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Wiradjuri country is the land of the ‘three rivers’, the wambool (Macquarie), the galari (Lachlan) and the marrambidya (Murrumbidgee). This is the largest territory of any language group in New South Wales. It extends from the Blue Mountains west to Nyngan, and from Gunnedah in the north to Albury in the south.

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Perhaps 12,000 people were living in Wiradjuri country in 1788. They maintained their country and culture by travelling throughout their land, honouring sacred connections and kinships and undertaking ceremony.

A central Wiradjuri belief is a creation unified by Baiame, who is all-powerful, all-knowing and eternal. The Wiradjuri wore possum-skin cloaks and carved trees at burial grounds and birthing sites.

Extended family groups moved seasonally around the productive Wiradjuri river basins to manage and gather food. The streams provided abundant fish, turtles, yabbies and shellfish. On the surrounding woodland plains the people hunted emu, possum, goanna and kangaroo, and collected wattle seeds, tubers and many other plant foods.

Wiradjuri country provided everything the people needed. Life changed slowly, guided by the circle of seasons and a rich and complex culture that united the land, the people and all life. But after many thousands of years the Wiradjuri had to adapt quickly when a strange new people came into their land.


The Wiradjuri Wars

In 1813 white people first crossed the Blue Mountains into the rich grazing country of the tablelands. Colonial surveyor George Evans pushed further into the ‘three rivers’ later in the same year. Settlers soon followed with their sheep and cattle and the first ‘grants’ of Wiradjuri land were made in 1818.

The Wiradjuri watched and waited. Relations were friendly at first, and the Wiradjuri showed settlers to places of good water. Governor Macquarie visited in 1815 to establish the town of Bathurst, and again in 1821 when he enjoyed two Wiradjuri ‘karauberies’ (corroborees).

Initial restraints on settlers

Macquarie was careful to control settlement and promote good relations between the two peoples. By 1820 there were only 114 whites in the Bathurst area, 75 of them convict servants. But in 1821 Macquarie was overruled from England.

Faster settlement was encouraged and Macquarie was replaced by Governor Brisbane. More Wiradjuri land was taken up; hunting grounds and sacred places were occupied. Conflict became inevitable.

From about 1822, and following their own laws, the Wiradjuri began killing stock to eat. Sometimes they killed the shepherds.

Misunderstandings lead to conflict

A breaking point came in 1824, possibly because of a tragic misunderstanding between two peoples who could not comprehend each other’s laws.

As Mary Coe writes, a farmer at Kelso (near Bathurst) offered a group of Wiradjuri some potatoes from his field. They returned the next day and took more potatoes, as was the customary right on their land.

“…the farmer roused several neighbours and with the probable intention of chasing the natives away, they ran towards them. Whatever happened, the situation got out of control and shots were fired … several natives were killed and others were wounded.”

Windradyne leads Aboriginal response

It was family of the Aboriginal warrior named Windradyne that was attacked, and he was one of the survivors. Windradyne then gathered warriors to punish the white transgressors. On May 24, 1824, they attacked at Millah-Murrah, and then at ‘Warren Gunyah’ near Wattle Flat killing seven stockmen in the process.

Other Wiradjuri attacked Bathurst settlers and their stock from the south and the west. Soldiers and settlers retaliated.

Wiradjuri wars commence

The settlers fought back indiscriminately with guns and poisoned food. In turn the Wiradjuri attacked the white murderers.

Governor Brisbane responded to pressure from white squatters by proclaiming martial law, which was enforced by Major Morisset and his 75 soldiers at Bathurst.

Morisset’s campaign relied upon these words from the proclamation: “…Mutual bloodshed may be stopped by the Use of Arms against the Natives beyond the ordinary Rule of Law in Time of Peace; and, for this End, Resort to summary Justice has become necessary…”

Wiradjuri wars commence

With no other choice but annihilation, five Wiradjuri leaders surrendered in October 1824 and a kind of peace fell over Bathurst. But Windradyne eluded the authorities for another two months. After martial law was repealed on December 11, 1824, Windradyne made an heroic journey to the very seat of British power.

With about 140 of his surviving people, Windradyne walked nearly 200 kilometres to Parramatta for the Governor’s annual feast - with the word ‘peace’ stuck in his straw hat. The gathered settlers were awestruck, and Windradyne received Governor Brisbane’s pardon.

The aftermath

Windradyne's pardon was issued on 28 December 1824, the same day that colonial authorities in England sent a dispatch relieving Governor Brisbane of his post.

