3rd, 4th, and 5th August
The Event That Wasn’t
I was looking forward to this year’s Ned Kelly Weekend and made an early start for Beechworth. Arriving in the town around 9.00am, I made my way to the Town Hall to collect my tickets to some of the many events on offer. There was one event I was keen to attend and was the first event on the 2012 Ned Kelly Weekend brochure. It was a free event which made it all the more inviting.
The event was … Kelly’s in the Beechworth Gaol. The brochure stated that the talk would be given by Darren Sutton, the manager of the old Beechworth Gaol, and would commence at 9.45am. At 9.40 I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to the old Gaol and presented myself for “an insight into the lives of the Kelly’s others involved in the Kelly outbreak behind the bars of the Beechworth Gaol” as advertised. At 9.45 I saw Mr Sutton talking to a couple at the counter and overheard the conversation. It was to the effect that he had cancelled the event because only a couple of people had turned up. I suppose the other fifteen or more patrons walking around in the Crime Scene room were not noticed, or simply because they were paying tour customers.
As the couple left, I asked if I had heard correctly. Mr Sutton told me that it was “only really a summary of the Gaols tour”. Well that’s no excuse Mr Sutton, regardless of the number of patrons attending, whether it be two or two hundred, you follow through with your commitment. As the first event advertised on the Weekend’s brochure it was more than important to kick of the Weekend on the right foot. You are a very naughty boy!
Disappointed, I walked back down the hill to see what was happening in the Police Paddocks at the rear of the old courthouse. The pioneer village was still being set up, excepting the blacksmith who was sweating busily over his forge making a rams head poker. The sight was as intriguing for me as it was for the children who had gathered with their parents. A young boy asked the question that most of the adults would like to know, but too grown up to ask. “Hey mate, where’d you get all your old steel from?” The blacksmith laughed and replied; “Anywhere I can find it mate, anywhere I can find it.” Leaving the pioneer village and the merchants to lay out their wares, I was about to cross to the Town Hall when I was confronted by a large contingent of armed police followed by an even larger crowd of patrons storming down the middle of the main street. Of course, I had forgotten, it’s Ned Kelly being escorted from the railway station to the Gaol. I stood in the middle of the street and started snapping away.
It wasn’t until the police escort passed by that I soon realised there was something afoot. Not thinking, I shouted out…“Ned, what the bloody hell you doing in a trap’s colours?” Ned turned in surprise at my outburst, and stared at me with those alexandrite eyes. I then realised I had almost given the game away. “You bloody cheeky bugger Ned, I thought. You’re gunna knock over another bank, just like in Jerilderie”. As the buggy passed, I swear the prisoner looked the spitting image of Tom Lloyd. “Hooray for the Kelly Gang”! I shouted, throwing my hat in the air. My heart was pumping as I entered the Town Hall for Christine Middleton’s … His Mother’s Son. I just knew the four boys would be playing up this weekend.
His Mother’s Son
I knew very little of Christine Middleton apart from what I had read in the Weekend’s brochure. It stated that His Mother’s Son was written as a tribute to the pioneering bush women, namely on this occasion, to Ellen Kelly. I was keen to find out what this show was all about, and promptly took my place in the front row. I had arrived ten minutes before the show was to commence so as to position myself for a few good snaps before the crowd swelled in. I could not help but wonder what a harp was doing on the stage along with a good half dozen assorted instruments, namely a fiddle, mandolin, guitar, concertina, harmonica and a whistle. I wasn’t aware that Ellen could play a musical instrument let alone a harp.
It was then that a bearded young fellow walked quietly onto the stage, checked a couple of microphones and sat amongst the assorted instruments I have just mentioned. To the right of the stage, an image of Ellen Kelly taken in her latter years was projected onto a screen. It was not long before Mrs Kelly entered the hall and to my amazement, took her place at the harp. She seemed to be very well dressed for a pioneering bush woman, but when she started playing that harp, accompanied by our bearded young musician, the sound of soft Celtic music filled the hall and almost brought a tear to these old eyes. I stared deeply into Ellen Kelly’s image on the screen and waited with anticipation for her to take to the stage.
When Ellen finally rose to the microphone, she commenced to share with us her life long journey from behind a black folder. She spoke in a clear Anglo Australian accent, very much like my old English teacher, not at all I thought like Ellen Kelly. After just five minutes her story started to sound very familiar. It reminded me very much of Dagmar Balcarek and Gary Deans book, Ellen Kelly. At first I didn’t care, with the young musician playing his heart out to the ever changing screen, I had totally immersed myself in Ellen’s life. But after a while, Ellen started to sound to me as if she were reading to a room full of children, just like my old infant class teacher. An hour had slowly passed and found I had lost the use of my legs and was deaf and numb with cold. The gas heater I had settled near I found to be turned off, and the rather large speaker just about blew me out of the hall every time Mrs Kelly got excited or upset.
