A getaway between lockdowns

If you know Max Williams, you’ll know being told to stay home doesn’t come easy for him. Max and Jenny Williams love to travel, so they take any chance they get to jet off. Today, Max shares what he did in between the first and second lockdowns in Victoria, visiting a beautiful regional destination you may well want to put on your own travel list.

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We are a group of 10 getaway-loving retirees, who have travelled extensively locally and overseas. We have all had to cancel upcoming international trips because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During our regular Zoom catch-ups, it became clear that we were all ‘champing at the bit’ and eager to hit the road. The chance came in June 2020, after the first Victorian lockdown, when the regional ‘Corona fences’ came down.

Woohoo, we are off! COVID beard groomed, tick. Golf clubs in, tick. A mix of nice reds packed, tick. No kids, tick. So, up the Hume Highway we go, about three hours’ drive north of Melbourne, to our first main destination, Cobram, on the mighty Murray River.

A stop-off for lunch at Shepparton doesn’t quite go as planned. Most places are fully booked, with fewer diners because of the social distancing rules. We end up in Jack’s Bar at the Australia Hotel, midtown, for a well-priced and tasty lunch. Great pub lunches for older folks at $15.

We are staying three nights at the five-star Tokemata Retreat in east Cobram. The retreat backs on to a Murray River subsidiary creek. This place is set up to suit everyone’s needs – tennis court, kids’ playground, old golf clubs and balls supplied for practice on the large mown oval or practice your putting on their artificial green. There are some great walks from the retreat – a favourite of ours on several occasions being the 1.3km walk to the Murray proper.

On our second day, most of us are booked to play golf at the Cobram Barooga Golf Course on a gorgeous sunny winter’s day. We had stayed at the Golf Resort last year for a two-night Luxury Escape getaway. Absolutely fabulous accommodation, meals and service. Thoroughly recommended once everything is opened again and you can venture into NSW.

Unfortunately, during our Tokemata stay, the arm of the couch in our lounge was marked, and we were hit with a $1000 bond payment for what would be considered minor damage and normal wear and tear. The retreat owner insisted that the couch had to be replaced. This is a warning to prospective guests. If you or your kids scratch, mark, or spill anything on the furniture, you may end up paying much more than you bargained for.

After a disappointing end to our first getaway stay, we drive about an hour-and-a-half southeast to Beechworth, and stay two nights at the Armour Motor Inn, so-called because this was the location of a blacksmith’s shop, where Ned Kelly’s infamous armour was formed. The suit of armour weighs an incredible 44kg and is now housed in the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne with other historical material of Ned’s.

This accommodation is excellent and is just 200m from the famous Beechworth Bakery, where an early morning coffee and pastry will help kickstart your day.

Just behind the inn is Spring Creek, great for a stroll before your coffee. It was near here, in August 1878, that 19-year-old Ned became the region’s boxing champion after his 20-round bare-knuckle fight with Isaiah ‘Wild’ Wright.

The history of this fight gives you an insight into Ned’s eventual downfall. For a comprehensive overview about Ned and the Kelly Gang, click here.

The cold and wet wintery conditions don’t deter us one bit – they just heighten the historical experience. As eating options are limited, we eat both nights at Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel and experience great food and service. When you book in the colder months, ask for a fireside table. A cosy way to end a satisfying day.

Spring Creek was also the place where gold was discovered in 1852. Within five years, the population of Beechworth grew to 20,000, a quarter of whom were Chinese. In the first 14 years of the gold rush, 115 tonnes of gold was found. At the current price of about US$2000 per ounce, this equates to a price of around A$11 billion, which all went to fill the coffers of Mother Britain!

There are lots of things to do in Beechworth and environs. Go to the information centre and find the best ones for the time you have there. We recommend the Ned Kelly tour (am) and Beechworth historical tour (pm). Only $3/guided tour for seniors.

These guided tours, lasting about 45 minutes, are fabulous if you want to feel what it was like to live here 170 years ago. You will visit the courtroom where Ned stood for his committal hearing, prior to his Melbourne Supreme Court appearance and eventual hanging at the Old Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880. He was only 26 years old. We miss the Beechworth Gaol tour because of time constraints, but we’ll certainly do it next time. 

If you have time and are looking for something else to do, take a drive to nearby spectacular Woolshed Falls; drive around the 5km one-way Gorge Road Circuit; have a wander around the Beechworth Cemetery (pick up a pamphlet at the entrance for a self-guided walk), where more than 2000 Chinese gold seekers and settlers are buried behind the 1857 Chinese Burning Towers; do a twilight ghost tour of the Beechworth Asylum; visit the Burke Museum and the Powder Magazine.

Or, if you just feel like chilling out for a few hours, head to the Yack (Yackandandah), only 22km up the road. This is a beautifully preserved historic gold mining town. Its centre is classified by the National Trust and is full of cafes, antique stores, museums, and art and craft galleries.

Apart from Ned Kelly and the Gang, there was another person of interest in Beechworth during the gold rush days – Robert O’Hara Burke, of Burke and Wills fame.

Burke was the well-liked Beechworth police superintendent in 1858, at 39 years of age. He was apparently a well-bred gentleman who was charming, generous and soft hearted. However, he was also impulsive, broke, slovenly and rather eccentric.

He had his sights set on a 19-year-old Melbourne siren of the stage, Julia Matthews. After several rejected marriage proposals, leadership of the expedition from South Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria seemed to Burke to be the only way to perhaps persuade her he was worthy of her hand.

Burke had no leadership skills, no experience in exploration and had little knowledge of bush craft or living off the land. One other crucial fact about Burke is that he was notorious for having no sense of direction. Search parties were frequently sent out to retrieve him after he failed to return from his regular work trips between Beechworth and Stanley. It beggars belief why he was given the gig to lead the expedition, which we all know ended in tragedy.

If you are a history buff or not, Beechworth is the place for you. We cannot recommend Beechworth and environs highly enough. Absolutely fabulous place.

Have you been to Beechworth? What’s your favourite part of this regional gem?

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Written by MaxWilliams

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