Aboriginal History

The following information was obtained from the Gilgandra Aboriginal Lands Council. The Lands Council can be contacted on (02) 6847 1477, Warren Road, Gilgandra.

Gilgandra Aboriginal population are now scattered through the township in housing provided primarily by the Gilgandra LALC, the Department of Housing or the Aboriginal Housing Corporation. The remaining families are housed through private rental, which we are now trying to address through extra funding to alleviate overcrowding and high rental problems.

Prior to this, families lived on the northern side of the Castlereagh River or on the south/west side in the area known as "The Pines" and at Balladoran which is situated south/west of Gilgandra.

"The Pines"
On 15 December 2000 the Aboriginal people of Gilgandra and other local residents and families celebrated the return of "The Pines" to local Aboriginal people. "The Pines" holds great significance to Aboriginal people as the land where our families lived for many generations, a town the west established, until we were compelled to leave "The Pines" with the advent of the 1960s programme called Housing for Aborigines. Its return is possible through a longstanding relationship between the Aboriginal people of "The Pines" and a dairying, grazing family of Gilgandra, the Hargraves.

Tenure History of "The Pines"
Part of "The Pines" was subject to the first grant of non-indigenous interest in the Castlereagh area when it became part of the Bobarah Run gazetted on 31 October 1849 in land "beyond the settled districts". The estimated grazing capacity of the 16,000 acres of the Run was for 400 cattle and 2,000 sheep. The other part of "The Pines" was later included in the Castlereagh Run gazetted in 1874. Many of the runs simply permitted graziers to pasture stock for a modest annual rental. They also frequently included the following clauses:

"And we do further reserve to the Aboriginal inhabitants of Our Said Colony, such free access to the said run and parcel of Land hereby demise, or any part thereof, and to the trees or water thereon as will enable them to procure the animals, birds, fish and other food on which they subsist."

As these Runs brought graziers and settlers to the district the Aboriginal people continued to practice their traditional law and custom. RH Mathews documents that in 1893 there was a great gathering of the local Aboriginal people of the Castlereagh with the people of the Macquarie, the Bogan and the Barwon Rivers for a great initiation ceremony.

As the town of Gilgandra grew, the Aboriginal people camped permanently amongst the scrubby indigenous pines, which grew in the sandy soil near the Castlereagh River. Our families lived there in shacks and houses they built themselves, often out of material salvaged from the tip, which came to be located at the edge of "The Pines". The railway line was built along its eastern boundary and the Gilgandra showground and racecourse were carved out of "The Pines" during the 1900s.

The camp endured throughout the 1900s with the men frequently away doing fencing, rail splitting, rabbiting and other work on various properties which developed in the area. The camp was never managed as a mission or Aboriginal reserve. It was the place where the Aboriginal people of Gilgandra lived, raising children, coming and going as work in the district required.

Commencing in the 1920s, the Hargraves family developed a dairy farm on five plots of land between the railway line and "The Pines". In 1962 the Hargraves brothers acquired a permissive occupancy over part of "The Pines" entitling them to graze cattle there although the sandy soils did not support good pastures. Men from "The Pines" also worked with the Hargraves, managing the herd and doing the dairy run. By 1968 the last of our families were moved off "The Pines" into fibro houses that had been built closer to town.

The last of the Hargraves brothers stills maintains the permissive occupancy over "The Pines".

The Native Title Claim
In the 1990s the local Shire Council proposed to harvest the trees, which gave "The Pines" its name, to create a sawmill to provide employment in the town. It filed a nonclaimant application to discover if any Aboriginal people were connected to the land. To try to prevent the felling of "The Pines", and with the assistance of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council's Native Title Unit, in 1994 a native title claim was filed on behalf of the families of the Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi and Wongaibon/Nyaampur people who had lived so long at "The Pines".

European History

The following information has been extracted from "Back to Gilgandra, September 1937", originally compiled by Mr J Nelson, A. Schemaker and H. Campbell and arranged and reprinted by Betty Bartley in 2001.

