Explore the history of some of NSW's great pioneers.
The story of the township of Hay begins with a battle of wills between two pioneers named Henry. Henry Leonard was an American shipwright trying to build a life on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, and Henry Jeffries was a squatter who violently resented the newcomer’s attempts to do business in his land.
In 1858 Leonard launched a punt on the river to move drovers and their stock from one side to the other and started building a hotel and a residence on its banks. When the hotel was nearly complete Jeffries sent his manger, Mr Perston, over to the building with a team of bullocks, he hitched chains about the verandah posts and whipped his beasts forward; pulling the building straight out of the ground.
This violence prompted the government to get involved and by 1859 reservations had been proclaimed on both sides of the river and plots of land in the township of Hay began to be sold.
Henry Leonard’s Murrumbidgee Punt Hotel was eventually completed and its construction marked the beginning of a prosperous community who eked out a life for themselves and their stock in the dry saltbush plains. Leonard’s hotel no longer stands in the town today, but a scattering of other buildings constructed by the region’s pioneers give visitors a window onto what life must have been like here in the days before cars and air-conditioning.
ONE TREE HOTEL
“The winter cold of the flat miles of saturation struck upward through the thin floor of the coach, and about all that the passenger had to sustain him was the thought of a good, stiff rum at the One Tree”
Bluebush, ‘The Historic One Tree Plain’, The Land, Friday, June 23, 1933
North of Hay there is a dead flat alluvial plain where the sky stretches from horizon to horizon. For most of the 19th century this plain had a single landmark, a lone gum tree about 38km north of Hay. A town was gazetted to be built on the site and in 1862 its first building was constructed – the One Tree Hotel.
For the next 35 years this hotel and the gum tree were the only objects to break the horizon here, but after the tree was toppled in a storm on New Years Eve in 1897 the hotel was the only thing left.
The hotel was a comfortable oasis amidst the hot dry plain for drovers, shearers and other travellers. Livestock could be watered here for a penny a head, and the Cobb & Co coaches stopped by on their journeys to and from Hay.
Drought and cars slowly killed the hotel’s business and the liquor license lapsed in 1942. These days, visitors can’t buy a rum at the bar and have to be content with admiring the privately-owned building and its setting from outside the gate. It is nevertheless a stunning and poetic reminder of the crippling isolation faced by our forebears in this part of the world.
“Hay and the Diocese of Riverina have so agreed with Bishops that there have only been three… one of them, Bishop Anderson, being here about half the life of the Diocese.” Author unknown, ‘Hay, Hell and Booligal’, 'Murrumbidgee Irrigator', Friday, September 17, 1943
The summer heat in Hay must have been incredibly hot and stifling to anyone coming from cooler climes, and so when the first Bishop of the Riverina built his lodge here in 1888 he employed architect John Sulman to build him a house that would be capable of withstanding the extremes of the climate and keep his family comfortable.
The result was a stunning architectural achievement – the temperature at the interior of the house has never risen above 28 degrees. This is because every wall in the house is made from double layers of iron packed with pine dust, providing a tremendous amount of insulation. High ceilings and deep verandahs to keep the worst of the sun off also contribute.
These days visitors can wander the halls and feel the difference for themselves while learning about the lives of the people who have called the lodge home over the years.
Outside the house you can take a walk through the expansive 19th Century ornamental garden. From October to May the air is filled with the heady scent of heritage roses that didn’t survive anywhere else in the world. These roses and a heritage sweet pea species are available for visitors to purchase. This garden also plays host to the popular Spring Market on the third Sunday in October, and can be hired as a venue for weddings and other functions.
Entry to the Bishop’s Lodge costs $5 and these funds go towards maintaining the building, museum, and garden.
The Bishop’s Lodge is open 2:00pm – 4:30pm Monday to Saturday.