We decided to take a few days to make a touristy road trip of our drive back from Melbourne to Sydney, stopping off at the attractions in towns along the way.
We hoped people in towns now bypassed by the highway would appreciate our interest and our custom.
Glenrowan, 184km north-east of Melbourne, was the first stop.
The Hume Highway, the 850km stretch of road connecting Sydney and Melbourne, has been upgraded over the years.
It is now four lanes wide for nearly its entire length. It’s far safer than it once was but also more boring.
Only one town is directly in its path – Holbrook, with a submarine perched incongruously nearly five hundred kilometres from the nearest ocean.
Most Hume Highway drivers skip the towns and stop at petrol stations to refuel at McDonalds, Hungry Jack’s and KFC restaurants.
So we felt slightly intrepid turning a couple of kms off the main drag to visit the town famous for Ned Kelly’s Last Stand.
I can’t think of any Australian more enduringly famous than Ned Kelly. Kylie? Dame Edna? Nicole? Cadel? Crocodile Dundee?
I doubt they’ll ever rate iconic paintings (Sir Sidney Nolan’s Kelly series) or a Booker-prize winning novel (Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang), a dreadful biopic starring Mick Jagger or folk songs sung in broadly-forced Aussie accents.
Most Australians know the Kelly story well, but for the benefit of others…
Ned Kelly was a 19th century ‘bushranger’ (which sounds more romantic than ‘thief’ or ‘armed robber’). He was a callous murderer and a hero of the oppressed. People’s opinions of him at the time depended largely on whether they were of English or Irish descent. My Tulloch ancestors were Scots, so I’m neutral, though poorly disposed towards murderers in general.
There seems little doubt that the Kellys were frequent victims of police harassment, but also little doubt that from a young age Ned was a one-man crime wave in the area.
After two years on the run, the Kelly gang, dressed in home-made armour, shot it out with the police at the Glenrowan Hotel. Gang members Joe Byrne, Steve Hart and Ned’s brother Dan were killed in the firefight. Ned himself was captured, tried and hanged in the Melbourne Gaol in 1880.
The hotel was destroyed in the ensuing fire, but Glenrowan is doing its best to cash in on its notoriety.
The museum is surprisingly well done. I say ‘surprising’ because when there’s a Big Anything in a street and an array of souvenir t-shirts by the front door we expect only corny historitainment within.
Instead we found a clear and useful description of the Kellys’ short careers, with plenty of photos and memorabilia.
Out the back we found a replica of the Kelly cottage, stocked with many items said to have originally belonged to the family.
All in all, six dollars well spent, we thought.
Just down the road in the Billy Tea Rooms we ordered the most Australian dish on the menu. There is a lot of good food in Australia, but it’s fairly clear why traditional Aussie tucker has never earned anyone a Michelin hat.
We may have skipped the most entertaining show available in town. The Animated Theatre promises a performance that ‘can and does scare children and adults’. Another time, maybe. But I would be very interested to hear from anyone who’s survived the Animated Theatre with their heart still functioning.
We’d had enough excitement for one morning. It was getting very hot, the only a/c was in our car and we had more towns to see – Beechworth was our next planned stop.
So we drove on.
Thanks, Glenrowan. We enjoyed it. You’re phony, you’re cheesy, you’re Aussie and you’re fun.