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Gunbar: A Rising Settlement Back to:   History Pages

This page, relating to Gunbar village and surrounding district, is in four parts.

  • A brief early history of "Gunbar" station and Gunbar village.
  • An account of the inaugural meeting of the Gunbar Selectors' Association, from the Riverine Grazier of 7 July 1883.
  • A letter expressing the ideal of closer settlement, printed in the Riverine Grazier of 20 October 1883 (preceded by a brief history of land selection legislation in NSW).
  • The article 'A Rising Settlement' from Town & Country Journal (1887), reprinted in the Riverine Grazier on 2 August 1887. 
        (See also the complete index of the publication Pioneers of Gunbar).


    The land later known as "Gunbar" station was first occupied by Europeans during the expansion by squatters along the Lachlan River in 1839 and the early 1840s.  By the early 1870s "Gunbar" and other surrounding runs were held by the partnership of G. Kirk, John Bramwell and Albert Synnot.  In 1875, after Synnot's death, the leases were transferred to G. Kirk and D.B. Reid.  In 1876 "Gunbar" station was held by W. Cumming & Co., with John Armstrong as manager.  "Gunbar" comprised an area of at least 380,000 acres during this period.  In 1881 the Armstrong brothers - William, Thomas, Robert, and John - bought the leasehold of "Gunbar" for £300,000, and John Armstrong continued as the managing partner.  Stock returns for 1888 record the area of "Gunbar" station as 280,000 acres, reflecting the inroads made by selectors since the mid-1870s as the district became more closely settled and the village of Gunbar was established.  After John Armstrong's death in 1899 his eldest son, William, managed the station until it was sold in June 1918 to T.A. Creswick.


    William Spry and his brother George were successful carriers based in the Hay district in the 1860s.  William Spry married Florence Donnelly in 1870 at Bendigo; at about that time Spry built a slab hotel at the future site of Gunbar village, a locality where carriers often camped.  By September 1871 Spry had applied for a license for his public-house, the Gunbar Hotel.  Florence Spry ran the hotel while her husband continued to work his bullock-teams in the district.  The original structure was burnt down but William Spry replaced it with a weatherboard-clad structure.  By November 1873 the license of the Gunbar Hotel was held by John Donohue.  In the first half of the following year the license was transferred from Donohue to Charles Simpson, and soon afterwards to Ebenezer Wood.  By October 1875 the publican was Henry Major.  William Spry had selected land east of Gunbar which he called "Paradise Farm" and continued to work as a carrier in the district.  In 1879 the Gunbar Hotel license was transferred from Henry Major to James McPherson.

    A Post Office opened at Gunbar on 1 July 1879, with James McPherson as postmaster.  By the early 1880s Gunbar village consisted of the Gunbar Hotel run by Archibald McPherson, a blacksmith's shop, a wheelwright's shop, a Chinese market garden and a mail change (a dwelling and stables where the coach horses were changed).  Robertson and Wagner (part of the Cobb & Co. network) ran mail and passenger services to Hillston from both Hay and Carrathool, with the routes converging at Gunbar.  Protestant religious services began to be held in the dining-room of the Gunbar Hotel, conducted by the Presbyterian minister from Hay, Rev. Samuel A. Hamilton.

    In early 1884 the township of Gunbar was surveyed by the Government Surveyor.  However, the proposed township was located just over a mile north of the original village that had developed around Spry's hotel.  A church was the first building erected at the surveyed township later the same year, with money raised locally by subscription.  Though nominally Presbyterian, services by Anglican and Methodist ministers were occasionally also held at the church.  (In 1914 the church was removed to an elevated location near the original village.)  Some town lots at the surveyed site were purchased and a few buildings erected there, but there was little enthusiasm for the location.  Often referred to as North Gunbar, the location lacked shade and fresh well-water.  John G. Bunn, appointed postmaster after James McPherson resigned in 1885, built a Post Office and store near the church.  (The Post Office remained at North Gunbar until Bunn's death in 1899, when it reverted to the original village.)  William Gannon erected a hotel at North Gunbar in about 1886, but failed to obtain a publican's license.  Undeterred, Gannon and his large family operated the establishment, known as "Gannon's Hotel", as a sly-grog shop and boarding-house.

