Glenrowan, Albury-Wadonga, Beechworth & Yackandandah
After a delicious breakfast of oats and a cup of tea at a rest stop on the outskirts of Seymour, we continued our journey north.
In a country characterised by long stretches of road, stopping at rest areas where picnic tables, rubbish bins and toilets are generally provided is a necessity for drivers and Victoria do a great job of looking after their travellers, they have some awesome rest stops.
Onwards our morning drive took us through Glenrowan, a small town now by-passed by the Hume Freeway and just a ten minute drive from Wangaratta.
Glenrowan is all about Ned Kelly’s last stand. In reality, because of the famous events which occurred in June 1880 when the Kelly Gang, with Ned Kelly dressed in his famous armour, were captured in the town after a violent and bloody siege, it has become a magnet for tourists. Today, not surprisingly, it is a popular tourist town built around a single theme, Ned Kelly.
Our next stop was the twin towns of Albury-Wodonga to have the suspension checked on our Hilux. Because of the delay in our tyres arriving and being fitted, the suspension had only been upgraded a few days before by the guys at ARB Launceston and as usual their after sales service was amazing… they had organised for us drop into ARB Albury for a health check!
The twin towns, are seven kilometres apart and on opposite sides of the Murray River. Located on the Hume Highway the two are usually referred to as Albury-Wodonga but Albury was definitely the more interesting and attractive town. These towns form a large urban area, which is the border between New South Wales and Victoria.
After leaving Albury our next stop was Beechworth before heading to Yackandandah where we planned to camp the night.
Beechworth is again Ned Kelly country. It was exciting to follow in the footsteps of an Aussie icon and like it or not, Ned Kelly is one of Australia’s most famous bushrangers and part of our history!
It was a beautiful drive through the countryside in this area and Beechworth’s location at the foothills of the Victorian Alps offered us visitors the chance to explore and enjoy a number of surrounding vineyards… and of course we couldn’t resist the temptation to try the products!
Our first stop in Beechworth was Lake Sambell Reserve. Located just east of Beechworth’s commercial centre this reserve features a picturesque lake surrounded by BBQ and picnic areas and was a lovely place to stop for a cuppa!
The historic town of Beechworth was first named ‘Mayday Hills’ and renamed Beechworth in 1853. This grand town reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, as we wandered along wide tree-lined streets with deep granite gutters and shady, century-old verandahs. We could easily see why it is known as the ‘Elegant Dame’. In the main street the shops presented an almost unbroken series of elegant buildings and historic shop-fronts, many of which date back to the 19th century.
The Historic and Cultural Precinct, also located in the main street, is the major attraction comprising of the town’s old courthouse, telegraph station, town hall, a museum, and a very dark cell, which at one time housed the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly. There was not a business name or street plaque in Beechworth that didn’t remind us of this Aussie icon. Just back down the road in Glenrowan was where the last stand of the Kelly Gang was staged, but Beechworth was the country Ned played in… robbing banks, and breaking out of gaol.
There was a bit of a buzz about this little town as we investigated further… and it was a hive of activity at the famous Beechwork Honey Shop! Rich in heritage and family history, Beechworth Honey is one of Australia’s best-loved brands and we couldn’t pass through this little town without dropping in…. just bee cause we love honey!!
The cemetery was an interesting place to visit also and while it might not sound too exciting it was a great way to learn about the history during the gold rush era. The information sheet and the map provided were a great way to experience the stories of those laid to rest here and the Chinese burning towers were another excellent example of the history in Beechworth.
Leaving the Beechworth cemetery and its residents to rest in history we made our way back to the historic one street town of Yackandandah, leaving behind the colourful and exhilarating history of Australia’s gold rush and bushranger days in Beechworth!
Beechworth was never on our list but it was certainly a pleasure to visit this little town!
Now where is Yackandandah you may well ask? This little town is in the High Country in Victoria. We just followed the narrow road from Beechworth back the way we had come from Albury-Wadonga to an intersection where three cows grazed in a corner paddock, then we turned right… you can’t miss it! We then followed the creek line along the road and came to the old gold town of Yackandandah.
Our son and his family had stayed here previously and raved about this little town called Yackandandah. What a name… and because we loved its name so much we decided we wanted to stay here too!
