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Benalla, VIC

Rural centre famed for its connection with Ned Kelly and 'Weary' Dunlop.

Benalla is an attractive and prosperous rural city just off the main Melbourne-Sydney Hume Freeway. Known as the 'Rose City' it is noted for its gracious public gardens. It is surrounded by rich farm lands and operates as an important service centre. It is an exceptionally beautiful city which has a wide variety of attractions. There is a moving homage to Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, the widely admired doctor who worked tirelessly for the men imprisoned and working on the Burma railway. There is a fine rural Botanical Gardens and the town's close connection to Ned Kelly is celebrated in both art and history. It is one of the most impressive rural centres in Victoria.

Location

Benalla is an attractive service city on the Broken River 212 km north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway.

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Origin of Name

In 1839 a police station was established on the river and named the Broken River Crossing Place. Around this time a grazier named William McKellar established a run he called 'Benalta'. It is not clear what the word means but it is likely it was the name of the local Aborigines or a word used to refer to the entire district. In 1848 the town was surveyed and named 'Benalla' by the Port Phillip District superintendent, Charles La Trobe. It is claimed that the name of the local Aboriginal tribal group was Bhrenawlla.

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Things to See and Do

Costume and Kelly Museum and Visitor Information
A perfect starting point for an exploration of the city is the Costume and Kelly Museum at 14 Mair St (on the eastern side of Broken River) which is also the city's information centre. The Costume and Kelly Museum specialises in period costumes dating from 1770 to the present day. It also has a miniature house from the 1960s; an important local historical collection; and a display titled 'Benalla's Famous Sons' featuring memorabilia relating to Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, Michael Joseph Savage (the first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand) and Captain Hector Waller. But the museum's highlight is 'The Ned Kelly Saga' which includes the sash Ned wore at the Glenrowan siege; an authentic replica of Joe Byrne's armour; the Witness box from the Benalla Courthouse; the portable lock-up where Ned was held; a copy of the famous Jerilderie letter and a 12-minute video recounting the life of Kelly. There is also the door of the old Benalla gaol to which Joe Byrne's body was tied for photographs after the Glenrowan siege in 1880. Check out Aussie Towns entry on Avenel for details of the sash Kelly was wearing when he was captured at Glenrowan. The Visitor Information Centre also has an excellent brochure, Ned Kelly Touring Route, which directs the visitor to seven key locations in the Kelly Saga, tel: (03) 5762 1749.
The museum and visitor centre is housed within the former mechanics' institute and free library. These Victorian-era institutions are a wonderful comment on the times. They were built to help educate the ordinary working man. The building - a single-storey brick building with gabled roofs and rendered facades - was completed in 1869-70 and added to in 1882.

Ceramic Mural Garden
Nearby, on the foreshore of Lake Benalla, is a ceramic and terracotta mural which includes a frieze wall (created in 1985-86), an upper terrace with views across the lake, an amphitheatre created by visiting and local ceramic artists, turquoise glazed ceramic domes, a thongaphone (sculpted tuned pipes which can be played with a thong), a circular seat and landscaped surrounds. It began as a community project in 1983 and has been called 'the largest community artwork in Australia.' There is an informative brochure available at the Visitor Information Centre which explains that "contributors to the mural have included nationally significant artists, 1,000 regional students and countless volunteers. The mural has integrated the skills of traditional potters, the vision of indigenous people and the passion of guided amateurs, young and old ... the mural continues to evolve."

Lake Benalla
An ideal place for a pleasant stroll or a picnic, this attractive artificial lake was constructed in 1974-75 by damming the Broken River. It lies north of the main bridge. Attractions on its banks include the Costume and Pioneer Museum, the Benalla Art Gallery and it is only a short walk from the Benalla Botanical Gardens which are home to the 'Weary' Dunlop Memorial.

