Beechworth Ned Kelly Weekend 2011
It was nigh on 7pm Friday night when I finally swaggered through the front doors of the Hibernian Hotel in Beechworth, along with my good wife Roslyn. I was running late for the annual Ironoutlaw Dinner once again. Dressed in my Crimea shirt and ever so tight moleskins that hugged brown leather boots softened by the teeth of a thousand virgin Eskimo women, I spied our host, Mr Webb. His alexandrite eyes seemed hypnotised as they skilfully guided his tongue around the remains at the bottom of his beer glass. I was certain he had not noticed my late arrival. Beckoned to take my place alongside Lola Rowe, who was quite obviously taken by my ever so tight moleskins and larrikin heels, I immediately sat down and ordered a cheap bottle of red along with my steak and chips.
Our table was filled with familiar faces I had not seen since the last Ironoutlaw Dinner and there was much to talk about. It was later in the evening, I found myself staring back into the alexandrite eyes of our distracted host. I immediately asked him if he had remembered to bring Max Brown’s word processor with him that he had so solemnly promised to bring me for the last two years. I could tell by the blank look on his face and those rolling alexandrite eyes that I would again be waiting another bloody year for my precious processor. (I'm going to make a special trip up to drop it off to you Alan as I need the space in my garage! - ed) Drowning my disappointment in one more glass of cheap red, I returned to my dessert. At around 9.30, Lola and Paul O’Keefe decided they would try a little bush dancing up at the town hall. Lola had told me earlier she had been practicing her quadrilles all year and was keen to show off her latest moves. It seemed but minutes when they returned rather disappointed, not with the dance, but in the poor attendance. Despite the great bush music, the dance had attracted just a handful of patrons. Maybe it would have been better to have held it on the Saturday night at the Trivia event at the Hibernian? After finishing off my cheap bottle of red and several glasses of bourbon, my good wife steered me from the annual gathering to return to home.
At around 9.30 the following morning, I found myself in drizzling rain and icy wind heading for Beechworth’s Town Hall to pick up my tickets to some of the weekend events. I then walked eagerly to the police paddocks to see what the organising committee had come up with to set the scene for this years Ned Kelly Weekend. When I turned the corner of the old courthouse, I must say I was pleased and pleasantly surprised. There were tents set up all over the place, just like in the good ol goldmining days. A miner’s tent, Chinese laundry, Police camp with roaring fireplace, along with merchants all keen to flog off their wares. I was also impressed with the number of volunteers dressed in period costume mingling amongst the increasing number of patrons. At last the organising committee have finally gotten on the right track, not a bloody steam engine in site. The absence of SES trucks, Fire engines, Police cars, plastic orange barriers and metres of electric cable set a believable scene, not to mention the atmosphere.
As I strolled through the paddocks I was approached by three traps. One of them was a big bugger who looked very much like that scoundrel Constable Hall He was smoking a pipe with its bowl in the shape of a human skull. He came menacingly close and asked me if I was going to Paul O’Keefe’s presentation at the Nicholas Hotel at 12 o’clock. Not to be intimidated, I asked what business it was of the traps. He then told me that those who have not purchased a ticket will be locked up. I rummaged quickly through my envelope of tickets and produced the goods to his satisfaction. ‘Bloody O’Keefe, I thought, I knew he’d try on something like this’. The traps moved on, checking other patrons while I sought comfort from the chilly conditions with a cup of hot coffee.
At a quarter to twelve I made for the Nicholas Hotel, looking over my shoulder as I walked. I could see the three traps standing on the corner of Ford and Camp streets watching my every move. When I arrived at the Nicholas, I could see Adam Wynne-Jenkins, the President of the Weekend Organising Committee, propped up against the walls of the old establishment. He was dressed in white and seemed deep in thought. ‘Good morning Adam I says, nice morning’. I must admit, I was not kind to Adam in regard to the placing of the Kelly Gang Armour at last years event, and was unsure if I would be received with a greeting or simply a punch on the nose. To my relief, he was rather sociable and explained to me what had been organised for Mr O’Keefe’s talk about his G G Grandmother, Esther Hart. Esther of course is the sister of Steve Hart, one of the Kelly gang of outlaws. When he informed me that the talk will be held in the hotel’s cellar I was a little wary. I followed him down the darkened steps all the while thinking that I could possibly end up jammed in the bottom of a beer barrel and never to be seen again. Another thing that crossed my mind was…. What is O’Keefe going to think when he finds out he’s giving his talk in the pub’s cellar? When I walked into the room I knew immediately Paul would be pleased. With it lit with lanterns, pews stretching along a magnificent table setting, old brick walls set off with a suit of Kelly armour, the atmosphere was absolutely perfect for such an event.
