Unit 2 - Investigating the 1852 Gundagai Flood
3. Gundagai before the Flood
Gundagai is a small town on the Murrumbidgee River in NSW, around 400 kilometres south-west of Sydney and 500 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, roughly half way between Sydney and Melbourne on the inland route. The Murrumbidgee River flows through the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people and the site of Gundagai was a traditional gathering place where the clans of the wider region met with local clans for ceremonies and trade.
Early explorers Charles Sturt and Major Thomas Mitchell described the area in their journals and the place where it was possible to cross the river. An enterprising colonist established a ferry service at the crossing and in 1838 the government gazetted a township on the northern river flats at the crossing—despite the warnings about floods from the local Wiradjuri people. The government offered allotments of land for sale and soon settlers moved into the area.
By 1843 the small town of Gundagai had a general store and a post office. By 1850 there were 20 houses and a number of tents, four hotels, a large store and two smaller ones, and a blacksmith’s shop. After gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851, the town became the main stopping place on the way from Sydney to the Victorian goldfields. By 1852 there were 72 buildings in Gundagai including a court house and a lockup, a school and a flour mill.
According to the census of 1856, 1313 non-Aboriginal people lived in Gundagai and its surrounding area, roughly half born in Australia and half born overseas. Very few Aboriginal people lived close to the town, but many lived in the wider area. A government report of 1851 states that the Aboriginal people of Gundagai lived in 35 groups, although it does not record how many people were in each group.
South Eastern Australia in the early 1850s