Place of Many Crows (Part 11)
By Eric Irvin
26 August 1953 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)
A brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga
This is the eleventh of a series of articles, to appear daily, tracing the history of the foundation and early growth of the town of Wagga Wagga. The complete history will be published in book form later.
At a public meeting held in the court house on August 13, 1850, measures were taken for the erection of a Church of England building, and the sum of £220 was subscribed.
However, the matter lapsed until 1858, when tenders were called for the erection of the building.
The tender was let to Robert Nixon, who in 1853 built the first bridge over the Kyeamba Creek, and who in 1857 opened a flour mill on the site now occupied by the Bank of New South Wales.
In the period between 1850 and 1858 a temporary place of worship had been erected. (12).
On June 21, 1859, the foundation stone of St. John's was laid by the Police Magistrate, Henry Baylis.
The newspaper report of the event commented:
"Although the foundation stone of the Church of St. John has only now been laid, pro forma, we desire to state that the western front and both side walls are carried up to a point level with the intended window sills, a spot having been purposely left at the south eastern corner of the edifice for laying the foundation stone.
Rapid progress is being made with the building ... and it is calculated that within a month the fabric will be ready for the roof.
The building is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide, and is calculated to accommodate a congregation of 300 persons comfortably." (13).
In the same year (1859), but not until December 4, the first St. Michael's Roman Catholic church was opened in Wagga. This year also saw the establishment of the Wagga School of Arts, which, despite statements to the contrary, it was called right from the start.
For a time it carried on in temporary premises, until the erection of its first building in 1863 in the centre of its present allotment.
The town of Wagga was named after William Best's station, but it was established in an area on the river bank known to the aborigines as Guna Guna Bogie, "a camping and bathing place" (14) or Guna Gallie Bogy, "a temporary camping place."(15).
It has a name which has never ceased to cause amusement or incredulity in those hearing it for the first time.
Nowadays, in the interests of speed and brevity, Wagga Wagga is usually called Wagga only, except in official communications.
In the early days Wagga was notable for the fact that its residents had primitive notions of hygiene; and that large numbers of goats and pigs (particularly the pigs) were allowed to roam the streets at will. These constituted themselves a sort of unofficial but highly profitable garbage-disposal unit.
The neighbouring town of Albury, in the spirit of sem-friendly semi-jealous rivalry which existed between it and Wagga, was not slow to seize upon this peculiarity and to rename Wagga accordingly.
Discussing a proposed visit to Albury by a team of Wagga cricketers, an Albury news paper reported:
"The stores will be closed during the day and every means dictated by hospitality will no doubt be taken to welcome our fiends from the southern Porkopolis." (16).
The first recorded in- stance of a Wagga omplaint about the town's name occured in 1886, when the Wagga Express, reporting the visit to the town of a "con." man who had defrauded a number of publicans and storekeepers, stated: "The Wagga Waggonians (what a vile, unmanageable name the town has) are certainly a trustful set" (17).
The same paper also used, on occasion, the even more unmanageable "Wagga Waggians."
Others who exercised their wit or spleen at the expense of the "mellifluous name of the town of Wagga Wagga" (18) were the numerous distinguished and not so distinguished visitors to the town, the first being the then Chief Justice of N.S.W., Sir Alfred Stephen, in 1869. Sir Alfred, from the inviolacy of the Bench, indulged a sardonic sense of humor at the expense of Wagga and the Wagga higher ups" in connection with a visit to the town a year earlier by the new-appointed Governor of N.S.W. the Earl of Belmore.
Wagga had never before seen anything so distinguished as an Earl, and it appears that his visit was responsible for an exhibition of snobberry and ruthless, blatant jockeying for position which has never been paralleled from that day to this.
The Advertiser took the Chief Justice's remarks up in its second leader, Answer – “Crows”.
"Of course, the judicial joker asked the old question —What's in a name?— and the answer happening to be in this particular instance 'crows' launched out into a learned disquisition on the natural history of that obscene bird.
Well, we may admit there is nothing very melodious in such a concatenation of syllables as Wagga Wagga, especially if pronounced as written.
"We pronounce the hideous words as if spelt 'Wogga,' and thus secure a little euphony at the cost of a trifle of orthographical truth.
But those who have never had the felicity of making the personal acquaintance of our township are, of course, not up to this harmless dodge . . .
"The Chief's remedy was a total change of name, and here the learned wit waxed very funny, wanning with his theme, and actually suggesting as a suitable substitute for the word signifying crows, the lordly title of Belmore.
Considering how intimately that name must always be associated with one of the most stirring episodes in the history of Wagga Wagga, the suggestion may, at first sight seem a good one.
"But on the other hand, considering how much there was in that stirring episode of which Wagga Wagga may very properly feel thoroughly ashamed, it seems a little too like the broadest sarcasm to ask us to perpetuate the memory of our own egregious folly.
The present name is, doubtless, bad enough, but at the worst it simply excruciates, and after all, like many other familiar nuisances, it is nothing when you are used to it.
But fancy a name, the very sound of which would, or at any rate should, set half the town blushing - if, indeed, it did not have a still direr effect, and again set the whole place by the ears.
Still, a change of some kind is necessary.” (19).
This brought at least one reply, in the form of a letter to the editor, suggesting that Wagga should be renamed Forsyth, after George Forsyth, an elderly and highly respected townsman.
It may be assumed that this suggestion did not receive any support, although Forsyth was frequently and throughout his lifetime referred to as "the king" and "the father" of Wagga.
(12) Wagga Express, June 25, 1859.
(13 Same as (12).
(14) James Gormly in the Advertiser, September 5, 1905.
(15) Matthew Best in the Advertiser, December 5, 1905.
(16) Albury Border Post, re printed In Wagga Express, June 4. 1859.
(17) Wagga Express, June 30. 1866.
(18) Wagga Advertiser. October 23. 1860.
(19) Wagga Advertiser, October 23, 1869.