As the show neared to an end I was now seeing not Mrs Kelly at the microphone but Gary Dean in drag and reading from his book. The show lasted for ninety minutes and was finished with a round of applause. I tried in vain to clap, but my now frozen hands just flapped around like the wings of a wounded sparrow. An old lady helped me up from my chair and I walked uneasily over to talk to our young musician. I thought he had performed magnificently. His name I found to be Matisse and has performed in many events across the state, from Ballarat to the Murray river. I would have liked to have spoken to Christine but she was surrounded by the twelve patrons who had attended the performance. I would have also liked to have told her that I believed the show could have been condensed to one hour. I would have liked to have told her when doing a reading in the first person, you must become that person in both speech and character for the audience to believe you. Ellen Kelly was a passionate and fiery woman. If Christine could bring just an ounce of Ellen Kelly’s character to the stage, she would then have a show to remember. I was disappointed in the lack of numbers at Christine’s performance as there was obviously a lot of work gone into the show. It may have appealed to others, but sorry, it just didn’t work for me.
John Buckley Castieau Lunchtime Talk
After finally gaining the use of my legs, I pointed my larrikin heels in the direction of the Nicholas Hotel. It was now 12.oo pm and I was already late for Mark Finnane’s talk on John Castieau, the nineteenth century Governor of the Beechworth and Melbourne gaols. I was also bloody hungry and looking forward to a nice hot nosh up which was also included in the event. This is ridiculous I mumbled to myself as I huffed and puffed my way down Camp St. “How the hell are we supposed to get to the Castieau presentation at 12.00, when Christine Middleton’s show didn’t finish ’til 12.00 at the Town Hall? Just wait until I see Adam Wynne-Jenkins and I’ll give him a bloody good piece of my mind”. Speak of the devil, coming towards me I could see Mr Wynne-Jenkins approaching, attired in police uniform, and also sporting a rather large rifle. “What’s up Crichton, ya look like crap?” I was about to give him a piece of my mind when I took another look at that rifle. After hearing my woe’s, he promptly gave me a police escort to the cellar of the Nicholas Hotel where Mr Finnane was well into his Castieau presentation.
The tiny cellar was packed as the patrons all turned to stare at the late arrivals. I stood there like a shag on a rock not knowing where the blazes I was supposed to sit. A wooden bench came skidding across the floor from nowhere and stopped at the back of my legs. While all this was going on, I’m sure someone asked if I wanted a wine. I declined the offer, took my seat in the reverse position and stared at the slide that Mr Finnane was showing, not really knowing what the hell it was all about. After gathering my composure, I heard a voice whisper my name from behind. Turning around, it took me a moment to see that it was none other than my old chum Brian MacDonald, the gentleman bushranger. “I’m sorry mate, I says, I didn’t recognize you without your skin tight riding pants and thigh length leather boots”. Brian understood and I turned to see what Mr Finnane had to offer.
The slide was of a group photo taken of John Castieau in his younger days and one of Castieau and his wife Polly whom he met at a church bazaar in Beechworth and married in 1858. Mark based his presentation on Castieau’s diaries published in 2004 titled The Difficulties of My Position: The Diaries of Prison Governor John Buckley Castieau. John Castieau kept an extraordinary note of his daily life for many years. Mark tells us of Castieau as a young man walking down the street and hearing a party going on inside a house. Not knowing those inside, he still decides to go in and join the party. It wasn’t until much later that the people inside realised that Castieau was a stranger to them and asked him to leave. John was well and truly inebriated by this time and after a scuffle, was thrown off the premises. Another occasion was when Castieau was again inebriated and had a altercation with a police officer. He then proceeded to tell the officer that he could have him arrested. The police officer then arrested Castieau and threw him in the lock-up. The police only realised later that they had the Governor of the Melbourne Gaol in their cells.
Mark was obviously well versed on his subject and I enjoyed his presentation, even while sitting in a very uncomfortable position for most of the talk. I would occasionally turn to face Brian and to give my twisted old back a rest, but looking into Brian ’s eyes through the flame of a flickering candle made me feel even more uncomfortable. Our lunch of steaming hot vegetables, and I think chicken Kiev, was served promptly by the Nicholas staff and not forgetting the organising committee’s very own Laura Murray, who I thought did an outstanding job the entire weekend. With a dessert of sticky date pudding, the meal was in itself the price of the entry fee. After finally answering all questions from the patrons, Mark was given a rousing applause for what I thought was a very enlightening look into the life of one John Buckley Castieau.
