Place of Many Crows (Part 12)
By Eric Irvin
27 August 1953 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)
A brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga
This is the twelfth and final instalment of the series. The complete series will be published shortly in book form
Most of the people who objected to the name 'Wagga Wagga' did so on grounds of euphony.
Many took it as read, and pronounced it to rhyme with dagger. Others found it uncouth or unsuitable.
Others again regarded it as somewhat pretentious for a small inland town. Such a one was a Mr. Heaton, a reporter who travelled to various N.S.W. country towns and wrote descriptions of them for the Sydney weekly "Town and Country Journal."
"Before describing it and its institutions," he wrote, "it may be admitted that there is an unpleasant, coarse, swaggering tang about the name, particularly when pronounced as it appears to have been in the English Law Courts and as it is spelt, viz: Wagga Wagga in place of WogaWoga, or at least Waugga Wauga, which latter seems to be the proper and local pronunciation.
Not a nice one 'Wagga. Wagga in the aboriginal tongue means "a meeting of crows," or "the place where crows congregate."
That is a literal translation of the name; the first syllable 'wau' is very expressive of a crow's note.
It must be confessed that the name is not a nice one, but the inhabitants, with a few exceptions, do not desire to have it altered: in fact, most of them seem to like the name, on the principle, I suppose, that in the case of names, like other more important things, we come to like in time features by no means attractive. 'We pity first, endure, and then embrace'."' (20)
His article did not endear him to the Wagga Waggonians.
Nor did a subsequent paragraph in a Forbes newspaper noticeably affect the risibilities of the inhabitants.
The School of Arts formed a Literary Association, which made its bow to the public in 1873 with an entertainment for which a prologue was specially written.
Couched in a language which was a strange mixture of erudition, bravado and self-mockery, its opening stanza must have proved just as amusing to the people of Wagga as offensive to the Forbes newspaper.
"Hail, beauteous borough! Mayst thou ever reign. Sweet Wagga! 'Lovllest village of the plain.' Would that some local Gold-smith might upraise; Hymns to thy honor, paer to thy praise:
Would that some worthy voice might sing thy fame, And wreathe bright garlands round thy silvr'y name.' (21)
Gushingly felt The Forbes newspaper came out with all guns smoking.
'Wagga is distinguishing itself.
Whatever clouds of ignorance may have rested upon 'the brightest gem of the Murrumbidgee' in days gone by, they have all rolled back at the advent of its Literary Association.
So gushingly felt is this metamorphosis that the public heart yearns for some local Gold-smith to hymn its honor and proclaim its praise, and sighs for some worthy voice to sing its fame, And wreathe bright garlands round its silvery name. Surely the mantle of Oliver has descended upon someone there, and in their exuberance they don't realise the fact.
But the 'silvery name' is a poser. Ever since the time when an English lawyer asked a witness in the Tichborne case whether he knew a place called 'Waggy Baggy' we have failed to see any poetry in the name. Perhaps it was a 'waggish' pun of the counsel; perhaps it was his ignorance, but, at any rate, now would be a favorable time to rechristen it."
There was much more in the same strain, the whole concluding with the magical incantation 'Oh Waggy ! Oh Baggy!' The Express replied, with remarkable self-restraint. 'We pity the Literary Association.
To be chaffed is bad enough, but to be chaffed in such questionable English must be well nigh unbearable.'
By this time the 'collection of bark huts' which was Wagga in 1849 had grown into a sizeable town with some impressive buildings, a remarkably progressive spirit, and an unshakeable faith in its future.
(20) Town and Country Journal Sydney July 6, 1872.
(21) Wagga Express, March 22, 1873.
The account from the Forbes newspaper was reprinted in the Express of April 5, 1873.