The Perfect Location
The first European exploration of the areas to the south and west of Lake George was by Charles Throsby who, in 1820 and 1821, travelled extensively through the areas that were to become Gundaroo, Bungendore and Queanbeyan. Throsby’s enthusiasm about the area near Gundaroo knew no bounds: ‘the finest country as ever was seen, admirably watered and a fine rich black soil fit for any purpose either for grazing or agriculture.’
The first settlement occurred in the Gundaroo area in the 1820s and by the end of the 1830s most of the better land in the district, including all that fronting onto the Yass river, was occupied. Some of the major land-holders of the day were Captain Maurice Barlow, Dr. MacLeod (Bairnsdale), Patrick Dyce (Tillygrieg), William Packer (Ester Mead), William Guise (Bywong, Springfield), the Campbell family (Fairfield), John Jobbins (Nanima). Probably the earliest was a grant of a thirty-acre farm to Peter Cooney by Governor Macquarie in 1821.
Many early settlers were squatters and the process of securing title to land by purchase, lease or grant was often a difficult one. Added to this, many new migrants armed with ‘tickets of occupation’ or ‘orders to select’ were virtually free to seize land improved by squatters and purchase it over their heads. One squatter in this position was Robert Townson who was forced off a series of stations in the Murrumbateman and Gundaroo areas. He wrote ‘….the overbearing insulting conduct of these parvenues is intollerable….these upstart lads want to take away my Sheep Stations….there is plenty of land if they will look out for it , but they find it more convenient to take my station having Roads and other advantages….’
The origin of the name Gundaroo is not clear. One theory is that the Village takes its name from the Aboriginal name for the Yass River which was Boongaroon or Gondoroo. Errol Lea-Scarlett, however, traces the name back to the aboriginal name Canderiro which was recorded by Charles Throsby in 1820.
‘Sailor’ helping to cart wool from Bowylie in the 1920s. The driver was Arthur Masters
The first township developed at Upper Gundaroo which is where the present Bungendore/Gundaroo and Sutton/Gundaroo roads meet. The Travellers’ Home hotel run by Mrs Woodman opened in 1840. A Post Office and mail service were established in 1848. A church (St Luke’s) and school was built in 1850 and a General Store opened in 1856. The church is now the only obvious remnant of Upper Gundaroo.
In the late 1840s, interest by the Queanbeyan District Council resulted in a decision to establish a village in the area. The district was surveyed by John Mann and the plan of the present village took shape. There was, however, little interest at the time in buying the surveyed allotments. A few were sold along Cork Street but the main centre of activity was still Upper Gundaroo. The first building in the new village was a store erected in 1856 by John Wishart with the help of William Affleck. Affleck had arrived as a nineteen year old the previous year and was destined to play a large part in the subsequent development of the district.
Affleck was instrumental in the construction of the first Gundaroo bridge across the Yass river, and in the building of the Presbyterian Church at the corner of Lot and Cork Streets. He also opened the Royal Hotel (1865) at the corner of Harp and Cork Streets which is a handsome building now known as the Gundaroo Pub. He build the new Caledonia Store in Cork Street, helped to establish the Gundaroo Park, and in 1897 donated a block of land and cottage to the village Mutual Improvement Society (which he himself founded) for a Library. Another important building which owes its origin to Affleck was the new Public School built in 1898 in Lot Street.
In later days another great contributor to the village was William Ralph Clemenger. Clemenger’s wide interests in social activities, concerts and sport revitalized the village from the 1880s until his death in 1918. He was also of a literary persuasion, was the local newspaper correspondent, and wrote many poems and songs about local events.
William Sibley examining a tourist’s car stuck in the river. The driver was trying to cross the Yass River after the bridge approach was washed away in 1925. The bridge is shown in the background. Behind William Sibley is Tom Sibley, one of his sons.
The New South Wales Local Government Act of 1906 had the effect of dividing Gundaroo between three local government authorities – Queanbeyan, Yass and Gunning. The main village became the southernmost point of Gunning Shire and the three large towns took most of the attention and money that was available. A garbage tip was about the only service provided; electricity did not come until 1954 and the road to Gunning was not completely sealed until the 1980s. In recent years Gunning Shire Council has canvassed the possibility of water and sewerage service to the village but the inhabitants, in general, see such ‘advances’ as expensive and unnecessary. We get along quite well without them.
Clemenger was also the local postmaster for over thirty years. To improve his salary he opted to become a ‘non-official Postmaster’ in 1896. Subsequently, though, this appointment led to a bitter complaint to the Deputy Postmaster General again about salary and also asking for an allowance for his wife Ellen.
The PMG’s Department was, as ever, diligent in the examination of the accounts. The District Inspector at Cootamundra sent Clemenger a ‘please explain’ letter about the large increase recorded in postal articles in 1916/17. [for example, there were 41,205 postal articles handled by the Gundaroo Post Office in the four weeks from 1 to 28 May 1917] Clemenger’s reply holds some interesting insights into the Village of the day.
The first telephone in Gundaroo was installed in Clemenger’s time. It was at Bowylie, the home of Mr J B N Osborne in October 1914. The scale of payment for attending to the line was ’10/- per line per subscriber per annum with a minimum of £2′.
There is a memorial to Clemenger opposite the Gundaroo Pub.
The late nineteenth century marked the start of a period of consolidation and even contraction. The depression and the shearers’ strike, coupled with the failure of the minor goldrush at nearby Bywong in 1895-96 had their effects and the Commercial Hotel (now the wine bar) failed in 1896.
All was not doom and gloom however. The Elite Skating Rink (now called the Hall) was given a new dance floor and was a popular venue for theatricals and balls for many years. Acetylene lighting (you can still see the fixtures) was installed in 1912. Gundaroo was treated to its first sight of a motor car in 1908 when James Osborne bought a de Dion Belville: ‘….famous more for its pranks than its efficiency’.
Recent years have seen an upsurge in interest in the Village from people who work in Canberra but want to enjoy a more rural lifestyle, keep a few animals, become part of a community, and enhance the turn-over of Crowes’ Wine Bar.
The visitor will notice many new houses in the Village but by and large the main street is much as it has always been.