After Omeo and on the way to the Victorian Alps, we did a bit of a detour to the little country town of Corryong. We have a quiet camp right next to the town golf course where nobody is playing golf but it does seem to be the towns dog park. We are following Banjo Patterson around a bit on this trip. This little town hosts the Man from Snowy River Bush festival every year. It is a festival that showcases the best of bush heritage and horsemanship, working dogs, craft, art, poetry, music etc. The festival is not until April so unfortunately we wont be here to see it. We have come to see the folk museum here which is supposed to be quite good. The museum is housed in the old shire hall.
The Snowy River is nowhere near here and Corryong isn’t even on a River. It is the man who Banjo Patterson supposedly met and talked to and who he wrote his “Man from Snowy River poem” about, that died in this town, that has made it famous.
That man was Jack Riley. Born in Ireland in 1841 and buried in Corryong in 1914. Jack came to Australia as a 13yr old orphan. He was an assisted migrant and worked as a tailor in Omeo while living with his Widowed sister. But tailoring was not his thing. He was drawn to the life of a stockman and he had a passion for horses and the bush. This saw Jack grow into a well respected mountain horseman. Jack worked for various people over the years around the snowy River region. In the end Jack became overseer at Tom Grogin, a mountain run that John Pierce held on the Murray River. He should have been the “Man from Murray River” but maybe that doesn’t sound so good. Anyway, he loved the life of a hermit in a cabin in the bush and away from people but was happy to guide people in the high mountains on horseback when required as well as his work as a stockman.
It was in early 1890 that Jack guided Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson on a ride up through the high country to Kosciuszko and it was at this time that Banjo stayed at his mountain cabin and heard his stories of the bush. One in particular stuck in his mind. It was not long after this that his famous poem was first published in the Sydney Bulletin which told the story of the colt of a prized stallion, that had escaped and was running with wild horses. His poem went on to tell how it was caught by “the man from Snowy river ” when all the others on the chase gave up. He did not name the man and when asked said it was a story about “all the men of the mountains”. It is said that Jack believed himself to be the man in the poem. Many others in the area that knew him also believed this. There are 3 other people that it is said could be the inspiration for this poem. The general story told in the poem according to Jack was correct but he said that Banjo had added some parts that did not quite match the reality regarding other people who were there on the day.
The popularity of this poem both at the time it came out right up until today probably rests on the fact that his poem came out in 1890’s at a time when Australia was trying to develop it’s own distinct identity as a nation. At that time it was still a group of independent colonies ruled by Britain and had not yet become an nation. Australians from all walks of life looked to the bush for their mythology and heroic characters. Australians saw in “The man from Snowy River” a hero who’s bravery, adaptability and risk taking could epitomise a new nation. The Commonweath of Australia was born in 1901. Perhaps Australia still has a soft spot for the bush and it’s people?
Jack became quite sick (with what sounded like a cardiac condition to me) at the end of his life and he was brought in from Tom Groggin to Corryong to the hospital. Once he was feeling well enough he got himself dressed and a nurse found him getting on his horse. She asked him what he was doing as he wasn’t well enough to travel. He thanked her for her excellent care but said that town life was too busy for him and he wanted to return to his cabin. Corryong in 1914 was a sleepy little backwater but even this was too much for the “Hermit of Tom Groggin” which Jack was known as. Jack made it back to his cabin on what is even today, a challenging ride. In 1914 word reached town that the old stockman was in very poor health and a group of cattlemen set out (in mid winter) to bring him back to Corryong. They carried him part of the way on a bush stretcher and when he rallied they even got him on his horse with a man behind him holding him strapped on. It was to be his last ride. They stopped at Carter’s Hut in route when they needed somewhere to stop for the night and Jack drew his final breath in front of the fire.
An old 1950’s ad for Bex powders on the wall of an old hut at the museum and Steve’s cousin Priscilla Kincaid-Smith who discovered the link between these and kidney damage that we found on the wall of another museum earlier on this trip!
I don’t normally take photos of food but the salad above was one of the best on the trip in the Blackbird Cafe in Corryong and it was almost too beautiful to eat. Steve went for the slightly less healthy option. There was some salad on his pulled pork burger!
JIM SIMPSON’S WAR RUG
One of the most interesting things in the museum was the story of the war rug. Joe was taught to knit by his Mother and by 14 he was a proficient knitter. During WWII in Oct 1943, Corryong resident Jim Simpson had to parachute out of a plane with the RAAF and on his capture by the Germans was taken to a prisoner of war camp. He was wearing a new white wool jumper and his fellow prisoners said that it would be confiscated and sent to the Russian front where the troops were freezing. He quickly went into the toilet and unravelled it and rolled it into balls of wool. Over the next 18 months he gradually acquired more woollen items, then boiled these to kill the lice and wound these into more balls of wool. He then made knitting needles out of pot handles grinding these down to a point on concrete. Then over a 6 week period he knitted in one piece, a rug with a map of Australia from memory of his school geography lessons in Corryong school! This was complete with the coat of arms for each state. The white from his jumper was the map and all the surrounds were from many other peoples old socks etc. The bright red was from a Canadian prisoners red hockey socks that were donated to the cause. He also held knitting classes and showed the men how to knit themselves socks when they needed them.
Jim Simpsons rug
Jim was happy to fight for his country but in the camp he became a pacifist and began to believe that wars were created by governments for profit. He never married and was supposedly quite a character around town while he was alive.
This dog guards the now closed Gudewa Hotel. This town died when the train no longer went through town.
The bridge to nowhere. Part of the Alpine rail trail that follows the old rail line.