26 July 2023

Riverina Rewind: That's not where Wagga's fountain belongs!

| Michelle Maddison
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old photo of fountain in front of hospital building

The Chisholm Fountain outside the Wagga Wagga District Hospital in 1896, the year its benefactor died. Photo: Museum of the Riverina collection.

Today’s photo from the Museum of the Riverina takes us back to the closing years of the 19th century and shows a Wagga feature that should be immediately recognisable to locals.

The Chisholm Fountain today stands as a centrepiece in the beautiful Victory Memorial Gardens, but why is it standing in front of a building rather than in the park? And what is that building?

The building shown is the second Wagga Wagga District Hospital, erected in 1859 on the corner of Tarcutta and Johnston streets, where the Wagga Police Station stands today.

Wagga’s first hospital had opened on 1 July, 1856, and was a slab cottage on the sandhill in Kincaid Street. By 1900, the hospital seen here had outgrown this block, and plans were made to move it to the edge of the township. The site chosen is the one the hospital stands on today.

But what is the story of the Chisholm Fountain?

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Frederick Chisholm (1831-1896) was a pastoralist who owned ”Bull’s Run”, a well-known cattle station. Actively involved with numerous organisations in the town, he was a great philanthropist. As president of the Wagga Hospital Committee (1885-1889), he presented the facility with a handsome iron fountain, which became known as the Chisholm Fountain in his honour.

During the years he resided in Wagga after leaving his property (from about 1888 until his death), Mr Chisholm gave generously to the support of the hospital and for the beautification of its grounds.

When the hospital moved from Tarcutta Street, the fountain remained. It was dismantled and eventually presented to the Wagga Municipal Council.

In 1925, The Daily Advertiser reported that: “The various parts were carted to a site on the bank of the Wollundry Lagoon at the rear of the police station, and it at present bears a closer resemblance to a heap of machinery junk than to the thing of beauty it at one time was.

“The big round base of the pedestal … provided amusement for a number of mischievous boys who rolled it into the lagoon near the Trail Street bridge.

“Fortuitously, the round base was recovered from the lagoon’s watery depths, and the fountain was, for a time, erected in the NW corner of the Victory Memorial Gardens, in a spot adjacent to the boat shed which used to stand by the lagoon.”

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In 1930, it seems there was another issue, with the fountain overflowing. Town curator Mr D N Campbell discovered that the taps had been turned on by some unauthorised person, more trouble through ”mischievous interference”.

As a result, a low circular fence of about a metre high, of galvanised-iron piping and wire netting, was planned, with a garden of alternating grasses and flower pots standing in between the fountain and fence. The fountain stayed in the gardens until the 1970s, when it was again relocated, this time to the Civic Gardens (old rose garden) adjacent to Burns Way.

After many months of restoration, the fountain was unveiled with a new metallic-green paint job, with gold trimmings. Following a thorough ”scrub-down” for its 100th anniversary in 1985, the fountain was again on the move.

fountain in public gardens

The Chisholm Fountain today stands as a centrepiece in the beautiful Victory Memorial Gardens. Photo: Wagga Wagga City Council.

It was removed from its site to make way for the new Wagga Wagga City Council Civic Centre in 1998, and sent to Castlemaine, Victoria, for a major refurbishment. There, it was sandblasted and repainted, and a mould was taken before being returned home in 2003.

On its return to Wagga, it was decided that the fountain should be re-erected in the Victory Memorial Gardens, but this time in the spot that was determined in the original award-winning landscape plan for the gardens dating to 1928.

In 2005, the Chisholm Fountain was finally erected on the fountain spot as depicted on the landscape plan.

Original council estimates for the restoration costs came close to $110,000 for the project, but thanks to the generosity of the community and its tradespeople, only about $55,000 was spent.

Today, you will no doubt agree with us that Frederick Chisholm’s gift to Wagga is not only excellent from a heritage perspective but is also one of the jewels in the city’s crown.

It is not only a popular beauty spot for locals and visitors, but also the city’s birdlife. On a hot day, it is not unusual to see a cockatoo happily seated on the upstretched hand of Cupid at the top of the fountain!

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