Like Beechworth, it is a good base for exploring the Kiewa and Ovens Valleys in northeast Victoria and although it isn’t close to some places like Falls Creek or Mt Hotham it is close enough for those wanting to explore the wider area from one base, and not minding a bit of driving.
This old town dates back to the 1800s and an era in Australia when gold fever was rampant throughout the colony of Victoria. It oozed lots of charm with its unique streetscape of old buildings, verandas and trees nestled in the rolling hills of a beautiful valley.
The local caravan park became our temporary home for our first night on the road. This was a great little park nestled in a gully between two creeks, lovely and green with lots of beautiful trees just shedding their autumn leaves.
Unfortunately, the weather was still unsettled. A westerly low brought horrible weather to Victoria, NSW and Queensland and ensured a steady stream of rain fell on this little town… and it didn’t let up.
At first the rain started softly and it seemed as if the storm would pass but ten minutes later it was right above us and there was no escape. Within minutes the area around our Hilux was flooded. We were camped right on a creek and all we could do was watch the water rise and wait to put up our rooftop tent. That same afternoon we were hit by thunderstorms, and the thunder was deafening.
We had only planned on staying one night in Yack (as the locals call their little village), but instead of packing up a sopping-wet tent and driving in the heavy rain and strong winds we decided we would stay put until the rain had cleared.
For some, this would have been a few days of misery but it didn’t dampen our spirits, we loved our visit to Yackandandah. We had a lovely camp kitchen with a raging log fire to keep warm and shelter from the weather, all the facilities we needed and lovely company… and we weren’t completely restricted to the caravan park, we did manage to get out and explore the area between showers.
Being such a small town we had the convenience of being able to walk everywhere so once we had set up our camp that’s exactly what we did!
A short stroll from the park brought us to the heart of Yackandandah where we began exploring and soaking in the ambience and with the changing of the seasons the trees were a picture as they shed their leaves… natures studio of colours as vivid gold and brown leaves decorated the trees and roads throughout the area.
With a break in the rain and the hint of sunshine as the clouds cleared we walked up a rather steep hill where we had beautiful views over the little village and surrounding countryside. The High Country scenery surrounding Yackandandah was breathtaking. Another walk took us to a gorge where we wandered beside Yackandandah Creek and then under the shelter of the overhanging verandas of historic, ornate shops in the quaint little village’s main street we sheltered from more rain. Each little shop inviting leisurely browsing, whether for antiques, gifts or handmade items from craft galleries.
Whether you’re a regular participant, or a first timer, Anzac Day is always a unique experience and it couldn’t be more unique than it was for us on the second day of our travels. With an overnight low below the teens and more rain forecast, it was certaily going to be a chilly Anzac Day morning in Yackandandah.
Yackandandah had obviously flourished and declined as the times have dictated and the effect of the economic depression of the 1930’s and the wars were felt, as they were across all of Australia, and Yackandandah’s Memorial Gardens certainly reflected the participation of it’s community in the various global conflicts.
The next morning a small gathering of people braved the cold for the Dawn Service at the Memorial Gardens, and if you haven’t experienced this event before, it was a very touching ceremony and well worth it, as was the very entertaining game of two up at the local pub.
As important as the laying of the wreaths and commemorations, this traditional coin game will always be a part of Anzac Day. Two-up has been a traditional gambling game in Australia since it spread around the country with the gold rushes in the second half of the 1800s but is now only legal to play on Anzac Day (April 25), Victory in the Pacific Day (August 15) and Remembrance Day (November 11, but only after noon)… and the community of Yackandandah certainly came alive to help preserve its connection with the gold rush era of years gone by.
After three nights at Yackandanda and a break in the weather we hit the road again. The forecast was still not looking good for the next few days but it was time to move on, we had places to discover!
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY… Beechworth and Yackandandah stand as testimony to the early days of gold mining and bushranging but their story begins long before the discovery of gold.
The hills of Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park and Beechworth’s historic park and valleys of Yackandandah were occupied by local indigenous clans who nurtured the soils. Yackandandah is Jiatmathang country. The Aboriginal word for the Yackandandah area is Dhudhuroa. To the Dhudhuroa people Yackandandah means ‘one boulder on top of another at the junction of two creeks’. This relates to the intersection of the Yackandandah and Commissioners Creeks where granite boulders can still be found.
