History & Heritage

Where we came from

Before white settlement began in the 1840’s, the Nari Nari Aborigines inhabited the area where Hay now stands. The noted explorer, Charles Sturt passed through the area during his exploration of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers in 1829-30.

The present site of Hay was located at the junction of four large 'squatter' properties, one of which was occupied by the Lang Brothers where an important river crossing was located. Stockmen would frequently camp at the site before crossing the river with their stock and even now the area is known as Langs Crossing.

In 1858, river steamer Captain Francis Cadell built a store at the crossing, which was soon followed in 1859 by a punt service and hotel built by American Henry Leonard.

The township of Hay was named after Sir John Hay, a local pastoralist and Member of Parliament, after the town was gazetted in 1859.

Development of the town progressed with the original courthouse (the site of the present post office) built in 1860. Soon after, Cobb & Co. made Hay the headquarters for their Victoria and Riverina operations and then set up a coach factory at the corner of Lachlan and Randall Streets which became the largest coach factory in Australia outside Sydney.

The post office and lands department from the Gavin A. Johnston collection, courtesy of the Hay Historical Society


The population of the town grew from 300 to 3000 over the years, then in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, virtually every eligible male, some 641 in all, enlisted for active service. 134 of them didn't return.

The Hay War Memorial High School was opened on ANZAC Day 1923, as a living memorial to the men and women of WWI who fought for their country.

At the beginning of World War II in 1940, internment camps were constructed around the town, which housed almost three thousand German and Austrian internees from England where they would become famous as the 'Dunera Boys'.

The camps operated for six years, with the thousands more internees and prisoners of war doubling the town's population.

Streetscape from the Gavin A. Johnston collection, courtesy of the Hay Historical Society


In Hay, heritage is interwoven with contemporary life

Hay's history is rich with characters and tales of boom and bust - of isolation and innovation. Visitors are welcome to explore the town's unique history by following a heritage walk, dropping into the local history section of the Hay Library, visiting one of our five museums, or simply taking a stroll around our streets, parks and riverside reserves.

The Hay Historical Society has been an important contributor towards researching and preserving Hay's history and heritage buildings. They are also concerned with the surrounding district, including the villages of Booligal, Booroorban, Carrathool, Gunbar, Maude, Mossgiel and Oxley.

More information on the history and heritage of Hay is available from the Hay Historical Society website http://users.tpg.com.au/hayhist/ or the Society can be contacted by email on .

Requests for research must be addressed to Hay Historical Society Research Services, PO Box 467, Hay, NSW, 2711.

Our heritage places

Hay has many special heritage places where visitors can immerse themselves into the past, from the spectacular 1892 courthouse to the imposing railway station, evocative cemetery and much loved Sunbeam Cobb & Co coach.

In earlier years it was thought Hay would become the capital of the Riverina, which has left the town with a grand legacy of Australian architecture. The many heritage buildings reveal the ingenuity of early architects attempting to tame a harsh outback climate.

Much of the information about Hay's historic buildings comes from the Hay Historical Society's publication The Witcombe Heritage, which is available for purchase from the Hay Visitors' Centre and the Hay Historical Society's website http://users.tpg.com.au/hayhist.

Family History:

Hay's significance as a crossroads means many families have links to the town. Many visitors attempt to trace family history to provide links to the past. Perhaps tracing a POW father, shearing grandfather, schoolteacher cousin, railwayman great grandfather, or Chinese market gardener uncle, or find out more about family member's time here as a nurse, soldier, cook, stockman or shopkeeper.

Hay's family history records are easily accessible at the Hay Library and are an excellent resource or alternatively, the Hay Historical Society offers a research service for a small fee.

In more recent times, the Australian Shearers' Hall of Fame was adopted by the local community, and in January 2002, Shear Outback opened to an audience of more than 4000 people.

Visiting the Hay region has an enormous amount to offer visitors and locals alike. More information is available on the region’s past and present from

Tourist Information
Moppett St
Hay, NSW, 2711
(02) 6993 4045

Historical Society

website http://users.tpg.com.au/hayhist/
email .