Gilgandra, NSW: On the banks of the Castlereagh River

The town of Gilgandra is located 59 km north of Dubbo, on the Great Western Plains region of NSW.

The name Gilgandra is Aboriginal for "long water hole". Ancient Aboriginal sites can be found throughout the region, and in caves in the Warrumbungle Ranges. Hand stencils, marked rocks, and engravings can also be found.

The Gilgandra District is mostly an agricultural area with sheep, beef cattle and winter cereal cropping. Whilst Gilgandra is primarily a farming community, the town has some wonderful buildings of Twentieth-Century Late Modern style architecture, that will surprise and delight.


Aboriginal People

The Gilgandra region traditionally lies within the territories of three Aboriginal groups; Gamilaraay, Wiradjuri and Wayilwan. Tribal names have provided a sense of collective identity. However, many Aboriginal people, as with everyone else, have multiple layers of group identity.

The Gamilaraay people camped on the eastern side of the river and the Mole tribe of the Wiradjuri on the western side. The Wailwan lands were located between Gilgandra and Brewarrina.

Evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the land to the east of Gilgandra is perhaps 25,000 years and in the Warrumbungle Ranges up to 17,000 years.
Aborignal shelters, made from wood/bark (gunyas)

Aboriginal sites found around the Gilgandra region include: rock shelters, campsites and scarred trees

The Gamilaraay language was spoken over a large area of north-central New South Wales. The explorer Major Thomas Mitchell was the first person to record some vocabulary of the Gamilaraay language in 1832.

The first known recordings of the Wiradjuri language are in the writings of James Gunther in 1838.

Aboriginal people were governed by their totems, clans and moieties. These systems were similar over much of inland NSW. 
New South Wales Aboriginal woman with scar-tattoo, "The history of mankind" (1896)
Aboriginal people arrived in Australia perhaps 60.000 years ago, when New Guinea and Tasmania were part of the mainland. Since this time, the Australian environment has changed dramatically. The weather 45,000 and 25,000 years ago was much cooler and wetter. Between about 25,000 and 15,000, the climate became colder, drier and more windy. Aboriginal Australians had to adapt to these significant changes. 

Aboriginal people were not "unchanging people" in a "timeless land".

A 2011 genome study indicated that Australian Aboriginals descend from the first humans to venture beyond Africa more than 60,000 years ago. There are also strong genetic links with Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and parts of Oceania.
Aboriginal people of Western NSW keep up their traditions, Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912), Saturday 28 July 1900
The dingo arrived in Australia about 4,000 years ago. Genetic evidence implies that the dingo arrived with Indian migrants. Some Aboriginal Australians can trace as much as 11% of their genomes from gene flows from about 4000 years ago, from migrants located south of today's India.

The Castlereagh River was very important to the Aboriginal people of Gilgandra, having spiritual significance and as a place to congregate, bathe, drink, eat and hunt.

Fire was also important. Historian Stephen Pyne observed:

"Without campfires there would be no storytelling. Without torches and bonfires, there could be no ceremonial community after dark. Without the protective radiance of the hearth fire, Aborigines were defenceless against the evil spirits that marauded the night in search of souls to devour. Fire was ubiquitous in Aboriginal ritual and myth because it was ubiquitous in Aboriginal life".

Bark from trees was used for dishes, canoes and blankets. A canoe was made from a sheet of bark folded and tied at both ends with plant-fibre string.

Aboriginal bark canoe, made from a sheet of bark folded and tied at both ends with plant-fibre string.
European colonisation had a dramatic effect on many Aboriginal communities and the environments in which they lived. The resources and hunting and gathering practices of the Aboriginal people were disrupted and traditional kinship systems came under increased pressure.


Portrait of George William Evans (1780-1852), Deputy Surveyor General of NSW and Australian 
George Evans, surveyor and explorer, passed through the area between Curban and Armatree in 1818. On 13 July, Evans wrote in his diary that there were "a number of native fires about the base of the (Warrumbungle) range". On 14 July he wrote:
"...suspected that we had been watched by the natives. I saw some of them, and our resting place was surrounded by their smokes: they however did not attempt to molest us.

Licences were issued for stations along the river in the vicinity of today's Gilgandra, Curban, Armatree and Gulargambone by 1836/37. 

