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Jerilderie, NSW

Town associated with Ned Kelly and his famous Jerilderie Letter.

Jerilderie, which is located on the Newell Highway in the heart of the Riverina, is famous for its connections with Ned Kelly. It is reputedly the only town in New South Wales where Ned Kelly and his gang robbed the local bank and Ned's famous defence of his lifestyle and explanation for why he became a bushranger is known as the Jerilderie Letter because it was during the robbery that he handed it over hoping that it would be published.

Location

Jerilderie is located 623 km south-west of Sydney via the Hume and Sturt Highways; 327 km north of Melbourne and 109 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

It is widely accepted that Jerilderie is a corruption of the Jeithi Aboriginal word 'Djirrildhuray' which is thought to mean 'with reeds' or 'reedy place' and probably referred to the banks of Billabong Creek.

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Things to See and Do

Jerilderie and Ned Kelly
Jerilderie's primary historical claim is that it was the subject of Ned Kelly's most daring and "profitable" robbery and that many of the buildings involved in his three day rampage through the town are still standing. It is therefore a unique opportunity to recreate (in your own head) the events that took place between Saturday 8 February, 1879 and Monday 10 February, 1879.

The raid on the town was at the height of Kelly's brief period of prominence. By the time the gang - comprising Ned and Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne - arrived in Jerilderie they had £1,000 on their heads. They had killed three policemen and successfully robbed a bank.

The gang arrived in town on the afternoon of 8 February, 1879 and went to the Woolshed Inn where two of them had an evening meal. The events unfolded at a leisurely pace. During the evening the gang went to the local police station. Ned yelled out that there had been a murder at the Woolshed Inn. The two officers on duty, Sergeant Devine and Constable Richards, rushed out and were grabbed by the gang and locked up in their own cells. Amusingly Dan Kelly then assisted Mrs Devine to prepare the Court House for Sunday mass.

Sunday was uneventful. The town was unaware of the unfolding events. Two members of the gang dressed up as policemen and wandered around the town unnoticed.

The robbery took place on the Monday. Around 10.00 am Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne rode to the local blacksmiths and had their horses reshod. The gang then rode (two were still dressed in police uniforms) to the Royal Hotel. At one end of the building the Bank of New South Wales had its premises. There were about 30 people in the building and they were all herded at gunpoint into the hotel.

Kelly and Byrne entered the bank. While Joe Byrne bailed up the clerk and the teller, Kelly robbed the bank. It was a remarkably profitable exercise for a small country bank. He managed to get £690 which, with the assistance of the local schoolteacher who had been taken prisoner, he shovelled into a bag. Then he found the bank manager and obtained a key to a "treasure drawer" which contained a further £1,450. He also found the bank's books which he burnt and the deeds to the town's allotments which he threatened to return to the owners.

It was while holding up the bank that Kelly passed the famous "Jerilderie Letter" to the teller, Mr Living. It is a wonderful account of his life which is a mixture of humour, outrage and fiery polemic and which explains his actions and recounts his deep hatred for the Victorian police. Kelly argued that his family had always been treated badly by the police and offered this as an explanation of why he had taken to a life of crime. He insists that his only crimes had been horse stealing. It can be read in its entirety at http://www.nma.gov.au/interactives/jerilderie/home.html.

While the robbery was in progress Samuel Gill, who owned and operated the local printery and newspaper office, managed to escape and, according to rumour, after drinking a large quantity of whisky to calm his nerves, headed off to raise the alarm. A merchant, James Denny Rankin, tried to escape but was caught by Kelly who raised his revolver and was about to shoot him when the captives in the pub begged him not to fire. At the same time Steve Hart rode to the post and telegraph office where he tried to cut the wires preventing the robbery being reported outside the town.

Kelly and Hart then moved on to the Albion Inn where Hart stole a horse and a watch which Kelly forced him to return. Having successfully robbed the town of  £2,140 they headed south into the bush. The postmaster repaired the lines and telegraphed the news. The result was that the reward for the capture of the two Kellys, Byrne and Hart was raised to £2000 per individual. £8,000 for all four. Public criticism of the police and townspeople caused Sergeant Devine to quit the force. He was so humiliated that he moved to Western Australia.

The Jerilderie Letter
You can read the letter in full and see the original letter (the original letter is one side of the page and the other side has the transcript) at http://www.nma.gov.au/interactives/jerilderie/home.html. There is also an audio connection where the whole of the letter is read. In essence the letter starts by recounting all the times Ned has been in trouble with the law. He points out that in every case he was falsely accused and in some instances simply framed for crimes he did not commit. He savagely and relentlessly attacks the police claiming they frame people, they arrest innocents and they are clearly obsessed with the Kelly family. It is wonderfully sustained and, in its hatred of the police, it rises in levels of anger as he recalls the affront to his family prior to the killing of three policemen - Constable Lonigan, Sergeant Kennedy and Constable Scanlon - at Stringybark Creek. It sees Kelly's history of crime as a direct result of constant harassment by the Victorian police and in one of the most famous lines he writes: "And are all my brothers and sisters, and my mother, not to be pitied also, who have no alternative but to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed, big bellied, magpie legged, narrow hipped, splay-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords, known as 'officers of justice' or 'Victorian Police'?" It is a unique document which was transcribed by Joe Byrne and which is so vigorous and immediate it is easy to hear the voice of Kelly in every line.

