7th, 8th, and 9th August
Building a better Weekend
Well folks, the Ned Kelly weekend has come and gone for yet another year, and again I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I suppose, like many other like minded Kelly enthusiasts, we were all a little sceptical of how the event would turn out this year with the introduction of the new organising committee, and especially with its unexpected and controversial inclusion of who we would refer to as anti-Kelly guest speakers eg. (Robert Haldane and one Alex McDermott). With the added presence of the Police Historical Unit, I must admit that my once positive thoughts of the long awaited weekend were quickly turning to those of a pessimistic nature.
Last year, when the Beechworth Organising Committee sent out a questionnaire and asked for ideas for the 2009 event I was quite beside myself. I set my little grey matter to overdrive and came forth with a flurry of ideas that I was certain would leave an indelible impression on all who would attend. What was so wrong with a hundred head of cattle being driven through the main street by wild horsemen from the surrounding hills, black powder sharpshooters firing away in the police paddocks, all competing for a moderately priced carton of whiskey and later participating as police in a re-enactment of the siege at Glenrowan, axe throwing competitions, dancing girls, the Wombat King dressed in full Kelly Armour skydiving from 20000 feet to the waiting crowd below I was sure would make an impact, and all of this followed by a massive bonfire and fireworks display? If that wasn’t enough for the Friday night I had even grander ideas for the Saturday and Sunday. I had even offered my services to take up a collection for the widows and orphan’s fund, not to mention the writer’s benevolent society, but alas, with not a word of response from the committee, I soon realised my grand ideas and selfless gestures had once again fallen upon deaf bureaucratic ears. Oh well!…. Maybe next year.
For those readers who could not attend this year, the following is of my own experience and thoughts of the event. For those who did attend, well, you can bloody well speak for yourselves.
I was grateful this year for the simple fact I did not have to endure a two hour flight from Brisbane and happy that my little Yorky bitch Molly was able to accompany my wife and I on our Kelly weekend. The downside was that my dear wife would not allow me to take along my goldfish Ned or for that matter even my fine mare Mirthic. It took but 45 minutes to arrive at our modest weekend accommodation of country cottage surrounded by beautiful rose gardens, but on our arrival I could see not cottage nor one lousy rose. It looked nothing like what I had seen in the brochure when I trustingly booked online. Upon entering the one roomed establishment I found the room to be freezing cold despite the magnificent flames rising from the fireplace. As I moved closer with hands outstretched in anticipation of soothing heat, I could now see, and to my utmost disappointment, the fireplace to be that of a Japanese electric nature, and the bloody flames to be no more than a teasing optical illusion. All that I could hope for now was that our weekend stay in Beechworth for the Ned Kelly weekend could only get better.
At 6 o’clock on Friday evening we rugged ourselves up and made our way to Joe Byrne’s favourite watering hole, the Hibernian Hotel for drinks and dinner with good friends. As the evening wore on, the table was soon filled with jumbled talk and laughter and oodles of great conversation. We later arrived at the Nicholas for some pre bed-time drinks and to catch up with even more friends at the Food Featre, Fashion and Fiddle-de-dee dinner. After talking to a couple of diners the absence of Lazy Harry this year was dearly missed. There was also feelings of segregation between diners and organisers. The period feathered head-ware worn by some of the ladies seems to have also obscured a lot of the view. I am simply conveying what I was told, and not being in attendance I cannot make a judgement. Maybe it would be a good idea on the part of the organising committee to get some feedback on what is clearly the most expensive event of the Weekend. At a ridiculous hour we finally chipped the ice from our windshield and returned undaunted to the chilly confines of our fridge like accommodation.
At 9 o’clock the next morning we arrived at the Historic Precinct. I walked anxiously to the police paddocks to take in the many promised traditional craft and market stalls and must admit was rather disappointed. I was still trying to work out the reasoning behind the many bollards taking up numerous parking bays outside the precinct, let alone walking into what looked to me to be a Myer clearance sale without the normal rush of customers. I expected a good mix of merchants and wares but not 50% of the stalls to be taken up with racks of new clothing. What happened to the good old home made jams and condiments, confectionary, woodworks, pottery etc, etc? The organising committee would have been better off to include the townspeople and let them conduct garage sales on the remainder of the paddock.
