22 July 2023

Riverina Rewind: When horse and car shared the road in Wagga Wagga

| Chris Roe
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An enhanced photo of Wagga's Fitzmaurice Street

An enhanced photo of Wagga’s Fitzmaurice Street looking towards the Gurwood Street intersection with the Pastoral Hotel on the right in the 1920s. Photo: CSURA.

Back in the early 20th century, there was a curious transition occurring on the streets of Wagga Wagga as the good old horse and buggy was steadily being replaced by the increasingly popular motorcar.

By the 1920s as horse and car shared the road, the balance was beginning to tip towards the noisy automobiles and encounters between machine and animal were not uncommon.

In July of 1921 the Daily Express reported that at around 10 pm, Mr Hope Oxley was “riding homeward on horseback along the Tarcutta Road”, when two generations of transport collided.

As he headed south towards the railway line near the viaduct, he noticed that a sulky was coming towards him with no lights and on the wrong side of the road.

“He waited until the vehicle was nearly up to him, expecting that it would pull over and allow him right of way as it showed no signs of doing so and was nearly upon him when he swerved his horse to the right-hand side of the road so as to avoid it.”

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Unfortunately, Mr A E Hunt from Toole’s Creek out near Book Book was heading north in his car and pulled out to overtake the mysterious sulky at the same time.

“The result was that car and horse, both on their wrong sides, collided before either of them could pull up.”

Horse and car crashed head-on and Mr Oxley was thrown from the saddle. Needless to say, things did not go well for the horse which had to be put down while the car suffered a minor ding.

Both rider and driver were largely uninjured. “Neither of the victims of the accident have discovered who was the driver of the errant sulky, which had no lights, and continued on its way regardless of the trouble it had caused.”

Detail from a 1920s photo of Wagga’s Fitzmaurice Street looking north from Wollundry Lagoon. Photo: Lost Wagga Wagga.

With little street lighting away from the CBD in the 1920s, night riding on horse, bicycle and wagon seems to have been a growing problem.

In 1925 a correspondent wrote in The Daily Advertiser that, “It would appear, judging by the lack of respect shown by the community, that the law governing the use of lights on bicycles and horse vehicles is becoming obsolete in Wagga.

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“[On] the residential streets offenders are seen every night, and on the footpaths, not only boys, but also men, race on unlighted bicycles after nightfall,” fussed the writer complaining that it “now constitutes a source of great danger to the public, and must be put down”.

As the population increased, there were daytime concerns laid out in The Daily Advertiser again in May of 1923, when the writer declared “the regulation of street traffic in Wagga has long been a matter of comment and last week supplied excellent reasons for a tightening up of the system that prevails”.

Cars with a horse and buggy parked in front of the courthouse in 1925

Cars with a horse and buggy parked in front of the courthouse in 1925. Photo: CSURA.

With a big sale on in the town centre one Thursday, “the main thoroughfares were dotted with cars and vehicles which were pulled up in any old place and over which no proper supervision seemed to be exercised”.

But it seems that Saturday was worse and a “nerve-wracking feat to witness the traffic arrangements at the corner of Fitzmaurice and Gurwood Streets” as cars flooded the roads on their way to weekend activities, “motorcycles exceeded the speed limit and to cap it all, a horseman in a hilarious mood careered among the crowd gathered outside the Commercial Hotel”.

The reporter said it was “an open gamble when the first accident would occur, but luck was in the ascendancy and no one was hurt” and he prevailed on the council and the police to give the intersection the attention it needed.

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