Australia Diary 4 April 2002

We had a bit of an emergency today. We ran out of wine. The only solution to this was for us to stop off at a couple of vinyards on the way out of Melbourne. As Em was driving, I selflessly offered to take upon myself the arduous task of tasting the wines (at 10:00 in the morning!).

Today was a day of trees. Everywhere you looked there were woods, forests, copses, thickets and other tree related terms.

The journey up from Melbourne to Beechworth passes through Ned Kelly country. Ned was born in 1855 and died 25 years later, hung for murder after a shoot-out with the police. During the gun battle, the Kelly gang were wearing their famous home-made bullet proof armour.

Ned Kelly website

We also passed by Lake Eildon and drove over the Dam. The lake is part of the Snowy Mountain Hydro-electric scheme (more of that tomorrow).

Lake Eildon Dam

Beechworth, where we spent the night, claims to have a jail cell where Ned was kept - but although he was tried and convicted in the town, he apperently never stayed in the jail (or gaol if you're an Aussie). It was also where the armour for their final stand-off with the police was made. We didn't stay in the jail, but in a charming little cottage on the edge of town. Even the car got a roof over its head! Generally, the tourist information people are excedingly friendly over here. In Beechworth, we rocked up (turned up) to the tourist office only five minutes or so before closing time, but we were still found a selection of places to stay the evening, our choice was booked there and then and we were even given a couple of ideas of things to do and places to see that evening (okay, she did suggest the lunatic asylum, perhaps she was trying to tell us something!).

The inside of Linden cottage

Beechworth's old mental institution may at first sight be at the top of most tourist's list of things to see, but it's an impressive building with lots of history. Which I may write up at a later date...

For thirty years, from 1834, the date that Melbourne was established, people with mental illness where kept in the jail system alongside regular convicted criminals. Things started to change due to a public outcry in 1841 when the press brought to light the plight of these people. The Yarra Bend Asylum was built in 1848 in what is now Fairfield in Melbourne to go some way to meet the needs of the mentally ill in the area. Concerns were raised about those patients in outlying areas away from Melbourne where easy access to treatment was not available. It took for example seven days to do the journey that we did today back in the 1800s. A police officer would escort patients requiring treatment in Yarra Bend on an overcrowded escort wagon, stopping off at police stations overnight. There was usually no access to medication, or even a change of clothes for the patients. Unsuprisingly, it was felt that patients subjected to this journey were less likely to recover than those who were able to receive treatment locally. With growing concerns being raised by local residents, the council gave its support to the establishment of a separate facility in the area to treat people with mental illness.

Beechworth lunatic asylum was opened in 1867 and was used as a hospital up until 1995. It was bought in 1996 by La Trobe University and is now one of their campuses. At its peak in the 1960s, the asylum housed 1000 patients. It incorporated over thirty buildings, in 11 hectares of gardens and another 106 hectares of farmland. It was completely self-sufficient, with a working farm, piggery, orchards and kitchen gardens, tennis courts and even its own theatre.

The picture below shows the front remaining section of the administration building.

The psychiatric hospital


To tomorrow

Created by Dan Leigh /03/02