Hay is a town and a shire in the Riverina region of New South Wales, 770 km. west of Sydney and 410 km. north of Melbourne. The area of the shire is 11,348 sq. km., and the other main town in Booligal. (Hence, “Hay, Hell and Booligal.”, A.B. Paterson’s poem remarking on the region’s extreme summer heat. “Hell” was One Tree Plain, 40 km. north of Hay. The locals dispute Paterson’s account of their summers.) The terrain is open treeless plains with eucalypts inhabiting the river country.

Hay is on the Murrumbidgee River, and at the junction of the Sturt and the Cobb Highways. The district was first settled in 1850 and a township was surveyed in 1859. First known as Lang’s Crossing the name “Hay” was given when the town’s design was approved in June, 1859. John Hay (later Sir), was the local member of Parliament. The wool produced in the district was transported by Murrumbidgee river boats from Hay. In 1872 a municipal council was proclaimed. Hay was connected by rail to Narrandera in 1882, to capture some of the river trade. (The line lasted until 1983, and the station is on the Register of the National Estate.) In 1881 The Australian Handbook described Hay as

…situated in the Riverine district, on the Murrumbidgee river. It is a shipping port and port of entry, 460 ;miles (493 postal) SW. of Sydney; the more speedy communication with which is via Melbourne to Echuca by rail, thence by Deniliquin and Moama railway, a distance in all of 275 miles.

To Sydney overland the route is by coach to Wagga-Wagga, thence the railway. Cobb’s coaches leave Hay for Deniliquin daily, and on Tuesdays and Saturdays for Wagga-Wagga, Wednesdays and Sundays for Bolligal, &c. It is in the county of Waradgery, police district of Hay, and electorate of Balranald, returning two members. In the municipal district are 21 miles of streets, and property of the annual rateable value of L24,185.

It is an important crossing place, by a fine iron bridge on the Murrumbidgee river, which is navigable to here by steamers during the greater part of the year. This bridge is 400 yards in length, with a swing to enable steamers to pass in food seasons. The river is navigable to Wagga-Wagga (470 miles) during a greater portion of the year. The highest rise in the river above summer level ever known here has been 24 feet.

The leading hotels are the Tattersall’s, Caledonian, Commercial and Crown. The Hay Standard, weekly, and Riverine Grazier, biweekly, are the local journals. The Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and Wesleyans, have places of worship here; there is also a hospital, Athenaeum and free library. Banks: N. S. Wales, Union and Joint Stock.

The premises of both the N. S. Wales and joint Stock Banks are fine spacious buildings. Insurance Agencies: Sydney, Alliance, United Victoria, Mutual Life Association, and Austsralian Widows’ Fund. Principal buildings, besides those mentioned, are the court-house, post and telegraph office and police barracks, public school, Masonic hall and theatre, municipal chambers, and gaol. There are at hay Masonic, Foresters’ and Temperance lodges, lands office, three breweries, and a bonded store.

The town is supplied with water from the nunicipal waterworks, the water being pumped up from the river and carried in pipes through all the principal streets. The town is well laid out, the streets are broad, in some cases planted with trees, and the footpaths asphalted.

The surrounding country is entirely taken up for sheep and cattle stations, and consists of plains sparsely timbered. The population is now stated at upwards of 2,000, and the district at upwards of 4,200. About 70,000 bales of wool are sent from Hay during the season.

The Hay gaol was built in 1879 and is on the Register of the National Estate. For want of prisoners it has been used as an emergency hospital (Spanish Influenza epidemic, 1919), a Red Cross Maternity Home, and hospital for a Prisoners of War camp and as a postwar Institute for Girls. In 1976 it was made into a museum.

In 1994 the Hay Shire had 675,000 head of sheep and fat lambs, 67,000 cattle and 25 sheep stud establishments. Farming was predominantly grazing, with small areas of cereals, rice growing and market gardens. The Hay township had five manufacturing establishments in 1994, and its position on two highways gave it nearly $1.5 million in accommodation takings through seven hotels/motels. The aerodrome, 3 km. south of Hay, has night landing facilities. The township has four banks, a high school and primary schools, a student’s hostel, the weekly riverine Grazier newspaper and a full array of community and recreational facilities. Hay won the N.S.W. Tidy Towns State title in 1991.

The populations of Hay have been 2,461 (1911), 3,156 (1933), 4,349 – shire, 2,817 – town (1971), and 3,808 – shire, 2,817 – town (1991).


Postcard dated December, 1907.

Further Reading:

  • Hay Historical Society, “The Witcombe Heritage: A History of the Buildings of Hay”, 1993.
  • “Hay Information Booklet”, 1983.

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