The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Last Stand
Paul Terry’s Book Launch
It was now almost 1.30 pm, and again I was feeling more than frustrated. I was to be at the book launch for Paul Terry’s, The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, commencing at 1.30pm at Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel in Ford St.. Ian Jones would also be there to support Paul’s book, and I didn’t want to miss a word. Again I huffed and puffed my way back up Camp Street. I felt like a worn out old plough board as I grimly held on to the back of Brian’s belt while he dragged me up the hill. Thank you Brian.
We arrived at Tanswell’s just after 1.30, and exhausted, we were about to ignite the devil’s weed to catch our breath, when we were interrupted and promptly ushered into the venue. Again the room was packed to the rafters with patrons. I found a spot on a comfortable sofa and was relieved that this time I was actually facing those conducting the presentation. Ian kicked of the launch with his “refreshing” remarks of what Bill Bryson had published years ago about Ned Kelly, and spoke briefly about the Glenrowan siege and also the archaeological dig that took place on the site of Ann Jones Inn and overseen by Adam Ford in 2008. It was also nice to hear him acknowledge Brian Mac Donald as a true gentleman and one of the most accommodating people he had ever met. I think that goes for all of us Brian.
Ian, as usual, gets very excited when talking of Ned Kelly and his weapons, and quickly produced a navy colt revolver. I must admit, I was a little nervous when I saw visions of an excited Mr Jones letting loose with a couple of rounds into the ceiling, and bloody great pieces of plaster and dust dropping all over the audience. I settled down when Ian eventually put his gun away and introduced our author, Paul Terry. Taking a look into Paul’s background, I would have expected to have seen a much older person. He’s a producer with 7 Prime, a journalist in television, radio and newspapers and was also involved in the archaeological survey for the Glenrowan siege site, not to mention him being the producer of Ned Kelly Uncovered on ABC. What a bloody smart arse!! Just kidding Paul. I thought the talk given by young Mr Terry was carried out in a very relaxed and professional manner. His voice remained calm as he took us on a journey of discovery from the books conception to its launch in Beechworth. For a bloke, who I understand took an interest in the Kelly story just a few years ago, did remarkably well in delivering to his audience historic fact concerning the siege of 1880, and an insight into the archaeological dig in Glenrowan some 128 years later.
I have since read Paul’s book, The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Last Stand and I think it’s an absolute cracker. The way in which he has cleverly interwoven the historic events of the Glenrowan siege with the archaeological dig, has made this book not only a great read, but also a one of a kind. After getting Paul Terry to sign my copy of his book, my head was now thumping with a ripper headache. I had purchased a ticket for the Ellen Kelly trial to commence at 5.00pm, but with that hammering in my head, and the sounds of Mrs Kelly still ringing in my ears, with great reluctance I retired from Beechworth to the quiet confines of my bedroom, my fluffy pillow, and of course, my ol’ Teddy. As I drifted to sleep, I could not help but wonder what tomorrow might bring on the second day of the Kelly weekend.
I awoke rather early Sunday morning, and feeling very refreshed I couldn’t wait to return to Beechworth. I had purchased tickets to the CSI presentation on Stringybark Creek which was to kick off at 9.30 in the Town Hall. I arrived back in Beechworth around 9.00 to allow me time to wander the police paddocks and to see what merchants were setting up their wares in the 19th century pioneer town. Mrs Wong’s Chinese laundry was still there, as were those bloomers from last year. The blacksmith had fired up the forge and the police had taken to the campfire, but all else seemed rather quiet.
At 9.30 I took my seat in the Town Hall and was surprised to see the room fill almost to capacity. The presenters for this event were to be Kelvyn Gill, Gary Dean, Glenn Standing and Linton Briggs, but due to unforseen circumstances, the presentation was left in the hands of Kelvyn Gill and Glenn Standing. When three burly coppers walked in and stood at the back of the hall, I started to get very excited. “You bloody beauty, I thought, she’ll be on now.” What I was hoping for was the appearance of Bill Denheld, and who should walk through the door … Bill Denheld.
To give you all a little insight into this presentation, it’s all about locating the exact position of the police camp, where two police officers in 1878 were shot and killed by the Kelly Gang at Stringybark Creek in the Wombat ranges. A third officer was shot and killed in a running gun battle with Ned Kelly and died some distance from the police camp.
Now I admit that I am no expert on this subject, but the men I have just mentioned have been studying this subject for many years. Some years ago Ian Jones declared that through his investigation, the police campsite was found to be on the East side of Stringybark Creek and released papers in November 1993 at a seminar in Beechworth to prove it. Now all was well and good until another expert on this Sringybark affair, namely Bill Denheld comes along and tips Jonesy’s apple cart over and says the camp is on the West side of the creek. With the Governing bodies backing Mr Jones, they go ahead and build a fancy walking path through the supposed campsite. Well this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, namely Bill Denheld.
