Bethungra, 30km north east of Junee, is the centre of an area that was opened up to European activities earlier than the western part of now Junee Shire, in particular, the Jewnee Run. This was mainly because more reliable water supplies were available.
Obviously, the Wiradjuri people knew that as there is evidence of their occupation of the area going back thousands of years in the form of stone artefacts, rock engravings, art sites, bora rings and scarred trees. They also held their corroborees just west of present day Bethungra.
There is little recorded of the interaction between Wiradjuri and European cultures from the period of early exploration and the introduction of sheep and their attendant shepherds in the early 1830’s. Although in parts of NSW, indigenous people were treated very badly, it is believed that in the Bethungra area with some exceptions, relationships were reasonably civil. What is known is that from this time on, the numbers of indigenous people declined throughout the area, one reason could have been from introduced diseases against which the Wiradjuri had no resistance. It is worth noting that diseases such as diphtheria, measles or whooping cough also took a savage toll on Europeans and many of our early cemeteries have numerous graves of small children, sometimes a number of deaths occurring in a very short period.
For many years, Aboriginal people lived on the Merribindinyah Run, which was taken up by Stephen White in 1834. He ran sheep in the area during the 1830s and cattle from the 1840s.
On Merribindinyah, Aboriginals worked in both domestic and station activities, including wool washing where sheep were washed before shearing. Some station work would have helped the Wiradjuri workers to gain food as their traditional food sources were impacted by livestock grazing.
By the early 1840s, Merribindinyah, Irongbong and Cootamundry Runs met and shared the water in Wandalybingel Creek and the swamp known as the Bed of Reeds, a few hundred metres west of today’s Bethungra Village.
As these runs developed, Europeans moved into the area to work on them. In 1862, the first Bethungra Village lots were auctioned and the coach road to the south opened (Old Sydney Road). A hotel was one of the first buildings. Palmer’s Inn quickly opened in Baylis Street, providing for travellers, including Cobb & Co coaches. By 1865 it was known as Hope Inn and by 1868 as Bethungra Hotel. Of at least five other hotels, only the former Commercial and much later Shirley survive.
The Commercial, licensed in 1882, closed in 1884. It is now a derelict building.