The Argus at KellyGang 22/1/1876

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All through the halcyon days of the gold fields less was known in Melbourne of those of the Ovens district-of which Beechworth is the centre and capital-than of those nearer to the capital. The way was long, the road difficult to travel. The miners who had ventured into the Ovens, undeterred by its very suggestive name, moreover, had been so-successful that it was not necessary for them to ask for the assistance of speculators at a distance; nor, in fact, did they care much about their successes being known, lest they should draw down upon themselves heads whom they had no desire to see. None who tramped the long journey to Beechworth, swag on back, can ever forget the miseries of the journey, which far exceeded those of the march to Ballarat, or Forest Creek, or Kangaroo-flat. Crossing the Goulburn, at Seymour, was oftentimes a most difficult and dangerous affair.

The long swamps about Longwood were wearying to the stoutest legs and trying to the most elastic patience. Going over the plain beyond Wangaratta, when the King River and the Ovens River, which join there, were in flood was a task that required great courage and not a little determination; and when miles of wading in swamp-water and mud, from knee to chest deep, had been accomplished, and still more miles of scrub and forest had been gone through, there was still the hill, some eight or nine miles of a continuous ascent before the granite-built capital of a granite district, the prettily-placed city of Beechworth, was reached. No wonder that in the early days carriage of flour, sugar, tea, &c. from Melbourne to the capital of the Ovens should sometimes have run up to as high as £120 per ton, the highest rate ever obtained in Victoria . But the reward which those met with who earliest sought the Woolshed, Reid's Creek, and the other well-known diggings which lay immediately to the north of Beechworth, more than amply repaid the courage and the toil through which they had found their way thither.

Beechworth occupies the crown of a round granite hill, the greatest inclination of which is to the north, or towards the Murray . A creek, at the entrance to the town from the Melbourne approach, forms a very pretty fall, somewhat like that of Foyers, in Invernesahire, and then, after a turbulent career over and among rocks. Sometimes forming pools, sometimes leaping over ledges of rock, between high and inaccessible banks, the waters reach the plains below, the names of which I have already mentioned. To these the streams coming from sources far away in the Buffalo Ranges had carried down gold for countless ages; and there the precious metal was largely deposited. It was, as it still is, a gold-field totally different from Ballarat, or Bendigo, or Forest Creek, and, perhaps, was the richest of them all. It was on the banks of these creeks and in the plains which the waters traversed, that the first miners of the Ovens district accumulated immense quantities of gold. It was there that, when the fortunate owners of claims came to settle up of a Saturday with their hired men, a penny weight or two of gold on one side or the other was not thought off, and champagne all round closed the business of the week.

Here, also, was the famous claim from which so much gold was obtained that the owner, according to popular report, had his horse shod with shoes of gold for one triumphant ride through the streets of Beechworth. Unfortunately, that good time did not continue for many years, and the rider of the golden-shod horse (if the story is not apocryphal) afterwards met with various experiences of a les pleasant kind.

It was in those days, however, that Beechworth became the important town it has long been. The diggers spread themselves to the beautiful plain of Indigo on the north, to Bright on the south, and to Yackandandah on the east. I give these geographical points but roughly, though with sufficient accuracy for my purpose. Over all this district, first alluvial and then quartz mines were discovered, some of them of great value. The abundance of money enabled every person who so desired to build his own house on Crown lands, and advantage was taken of the splendid site of the town, in the centre of beautiful Highland scenery, to erect buildings of a much more substantial character than other gold-fields could boast of, and Beechworth then assumed proportions and a shape that have not much varied or changed since.

As the capital of an important district it early became the site of the Government offices necessary for the carrying on of public business-the court-house, the post-office, the gaol, the hospital, the lunatic asylum, &c.--while the banks erected ornamental as well as substantial offices, the hotels became of a precociously pretentious character, and the places of business, and the private residences of the more fortunate among the inhabitants, were made to give evidence of the thriving character of the great industry of the locality. I am not about to attempt a description of Beechworth; but I may say that I know of no prettier place in Victoria .


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