may not seem like an interesting subject, particularly if you are a bit squeamish or have a germ phobia, but the start of public health in Wagga Wagga is a fascinating story to follow.  The 1880s were the real start of a public health revolution, with the borough council of the time trying to establish  sewerage, water and garbage systems. There was oddly a lot of push back by some members of the public who were averse to changes and resented attempts to clean up the town and eradicate disease.

Infectious disease was everywhere in a town without proper sewerage and drainage systems. And as Sherry Morris writes in A Delicate Balance: A history of Wagga Wagga Base Hospital ,
“During the first half of the nineteenth century, medical practices were still somewhat  limited. Doctors knew nothing about disease carrying bacteria or germs.” p 3, A  Delicate Balance 

Infectious disease cases were reported in the newspapers of the time, with a growing acknowledgement that hygienic practices, clean water and the removal and careful storage of  of waste were the basic and best protection against the big three diseases of the time: scarlet fever, typhoid, and diphtheria.

People emptied waste water into the streets, despite laws and fines being imposed. Backyards filled with horse manure, kitchen waste, dead animals and worse, and if rain came, it would sluice the waste into the streets and contaminate wells, food, and people would walk in it, and carry disease into their homes.  Personal hygiene wasn’t a priority for many either. Hand washing wasn’t yet established as a way of avoiding disease, and as the water was most probably contaminated, in cases of typhoid, it wouldn’t have been an effective deterrent. There was no systematic collection of garbage, and in 1908, the Sanitary Inspector "urged the adoption of garbage receptacles".

The Sanitary Inspector raised the ire of many householders if they were caught – usually they were given a notice to clear up the waste, and if they didn’t comply within a given time, the matter would proceed to court. The inspector was also expected to report on conditions and make recommendations that the borough council would carry out.

from : the Wagga Wagga Express July 1908

There was a high turnover in the early years of sanitary inspectors, mostly due to resentful residents of the borough objecting to being told to clean up their refuse. The facts of science and disease were received with disbelief.

from : Wagga Wagga Express, September 1898

The Inspector of Nuisances  mostly attended to environmental pollution such as drains from businesses  emptying into waterways and public use land. The Albion brewery in Baylis street, in 1898, emptied all its waste into a creek at the rear of Baylis street (highly likely it was the current Bolton Park) . Manure from horses and other livestock was another problem.  The Inspector of Nuisances and the Sanitary Inspector’s duties often overlapped and at some stage the Nuisance Inspector role was merged into that of the Sanitary Inspector.  Buildings and new buildings also had to be inspected to comply with new and emerging regulations that dealt with sewerage and waste water.

The borough council took sanitation very seriously and different aspects of how to best solve the problem of infectious disease was regularly discussed in council meetings and reported on in the newspaper, which also regularly devoted whole editorials to the cleanliness of the water supply, how to manage refuse, and the duty of every citizen of the town to comply and promote hygienic practices.

Dead bodies were another ongoing problem. The lack of proper mortuary services in the town meant that the local police and district coroner took bodies around the town in a cart asking if any householder had an outhouse or other building in which to put the body or bodies for a few days storage in order for the post mortem examination to be carried out.  Hospital mortuaries were often built as an afterthought, and the local hospitals refused to house bodies of people that hadn't died in the hospital itself.  Post mortem examinations involving dissection  of the body on the back of a handy cart were sometimes carried out in full view of the public. Police and the Coroner (who at this time, in the 1870s to 1880s, was one of Wagga Wagga's pioneers, F A Tompson) would take the body around the streets of Wagga, in a cart, asking  pubs and even households to take the body in for a few days. Often publicans refused (understandably) though I did read that at one stage it was a law or regulation that publicans were obliged to house the body if requested by the Coroner. Public dissections were avidly attended by the more bloodthirsty citizens of  the town, who happened to be walking past at the time.

from : A Delicate Balance by Sherry Morris

There was no sewerage system so human waste was removed by sanitary wagons, sanitary pans in outside toilets being collected and stacked into the waggons. In 1909 it was discovered that there was leakage from the carts and pans which caused a typhoid outbreak.

from : the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, May 1909

The 1920s still saw cases of the disease, with an outbreak of typhoid at the Wagga Experiment Farm in 1924 prompting an inquiry.

Infectious disease was still being reported during 1930, but with scarlet fever cases being described as "mild" in the Daily Advertiser on 8 January 1930. By this time infantile paralysis, also called poliomyelitis or polio, had appeared and was being included in the health statistics gathered by the health authorities. There would be weeks at a time go by with few reports of disease, then there would be another outbreak. Medical treatments for infectious diseases evolved over time and with the control of sanitation taken on at all government levels, the diseases that were a part of daily life were controlled.