    In February 1884 Edward Mensforth took over as publican of the Gunbar Hotel.  In 1884 the firm of Meakes & Fay, merchants at Hay, established a large store at Gunbar (South), dealing in general goods and produce.  The store was managed by William J. Simpson and Harrison S. Pollard.  In 1889 William Simpson and Harrison Pollard purchased the business of the store and continued to trade as Simpson and Pollard.  Their commodious produce store became a regular venue for local dances and other social functions.  In 1888 William Simpson married Catherine Robertson, the daughter of a local selector.  Harrison Pollard married Laura Hillman in 1892 (the daughter of another local selector) and the couple settled on a selection called "Honuna".  Simpson bought out his partner and became sole owner of the store.  Catherine Simpson died in 1893, after the birth of her first child; shortly afterwards William Simpson married Catherine's sister Rachel.  William and Rachel Simpson continued to run the store at Gunbar.  The Post Office was located there from 1899 after John Bunn's death.  The store burned down in about 1903 and soon afterwards William Simpson and his family relocated to Hay.

  • (Riverine Grazier, Saturday, 7 July 1883)


    A meeting of the selectors of the Gunbar district was held at the Gunbar Hotel on the 2nd instant [2 July 1883 ].  Mr. Haylock was in the chair, and there was a fair attendance.

    Mr. Haylock moved that a Selectors’ Association be now formed, to be called the "Gunbar Selectors’ Association."   This was seconded by Mr. Flanagan and carried.

    Mr. Luxdon [Lugsdin] proposed, and Mr. Flanagan seconded, that the rules of the Yass Free Selectors’ Association be adopted, to be amended if necessary.  This was carried.

    Mr. Flanagan moved, and it was seconded by Mr. Sides, and carried, that the meeting form itself into a committee of the whole to make whatever alterations were required.

    Mr. Sides moved, and Mr. Warren seconded, that three-fourths majority of any meeting be necessary in admitting new members.  This was carried, as also the appointment of Mr. Warren as President, Mr. Ryan, as vice-president, Mr. Flanagan, as secretary, and Mr. Haylock, as treasurer, and Messrs Luxdon [Lugsdin], Sides, Walker, Mawhinney, Gibson, and Pearce, as committee.

    The following platform was adopted: –

    1. That a pre-lease be secured to each conditional purchase.
    2. That it is desirable to decentralise the administration of the land laws by establishing boards with local jurisdiction.
    3. That the temporary reservation of Crown lands are in excess of public requirements.

    After revising and framing rules the meeting separated, but empowered the secretary to call them together if necessary.

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    The following letter to the editor of the Riverine Grazier, from a correspondent using the nom-de-plume 'Gunbar', is a clear expression of the ideal of closer settlement.  Legislation had been passed in the Colony of New South Wales in 1861 to encourage closer settlement and fairer allocation of land by allowing 'free selection before survey'.  However, squatting leases already in existence ensured that the Riverina pastoral runs were not available for selection until 1866.  Severe drought in the late 1860s discouraged selection in areas except those close to established townships.  Selection activity increased with more favourable seasons in the early 1870s.  Both selectors and squatters used the broad framework of the Land Acts to maximise their advantages in the ensuing scramble for land.  There was a general manipulation of the system by squatters, selectors and profiteers alike.  The legislation secured access to the squatter's land for the selector, but thereafter effectively left him to fend for himself.  Amendments passed in 1875 sought to remedy some of the abuses perpetrated under the original selection legislation.  But discontent was rife and a political shift in the early 1880s saw the setting up of a commission to inquire into the effects of the land legislation.  The Morris and Ranken committee of inquiry, which reported in 1883, found that the number of homesteads established was a small percentage of the applications for selections under the Act, especially in areas of low rainfall such as the Riverina.  The greater number of selections were made by squatters or their agents, or by selectors unable to establish themselves or who sought to gain by re-sale.  Some areas in the Riverina, such as the district surrounding the village of Gunbar, had developed essentially as a community of selectors.  The Crown Lands Act of 1884, subsequent to the letter reproduced below and introduced in the wake of the Morris-Ranken inquiry, sought to compromise between the integrity of the large pastoral leaseholds and the political requirements of equality of land availability and closer settlement patterns.  The Act divided pastoral runs into Leasehold Areas (held under short-term leases) and Resumed Areas (available for settlement as smaller homestead leases) and allowed for the establishment of local Land Boards.  [Sid Hammell's Free Selection in NSW in the 19th Century is a good general introduction to the subject; Rusheen Craig's Homestead Leases has a detailed explanation of the scheme and lists of homestead leases granted for Western NSW].

    (Riverine Grazier, 20 October 1883)

    (To the Editor of the Riverine Grazier.)