Benalla Art Gallery
Idyllically located on the shore of Lake Benalla is the Benalla Art Gallery. For those interested in the Kelly Gang and its depiction in art the gallery contains Sidney Nolan's tapestry 'Siege at Glenrowan' and Albert Tucker's painting of gang member Joe Byrne. The collection also includes a wide range of Australian artists including Arthur Streeton, Fred Williams, Eugene von Guerard, Sidney Nolan, Frederick McCubbin, John Peter Russell, Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington-Smith, Charles Blackman, Albert Tucker, John Brack, Brett Whiteley, Juan Davila and Howard Arkley. It is open from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm daily. Admission is free, tel: (03) 5760 2619.

Benalla Lake Walk
The Visitor Information Centre has a Benalla Lake Walk brochure which describes a very pleasant (and flat) 4.2 km walk around Lake Benalla which includes the Art Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, the Weary Dunlop Memorial, the Ceramic Mural, the traversing of both Little Casey Island and Jaycee Island, the analematic sundial, and indigenous community garden, the historic rail bridge and the Tally Ho Tailor and Faithfull Massacre site. Along the way it is possible to see a wide variety of native animals - birdlife as well as the rakali (native water rat) and, possibly, a platypus.

Benalla Botanical Gardens and Rose Gardens
The Benalla Botanical Gardens were created in 1887 out of what was then a cricket field and consequently is a rarity: a Botanical Gardens built around a large recreational oval. The highlights of the gardens include a sculpture of Edward 'Weary' Dunlop which was unveiled in 1996; a band rotunda which dates from 1911; and the soldier's memorial from 1922. The extensive, and justifiably famous, Rose Gardens which stretch along the southern edge of the garden were established in 1959. In season there is an impressive display of modern hybrid tea and floribunda roses. A brochure at the Visitor Information Centre includes a detailed map of the major garden beds as well as the location of the Crow's Ash, Ulmus Viminalis and Yellow Gum which are all listed in the National Trust's Register of Significant Trees.

Weary Dunlop Memorial
Located within the Botanical Gardens and clearly visible from Bridge Street is the Weary Dunlop Memorial, a powerful statue depicting two Australian doctors (Dunlop being the standing one) helping a wounded and emaciated comrade. Cast in bronze and over 2 metres high it stands on a granite plinth with the words "compassion, integrity, forgiveness, humility, courage, leadership, friendship" engraved on the granite base. It was created by sculptor Louis Lauman to dramatically depict Dunlop's work helping wounded and dying POWs. The sculpture was unveiled in 1996. Dunlop was both the commanding officer and surgeon for over 1,000 POWs on the Thai-Burma railway. You can read more about him singular life at http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/dunlop/bio/. The statue at Benalla is much better than the one depicted at the Australian War Memorial. There is also an excellent Visitor Guide available at the Visitor Information Centre.

Historic Buildings - East Side
* Commercial Hotel, 4 Bridge Street - Benalla boomed during the time of the Ovens goldrush. This hotel was built in 1860 to provide accommodation, food and drink for prospectors en route to the goldfields and in 1878, after the Kelly gang has shot three policeman at Stringybark, it became the unofficial headquarters for the police during their hunt for the Kelly gang.

* The Nunn Street Buildings - At 75-79 Nunn Street is the National Bank (1891) a classic substantial rural bank. It is a two-storey Italianate building with stuccoed facade and single-storey wings and a cast iron veranda. The lower level was for bank business and the gracious upper level was the bank manager's residence.

Opposite in Nunn Street is the Municipal Chambers and Shire Hall, a handsome and solid two-storey Italianate building built in 1882-83 and now known as the Benalla Town Hall.

* In Benalla Street is Moira House, a large two-storey Classical brick house built in 1878 by businessman and politician, George Sharpe. He was the town's first Shire President. Characterised by an impressive five-bay rendered facade with superb lace ironwork, it is now used as the Benalla Mens' Club and Moira Bowls Club. It is classified by the National Trust.

Historic Buildings - West Side
* Old Courthouse, 69 Arundel St. It was built in 1864 and architecturally is notable for the elaborate two-storey facade, with its unusual pyramid towers. It achieved a certain notoriety because Ned Kelly was tried here twice for minor offences. The cell in which Kelly was held is still in its original state. It was considerably altered in 1888 and is now the Parish Centre for the Holy Trinity Anglican church. The nave of the church was built in 1860. It was consecrated in 1865 and the chancel and sanctuary were added in 1884. The vestry and organ chamber were added in 1905 and the red-brick belfry and porch in 1907.

