Life at Wagga Wagga in 1909

Our stay in Wagga Wagga was a busy one. I gave my first Melba talk outside of Victoria at the Wagga Wagga & District Family History Centre – a former pre-school. There were 23 people at the talk including members of the Wagga Historical Society.  Our thanks to Leanne Diessel who organized everything including a morning tea earlier in the day.

Leanne Diessel is the researcher for the Wagga Wagga & District Historical Society and research officer for the Wagga Wagga & District Family History Society.

Over supper I chatted with a lady who told me Melba had given her grandmother a brooch to thank her for her help. This was during Melba’s 1909 visit as the member has a photograph of her grandmother wearing the brooch holding her one-year-old mother. Her mother was born in 1908. The brooch is still in the family and I urged the lady to write down everything she knows and put it with the brooch as its provenance. She said the brooch was a simple gold bar with a small stone in the centre.

We spent time in the Wagga Library before visiting Jillian at the Charles Sturt University Archive. With Jillian’s help a couple more pieces of Melba’s visit were put into place.

You can read the CSU Archive blog at:

Melba visited the Wagga Wagga Experimental farm on Friday afternoon before her concert. Many were surprised but the explanation was simple: the farm was at the forefront of research at the time and Melba would have been gleaning information for her father David Mitchell. The farm had an extensive dairy herd, a vineyard and a pig herd – all areas of interest to her father.

Wagga Experiment Farm
Wagga Experiment Farm A view of the Two Sisters hill and the eastern end of the Wagga Experiment Farm, showing the vineyard. The vineyard was established under George Valder and A.C. Benson, who arrived on the Farm in 1894. This photograph is from an album of photographs belonging to Clive Charles Crane, Housemaster and Lecturer in Science, Maths and Book-Keeping at the Wagga Experiment Farm from at least 1913 until 1926. CSU Ref: SA1634/6

Wal and I spent two hours going through the farm’s letter books hoping there was some acknowledgement of Melba’s visit. We came up empty-handed but did find that Captain Payne from Yarra View Lilydale had sold a breeding pig to the farm.

Archivist Jillian Kohlhagen supplied images from the farm and Wagga and also helped us answer a few other questions.

After the archive we visited the Museum of the Riverina and met with curator Michelle Maddison who added gave us various images.

However, there was one gap we were keen to fill – where did she and the concert party stay on Thursday and Friday night? We know the concert party left for Albury on Saturday while Melba and George spent the weekend with friend Ethel MacDonald at Wantabadgery Station east of Wagga.

Melba arrived at Wagga at 7.30pm on Thursday and after an official welcome was driven away – obviously to her accommodation but where?

I was told the story that Melba had the chimes of the Wagga Wagga Local Court clock tower turned off at 11pm so she could sleep. This is why the chimes today stop at 11pm. Melba made a similar request when staying at Bendigo.

This coupled with its location two doors from the Oddfellow’s Hall (later the Oxford Theatre) and Melbourne theatrical connections of its owner Thomas Smith Bellair, points to Bellair’s Commercial Hotel being where Melba and her party spent Thursday and Friday night.

Fitzmaurice Street, Wagga Wagga. c 1920s
Looking down busy Fitzmaurice Street with push bikes, horse and carts and cars. On the far right is the the three storey Oxford Theatre.

On Friday morning she visited the shops in Fitzmaurice Street – something she often did – and purchased a painting. In the afternoon she visited the Wagga Experimental Farm in the afternoon.

On Saturday, Melba headed off the Wantabadgery Station with Claude and Ethel Macdonald. But that is another Blog.