A historian has uncovered the hidden past of Wagga, and how it very narrowly avoided becoming a border town divided by NSW and Victoria - or part of a new state entirely.
Andre Brett will lay out his findings this month at a NSW parliament house talk, which will be held on the 170th anniversary of the two states' separation.
Dr Brett said it was a tumultuous few years in the lead-up to the separation, with much heated debate over how the colonies should be carved up.
The first proposal was to draw the NSW-Victoria border line through the Murrumbidgee, meaning that Wagga would have been a Victorian border community much like Wodonga.
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Several big-name Wagga merchants were in favour of the suggestion, since most did the bulk of their trade in Melbourne instead of Sydney.
Politicians in Sydney, however, had other ideas.
"Sydney wasn't keen on that; the border was going to be too close to them, there were landed interests in the area, so a revised border was drawn in 1842 along the Murray and there it has stayed," Dr Brett said.
Dr Brett said many people in the Riverina were unhappy with the new arrangement, particularly in Deniliquin, where anger was brewing against the Sydney political classes.
A movement started taking shape in regional NSW, with activists demanding that the region be split off entirely to form a new state separate from NSW and Victoria.
One of these activists was presbyterian minister and politician John Dunmore Lang, who coined the term "Riverina" for this hypothetical new state.
Dr Brett said that he, and other separatists of his time, felt that they were being neglected by the city-dwelling elites and would fare better if they struck out on their own.
"Basically, they were unhappy with laws being made in Sydney and were afraid they were losing political power in the NSW parliament," Dr Brett said.
"So they thought the best idea was to create their own new colony that they'd have all the political power in and could make laws to suit themselves.
"You had complaints throughout all of Australia and all of these new emerging regions. As Europeans are spreading throughout the continent they are wanting to govern themselves, rather than by government by the established centres such as Sydney."
In the end the separatists failed to create their own Riverina state which, Dr Brett said, was partly due to infighting over where exactly the borders should be drawn.
Some drew the line all the way across to Broken Hill, right near the Queensland border, while others kept theirs contained within regional NSW.
However, Dr Brett said the biggest opposition came from townspeople in Wagga and Albury, many of whom did not want to break their ties with the rest of the state.
"They wanted to grow the local economy. They didn't want land to be locked up in the hands of pastoralists. They wanted to get smallholders onto the land, to more closely settle the land with agricultural and other pursuits so the town economies would grow and thrive," Dr Brett said.
"With the townspeople of Wagga and Albury who didn't support the separation movement, some of them instead wanted the Riverina to be part of Victoria, to move back to that original Murrumbidgee border. Melbourne was their port, that's where they did most of their trade."
The separatist movement lost steam and eventually petered out, however from time to time it would flare up again with renewed pushes to create a Riverina state.
A contemporary example would be that of the current Member for Victoria Tim Quilty, who is campaigning for "Rexit" - breaking the Riverina off into its own state.
For such a thing to happen it would require the Australian people to hold a referendum to change the constitution to allow a Riverina state.
However, Dr Brett said if history taught him anything, it was that Australians were "notoriously" reluctant to change their constitution, with only a tiny minority of referendums have ever received enough votes to pass.
Dr Brett said believes the status quo will remain for the foreseeable future, but says that the course of history could have very easily have swung in the other direction.
He describes the nineteenth century as one of heated disagreement, warring factions, and spirited town hall discussions, a time where anything seemed possible.
Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly Jonathan O'Dea MP said the online event on 27 July, titled A Colonial Divorce, will delve into the origins of the well-known rivalry between New South Wales and Victoria.
"A fascinating history precedes the 'colonial divorce' and what has now developed into good-humoured competition between our two states," said Mr O'Dea.
"We encourage people in both states, and indeed the rest of Australia, to tune in online and discover for themselves how this nation-shaping split came to pass."
President of the Legislative Council Matthew Mason-Cox MLC said learning about how the states were formed was critical for understanding how the Australian democracy and federation operates.
"Examining our history gives us an opportunity to reflect on how and why we make decisions today," said Mr Mason-Cox.
"The separation between New South Wales and Victoria created an on-going healthy rivalry and left a legacy for future generations, including the creation of two thriving capital cities."
The event is free and is currently up for registration on Eventbrite.
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