OFF THE HUME #1 – Ned Kelly country

We like Big Things as tourist attractions in Australia. So of course Glenrowan needs a Big Ned.

We like Big Things in Australia. So of course Glenrowan needs a Big Ned.

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, fast, safe, dull.

The Hume, fast, safe, dull.

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.

Ye olde Glenrowan.

Ye olde Glenrowan.

The main street of Glenrowan, with wild west overtones.

The main street of Glenrowan, with wild west overtones.

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.

Of course there has to be some replica Kelly armour.

Of course there has to be some replica Kelly armour.

Out the back we found a replica of the Kelly cottage, stocked with many items said to have originally belonged to the family.

Replica Kelly cottage.

Replica Kelly cottage.

The bedroom, complete with wallpaper made from newspapers of the time.

The bedroom, complete with wallpaper made from newspapers of the time.

And exit through the gift shop.

And exit through the gift shop.

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.

It's called a 'floater', a meat pie swimming in a pea sauce. I'm pleased to report that it tastes better than it looks.

It’s called a ‘floater’, a meat pie swimming in a pea sauce. I’m pleased to report that it tastes better than it looks.

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.


Filed under Travel-Australia

12 responses to “OFF THE HUME #1 – Ned Kelly country

  1. I would say Ned Kelly is the most famous Australian after Rolf Harris – he’s my favourite!
    The tucker looks good – I’d try that!

    • Always an entertaining debate – who is the most famous Australian. For a while it was Mark Bosnich, stand-in goalkeeper for Man United.

      Now…Hugh Jackman?

      And after I loved Rolf’s music as a kid, I’m pleased to see him making an excellent comeback with his TV art programs. Enthusiastic (as ever) but also knowledgeable and self-effacing.

      • I once worked in Maidenhead where he lives. My company built a recycling centre for the local council and needed someone to open it. His agent said the appearance charge would be £10,000 so we went round to see him and explained that we couldn’t afford it and he agreed to do do it and paint a picture if we paid him £1,000 and provided the paint. He stayed all afternoon and entertained the school children who were there to see him – what a great guy!
        I suppose there are also a lot of famous Australian cricketers? Don Bradman springs to mind!

  2. Yes, it’s definitely a more worthwhile way to get famous than stealing horses and shooting policemen.

    Everyone seems to agree that Rolf is a terrific chap. Mind you, I could probably be nice to kids for an afternoon for 1000 quid. Any time, Andrew…just ask.

  3. What a lovely day out! Would you mind if I reblogged this?
    I’m dying to go to Australia!

  4. An excellent decision to venture off the highway, Richard – I imagine you’re giving a lot of positive exposure to these unusual and interesting places in your role as informative tour-guide.

    Thanks for explaining who Ned Kelly was – the name was familiar, but I couldn’t recall what the story was.

    P.S. Did you invent that delightful word – “historitainment”? It’s brilliant!

    • We’ll try to do this sort of road trip more often when we’re not pressed for time.

      Yep, ‘historitainment’ is my gift to the English language. No royalties payable – feel free to use it any time you like. I’ll try to work it into more conversations and see if it catches on.

  5. Richard: I’ve just heard a fabulous piece on the ABC about the Ned Kelly Museum, especially the Animated Theatre – at

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