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On the literary road: Gundagai Redux

May 9, 2013

20130509-154945.jpgGundagai, a small country town only two hours drive from my home, was the first place featured in my first literary road post back in 2009. I didn’t on that occasion write about its early history.

The Gundagai area was home to the Wiradjuri people, and was settled by white people in the late 1820s. It was officially gazetted in 1840 despite repeated warnings by the Wiradjuri about the risk of large floods to this part of the Murrumbidgee River floodplain.

According to the Poet’s Recall Motel, Gundagai’s first streets were named for poets: Shakespeare Tce, Milton St, Pope St, Johnson St, Maturin St, Landon St., Hemans St, Sheridan St, Otway St, Byron St, Homer St, Virgil St, and Ovid St. However, believe it or not, the Wiradjuri knew their country and in 1852 a huge flood destroyed the town. Over one third of the 250 inhabitants and a number of travellers died, and 71 buildings were destroyed. The old mill is the only building still standing from the original town. As for the poets, when the town was rebuilt, on higher ground, the poet street names, according to the Motel’s notes, were not reused. However, looking at a modern street map of Gundagai, I did spy Sheridan, Homer, Byron Streets, plus a reference to Ovid Lane and the other poets. Presumably these have been returned to the town in more recent times.

Anyhow, this is where the Poet’s Recall Motel comes in. The owner – I’m not sure when – decided to revive Gundagai’s poetic history. Each motel room is named for a poet – the original 13 and then some. I was rather delighted to find that our room was Banjo Paterson, and the two rooms next to us were Henry Lawson and Breaker Morant. Fine room-mates for Whispering Gums! In addition, the historic bar in the motel’s restaurant is decorated with painted portraits – on local slate – of the original 13 poets.

Once again I’ve learnt that country towns can be surprising places … I don’t imagine I would ever have heard of Felicia Hemans, who was published in the early nineteenth century by John Murray, Jane Austen’s publisher, if I hadn’t stayed at the Poet’s Recall Motel.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2013 01:58

    What an awesome sounding motel not to mention a fun history lesson. Too bad about the original town and them not keeping the poet street names when they moved it. That’s what comes from not listening to the people who know the land best.

    • May 10, 2013 08:23

      Stefanie, it really was a fun motel. I need to find out more about who named those first streets … Why they did it and why they chose those particular poets. No Coleridge, no Wordsworth … Interesting.

  2. May 10, 2013 02:57

    Interesting! I’ve always wanted to go to Gundagai as my grandfather was born there. I wish he were still around to tell me some tales!

    • May 10, 2013 08:26

      Oh you should one day Catherine. It has quite a history. I used to drive through it regularly in my early days in Canberra when one of my close friends was teaching in Tumut. Now, the Hume Highway bypasses it but it seems to be going well. It’s a pretty town.

  3. May 10, 2013 06:44

    I wonder how many other Australian towns started their life on floodplains and then moved higher? Here on the far south coast of NSW, the original Pambula townsite was set on the river flats and was moved further uphill after frequent flooding. The old racecourse is now part of a restored wetland.

    • May 10, 2013 08:27

      Good question Judith … And how often did early settlers ignore the advice of those who knew? I didn’t know that about Pambula.

  4. May 10, 2013 09:17

    My great-great-grandfather was one of those saved by the Wiradjuri in the flood of 1852. I’ve been to Gundagai as a boy, but would love to go back – I’ll definitely have to stay at the Poet’s Motel, Sue!

    • May 10, 2013 15:38

      Oh was he, John? It’s a great story … Such generosity from the Wiradjuri … When you go you’ll have to choose your poet!

  5. May 10, 2013 20:14

    I’ve had a meal at the Poet’s Recall. The Spouse and I sometimes use Gundagai as a staging post on our regular trips to the Hunter Valley to stock up on Semillon for the cellar, but I don’t think we’ve ever stayed there. I’ll remember it now, for next time, thanks!

    • May 10, 2013 21:32

      Oh I hate the way notifications work with safari on the iPad … So often my response is lost. Anyhow, we are in the restaurant for the first time, Lisa … I think it’s in the old Railway Hotel .. Lovely old country building. I do like Gundagai … It has a lot to offer for a pretty small town. I can see it would be a good staging point for a trip to the Hunter.

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