It is fair to say Wagga residents enjoy a cheeky beverage on the odd night out.
While it may be more of an “Aussie thing” than a “Wagga thing”, this city’s love of the drink resulted in a call for divine intervention more than 100 years ago.
Rewind Wagga is a fresh series investigating the then and now of the city’s most beloved pastimes, events, people, places and icons.
As the first part of the series, The Daily Advertiser investigated the history of Wagga’s drinking habits, dating back to a letter sent in 1873 from the Vicar to the Bishop of the diocese, in Goulburn.
As it turns out, Wagga was not only a place of many crows, it was also a place of many drunks.
The letter read:
“Nuns could and should be sent here at once. The people are willing and able to support them. The nuns should come at once and they should occupy the Presbytery for a short time. Six months would build a convent.
“There is a large population settling down about this part of the country, and nuns here would be the salvation of the rising generation of the female portion.
“Everyone gets drunk here and they see no harm in it, except perhaps a headache when they go to the lock-up. One of our most respectable Catholic ladies was visibly the worse for drink in the church, yesterday, and they all, young and old drink like fishes!
“Your Lordship’s obedient servant,
Hearing the Vicar’s plea, the Bishop called on the church to send five nuns from Ireland, who would volunteer for the “missions” in Australia.
This was merely 25 years after the area legally declared a village.
When the nuns arrived, the township was home to about 2500 residents, with four hotels being popular destinations for men at the time.
These hotels were set up with stables out the back, according to long-time Wagga resident Sister Alexis Horsley.
The Presentation sister said a lot had changed across the years, including legislation, but she said residents had always loved a drink or two.
They all, young and old, drink like fishes.Patrick Dunne
“I wouldn’t say it’s a Wagga thing necessarily,” Sister Alexis said. “It’s more of an Australian habit, shall we say.”
Evidence of this social norm can be found riddled through the archives of the Wagga paper, with residents facing court over drunkenness and bad behaviour, from the late 19th century until the early ‘50s.
In 1916 one man - charged with drunkenness - was too intoxicated to even plead.
A year later a fully-clothed, intoxicated man was rescued and arrested, after “gesticulating wildly” and “shouting incoherently”, he plunged into the North Wagga Lagoon and swam about “70 yards” before giving up.
“Thoroughly exhausted” he had clung to the branch of a tree until the local sergeant rowed out to save him.
Across the decades that followed, men, women and children were fined, locked up overnight or sentenced to short bouts of hard labor for their drunken antics.
One man in 1946 was charged, when he drunkenly procured a six-foot snake, which attracted a large crowd at one of the pubs. He then took the snake with him to the police station.
Sister Alexis said she recalled the days of the six-o’clock swill, where last call would see Wagga men panic-drink as much as possible before stumbling home for tea.
“I remember there being a pub on every corner,” Sister Alexis said.
“Some hotels had a ladies’ lounge and there was a wine shop around the corner ... but women of class wouldn’t be caught dead in there.”
While the gender-related segregation has changed, the question remains: Does the city still need saving?
It comes as more than 20 hotels, bars and clubs across Wagga compete for patrons, with uni and defence force bases attracting a high percentage of 18 to 30-year-old consumers.
But William Farrer Hotel owner David Barnhill said the city had come a long way since the days of six-o’clock closing, with tougher restrictions on the hotel industry limiting the potential for anti-social behaviour.
It only took a century or so, but Wagga residents are more responsible than they used to be, according to the former NSW State of Origin player.
”The drinking culture has changed,” Mr Barnhill said. “People have become more responsible.”
This assessment comes eight years after hoteliers and licensees of the city formed the Wagga Liquor Accord, standardising policies and taking on a “banned from one, banned from all” initiative.
Despite the vote of confidence, Wagga’s rate of liquor-related offences was almost double the state-average per capita last year, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
Perhaps we could use a few more prayers.