With extensive research on his website, along with thousands of posts on a forum, he had now, from what I can gather, got the support of the four men who have just released this CSI@SBC report which also concurs to an extent with Mr Denheld‘s. But that’s not the end of the story. Before long, the forum implodes with cries of copyright breaches, and a big shit fight had long time researchers and members pulling their posts out left right and centre, and heading for the hills. I don’t know what has happened of late, but it now has Mr Denheld not totally agreeing with the four blokes who used to be his mates. Thus my excitement at Bill Denheld’s presence at the CSI event. We shall continue…
With Kelvyn Gill heading the presentation, a back screen, laptop, and Glenn Standing being the pointer and filling in on what Kelvyn had forgotten to say, or to explain in more detail what Kelvyn was trying to say, all things were going well.
The whole reasoning behind this study is to locate the true location of that police camp. The screen was filled with aerial photographs, diagrams of geographical study, weather conditions at the time re. flooding creeks, slopes of trees, slopes of ground, Burman photos of the crime scene taken just after the shootings,etc,etc. It was all up there for everyone to see.
From what I had just seen and heard, the campsite could well be under where the public lavatories now stand. I just don’t know. I do know one thing, the sword grass is called Ghania/Sieberiana … I think. There’s something else I know: Kel, if you’re doing a presentation like this, without a laser pointer, have a bit of pity for your mate, Glenn Standing. I reckon Glenn covered more than a few miles running up and down those steps leading to the stage every time you pointed your finger into the screen of the laptop. Well done Glenn.
There was one person who was also well versed in the story, and that was Thomas McIntyre’s Granddaughter, who also happened to be in the audience. As the presentation came to an end, it was now question time, and I could see the beads of sweat forming on Kelvyn Gill’s forehead as Bill Denheld stood up with his shopping list of Stringybark questions.With each question asked, you could tell by the disgruntled look on Kelvyn Gill’s face and his rising voice, that there would be no agreement reached here today. A voice, aimed at Bill Denheld, rose up from the rear of the hall from one of the hefty coppers. Bill turned sharply, and with a voice of sheer defiance, asked the question … Who are you … the Sheriff??
Kelvyn cut Bill short and raised his long awaited book in the air for all to see. The title is Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly The Historical Record 1829-1893. The book is 800 pages long and should be available in Glenrowan, Beechworth, Mansfield, and the Police Museum. The price will be between $80 to $100 and it weighs about 2kg. Good luck with your book Kel. As I was leaving the hall, in the foyer I caught sight of Ian Jones with a copy of the CSI@SBC tucked securely under his arm. It will be nice to hear his response.
Ol’ Harry Power And What’s His Name
Well what can I say … For some reason or other I just can’t resist catching up with ol’Harry Power. Like so many others who filled the Town Hall we just can’t get enough of him. Keith Warren, a local historian and performer brought us Harry Power last year, much to the delight of everyone who forked out for a ticket. This year was no different, as he again gave us a great performance. It was also nice to see a lot of young faces in the audience this year. After sitting through some serious and not so serious presentations during the weekend, it’s nice to relax and have a good old laugh.
With not a black folder in sight, and not a singer to be seen, Keith performed his heart out. While Keith was giving us all a history lesson and cracking his Ol Harry jokes, I turned to look at the faces of the audience. I tried, but could not find one face without a smile on it. Now that’s what I call a great performance … However … Harry, if you don’t get rid of that bloody old rag on your head you call a hat, and that suede windcheater, I’ll bloody well shoot ya meself. Get some ideas from that prison photo of Harry. Ol’Harry was a ladies man, and even prison couldn’t stop him from posing. Maybe that ball and chain could be a useful prop. Whatever Keith, you did well, but don’t spoil it by falling out of character and drifting off into a history lesson on Ned Kelly at the end of the show. I’m sure it was for the benefit of those young Nedites in the front row, but for me, Harry had done his thing, and did it well.
I said goodbye to Harry and wandered across to the police paddocks once more before I left for home. I was glad to see that the pioneer village was now filled with families all milling around the different stalls. It was also pleasing to see that the Sunday afternoon patronage has changed dramatically compared to a couple of years ago. There is still much to see and do all day, and that’s what makes a complete Ned Kelly Weekend.
To Adam Wynne-Jenkins, Laura Murray and the rest of the Ned Kelly Weekend organising committee, to the BHRG and all of the volunteers, event presenters and the friendly people of Beechworth, I thank you for a great weekend. (Geez, I must have gone to a different Ned Kelly weekend as I can’t think of one person I’d like to thank… IO)
Alan Crichton likes to write, just take a look at our Feedback and Book section. So seeing Alan’s got so much to say IronOutlaw.com decided to give him his own section. While I’m sure he’ll continue to fill up our feedback pages he’s now got somewhere else to bluff and bluster, namely right here at ‘Keep Ya Powder Dry’.