While times have changed, one thing has remained; Wagga still provides a wealth of community events that act as drawcards for those outside the region.
The Wagga community is at the heart of these events, but the celebration of local produce of the region has been heightened in recent years.
The first Wagga Show was held on November 21, 1864 and the main attraction was the livestock, including the cattle, sheep and horse exhibitions.
President of the Wagga Show Society Bruce Ryan said in the 1900s the show was like a big supermarket for the town and surrounding regions.
This event brought a huge range of people to Wagga and showcased what this town was about; good people, good times and the Murrumbidgee River.John Paul, South Wagga Apex
“Back in the early days and up until the 1960s, most of the retailers in town used to have stands and exhibition halls where you could buy everything from a vacuum cleaner to a tractor,” Mr Ryan said.
“Big retailers like David Jones and car dealerships would show off and sell their wares.
“Going to the show as a kid was a big day out and a lot of the time we would buy a new set of clothes at the show, but a lot has changed since then.”
Mr Ryan said with the changes to retail and the introduction of the Henty Machinery Field Days in 1963, meant that the Wagga Show changed its focus.
“It became more about the entertainment and rides and there was no longer an emphasis on stock as there used to be,” he said.
“But, there’s still a lot of interest in the arts and crafts, photography and cooking.”
It is not a city without the race days and the iconic Gold Cup Carnival trumps them all. The first race which stopped the city was back in 1873 and at that time it was a three-day carnival.
Murrumbidgee Turf Club’s chief executive Scott Sanbrook said while the fashion has altered throughout the years, women are still frolicking with the glitz and glam of the times.
“At one stage the Wagga Gold Cup was worth more than the Melbourne Cup in pre-1900, but we still remain one of the biggest country race day carnivals in Australia,” Mr Sanbrook said.
“This is highlighted by the prize money of $150,000 and the constant crowds drawing about 9000 each year and up to 12,000 over the two days.”
Of course the Aggies Race Day is still drawing youths and raising funds for Peter Worsley, an old boy of the Wagga Ag College who broke his neck in a game of rugby in 1987 that left him a quadriplegic.
In another race day fashion, the Gumi Raft Race was staged in early 1976 by the Central Wagga Lions Club, with only 16 rafts taking to the water.
Josh Paul from South Wagga Apex, which now organises the Gumi event, said this became a Wagga tradition.
“The event really hit its peak in 1995, we had the whole river lined with crowds and spectators and about 120 rafts competed,” Mr Paul said.
“People traveled from all over Australia and it even drew some international competitors.
“We had a Miss Gumi entrance and a Miss Gumi Ball the previous night, and parades down Baylis Street with the festival running for a whole week.”
At age 31, Mr Paul reminisced about the event which brought the main strip “alive with colour and activity”.
“This event brought a huge range of people to Wagga and we showcased what this town was about; good people, good times and the Murrumbidgee River,” he said.
Despite its popularity, the event had a seven year hiatus until the race was brought back to life by the South Wagga Apex in 2011.
“We decided to take it on because we thought it was important for the Wagga community and give people of all ages something fun to do,” Mr Paul said.
“We tried to bring it back to the good old days, to bring the community together via a festival to showcase Wagga’s produce through Cork and Fork.
“Last year, we changed Gumi from a Sunday to a Saturday and finishing at the end of the river with a festival to draw people back to Wagga again.”
Mr Paul argued that it is getting harder for community and volunteer groups to organise events that are becoming large scale.
“Through the support we’re getting from the community and local businesses, I think Wagga have rallied together,” he said.
“We saw Gears and Beers festival reach about 5000 people and through this support it means that local events become viable and able to run as it brings money into the local economy.”
Wagga is home to many events that have changed with time and the introduction of new events in recent years demonstrates the region’s modification to community needs.
Another born and bred local James Hamilton, president of the Wollundry Rotary Club, said over his 67 years there is more emphasis on local produce in the region and the sharing of resources between community groups.
“The greater sharing of human and physical resources was a major benefit for the Gears and Beers festival,” Mr Hamilton said.
“We started Gears and Beers five years ago because we needed to find an alternative way to benefit the community as boutique markets were causing a decline of interest to our Sunday markets.
“Over the five years, the cyclists multiplied and we had 2514 enter this year and an extra 2000 people joining the festival.
“This year we attracted $20,000 sponsorship from NSW tourism to attract people outside of the city to Wagga and people came from various states and we had a greater number of international challengers.”
Wagga’s entertainment and local produce shines again in the annual Food and Wine festival in late March.
“First launched in 2002, the festival immediately followed on from the farmers market which had been held in the morning, but now the festival is held as a stand-alone event,” he said.
“The idea first originated overseas when one of our members’ spouses traveled to Europe but we’ve made the event as a celebration of local produce and a community and family affair.”