The Author Speaks

The Author Speaks: First time in Kelly Country since the lockdowns

With the “ring of steel” between Melbourne Metro and the rest of Victoria now dissolved movement is freer than it has been in months. It also means that I can finally visit the places that feature so prominently in my book.

To say that the inability to bring Glenrowan to the places where everything happened when I first released the book was disappointing is an understatement. All of my plans for touring Kelly Country to promote the book went down the gurgled and instead I’ve so far had to rely on social media to get word out (quite successfully I might add as I now have fewer than 150 copies left of the first edition.)

On Sunday I set off early with my partner Georgina. It was a strange feeling to be back on the road again. We stopped for breakfast at a servo along the Hume before our first proper stop in Benalla where we visited Joe Byrne’s grave. It continues to be one of the most decorated graves in the cemetery even after all these months without visitors.

The day was starting to get quite warm and it was good to get back into the car where we could avoid most of the heat as we continued on to Glenrowan, which is roughly halfway between Benalla and Beechworth.

Arriving in this de facto Kelly “epicentre” brought back pries of the first time I visited in 1998 – that fateful trip that inspired all of this. The big Ned continued to tower over the main drag, though he’s looking a little tired these days.

We dropped by the Vintage Hall Café for lunch and were happily taking in the atmosphere when the heavens opened and we took our dining indoors. The food and service were great as always and I got to have a chat with some of the staff about the book.

On a side-note, this is where the 1970 Ned Kelly film had its premiere 50 years ago this year. The screenings were cut short by locals setting off bombs around the building in apparent protest.

Naturally, we also visited Kate’s Cottage (but didn’t go out to the museum section) and the site of the siege. Recently the siege site has been a point of controversy as proposed alterations to the overpass prompted a low-key protest. It remains to be seen what impact the project will have on the site. It seems unlikely that the governing bodies would wilfully destroy the town’s main drawcard.

After our brief stop we continued to Beechworth where we will be most of the week. The energy around here is completely different now. Whereas Glenrowan was positively bustling (perhaps more than I have seen it bustle in almost twenty years) with even the infamous “animated theatre” attracting more visitors than it probably has in a long time, Beechworth’s activity seems somewhat confined to the few open shops and eateries on the main strip.

Currently there are sections of footpath being dug up and a number of businesses and attractions remain closed due to Covid-19. Notably, this is the first time I have been in Beechworth since the unceremonious death of the Ned Kelly Vault. Currently the only heritage buildings open to the public are the courthouse and the Burke Museum. The “golden ticket” heritage precinct passes are gone until further notice, really driving home how limited tourism in the town is right now for anyone not shopping or dining.

Of the various things I did to while away the first night, a key one was signing a box worth of copies of the limited edition of Glenrowan. Stock is dwindling fast, which is fantastic, but I still have stock to go through by the end of the month.

For our first day in the town we attempted to get breakfast at the Beechworth Bakery (something of a ritual.) I posted some Glenrowan orders at the local post office then we headed across, but a long queue and no internal seating during a heavy storm meant that we gave the bakery a miss and headed to the Beechworth Pantry instead.

Mid-morning we visited Beechworth Cemetery and Georgina laid flowers on Aaron Sherritt’s grave. Though the grave is unmarked, there is a website that provides an interactive map with which you can find where people are interred based on the burial records. Using this we managed to find an official grave, which was something of a relief given how many alternative locations we had been told by people.

Aaron Sherritt shares his unmarked grave with his younger brother Nesbitt Sherritt.

Throughout the day we also visited other great spots such as the Burke Museum and Billson’s brewery, the latter of which is a must-do for its excellent service and consumables as much as it’s fantastically restored heritage trappings. The Burke Museum, which is yet another location that appears in Glenrowan, has served as Beechworth’s repository of historical, scientific and cultural collections since the early 1860s when it was first built as an extension of the Athenaeum. Many of the items in the museum displays would have been viewed by people who appear in the novel. At one stage it even had Ned’s and Dan’s armour on display as part of the Kelly collection (the remaining items of which are now hidden from view until someone can figure out what to do with them now that the Vault is gone and there’s no space in the main museum anymore.)

Poorly taxidermied animals such as this thylacine inspired a passage in Glenrowan.

Our next adventures will involve going to the courthouse and the gaol, as well as visiting the Eldorado Museum, exploring Benalla and returning to Glenrowan. All the while I will be looking for places to approach to stock Glenrowan. Stay tuned for more…


Billson’s brewery

By AJFPhelan56

Father, writer, artist and bushranging historian residing in Melbourne, Australia. Author of 'Glenrowan' and the popular website A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

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