Wyangala is a small village in the Lachlan Valley, near the junction of the Abercrombie and Lachlan Rivers, just below the Wyangala Dam wall.
- Area:242.541 km2
- Elevation:320 m
- Local Government Area:Hilltops Council
Wyangalais a small village in the Lachlan Valley, near the junction of the Abercrombie and Lachlan Rivers, just below the Wyangala Dam wall. It is in the South West Slopes of New South Wales, Australia, and about 320 km (200 mi) west of the state capital, Sydney.
The village was named after an indigenous word of unknown meaning, thought to be of Wiradjuri origin. The Wiradjuri were the original inhabitants of the Lachlan Valley, with campsites along river flats, on open land and by rivers. Their traditional way of life was altered, and perhaps lost, following the exploration of the valley by British explorers, John Oxley and George William Evans in 1815. White settlement followed in the 1830s, leading to violent clashes between the Wiradjuri and the settlers.
The present-day village was established in 1928, during the construction of Wyangala Dam.However, in the same area, there was a scattered pioneering settlement known as Wyangala Flats, which was established in the 1840s.This settlement was submerged under water following the completion of Wyangala Dam in 1935.
Although Wyangala grew substantially during periods of dam construction, the population dwindled in the subsequent years. This resulted in the removal of houses and the closure of most businesses, leaving Wyangala with a small primary school, a Catholic church, sports fields and parks, in addition to other facilities. There are no buildings of historical note, as the original purpose of the village was to solely provide utilitarian accommodation for the construction workers.
Attractions in the area include Lake Wyangala (used for power generation, water-sports and fishing activities), a nine-hole golf course, walking and mountain bike trails, and the 1.37 km (0.85 mi) long dam wall itself. Wyangala has a warm and temperate climate with a diverse range of native and exotic plants and animals, including threatened and endangered species.The flora, fauna and village residents occupy a hilly landscape dominated by granite, with large rock outcrops and boulders throughout the entire area.
## The Wiradjuri people and European settlement
The Wiradjuri people were the original custodians of the region surrounding Wyangala. These skilled hunter-fisher-gatherers wore possum-skin cloaks and lived along river flats, on open ground and by rivers. They were, and still remain, the largest indigenous group in New South Wales, with tribal lands encompassing the Macquarie, the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee rivers.Archaeological investigations have identified over 200 Wiradjuri campsites around Wyangala, suggesting the native population in the area was originally high. Campsites were located on gentle hill slopes, on elevated crests and on alluvial/colluvial terraces near the Lachlan River course.The name 'Wyangala' (pronounced ) originates from a Wiradjuri word of unknown meaning. However, similar sounding words in the Wiradjuri language indicate it may mean troublesome or bad (wanggun) white (ngalar). The village, situated adjacent the Lachlan River, inherited this name, as did the scattered pioneering settlement of Wyangala Flats.
On 27 May 1815, Deputy Surveyor George William Evans was the first European to discover the headwaters of the Lachlan River, naming it in honour of the NSW Governor, Lachlan Macquarie. Two years later Evans and John Oxley, with Evans by his side, explored the Lachlan. They had friendly encounters with the Wiradjuri people, noting that the language they spoke was distinctly different from that used by the indigenous population on the coast. By the time Oxley had reached the Cumbung Swamp, he could advance no further due to the presence of 'impassable' marshland, eventually being forced to abandon the journey and to turn back. Oxley believed he had reached a marshy inland sea, concluding that the interior of Australia was 'uninhabitable' and unfit for settlement.Despite Oxley's bleak assessment of the Lachlan Valley, European settlement of the area began several years after the expedition. In 1831 Arthur Rankin and James Sloan, both cattlemen from Bathurst, were the first white settlers to move into the Valley. Encroachment on traditional Wiradjuri lands resulted in violent clashes between the indigenous population and the settlers. In the midst of this ongoing conflict, new land was made available in the Wyangala area by the colonial government. By the 1840s occupation licenses for land at Wyangala Flats were being auctioned from the Bathurst Police Office, and by 1860 country lots at Wyangala were selling from the Boorowa Police Office for £1 an acre. At this time and until the construction of the 1935 dam, the land at Wyangala was primarily used for wool production.The conflict with the Wiradjuri people lessened by the 1850s, as gold mining and free selection brought new settlers to the area. The unrelenting tide of Europeans overwhelmed the indigenous population, resulting in the occupation of traditional lands, the destruction of sacred sites, and perhaps most damaging of all, the introduction of new diseases. This eventually led to the displacement and the decline of the Wiradjuri people.