    SIR. – Parliament has been called together at last, and the general subject of conversation is what about the Land Bill?  Are we going to have a bill to encourage settlement on the land, or as in the past, one to throw every obstacle in the way of bona fide settlement, and with every facility for forming large sheep runs.  To read the speeches at the late banquet at Hillston to Mr. Loughnan, one would imagine that this country was never destined to be more than a large sheepwalk, having about one man to every twenty-five square miles, which is the outside rate of hands, old and young, the stations employ.  We all know that the climate is too irregular for any dependence to be placed on agriculture, but we do know and have actual proof that independent incomes an be made by families having from four to five thousand sheep, and if the whole of the Hay and Hillston districts had been occupied by settlers of this class there would have been such an amount of business to be done in both towns as to make them second to none in New South Wales.  Hay at the present time is making very rapid progress, business places going up in all directions.  To an outsider the query is: What is to keep all these shops going?  Directly one leaves the town and goes into the country by any one of the roads leading thereto, all signs of inhabitants soon vanish, and instead of seeing homesteads and farm buildings in their place we have wire fences and sheep.  Take the railway, which in America with a rainfall no better than ours, passes through miles after mile of cultivated lands, and from Hay to Junee 160 miles, and not above half-a-dozen selectors’ homes can be seen; and this through country where from five to ten thousand acres would keep families in most prosperous and independent position.

    It will soon be seen whether the new Bill is to continue this state of things or not; without population no country on the face of the earth can be really prosperous.


    13th October 1883.

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    [Town & Country Journal (1887), reprinted in the Riverine Grazier, 2 August 1887, page 2]


    The following appears in the Town and Country from a special correspondent:–

    Among the various centres of country population which have come into existence in New South Wales since the passing of the Land Act of 1875, none has shown more sterling progress than what is known as the "Gunbar Settlement."  Gunbar is situated in the south-western portion of Riverina, about twenty miles from the Carrathool railway station, thirty-five miles from Hillston, and about the same distance from Booligal.  The settlers on Gunbar are men of considerable means, and possess great experience in the working of the Land Acts of the colony.  Not a few of them were many years ago selectors near the Murray River, under the fearfully abused Land Act of 1861, and still have some lingering bitter experiences of the hardships they then endured.  Station holders have now got, under the Land Act of 1884, the solatium of knowing that one-half of their run is their own for fifteen years; and, having no chance to interfere with the resumed half, are letting their little land brothers religiously alone.  Selectors too, when the technical incompleteness of the new Act is remedied, will have a sure prospect of making their present holdings freeholds and comfortable homes.

    The Gunbar settlement may be exactly divided into two distinct divisions – (1) the open fattening plains of saltbush and grass on the western half; and (2) the picturesque but less fattening forest land on the east.  I use the word "picturesque" for I doubt whether any other part of the colony can compare with it in variety of forest vegetation.  Taking the well known selection of Mr. George Sides as a centre, a horseman can ride ten miles in any direction over a series of rich chocolate hills, covered with from thirty to forty varieties of large and small trees, quite a pleasing relief to the normal, sombre look of an Australian forest.  But I will first treat of the saltbush country, and some of the more prominent settlers thereon.

    Immediately to the east of the Cabbage Garden Creek are the boundary fences of Messrs. Lugsdin and Gibson, who, with their numerous families, own an area of a little over 40,000 acres of ground.  The first mentioned is one of the many industrious farmers of Victoria, who, by hard work and energy, are now occupying comfortable homes in our own colony.  Mr. J. Lugsdin, who has about 15,000 acres of ground, has also, in connection with his brother, Mr. Frank Lugsdin, 100 acres of land in a rugged portion of the Daylesford district of Victoria, and, as an illustration of the hard nature of the past five dry years, he informs me that he could make more money off his "centenary selection" than his large area in New South Wales.  But better times for Riverina seem now with us.  Mr. Lugsdin is a man of considerable method, and, though only a few years in Riverina, has a large roomy house built, with the high walls and deep surrounding verandahs, which exactly suit this land of continual heat.  It is situated on a nicely rising sandhill, from which he can see over his saltbush country for miles.  The saltbush is mostly of the deep-rooted, stubby variety, and though of a very uninviting aspect, fattens sheep very quickly.  It grows very clear, lustrous wool, though tending to an undue fineness.  This, however, is not a great fault, considering the strong wool tendency of prominent breeders, which is almost doing away with the beautiful and high-priced wool of the old Australian merino.

    As an illustration that all sheep-breeders are not imbued with the virtues of the popular strong wool after the American type I may mention that the day following the Hay Show, Messrs. Wilkinson and Lavender sold for Mr. Alexander Wilson, Kentleigh, Carrathool, at a high figure, 86 rams, the progeny of some old Erciloune [Ercildoun] ewes which were specially picked for lustre and staple.  They were bought for Queensland by the squatting firm of Hand and Hodder, who are evident admirers of pure unadulterated merino.

