The Wandering Jew

Berger was the master of promotion as seen by this newspaper advertisement for a sale.

Berger was the master of promotion as seen by this newspaper advertisement for a sale.

I have a fascination, probably obsession, to record and research the stories of the ‘characters’ of Australia for our Oral History and Folklore collection at The National Library of Australia.  Those who dare to be different and are, perhaps, slightly eccentric yet contribute strongly to the social fabric of our towns and cities.

Luckily I live in Forbes, a town that is richly endowed with these people and I am a strong believer we should acknowledge and promote them as part of our cultural heritage.  Buildings, architecture, music, statues and art are truly wonderful things for a town but, in my mind, it is the stories of the people who lived in the buildings and created the art and music that are also vital.

What prompted the above was the opening of Forbes’ new venue, SYLO and the story of the man who built the Lachlan Arcade (SYLO’s home), Daniel Berger, a gentleman of Jewish persuasion.

Many years ago in a rare moment of spare time I dug into our National Library archives and found some interesting stories about Mr Berger. They were shoved into an electronic folder on my computer and now seems as good time as any to share a few.

Mr Berger first appears in the 1880s in Hay with a business selling just about everything. Court reportshave him in a couple of legal altercations over various fiscal matters. He leaves the Riverina in 1890 and is next spotted as a businessman and owner of a paddle steamer ‘The Wandering Jew” described as “a hawkers boat” which according to a newspaper advertisement “sold everything from a needle to an anchor”. The vessel was burnt on three recorded occasions. The ‘Jew’ held the record from Brewarrina to Walgett and back, loaded both ways – 5 1/2 days. An average load of wool on the ‘Jew’ was 27 tons with barges sometimes carrying an additional 80 tons.  The final resting place of the steamer is just above the Aboriginal fish traps at Brewarrina, it is listed on several heritage sites.

Unfortunately fires plagued our Mr Berger with not only his riverboats and barges being burnt but other property at Bourke and Trundle as well, but that is another story. Daniel Berger also conducted a store of the same name, Wandering Jew, at Bourke and ran this in parallel with his newly erected Lachlan Arcade in Forbes in 1892.

Berger was in trouble in both Bourke and Forbes for wanting to stay open for extended hours. The hours in Bourke were 9am to 9pm and Berger wished to open his new Lachlan Arcade until 6pm.  An ‘Early Closing Association’ was formed in Forbes, 1892, to prevent this happening. Unfortunately no further information is available on this.

There was also an established Jewish community in Forbes at this time and Berger quickly became part of it and was a trustee, along with Levy Vandenberg (of the hotel) for a “burial ground for Jews” in our local cemetery.

Berger’s time in Forbes and his running of the Lachlan Arcade are surprisingly well documented through both articles and his amazing newspaper advertisements. Another source of tales of our Mr Berger is a series entitled ‘Flashbacks of Forbes’ featured in the Forbes Advocate in 1951 written by Mr George Gunn. George worked at the Lachlan Arcade for Mr Berger and certainly had some good, and juicy tales.

Unfortunately you will have to wait until after Christmas to hear more of the saga of Daniel Berger – further travels, an unexpected twist that takes him ‘home’ and his final days in (I’ll keep you guessing). It is an amazing story.

Berger's paddle steamer ‘The Wandering Jew” described as “a hawkers boat”.

Berger's paddle steamer ‘The Wandering Jew” described as “a hawkers boat”.