Richard Rouse at Mundooran, Thomas Perrie at Breelong, James Bennett at Bearbong and Curban, Lowes at Carlganda and Yalcogreen, John Hall at Calingoingong, were all early settlers,

One of the main tracks to get to Gilgandra in the early days followed the Castlereagh River from Mendooran.

Abraham Meers (Means) and Eliza Raymond resided at "Erringanerin", on the Castlereagh River, where Abraham worked as a shepherd. Their son, Samuel Meers, was born on 3rd May 1839. A newspaper article claims Aboriginal people flocked to see the white "Piccaninny," and conducted a corroboree. (1.)

Abraham was murdered by three convicts on 5th August 1839 (Llewellyn Powel, Charles Clipp and James Lynch). The convicts were caught and executed 29th Nov 1839. Abraham was buried the following day at Cullengoingoing, the site of his death. The murderers were caught on the day of the murder and later hanged at Sydney. 
South Australian Record and Australasian and South African Chronicle (SA : 1840 - 1841), Saturday 6 June 1840
An inn was established at the Gulgonda (now Gilgandra) river crossing in 1840.

According to the surveyor Thomas Mitchell in 1846, the Aboriginal people named what was later called the Castlereagh River, Barr.

Surveyor George Boyle White in July 1848, was tracing the course of the Castlereagh River when he wrote in his diary that new young cypress trees were growing thickly in an area around Rouse's station (Breelong). He also commented before he'd got to Merritt's (Eringanerin) that if there wasn't a fire through there, it would become a thick scrub in 20 years. 

Prior to the 1840s, some Aboriginal people were already working for the pastoralists along the Castlereagh River. 

In 1848 Thomas Spicer took up the Carlgandra run and John Merritt was at Eringanerin on the eastern side of the Castlereagh River. 

Cobb & Co.

The Cobb and Co. transport route linking European settlements was built from 1850 to 1923. The Corduroy Road Ruin Historic Site is a heritage-listed former stagecoach route located at East Coonamble Road, Curban, Gilgandra Shire. (A Corduroy Road is made by placing logs over "slushy, spongy patches" of road).

The Cobb & Co. service from Gilgandra to Coonamble came to an end around 1898. Bill Rowley offered a cheaper price than Cobb & Co. for the mail service on this route and was given the contract. However, Rowley did not have enough horses for the Dubbo to Coonamble run, or stables and grooms for "change overs". Adam Nolan took over until the end of Cobb & Co. in Gilgandra.
One of Cobb & Co.'s coaches, COBB & CO. (1924, December 13). The Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 - 1925)
James Christian (born Wicklow, Ireland) had a hotel and post office combined at "Carlgandra" run, for which he earned a salary of 12 pounds. After this, he leased New Breelong Station sometime before 1860. This run included the area of the Goonoo State Conservation Area located north of Breelong Road. James Christian died on the property when a bale of wool fell off the skids, when loading the teams, killing him. His grave can be found on the property.
First post office at Gilgandra, with Postmaster James Christian. A post office was established at Gilgandra on 1 January 1867 and operated until 1 January 1871. He was employed at a salary of £12 per annum.
The first licensed hotel was the Bushman's Arms Hotel in 1866.

Hannah Morris, known as "The Mother of Gilgandra", was the first Publican of the Bushman’s Arms, which also included the post office. Hannah and her husband were also involved in establishing the first school in Gilgandra in 1877.

In 1884 Hannah Morris opened the first bridge over the Castlereagh River.
Bridge over the Castlereagh River at Gilgandra, NSW, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 3 March 1928
Between 1874 and 1880 Cobb & Co. operated twice-weekly mail services between Gilgandra and Dubbo.

A telegraph office opened at Gilgandra in 1882.

Gilgandra was proclaimed a town in 1888.

Courts of Petty Sessions were held in Gilgandra in June 1884, with a permanent Court not being appointed until July 1911. A Court House was built in Court Street around 1915. That building was relocated to the site in Myrtle Street in early 1929.

The first Police Station in the Gilgandra district was established at Curban in 1880. This building was later moved to Gilgandra and was demolished about 1931. The police operated from a room in the Gilgandra Court House, in Myrtle Street, for some years. The present Gilgandra Police Station was built in 1934.
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1919), Saturday 9 October 1886
The town was proclaimed in 1888. The first town blocks were sold in 1889.