Powell Street - and Ned Kelly
For years Powell Street was the centre of all knowledge in the town concerning Ned Kelly's infamous bank robbery in February, 1879. It was one block away from the Bank of New South Wales and it contained the Post and Telegraph Office that Ned and the gang held up. It also had a museum with lots of Ned memorabilia including the door of the local lock-up where Ned incarcerated the local sergeant and constable; and the blacksmith's building where some members of the gang got their horses reshod.

The immediate area was so rich in Kelly memorabilia that one time when I visited a local volunteer was capable (after all it was only about 120 years ago) of taking me around and saying "See that door over there. That was where they entered ... and that building was where they tried to cut the telegraph lines". It was a rare experience. A piece of Australian history still vividly remembered with most of the buildings intact.

Willows Homestead
The most attractive building on Powell Street is the elegant Willows Homestead. It was used as the Jerilderie Museum for a number of years. It was built by George Wise in 1884 and began milling wheat in March, 1885. For many years it was the town's museum with lots of Kelly memorabilia. It is currently closed.

Travellers Rest/Albion Hotel
The Traveller's Rest/Albion Inn is now a private home. It is located next door to The Willows and a board outside explains the inn's history. Between the two buildings is a path to a footbridge across Billabong Creek which, in the 1960s, replaced the toll bridge set up by John Carracticus Powell.

Post and Telegraph Office
It seems almost too small to be a post and telegraph office. Here in 1879 Steve Hart attempted to sever the telegraph line. James Rankin, a local who observed the events, has left a description of the hold-up of the office: "I am still in the land of the living, having passed through the ordeal unscathed. I can tell you a person does feel queer when he has a revolver within three or four inches of his head. As you asked me to give an account of my doings (which weren't very brilliant) when bailed up by the Kellys, I will now try to give you a pretty fair one.

"On Monday afternoon ... Jefferson [the postmaster] ... said the Kellys had stuck up the Bank, which we wouldn't believe. We were standing in front of the office when a man came charging across the street and pulled his horse up at the fence. He ... put his hand in his pocket, pulled out his revolver, and told us to bail up, and come inside (which we immediately did). He then commenced jawing to Jefferson about stopping the line from working, and cut the wires in two places. Had a drink, first asking was it good. We then went outside and met Ned Kelly, who immediately started to cut down poles; but finding it hard work, he gave the contract to Charley Naw. We then proceeded to the Royal where we saw a whole crowd of people vainly trying to look as if they relished the joke."

In fact Kelly and his gang forced a large number of local residents - the postmaster Mr Jefferson, his apprentice James Rankin, the local bootmaker John Roe, the local publican Martin Murphy and Thomas Brown and Charlie Naw - to chop down eight telegraph poles. For a more detailed account check out http://www.nedkellytouringroute.com.au/highlights/jerilderie/jerilderie-post-and-telegraph-office-museum-at-the-willows.

When the Kellys departed from the town the postmaster repaired the telegraph lines and wired the news through to Melbourne. The robbery had been so successful that the reward for each member of the gang, which had been £1,000, was increased to £2,000.

The Ned Kelly Blacksmith Shop
This is an excellent opportunity to recapture some of the drama of the Monday when the Kelly gang carried out their daring bank robbery. During that day Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne had their horses reshod by the local farrier, Andrew Nixon. With a finely honed sense of humour and irony they charged the bill to the New South Wales Police Department. See http://www.nedkellytouringroute.com.au/highlights/jerilderie/the-ned-kelly-blacksmiths-shop for more details.

Jerilderie Lake, Luke Park. Steel Wings and the Lake Walk
At the end of Powell Street is Jerilderie Lake and Luke Park. The artificial lake covers 5.3 hectares and is popular for water sports. The Lake Walk is a pleasant twenty minute walk which includes a Bush Tucker Walk. Not surprisingly it passes through extensive stands of native trees and bushes. Located in the park is the windmill known as Steel Wings. It is one of largest in the southern hemisphere and one of only two still in operation. It was built in Sydney in 1909-10 and used for irrigation on Goolgumbla station. The windmill has a diameter of 7.6 metres and is 15.2 metres high. The foreshores are perfect for a picnic.