The present township of Gilgandra undoubtedly owes its origin to the fact that in the Castlereagh River, behind the current main street, there existed a hole of permanent water, reasonably long and deep. The word Gilgandra means "long water hole".

The village of Gilgandra was proclaimed on 8th December 1888 and a sale of Town Lots was held by the Crown at Coonamble on 23rd October 1889.

The first wheat was grown in the 1860s, only about an acre was grown. Wheat on a commercial scale was later grown by John Collison, Peter O’Neil, James Barling and Bonifous. The earliest wheat growers used a wooden plough, with a forked stick for harrows, reaping hooks and flail and lastly cleaned the wheat with the wind.

The Shire of Gilgandra was constituted under the Local Government Act, 1906, and the first meeting of elected Councillors was held on 8th December 1906.

Gilgandra's first Show was held on the 15th May 1912 on the Racecourse. 2,500 people attended, gate takings totalled 65 pounds and there were 800 exhibitors. The number of exhibitors far exceeded the expectations of the committee and the quality of exhibits was very high. There is probably no other Show in the West which started with so many.

Gilgandra's first Post Office was established on 1st January 1867, the first postmaster being Mr James Christian who received a salary of 12 pounds per annum. A telegraph office was opened in Gilgandra in August 1882, and amalgamated with the Post Office on 1st November 1882. The telephone exchange at Gilgandra was opened on 24th July 1908.

The first newspaper was established in December 1904 by Alfred Porter and Thomas Crouch and was named "The Castlereagh" and was produced as a four-page weekly on Fridays. On May 11 1906 P.J. MacManus and J. Foley formerly of the "Orange Leader" staff assumed control of "The Castlereagh". By August 1910 it was apparent there was a need for another newspaper to serve the interest of the men on the land politically and business men formed a company known as "The Castlereagh Liberal". However, the venture was not successful and the plant and goodwill was sold to Mr Perkins, who later altered the paper from a bi-weekly to a weekly and changed the name to the "Gilgandra Weekly".

The application to establish a school in Gilgandra was approved in October 1881. The first teacher was Mr W. C. Kensett. The school opened on 10th October and it was conducted in a cottage. The attendance increased fairly rapidly, for the first month 54 children were enrolled. In 1887 a new school building was erected. In 1898 a classroom was added to cope with growing attendance. An entirely new school building was erected in 1914, at a cost of 2687 pounds and additions were made in 1918 and 1929.

The history of saw milling dates back to the beginning of settlement in the district. For some years the timber produced was cut by pit-saw method, but from 1890 onward the power driven plant came into use. In the past the district was noted as a prolific producer of timber, chiefly Cypress and Ironbark, and was once considered as one of the principal individual Cypress producing areas of the State. The continual production for such a long period was of inestimable benefit in the settlement of the district, as the industry provided constant employment to a considerable number of men for an extended period. Until landholders realised the great value of Cypress, it was at times ruthlessly destroyed, justified in cases to make room for settlement.

In the year 1880 a Police Station was established in Curban, but as Curban declined in importance and settlements at Gilgandra progressed, the Police Station was moved to Gilgandra. This building was later demolished. In 1931 it was established in a room at the Court House in Myrtle Street. The present Police Station building was erected in Myrtle Street in 1934 and police entered into occupation of the premises in December of that year.

The first court case was held on 29th June 1884. The Court House was first situated in Court Street. In April 1929 it was shifted down to its present site in Myrtle Street.

Gilgandra Volunteer Fire Brigade was established on December 6th 1911 under the control of the Board of Commissioners NSW. A manual horse drawn fire engine was first installed. On January 16th 1912 the first fire was attended, a shop in Miller Street.

