Our trail of lots of ‘bad boys’ or bushrangers on this trip would not be complete without the infamous Ned Kelly. Many towns use his name to cash in on the tourist draw and Glenrowan is the one that takes the biscuit for tackiness. To be fair, it was the site of Ned’s last stand where, dressed in his home made armour, he was shot 28 times and caught. He didn’t live here, he didn’t appear in court here but Glenrowan takes first prize for milking his name. There’s the huge statue as you enter the town, the pub sells Kelly Gang Beer and there’s a ‘scary’ reenactment of the capture using moving dummies which according to the board outside is not for the fainthearted. Lonely Planet says that it’s a bucket of shite and yet it costs $30!! We stopped briefly to take some pictures and then we moved on.
Wodonga is not a place to spend Easter with your kids, at least we didn’t think so as there wasn’t much to see and do there. On arrival the guy in reception told us to watch out for the 120 kids on site. We thought he was exaggerating but quickly realized he wasn’t kidding (!!) as the campsite was completely full.
We were there to visit Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre. This is where refugees and migrants from Europe after WW2 were housed on arrival starting in 1947. Italians, Greeks, Germans and any nation where people were displaced by the events of the war. They lived here for a while learning English and waiting to be placed in work which could have been anywhere in Australia. We were met at reception by one of the volunteer ladies who came here from Switzerland as a small child before being shipped to Perth where her parents were given jobs. It’s also where Neil might have come when he was about 7 as his parents were considering becoming ‘£10 POMs’.
Our next stop was Beechworth where we had a campsite pitch to die for. Plus, and now you must excuse the pun, we had just settled down for lunch when a large group arrived and explained that they were here to have a short service and then scatter the ashes of Fred across the lake. It was a jovial event and quite touching as his widow came across to apologise………’for what’ we said ‘we have been quite moved by the whole event’. Take a look at the pictures and see just how lucky we were to get the best pitch on the site.
Beechworth does have a legitimate claim to fame with good old Ned. He lived not too far away, he spent many a happy hour in the local pubs, in the court and goal here as did his mother. She did 3 years hard labour for whacking a drunken policeman over the head with a shovel who was ‘messing’ with her daughter. Ned also served 3 years hard labour in the goal from the age of 15 for a crime he didn’t commit. Whilst we think he probably would always have gone the wrong side of the law many things happened to him and his family which probably made sure that he would live a life of crime. As with many of the bush rangers their treatment by the police was not good and probably put many over the edge. It was also here that he was sentenced to hang and was duly taken to Melbourne where the execution took place.
We took 2 walking tours with our guide, Rod, dressed in 1850’s gear along with boots, bowler hat and waistcoat. We toured all the perfectly preserved buildings in town and learnt so much more about the history of Beechworth and Ned Kelly’s tragic story. Whilst Glenrowan glorified the story, Beechworth seemed to tell the us the history in a tasteful and respectful way.
Ned’s mum eloped after getting pregnant by John Kelly who had been transported for theft in 1841. From there it was down hill all the way. Life was very harsh in those days living in a wooden hut which would have been stifling in summer and freezing in winter. She had 12 children, mixed with all the wrong people and getting pregnant by several bush rangers. She did various stints in goal for varying crimes many of which were fabricated by the police. Ned never had a chance and after the first stint in an adult goal at the age of 15 for a crime he didn’t commit he really was only going to become a ‘bad boy’.
The courtroom where both Ned and his mum were sentenced is original including the dock and the bench where the judge, Sir Redmond Berry (aka ‘the hanging judge’) sentenced him to death. Mum died at the age of 91 in 1923. It is a fascinating family story that is probably mirrored so many times across Australia. Ned just made them famous because of his armour and the scale of his crimes.
As a nation most of us have grown up with John Wayne movies depicting the wild west as a lawless place. Can you imagine how lawless Oz must have been when most of its original population were criminals transported here in the late 1700’s for mostly petty crimes such as simply stealing a loaf of bread? Then with the discovery of gold in the mid 1850’s it’s no surprise that this place was probably as bad, if not worse, that Big John’s wild west. Think about it, it’s not that long ago is it, 150 years?
We’ve been on the road now for around 6 weeks and everywhere we’ve been Neil has been looking for wildlife. We’ve seen lots of roos, our first possum and emus but cuddly Koalas have remained very elusive. We even had a late afternoon 3 hour walk through a koala sanctuary and came up with nothing but roos. Finally, he did it, on the 2hr walk from Lake Sambell to Lake Kerford he found one just chilling out about 10-15m up a gum tree. He managed to get some good pictures despite not being able to get the bottom of the tree due to the bush. He’s very pleased with himself now even though we’ve still not seen a wombat or an echidna. These are nocturnal and shy so we’re unlikely to see one of them.
We then moved on to Mount Beauty which is in the Alpine National Park. The scenery is stunning and the walking tracks are some of the best we have come across. In addition, the daytime temperatures were in the high 20’s and at night time down to as low as 2 or 3C. No problem, we had a huge fire pit to keep us warm whilst we tucked into our food and at night we have a thick doona from Phil at the motorhome hire centre.
We had a couple of evenings where we had one of those fantastic communal camp BBQ experiences. A huge group of Asian families on a short trip from Melbourne arrived en masse to cook. They originated from Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea just to name a few countries. They were an extremely friendly bunch and while cooking massive amounts of food on the BBQ told us their various stories. Most S E Asian countries won’t accept dual nationality, so they have to choose to keep their original citizenship or take up full Australian status. Those children that are born here must choose when they are 18. Most met at University here and through the network of Oriental groups that exist in Melbourne.
On the first night they gave us food to sample and it was delicious. On the second night Henry, a pharmacist from Indonesia, and his wife Juliana announced that they were all leaving in the morning and so would we like the left-over beef in Korean spices, lamb sausages and an enormous box of salad? Yes please!
The group had 2 sets of twins and we had some banter with the kids. One 6 year old boy joked about the large gap in his front teeth and Neil met him in the shower block later that evening where he was cleaning his teeth. Suddenly, the other identical twin just came up to Neil, gave him a big hug, and shouted ‘bye’ before he headed off to bed. Great people and another lovely social evening in the campsite.