THE KELLY HAUNTS
The Fortified Hut Of The Gang
The following description of the fortified retreat of the Kelly gang is supplied by a trustworthy correspondent:―
Leaving Melbourne one day last week, I took a train to Longwood, and from thence coached it to Mansfield, the township which derived so much notoriety through the outbreak of the Kelly gang. Procuring a horse well used to rough country, and obtaining the services of a guide, who, I may state, was intimately connected with the Kellys and their friends, and had undertaken to conduct me to several of their haunts, I started early in the morning from Mansfield, and so as to avoid observation, made a slight detour before finally getting on the direct track to the Wombat-ranges. Thence we made our way across country to the scene of the police murders, which, I was informed, was near to the fortified hut of the outlaws. Traces of the murders are still visible; on every side are bullet-marked trees, and a few old posts of Walter Lynch’s hut can be noticed almost in the centre of the cleared space, which the Kellys and their confederates approached by creeping up under the shelter of the tufts of spear-grass. Whether Kennedy was aware of it or not, all the time he was retreating and dodging from tree to tree, firing as best he could, and sternly contesting every inch of ground, he was making in almost a direct line for the hut in which the Kellys and their mates had lived for many months before they committed the crime which caused their outlawry.
A ride of about half a mile from the spot where Kennedy’s body was found brought me and my companion to the stronghold of the Kellys, situated on a small rise situated in the midst of a basin, bounded on the east by Ryan’s Creek, on the west by a very high and steep mountain, forming part of the Wombat Ranges, on the north by a small creek flowing down from between the hills, and on the south by a medium sized ridge, which, however, is high enough to effectually conceal the hut from view in that direction. Reining in my horse on the crest of this ridge, and taking a glance at the scene which lay before me, I could not but be struck with wonderment that such a perfect settlement should have existed so long within half a dozen miles of selections without its existence being discovered. A farmer named Jebb lives within four, and another named Harrison within six miles of it, and yet neither―at least so they assert―were even aware that the Kellys were in the locality, although the latter must have lived on the spot many months, or they could never have got matters into such an improved state. The plateau contains altogether, I should say, about 70 acres, and this is fenced in on three sides (north, south, and east) by a sapling, dogleg, and brush fence, the west side requiring no fencing owing to the steepness of the hill which constitutes its boundary.
Immediately surrounding the hut some 20 acres have been cleared, the trees ringed, and the timber―principally swamp gum and peppermint―placed in heaps ready for burning. The ground has even been raked, so as to give every chance for the grass to grow, and the aspect of the whole place denotes that the Kellys had lived in this secluded retreat many a long day before the Wombat murders took place; and as a proof that someone knew of their existence, I may mention that on a large peppermint tree within a short distance from the hut the name of “J. Martain” has been carved in the sapwood of the tree after the sheet of bark had been taken off to put on the roof of the hut. In the creek flowing to the north of the hut a considerable amount of gold-digging has been done, sluicing being the principle means employed, and from appearances gold has been got in payable quantities, and the workings are of such an extent that it would be utterly impossible for any four men to carry them on under a period of several months.
Perhaps, however, the most startling site of all is the appearance of the hut and its immediate surroundings. Imagine a house erected of bullet-proof logs, fully 2ft. in diameter, one on the top of the other, crossed at the ends after the fashion of a chock and log fence, and with a door 6ft. high and 2ft. 6in. wide, made of stiff slabs, and plated with iron nearly a quarter of an inch in thickness, which was loopholed to fire through. The door is on the north side, opposite the gold workings in the creek, and a well-built log chimney occupies the greater part of the west end of the hut. Such was the home of the Kelly gang for some months before the police murders. Its interior was fitted up just as substantially as its exterior, and in a manner calculated to stand a long siege, there having been every provision made for the storage of flour, beef, tea, sugar, and other necessaries of life; and to show that in fresh meat, at least, they were not wanting, we discovered portions of several carcases, together with seven or eight heads of cattle, with bullet holes in the centre of the forehead, lying outside the hut, which may have belonged to either “scrubbers” out of the ranges, or the fat bullocks of some not far distant squatter or farmer, but most probably the latter. Empty jam and sardine tins, old powder flasks, cap boxes, broken shovels, old billy cans, glass bottles, door hinges, and a great variety of other articles were to be seen all round the hut. But the crowning wonder of all was the evident pains taken by the Kellys to improve themselves as marksman. In every direction―taking the hut as a standing-point―we saw trees which were marked with bullet holes, from five to fifty having been fired into each, at ranges varying from 20 to 400 yards. The bullets being afterwards chopped out, were melted down, and converted again into their former state. On one small tree a circle of charcoal 6in. in diameter had been traced, and into this two or three revolver bullets had been fired―one striking the black dot meant to represent the bullseye in the centre, and the other two being close to it. Some of the bullets had gone to a depth of four inches in the trees, and consequently a great deal of chopping had to be done to get them out, and there was abundant evidence, too, to prove that the more practice the outlaws had, the more they improved in the use of the rifle and revolver, the shooting at some marks on the trees being very wide, and on others remarkable straight and dead into the bull’s-eye.
I did not attempt to inspect the country in the vicinity of this stronghold of the outlaws. By the time I had taken a hurried sketch and picked up a few interesting relics, it became time to think of turning homewards; so only waiting a few moments to inspect the track which led from the hut across the creek and over the gap towards Greta, my guide and I turned our horses’ heads southwards, and after a rather rough ride reached Mansfield late at night, from whence I took a coach to Longwood next day, reaching Melbourne the same night, none the worse for my trip in the Kelly country.