Hay is a town in the western Riverina region of south western New South Wales (NSW), Australia. It is the administrative centre of Hay Shire Council Local Government Area and the centre of a prosperous and productive agricultural district on the wide Hay Plains.
Located on the main route approximately midway between the large cities of Sydney and Adelaide at the junction of the Sturt, Cobb and Mid-Western Highways, Hay is an important regional and national transport node. The township itself is built beside the Murrumbidgee River, part of the Murray-Darling river system; Australia's largest. The main business district of Hay is situated on the north bank of the river.
At the 2001 census Hay township had a population of 2,692, of which 4.3% were of indigenous origin. Residents of Hay are mostly Australian-born and English-speaking: 89.9% and 92.9% respectively (compared to 72.6% and 80.0% nationwide). 26.4% of the population are over 55 years of age compared to 22% in Australia as a whole.
The most common religious groupings in Hay are Catholics (36.3%) and Anglicans (32.3%), with 6.8% stating no religion. 'Agriculture' is the main industry of employment in Hay, followed by 'Accommodation, Cafes and Restaurants', 'Government Administration', 'Education' and 'Food Retailing'.
The Riverine Plain is an alluvial plain consisting of sediments of silt, clay and fine sand deposited by the extensive ancestral streams of the early Quaternary period (overlying more ancient granite rocks and sediments). The snow-fed Murrumbidgee River flows westwards across this plain; to the north its major tributary, the Lachlan, flows in a long arc until the two rivers join in a maze of reed-bed swamps and channels between Hay and Balranald. South of the Murrumbidgee the Billabong Creek is fed by a variety of streams, and eventually flows into the Edward River (an anabranch of the Murray River). Plant communities along the river corridors near Hay typically consist of forests dominated by River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), with Black Box trees (E. largiflorens) on the outer margins and in low-lying areas further from the river.
Away from the river Hay is surrounded by flat, mostly-treeless plains, predominately of grey clay and red earth soils. Saltbush shrublands (Atriplex sp.), with an understorey of grasses and forbs, was the dominant plant community at the time of European settlement. However severe depletion of the saltbush has occurred after years of overstocking, damage by rabbits and the broad-scale agriculture of recent decades, particularly in areas along the river and proximate to irrigation canals. The plains surrounding Hay feature a complex system of shallow creek beds and dry lakes, interspersed by wind-created sand-ridges where Cypress-pine (Callitris sp.) is often found growing.
Climate records have been kept for Hay since 1877. Temperature extremes are quite marked over the full year: the average maximum temperature in January is 32.9 degrees Celsius and the average minimum temperature in July is 3.5 degrees Celsius. The highest temperature recorded at Hay was 47.2 °C (117.0 °F) in February; the lowest recorded was −3.6 °C (25.5 °F) in June. The average annual rainfall is 367.2 mm (14.46 in).
|Notes: Temperatures are in degrees Celsius. Precipitation is in millimetres. Hay Latitude:-34.5194 S Longitude: 144.8545 E Elevation: 93.3 ASL|
In late 1829 Charles Sturt and his men passed along the Murrumbidgee River on horses and drays. They launched their whale-boat near the Murrumbidgee-Lachlan junction and continued the journey by boat to the Murray River and eventually to the sea at Lake Alexandrina (before returning by the same route). During the late-1830s stock was regularly overlanded to South Australia via the Lower Murrumbidgee. At the same time stockholders were edging westward along the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, Billabong and Murray systems. By 1839 all of the river frontages in the vicinity of present-day Hay were occupied by squatters. By the mid-1850s pastoral runs in the western Riverina were well-established and prosperous. The nearby Victorian gold-rushes provided an expanding market for stock. The prime fattening country of the Riverina became a sort of holding centre, from where the Victorian market could be supplied as required. One of the popular routes established in the mid-1850s crossed the Murrumbidgee River at Lang’s Crossing-place.