The Golden West Hotel opened in the 1890's as the Imperial Hotel.

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Gilgandra, was built in Elizabeth Street in1925. It is no longer functioning.
Drawing of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Gilgandra, 15 Elizabeth St, Gilgandra NSW


Breelong Murders

John and Sarah Mawbey, who were the licensees of the Breelong Inn, employed various Aboriginal men, including, Jimmy Governor and Jacky Underwood, who murdered four members of the Mawbrey family and a governess.

This crime, known as the Breelong massacre occurred on the night of the 20th July 1900. The fictionalised novel (by Thomas Keneally) and film (by director Fred Schepsi), The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, is about this crime.

Jimmy Governor was married to a white woman, Ethel Page, when she was aged 16, and five month's pregnant with his child. The couple experienced many critical comments: inter-racial marriage was not common at the time.

Mrs Sarah Mawbey and three of her children, Hilda, Percy and Grace, together with school teacher Helen Kerz, were killed by Governor and Underwood.

Underwood was captured soon afterwards, but Governor and his younger brother Joe fled into the bush. and went on a robbing spree in the Hunter Valley area, committing other murders along the way. *Gender is the best predictor of criminal behaviour

The Black Tracker (later Sergeant Alexander Riley of Dubbo) in a newspaper article years later said:
"For three months I hunted Gov-
ernor through the scrub from hide-
out to hideout. I followed him by
a peculiar track. I notice a strand
of string had marked each pad, so
knew it was a human wearing
a foot pad to cover tracks."
Sunday Herald (Sydney, NSW : 1949 - 1953) 9 July 1950
The lad standing by the horse to the right of the picture is Bertie Mawbey, who crawled under the bed, and escaped the Breelong massacre, Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), Saturday 28 July 1900
Sarah Mawbey, wife of John Mawbey of Breelong, buried at Gilgandra Cemetery, NSW, NSW, Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912), Saturday 4 August 1900
 Helen Kerz, schoolteacher, Breelong NSW, buried at Gilgandra Cemetery, NSW. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912), Saturday 4 August 1900
Jacky Underwood fled Gilgandra and arrives at Mudgee lockup, NSW, Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912), Saturday 4 August 1900
Aboriginal Australian bushranger, Jimmy Governor

Post Office at Gilgandra, N.S.W. - very early 1900s, Aussie~mobs
Gilgandra's large department store building on Miller Street street began as A.F Garling Stores. The original facade fell down 1936 and was rebuilt as The Western Stores. Castlereagh (Gilgandra, NSW : 1905 - 1907), Friday 27 September 1907
Miller Street, Gilgandra, NSW, c1910, Aussie~mobs


The Gilgandra district had 250 volunteers out of the population of 4,500 to assist with the war effort.  However, after Gallipoli and the grim reality of war, there were fewer Australian volunteers. 

The Coo-ee March was organised by Gilgandra resident William (Bill) Hitchen, working with Alex Miller, secretary of the local recruiting association, to encourage more volunteers to join the war effort.

On 10 October 1915, 30 Gilgandra men set off on the 320-mile (510 km) march, cheered on by a crowd of 3,000. The 30 men were joined by another 5 Gilgandra men on route. They reached Sydney a month later, with 263 recruits.
The Gilgandra recruits leaving that town on the march to Sydney, NSW. The processionAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1919), Wednesday 20 October 1915
Recruitment march which began in Gilgandra and ended in Sydney, Australia. The movement was originated by the captain of the local rifle club, Mr. W.T. Hitchen, who accompanied the recruits on their journey. Aussie~mobs
Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938), Wednesday 3 November 1915,
Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1915 - 1929), Friday 10 December 1915
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 - 1930), Tuesday 3 October 1916
Alvin Stanley from "Karuah", Breelong, with his brother, Robert Stanley enlisted in Sydney on 22 August 1914 and joined the 1st Light Horse Regiment, C Squadron, along with many local Gilgandra young men. 
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 - 1930), Thursday 19 July 1917


