Gloria Victoria - Beechworth


Have you heard of Burke and Wills?

No, I only know Bunnings and Myers.

I'm not talking about stores. I'm talking about people. Burke and Wills belong to the famous group of explorers of Australia.

Oh, okay.

We're driving to Beechworth in Victoria today where Burke was Superintendent of Police before named leader of the exploration expedition.

What did they explore?

They were sent out to cross Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north.

Were they successful?

They did cross the continent but only one man of the whole team, the Irish soldier John King, returned to Melbourne alive.

One man? Was that all? How many people were there in the team?

  1. It was an interesting mix of international men. There were six Irishmen, five Englishmen, four Afghan camel drivers, three Germans, and one American.

Why were there Afghan camel drivers?

Remember the camels in Alice Springs? It was the same idea here. Camels are better than horses on long desert walks. And who better to hire to drive them than those people who have used them for centuries?

So what happened to the men of the group? Were they eaten by crocodiles?

No, no. Burke had split the group twice. He had heard that a certain John McDouall Stuart -

You mean our Stuart the highway across the Red Centre was named after?

Yes, the exact same one. So, Stuart had taken up the challenge for South Australia to be the first to successfully cross the continent from the south to the north. Burke was afraid Stuart might beat him so he pushed forward. He did a lot of poor planning and miscalculations when it came to food and rations. In the end most of the team died of malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, and even starvation.

Not a glorious ending then. Stuart has his name plastered all over the place.

Yep. - Ooh, look! Cherries. I'm going to buy some. -

How many did you get?

One kilogram.

Quite a bit. Are you sure you'll eat them before they go bad in this heat?

You just wait. Ah, we're almost in Beechworth.

Wow, look at the buildings!

Now this a true gold mining town from the 1850s.The whole town looks like a Wild West town. Very cute indeed. And here! This is truly a worthwhile town to see. Those stone buildings must be original. Okay, I'm going to park the car and take a stroll. Maybe I can find out more about this place. I'm sure they have a museum. See you later, S.

  1. Bring me a coffee when you come back, will ya?

Funny gal.


You did bring a coffee!

Yes. I felt like having a real flat white for lunch. Sorry, I cheated on you.

No worries. I don't feel like working in this heat anyway. Have you checked the temperature? It must be boiling outside, let alone inside the car here.

Yeah, I know. I already lowered al the windows to get a breeze in. I know there is talk of temps hitting the 40s tomorrow. It can't be much below that today.

See my glass? Even I'm sweating. So, did you learn anything else on your stroll around town?

I did actually. You already know the story about Burkes. But there is more to Beechworth and its surrounding area. It's another gold mining town of Australia. This whole area here was actually a big gold mining area in the mid 1800s. It produced over 156,000 tonnes of gold. Imagine that amount. I went to the museum here and they have a sphere in there that gives you an idea of what one tonne of gold looks like. It's like a mega big cannon ball. If you then imagine 156 of them stacked up - amazing.

That sounds like a lot indeed. I bet the gold didn't only attract thousands of diggers but also thugs.

Right on. The famous and notorious Ned Kelly and his gang were here. Despite being a robber and murderer he became something of an Australian hero.

Why? Was he the Australian Robin Hood who robbed the rich and gave to the poor?

Not at all. In modern terms you could almost call him a homegrown terrorist. Yet, he has become Australia's best-known historical character, probably due to his admirable traits: courageous, resolute, and independent. He's Australia's answer to Billy the Kid or Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.

I have no clue who they are - or were. What can you tell me about Ned? Time to catch up on my country's history again.

Ned Kelly was the son of Irish immigrants in Australia. Well, 'immigrants' sounds a bit too nice here. His father was actually a criminal who had been sentenced to seven years of transportation, meaning being a convict in Australia for seven years, for having stolen two pigs. Ned's father, John, married Ellen Quinn after he had completed his seven years in Tasmania and moved to Port Phillip District in Victoria, Australia.

When John Kelly died, the family moved to the northern part of Victoria with Ellen's father, James Quinn who had taken up a cattle ranch of 25,000 acres. Apparently the cattle and horses they had on that ranch didn't come into their ownership in legal ways.

It seems Ned Kelly didn't get much of a school education. He got his education or rather training from a bushranger named Harry Powers.

Oh, that's good then. But I didn't know they had bushrangers back then.

They weren't rangers like the ones we've met on out trip, Sheila. A bushranger in those days was a criminal. Bushranging meant living off the land and being supported by or stealing from free settlers. Sometimes this was a preferred way of life by escaped convicts or a result of the lack of supplies in the early settlements. Australia's history of bushrangers spanned a period of nearly 100 years. It started with the first convict bushrangers active from 1790 to the 1860s, and ended with the outlawed bushrangers of the 1860s and 1870s. When you were outlawed people were allowed to shoot you on sight.

Oh I see.

Now, Ned Kelly soon was arrested for several offences and therefor spent several months in prison. In the next years Ned committed several more crimes among them murders and bank robberies. It was only a matter of time before he and his gang would get caught and eventually he was captured and sentenced to death by hanging. The interesting fact about this whole story is that 30,000 people signed a petition to reprieve Kelly. Unsuccessfully.

If he was such a scumbag and a murderer, why would so many people want him reprieved?

I guess it had more to do with the police system and the government back then. Maybe people back then thought Kelly put up a good show and embarrassed the police nicely. Anybody who is able to escape the law's hands cause some sort of desperation takes on a liking in the public, don't they? The government spent about $100.000 on his capture for the two years it took them to finally get him. In today's money that would be about $13.5million dollars!


Whoa indeed.

Still, I don't get why he has become a hero.

Well, hero or villain. He has definitely become part of your folklore, pop culture, and art.

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