dig up the past?
I don’t know about you guys, but I still can’t
seem to get my head around all this digging going on
at Glenrowan. First it was the archaeological excavation
of the battle ground that ran from the railway station
to the Glenrowan Inn, and now it’s poor old Mrs.
Jones Inn. We all know the end result of the battleground
excavation, but what’s going to happen to that
sacred little corner block of dirt now that it too
has been plundered of what little treasures it had
kept to itself for the last 128 years?
I can understand archaeologists
wanting to dig up and study sites that have held
secrets for many hundreds and sometimes thousands
of years; places where we know little about the civilizations
that inhabited the area, learning only what we know
from primitive drawings on walls and legendary tales
passed down through the centuries, but crikey, this
event only happened a few generations ago. We didn’t learn about what happened
here through myths and primitive drawings but through
bloody newspapers and eye witness accounts. We don’t
have to know what the inn looked like or what it was
made of; we’ve seen photographs of it, and
plenty of them. And who gives a bugger of where the
outlaws were when they reloaded their firearms, but
if I did, I'd go for the room they were laid out
in when found by Fr. Gibney.
When the police burnt the
inn down on that Monday afternoon in June of 1880,
there were literally hundreds of spectators. You
can’t tell me that they didn’t
help themselves to a little memento of this historic
event. Even the police couldn’t be kept from
helping themselves. We’ve read where train loads
of passengers have got off at Glenrowan just to walk
through the siege site to take a look and hopingly
pick up a hidden souvenir. Young boys were digging
out lead from trees or wherever they could find it
to sell to anyone interested. Over a short period of
time the lead shot ran out so they simply replaced
it with their own. Sightseers could not get enough
of it, even at the inflated price of a shilling a piece.
Whatever wasn’t burnt to ashes after the fire
died down, would have most definitely ended up in someone’s
pocket or cart.
So where does that leave
us today? The archaeological dig has just wound up
and the seven thousand plus artefacts that were uncovered
have been spirited away for closer examination. In
these plastic trays of so called artefacts were items
of all shapes and sizes that to the untrained eye
are unrecognizable, except that is for the obvious;
the Matchbox London Double Decker bus circa 1950-60
and the plastic hair teasing comb that I think I lost
there only last year. Archaeologist and Project Director
Adam Ford said that one challenge of the excavation
will be distinguishing what artefacts and deposits
relate to the siege and the inn, as opposed to periods
before or after June 1880. Even with the untrained
eye, I’d say the Double Decker Bus and the plastic
teasing comb is definitely not before and a long time
It seems only a short time
ago since I stood at the Glenrowan railway station
in the early hours of June and gazed across the pre-public
park that was a battlefield to the peaceful tree
studded little block of dirt that sat up on the corner.
Far from my mind were the inn’s
few tiny remnants that this block of dirt had kept
hidden from all for so long. The only thing I could
think of was the carnage, destruction, and fear that
overran this now peaceful site on that freezing morning
in the June of 1880. How could you not forget the five
lives that were lost there? How could you not forget
the terror of men women and children as the police
mercilessly rained thousands of deadly rounds upon
them through paper thin walls, and how can you not
forget the sight of young men burnt beyond belief and
laid out on a slab of bark for all the world to see
including their families?
What I don’t understand is why we have to dig
up such places. Can’t we just show an ounce
of respect for what took place there and leave it
at that. The bits and pieces the site has given up
will eventually end up in some glass show cabinet
for the curious to take a brief glance at, but at
what price. Nothing tangible could ever compare with
the spiritual sense of being one experiences when
you take the time to reflect on such horrific circumstances,
and be thankful you were not amongst it.
I’ll stop off as usual on my way to Beechworth
this year, and I’ll stand at the station to gaze
across the battlefield to the small corner block of
dirt that was once filled with trees. But I know things
will be different this time. I know I’ll end
up looking across a beautified public park to a bare
and desolate piece of levelled earth where once stood
the Glenrowan Inn and wonder uncertainly of what will
be next, another sacred site, or maybe all attention
will be levelled at some poor unfortunate bugger’s
I wrote a small poem a couple
of years ago which I think is still relevant today.
Some have already read it but many have not:
I stood before a block
of dirt all fenced with wire mesh,
My mind soon drifted back
in time to screams and bloodied flesh.
Of outlaws fighting for
their lives in Armour made from ploughs,
And men and women, children
too, all terrified for hours.
I heard the shots from men of law that pierced those
Not caring for the souls
inside like crazed bloodthirsty fools.
I saw the fight, I heard
the screams, and saw the inn burn down,
I saw two boys all burnt
to hell and laid out on the ground.
I saw a man just early on come through a mist of fog,
In Armour and with taunts
to police; they shot him near that log.
I saw them cart him over
there all bloodied head to toe,
And where they took him
after that, well, you don’t really wanna know.
But soon the fresh clean air had gone and diesel filled
I turned around to see
a sight, Improvements I suppose?
But what I saw before my
eyes where men and boys were killed,
This sacred ground Australians
love, they’ve ploughed it like a field.
And there they strut in shirt and tie with hard hats
on their heads,
With plans and mobiles
in their hands, well, I think my point is said.
But from my heart they’ll
never take, nor visions in my mind,
This little piece of bloodied
ground, will stay ‘till end of time.
We can only hope.
Alan Crichton web site Ned Kelly Tales