Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The High Country

We spent a weekend in 'The High Country' where the history of gold-mining collides with kitsch of all things Ned Kelly and the taste of good craft beer. Our first stop was the charming village of Beechworth, which proudly proclaims its heritage in its buildings and its monuments.

As it was Easter weekend, it was a pretty busy spot; both in the churches and in the streets.

There were various floats and strange things going on in the parade
Him Outdoors eats a Ned Kelly pie
Don't look now, but he's got a banjo
Fortunately we managed to escape the instrument of torture and took refuge in the most wonderful pub located down a side alleyway, which opens out into a beer garden of delights.

That's one happy-looking hop

We didn't just do the pub and the street party; we also indulged in a spot of culture at the museum and courthouse.

The Robert O'Hara Burke Memorial Museum is named for the leader of the tragic Burke & Wills expedition (1860-61) in which a party of explorers attempted to traverse Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north (a distance of 3,250 km), and from which only one man returned alive. Before embarking on this expedition, Burke had been Beechworth's Superintendent of Police from 1854-1858. 

The Burke & Wills expedition

The museum contains many Chinese artefacts and relics from the district's gold-mining days.

In 1935, this wheelbarrow was pushed up Mt Buffalo (4,500 ft high) by Tom Parkinson, who bet his friend, Sydney Evans, that he could push him up there from Beechworth (a distance of 50 km) when Mr Evans questioned Parkinson's fitness and ability to do so. 

The time limit was one week and the wager was set at £20. There was a list of 24 rules to which both parties adhered, including Mr Parkinson agreeing not to drive the barrow closer than three feet to the edge of the cliff, nor to slide it down the 1:6 incline of the Buckland Gap; and Mr Evans promising not to trail his feet along the ground, but he was permitted to take along an umbrella. The rules also stated that there would be no time off allowed in the case of a snow storm.

Naturally, Him Outdoors was particularly struck by this exhibit and talked to the curators about the possibility of starting up some sort of annual race to commemorate it.

The wheelbarrow in which some nutter pushed his friend up a mountain
The Courthouse is a beautiful building in its own right, constructed of the local honey-coloured granite. The common and special jurors had their names selected from the ballot boxes on display.

It is also well known for its infamous connections. The first woman hanged in Victoria (Elizabeth Scott) was sentenced to death here, and Australia's most famous bushranger, Ned Kelly, stood trial for murder here. His mother, Ellen, and brothers Dan and Jim and Uncle Jim Kelly also faced charges in this courtroom.

Some of the guns used in the Ned Kelly shoot out
Replica armour as worn by the Kelly Gang
Ned Kelly's death mask

The next day we headed to Mount Buffalo (not in a wheelbarrow), and passed the Rostrevor Hop Gardens in the Ovens Valley. When the Panlook Brothers first started growing hops here in 1890 they found it tough going, as there was a theory that Australian hops weren't suitable for making beer. Now there are 185 acres dedicated to growing hops for brewers across Australia and around the world.

We then went for a walk/run around Mount Buffalo. The National Park features over 90 km of walking tracks; we didn't do them all, of course, but we saw a pretty representative selection of sheer cliffs, granite tors, tumbling waterfalls and ethereal snow gums.

Lake Catani

A part of the walk, called the Chalwell Galleries, squeezes between massive boulders, which is a little bit freaky if you happen to be claustrophobic.

Bright is a beautiful little village crammed full of vintage charm, colourful characteristics, low-hanging trees, passionate cyclists, and hearty breakfasts.

Oh, and a brewery. Did I neglect to mention that?

Yakandandah is a small tourist town, which would probably be described as quaint by the glossy brochures. It's got a lot of tie dye clothing, distressed woodwork and crocheted lace about the place.

On the way home we called into Amulet Winery, where they also make a mean cider along with a prosecco and moscato that are worth writing home about. And the short sheep are an added feature.