* Old Bootmaker's Shop, 64a Arundel St, is a small timber shop built some time before 1877. We know this because it was the site of an escape attempt by Ned Kelly who burst into the shop while en route from the police station to the courthouse. The story is that he was recaptured in the shop after a violent struggle with Sergeant Whelan and Constables Lonigan, O'Dea and Fitzpatrick which ensued after Constable Lonigan tried to handcuff Kelly. These policeman became important figures in Kelly's life. Fitzpatrick's visit to the Kelly home led to the formation of the Kelly Gang and Kelly killed Lonigan at Stringybark Creek in 1878. There is a plaque outside with details of the infamous fracas.

For more information on many of these buildings check out http://www.onmydoorstep.com.au/at/3672/benalla which provides detail on the history of many of the buildings.

Benalla Cemetery
There is a brochure available at the Visitor Centre which list 26 graves of interest. Of particular note are the graves of the Kelly gang member, Joe Byrne; the grave of Corporal Sambo (a rather racist name), an Aborigine who was brought from Queensland to track down Ned Kelly; and the grave of Dr Arthur Barrington, who pioneered attempts to create a universal language as the President of the Esperanto Club. It is located just west of town just off Baddaginnie Road. It is on Cemetery Road. There are also graves of Ned Kelly's aunt, Jane Lloyd; his grandmother, Mary Anne Quinn, and a hostage killed at Glenrowan, Martin Cherry. There is a detailed brochure with the location of the graves available at the Visitor Information Centre.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Reef Hills State Park
Located 4 km south-west of Benalla on the western side of the Midland Highway, Reef Hills State Park is a 2,020ha forest with a range of flora and fauna amidst eucalypt forest. It is a great spot for a picnic, scenic drive, bushwalk, bike ride or horse ride. The flora includes wildflowers blooming in spring, wattles flowering in winter and large yellow Guinea-flowers on display most of the year. Gold was discovered here in 1860 and worked into the early 20th century though returns were not substantial. There are open picnic areas. There is a useful, downloadable brochure. Check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/315792/Park-note-Reef-Hills-State-Park.pdf

Winton Wetlands
In 2010 the state government decommissioned Lake Mokoan (a large expanse of water to the north-west of town) and renamed it Winton Wetlands Reserve. It is an 8,750ha reserve of ephemeral swamps, grasslands and woodlands which is designed to support richly diverse plant, bird, fish and invertebrate communities. It is currently being redeveloped (it was once used for fishing and boating activities) with an emphasis on cycle paths, boardwalks and walkways which will meander through the wetlands. It proudly claims to be the largest wetland restoration project in the southern hemisphere. Check out http://www.wintonwetlands.org.au/

Ned Kelly at Stringybark Creek
Located 25 km south-east of Benalla is the village of Tatong. Beyond it on the Tatong -Tolmie Road passes through rolling hills until it reaches Stringybark Creek Road where today there is a Kelly Tree picnic area. The Kelly Gang and Police Shoot Out site (there is a good map on the Ned Kelly Touring Route brochure available from the Visitor Information Centre) has a bronze plaque commemorating the event that lead to the death of three policemen and turned the Kelly Gang into wanted outlaws. It was at Stringybark Creek on 25 October, 1878 that Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan, McIntyre and Scanlon set up camp while searching for Ned and Dan Kelly. On 26 October Kennedy and Scanlon went out on patrol and Lonigan and McIntyre were taken by surprise by the Kelly brothers. Lonigan was shot dead by Ned while McIntyre surrendered. When Kennedy and Scanlon returned they engaged in a shoot-out and Ned killed Scanlon and mortally wounded Kennedy. Ned later shot Kennedy through the heart. He claimed it as an act of mercy. McIntyre escaped to report the killings. The Kellys were no longer just horse thieves. The gang were declared outlaws which meant they could be shot on sight. The tree, which marked the site of Lonigan's death has long gone but the killings of Lonigan and Scanlon did occur in the immediate vicinity. There is detailed signage at the site.