St. Ambrose Anglican Church at Gilgandra was built using a gift of £1200 given to the town by St Ambrose Parish of Bournemouth in England. This gift was for being the town in the British Empire with the most outstanding war service.
Marble plaque in the south porch of St Ambrose Church, Bournemouth, UK, Alwyn Ladell
  Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938), Wednesday 21 June 1922
On the way to the timber mill, Gilgandra, NSW,  Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938), Wednesday 5 September 1923
Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), Sunday 12 September 1926
A fire at a store and printing office in Gilgandra. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 - 1930), Thursday 1 March 1928
Fire at Gilgandra, NSW, Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 - 1930), Monday 23 December 1929
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 - 1930), Friday 2 March 1928
Miller Street, Gilgandra, NSW, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 3 March 1928
Type of home at Gilgandra, NSW, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 3 March 1928
Flying fox used by children to get to school when the Castlereagh River, NSW, was in flood, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 3 March 1928
The ABC Cafe Gilgandra, NSW. The first owner of the ABC Cafe was Stavros Baveas. Emmanuel Georgopoulos bought the cafe and operated it in partnership with Chrisyanthe (sister) and her husband, Paul Kelly (Yiannakellis). The ABC cafe closed in 1979, Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1915 - 1929), Thursday 24 October 1929


The railway Hotel Gilgandra NSW, built 1910. about 1930s
Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (NSW : 1929 - 1942), Thursday 6 February 1930,
Daily Pictorial (Sydney, NSW : 1930 - 1931), Friday 2 January 1931
Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (NSW : 1929 - 1942), Thursday 25 August 1932
Gilgandra Show, NSW, Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938), Wednesday 23 August 1933
Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 - 1954), Friday 25 August 1933
CORROBOREE AT HER WEDDING (1930, August 3). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954)
Methodist Church, Gilgandra, NSW, constructed in 1910, Methodist (Sydney, NSW : 1892 - 1954), Saturday 30 March 1935
 Wheat silo at Gilgandra, NSW, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 13 January 1934
Gilgandra from Fire Station Tower, NSW, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 13 January 1934
The hut where Hewett's body was found at Gilganda Common, NSW, Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), Sunday 26 January 1936
Jack Hewtt in his sulky, Gilgandra, NSW, Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), Sunday 26 January 1936

"MISS JEAN WILLIAMS of Gilgandra who left
with the New South Wales womens cricket
team on Saturday night for Brisbane was enter-
tained in her home town before her departure
and presented by Councillor Tibbits on behalf
of the citizens with a wallet of notes."
1936 'AMONG THE SPORTSWOMEN', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)

Young dancers at the Gilgandra Catholic Church annual juvenile Ball, NSW, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), Saturday 7 November 1936


 Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (NSW : 1929 - 1942), Thursday 15 January 1942


Rawdon MIDDLETON VC (1916–1942), was known as Ron Middleton and was the elder son of Frank Middleton and his wife Faith, née Miller. He was raised at Gilgandra as a teenager, became a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942, serving in WWII, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), Saturday 23 January 1943
 Malcolm FORAN DFC (1922–1979), son of Herbert Foran (See 'War Heroes WW1) and Grace, née Deans, Malcolm was Gilgandra-born and raised, and was a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force serving in England in WWII. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944.Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Thursday 3 February 1944

Betty Maureen Adams, born Gilgandra, NSW, in the Australia, World War II Military Service Records, 1939-1945.

Uncle Ralph Naden

Uncle Ralph Naden born in Peak Hill in 1945 came to Gilgandra by horse and cart in 1948. The family settled in The Pines with other Aboriginal families. He became a well known Aboriginal Dancer, player of the Didgeridoo, sharing Dreamtime stories. Also a recipient of a 2019 Order of Australia medal for his volunteer work.

Shanty Settlements

Two shanty towns existed outside Gilgandra: Tin City was located on the eastern side of the Castlereagh River, and another camp at The Pines, on high ground at the western end of town. Tin City, which developed during the Great Depression, was so named as the huts were constructed using flattened kerosene tins. Many families, including Aboriginal families, lived at Tin City and The Pines. 
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954), Sunday 18 October 1953

A shack at The Pines with earth floor, Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), Wednesday 7 October 1953
Victory Day at Gilgandra Show, NSW, Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 - 1954), Friday 24 August 1945,
Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 - 1954), Friday 24 August 1945
Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Thursday 20 November 1947
Clay pigeon shooters at Gilgandra, THE CROSS BROTHERS—SLEET, COL, TED and KEN, Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Thursday 26 May 1949
Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Thursday 7 April 1949


Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 - 1954), Friday 1 December 1950
Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Thursday 7 August 1952
Premature quadruplets were born at Gilgandra District Hospital in October 1953, to a family who lived at The Pines.
 Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954), Thursday 8 October 1953
In the 1950s, there were over 300 windmills at Gilgandra pumping water from the sub-artesian basin.


