The Gundagai Bakery claims to be the oldest bakery in Australia. A sign outside the store carries a potted history. It begins:
In 1864 German immigrant William Bibo built and opened the bakery on this site. A successful business man & citizen he later became Mayor of the town.
Owners and lessees have included RF Gartrell, TH Wilkinson, Meagher Bros., CD McLeod, Frank Willers, Joe Ledger and Bill Degotardi.
The bakery’s claim is disputed by the Maldon Bakery in Victoria, which dates its history back to the gold rush days. The Maldon premises also boast the original oven from 1854, definitely trumping the Gundagai Bakery which seems to have been rebuilt in the late 1940s. The Gundagai business does, however, have a history stretching back more than 150 years on its existing site in Sheridan Street.
William Bibo was a master baker who had served in the German army where, by his own account, he had been personally appointed by the Emperor to bake for the Imperial brigade. On arrival in Sydney in the late 1850s, he began to practise his trade but soon moved to the gold fields of Lambing Flat and, later, Spring Flat near Gundagai. There he sold his bread to the miners, often paid for in gold dust or small nuggets.
Bibo built his Gundagai store in 1864 and continued to trade there until 1899 when he sold the bakery to concentrate on his other business – ironmongery and household goods. He was an important citizen of early Gundagai, serving as mayor several times and active in other community causes. Bibo’s Buildings were a landmark in the town’s main street. When he died in 1910, his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Gundagai, with “upwards of 70 vehicles and a number of horsemen”.
The baker who had acquired the business from Bibo, R. F. Gartrell, soon found himself in financial difficulties and was forced to sell. The Gundagai bakery passed through a number of hands until, in 1924, it was acquired by Meagher Bros. who operated the business for 13 years.
In the 1930s, one of the Meagher brothers, Matthew, made the news on several occasions owing to mishaps as he delivered the bread. In 1933, the horse drawing his delivery cart bolted, throwing him onto the roadway. This may have influenced his decision to switch to a motor vehicle, but the bad luck continued. In 1934, he lost control of his car, which crashed into a fence. The same year, he accidentally set his delivery truck alight. As the Gundagai Independent reported:
On Wednesday morning at 5.45 a.m., the clang of the fire bell woke many residents of the town, but on investigation, no one could find any smoke nor see any blaze. However, later the mystery was soon solved. It appears that Mr. Matt Meagher had just filled the tank of his baker’s truck with petrol, and the cap of the tank had fallen underneath the cart. Being in the early hours, before daylight, Mr. Meagher struck a match, and in an instant there was a blaze, drips from the petrol tank being ignited. In the excitement the fire bell was rung, and Mr. Charlie Cork, with an extinguisher, rushed to the scene and stopped any serious damage. The truck was badly scorched, and the paint blistered.
Matt Meagher’s next driving mishap, in 1937, was fatal. After he pushed the delivery truck out onto the street, it began to roll with Meagher on the running board attempting to steer the vehicle through the driver’s window. The truck eventually crashed into a bridge, throwing him through the air to his death.
The Gundagai bakery has since had a number of owners. In the 1970s, it faced closure but fifty locals banded together to preserve its heritage, buying the building and the business. The current baker (as of 2023) is John Catling.