We decided to take a small journey down memory lanes of my past, apart from visiting relatives, I wanted to show Ana some beautiful old country towns that I recall from my Army days.
These old towns date back to the 1800s, an era in Australia when Gold fever was rampant throughout the colony of Victoria; the two specific towns I wanted to visit again were Yackandandah and Beechworth.
For our three day visit we made our home base at Yackandandah, now where is Yackandandah you may well ask, Yackandandah is in the State of Victoria, much like a Province for my overseas readers.
Yackandandah is not far from Tangambalanga, at the foot of Murramurrangbong, and over the hills from Mudgegonga, just follow the dirt track to the intersection and turn right, there’s three cows grazing on the corner paddock of Browns pastures, you can’t miss it. Follow the creek line along and you will enter the old Gold town of Yackandandah.
This historic town has retained its old buildings and charm, I recall visiting the town over forty years ago, it was being used as a back drop for a movie at the time, I do recall having lunch in the old pub with a number of beautiful girls dressed up in period costumes, the actress was either Meryl Streep or Sigrid Thornton, I was in uniform at the time with an old Army mate, just wish we had the stamina to approach and ask for a photo with them.
Having enjoyed the afternoon in Yack, as it is commonly known as, we departed next morning for the other well know Gold mine town of Beechworth. With the changing of the seasons, the trees all through this Alpine part of the country were shedding their leaves, vivid Gold’s and Brown leaves decorated the trees and roads throughout the region, an exciting visit into Natures studio of colours.
What drew me back to Beechworth was its history, a history I never really delved into back in my more adventurous Army days. The Cemetery was my destination, a cemetery is always a good source of a town’s historical background, so we entered the hallowed grounds of Beechworth cemetery which was established in 1856 and contains the graves of many of Beechworth’s pioneers.
Alexander Roy (Dick) Harwood, Dick Harwood was an Australian film producer and the first to introduce Talkie films in Australia.
Jacob Hoffman, an American Civil War Veteran.
John Drummond, Battle of Waterloo Veteran and Pioneer of Beechworth.
James Riley, American Civil War Veteran.
The Gammon Children, seven children of George and Kate Gammon, their ages ranged from 9 weeks to two years, all died from various traumas of family life in the 19th century.
James M Storey, a Mexican War Veteran.
John Watt, shot by a bushranger.
James Ingram, known as, The Grand old Man, a very stalwart pioneer of Beechworth.
Rosetta Isaacs, Sister of Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian born Governor General of Australia.
Dame (Annie) Jean McNamara, long remembered for her work as an authority on Infantile paralysis, (Poliomyelitis).
Chinese Graves and Burning Towers.
The Victorian goldfields were characterised by the large numbers of Chinese miners who, along with others from Britain and Europe, came to try their luck with the gold pan and pick. Beechworth was no exception. By 1856, there were many Chinese in the district and the numbers swelled following the Buckland riots in July, 1857, when many Chinese, having been driven out of Buckland, joined their brethren at Beechworth.
The Chinese formed their own community within the town, and Chinatown was to be found along the lower Stanley Road, on the high side of where Lake Sambell is now situated. It had its own shops, Joss House and Temple. The Chinese took an active interest in town affairs and were generous donors to the appeal to build Ovens District Hospital in 1856-1857. They also formed a colourful part of the annual procession through Beechworth’s main street. The Burning Towers were built in 1857, and were used for burning prayers and meals for the dead. The towers were not used for cremation. It is interesting to note that in Northern China, it was the custom to burn paper prayers and meals at the graveside, whereas in southern China, burning Towers were used. The existence of the Beechworth Towers indicates that a large section of the Chinese community here were from southern China. The altar in front of the Burning Towers was not built until 1883-84.
Although there are thought to be about 2000 Chinese persons buried here, it was the wish of all Chinese persons to be buried in China. For this reason it was relatively common for bodies to be exhumed and sent back to China with relatives, where re-burial would take place.
Henry Ah Yett was the last Chinese person to be buried in the Chinese section of Beechworth cemetery; he died at Reid’s Creek on 31st July 1932. Mr Ah Yett was a very old and well known identity of Beechworth and district, having lived in the area for over seventy years. He is believed to have been 105 years old when he died. He came to Beechworth during the gold rush, and was a goldminer for a number of years. He later established a market garden at Reid’s Creek and had numerous customers in Beechworth and Chiltern on whom he called regularly. He was also skilled in the use of herbs for medicinal purposes. Mr Ah Yett was noted for his honesty and his geniality and kindness to children was proverbial.
We leave the Beechworth cemetery and its residents, to rest in history, making our way back to Yackandandah before driving back to Mildura. Leaving behind us an enjoyable excursion, back into the flamboyant exhilarating days of Australia’s Gold rush.