Beechworth: A Very Ned Kelly Christmas

holidays, Victoria 2 Replies

A lot of things shut down in Australia around Christmas, and it seemed that everyone had time off of work. Time off at Christmas, in addition to the four weeks of regular leave? What!?!

In my last job, we were lucky to get an extra lump of coal on the fire as we worked into the night on Christmas Eve,  begging Mr. Pickwick, “please sir, can I have some more…”

Sorry, got lost in a Dickens montage for a minute there.
Also, my last job was in Florida, so we didn’t need coal heat; but, maybe you get the idea. I didn’t get much time off.

In any case, as all the time-off stars aligned, and Partner-in-Crime and I, along with our dear Americans Mimi and Joe, didn’t have any plans for Christmas, we decided to brave a two-couple road trip. We talked about a few options, but planning at the last minute, we were limited as to where we could book. The logical choices of beach or perhaps Melbourne were out. We decided to go a bit more unconventional by going to the mountains.

Mimi and I got charmed by photos of an oh-so-very-adorable Victorian style B&B in Beechworth, an historical little town in Victoria.

You had me at “claw foot tub,” Beechworth …

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We agreed to spend two nights there, and then move on for a couple of nights in Thredbo, a ski resort town in the Snowy Mountains.

We left Sydney on Christmas Eve afternoon, and I was doing my absolute best to conjure some holiday spirit, including wearing my Santa hat from Carols in the Domain. Well prepared with numerous podcasts and ample conversation, the six-hour drive was pretty easy (says I, who refuses to actually drive). We saw some remarkable Australian scenery along the way – all sorts of wild plains with scattered rock formations that are either pre-historic or alienic (alionic? What I’m trying to do here is turn alien into an adjective, you see).

We arrived rather on the late side for check in, but I still managed to snap some photos before we went to bed. Like, oh I don’t know, this one of our superfly bed…

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At home, my family opens presents on Christmas Eve night. As I was going to sleep in the princess bed, I thought about them and felt pretty melancholy. I was also a bit out of sorts, as I realized that, as I was retiring on this Christmas Eve night, they were just waking up on Christmas Eve morning, probably with a day full of last-minute shopping, wrapping, and cooking ahead.

My family’s festivities were probably underway as we got up for breakfast on Christmas morning. We didn’t have Internet, so I didn’t have a way of Skype-ing a greeting. At breakfast, we met the other couple who was staying at the B&B, a friendly pair from Melbourne. Mimi and I chatted with her about Australian books – she knew and loved the one we were both reading for book club, and gave us some recommendations of other Aussie novels to try out. He had grown up in Beechworth, so told us a lot about the history of the town, much of which centers upon legendary outlaw, Ned Kelly. It was also an old gold rush town, and a lot of the history is well-preserved.

Unfortunately, everything was shut down for Christmas, so we planned to have a very relaxed day with a lot of outdoor time. P-i-C and I, always fancying ourselves amateur hiking buffs, thought we’d take a hike around the gorge, which is what everyone suggested was THE thing to do. There was also the sweetest English garden at the B&B and we were all looking forward to clocking some time reading and eating out there.

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Ah, but what a merciless tease that Mother Nature turns out to be. It rained on our wedding, so why wouldn’t it rain on our Christmas? It would. It started out looking like a beautiful day, but was ominous by the time we’d finished our morning viewing of Love, Actually.

Undeterred, we wandered out to see what sort of trouble we could find. Very little, it would seem. With the angry clouds, the hike that P-i-C and I had our eye on seemed rather less than advisable. We stopped by the famous gorge, which was … gorgey …

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… we tooled around town in the car a bit longer, and ended up stopping for a few minutes in a local church, as we fought for that holiday spirit. It started pouring while we were inside, instigating a mad dash to the car, and a general agreement that we’d better settle upon inside-time for the rest of the day.

Back at the inn, we tackled lunch – comprised of groceries we’d picked up at a just-about-to-close-country-town IGA (“Tucker Town,” was the name of it) the day before. Mimi made Greek salads on the saucers we found in our rooms, and we whipped up some mighty turkey and tuna sandwiches. I was downing buckets of hot chocolate with Bailey’s, so it all tasted pretty marvelous to me. The Bailey’s might also explain why I found the “Just Shoot Me” marathon we settled on watching so hilarious.

Bailey’s, or the fact that it was an amazing show. You decide.

Right after lunch, I became obsessed with the idea of getting into the claw foot tub. Dishes were cleared, and I declared my departure, which would be both immediate and long-lasting. I filled up the tub and soaked for heaven knows how long. Then, a glorious afternoon nap completed the scene.

Bailey’s, bath, bed. It may not be a conventional Christmas, but those three B’s will never steer you wrong.

Christmas evening, our party reconvened in the little lounge and spent the night playing a long game of dominoes and eating IGA salami. We turned on my Christmas songs playlist which, by all accounts including mine, was a bit unconventional (you mean, you don’t listen to the Ramones at Christmas?), but somehow the whole scene seemed appropriately … different. There was to be nothing conventional about this Christmas.

I feel like, maybe, we were all a bit relieved for the pressure of THE HOLIDAY to be over when we awoke the next day. Also, we were so ready to get a proper look at the town. We were greeted with beautiful breakfasts (though, the Australian choice of baked beans and grilled tomatoes as breakfast sides may never fail to baffle me), if a bit of a hasty push off from our hoteliers, who were quite eager to clean our rooms. Fine, though, because the weather had turned nice again, and everything in Beechworth was open.

It was such a sweet little town. All of the downtown architecture maintained the gold rush era aesthetic, almost akin to a Wild West film setting in the U.S.

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We perused a few shops and got a huge kick out of all the local homages to Ned Kelly (he and his gang wore  this funky armor when they were out doing their dastardly deeds) …

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And really, what kid does not need a stuffed Ned Kelly doll? Tempting, very tempting

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We stumbled upon the telegraph office, which was still operational, and allowed us to send telegraphs to our relatives at home, tapped out by the most charming gentleman, for $3. Now, that offer actually was too tempting to pass up, and my mom got a Christmas telegram from Beechworth (granted, I think it actually showed up a couple weeks later). Stop.

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Next door, was the old courthouse, which had been renovated into a museum about Ned Kelly. We saw the courtroom in which he was tried, the whole gang’s suits of armor, which the displays said were modeled after armor worn by Chinese immigrants who lived in Beechworth to work in the mining industry. The whole thing was musty, and echoey, and quite a lot of fun.

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P-i-C, ever inquisitive about gold and outlaws, formed a kinship with the museum’s desk clerk, who happened to be a font of knowledge about local history.  He (P-i-C) eventually proved  tricky to lure away from his new friend, the clerk; but before the rest of us decided we’d had enough history, we did get some interesting background about the land rights issues that prompted the Ned Kelly uprising and folk-hero status. He also told us that, unlike in many places in Australia, there are no Aboriginal land claims on mining in the area because the local tribe became extinct through a combination of violence and disease. No descendants of the traditional settlers remain to stake a claim, an unsettling and sad fact.

P-i-C went off to explore another museum, Joe and Mimi took a cute horse and buggie ride around the square, and I took a stroll around the block to get a better look at the architecture. I feel like we could have explored quite a bit longer, but we were all ready to start the long drive to Thredbo. We bid Beechworth and Ned Kelly g’day, and ambled back into our automobile, leaving the strangest Christmas on record behind.

Next up … Thredbo and the highest point in Australia.

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