We arrived back home from our trip to Canberra yesterday afternoon. It was a warm day and it became hotter, the closer we came to Melbourne. We are in for a run of very hot days of over 30C for the next week. That’s a temperature in the high 90s to 100F.
Continuing to get off the highway, as often as we could while we travelled, we popped in to the little town of Glenrowan, a little way south of Wangaratta. On the surface, Glenrowan is just another small town that is now by-passed by the Hume Freeway. In reality, it has become a magnet for tourists because of the events in June 1880 when Ned Kelly and his gang were captured in the town after a violent and bloody siege. It now looks to have no other significance than to showcase Ned Kelly’s deeds and the locals milk him for all that it is worth!
In June 1880 Kelly hatched a plan to rob a train. The plan was to derail a train at Glenrowan, capture the police and take them into the hills, then rob Benalla’s banks and capture the booty and finally exchange the captured police for Mrs Kelly (Ned’s mother) who was already in custody.
The gang rode through Glenrowan where they forced two railway workers to tear up a section of railway track, cut the telegraph wires and then took over the Glenrowan Inn with about 60 people in it. A schoolmaster managed to warn the train and it was halted near Glenrowan station.
Ned had fashioned a 40 kg suit of armour made out of plough shares which included a cylindrical headpiece to cover his face. However the rest of his body was uncovered and when he confronted the police he was wounded in the arm, hand and foot.
When reinforcements arrived there were 34 police at the scene. One of his gang, Joe Byrne bled to death from a bullet wound to the groin. Ned escaped but returned later and was shot 28 times. The police set fire to the hotel to smoke out his brother, Dan Kelly (aged 19), and Steve Hart (aged 20) but they appear to have taken poison. One policeman and an Aboriginal tracker were wounded. This siege is most likely to have been the greatest event to have ever happened ion Glenrowan – before, or since.
Before recent tourist interest there was a good deal of indifference in the town to the Kelly myth and all the buildings which were an integral part of the Kelly siege have been destroyed. If he were alive today Ned Kelly would not be able to recognise the town. There are now a number of plaques and markers (wooden statues depicting the various characters involved in the siege), which allow visitors to trace the events of 28 June, 1880.
Ned Kelly was taken to Melbourne where he was tried, found guilty of robbery and murder and then hung.
When a town is by-passed no one is sure what will happen. In the case of Violet Town, very little happened other than that the town which lies just to the west of the Hume Freeway, entered some sort of suspended animation that froze it in time. It is a small, quiet, picturesque and tidy town located on Honeysuckle Creek near the northern foothills of the Strathbogie Ranges. It has a pretty name and all its streets are named after various flowers.
An exciting, but very sad event occurred here in February 1969 when the Southern Aurora collided head-on with a freight train near the town.
Before federation, each state or colony had railways with different gauges. Standard Gauge on the Melbourne / Sydney Railway line was only completed in 1962. Before that, passengers had to change trains in Albury as they headed north or south. This standardisation gave rise to a brand new modern train named the Southern Aurora which began Service in 1962.
This new train was such a significant event that a pop song was written about it and performed by Col Joy and the Joy Boys. They had 6 instrumental hits in Australia in the early 60s. Southern ‘Rora reached #2 on the Melbourne Hit Parade in 1962. Here’s a link t a version of this song on YouTube.
On 7 February 1969, the train was involved in the Violet Town railway disaster, when the southbound Southern Aurora collided head on with a northbound freight train. The Southern Aurora bore the brunt of the collision because the goods train was heavier. Nine people were killed (2 drivers, 1 electrician, 1 conductor and 5 passengers) and 117 passengers were injured. Most deaths and casualties occurred in cars 7 and 8. The two locomotives (S314 and S316) and five carriages were written off. The first two sleeping carriages of the express were crushed, a third sleeping carriage and a lounge car were thrown from the track and landed on top of locomotive S316. The coroner, HW Pascoe, found that the driver of the Aurora, had died from heart failure approximately 10 kms before the crash site. Unfortunately the fireman was making a cup of the at the time and was not present in the cabin to save this accident.
There is a memorial park with at the entrance to the town near the freeway exit that has an exhibit that tells the story of this tragedy
We stopped at Euroa for a sandwich lunch the local bakery. Euroa is a substantial country town located beside Seven Creeks, a tributary of the Goulburn River, between Seymour and Benalla. The district has long been noted for its fine-wool production and its thoroughbred horse industry, although its name is probably more familiar as being another victim of Ned Kelly’s criminality when he held up the local bank and stole £2000.
To finish the day, we called into the town of Seymour to see if I could talk to a couple of potential venues as part of our 85 Transport Platoon Reunion which we have had to reschedule to August 2022 after Covid upset our plans for last year. We now have a couple of options for lunch on the day that we will hold a day outing to Puckapunyal.
I have always thought of Seymour as being an army town due to its proximity to the large military base at nearby Puckapunyal. However, it also had a large railway workshop and was an important service centre for the agricultural hinterland.
In 2005 the Mitchell Shire Council and the Mitchell Sub Branch of Vietnam Veterans decided to create a memorial to all those who served in Vietnam, and all those associated with the war in Vietnam. They did not want it to be just another memorial and so what they produced was a unique memorial in the shape of a Commemorative Walk using symbolic elements of Vietnam and listing over 60,000 names of every serviceman and servicewoman who served in that conflict. I was pleased to see that a unit plaque that I recently ordered is now set into the pavers of the memorial.