A brief look at the history of Wagga Wagga
As the largest inland city in New South Wales, Wagga Wagga is considered as an important urban, agricultural, military and transport hub.
Its colourful heritage and its culturally rich community is a product of its origins. In this article, we provide a brief account of how Wagga Wagga became the vibrant city it is today.
The Wiradjuri Tribe
The Wiradjuri tribe was the largest aboriginal tribe in New South Wales and the first inhabitants of Wagga Wagga. The term "wagga" comes from their aboriginal dialect which means "crow". The repetition of a word translates to its plural, so "wagga wagga" translates to "crows" or "the place of many crows." An important natural landmark of the area, the Murrumbidgee River also derived its name from the aboriginal dialect. Murrumbidgee means "plenty water" or "big water".
However, some scholars of the Wiradjuri language suggest that "wagga wagga" translates to "dancing" or "staggering like a drunken man". In 1838, James Gunther, known to have accurately recorded significant Wiradjuri language and traditions, noted that "wagga wagga" means "reeling, like a drunken man". Similarly, in a journal published in 1902, "wagga wagga" was listed as meaning "like to dance" or "peculiar step". This reference to dancing is based on the contemporary use of the Wiradjuri language.
The Wiradjuri tribe occupied one of the largest areas in the Riverina region. Their territory has been described as "the land of the three rivers". One of the three rivers is the Murrumbidgee.
A family usually travelled as a small group comprised of a man, his wives, their children and other close family members. The elders of their community were respected as they are the ones who held power and authority. The Wiradjuri were also a very religious people and believed in a supernatural being called "Balame".
In 1788, when the first fleet of convicts arrived in New South Wales with Governor Philip, two occurrences of the smallpox epidemic drastically reduced the population of the Wiradjuri. Smallpox was a foreign illness to them and they had no immunity to it. European explorers and settlement soon followed in the Wagga Wagga area.
In 1829, European exploration of the future site of Wagga Wagga began with the arrival of Captain Charles Sturt during his expedition along the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers. Settlement soon followed with some settlers initially squatting on the land. However, in 1836 the colonial government regulated land use and provided settlers with a land licensing scheme. In 1849, Wagga Wagga was proclaimed a town and was marked out by surveyor Thomas Scott Townsend. Shortly after that, a number of establishments opened including hotels, stores, banks, schools and hospitals. On the 15th of March 1870, the town was incorporated, with George Forsyth elected as the first major of the town.
The community takes pride in their long military history. In 1915 during World War I, 88 recruits left Wagga Wagga to join the Australian Imperial Force. During the outbreak of World War II, several Royal Australian Air Force bases were established in different locations around the town. When World War II ended, Wagga Wagga continued to grow and was classified as a city on the 17th of April 1946.
Wagga Wagga today
Wagga Wagga has grown to become the major commercial and urban centre of the Riverina. It is home to several leading museums and galleries, an Amphitheatre, gardens and wineries, stunning rivers and lakes and some of the most innovative sporting facilities in Australia today.