LOCAL boy makes good. That might be the headline on a story referring to the late Alexander Munro, Singleton pioneer and philanthropist.
Forget explorer Benjamin Singleton, after whom the historic Upper Hunter mining township is named. Some people even later referred to Munro (1812-1889) as 'the father of our town'.
Not a bad feat for a young Scottish immigrant with tireless energy and imagination.
Soon after arriving in Australia, the young Munro left Sydney for Morpeth, then followed Hunter's River up to where Ben Singleton was establishing a town at Saint Patrick's Plains.
Munro started as a humble farm hand until he'd saved enough to buy a wagon and bullock team to begin carting goods between the Morpeth wharves and Singleton.
According to Singleton historian Jenny Scholes, the enterprising Munro conducted the business for 21/2 years before chasing potentially more profitable ventures.
She discovered Munro was a driven man, becoming in turn a butcher, a shearer, storekeeper and a baker whose bread sold as far away as Government House in Sydney.
The thrifty and capable Alexander Munro then branched out to become a popular publican, then later a pastoralist, a famous vigneron and also the first mayor of Singleton in 1866, a role he carried out for four successive years.
Munro Street in Singleton was named in his honour. Writer Scholes wrote an informative booklet in 1983 revealing the life and times of this extraordinary valley pioneer, now fast fading into history.
The book is still on sale at Singleton Historical Museum in Burdekin Park besides the New England Highway and that's very apt.
For a start, inside the museum itself is a rare and priceless marble bust (pictured) tribute to Munro himself. Then there's the cast iron imported 'Munro Fountain' just outside in the park grounds. It was originally Munro's private gift to the township and once graced Singleton's present busy highway, the then very quiet main street (George St).
The saga of saving Munro's once much needed, but later unloved fountain, is a whole tale in itself as is that of his magnificent bust which it was later feared could have ended up on a rubbish tip.
For there's many reasons why people honour Munro's memory.
The visionary Munro began to buy land around the early town as a future investment. In 1856, he bought six adjoining land allotments in George St for a house.
According to author Scholes, in his spare time Munro experimented cultivating grapevines in his large garden and later established Singleton's first vineyard nearby.
Convinced that viticulture would become one of the region's great industries, he soon bought 100 acres of land on the southern approaches to the town. It was here he established his once world-famous famous Bebeah Vineyards. For 50 years it was the pride of the district.
The winemaker won gold cups in Chicago, Paris, Amsterdam and India. It's reported he won a staggering 2201 prizes consisting of gold and silver cups, ribbons, plates, medals and diplomas. At probably the peak of his success from the late 1870s he was said to be briefly the largest wine producer in NSW.
Earlier, in the 1860s, while still mayor he welcomed (the then) H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, during a visit to Singleton.
Under Munro's direct supervision, Singleton settlement was transformed into a town by improving its street layout.
Now prospering, Munro had bought land along John Street, out towards the showground area, and a good portion of south Singleton.
"He now gave much of this valuable land to adjusting the alignment of the streets," author Scholes wrote. On him also fell the "heavy burden" of drawing up by-laws in council, defining boundaries and organising the town in general.
Munro's philanthropy in Singleton extended to donating land to build a Masonic Lodge Temple (in 1864) and the Mechanic's Institute, plus a new cemetery and giving money to build the first Presbyterian Church. He also offered a thousand pounds to try and set up a tweed manufacturing business to provide employment.
Munro is also remembered for donating more than 1000 pounds to build the northern wing of the Benevolent Asylum (hospital).
Another notable donation to the town was an imported Scottish gas-making plant, but the local council wasn't interested. He had it installed anyway hoping Singleton would be the first town in the colony lit by gas. After making a profit, he offered it to the council at its original cost.
In May 1886, Singleton citizens wanted to recognise Munro's valuable contribution to the town. Some wanted a drinking fountain for people, horses and dogs while the majority wanted a bust of him in marble as a memorial. The majority won.
On hearing of their intention, Munro announced he would provide a fountain at his own expense so everyone would be satisfied.
Made in Glasgow, the cast iron structure consisted of a circular drinking bowl held by four supports representing horse legs. Underneath was a small bowl for dogs and above, an ornate centre column topped with a beautiful street lantern.
Opened in July 1890, the popular landmark was at the junction of George and Campbell streets, almost opposite Munro's Caledonia Hotel.
It stood proudly there for 45 years. But after the arrival of the motor car, council thought the fountain was a traffic hazard and wanted it removed.
Then in 1937, on the eve of World War 2, the council collected unwanted scrap iron to sell to Japan. The bowl and legs were taken off. The lantern disappeared and the column ended up at the council's gravel dump.
There was apathy, but a horrified resident bought what he could from council and took it home to set up a fish pond in his garden.
The centre column lay rusting in the gravel dump until 1960. After action by the Singleton Historical Society, the column was finally reunited with the bowl and legs and the Munro Fountain was restored and relocated to Burdekin Park in 1983.
Munro's marble bust had also faced an uncertain future but was rescued from its home at Dangar Cottage Hospital before its closure and is now again safe.
Alexander Munro died at his Singleton home aged 76 years in 1889. His funeral procession stretched a kilometre and was attended by 70 vehicles.
But was there a final secret to Munro's life? Modern history sources, including Singleton Council, state he'd been transported to Australia by ship as a 17-year-old convict in 1830.
With his poor family in dire straits, young Munro and two others had broken into a grocery store stealing money and goods. Although it was his first offence, he was given the extremely harsh sentence of seven years banishment overseas.
The Clan Munro (Association) Australia website reports while Munro made good of his new home, he probably spent much of his life trying to atone for his early mistake.