Day 15 of our Victorian Road Trip: Myrtleford and Beechworth

We had toyed with staying another night in Bright, and then it occurred to us that the places we wanted to see next were all north and in the direction of home. So we checked out of our motel and headed off, not completely sure what we wanted to do  or where we would stop that night.

What we did know was we wanted to explore Myrtleford, a half an hour’s drive away. When we arrived it was still quite early, and the place had a sleepy feel. We parked the car and set off to find a shop that had been recommended to me, Red Ramia Trading and Cafe Fez. OMG !! (insert shocked emoji of your choice at this point). What an astonishing place! You walk through two heavy, timber, studded doors, pass the cafe on your right, and then suddenly you are faced with tables and tables of Moroccan tagines and plateware in any number of colours and patterns.

That is just the beginning. There is Moroccan and Oriental furniture, urns, lamps, leather and skin book covers, cowhides, wooden doors, wrought iron, screens, hand-painted tiles, jewellery, boxes of Moroccan door knobs and handles and bolts of Asian silks and other materials. When you leave the main building and enter a large shed behind, wooden furniture and chests from China are stacked one on top of the other, mingled with Japanese calligraphy scrolls, brass from India, incense holders, statuettes and any amount of bric-a-brac. In the courtyard is an eclectic collection of outdoor pieces. They brand themselves a “multi-continental trading fantasy land” and “globe-trotter’s emporium“. I have never seen the likes of it. After an hour or two we staggered out, completely overwhelmed. I told you we are not great shoppers 🙂 Others would be energised by the experience. You can explore for yourself here.

Looking for more familiar things, we crossed the street to inspect the war memorial and discovered that Myrtleford is home to a Victoria Cross winner. Albert David “Alby” Lowerson won his on the Western Front at the beginning of September 1918. He returned home and took up farming, on a soldier-settlement block he named Saint Quentin (after the battle which earned him the medal).

Albert David "Alby" Lowerson, VC (2 August 1896 – 15 December 1945)

Albert David “Alby” Lowerson, VC (2 Aug 1896 – 15 Dec 1945) Myrtleford Victoria

Lowerson farmed dairy and tobacco – which is something else we didn’t know about this town.  It turns out that tobacco growing formed the backbone of the local economy until the industry was closed down in 2006, and many of the farmers were Italian. We discovered this on our stroll through the park on Main Street, which contains a memorial to them. At this point I am going to hand the reader over to fellow blogger, Yvonne of Hello World, as she has written this post specifically on that history, and included a much better photo of the commemorative statue than I have.

Next on our list was Beechworth, a further half hour drive north. This is another well-preserved historic town with its roots in the gold rush. There is a lot to see here, and this was our first visit, so we had it in the back of our mind to stay the night. But first, I had booked us on a 1pm tour of the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum (1867-1995, and also known as Mayday Hills). Okay, so you would think this derelict place was at the bottom of the tourist’s list, but not so. At night Asylum Ghost Tours offers ghost tours and paranormal investigations which are apparently very popular. By day, they run a ninety-minute historical tour, and in the name of further research, I have come along to see what I can learn.

This poster of reasons for admission hangs in the foyer. It does not state the source of the list, and asylum records are closed for 110 years, so I am not sure whether is totally accurate, but some of the reasons are plausible in the context of the times.

beechworth-lunatic-asylum-2016-12-17-18-559x800

I just read an 1871 newspaper report of an itinerant man, laid off from agricultural work, being taken to Beechworth after being found wandering and disoriented on his way back to Sydney (by foot). It was later discovered that he had been “hocussed”, that is, served impure alcohol. A bit like drink spiking of today. He was released a week later and allowed to go on his way.

I started to write more about our tour and to add a couple of photos, but it really is so dismal. So I deleted all that. There is however, the story of the medical superintendent Dr Thomas Dick, who is reputed to have walked around at night holding up an umbrella because he was convinced the moon’s rays would send you crazy. Whether that is the same Dr Thomas Dick who “took it for granted that God had peopled the moon with rational beings, and suggested that an immense algebraic symbol in black be erected against the background of the snow of Siberia, for the purpose of attracting their attention and of eliciting a response” I am not sure. (Maryborough Chronicle 1 May 1862). The point is, this is the guy who was in charge of the inmates.

Our visit served its purpose, but naturally we felt pretty sombre afterwards. So we drove slowly around the main streets of Beechworth, admiring the well-preserved historic streetscape, and asking each other if we wanted to stop and explore one more gold town.

The conversation went along the lines of, “what do you want to do?” answered by, “I don’t know – what do you want to do?” Finally we decided that after two weeks on the road, and a huge tour the day before yesterday, we had just run out of puff. Beechworth would have to wait for another trip.

We punched home into the Satnav and turned Red Dwarf north. Another half hour’s driving brought us to the junction of the Melbourne-Sydney highway. Upgrades over recent years have made this road flat and straight. We shared the driving in alternating shifts of ninety minutes each, and to our surprise, were home in six hours flat. By midnight we were fast asleep in our own bed at last.

To quote that old TV ad . . . Home – it’s our favourite destination 🙂

Saturday, 17th December 2016

18 thoughts on “Day 15 of our Victorian Road Trip: Myrtleford and Beechworth

  1. …. and there’s no place like home! I am really enjoying all of the history of Australia. So much to see I’m so much to learn. Although doubtful I will ever make it down under, I have been enjoying your Journeys so very much. What a sad list of reasons to be institutionalized. I’m sure people just really no idea and it makes me think of people I know today who very easily could end up in a place like that if attitude have not changed over the years!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was such a stigma around mental illness – still is! But at least not to such an extent. I am glad you enjoyed this series. We have no further travel plans at this time – but who knows? I have had a lot of fun introducing these places to a wider audience.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for another good post, Gwen. I follow Yvonne, but went back for a spot of revision. 🙂 In the 1980s I worked with people caring for an elderly woman who had spent her life in residential care as a ‘moral defective’ because she had been an unmarried mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That list is shocking! General world politics might be a bit worrisome at the mo, but my goodness I’m so pleased I don’t live in 1870 -anywhere. ‘Difficult child’, ‘Woman in hotel’??? truly makes you appreciate the 21st century. 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Australia is REALLY a colorful place!!! Have you been to Morocco? It’s pretty crazy – especially markets like in Marrakesh, Fez, Essaouira – between the hawkers, snake charmers, and massive crowds you feel like someone slipped something into your tangine!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmm, reasons for admission to the Asylum in Beechworth include “Political Excitement”. There’s be a lot of people admitted for that reason every day, all around the world.

    I’ve enjoyed your wanders through my part of Victoria. It’s very lovey in spring, autumn and winter.

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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