I am on my third trip to discover the real Australia, one that has given me so much to think about. Here in beautiful Beechworth, the home of Ned Kelly and before that what was known as the Ovens goldfields, there is a sublime mix of England and Australia. It has got me thinking about the early settlers, especially the monied ones. They journeyed twelve thousand miles to make their fortunes, but what did they do when they had the chance? They tried to recreate what they had come from. I imagine the ladies moaning to their husbands that they mourned the loss of the flora and fauna they knew. It was not enough to be growing great flocks of Angus cows and Merino sheep on green pastures, where twenty years before only thick bushland thrived. They were not satisfied with the many varieties of gum trees, the cabbage tree palms, the wild flowers identified and admired by Joseph Banks. They wanted elms, oaks and cypress, they demanded roses, lilac, clematis and wisteria.
Beechworth is a wonderful mixture of the old and the new country. Granite buildings by Scottish stonemasons provided offices for the control of the thousands of miners who descended on the area in the 1850s, and these lie adjacent to simple, wooden bungalows with tin roofs.
The town is full of wooden clad shops with large signs above, proclaiming, bakery, clothing emporium, hotel, just as they would have done 150 years ago. It is all very ordered and pristine, but this was a pretty lawless place at the time, despite the efforts to control. The police were as lawless as the bush rangers they sought to imprison. The rich squatters, mostly Protestant, were determined to get rid of the heavily mortgaged selectors,often Catholics, who tried to eke a living on the margins – Ned Kelly, more sinned against than sinning, the inevitable folk hero result.