Along the length of the Murrumbidgee, from Wagga Beach to the orchards of Griffith, Region’s brought you the best stories from the Riverina. Here are our top 15 yarns for 2023 – number one is scarily good.
The fact that NSW’s largest inland city once made the list of Australia’s top 10 beaches is an enormous source of pride and amusement for Wagga locals.
Visitors and new arrivals will be told within minutes of engaging a resident in conversation that, “Wagga has the ninth-best beach in the country!” and signs around the riverside precinct declare “Wagga Beach #9, Australia’s Best Beaches 2020”.
And right now it’s looking fantastic. The river level has dropped, the sun is out and hundreds have been making the most of the city’s spectacular stretch of sand. So is it still in the top ten list nationwide?
Squatter George Best staked a claim on a place he called Wogga Wogga Run in 1832.His family’s arrival in the Riverina was a tipping point in history that began European settlement of the area where Wagga Wagga is located today.
The Best Family Cemetery at Ashmont is one of the oldest monuments from those early days and Wagga Wagga and District Historical Society (WWDHS) and this year Wagga City Council unveiled a new interpretive sign to explain its significance.
The Toganmain woolshed still holds the Australian record of 202,292 sheep shorn by 92 blade shearers in 1876 and in the wake of the recent push by the ”Friends of Toganmain” to resurrect the Riverina’s largest woolshed, region took a look back at the iconic station’s glory days.
Situated between Darlington Point and Carrathool, Toganmain Station boasted 13 miles (20 km) of river frontage and was established in 1867 by NSW’s Colonial Secretary Sir Alexander Macleay as one of the first grazing properties in the region.
Most of us who complain about the hot Riverina summer can be grateful we weren’t alive in January 1939, when temperatures exceeded 49 degrees during a heatwave claiming the lives of 113 people across south-east Australia.
In an era before home air-conditioning, farming families surrounding Griffith were particularly vulnerable, as many properties didn’t even have fans, fridges or electricity.
Some quick thinking by local GP Dr Burrell prevented even more casualties during the heatwave – he suggested placing patients at Griffith hospital and at-risk babies in a cool room operated by Griffith Producers, a co-operative that stored and sold fruit and vegetables. The cool room still stands today.
Griffith’s oldest person Berta Johnstone died aged 106 years and 126 days on Wednesday, 4 January. Daughter-in-law Cecilia Johnstone said her family was both sad and relieved, given she’d had such an amazing innings, with so many stories to tell.
“We’re all grateful for the time we had her and all she did to see us to where we are now,” she said.
Wagga’s new snake catcher, Josh Thompson, is glad he met his wife before he decided to take up a career as a reptile wrangler.
“When I started dating my wife, I had a few snakes and she was less than keen about that,” he said with a laugh.
“But after what she’s seen, she knows that they don’t really care about us at all and just want to stay out of our way, so she’s calmed down a hell of a lot”.
Wagga’s Elsie and Cliff McCrum have celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary and have plenty to share about their life and unconditional love.
Asked what the journey had been like being married to each other all these years, Cliff, 93, said his wife of 70 years was nothing but “a good woman.
“We’ve never had a fight or squabble of any sort. She is the best and can do anything,” Cliff said.
If you’ve lived in Griffith for a while, chances are you’ve entered a building that Laurie Bellincanta had a hand in constructing.
“We built the old ex-serviceman’s club before it burned down,” he said. “The original school at Yoogali, back in the early 1960s. The church at Yenda. A lot of houses in the old part of town. The former council shire chambers. I also redid the John Dalla (J&P Motorcycles) store.”
Mr Bellincanta, 81, worked as a carpenter and builder for 57 years, only finishing up at 74 due to a bad back. But he continues to do odd jobs on a volunteer basis and helps maintain a house for a daughter no longer residing in town.
Anthony Heffer’s path to his current role as the acting principal of The Riverina Anglican College (TRAC) was not the traditional one.
From growing up on a farm in West Wyalong to quitting his agricultural economics degree at Sydney Uni, his pre-teaching resume includes washing windows in Melbourne, working on gold drilling rigs and managing a restaurant before returning to study at Charles Sturt University to become an English teacher.
“To this day I don’t know why I chose economics,” Mr Heffer said with a laugh.
With his towering two-metre frame, mane of white hair and wild and bushy beard, Graham ”Bear” Falconer is one of Wagga’s most recognisable characters.
But there was a good chance that even his oldest friends would walk right past him on the street after he went the full shave for charity.
“After 43 years, I’m shaving the beard off and the hair to raise money and awareness for Ronald McDonald House and the Black Dog Ride,” he says, chuckling through his impressive whiskers.
Carmela Naseby Pennisi is known in Griffith for providing aged care with flair, having a black belt in karate and her dynamic yoga teaching.
But for all her achievements, there was one mystery that bugged her until she was almost 30.
“When I was a little girl, I noticed my birth certificate said I was born in Blacktown,” she said.
What was supposed to be a routine bathroom break before a long trip turned into the biggest scare of Michael and his family’s lives.
After saying their goodbyes to a recently passed relative at the Cootamundra Cemetery, Michael thought it was wise to head for the dunny before their four-hour journey home.
To Michael’s great surprise, he was greeted by one of Australia’s most deadly creatures, a brown snake, wrapped around the cemetery’s only toilet.
Tucked away in a valley in the Kosciuszko National Park, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Wagga, is Australia’s only geothermal pool in an alpine area.
Yarrangobilly is better known for its caves, including one that lights up like an empty warehouse in a movie, thanks to sensor lights that pick up visitors walking through it, but due to seemingly idyllic posts on social media in recent years, it’s also become known as a place where you can soak in the steam and the mountain views while surrounded by snow.
Kind of like Iceland. Maybe.
The Calgary Stampede is billed as the greatest outdoor show on earth, and after winning the Australian young auctioneer title, Gundagai’s Harry Waters was invited to Canada to compete in the International Livestock Auctioneer Championship.
More than a million people attend the combined agricultural fair and rodeo each year, and for Harry, the international championship was an incredible opportunity to test his skills against 35 of the best cattle sellers in the world.
‘Til death do us part’ took on new meaning when Junee couple Silvia and Brian tied the knot.
The bride wore corpse-white with a bruise purple-accented corset that perfectly complemented her scarred skin and blueish complexion, while the skeletal groom was resplendent in pinstripes, a bat bowtie and a mournful smile.
It was certainly not your typical nuptials, but would you expect anything less from the curator of Junee’s Haunted Doll Museum, Silvia Heszterenyiova?