Beechworth grew up in the gold rush days but it is also famous for the trial of Ned Kelly on murder charges. The Beechworth Court House was the scene of countless trials involving Ned Kelly, his family and associates. He was remanded in custody to stand trial in Melbourne, where he was subsequently convicted and hanged. Glenrowan is where Ned Kelly and his gang staged their ‘last stand’ and all his gang was either shot dead or burned alive when the troopers set fire to the guesthouse where they were holed up – all except for Ned. Ned sustained gunshot wounds and was captured the next morning.
Ned Kelly is probably the most famous bushranger connected with Beechworth. Early records show in 1870 Ned aged 16 stood trial on a minor charge and served six months at Beechworth Gaol. In 1878 his mother, son-in-law Skillon and another man were arrested and placed in jail pending trial for attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. She was given three years’ hard labour, considered by some to be extremely harsh.
Following a raid at Jerilderie, the Kelly Gang ‘disappeared’ for about sixteen months. During this time the police arrested 22 Kelly ‘sympathisers’, who were held for about four months before being released for lack of evidence. Feelings ran high and the gaol’s old wooden gates were replaced by the present iron one because authorities feared an organised attempt to free the sympathisers.
After the famous ‘shootout’ at Glenrowan, a wounded Ned was taken to Benalla, then to Melbourne Gaol Hospital. In August 1880, he was returned to Beechworth for his preliminary trial for the murder of Constable Lonigan. He was remanded and returned to the Central Criminal Court in Melbourne.
Then there was Harry Power… the legend of bushranger Harry Power (real name Harry Johnstone) is an especially interesting one. Said to have been well-dressed and usually a ‘gentleman’ he was not given to violent crime and was a ‘mature age’ bush ranger, in his 50’s at the time he was most notorious.
Power had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1841 for stealing shoes. In 1855 he is believed to have shot a police trooper and in 1856, while serving time in prison, was accused of the murder of a guard. He reappeared again in February 1864, charged at Beechworth for horse stealing. In 1869 he escaped from Pentridge and became one of the most notorious and active bushrangers in the Mansfield, Bright, Beechworth and Seymour areas, robbing travellers and mail coaches. He gained a reputation for being a ‘good humoured’ bushranger, and had his share of supporters, including the Kelly family. In fact, it is suggested that in 1870 young Ned was recruited as his ‘apprentice’. There are rumours, however, that Ned actually gave information on his whereabouts to the police and was subsequently given some reward payments. Harry was transferred to Beechworth where he was tried on three counts of ‘Robbery Under Arms’ and returned to Pentridge, serving out his full sentence.
He was released in 1885, aged 66. After his release he was employed as a guide on the old prison hulk ‘Success’ that he had known as a convict. Later he moved to Swan Hill where he enjoyed considerable notoriety.
THE GOLD DIGGERS STORY…
The lure of gold penetrated far and wide attracting diggers from across the world to the region. In 1852 local shepherd, Howell, with California ’49s Baker and Strickland, first discovered alluvial gold in what later became Beechworth. The gold hunters called by the name 49ers originated from America and got their name from the Gold Rush of 1849 that was sparked with the discovery of gold in early 1848 in California’s Sacramento Valley.
Within a year 8,000 miners had swarmed to the area now called Beechworth. A large number of Chinese miners along with miners from Britain and Europe all came to try their luck with the gold pan and pick.
By 1856 Chinese numbers swelled and following the Buckland riots in 1857 many more joined their brethren at Beechworth. Over 5,000 Chinese lived in the mine camps and soon formed a community. ’Little Canton’ was established with its own market garden, shops, joss house and temple and was located along the lower Stanley Road, on the high side of where Lake Sambell is now situated.
The Chinese took an active interest in town affairs and were generous donors to the appeal to build Ovens District Hospital in 1856-1857. They also formed a colourful part of the annual procession through Beechworth’s main street.
The Chinese Burning Towers built in 1883-84 still remain at the cemetery and were used for burning prayers and meals for the dead. There are thought to be about 2000 Chinese buried in Beechworth cemetery although it was the wish of all Chinese to be buried in China… and for that reason it wasn’t uncommon for bodies to be exhumed and sent back to China with relatives, where re-burial would take place.
In time, tents gradually gave way to more permanent structures with the government responding in 1853 to have the town of Beechworth surveyed by Government Surveyor, George D Smythe.
Beechworth soon became the central town of the Ovens Goldfields, and the administrative centre for North East Victoria.