The authorities were unhappy with martial law. Colonial Secretary Major Goulburn was sacked the next day, and Major Morriset was relieved a week later.

Windradyne then lived in peace, until in 1829 he was injured in a fight with another Wiradjuri man over a woman. It is said that he left hospital with a gangrenous wound, to die with his people.

roads through O'Connell header

The original alignment of Coxs Road to Bathurst ran across the middle of O'Connell Plains to cross the Campbells River beside a series of land holdings granted to William Lawson in recognition of his role in charting a route across the mountains.

roads map

Around the same time as 800 acres of land on the eastern edge of the O'Connell Plains beside the Fish River was formally granted to Reverend Thomas Hassall by Governor Brisbane in June 1823, the main Bathurst Road was diverted to create a more direct route through Hassall's new holding.

This road relocation was to set Hassall's property apart from his neighbours in terms of its relevance in the surrounding landscape. Its location on the flat side of the river at the Fish River crossing positioned it to develop into a roadside destination of note in the following decade.

Even when the present day highway alignment was created in the mid 1830s, the old road through O'Connell and along the Fish River continued to be used by bullock teams who valued the numerous watering points it offered along the way. This in turn facilitated the ongoing development of the village in the years leading up to the discovery of payable goldfields in the Bathurst region in 1851.

1840s map early O'Connell developments header

The soil at O’Connell Plains was fertile and well suited for growing of vegetables and farming.

Some of the earliest buildings to be built in O’Connell Plains include Milford (c1822), the Mill Cottage (1826), Salem Chapel (c.1831), Plough Inn (1833), the O’Connell Post Office located in the Lindlegreen Barn precinct) (1834).

Daniel Roberts owned the Mill Cottage, which stands on the northern side of the Fish River and was built of random rubble by convicts in 1826. He also built the first water-driven flour mill in 1837 nearby to process locally-grown wheat and was granted the first publicans license for O’Connell Plains on 3 July 1833. Roberts established his Plough Inn on the northern bank in 1833 along with a store and a blacksmiths shop. The Plough Inn was one of only 13 inns established before 1835 on the western road between Sydney and Bathurst.

Rev. Thomas Hassall was the first clergyman to establish a place of workshop (Anglican) at O’Connell Plains.

As his continued appeals to Bishop Broughton that a church be built at the village were refused due to a lack of funds, he sold his land at Sydney and purchased land in the southern part of O’Connell Plains. Hassall also acted as a local tenens for about 12 months conducting services in a temporary building at the Kelso village during the absence of the Rev. John Espy Keane of the then new Kelso parish. Rev. Hassall subsequently built at his own expense a rough mud building known as the Salem Chapel in 1831. This was located at the junction of Beaconsfield Road and O’Connell Road and no longer exists.

A police presence was established in O’Connell from 1828 and Constable William Merrick was the first policeman appointed followed by Constable Samuel Taylor in 1834.

Their duties frequently involved the apprehension of escaped convicts. O’Connell’s Post Office first opened on 14 August 1834 and for many years was located in the store at the junction of Beaconsfield Road and O’Connell Road.

Mail between Bathurst and O’Connell was conveyed using a one-horse vehicle twice a week through a mail contractor appointed in 1846. This mail contractor was John Roberts, son of Daniel Roberts, innkeeper of the Plough Inn. Two years later, an innkeeper and well-known mail contractor of Bathurst, Henry Rotton, had secured the same contract. Horse races were first held on Daniel Roberts’ property behind the Plough Inn in 1849 and it appears that they were celebrated annually on 26 January.

The first day school to open at O’Connell was likely by the Church of England faith in connection with Salem Church. The first appointed school master was William Jones and some 30 children were enrolled some days after the opening of the day school.

O’Connell experienced significant growth during the gold rush period of the 1850s-60s and by 1870s was well established with a settlement of over 300 people.

Many of the buildings remaining today were built during this period, including the St Francis Catholic Church (1866), St Francis Convent (1867), St Joseph’s Convent School (1878), St Thomas Anglican Church (1866), St Thomas Rectory (1877), O’Connell Hotel (1870), O’Connell Public School (1876), the Butcher’s Shop (1876), the Old School of Arts (1870), the Butter Factory and the Police Station. It was during the 1860s that ‘Plains’ was dropped from O’Connell Plains and in 1866, O’Connell was formed into a separate parish.

The sketch of the road through O'Connell shown below dates from 1913. It is one of a range of historic mementos on display today in the O'Connell Hotel.

town layout

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