As a child, Ross Norton spent hours driving through the Riverina with his father. But not until very recently has he realised his family's significant contributions to the early history of the region.
The 66-year-old is the great-great-grandchild of Gundagai's first constable and one of Wagga's first homeowners, Michael Norton.
"When I was at school [in Sydney], my dad used to take me out for a few months and we'd drive around Australia," Mr Norton said.
"Before he died, he took me out for four months and what I'm annoyed about now is, when I went to Gundagai at 11 years old, I never knew that's where my family was from, that's where my great-great-grandfather put down his roots and had five children.
"My father never said a thing, and now my sister and I are fascinated by the story."
The Gundagai Times printed in September 1905 declares Michael Norton as "the grandfather of Gundagai" and "the best-known figure in the district".
He had been born in Country Roscommon, Ireland in 1820, but even this piece of information came as distinct news to his descendant.
"My sister gave me a gift in 2018, a one-year subscription to ancestry.com. Until then, I had always believed my father's family came out from Scotland," Mr Norton said.
"I quickly traced back several generations to find Michael Norton, my great-great-grandfather, had come out to Australia in 1840 from Dublin."
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Enlisting in the 9th Regiment of Foot in 1943, he was sent to monitor convict conditions in Hobart.
For a year, he was stationed in Norfolk Island before he then spent time in New Zealand and later moved to Sydney.
On April 15 1844, he married a woman named Hannah at St James in Sydney before he was then posted to Wagga to become the first senior constable in the NSW Mounted Police Force.
"Back then the trip from Sydney to Wagga took six or eight weeks by bullock dray," the descendant said.
While living in Wagga for three-and-a-half-years, Michael Norton was involved in a number of shoot-outs with notorious criminals and bushrangers.
The Mining Advocate of September 1905 reported: "There is no doubt that the late Mr Norton was the first to put up a building where Wagga now stands."
"The site of the first erection, a slab and bark hut, erected as a residence, is now part of the river, and about 100 yards above where Kincaid street joins the stream."
The location of the courthouse and lock-up on Fitzmaurice Streets were also chosen by Michael Norton, to be within walking distance of his abode.
He moved to Gundagai and built a home on Sheridan Street, behind the butcher's shop.
"There were only three or four houses in what is now known as the town of Gundagai," an article in The Gundagai Independent from 1905 reads.
"When the late Mr Norton came to Gundagai the township was on the flat, but he would not live there. He preferred high ground and gave it as his opinion that the town would be washed away someday."
The Daily Advertiser from October 1938 reports that Michael Norton often sought council with the Wiradjuri people living around Gundagai and had determined the town's flood risk based on their advice.
Given his premonition, it's unsurprising that when the 1852 floods came, "Mr Norton saw many of the horrors attendant on the big '52 flood, which effaced the old town on the flat and drowned 70 people".
His great-great-grandson recalls the story being told that Michael worked alongside Wiradjuri heroes Yarri and Jacky Jacky as they sought to save the drowning.
Serving several more years in the constabulary, in 1853 Michael Norton resigned to open the Crown Hotel. The establishment later had a name change and became the Club House.'
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In 1863, Michael Norton acquired a role as a tin smith's shopkeeper inside the "old premises fronting the hotel".
While living in the Riverina, Hannah and Michael Norton parented a great number of children, though at least one died in infancy and few survived him.
According to The Daily Advertiser (October 1938) their second child, born in 1845, was the "first white child born in the town of Wagga proper".
His obituary in The Gundagai Times (September 1905) declares that the late-Michael Norton died at his home in Virgil Street, Gundagai at the age of 85.
It was "somewhat unexpected", according to the Murrumbidgee District Advertiser in September 1905.
"About nine months ago he was seized with an attack of illness, and but little hope was then entertained of his recovery," The Gundagai Times reported.
"Aided, however by a particularly strong constitution he pulled through and enjoyed fair health until a week ago when he was laid low with an attack of bronchitis."
After the bout of renewed illness, the article states, "the old man never rose from his bed".
Even just five years before his death, Michael Norton held the position of magistrate in Gundagai, making him the oldest seated magistrate of the time.
"He was the pioneer of several movements and his name is closely interwoven with the rise and progress of Gundagai," The Gundagai Independent recalls in September 1905.
He was laid to rest in the North Gundagai cemetery.
With the story now known, Mr Norton and his sister are planning to return to the Riverina and retrace the life of their notable great-great-grandfather.
"I'd like to hand something on to our three children, just a bit of understanding of where they're from and what their family did," Mr Norton said.
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