The proposal for construction of a line of railway from Dubbo to Coonamble was included in the Government Railway policy of 1886 but no action was taken until the matter was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in 1899. Sir Wm. Lynne turned the first sod at Dubbo in 1901. The first passenger train, conveying 17 passengers, ran from Coonamble to Dubbo on the 29th July 1902. Conveyance of goods traffic commenced in August 1902. To illustrate the extent of development in the area served by the line the following figures are given:
1903:Passenger jouneys 7,590; goods (tonnage) 19, 469; wool (bales) 20, 821
1936: Passenger journeys 23, 997; goods (tonnage) 62, 167; wool (bales) 47, 436
In 1903 the tri-weekly mixed service from Dubbo to Coonamble took 6 hours 30 minutes.

1915 Coo-ee March

In 1915 thirty five men from Gilgandra district set off to Sydney to enlist in the army. At each town along their journey the men cried "COO-EE", which is the bushman's call for help, to encourage others to join them. By the time they reached Sydney the numbers had swelled to 263 recruits. For further information about the Coo-ee March and the 1987 Re-enactment March please click here

Breelong Massacre

In 1900 Jimmy Govenor, part aboriginal, his white wife Ellen and their small son came to Breelong where Jimmy worked for John and Sarah Mawbey, local Breelong farmers. Jimmy's brother, Joe, two cousins and Jacky Underwood joined the 'Blacks camp'. A multitude of incidents causing resentment to fester broke out when there was a disagreement over fence post that John Mawbey claimed were poorly cut and refused to pay an agreed amount.

The Mawbeys had just moved into their new home but on this night they had visitors with ten women and children to accommodate, so the men slept in their old home, the Inn. Jimmy, Joe and Jacky set off to the Mawbey's house for revenge and that night five Mawbey family members plus their teacher were brutally axed, four dying of horrific wounds.

Their murderers set off as fugitives on the run , outsmarting police and leaving a trail of murders, maimings, armed hold ups and robberies. The district was thrown into panic and terror, women and children were grouped into homes and guarded while men joined the search parties.

Between 250 and 500 police and trackers and 2000 civilians were searching for the Govenors who were finally captured by civilians. Jimmy Govenor was shot and later tried and hanged in Darlinghurst Goal 1901. Joe Governor was shot dead near Singleton and  Jacky Underwood, the last of the bushrangers, was hanged in Dubbo Jail on 22 October 1900.

St Ambrose Church

The St Ambrose Church is important not only to those who profess the Church of England faith, but it is just as important to those of other denominations for it represents the pride of the Gilgandra district - the best and greatest service to the British Empire of any town in the Dominions during the Great War. That is why the memorial church of St Ambrose means so much to the people of the district - it is proof that the town of Gilgandra had the greatest war record. But although the church in Gilgandra was higher in war service, the record which has won our town such distinction could not have been achieved without the co-operative war service of other denominations. So that what we see today in the shape of architectural beauty is a subject for universal congratulations.

The Parish of St Ambrose Bournemouth, England, desired, under certain conditions, to make a peace thanksgiving of 1250 pounds to some town in the Dominion. The town had to have a war record, and the grounds for choice were church records and war records. For some time the town of Moosejaw, Canada, was considered the most eligible, having put in a fine record of service. Hearing of the competitor when in London, on his way to Australia from the seat of war, Bishop Long nominated Gilgandra and asked the authorities not to give their decision until Gilgandra's war record was placed before them. When that was done it was the end of Moosejaw and all other competitors. And so thanks to Bishop Long's intervention, Gilgandra received this wonderful distinction which carries with it a great amount of pride.

Then came the decision to build a beautiful church, and to call it St Ambrose, which was a condition of the gift. St Ambrose church is located in Wamboin St, Gilgandra.

Town of Windmills

Gilgandra is known as the "Town of Windmills" as the town once had a skyline dotted with windmills. As there was no reticulated town water supply until 1966, most residents supplied their own water needs from individual windmills, drawing water from the sub-artesian basin. By the late 1950s there were over 300 windmills pumping water. There are still a large number of windmill's to be found in the backyards of residential premises in Gilgandra today.