My Year 12 Advanced English class has been studying the historical fiction novel, True History of the Kelly Gang for their HSC. In order to deepen their appreciation for the history of the Kelly legend, the class, my husband and myself travelled down to Melbourne for the weekend of August 15-17. After an eventful and enjoyable flight from Sydney, we arrived in Melbourne city around 10pm. The bus ride in from the airport revealed to us the picturesque Melbourne skyline, featuring the neon beauty of the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. We happily discovered that our hotel was located within walking distance of all the great locations in Melbourne city.
We had a super early wake-up on our first day – our tour guide arrived at 7.30am! Once the bus turned up, we hit the road, heading for Kelly Country. First stop was Beveridge, only 40 minutes north of Melbourne. Here we saw the childhood home of Ned Kelly. Stepping out into the cold and misty morning, we were surprised by the small size of the wood and stone cottage where the legendary Kelly was born. The cottage is over 100 years old and has been heritage listed, which means it will hopefully be standing for many more years. Our next stop was Avenel, the small town where Ned’s family moved when he was a young boy. Here we saw the place where 11 year old Ned rescued 7 year old Dick Shelton from drowning in the creek. We were also given exclusive access to the Shelton Hotel, where Ned was taken after rescuing Dick. The current owner, Margie, was so hospitable and we were all in awe of the original state of the hotel. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to stand in the very place Ned Kelly had stood over in 1866. Afterwards we were taken to the Avenel graveyard, where we saw the grave of Ned’s father, Red Kelly.
The next stop was the Benalla Museum, where we saw the green sash that Ned was given by the Shelton family to recognise his courage. When you look closely at the sash, you can see dark blood stains – Ned was wearing this sash under his famous armour during the shoot-out at Glenrowan Inn. This historical artifact really brought to life the legend of the Kelly gang. Further up north, we were taken to the actual scene of the infamous siege – Glenrowan. Our guide, Airi, provided us with very detailed commentary about the events leading up to and after the siege. It is often surprising for people to learn that Ned Kelly should ne more accurately labeled as a failed revolutionary, rather than a bushranger. The siege at Glenrowan certainly was a remarkable event in Australian history, and all students appreciated the poignancy of the location.
Our final stop on the tour was Greta, the final resting place of Ned Kelly and many of his relatives, including his beloved mother, Ellen. Visiting the graveyard was a moving and surprising experience for all of us. Ned Kelly’s remains have only recently been discovered at Pentridge Gaol, in Melbourne. He was buried with ceremony early in 2013, however the exact place of his burial is unknown. He is buried in an unmarked grave, to protect his remains from grave robbers. This certainly interested us all! Grave robbers, in Australia? Kelly must truly be a controversial figure in our history! We were then taken to the land where the Kelly’s homestead, Eleven Mile Creek, once stood. By this stage we were all very tired, having been on tour for nearly 12 hours, but it didn’t stop us from taking time to acknowledge the hardships that the Kelly family ensured in that very location.
The next day once again started fairly early, with a VIP tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol, the place where Ned Kelly was hanged in 1888. Our tour guide was fantastic! He was engaging and knowledgeable and worked hard to bring the true history of the gaol to life. Despite being tired from the previous day’s tour, all students were fully engaged in the stories being told, and were particularly interested in the death mask of Ned Kelly that is on display. The harshness of life in Colonial Australia was made apparent when our tour guide pointed out the very low heights of the doorways. People were much shorter in the 19th century because of their poor diets.
After a very enjoyable breakfast at the Queen Victoria Markets, we made our way down Swanston Street to the State Library of Victoria. Outside the library we stopped for a couple of photographs in front of the statue of Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who condemned Ned Kelly to death. We made sure that we showed him how we felt about his decision. Inside the quiet beauty of the library, we were greeted with what we were all waiting for – the famour armour of Ned Kelly. There is something so powerful about that armour, and we all felt it. Even more moving was seeing the boot that Ned was wearing on the day of the siege. It seems to give humanness to the history. Another artifact that we were excited to see was the Jerolderie letter. Having read it in class, it was certainly special to see the neat and careful handwriting of Joe Byrne and read the heartfelt narrative of Kelly and his family.
The trip ended in a rush, with laughter and a bit of drama, as we caught the final bus to the airport shuttle. I can’t commend my students highly enough for their enthusiasm, positive attitudes, joy and maturity on this trip. They taught me how to sound off, how to look both ways when crossing the road, and of course, they taught me what a hair donut is. This trip reminded my husband and I why we became teachers, because young people are amazing and joining them on their learning journeys is a privilege.