Safe As Houses: 22 Waranga Avenue, Mount Austin
The youngest son of a powerful family makes a grave error that leads to his untimely demise.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
The Bolger family’s influence on Wagga Wagga is easy to see. In the suburb of Mount Austin, a street is named after them. The family had been in the region since the late 1800s, and had made a name for themselves as pastoralists.
The Bolgers owned large tracts of land in the Wagga Wagga area, and kept two beautiful homesteads: one at Tootool, and another, bought in 1910, at Mount Austin.
James “Big Jim” Bolger sent his 25-year-old son Chris, the youngest of the Bolger family, to work at the Mount Austin homestead, today located at 22 Waranga Avenue. Chris was a popular, athletic young man, involved in a variety of sports and a member of the local surf lifesaving club. But while the elder Bolgers had built their standing in the community over decades, Chris was born into a life of privilege.
Perhaps this is why he felt he could speak the way he did to the 17-year-old farmhand his father sent him to help work the land at the Mount Austin homestead. Roy Soutar and Chris were relatively close in age, and seem to have gotten on well at first. The two worked the farm, grazing and milking cattle, and at night slept in single beds on the homestead’s verandah.
Around Christmas day 1935, Chris took a trip to Sydney. While he was gone, Roy met Daphne Nolan. He was taken with the girl, and the two went on several dates over the next few days.
When Chris arrived home, Roy was eager to tell his friend about his budding romance. He asked Chris if he knew Daphne.
“Yes,” Chris replied. “That dirty, low-heeled slut.”
Roy was taken aback.
“She is not a slut. I like her a lot,” he told his friend.
The two argued briefly, but the exchange soon seemed to be forgotten. The both slept in their single beds on the verandah.
The next morning, Chris came to wake Roy to tend to the dairy cows. His comment, it seems, was still needling at Roy.
“Do you still say that the girl is a dirty slut?” he asked Chris.
Chris was resolute, and took his insult a step further.
“Yes, and if you are going to have her here you better get off the place.”
Roy told police that he “seemed to see red” at this comment. He seized a rifle that was sitting on the verandah, and shot Chris through the head. His frenzied anger didn’t seem to dull his wits, though, as he would tell police that he reloaded the rifle and shot Chris through the head a second time.
Roy bound Chris’ hands and feet, tied weights to his ankles and dumped him in a well. He then headed into town.
Roy’s undoing turned out to be a bit of youthful carelessness. He wasn’t arrested for Chris Bolger’s murder initially. Instead, he was picked up for driving without a licence. It was only when Chris’ longtime friend, local banker Rowland Parker, visited the homestead and found Chris’ bed covered in blood, that the police would be called to the scene and Chris’ body would be recovered from the well.
Defending Daphne Nolan’s honour didn’t sit well with a jury as a justifiable reason for striking down the scion of one of Wagga’s most respected families. Roy Soutar was found guilty and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, as he was granted clemency for his young age.
The Bolgers’ Mount Austin homestead was given heritage status in 2002. From the street, 22 Waranga Avenue appears to be a modern block of flats. But behind this sits the original homestead, which was subdivided into two units, but is now protected from further interference. Though there’s no sales data on the property as a whole, Onthehouse estimates the value of one of the units at $209,791.
The building’s heritage status means it’s likely anyone who resides there is well aware of the home’s place in Wagga Wagga history. Let’s hope they give the well a wide berth.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.