Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
March 2012 - Albury
Albury is a city of 46,000 people (2006 census) located on the Murray River in New South Wales. If combined with Wodonga in Victoria on the southern side of the river the population is 79,000 (2006 census) making Albury-Wodonga a large inland population centre. Albury is 554 kilometres from Sydney and 326 kilometres from Melbourne by road so claims that it is half-way between Sydney and Melbourne are not supported by distances; Albury is much closer geographically to Melbourne than to Sydney. Although it is not overwhelming evidence, the observed preference of Albury news-agents to stock Melbourne newspapers instead of Sydney papers may indicate a preference for Victoria and Melbourne.

Albury business street Keiwa Street in central Albury. The clock tower is on the Post Office building.

Dean Street in Albury Looking along Dean Street from the Monument; this is Albury's main shopping street. The structure at the far end is the footbridge over the railway line and freeway.

Albury has a warm, temperate climate with cool winters and very warm summers. The mean daily maximum temperature in January is 31°C, mean daily minimum temperature in July is 3°C. Mean annual rainfall is 701 millimetres, most of it falling in winter around July (83 millimetres mean rainfall). March is the driest month with 38 millimetres mean monthly rainfall.

Albury is on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne and on the interstate train line between the state capitals. For many years trains on the standard gauge train line from Sydney terminated at Albury where passengers and freight had to change to trains running on Victoria's broad gauge lines. This need to change at Albury led to the construction of a very long platform at Albury so both trains could be at the station simultaneously while passengers changed.

The break-of-gauge at Albury prompted frustrated and derisory comment and represented a significant financial burden. Eventually a standard gauge line was built from Melbourne to Albury and in 1962 trains began running from Melbourne to Sydney and passengers were spared the change of gauge ritual.

Albury is on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne. Decades ago the Hume in Victoria was re-built as a freeway running from the edge of Melbourne to the border with New South Wales at the Murray River. But work on upgrading the Hume Highway in New South Wales, and especially in Albury, proceeded very slowly.
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For many years road travellers from Melbourne had to make their way from the end of the freeway through Albury suburban streets competing with local traffic and interstate semi-trailers for road space. In 2007 the Hume Freeway through Albury was completed; this is not strictly a bypass but runs through the built-up area in such a way that the freeway is a convenient way to drive between parts of Albury. More importantly for long-distance travellers there is no need to even slow down at Albury.

Freeway Hume Freeway running through Albury. Access and exit ramps on the freeway are convenient enough for the freeway to be used by traffic within the Albury-Wodonga region.

The explorers Hume and Hovell passed through what is now Albury in November 1824, naming the river the Hume River and recording a crossing point on the river. A gum tree beside the crossing was engraved and is preserved as Hovell's tree. In 1829 Charles Sturt discovered the same river downstream at its junction with the Murrumbidgee and named it the Murray River. Both names were used for some time until Hume fell into disuse.

Squatters followed the early explorers and the river crossing place reported by Hume and Hovell became the centre of a small settlement, initially based around a provisions store. The settlement was gazetted as Albury in 1839; the name is said to be after a village in Kent in England. A log punt servicing the crossing of the Murray River was established in 1844; stock still had to swim across the river. Albury Post Office opened in the town in 1847.

When Victoria separated from New South Wales in 1851, Albury became a border town and a customs post was established between the two colonies. The first bridge was built over the Murray River in 1860. At about that time the Albury region began attracting German settlers who found the area suitable for grapes and began producing wine.

Murray River The Murray River at Mungabareena Reserve east of Albury. Water level is high after recent rain. The large gum tree is a River Red Gum which is widely found along the river bank.

In 1855 paddle-steamers had proven Albury could be reached along the Murray River but service was irregular, depending on water depth and the draft of the steamer. Wool, wheat and wine were shipped down the river to Adelaide via Goolwa but the service was generally unreliable, slow and non-existent for the five months of the year the river ceased flowing. When the railway line from Melbourne reached Wodonga in 1873 the quick and reliable transport service available by train ended carriage of freight by paddle-steamer from Albury-Wodonga. The train line from Sydney reached Albury in 1881 but railway gauges in Victoria and New South Wales were different so the two lines were not joined.

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Sydney-Melbourne train The InterCity train from Sydney to Melbourne stopped at Albury station. Although the train line from Sydney reached Albury in 1881 and the line from Melbourne had reached Wodonga in 1873 these were different gauge train lines. Until 1962 passengers had to change trains at Albury and freight had to be transhipped.

By the 1870s Albury had grown to include a butter factory, flour mill, wineries and locally brewed cider and soft drinks.

The River Murray had flooded periodically since the first white settlers arrived and various plans had been drawn up for dams to reduce flood damage and to provide water for irrigation along the river. In 1915 the River Murray Waters Agreement, ratified by the Commonwealth Government and the governments of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, provided for a water storage on the upper Murray. The site of the Hume Dam 16 kilometres upstream from Albury-Wodonga was subsequently selected from 25 alternatives. Work began in 1919 and the Hume Dam was completed in 1936. The dam has become an important recreational attraction for water sports and fishing for Albury-Wodonga residents as well as releasing irrigation water into the river to be used by downstream farmers.

The Second World War led to considerable development around Albury when several Army bases were established. Bonegilla was begun in 1940 in the belief that units based there could be moved north or south as need arose and as the war developed. Bonegilla has since been developed to include the Australian Army Training Centre at Latchford Barracks forming part of the Albury Wodonga Military Area (AWMA). Nearby Bandiana Army Base is another part of the AWMA housing the Army Museum which is open to the public.

After the Second World War the former Bonegilla Army Camp was used as a Migrant Reception Centre and temporarily housed more than 300,000 people before it closed in 1971. Initially the camp housed displaced persons from refugee camps in Europe but from 1951 to 1971 Bonegilla housed assisted migrants from many European countries before they moved into the Australian community. Many residents of Bonegilla chose to settle in the Albury-Wodonga area and the camp provided employment for many local residents.

East Albury housing Growth in Albury housing is presently concentrated in the suburb of East Albury.

In October 1973 Albury became part of the Albury-Wodonga National Growth Centre; this was an attempt on the part of the Commonwealth Government, the Victorian Government and the New South Wales Government to encourage Albury-Wodonga to develop into an economically sustainable rural city. One goal was to have a population of 300,000 by the year 2000, to be largely achieved by relocating public servants. The experiment formally ended in 1995 but there is little readily available material assessing the results of the National Growth Centre scheme.
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Rural land Looking south-east from the monument across South Albury and the Murray River into Victorian hills. Albury-Wodonga is surrounded by rural land, much of it as hilly as this.

Albury is now, to all appearances, an urban centre in the middle of an agricultural area but somehow detached from agricultural activity. In the 2006 census 239 people living in Albury claimed to work in "Agriculture, Forestry or Fishing" - this is 1.1% of the workforce. On the other hand, 55% of Albury workers in the 2006 census claim to work in public administration, health care, retail trade, construction and manufacturing.