Wagga Wagga : Then and Now

“Do you think I could live in Wagga?”, a friend asked me via text a few months ago. Enthusiastically, I told her yes. I have many fond memories of my time living in Wagga in the early 1990s. Although she’s lived in the city – Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney – for most of the last thirty years, she grew up in the country, and I was fairly confident she could make the transition. Her new job offers her a promotion, and a new house far from the sounds of the city.

For the past few years she’s been complaining about the sounds of light rail construction. Now, living on the outskirts of Wagga, it’s the night-time silence that’s causing her concern. “For the first couple of nights I couldn’t sleep”, she told me, due to the fact there was “no noise”. “Silence can be deafening”, she added. She’s right. I noticed it too.

But when I lived in Wagga, I lived in the middle of town. It wasn’t the sounds of the city, or the sounds of silence, it was the sounds of ducks and geese. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment on Wollundry Lagoon.

I planted this bay tree outside my apartment in (I think) 1993. As we walked around Wollundry Lagoon, I remembered with such fondness my time living there.
2/185 Forsyth Street, Wagga Wagga
With a glass of wine, “holding court” at Wollundry Close in the early 1990s.

After my trip to Canberra, I continued to Wagga to help her settle in. I helped her move furniture and became an interior design “consultant”, offering tips about where furniture items should be placed. I was also there as “technical support”, assisting with internet connections etc.

I’m hoping I was also helpful, with tips around the treasured memories I have from my time in Wagga, such as introducing her to my favourite Indian restaurant. I’m so pleased the food was as good as I’d remembered,

Lunch at the farmer’s markets at Wagga Showground. This was a great discovery for my friend, as she has been spoilt for food choices in the part of Sydney where she lived.
A favourite restaurant from my days in Wagga still remains open!

On a personal level, I also paid a visit to the Charles Sturt University Archives. As previously blogged, I was part of a small group which formed the Riverina Gay and Lesbian Social & Support Group. I was pleased to recently discover a collection of photographs, newsletters, and other material we produced had been donated to the archive. I spent an hour or so going through the collection.

These were dramatic times.

AIDS was impacting our community.

The Gay & Lesbian Choir had came to Wagga and won the Community Choir section of the National Choral Championships, amidst some community concern.

A report for ABC Radio I did on the Gay & Lesbian Choir in Wagga Wagga

And we faced hostile opposition from some sections of the community and local media.

The local newspaper, under the editorial lead of Graham Gorrell and Michael McCormack (now the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia) ran a strong editorial campaign (bordering on obsessional) about homosexuality, with McCormack declaring the Mardi Gras as a “vile poofter parade”.

You’ve got to remember, this was long before the days of marriage equality, and homosexuality was still being equated with AIDS.

Jim Eldridge was a local councillor who took umbrage at the activities of the Riverina Gay & Lesbian Social & Support Group, and was an outspoken critic.
In response to his concerns, we dedicated the tickets to “The Secret Ball” to Jim Eldridge.
Thirty years on from the homophobia exhibited in Wagga, it was great to see this sign on the bakery on Fitzmaurice Street

Times change.

4 responses to “Wagga Wagga : Then and Now”

  1. Rod McAdam Avatar
    Rod McAdam

    Hello James, if you had not said it was you conducting the radio report on the Gay and Lesbian Choir, I don’t think I would have picked it was you. I think your voice has changed in the years since. Not a lot, but to me you now sound different on Editors Choice.
    On another note, I never minded taking part in a ‘vile poofter parade’. They are always so much fun.
    Regards, Rod.

    1. James O'Brien Avatar

      I think my voice was more “moderated” back then, whereas it’s much more natural now. And also, ageing. That was almost 30 years ago!! And yes, I think it’s time to reclaim the phrase “vile poofter parade”!!! They’re great fun. I was in last year’s parade, and might be in this year’s also.

  2. marcellous Avatar

    A friend, now living in Munich, likes to return when in Sydney to check out the tree she planted on the street outside her flat in Randwick in the late eighties. And if it’s not as if she was ever going to be there for very long. The tree is a great resource to that street as I hope the residents of those flats in Wagga realise the tree you planted is. Bay trees are very handy to pop out to and a fresh-plucked leaf (or two) definitely more fun than shop-bought dried specimens.

    1. James O'Brien Avatar

      nullLast year when I was back there I collected, with permission of the current occupant, some leaves. Yes, so much better than from the shop!

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