07 October, 2020


The principal building in the village of Galong in the Riverina of New South Wales is Saint Clement's Retreat and Conference Centre.  These buildings, however, comprised a minor seminary of the Redemptorists between 1918 and 1975.  They have, however, a much older colonial history.  Around 1825, a former convict, Edward (Ned) Ryan "squatted" on hundreds of acres in the area, part of which was called Galong. Many years later, some of what he leased became his own property and he built a residence for himself which he named Galong Castle.  Ned Ryan was a colourful character and a generous Catholic.

The following is an edited version of account in a volume by Father Max Barrett CSsR The King of Galong Castle.  

Due north of Galong Castle, rising 553 metres above sea level and dominating the country for miles around, is a mountain that came to be known as Rosary Hill.

Rosary Hill, Galong NSW

It was a practice of the first - and remarkably mobile - Catholic bishop of Australia, John Bede Polding, on his initial visit to a town or district, to climb a neighbouring hill, erect a Cross at its peak and the bless place from there.  This happened at Galong.  Members of the Ryan family who accompanied the bishop on this occasion suggested that the prelate leave his beads on the tree near which they had just recited the Rosary.  The tree was a she-oak which grew about twelve metres to the north-west of the present trig on Rosary Hill.  His Grace complied; he hung the beads, a Benedictine rosary, in towards the centre of the tree.

The date of this occurrence is not certain.  Archbishop Polding was in Galong district on four separate occasions, 1838, 1853, 1858 and 1863.

A conflicting voice says that Rosary Hill was named by the pioneer priest, Father Charles Lovatt.  But the unanimous local tradition, which goes back to the days to the days of John Nagle Ryan [son of Ned Ryan], says Polding.  The Freeman's Journal, on the occasion of John's death [January 1887], reported that John Nagle used "narrate how the saintly Archbishop Polding planted a cross on the summit, recited the Rosary, and requested him to have his Catholic visitors sometimes say the Rosary there.

The Ryans and other local families were faithful to the Archbishop's request.  From time to time, little groups climbed Rosary Hill - in itself, an exercise for the physically fit and penitentially inclined - to tell their beads.  These pilgrims also followed the Archbishop's example and hung their rosaries on the tree as well.  By 1900, the tree was covered with beads.  Archbishop Polding's rosary had broken with age and the growth of the limb, but one or two of the decades had become embedded into the bark.

About this turn-of-the-century time, a storm damaged the she-oak.  It was reduced to a stump but, surprisingly, a new trunk grew from the old stock.  When, however, workmen were seeking timber for the extension of the nearby railway a good deal of land was cleared and the she-oak disappeared.  When it was realised what had happened, there was great consternation; but by that time it was too late for any effective action.

In the 1940s, a grotto was built on the moderate rise immediately north of Spring Creek, in view of the old Galong Castle and about one kilometre to the north-east of the Ryan home.

An annual procession in honour of the Mother of God, which had been held in the Galong Monastery grounds since the early 1930s, was re-routed to the grotto.


An illustration of the She-oak from Father Barrett's book.
The drawing is by Mrs Peggy Jones.


Barrett, Fr Max CSsR, King of Galong Castle, Majellan Press, 1978.

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