The Printing Office of the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette
Located at 39-41 Jerilderie Street, the Printing Office was where Samuel Gill published the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette and printed local posters. It was restored in 2012. The building is of unique importance. It was here that Ned Kelly came trying to find Samuel Gill (who had fled the town to raise the alarm) hoping that Gill could print and publish the Jerilderie Letter. Today the building contains "The Bolt Exhibition" which includes "storyboards and banners detailing the life of bushrangers and convicts, pistols and guns, a flag flown at the Eureka Rebellion, a cat'o'nine tails and whipping post, shackles and locks." It can be inspected by contacting (03) 5886 1200.

Home of Sir John Monash
Located at 30 Jerilderie Street is a mid-19th century brick and timber house which was the home of Sir John Monash between 1874 and 1877. His genius was recognised by his Jerilderie school teacher who advised Monash's mother that he should be educated in Melbourne. Monash returned to Melbourne and attended Scotch College where he was dux. There is an excellent note on the Murrumbidgee Council website. Check it out at http://www.murrumbidgee.nsw.gov.au/tourism/jerilderie/our-history/sir-john-monash.aspx.

Jerilderie Cemetery
There is an interesting website where the personal histories of all the people who were associated with the Kelly robbery, who were subsequently buried in the Jerilderie cemetery, are described in great detail. Check out http://www.jerilderie.nsw.gov.au/f.ashx/CouncilPublications/22385-jerilderiecemeteryguide.pdf if you are interested. It can be downloaded and printed out. It is a fascinating guide to the local cemetery.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Ned Kelly Touring Route
Visitors who wish to explore the short history of Ned Kelly should consult the excellent Ned Kelly Touring Route, a website which tells the Ned Kelly story and directs the Ned Kelly enthusiast to all the important locations. It has a detailed account of the major locations at Jerilderie. Check out http://www.nedkellytouringroute.com.au.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans it is believed that the area was inhabited by the Jeithi Aborigines who were a sub-group of the very large Wiradjuri language group.

* Squatters, many from Tumut, arrived in the area during the 1840s. They established cattle stations along Billabong Creek.

* By 1848 the properties were licensed. Mary's Creek run, which became the site for the town, was taken up by the Kennedy family.

* In 1858 an itinerant drapery dealer, John Caracticus Powell, set up a house and store in 1858 by the creek.

* In 1859 William Davidson chose a location 3.2 km from the town where he constructed a brick kiln and built his own home.

* In 1860 the famous river-steamer captain, Francis Cadell, built a store on a site opposite the current police station.

* In 1861 John Caractacus Powell built a bridge over Billabong Creek. He also opened the Travellers' Rest Inn which later became the Albion Inn.

* The Jerilderie Post Office was opened in 1862.

* The village was gazetted in 1865.

* A public school opened in 1868 and a courthouse in 1869.

* The population of the town was officially 170 by 1871.

* Around 1873 the first wheat was harvested.

* In 1874 John Monash's father arrived in the town and became the owner of the General Store. His son, who left the town a few years later to attend school in Melbourne, became one of the country's most famous military leaders. Sir John Monash had been born in Melbourne in 1865. He remained in the town for less than four years.

* In 1875 the Bank of New South Wales opened in the town.

* In February, 1879 Ned Kelly and his gang successfully robbed the local Bank of New South Wales of over £2,000.

* The merino studs, for which the district is famous, were developed in the 1880s.

* In 1882 the first church in town, the Roman Catholic Church, was opened.

* In 1884 the railway arrived at the town.

* The municipality was declared in 1889.

* The population was 989 in 1911.

* In 1979 Lake Jerilderie was opened.

* In 1987 the railway line to the town closed.

* In 2012 the Old Printery was restored and opened.

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Visitor Information

Jerilderie Shire Council, 35 Jerilderie Street, tel: (03) 5886 1200.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website - http://www.jerilderie.nsw.gov.au - which includes a link to the information about Ned Kelly and Jerilderie. There is a visitor guide to the town which can be downloaded at http://www.jerilderie.nsw.gov.au/f.ashx/CouncilPublications/Jerilderie-OVG-2013-2.pdf.

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Got something to add?

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

2 suggestions
  • ALL about Ned Kelly and NOTHING on John Monash!!! – the greatest Australian who spent his primary years there.
    I believe his house is still there. I am planning a visit but your web site did NOT help me re Monash family years in Jerilderie.

    I promise to sort this out. A major omission.

    Jalal Ale
  • Sir John Monash basically won World War 1 for the Allies. Had it not been for him, we would be speaking German, and paying war reparations to the German Government. Not to mention that he saved the lives of thousands of Australian soldiers who would have otherwise been butchered at the hands of incompetent English generals. And nothing on this site indicates that his home town is willing to acknowledge him!. Very disappointing, and follows the anti-Semitic lead of Keith Murdoch and Charles Bean.

    Perhaps he should have learned to kick a footy or wield a cricket bat in order to be famous. It seems that the one thing that Australians are really good at is playing “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, particularly with our most brilliant people.

    Eric