North East Tourist News
The forgotten beauty of Glenrowan
HISTORY is rich in the small town of Glenrowan. It is preserved in the buildings, weaved through the stories told and stands tall with the statue of Ned Kelly watching the town. Glenrowan was named after James and George Rowan who ran farms in the area between 1846 and 1858. The township was settled in the late 1860s; the first grape vines were planted in 1866, the Post Office opened on February 22, 1870, the local railway station opened in 1874 and bushranger Ned Kelly made his last stand and was captured there after a siege and shootout with police in 1880.
For some, the history of the Kelly Gang is what drew them to the town. Mark McFarlane moved to Glenrowan in early 2012 from Sydney, where he'd been for 10 years, to look after his mum, be closer to his birth town of Melbourne and pursue Ned Kelly.
"I love the valley views, the mountainous ranges on both sides with the Warby Range and Mount Buffalo and I'm really into bird life; we have rosellas, king parrots and wedge tailed eagles that visit us often," he said.
"I also love the serenity and the peace here, with just enough civilisation as well; particularly coming from cities, and the train that rolls by is nice for me because when I first came here it was too quiet. I'm a musician and that helped me get to know people through the pubs, playing with people and various bands; a high point is the local music fraternity here and other surrounding areas so meeting musicians was great. I couldn't focus on that in the big city as everyone was doing their own thing, but here people get together more and collaborate. There is a variety of music, I'm an 80s guy and there are a lot of people here who love the 80s sound; it's not just blues or country there's a good variety."
Mark also has a big interest in Ned Kelly and his history in the town.
"I recently did a bit of a study on Ned; when you first come to Glenrowan you hear both sides of the story; he was a villain, he was a hero and I find it really intriguing how he was originally a really nice person growing up and he just fell in with the wrong people and wrong people came his way and he got too mixed up in his own way," he said.
"I think Ned's history is going to be hard to live down in this town; it has to play a major part because there's a message in it for everyone; for people who struggle with the law, for people who work within the law and try and interpret that in a community. We've got bikies who like Ned who come into town and the God Squad in town so he spring boards into other things. Sure we have our little boutique wineries which are nice but they'll never outlive Ned.
"I do often think about where Ned used to be, imagine him walking through the Warby Range and he probably walked across our property some time. The Warby Range is such a beautiful backdrop to Glenrowan and it gets a bit forgotten about."
For others, like Chris Gerrett, Glenrowan and its history have been a lifelong experience. Chris and husband Rod have lived in the town all their lives and have always been interested in the history; especially of Ned Kelly.
“My dad used to tell tall stories;
I didn’t realise they were tall until we bought the shop, and we grew up going to local dances with descendants of the Kellys - the Dinning boys,” said Chris.
“We built the North Cedars Caravan Park and had that for 11 years but we sold that and began looking for something else. After a chance conversation with a solicitor friend in the street we bought Kate’s Cottage before it even got listed.
“It was in a pretty terrible state but we cleaned it up and we’ve been living the history because people come in with their stories, their family connections and people donate items for the museum which keeps it going.”
Kate’s Cottage is a replica of the ramshackle hut that the Kellys lived in as described in the royal commission.
“You’ve got the people who live at Glenrowan because they love a bit more space than Wangaratta, you’ve got Morgan’s lookout (Mount Glenrowan) and it’s quite beautiful, you’ve got lovely gum trees and walking areas,” Chris said.
“A lot of people have been going through talking to the resident cockatoos and then come back as adults and tell us how they used to visit and people come from everywhere in Australia; we’ve been in Broome and had people tell us they’ve been in our shop, it’s amazing. There was a big Ned already in the town but it was taken down and put at the back of the business. We decided that the big things were all a go at the time so we built the statue; we went to Sydney and the manufacturer had to hire a whole new shed to make the statue. It’s six metres high and 1.5 tonnes in weight. I rang every newspaper all the way down from Sydney and spent about $400 on phone calls. We even had a Greek newspaper pick it up. It features in an American gallery of ‘huge beings’ and is on the Red Head matchbox collection as a big Aussie icon.
“I’ve never felt that Glenrowan has been forgotten about; when we first arrived in the town, there was grass a foot high on the sides of the roads, there were holes a child could fall down and we now have sewerage, a good water supply and there’s all this development going on.”
For Colin Scott, Glenrowan has been his home since his family settled from Mildura in 1936.
“I often said I don’t know why they settled in Glenrowan because, although I’ve been here all my life, it’s a funny sort of town,” he said.
“It’s very community-minded but is also a transitional town between bigger places. Glenrowan also wouldn’t be what it is without the siege as that’s the only thing Glenrowan’s famous for, but to me Glenrowan doesn’t revolve around Ned Kelly; there are a lot of other things going for it.”
Mr Scott said when his parents came to Glenrowan it wasn’t big - in fact there were only two houses.
“My parents developed a cherry orchard and bought another property with a dairy farm where dad built a new dairy but we were only there for about three years before he sold it and bought the Glenrowan quarry,” said Mr Scott.
“Many years later, after my brother and I had finished our apprenticeships, dad’s old farm went up for sale and nobody wanted to buy it, so we did. It was 130 acres and we subdivided it off because dad knew some parts weren’t good for an orchard, and then Hamilton bought Hamilton Park and subdivided it and now there are so many subdivisions. Eventually my wife and I bought the 13 acres with the dairy on it and made it a home; we also developed our own cherry orchard and had a good trade locally.”
Mr Scott said although there has been development over the years, to a certain degree he thinks Glenrowan has been overlooked, or forgotten.
“I was on the Benalla shire for nine years and back then there were so many projects on the go but now a lot of things don’t get done,” he said.
Despite the diversity of people, opinion and lifestyle in the town, Glenrowan will always be cemented in Australia’s history, and its variety of attractions will continue to draw visitors from around the world.