Mount Samaria State Park
Located 28 km south of Benalla the Mount Samaria State Park (7,600 ha) is a shady eucalypt forest which is ideal for walking, camping and picnicking. It was used by the Yorta Yorta people prior to the grazing and logging from the 1840s through to the late 1920s. Parks Victoria describe the park as "Beneath the majestic Blue Gums and Mountain Grey Gum, the moist environment supports a dense understorey of wattles, dogwood and bracken. The drier forests of stringybarks, boxes and peppermints expose an open understorey of hardy shrubs and tussock grasses. An array of wildflowers include peas, trigger plants, everlasting daisies, milkmaids and orchids.

Mount Samaria hosts a variety of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas, possums and gliders, and the granite rocks provide warm homes for a variety of lizards and snakes. The park is also a haven for many birds including Lyrebirds, rosellas and the gracious Wedge-tailed Eagle."

There are a number of excellent bushwalks in the park including
(1) a 3km return walk to Wild Dog Falls and Lookout
(2) a 3 km return walk to Back Creek Falls
(3) a couple of walking tracks to the summit of Mt Samaria (953 m)
(4) a 7.6km return walk down and old timber tramway to the remains of the Braking Station and
(5) a 14km return track via Link Back Creek and Wild Dog Creek Falls through stands of messmate stringybarks and gums.

There is a downloadable map with details of the park's five walks available at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/315611/Park-note-Mount-Samaria-State-Park.pdf

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area was occupied by the Yorta Yorta Aborigines.

* In 1824 Hamilton Hume and William Hovell passed south-east of the present townsite and noted that the district had rich, fertile pasture land. They named the Broken River, 'Swampy'.

* In 1836 the explorer Thomas Mitchell and party camped on the eastern riverbank where the Visitor Information Centre is now located. James Taylor was drowned in the Broken River while searching for a suitable crossing place.

* In 1838 Grantville Stapylton renamed the river 'Broken'. In April that year eighteen men, working for George and William Faithfull, were attacked by a large number of Yorta Yorta people. At least one Aborigine and between eight and thirteen men died in what became known as the Faithfull Massacre. Savage reprisals resulted in the deaths of up to 100 Aborigines. The reason for the attack is unclear but it is likely the men had camped on a hunting ground.

* In 1839 a border police post was established where the Visitor Information now stands. It was known, rather unimaginatively, as the Broken River Crossing Place and a survey of the surrounding land was carried out later that year.

* By 1840 squatters were in the area. 'Goomalibee' station was established near the river crossing and another squatter, Charles Ryan, opened the Black Swan Inn near what is now the intersection of Arundel and Kent Streets. The town grew quickly with a post office being opened in 1844; a slab courthouse, a cottage for the Commissioner of Lands and the first bridge across the river all being built in 1847; and another survey and the naming of the settlement, 'Benalla' by superintendent Charles La Trobe, all occurring in 1848.

* The settlement grew along Arundel Street so that by the end of 1850 the town had a blacksmith's shop, a general store and a boarding house; the Benalla Hotel was built at the corner of Bridge and Nunn Streets; and the Benalla National School and a new two-storey Black Swan Inn were open.

* In 1854 the first Methodist service was conducted and the following year resident Anglican clergyman was appointed to the district. A telegraph station was built in 1857 and the following year a Catholic school and chapel, a brewery, a flour mill and a new wooden courthouse all contributed to the growth of the town.

* In the 1860s there was some local, and largely unsuccessful, goldmining but the town continued to grow. The first Anglican Church was built in 1860 and the first Presbyterian in 1861. The town was officially proclaimed in 1861 and the first bank opened in 1866.

* In 1869, Ned Kelly, who was only 14 at the time, was charged in the local courthouse for assaulting and robbing Ah Fook. He was acquitted.

* The railway reached the town in 1873 and a recreation reserve (now the Botanical Gardens) was gazetted that year.

* Ned Kelly was back in the Benalla courthouse in 1877. He was charged with being drunk and disorderly and riding a horse on the footpath but, resisting arrest, he was also charged with assaulting a policeman in the course of his duty, resisting the police and damaging a constable's uniform.

