29 September 2023

Riverina Rewind: When things warmed up, Wagga went to the beach

| Michelle Maddison
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Wagga beach-goers in the 1950s

Wagga Beach was a hive of activity in the 1950s. Photo: Lost Wagga Wagga (coloured by Lynton J Goodyear).

As Wagga’s weather warms up, and with the promise of a hot summer, we’re looking back to the summers of the past, and lazy afternoons on the city’s iconic beach.

Before the Wagga City Baths were opened in 1953, the people of Wagga and surrounds cooled off in a variety of swimming spots, but one of the most popular was surely the Wagga Bathing Beach, seen here circa 1950.

The Daily Advertiser of 16 January, 1924, reported: “Yesterday evening a huge crowd was swimming, bathing, paddling and frolicking at the Wagga Bathing Beach. The day had been hot and the evening was warm enough to make the Murrumbidgee waters and their vicinity the most desirable places in town.”

As you can see from this image, the banks on the far side of the river are quite high. Over the years, erosion from the fast-flowing Murrumbidgee has impacted the bathing beaches along the river, including the main beach.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: Wagga watched its movies at The Strand – until its fiery end

In February 1934, a record crowd of bathers at the beach were curious onlookers as the Municipal Council was seen to be removing sand from the eastern end of the beach. This was under the instruction of municipal engineer Mr H J Chaston, who explained that a big river invariably carried away a portion of the beach sand, so the current of the river had to be controlled, or the beach would eventually be ruined. As a result, the council was removing the sand to change the river’s current and retain the beach.

Quite a feat of engineering, by the sounds of it (it didn’t work, by the way)!

In 1938, the British swimming team that competed at the Empire Games in Sydney travelled to Wagga, where they gave an exhibition at the bathing beach.

Replying to welcome speeches at the Wagga Town Hall, manager Mr F Isherwood said they had keenly enjoyed their stay in Wagga and admired the town, so much so that they would urge other teams to visit Wagga. “But,” said Mr Isherwood, “I hope that when you next extend an invitation to an English team to visit Wagga, you will then provide them with an up-to-date pool, because at present you are very much behind the times.”

The pool may have taken a few more years to be built, but the population of Wagga continued to enjoy the beach. It was the scene of numerous swimming and beach carnivals, novelty races, gala events, and learn-to-swim campaigns.

Today, the landscape of Wagga Beach has changed greatly from this photograph, but locals and visitors alike continue to enjoy a cooling dip, particularly on those hot summer days on which the mercury soars.

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