It was now almost 10 o’clock and Mr Robert Haldane, an ex-superintendent of the Victoria police was about to commence his presentation of the Kelly story from a police perspective. Yeah, this I’ve got to hear. I sat myself down in the lower stalls, my adrenalin was pumping as I ran my eyes over the waiting crowd. What was Haldane going to say that would start a riot amongst the sympathisers and leave the old courthouse in ruins. I could not see hide nor hair of that wild Lloyd girl Lola Rowe anywhere in the audience. Had she decided to give Haldane’s talk a miss? At precisely 10 o’clock Mr Haldane made his way cautiously into the courtroom. He seemed to look a little apprehensive with what I thought a somewhat nervous disposition.
He eyed his audience, took a sip of water and proceeded surprisingly to give what I thought was a fair summation of the police force of 19th century Victoria. Poorly paid, most of them untrained and even more so in bushland terrain, prone to drink, and not unlikely to give false testimony to gain a conviction, especially with a payment as an added incentive. Mr Haldane was telling us nothing we didn’t already know and I was feeling rather relaxed until I believe he touched on a sensitive subject about poor Kennedy’s ear. A familiar voice from the above gallery cracked like a stockwhip as it echoed across the courtroom. Bloody hell, I thought, it’s Lola Rowe! she’s been just waiting for her chance to pounce on the poor bugger. Keep perfectly still Haldane and all will be okay. I started to get a little nervous as images of Lola leaping from the balcony and body surfing across our heads to get to him came to mind. Whatever he said was to Lola’s satisfaction and peace was once more restored to the courtroom. All up I thought it was a fair presentation and nothing at all like I imagined it to be.
At around 11.30 I returned to the police paddocks to see if the crowd numbers had improved, but to my disappointment the crowd had diminished quite substantially. It wasn’t long before I knew the reason why. Ned Kelly had just arrived from the railway station under police escort and was followed by a crowd of at least a hundred men, women and children to the courthouse for his preliminary hearing. By lunchtime the town of Beechworth was bustling with people. The Australia Fair Grand Concert Organ pumped out unbelievable music all day and brought with it a sense of lively nostalgia. The smell of sizzling sausages, eggs and bacon, floated endlessly through the crisp air and across the historic precinct. The police historic museum I thought was very interesting and well presented especially the light horse display. The museum seemed to have an endless stream of people passing through it for the entire weekend all looking with interest at 19th century police helmets, notebooks, a letter written by Thomas McIntyre, handcuffs, saddles, weapons, the list goes on. I thought it was a credit to the weekend.
At 5.30 I returned to the police paddocks for an event I was really looking forward to, the poet’s barbeque. I was again disappointed with the numbers in attendance. Huddled around the blazing campfire were no more than a dozen shivering souls. I was waiting for some good ol bush poetry from Banjo and Mr. Lawson but heard very little. The two only poets in attendance were reciting from sheets of A4 and read with a limited amount of passion. I thought the warmth of the fire was all that was keeping the event together. After each reading a Wombat King look-a-like in the small gathering would then ramble on about the life story of its author and anything else that came to mind. The only thing that caught my eye was when he tried to blow a tune on his sausage sandwich. Maybe he thought it was a harmonica.
I constantly checked my watch until it was 6.45 and made a dash for the main event at the old Priory. When I arrived, the place was almost full. My eyes caught sight of a small bar in the far corner of the room. You lil beauty I thought. Nothing better than a couple of stiff drinks to fuel the session. I grabbed a couple of bourbons and found a seat next to our old mate Stinger Nettleton. The event was a Q&A session with none other than Mr Haldane, that academic know-it-all and anti Nedite, Alex McDermott, Leigh Oliver, a Kelly reli, Kelvyn Gill, author/researcher, and ABC Radio’s Gay Pattison as moderator. Who I wasn’t expecting to see there was that well known Kelly authority, Ian Jones. Now she’s on for young and old I thought. With Jonesy in the room there’s bound to be a good ol dust up. I did notice that Alex McDermott looked very anxious and unsettled as he took his place.
