Mr S loves going to the same place for holidays. I don’t. So three years ago I agreed to go to the same ski resort only if we spent a couple of days exploring Kelly Country. That’s Ned Kelly.
I had read a host of books on Ned – it was my Summer of Ned. I wanted to retrace Ned’s journey.
Did I tell you an amazing coincidence? It will only make sense if you know the importance of Room 101 in 1984. The cell Ned was placed in Beechworth Prison was number 101!!! And a sign of the penal attitudes, while most people lived in dirt floor shacks, the prison is huge and imposing. I don’t think most visitors to the prison get it. Anyway that was the winter of 2015.
For the last three winters, I have explored different parts of Kelly country for a few days before we head off to Mr S’s favourite holiday. This year, despite being bedridden with flu (in a lovely BnB) I managed to get out for a morning drive through Woolshed Valley.
I wanted to go to the Woolshed Valley because it used to be a thriving place of gold diggings, Chinese market gardens, schools, pubs, small holdings. And because it was in this valley that Ned’s lieutenant lived and learnt Chinese from the Chinese gold miners, and apparently adopted their love of opium.
It was also where Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly shot Aaron Sherritt with the police hiding under the bed in the two room shack. This precipitated the siege.
It is hard to believe that there were two story hotels, restaurants, pubs and a public bath along this road. Now there are saplings, scrub and bush. There are signs along the road which describe was once was; some pointing out features left in the landscape. I couldn’t see them.
The cold, wet day made it all the more possible to imagine the miserable lives they led in Kelly’s time. Wet. Cold. Without an insulated, centrally heated house. With little furniture and limited clothing. Just hard work all round.
While we in the comfort of a heated car with heated seats, Ned and his gang traversed the area by foot and on horse back.
Totally unrelated to Ned’s time, the world’s biggest dredge, or some similar claim to fame, anyway it was damn big is in Eldorado, the village at the start of the road to Beechworth through the Woolshed Valley. It was eerie walking in this industrial relic. Again, it harked to an harder era.