## Gold and bushrangers
Gold mining was prevalent in the nearby Mount McDonald area in the late 1800s and early 1900s after two gold rich quartz reefs were discovered in 1880. The reefs were found by Donald McDonald and his party as they were prospecting the mountain ranges around Wyangala. McDonald happened upon the gold by chance, after seeing sunlight reflect off something beneath a tree near his camp. As news of his discovery spread, miners were drawn to the area and slowly the township of Mount McDonald 'grew in the midst of the forest'. In its prime, the town had
some 600 persons living there as well as many people in the surrounding district. A school, at least one (Catholic) Church, banks, a general store... a resident doctor and the inevitable pubs.
By the late 1920s, as mining declined, the town faded away. A hamlet of no more than 4 or 5 houses exists where the Mt McDonald township once stood.
Although most of the gold mining activity was limited to Mount McDonald, alluvial gold and precious gems were also found along the banks of the Lachlan River at Wyangala in the early 1900s.However, the find was not significant enough to see commercial interest.The discovery of gold in other parts of New South Wales in the years prior to that found at Mount McDonald, led to increased bushranger activity. During the 1860s and 1870s the Lachlan Valley had serious problems with bushrangers, notably gangs led by Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert and Ben Hall, amongst others. Frank Gardiner was one of the most successful bushrangers of the time. His final robbery, which also was to be his greatest haul, occurred in 1862 at Eugowra Rocks.In this instance, Gardiner along with Ben Hall, John Gilbert and others, robbed a 'gold escort' carrying in the range of £14,000–£22,000 in gold and cash. It was rumored that Gardiner convinced the gang members to bury their share of the gold in a mountain cave near Wyangala.
Somewhere on a rock-strewn mountain near the Fish River that empties into the Wyangala Dam, a fortune in stolen gold lies hidden.
Gardiner was to give the gang members a signal when it was safe to recover the gold. This was never to happen, as Gardiner was eventually exiled to the United States after being sent to prison. Five years after the heist, an Irishman arrived in New South Wales with a rough map marking the location of the gold, purportedly drawn by Gardiner.Even with this map and years of searching, no trace of the gold was ever found. By the late 1800s improved police efficiency was bringing to a close the era of the bushranger, many of whom had been gaoled, exiled, shot or hanged. This decline in criminal activity coincided with a general push to populate the region, the introduction of telegraph communications, and the development of transport infrastructure.
## 20th century
By the early 1900s, unreliable river flows were stifling development in the Lachlan Valley. In 1902 the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales recognised the need for water conservation. Recurrent droughts and their associated effects on waterways were impacting production and causing significant livestock deaths. The Assembly considered options to address the problem, including a proposal to build a reservoir at Wyangala. Previous surveys of the Lachlan Valley had identified Wyangala as being the only suitable location for a large water storage. These early discussions eventually led to the construction of the 1935 dam and the beginnings of present-day Wyangala village.
### 1928–1935 dam construction
To promote development in the region and to provide a reliable water supply, the Burrinjuck Dam and Wyangala Dam were constructed. The official sod-turning ceremony to mark the beginning of the A£1.3 million project was performed by the NSW Premier, Sir Thomas Bavin, on 17 December 1928. The ceremony was not conducted in the usual manner of turning over a sod of soil, it was achieved through the detonation of explosives, removing tonnes of earth and rock.The 'galvanized-iron town of Wyangala' was established to house the construction workers on land once owned by the Green family – pioneering settlers. By January 1930 Wyangala had become a bustling center with 450 workers and their families in the village, and 74 children attending the new primary school. In the words of a district resident
the township is progressing rapidly. The most important buildings are: One post and telegraph office, two stores, two bakers' shops, one police station, one medical practitioner, one butcher's shop, one public hall and school, one church, one boarding-house for the men employed at the works, one G.S. bank, one temporary power house, and about 40 private residences... When the dam is full the water will cover our house. I should think it will be a nice sight when completed. A new road has just been built from Woodstock to the dam. It runs through some wonderful scenery. A 32-passenger bus runs from Woodstock to the dam tri-weekly.
This major undertaking was not without incident. Four men died during the construction of the dam, the first being Leslie Jeffrey, falling into the Lachlan River and drowning in 1929. His death was followed by that of Walter Watt, a laborer (1931), Wickliffe Brien, a dogman (1931) and Patrick Lewis, a carpenter (1933).The original pioneering settlement and cemetery were submerged under water after the dam was completed in 1935.
### 1961–1971 dam upgrade
Wyangala failed to hold the surging floodwaters of the devastating 1952 deluge, which was greater than any water mass it had been designed to withstand.