When Gay finally kicked the session off by asking the audience for a question there was nothing but silence, so she asked her own questions. I’m not sure if it was McDermott talking or Haldane, but a loud voice from the crowd shouted out RUBBISH, RUBBISH and definitely got everyone’s attention. The interjector got to his feet and started talking about anything and everything except what was being debated. You guessed it; it was that bloke from the poet’s barbeque who tried to play a tune on his sausage sandwich. It was nice to see McDermott totally confused and lost for words for a change. Mr McDermott was his normal self and answered questions with words longer than my driveway like most so called academics. To me it seems the Kelly story is just another project to lift him to the heights of the academic world.
Ian Jones got up several times and cleared up a few points with the panel but apart from that I thought the session was a bit of a non event and a bit wishy washy. Not one punch or chair thrown all night. There was one thing that caught my ear. A question was asked if Ned Kelly was married. Ian believes he could have been married the day before his execution by possibly Father O’Hea. and that his wife could have been non other than Kate Lloyd. He spoke of an interview he had many years ago with a family member that could well point in that direction. It’s a great story but unfortunately not a shred of evidence. I gave the soup and damper a miss and passed McDermott in the hallway. As a matter of courtesy I said goodnight to him but all I got in return was a simple grunt. If you look at the photo taken at the event, you will note that even Mr. Webb’s spirit lights would go nowhere near McDermott. I think that says it all. I really needed a stiff drink so I returned once more to the Hibernian Hotel for some bourbon and blues.
On Sunday morning I headed off to the courthouse to see our mate Peter Nettleton’s one man show, Harry Power and the Boy Bushranger. When I arrived I was disappointed to see that the market stalls in the police paddock had disappeared along with the Australia Fair Grand Concert Organ. I thought the Ned Kelly weekend was for the entire weekend and not just for those folk who could make it on the Saturday. Seems a little unfair for the poor buggers who brought their kids along for a day out on Sunday. Maybe this is another item that needs looking at by the new organising committee.
The courthouse was packed for Pete’s performance and none of us knew what to expect. All of a sudden a bloke looking more like Harry Power than Harry Power himself burst through the side door waving a double barrel shotgun and Navy Colt. Holding the Colt above his head he fired off a couple of caps. Unfortunately for Harry and not unlike Constable Hall, the Colts patent refused. But like a real trooper (pardon the pun) Harry simply levelled his double barrel shotgun directly at his audience and immediately secured their complete attention. Harry then broke into a grand Irish song, and to the surprise of the audience had a voice like a lark. Doing a one man show is hard enough, but to give a history lesson at the same time is no mean feat. Harry told of his life, his association with Ned, and took us on a journey right up to his time as a walking attraction on the prison hulk. I enjoyed Pete’s performance, as did everyone by the non stop applause he received at the end of his performance. Well done Pete, I hope you continue with your one man show.
I returned to the courthouse later that afternoon hoping to get a batting lesson from that well known Australian cricketer Bob Simpson. I was surprised to see that Bob had changed so much over the years. He had grown a pure white full beard and had replaced his baggy green with a bowler hat. When I took a closer look I could see it was the fellow who haunts the corridors of the historic courthouse just about every day. What the hell does he know about cricket? He may not have known much about cricket, but what he didn’t know about the courthouse wasn’t worth mentioning. Again I was disappointed with the turn up because I thought Bob’s talk was the most informative of the weekend. From its early beginnings to its restoration, the courthouse was well worth talking about. I was not aware that the courthouse was in such disrepair until restored by volunteers in the 90s and that in early days the original entrance was facing to High St. Morbid stories of the cat-o-nine tails in penal punishment, hangings, judges who presided there, to the poor buggers sentenced there all made for great listening. At the end of his talk, the few people in attendance were allowed to wander throughout the courthouse, and for those who did not attend … you missed out on a great talk. Good onya Bob.
With not much more to see or do I thought it now time to return to home. To sum up the weekend I thought the new organising committee did a reasonably good job for their first weekend. I still believe the market stalls need looking at, and more attractions should be organised for the Sunday public, and get rid of those bloody bollards out the front of the historic precinct. I think McDermott was a waste of time and I sincerely hope he didn’t charge the committee for his appearance. Next years event is already being planned and I’ve heard it’s going to be bigger and better than ever. So all the best to the BRG for next year and I certainly hope to be there with bells on. Thanks also to our good friends for their great company over the weekend which certainly helped make our stay in Beechworth even more enjoyable.
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’.