As the guests arrived, we were kept entertained by these four singing buggers who rolled in off the street. Paul waited patiently as they harmonised away before starting his presentation….“The Girl Who Loved Ned Kelly”. This girl was non other than his GGGrandmother Esther Hart. He gave us much insight into the life of Ettie, as she was known, and evidence to show her relationship with Ned Kelly through old Police files, newspaper reports and a scrapbook belonging to Ettie that had been recently discovered by his mother in the basement of their home. This old scrapbook was filled with newspaper clippings of the Kelly Gang, cards, pressed flowers, jottings and beautiful poetry written by Esther. When reading the verse you could not help but relate to whom and what she was writing about. There is little doubt in my mind that it was non other than Edward Kelly. Paul kept us intrigued for a good hour , before lunch was served….Lamb shanks cooked to perfection.
Paul is passionate and proud of his heritage, and it clearly showed throughout his presentation. After lunch was finished he generously passed these priceless family artefacts around the table for all to see. These items would take pride of place in any museum, and how lucky we were to see them close at hand.
I returned once more to the Police Paddocks to see what else was going on. The weather had still not eased much, but by the way the paddocks were filling with patrons, it seemed nobody really cared one bit. I must say, I was rather surprised when I passed the Chinese laundry. There were ladies unmentionables fluttering in the breeze for all the world to see on Mrs Wong’s line. I stared for a moment in disbelief. It was only the previous evening at the Ironoutlaw dinner that the Lloyd girls mentioned something about having to do some washing in Beechworth the following morning. Would they be so bold, I thought ? Still pondering the thought, I quickly moved on to the miner’s tent.
The miner’s tent was surrounded by young and old patrons all eager to have a turn at panning for gold. I could not help but smile and appreciate the way in which this bloke handled, with so much patience, the very young members of the audience. It was pleasing to see that so many children were getting involved in the very thing that built Beechworth, and put it well and truly on the map, whether they knew it or not. Isn’t it great to see children getting involved in this Kelly weekend event. There should be more of it. There was much to see and do, but unfortunately for me, I had pressing renovation matters in Wodonga. I cared not, for I knew I would be returning the next day for Noelene Allen’s talk on Ellen Kelly, and also to catch up with that lovable rogue, Harry Power at the Town Hall. On leaving the paddocks, I took a happy snap of whom I believed to be three well presented citizens of the era. I did not remember seeing that lady on the right. Was she in fact paying us a visit from the old May Day Hills Asylum?
On Sunday morning at 9.00 o ‘clock I returned to Beechworth. Again I returned to the Police Paddocks to kill some time before Noelene’s talk started at the old Courthouse. I strolled over to Mrs Wong’s Chinese laundry to see if the Lloyd girls or other parties had removed their washing from the line. I was surprised to see the garments still waving in the breeze. When I approached the laundry’s owner, she informed me that two ladies would be returning to collect them later, and that they had placed a Police Constable to guard them over night. I shook my head in disbelief.
I must say that there is one bloke who, as far as I know, been present at all of the Kelly Weekends no matter what the weather. I approached him a couple of years ago, and told him I was Brad Webb, of Ironoutlaw fame, and that for the price of a lousy carton of port, my web site could promote his business. I tried it on again this year, and again he, er ... um ... declined. Before rushing off to the Courthouse I took a candid shot of Michael Callipari of Callipari Wine and Food. Mike is the creator of that famous drop Ned Kelly Red. You know the slogan ... 'I’ll Have a Ned Instead”… He also told me that if I wanted to purchase his great range of wine I could call him direct on 1300 633 733 and he could have it delivered to my door. How good is that?
