Why two Wyalongs? See our Wyalong story for the answer.
The town of West Wyalong did not appear on the map until 1895 during the local gold rush. Before that the area was generally known as White Tank, a large dam that was used to collect water for stock on the surrounding runs.
The area also contained a large number of quartz reefs in the underlying granite which contained rich veins of gold. Geological uplift and erosion over the ages had brought some of these close to the surface; others were later exploited down to a depth of 100 metres in shafts.
The first strike was made by Joseph Neeld in 1893, whose father Fred had a colourful history and wide experience which included the Ballarat and Bendigo goldfields, building contracting, railroad construction and building sugar mills in Fiji. The family staked claims and built many of the mines: Neelds No.1 was near present Pine and Boundary Streets.
Mines soon dotted the area: True Blue (underneath the motel of that name today - the mine shaft head was recreated in CooindaPark, near Wyalong on the town's centenary); Golden Fleece (near the caravan park); and many others. Soon 10,000 people had been attracted to the area - and most, including the businesses which folllowed in their wake, chose to settle around White Tank, the only reliable local water supply.
Tattersalls Hotel (1894).
Originally, the ore was transported to a battery for processing at Barmedman (an earlier goldfield nearby). Later batteries, cyanide and chlorination works were built locally. The soft ground made it easy to sink shafts, making it easier for smaller prospectors to build mines - the fields were not dominated by larger mining companies and syndicates and were unsuitable for sluicing.
In their heyday they were the largest fields in the country, yielding 438,803oz (about 3.5 million dollars in today's terms) until they petered out between 1915 and 1920.
By that time Wyalong (1894) and West Wyalong (gazetted and surveyed 1895) were well established towns.
West Wyalong is notable for its crooked main street - "the crooked mile". By the time it was surveyed there were already many claims, shanties and buildings dotted around the area and the main road had to wind its way around them. If you go further north and south of the main street you will see later streets laid out in more geometric grids.
Life was difficult in the 1890s as West Wyalong was isolated from the rest of the state. Goods had to be transported to and from the nearest railhead at Temora by horse and bullocks, which could take up to up to 2 weeks in bad weather, Cobb & Co coaches connected it with the outside world.
Nevertheless, community spirit developed the infrastructure of a thriving town: hotels (Tattersalls, 1894 - the first brick building - and 19 others along the road to Wyalong); several doctors and a hospital (1895); general stores; schools (Public School 1894 and evening school for adults 1897); banks (Bank of NSW 1894 onwards, in temporary premises); churches and a convent (in various premises, relocated to substantial buildings in the early C20th); a newspaper (Wyalong Star, 1894 - later merged with the Advocate, todays newspaper); sporting and social clubs.
Although the population was down to 4200 by 1900 (about half miners), West Wyalong did not suffer an eclipse like other gold rush towns.
For at the end of the C19th The Blands, although at the edge of the 20" rainfall line, was recognised as suitable for wheat growing. Government inititiative led to the break up of large landholdings with lots of 400 to 700 acres made available for homestead selections. Interestingly, Chinese labourers from Lambing Flat were contracted to clear the land for cultivation, many remaining in the area as hawkers and market gardeners.
Wheat growing grew apace after 1913 with the subdivision of Lake Cowal Station, one of the last of the large stations in the area. After WWI land around Barmedman was also subdivided for soldier settlers. Wheat and wool growing were reconstructed in 1940 with government assistance to help unviable farmers leave the industry and introduce more scientific methods of agriculture. These industries remain the main activities in The Bland.
These developments led to West Wyalong's development as a major country town, with agricultural suppliers, retail stores and chains and other amenities.
Old museum building (1902).
The coming of the railway in 1903 and its extension to Lake Cargellico (1917), Ungarie and Burcher (1929) made the opening up of more wheat growing land profitable, as did Mackay's stripper/harvester, the seed drill (1917), and the first headers (1920). The building of government silos meant the demise of bullock teams, and the arrival of tractors in the 1930s, the end of horses. Huge silos are today testament to one of Bland Shire's major industries.
West Wyalong became the centre of Bland Shire Council in 1906 and most of its significant public buildings and services date from the agricultural boom of the first quarter of the C20th: the banks (CBC 1910, CBA 1911, Bank of NSW,1917, Commonwealth 1919, National 1917, Rural Bank 1933); churches (Methodist 1911 - parish since 1894; Salvation Army 1916; Lutheran 1922; St. Mary's Catholic 1929, parish since 1894, with convent school 1912 closed 1953; St Barnabas, Anglican 1936 - earlier smaller buildings since 1894; Pioneer Presbyterian 1937 - parish since 1896); police station 1927; new hospital 1934.
Many of the shops - now perhaps a shadow of their former selves - were built during this time, including John Meagher & Co, later a Dept. Store, today a bargain store. The facade of this row is original and for most of the C20th the store was the largest for miles around. Stroll down the main street and look above the awnings for a glmpse of retail architecture as it developed over the last century.
Civic improvements, lke many country towns, came later than the citiies: sanitary collection in 1902; electricity (gas generator) 1920; town water suppy (and swimming pool) 1936; sewage works (1938); private ambulance service (1938); and an airport (1949).
West Wyalong was, until the last quarter of a century, a thriving rural centre, now victim to the motor age where - like many other towns - its retail businesses can no longer compete with larger centres a few hour's drive away. Even the major banks, who once profited highly from the wheat and wool trade, now conduct their business at a distance. It remains, however, an important and prosperous agricultural centre.
Its position on the Newell Highway, about half way between the southern states and Queensland, make it an important stop for travellers. And in a complete circle of a hundred years, it is once again a major centre of gold mining, with many hundreds of millions invested in a new gold mine north of the town. Indeed geological research suggests that there is still much more wealth to be earned from exploiting the rich veins beneath the earth.
West Wyalong is an attractive country town which many hundreds of thousands of people pass through each year. It is also rich in the history and romance of the past. When you visit, stay a while and explore its hospitality and what it has to offer.