    Within a short distance (as Riverina people reckon distances) from Mr. Lugsdin’s are numbers of homesteads.  The quantity of land on Gunbar proper held by selectors is over 170,000 acres.  In view of the favorable season, Messrs. Nixon, Flannigan, and Warren a few months ago purchased a small mill, which they will shortly have erected and in working order.  As the nearest mill is 150 miles away, the Gunbar Mill should have a prosperous career.  Another notable settler, whose land in part divides the saltbush country from the hilly timbered country, is Mr. Gibson.  He and his sons are about to settle down on Gunbar, and have selected several times.  Their extensive property is well divided into paddocks and watered, almost solely by their own industry.  Some of the sons are married, having residences of their own.  Mr. Gibson has some fine sheep on the selection.  The stud flock I did not see; but understand that it includes some choice specimens of the merino.  Mr. Gibson last year put in about 40 acres of crop.  The portion saved for wheat yielded a splendid sample of milling wheat.  The largest farmer on Gunbar is Mr. Nixon.  He has this year 300 acres under crop, and does almost all his work with the aid of one man.  His homestead is situated on the Gunbar to Hillston road, about ten miles from the former town; and the soil he cultivates is a good sample of the undulating Gunbar country.  Mr. Nixon keeps his double furrow at work all the year round.  By this means he has a large area ready for the seed, and well consolidated; the winter and spring rains making the friable chocolate ground even and solid to receive the seed.  Sowing is begun about the beginning of March, and continued to the end of May.  After May it is too late for the plants to make deep roots to insure a crop.  Mr. Nixon’s plan of sowing the seed is a novel one.  He places the seed in his buggy, drives a pair of horses with the reins fastened to his feet and throws the seed with both hands over the horses’ heads.  Although the Gunbar country grows all kinds of vines and fruit-trees to a wonderful perfection when properly treated, the kind of grass it grows is not of a fattening nature, being almost solely confined to what is called corkscrew grass.  But experiments are about to be made with Alafalfa [Alfalfa?] and other artificial grasses, which will probably be successful.

    After leaving the selections of the Messrs. Brooker, Gibson, Pocock, and Johns, whose east boundaries about divide the Saltbush Plains from the undulating country I passed for many miles eastward over soil of a blood red color, in some places twenty feet deep before the marly clay is reached.  This soil is full of lime, and in many places a lime kiln could be erected with profit, were the demand greater.  This soil, after a few seasons, working and consolidating with plant roots, is a perfect raiser of cereals and trees, both ornamental and fruit.  Where cereals are scarified in deeply, and the ground refined and consolidated by heavy rolling, a crop is insured in any season, if above ground, in the month of March.  To an enthusiast in botany, Gunbar affords a splendid opportunity for research.  Among the many complete residences on Gunbar that of Mr. Warren and Sons shows most conspicuously.  Mr. Warren was one of the first settlers under the Robertson Act of 1861 in the then thought terra incognita over the Murray, not far from the once little township of Deniliquin.  Some few years ago Mr. Warren sought fresh fields and settled on Gunbar, about ten miles along the Hillston road from the township named after the run.  Although the Messrs. Warren’s country was originally waterless they have made it well-watered country by means of large tanks.  Many tanks on Gunbar only hold water for a time, but these gentlemen have never put down a tank which will not hold water.  They adopt the plan of testing the ground 12 feet deep before they begin to excavate the soil.  Mr. Warren has a well-arranged homestead.  It is situated on a beautiful hill topping many lesser ones, and covered with forest vegetation, giving a most charming view for miles around.  Although the soil on Gunbar is of a naturally rich nature, a peculiarity of the wool grown on it during the summer months is, that it fills up with a kind of dry dust, which, strange to say, is never seen on sheep on the plains which water at tanks.

    A matter of urgent moment, which settlers between Hillston and Carrathool or Hillston and Hay should agitate for, is a light railway.  There are miles of country on this road which would bog an ordinary team of horses with an empty waggon in the winter season.

    Another "burning question" in Gunbar is the rabbit pest.  On the plains rabbits are comparatively scarce.  But in the soft red soil on Gunbar they burrow deeply, and the young roots of shrubs and trees make them independent of water in summer time.  Twelve years ago I doubt whether there were twenty rabbits over the Murray.  They jump about now in millions.  One settler for many months has averaged fifty per day.  Last month’s taking on one station was 3,000; on an adjoining one 5,000; while Gunbar station and selections will have got into millions before the year is out.  This is a serious handicap to settlement, and the evil of it is that for 20 miles farther eastward the rabbits are accumulating in the mallee forests as far as the Bilba Hills.

    [We are glad to see our powerful contemporary advocates a light line to Hillston.  Ed. R.G.]

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