When I reached the Courthouse I was welcomed by that famous Australian batsman and ever present historian, Bob Simpson. Bob had a bit of a bad turn there a while back, and it’s good to see him up and about, and might I say, looking rather chipper. Bob had the pleasure of introducing Noelene Allen to a packed audience for her talk on “Ellen Kelly, a Woman of Spirit and Courage”. I have been to Noelene’s talk before, but never tire of hearing about this great lady, Ellen Kelly. Noelene tells us of Ellen’s beginnings from her early childhood to her death in 1923. She tells us of Ellen’s meeting and marriage to John Kelly, her children, where they lived, and the stories of both happiness and despair. The way in which Noelene delivers this story , or should I say, well researched biography, is filled with passion. The tears, not only in Noelene’s eyes, but also in those of her audience gives you some indication of what Ellen Kelly means to so many. I was also pleased to see Noelene has now included in her talk more information on Ellen’s eldest boy, Ned. At the end of the presentation Noelene asked her audience if there were any questions? Bad move Noelene! She was immediately bombarded with all sorts of questions that could have quite easily lasted for another good hour. Thanks Noelene, as usual, for telling us in depth about this strong lady.
I felt at peace when I left Noelene’s talk, but the peace was soon broken by one almighty explosion that scared the living daylights out of me. The sound came from the direction of the Police Paddocks and where a large crowd had gathered. I immediately thought that some poor bugger had been shot. I ran swiftly towards the crowd to offer assistance, only to be stopped in my tracks by another deafening report. The shock waves had windows rattling, children crying, and people sticking their fingers in their ears, not to mention the pair of bloomers that went flying off Mrs Wong’s clothesline. When the smoke had finally cleared, I could see all of the commotion was the doing of the traps. One of the traps was demonstrating how to load and fire 19th century rifles. I just could not believe the noise. After he had fired off a Martini Henry rifle as used by the Police at Glenrowan, I asked a question of him. ‘How many of those rifles were used by the Police on those poor buggers trapped in the Glenrowan Inn?’ His answer was thirty or more. The sound from one of these unloaded weapons was enough to frighten the dead, so how terrifying would it have been for those poor devils, with thirty or more constantly firing and delivering thousands of live rounds through the walls? One could never imagine.
After purchasing a pair of new underpants from the clothing emporium in Camp Street and making a quick change in the lavatory behind the R.S.L, I made haste to see that ol’ bugger, Harry Power, at the Town Hall. I was the first to arrive and took my rightful place, being the roving reporter for Ironoutlaw, in the front stalls. I could hear the room filling up behind me, but to my surprise, not a soul sat with me in the front row. It was but moments later I heard cussing and carrying on coming from the front doors leading to the hall. It was Harry Power being escorted onto the stage by two heavily armed traps. He kept shouting out his innocence and how young Kelly had betrayed him. Harry looked in the prime of health as the handcuffs were removed. In a broad Irish accent, Harry introduced himself to the crowd and began to tell us the story of his life, from where he was born, his crimes and incarcerations, his time on the prison hulks to his demise through drowning. I enjoyed Keith Warren’s performance as Harry. It’s not an easy task doing a one man show, but Keith pulled it off. He kept us listening and laughing to his non stop chatter right to the very end of the one hour performance. Just as ol Harry was about to say his goodbyes, who should join him on the stage but those singing buggers from O’Keefe’s talk. All I can say is… well done Harry.
Umbrella in hand, I took one more stroll through the Historic Precinct, grabbed a cup of coffee from the little stall near the old bank, and called it quits for the day and the weekend. Driving back home, I felt good about this Ned Kelly Weekend. I pondered for a while and realised it was the Police Paddocks, and how important its setting is for the whole event. The scattered tents, the Chinese laundry and those bloomers. It was the smell of smoke coming from the police camp, the post and rail fencer, the miner and the laughter of those children. This weekend, unlike last year, didn’t need four suits of armour, plastic marquise down the main street selling meat pies, endless metres of strung electric cable and orange barriers. This year I believe the Organising Committee have started to get back on track. To keep it in line with the era is what the weekend’s all about, and to keep it simple. It just goes to show that big is not always best. I thoroughly enjoyed this years Ned Kelly Weekend as I’m sure many others did. I only wished I had the time to have attended all of the events.
In closing, I’d like to thank Adam Wynne-Jenkins and the rest of the Weekend Organizing Committee for a cracker of a weekend. Also a thank you to members of the Beechworth Historical Re-enactment Group and all of those other tireless volunteers who make such an event possible, the merchants and displays in the Police Paddocks, guest speakers of the many presentations and of course the friendly people of Beechworth.
With the recent opening of the old Beechworth Gaol for guided tours by its owner, and also its relevance to the Kelly story, I must also thank Darren Sutton and his team up at the gaol for looking after the many patrons of the Ned Kelly Weekend. The feedback from the tours was very positive.
Alan Crichton web site Ned Kelly Tales