Wagga Wagga City Library has copies of A Delicate Balance : A history of the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital , by Sherry Morris, if you would like to borrow or read the book within the library.

If you would like to do your own digging into Wagga's murky past, go to Trove:

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The mystery of Tent Town

The earliest mention of Tent Town I can find is in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, on Thursday March 12 , 1903. Tent Town is one of Wagga's most interesting areas, long disappeared. Tent Town could have been active or established before 1903 but did not come to the attention of the town's authorities as a place of interest or notoriety before this time.

From : The Wagga Wagga Advertiser, March 12, 1903

The Benevolent Society is, according to Wikipedia, an Australian Charity (perhaps the first founded in Australia) created by one Edward Hall in 1813 in New South Wales. The Society performed such charitable works as providing food, clothing, and paying hospital fees.

In 1911 the Sanitary Inspector in Wagga Wagga inspected Tent Town and returned a "satisfactory" report on the "sanitary arrangements" and the conditions of the various types of huts, tents and shacks.

from The Daily Advertiser, Friday 11 August 1911.

In February 1913, in the Wagga Wagga Express, Tent Town was called Bag Town, due to the large amount of dwellings created using hessian bags :

from : Wagga Wagga Express 22 February 1913

Tent Town was, despite many inspections by the Sanitary Inspector, also periodically drawing attention to itself because of the lack of proper sewerage and water amenities. There was a communal well there, but apart from that, the conditions were not amenable to good health. Here is an example of diphtheria being reported in November 1913:

from The Daily Advertiser, Friday November 14 , 1913

Though interestingly here the complaint is the Matron not divulging private information, not the diphtheria itself. Earlier in the year the Sanitary Inspector had given Tent Town a pass: 

from: the Wagga Wagga Express, Saturday March 7, 1914

Over the years the public fortunes of Tent Town fluctuated greatly, with reports and complaints to the local shire council growing, but equally some citizens of Wagga Wagga calling for a more humane approach to the problem of affordable housing for the low paid or unemployed worker, the pensioner, and families, and Indigenous persons and families.

Kath Withers, Wiradjuri Elder of Wagga Wagga, remembers living in Tent Town as a small child, and describes her memories in Wiradjuri Reserve- Gobba Beach (Murrumbidgee River) Statement of Significance for an Aboriginal Place Declaration, compiled by Go Green Services Wagga Wagga, 2012 :

From about age 5 to 9, our family lived at Tent Town, also known as Tent City or Tin Town. We lived in a lean-to and a patched tent like many others. The lean-to was made out of flattened tins and hessian and the tent, which we slept in, leaked. 
 p. 62, Wiradjuri Reserve - Gobba Beach, 2012

Tent Town grew , reaching its peak in the 1930s. During this time-in 1934-  the famous Hand in Glove case hit the headlines and Wagga Wagga's Tent Town emerged into the national consciousness as a place of squalor and infamy. Murdered  in Tent Town itself, the body of Moncrieff Anderson was found in the river in 1933 and his identity was established by checking his fingerprints - the skin of his hand had come away during decomposition. The full story is told in Hand in Glove by George H. Hawkes. The Wagga Wagga City Library has a photocopy of the original book, so if you would like to read the full story, you can look at this copy within the library.

According to a newspaper report the police took photographs of Tent Town  ( Daily Advertiser, Thursday 26 July 1934, p.2 ) which would be amazing to see, as there do not appear to be any remaining photographs of the area.

In the latter years of the 1930s and well into the 1940s greater efforts were made to clear the area :

from : The Daily Advertiser, Thursday 8 April 1937 , the Editorial.

Once the decision had been made to clear Tent Town preparations went ahead quite quickly - and during the Second World War too.  This item from March 1941:

from : The Daily Advertiser, Monday March 31, 1941

"Removals" from Tent Town occurred regularly over this period of time, probably from the late 1930s. I haven't yet seen an account from someone who underwent the process of being removed, or any account from the perspective of the removers or how the process was actually carried out. The mentions in the Daily Advertiser were as follows : in 1941, a paragraph under the heading of Municipal Matters : 

from : The Daily Advertiser, Friday 13 June 1941, p.4

And lastly, from 1942, some statistics from in the Municipal Activities column in the Daily Advertiser : 

The Daily Advertiser, Saturday 28 November 1942, p.4

" 1933 there were 63 inhabitants, [...] reduced to 13 dwellings in 1942." How those inhabitants fared, how long they stayed in Wagga Wagga, or how their lives turned out in their new circumstances is probably lost to us, though I'm hoping some more accounts of life in Tent Town itself are found. The whole story of Tent Town is yet to be told.