Due to concerns about the original dam capacity to withstand floods and a projected increase in demand for water by the agricultural industry in the region, Wyangala Dam was upgraded and enlarged from 1961 to 1971. Housing for the workers and their families was provided in temporary demountable dwellings within the village. At this time and also during the 1935 dam build, utilitarian construction prevailed, giving Wyangala no dwellings of historical note.The ten-year, A£18 million enlargement project increased the storage capacity of the dam threefold. The total surface area of the upgraded reservoir was 5,390 ha (13,300 acres), storing 1,220,000 ML (43,000×10^6 cu ft) (two and a half times the volume of Sydney Harbour), within a catchment of 8,300 km2 (3,200 sq mi).The opening ceremony for the upgraded dam was scheduled to be performed by Sir Roden Cutler, Governor of NSW on 8 February 1971. However, because of heavy rains and road flooding three days prior to the event, the opening was delayed until 6 August 1971. Over 2000 guests and officials attended the ceremony. In the months and years following the dam opening, the population of Wyangala decreased significantly; houses used by workers on the north-west and north-east sides of the village were removed, leaving only the houses seen in the present day village, just below the dam wall.
### Post office, school and church
By March 1929, with dam construction underway (see above), up to 60 letters arrived in the village every day or two, whenever a vehicle made the trip from Cowra to Wyangala. With over 350 workers and their families already in the growing village, the lack of a post office or telegraph office was a great inconvenience to the residents. To alleviate this issue, and to provide the residents with a reliable postal service, Wyangala Dam Post Office was opened on 14 March 1929. The newly opened post office stamped mail with a Type 2C postmark, which had a full stop after the ‘W’ of ‘N.S.W.’.Throughout the subsequent years, the village post office became an integral part of the Wyangala community, providing the expected postal and, at times, banking services (as an agent for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia). In the post-telegraph era, a manual telephone exchange was also located within the post office.The postmaster/mistress would run the telephone exchange in conjunction with running the post office. The telephone exchange was automated in the late 1980s and the post office itself was closed in 1998.Postmasters/mistresses from the 1970s until closure, included:
Ken and Peggy Bloomfield (1970s)
Rosa and Graham Parr (1970s to early 1980s)
Geoff and Vicki Scott (early to mid 1980s)
Jim and Yvonne Thomas (mid 1980s to late 1980s)
Peter Raudonkis (1990s)Wyangala Dam Public School was established not long after the opening of the village post office, in 1929. At the time it was the district's second school. Since establishment, the school has been located at three different sites around the village.The first was near the present-day bowling club, and then near the Vic Roworth Conference Center, and finally during the 1960s, it was moved to its current location on Waugoola Road. Notably, there was an earlier school at Wyangala, which was established 22 years prior.This school ran for six years and closed in 1913.The number of children attending the school has varied widely over the years, ranging from 70+ in 1930, to 160 in the 1960s, to 20+ in the early 1980s, to under 10 in the 2000s.The first church in Wyangala was a small building made from timber and corrugated iron, built during the construction of the 1935 dam. As with the village school, it was originally located near the present-day country club, opposite the bowling green. After the dam was completed, the church was purchased by Mr Bert Priddle and transported to a property near Grenfell, where it was re-erected and licensed as an Anglican place of worship on 17 November 1935, eventually becoming consecrated by Bishop Wylde on 19 August 1953.The current church, St Vincent's, was built at the center of the village under the direction of Aub Murray, with interdenominational help. It is of cinder block construction, with an iron roof. The church was officially opened on 19 November 1954. The day after the opening, as preparations were being made for the first mass, a storm knocked down the rear wall of the church.Rebuilding the wall delayed the first mass until 5 December 1954.
The only recorded case of a suspected murder in Wyangala village occurred in July 1935, when the coroner, Mr H. D. Pulling found the death of Mr John Neilson, a worker at the dam, was caused by a bullet wound to the head. The suspects were named as Mrs Mavis Neilsen (the victim's wife) and Mr Claude Charnock (a family friend).Both suspects claimed the shooting was accidental and self-inflicted.However, evidence from the post mortem, conducted by Dr Mahon of Cowra, and that of another witness, indicated the wound could not be self-inflicted.The suspects were charged and brought to trial in September 1935, the Crown alleging that they conspired together to kill Mr John Neilson.A short time into the trial, before the prosecution could complete their case, there was a dramatic turn of events when the jury indicated they did not wish to continue, as 'the evidence was not good enough to convict the accused'. The prosecutor appealed to the jury to wait to hear more witness and police testimony. However, after taking no more than a few seconds to consider the request, the jury members agreed there was no point continuing. Consequently, the judge acquitted both the accused and allowed them to go free.
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