Gone to Yackandandah

You will commence a journey of history and adventure with the homes of Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt, Ned Kelly stories and ghost towns of the mining era. The Woolshed Valley begins here in El Dorado and ends near the historic town of Beechworth.

WOOLSHED VALLEY TOUR

Can you believe that there were 80 hotels and four towns - Napoleon Flat, Sebastopol Flat; Devils Elbow and Woolshed Diggings- in the Woolshed Valley? It was perhaps one of the most famous and colourful of all the diggings of Victoria’s gold fields. Between 6,000 and 8,000 miners worked the gold fields in the valley, with the most concentrated activity at Sebastopol, Woolshed Flat and along Reedy Creek. You can still fossick in Reedy Creek for Gold, Sapphires, Diamonds, Agates, Jasper, Garnets, Topaz and Zircons.

WOMBAT DIGGINGS

The Wombat Mine was important to the township of El Dorado because mining commenced here just at the time when Cock’s Pioneer closed in 1929 and the world depression was developing. The Wombat Mine sustained El Dorado when it most needed a mining income for survival.

Jack Jordan (Senior) held a smelting licence which was not easily granted. The mine produced gold ingots and delivered them regularly to the bank. It was easy to work the mine as it had a shallow underground operation, no water problem or drifts and loose wash dirt. After three to four years the lead was worked out.

CHINESE GARDENS (A heritage listed site)

The Chinese who lived and worked the diggings in the 1860s and 70s, after the initial 1853 rush, were considered inventive and ingenious. They were not only successful miners but also prolific vegetable gardeners. They used their knowledge of the movement of water via water races over long distances to water their gardens. These gardens would have supplied El Dorado and the miners working the diggings along the valley. The Chinese miners and market gardeners would have been an important asset to the mining communities, supplying over 6,000 miners, numerous hotels and restaurants with fresh vegetables.

In 1864 Sebastopol was the main Chinese camp with a smaller camp a few hundred yards to the west of the Byrne’s hut with eight or nine huts in the scrub on the back El Dorado road. Their huts were built of stringybark saplings and creek rushes thatched for the roof. Water was channelled via races for a mile and a half from the Sunbury Bridge

NAPOLEON FLAT

Across Reedy Creek from the Chinese Gardens was the mining township of Napoleon Flat. Here, there were 20 businesses- three hotels, four restaurants, six storekeepers, two bakers, a greengrocer, a tent maker, a butcher, a blacksmith and a carpenter – all this for a population of 700 people. Many of the miners were of French Canadian origin.

KANGARAROO CROSSING

This site was a major crossing of Reedy Creek. Originally the creek was traversed by a bridge built of timber which burnt down in the bushfires of 1927. The Kangaroo Inn c1856, stood here providing much welcome refreshment for the miners working along the creek. On the flat camping area, a market garden was established around early 1900s by an Englishman, an Italian and a Swede. The garden was worked by these three men who carted water in two drums held by a yoke. A large wheelbarrow was used by the gardeners to cart the vegetables to the miners up the creek. Wine was made from the leftover vegetables. An excavation in the bank, near red box trees, was used as a charcoal pit. The charcoal they manufactured was delivered to a blacksmith in Wangaratta. A short distance from here on the south side of Reid’s Creek was Bernie Fitzpatrick’s log cabin, with several unmarked Chinese grave sites nearby.

REID'S CREEK "WELCOME INN" HOTEL

As reported in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser 1858
January 4th
'A disastrous calamity occurred at Reid's Creek on Friday night, when Smith’s "Welcome Inn" was destroyed by fire and the lives of ten of the inmates were lost in the flames. The building was entirely of slabs and bark.’ Naked flames from the candles and lanterns used for lighting would easily overturn with a gust of wind, igniting the dry material and setting buildings alight very rapidly. '

BUTTREY'S ROCK

In May 1856, coaches began to operate a two hourly service between Sebastopol, Woolshed and Beechworth. Many of these coaches became prey to roving bushrangers

It was here that a bushranger named Buttrey dragged a log over the road, hid on his horse behind this mammoth rock and ambushed the mail coach. Buttrey robbed his victims of a large amount of gold.

During the robbery Buttrey was reported to be polite and respectful to his victims. He fled, stopping at an El Dorado blacksmith who replaced a lost shoe on Buttrey’s horse.

Buttrey was caught shortly after, but, without the gold. He had hidden it somewhere in the Woolshed Valley. The gold has never been recovered.

REIDFORD HOTEL

Christmas of 1899 saw a large bushfire rage its way across from Everton Hills through the bush to Sebastopol. It crossed the Woolshed Range near Sheepstation Creek The Reidford Hotel was the last hotel to operate in the Woolshed Valley. It was burnt down in the fires of 1899. The last occupants of the Reidford Hotel were Jim and Jack Chappelle. During the Great Sebastopol Raid, during a period of waiting, some of Captain Standish’s men headed for the Reidford Hotel most likely for liquid refreshments. A track opposite the hotel runs down to Reid’s Creek and over through Wick’s Crossing. The crossing is made from solid granite.

Opposite the hotel site, down in Reid’s Creek, are the remains of public swimming baths.

SEBASTAPOL FLAT

Now only a ghost town, Sebastopol Flat was once a place of importance. In 1857, along the four kilometre main street there were 83 businesses, 23 restaurants, a t least eight hotels and a brewery, as well as tent-makers, jewellers, storekeepers, butcher shops, carpenters and watchmakers. The first tin smelter in Victoria was built and operated in Sebastopol. Among the eight hotels, the Hibernia and the Britannia were the most popular. The entertainment was great: three nights a week you could attend a ball and on the other nights there were concerts. The Ashton Circus would visit regularly.

Sebastopol Flat is rich in Ned Kelly history. This was the place where Joe Byrne grew up with his friend Aaron Sherritt, and where gang members hid out.

Across the distant hills of the valley you can see the Kelly Caves, and on the left, the highest peak is Kelly’s lookout, from where gang members used mirrors to signal other members at Telegraph Rock in Beechworth about police movements.

Before the siege at Glenrowan, the Kelly Gang hid in those caves. Joe and Ned would sneak down via a Chinese water race to visit Joe’s mother, who lived in a hut near the creek. Meanwhile the police would spy on Byrne’s hut from a cave two kilometres away, known now as the Police Caves. The Chinese water race is still visible today.

At the back of Sebastopol, on the left hand side of Byrne Gully, there is a blind gully where Ned and Joe would alter the brands on horses they had stolen, before selling them in New South Wales. A secret meeting place called London Rock is also located in the area.

Near Byrne’s hut a community of Chinese miners settled. Joe formed a close association with the Chinese. He learnt to speak Cantonese and most likely picked up his opium smoking habits from them. It is also believed that the inspiration for his armour may have come from camp fire stories about the leather armour worn by Chinese warriors.

THE GREAT CHARGE OF SEBASTAPOL

On Wednesday 6th of November, 1878 at 4.30 am, 14 police on horses left Beechworth for Sebastopol in the hope of capturing the Kelly Gang. Somewhere along the way the party of police grew to 32, of course they made so much noise no capture took place.