All the books mentioned above can be read in the Wagga Wagga City Library, if you would like to make further discoveries about Tent Town you can also search on Trove as I did :

Monday, January 30, 2017

New year, new books in local studies

Menindee Girl : the story of my life, by Joyce Hampton nee King

The biography of local Indigenous Ngiyampaa Elder Joyce Hampton, filled with drawings, photographs and her personal history within the broader political context, is a great read.  I found the descriptions of mission life factual and moving, giving a sense of the conditions Indigenous persons were forced to endure.

Wagga Wagga City Library will be hosting a book launch for Menindee Girl on Thursday February 9 at 6pm. You can book a place by ringing the library on 69269700 or emailing

Country  Women – Hold the Key : Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the First Riverina Group Conference .  by  the Riverina Group of CWA of NSW, Wagga Wagga

This interesting history of the CWA in our local area also covers CWA branches in Pleasant Hills, Galore Hill, Urana, and Wantabadgery.  Established in the early 1920s, the CWA has held (too numerous to mention) fund raising events over the years, in order to  assist others in country areas. This history also contains comprehensive lists of office bearers and photographs of various groups of women active in the local area.

Murrumbidgee Gentlemen : History of Narrandera’s Murrumbidgee Club 1903 -2003 , by Norman Houghton

Formed in 1903 in Narrandera, the Murrumbidgee Club was a gentleman’s “…social, literary, recreational and all other purposes lawfully  permissible to a registered club’ (p2) The building itself was a beautiful old house originally built in 1898, with space eventually dedicated to a reading room, a ballroom, a bar, a billiards room , all established over the years by purchasing local properties and adapting them for the purpose. The Club even had a roulette wheel operating in 1937, with other events such as balls, dinners, and polo matches held.
Women were not allowed in the club, but :
“The Club ladies were appreciated in odd ways. They were asked to comment on the design and layout of a proposed new kitchen in 1952 but were still not permitted to join the club.” P 53,  Murrumbidgee Gentlemen

Gentlemen Only : A History of the Riverine Club 1881 – 2016 by Norman Houghton

Norman Houghton has written another excellently researched and presented history of a local men’s club, the difference being here that the Riverine Club is still active and has evolved to admit women to use the premises and services of the club. Again there are some really beautiful black and white photos of the different rooms and the building itself, along with plans, ephemera from social events and extensive lists of members, office bearers and other people associated with the club through the years.


All these items are available for viewing within the library as part of the local studies collection.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Family History - Genealogy resources in reference

Are you researching your family history? The Wagga Wagga City Library has many different resources to help your search. Though a lot of resources are available online (we do have the library edition of Ancestry available to use in the library) we also have many books in the genealogy section that may be of use to you.

Here's a selection to get you started:

Tracing births, deaths and marriages at sea by Christopher T & Michael J Watts

This little book covers pretty comprehensively everything you would want to know about searching for these kinds of records. At first it may seem an obscure topic but as travelling by sea was so common in times past, it may be helpful for those trying to find missing ancestors where records stop or start at sea.

"In this book we will concentrate not so much on such myths, and legal niceties, but rather upon the more practical aspects of just what records of such events have survived, what they might reveal and where to find them."
 Tracing births, deaths and marriages at sea, p 1

Sydney Burial Ground (Elizabeth and Devonshire Streets) and history of Sydney's early cemeteries from 1788 by Keith A Johnson and Malcolm R Sainty

A detailed study with photographs and encyclopedic indexes and appendices and explanations of the records ( for example, Licences and Butt Books). There is a potted history of the earliest burial grounds 1788-1901. Interesting to note that the Sydney Burial Ground was removed to make way for the Sydney Central Station.

"In 1901 the New South Wales Government invited descendants and relatives of those interred at the Sydney at The Sydney Burial Ground to relocate the monuments and remains. The cemetery had been closed fro more than twelve years and presented a deserted and neglected appearance."
Sydney Burial Ground p. 35 

Researching Australian School Records: A Guide for Family Historians and Local History Enthusiasts, by Geoffrey Burkhardt

Maybe school records are not an immediately obvious avenue for genealogical research, but they may give a personal touch to a person's history where other records may be considered austere or unforthcoming. This book's Australian focus makes it super helpful.
"In seeking out the school record sources described above, particularly the manuscript sources, family historians need to be resourceful and not just rely on state archive repositories."
 Researching Australian School Records p. 55

The Genealogy reference section contains many more resources including shipping records, how-tos on finding records and people, and many other gems besides. Browse the shelves or ask the friendly staff for assistance :-)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imposter or not ? Arthur Orton, Tom Castro and the Tichborne story

The strange story of Roger Tichborne continues to fascinate people, prompting new research and new books on the subject.

