Digging Up Glenrowan
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 after.
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 bones.
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 paper walls,
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 my nose,
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 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’.