The 1955 flood devastated Gilgandra and washed away the homes and possessions of many. 

Outside Tony Shalhoub's house, Warren St, Gilgandra, NSW. Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Wednesday 16 March 1955
The big hole on the corner of Morris and Myrtle streets, Gilgandra, NSW. It is said that a Chinese man had a garden here in the early days and a well was on this spot. Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Wednesday 16 March 1955
Gilgandra Weekly (NSW : 1942 - 1955), Wednesday 16 March 1955

Swimming pool, Gilgandra NSW, about 1950s


The Shire Council built a reticulated water supply in 1966, to reduce dependency on private mills.


Golden Fleece (West) Hotel, Gilgandra, Nsw, July 1990. The hotel burned down in 2008 Jen Wood
Railway Hotel, Gilgandra, Nsw, July 1990, Jen Wood
"No Worries" (1993-4), a film about a family is forced off their farm due to drought, and move to Sydney, is set around Gilgandra.
The Royal Hotel, Gilgandra, NSW, July 1990, Jen Wood
St Josephs primary school, Gilgandra, Nsw, July 1990. Since replaced with a new school. Jen Wood

Ernie Knight Oval was named in 1995 in recognition of Aboriginal man Ernie Knight who maintained the town's parks, gardens and recreational grounds for the Gilgandra Council.

Around Gilgandra

Gilgandra Newspapers at Miller Street, Gilgandra, NSW
Federation Free Style Gilgandra Post Office, NSW, built 1911
St Ambrose Anglican church, Gilgandra, NSW, built from 1921 to 1922
Gilgandra Courthouse, Gilgandra NSW, built in the Federation Queen Anne style, opened 1884
Hitchen House Military Museum, Miller St Gilgandra, NSW, housed in an historic cottage, the home of Bill Hitchen, the originator of the Coo-ee March of 1915.
Art Deco building at Gilgandra, NSW built 1930s
Castlereagh Butchery was established by J Hundy & Sons in around 1902, Gilgandra NSW, John
The original Lodge Hall was a weatherboard building which was originally a Union Church. The Masons then built a small brick lodge building next door. Both buildings were destroyed by fire in August 1922. Meetings were held in the Church of England Hall until the present Masonic Temple, Warrumbungle No.277 was opened in 1923, Gilgandra NSW
Interesting Twentieth-Century Late Modern style of architecture, Gilgandra NSW
Art Deco building, Gilgandra, NSW Jen Wood
Tattersalls Hotel, Gilgandra, NSW
Shops at Gilgandra, NSW
Gilgandra IGA, NSW
The Western Monarch Theatre, at Gilgandra NSW, was opened on 13th December 1934, designed in an Art Deco style, crissouli
Gilgandra Cooee march mural, New South Wales, Australia crissouli
The former Union Bank at Gilgandra, NSW, was constructed in Miller Street in 1927
Former Commercial Bank, 58 Miller Street, Gilgandra, NSW

Miller Street, Gilgandra NSW

Gilgandra windmills, NSW
Aboriginal art at Gilgandra Heritage Centre, NSW
The Railway Hotel Gilgandra NSW, built 1910
Palmer's Furniture & Bric A Brac Market in Gilgandra, NSW
Billy Morris owned a Butcher Shop in Miller Street, Gilgandra, NSW.
Warren Road Gilgandra NSW
Shop fronts at Gilgandra NSW
A homestead at Gilgandra NSW John
The Royal Hotel, originally known as the Bridge Hotel, was built 1892, and made from mud bricks dug from a pit in the hotel's back yard
Feetham House, Gilgandra, NSW, was constructed to house the Church of the Resurrection School in 1911
"Berida Woolshed" Collie, near Gilgandra NSW, built 1899

Things To Do and Place To Go

Windmill Walk

Gilgandra Rural Museum

Gilgandra Observatory

Warrumbungle National Park Coo-ee Heritage Centre

Berida Woolshed