The Claimant, by Paul Terry, adds to this body of work, and the bizarre circumstances surrounding the story of the imposter Tom Castro, the Baronet Roger Tichborne, and Arthur Orton the Butcher's son are set out clearly in this new work. As Paul Terry points out, the case put Wagga Wagga on the map and :
Wagga was now synonymous with it's most infamous resident
p 104, The Claimant, by Paul Terry

The man who lost himself: the unbelievable story of the Tichborne claimant, by Robyn Annear, is another very readable account of the Tichborne story. Ms Annear's account has a more humorous slant, with a focus on some of the weirder tales associated with  the case, but is still a proper piece of historical research. 

...between eight and ten thousand people gathered outside the court, morning and afternoon, to catch a glimpse of their champion, the Claimant.
p. 351, The man who lost himself, by Robyn Annear

For those of you who prefer their information with a more scholarly bent, we also have :

Rohan McWilliam is an English university professor and accordingly writes his account of the Tichborne tale with literary flair and historical accuracy. Particularly interesting are references to the street ballads of the time, songs about Tichborne and the surrounding controversy, lies and legend.

Up to the mid-Victorian period, the broadside ballad sung at a fair or street corner was a much loved form of popular culture. One of the most popular topics in the 1870s was the Tichborne Claimant.
p.213, The Tichborne Claimant: A Victorian Sensation, by Rohan McWilliam

The titles covered here are available for loan at Wagga Wagga City Library, but if you miss out there are copies in local studies you can read within the library. Brush up on your knowledge on Wagga's most famous infamous court case and suprise and amuse your friends with anecdotes from these three excellent histories :-)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tunnel vision : Railway Hotels of Victoria and New South Wales

Wagga Wagga City Library recently hosted a book launch for the second volume of Scott Whitaker's series on railway hotels in Australia and the library has purchased both volumes for the local studies collection. 

Both of these beautifully produced volumes contain factual information as well as stories, advertisements, maps, photographs, a bibliography, and a very welcome index. 

Railway Hotels of Australia volume one : Victoria, has all the famous (and infamous) railway hotels including Glenrowan, Castlemaine, and Ballarat, which boasted four or five hotels during the heyday of rail travel in the 1800s. 

From volume one, Railway Hotels of Australia : Victoria

Railway Hotels of Australia volume two : New South Wales includes 3 railway hotels for Wagga Wagga, the first being active from 1874 to 1922, the second being a hotel expressly set set for the use of railway labourers circa 1878. Another interesting fact is that Wagga Wagga had "...185 hotels in the electorate, and the statutory number was 76," (p 261 Railway Hotels of Australia volume 2 : New South Wales) so the Licenses Reduction Board had to get rid of 44 of those excess hotels. That's a lot of hotels :-) 

The Astor Hotel which currently stands on the corner of Station Place and Edward streets, replaced the original Kerr's Wagga Hotel, and you can read the story of why railway hotel names in Wagga Wagga were interchangeable at this time.

From volume two, Railway Hotels of Australia: New South Wales

These books are now available for you to look at within the library. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New books in Local Studies

The Local Studies collection at Wagga Wagga City Library has three new books this week, two histories and a collection of mini personal histories of Wagga luminaries.

We are. Wagga Wagga, produced by Belinda Benson, Peita Vincent, Jaqueline Cooper, Elizabeth Robinson and Alexandra Chubb, is compilation of great stories about a wide range of Wagga Wagga people including comedian Dane Simpson and entrepreneur Simone Eyles.

Pomingalarna, by Geoff Burch

The history of the Pomingalarna Run, the homestead, the commons, and the mines in this area of Wagga Wagga. Contains meticulous research as ever by Geoff Burch, with maps and photographs showing the old Pomingalarna in current day context.

Early Hotels on the Mirrool Creek (west of Quandary), the establishment of Ardlethan, and the history of its two hotels, by Geoff Burch

Extensive research by local historian Geoff Burch again brings alive the history of a particular area, with information on early pastoral runs, with maps and photographs of the locations as they are today. 


 These books are now available for you to read within the library, with some for loan copies available soon.