Henry Jeffries, the leaseholder of “Illilawa” station (which included Lang’s Crossing-place at its western extremity), was vehemently opposed to Henry Leonard's operations; threats against his punt caused Leonard to stand guard with a loaded gun. An attempt by Jeffries to pull down Leonard’s hotel as it was being constructed caused an outcry from those advocating a settlement at the location. In consequence the NSW Government sent a surveyor to map out a new township. Henry Leonard completed his inn and opened it on 30 October 1858. The Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel was described as a "large size" weatherboard building with a shingled roof "and a fine verandah along the front". By mid-1859 the Department of Lands had proclaimed reservations on either side of the river at Lang's Crossing-place and Henry Shiell was appointed Police Magistrate. By October 1859 the township had been named "Hay" after John Hay (later Sir John), a wealthy squatter from the Upper Murray, member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and former Secretary of Lands and Works. Later the same month successful land-sales were held at Hay.
The census taken in April 1861 revealed that there were 172 people living at Hay township, consisting of 115 males (of whom 25 were aged 15 years or under) and 57 females (of whom 23 were aged 15 years or under). Of the 90 males aged 16 years or more, only 38% were married or widowed; of the 34 females in this category, 76% were married or widowed. The census also enumerated the buildings at the new township: 4 brick structures; 17 of “weatherboard, slab or inferior”; and, 14 tents.
In April 1861 two new hotel licenses were granted at Hay: the Caledonian Hotel (Thomas E. Blewett and George Dorward) and the Argyle Hotel (Thomas Simpson). The two hotels were located side-by-side in Lachlan Street. During 1862 the Argyle closed its doors, and was offered for sale. In September 1865 George Maiden briefly re-opened it as the Royal Mail Hotel. In February 1866, Christopher Ledwidge, landlord of the Caledonian Hotel since 1864, purchased the Royal Mail and incorporated the two into one hotel. Regrettably, the Caledonian Hotel was badly damaged by fire in 2006, and demolished in 2007.
According to the 1871 census of the Colony of New South Wales there were 664 people living at Hay township: 388 males and 276 females. The proportion of those in the Hay community aged less than 16 years had increased from 28% in 1861 to 38% in 1871.
In November 1871 a petition was prepared by the residents of Hay requesting that the township be granted municipal status. Elections for aldermen were held in August 1872. At the first municipal meeting the local businessman, Frank Johns, was elected mayor.
The first bridge over the Murrumbidgee River at Hay was built in 1872 at a cost of £20,000. The structure included a turntable which enabled the middle-section to be swung open to allow the passage of steamers. The opening of the Hay Bridge was delayed while the approaches were formed. It was finally opened on 31 August 1874 by the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, Henry Parkes. The old bridge was eventually replaced by a new one, opened in June 1973. The old Hay Bridge was subsequently demolished. The turntable, last used in 1946, was placed in the river-bend just north of where the bridge had been.
As it developed Hay became an essential hub of the surrounding district. Pastoral runs surrounding the township were the main employers of labour; with its stores and hotels, hospital, post-office, banks, court-house and police-station, Hay became an important focus for rural workers and resident squatters alike. Carriers, contractors, wool-buyers and dealers in stock established themselves at Hay and the township became a busy port for the steamers plying the inland rivers. Stores for the township and district stations were unloaded at the wharves at Hay, and the steamers and barges loaded with wool-bales for the return trip (usually to Echuca, which by 1864 had been connected by rail to Melbourne).
During 1879-80 the local building firm, Witcombe Brothers, constructed a new gaol at Hay, to replace the old Lock-up in Lachlan Street (at the site of the current Post Office). The new Hay Gaol was opened in December 1880.
During 1881-2 the railway line was extended from Narrandera to Hay and a new railway station constructed at Hay. The new line, connecting Hay directly to Sydney, was opened in July 1882. The extension of the NSW railway to Hay signalled a decline in the importance of the transportation of wool by river-steamer and a shift in the local economic focus from Melbourne to Sydney. The railway to Sydney operated with a differential price structure, ensuring that rail became a desirable mode of transporting wool for many of the Riverina stations.
In 1883 the extensive Anglican diocese of Goulburn was divided, with the western half designated as the major portion of the newly created Diocese of Riverina. Hay was chosen as the episcopal seat of the new diocese and Bishop Sydney Linton was consecrated on 1 May 1884 at St Paul's Cathedral, London. Linton and his family travelled to Sydney and then on to Hay, where the bishop was enthroned on 18 March 1885 in the old St Paul's church. The new St. Paul’s – pro-cathedral of the new diocese – was completed by the end of 1885. In 1889 a residence was completed for Bishop Linton at South Hay; the design and materials used in constructing the corrugated-iron clad ‘Bishop’s Lodge’ was an attempt to cope with Hay’s climatic extremes. Hay remained the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Riverina until 1953 when it was transferred to Narrandera, New South Wales.
