DAY 5: WODONGA – Sunday 27 December (Cont.) – BRIGHT and BEECHWORTH
The second part of today’s excursions saw us traveling with our hosts via the small town of Myrtleford to the old ‘Gold Rush’ townships of Bright and Beechworth.
Railway Hotel – Myrtleford
Bright lies at the southeast end of the Ovens Valley, in what is known as The Alpine Shire, so-called because it sits at the base of the Snowy Mountains. Today Bright is a popular tourist destination, in both Summer and Winter, mainly for its convenient location to the Snowy Mountains, but also because of its own natural charm and beauty.
The site was originally called Morse’s Creek, with the all-important marker of a new town, the Post Office being established in 1861. The town was offically renamed Bright in 1866, in honour of highly regarded British politician John Bright.
The area was part of the Victorian Gold Rush in the 1850s, and nearby Buckland River was the place for the notorious Buckland Riot in 1857. This riot was essentially racist, with ‘white’ miners angered about the considerable number of Chinese miners in the area. Before the rioting was stopped by the Beechworth Police several Chinese miners were killed and thousands fled the area.
In later years, particularly in the twentieth century, the area around Bright was a prosperous tobacco growing region. The Australian government, however, persuaded the local farmers to stop growing tobacco, offering them financial incentives to grow other crops. You can, however, still seem the remnants of the tobacco crops, with the numerous old silos that once stored the tobacco scattered along the main road leading to Bright. Many of these silos are still be used, albeit for difference purposes, including one very appealing road-side cafe, run by an Italian family and hence menu, with a great view of the valley countryside, and the majestic mountains above.
Beechworth is a wonderfully preserved old historic town that rose to prosperity, acclaim, and notoriety during the ‘Gold Rush’ period. Many of the old buildings from that period, and beyond, are still standing, including the old Beechworth Gaol.
The area was initially used for grazing and was known as the Mayday Hills, but after gold was discovered in the region in 1851-2 the town that had grown up around Spring’s Creek was renamed Beechworth in 1853-54. Whilst Beechworth’s prosperity as a Gold Rush town was relatively short, the main period being in the 1850s, nonetheless, it boasts quite a colourful history with numerous visitors from around the world, and some notable Australian who once lived in the town and/or region. This includes Robert O’Hara Burke of ‘Burke and Wills’ fame, who was Beechworth’s Senior Inspector of Police from 1854 to 1857.
It is, however, the bushranger Ned Kelly who is perhaps most well-known in being connected to Beechworth and its surrounding area. Beechworth was the heart of ‘Kelly Country’. Ned Kelly was a regular visitor to Beechworth, including spending time in Beechworth Gaol and having an infamous boxing match with one Isaiah ‘Wild’ Wright at the back of the local hotel. As well as family and friends Ned Kelly and his gang had many supporters in the area; at one point 14 locals were imprisoned in Beechworth Gaol for 3 months – without trial – simply because they were suspected Ned Kelly sympathizers.
We wandered around the main prescinct of the old town. Going into Beechworth Gaol brought back flash-backs of coming here as a child with my parents and sisters.
After Beechworth we drove back to Wodonga via the beautiful little town of Yackandandah. This was another moment of ‘gayism’; as our host draw our attention to the local store and warehouse that was displaying Rainbow Flags. This complimented the couple of drag-queens and cross-dressers that I had seen in Bright and in Beechworth, and combined giving the impression that this was a very ‘gay friendly’ area. Our host furthered this impression by relating a story in which a couple of thugs from Albury attempted a break and entry into the ‘gay boys’ store and home, which did not go down well with the locals – the thugs were caught and charged. One of the two local hotels was currently up for sale. Ideas flashed through my mind and we all laughed and chatted about me establishing a gay B & B for the area. Just a dream – I could never run a hotel – what am I thinking??? And as for the Winter months? It would be freezing. Haha.
Back in Wodonga we given a further treat when the 17 year old grandson of our host, who is currently serving an apprenticeship as a ‘farrier’, plus learning all the basic and essential skills to be a professional Blacksmith, gave us a wonderful demonstration of his skill and artistry. It was so wonderful to watch this young man working like an expert on one of the world’s oldest and most important type of artesian craft – or ‘mystery’ as it was known in the medieval period, meaning ‘skill’.