* In 1872 New Zealand's first Labour prime minister, Michael J. Savage, was born at Tatong.

* In 1878 the Commercial Hotel became the police headquarters for the 'Kelly hunt' and, in 1880, Kelly was held at Benalla police station after he was captured at the siege at Glenrowan.

* The rail link was finally connected to Sydney in 1883 (albeit with a change at Albury) and Benalla became an important railway town.

* Edward 'Weary' Dunlop was born at Benalla in 1907 and attended Benalla High School. From March 1942 he was a POW under Japanese command in Singapore and, from January 1943, in Thailand where he worked on the infamous Burma-Thailand railway. As a surgeon and the commander of the POW's he became a legend for his modesty and his remarkable skill in building makeshift hospitals and operating with hand-made instruments. Named Australian of the Year in 1977 he died in 1993.

* In 1910 the old bridge was replaced by a reinforced concrete bridge (it still stands today) which was probably designed by Sir John Monash and is recognised as one of the first of its kind in Australia. It was heritage listed in 1998.

* In 1965 Benalla was proclaimed a city.

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Visitor Information

Benalla Visitor Information Centre, 14 Mair Street, Benalla, tel: (03) 5762 1749.

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Useful Websites

There are a number of useful websites including http://www.benalla.vic.gov.au/ (which has a downloadable brochure on the Costume & Pioneer Museum); and http://www.onmydoorstep.com.au/at/3672/benalla has lots of interesting statistical information about the town.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

10 suggestions
  • We also have an old dairy farm in Benalla at Griffiths Lane.

    Lara
  • I cannot find history of the North Eastern Hotel.

    Is it interesting and worth visiting if you are in Benalla? And what are the unusual features?

    Lorraine Crawford Benalla Victoria
  • Hi,
    I was looking for train information going back to the late mid to late 1950s and was shocked to see that the wonderful old station was pulled down. Why do we destroy our heritage like we do? That should have been listed under our heritage laws to stop its destruction. I was only 8 and remembered it very well when I saw the pictures. I was wondering if any one would have a plan of the station so I can build a model of it as it was back in it’s heyday.
    Hope someone can help.
    Regards,
    Max Lennie.
    Fergus is the dog
    P.S. If you can help, Max can be contacted at Maxandfergus@gmail.com

    Maxwell R Lennie
  • My Great Great grandfather Mr James Hyland was one of the first settlers in Benalla. He died on January 31st 1882. He was 57 years old. His wife Annie Hyland died on the 9th of August 1912 at age 79. They are both buried in the Benalla cemetery.

    Mr Kevin R V Hyland( chaplain )
    • Your great great grandfather would have been around in the Ned Kelly era?

      Depends how old you are? My grandfather was born in 1880 and so my great-grandfather would have been around in the Kelly era?

      Justin
    • I too am related to James Hyland (aka Anthony Catt) my research found that one of James’s brothers Walter or William (unfortunately I cannot remember which one at this point in time without referring back to my research) was arrested with Joe Byrne for stealing horses.

      Mr Michael Hyland
  • What was Ned Kelly done for?

    Clarky'z
    • Kelly was presented on the charge of the murder of Sergeant Kennedy, Constable Scanlan and Lonigan, the various bank robberies, the murder of Sherritt, resisting arrest at Glenrowan and with a long list of minor charges.[137] He was convicted of the willful murder of Constable Lonigan and was sentenced to death by hanging by Justice Barry.

      Bruce Elder
  • The costume museum is called Custume and Kelly museum. Thank you for your very good description of Benalla.

    Maree
  • Benalla is fast becoming known as the street art capital of regional Australia with more than 50 major contemporary murals on the CBD Benalla Street Art trail, and beyond including local villages such as Goorambat and Winton Wetlands. The annual Wall to Wall Street Art Festival has been held since 2015, curated by Juddy Roller Studios, usually the week before Easter. Over one long-weekend dozens of world class artists create one giant outdoor gallery in the town. The Wall to Wall Festival also includes workshops, artist talks, live music, markets, street art tours and more. http://www.benallastreetart.com.au from Wikipedia, otherwise you have a great site.

    Jo Oakes