The writer Joseph Furphy lived at Hay in the 1870s while working as a carrier in charge of a team of bullocks. Furphy later used the area surrounding Hay as the setting for his novel Such is Life (published in 1903).
In 1919 a proposal was adopted to build a High School at Hay as a memorial to those who died in the Great War. The Hay War Memorial High School was opened on Anzac Day, 1923, with Mr. L. E. Penman as the first headmaster.
During World War II Hay was used as a prisoner-of-war and internment centre, due in no small measure to its isolated location. Three high-security camps were constructed there in 1940. The first arrivals were over two thousand refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria, many of them Jewish; they had been interned in Britain when fears of invasion were at their peak and transported to Australia aboard the HMT Dunera. They arrived at Hay on 7 September 1940 by four trains from Sydney. They were interned in Camps 7 and 8 (located near the Hay showground) under the guard of the 16th Garrison Battalion of the Australian Army. In November 1940 the other compound at Hay, Camp 6 (near the Hay Hospital), was occupied by Italian civilian internees. Camps 7 and 8 were vacated in May 1941 when the Dunera internees left Hay; some were sent to Orange (NSW), others to Tatura in Victoria, and others to join the Pioneer Corps of the Australian Army. Upon their departure Italian prisoners-of-war were placed in Camps 7 and 8. In December 1941 Japanese internees (some from Broome and islands north of Australia) were conveyed to Hay and placed in Camp 6. In April 1942 the River Farm began operating on the eastern edge of the township, enabling market-gardening and other farm activities to be carried out by the Italian internees and POWs. In February 1941, in the wake of the Cowra POW break-out, a large number of Japanese POWs were transferred to Hay and placed in the three high-security compounds. On 1 March 1946 the Japanese POWs departed from Hay in five trains, transferred to Tatura. During 1946 the Italians who remained at Hay were progressively released or transferred to other camps, and the Hay camps were dismantled and building materials and fittings sold off by June the following year.
The first group of internees at Hay became known as the ‘Dunera Boys’. The internment at Hay of this assemblage of refugees from Nazi oppression in Europe was an important milestone in Australia’s cultural history. Just fewer than half of those interned at Hay eventually chose to remain in Australia. The influence of this group of men on subsequent cultural, scientific and business developments in Australia is difficult to over-state; they became an integral and celebrated part of the nation’s cultural and intellectual life. The 'Dunera Boys' are still fondly remembered in Hay; every year the town holds a 'Dunera Day' in which many surviving internees return to the site of their former imprisonment.
In recent years, rice and cotton have been produced in Hay. While colder growing seasons have hindered the development of the cotton industry, rice production has expanded from over 400 hectares in 1991-92 to over 7,000 hectares in 1997-98, with production for the Hay district in 2002 estimated at 75,375 tonnes. A rice receival depot on the outskirts of town is capable of drying up to 32,000 tonnes of rice before delivery to the mill at Deniliquin.
The Hay Magpies are a Rugby League team playing in the South West Riverina competition called Group 17 which is governed by the Country Rugby League. In the history of Group 17 Hay has been the most successful team, winning 12 premierships. In 2007 the Magpies moved from Group 17 to Group 20 . The local Rugby Union team is the Hay Cutters playing in the Southern Inland Rugby Union against teams from as far away as Tumut and Albury.
The Hay Jockey Club runs a popular annual race meeting in November, promoted as "the biggest day in the year". Whilst the meeting is professional and supported by the TAB, it retains a "picnic races" atmosphere.
The Riverine Grazier is the local weekly newspaper, first published in 1873. The newspaper has a circulation of 5,000 and services the areas of Hay, Booligal, Balranald and Ivanhoe. The Riverine Grazier is published on Wednesdays. Other daily papers from Griffith, Sydney and Melbourne are available in Hay.
2HayFM is the community radio station of Hay, broadcasting to inhabitants of the town and surrounding areas. (the station began full-time broadcasting late in 1992 after a series of test broadcasts in the late 1980s and early 1990s) It plays a mix of music, news and information on local matters using paid staff and volunteers. 2HayFM broadcasts on 92.1 FM with a range about 100km around Hay.