Although I couldn’t find anything indicating any member of the Ned Kelly Gang spent time at the gaol there is a lot of information about the gang at Wentworth. Knowing the Kelly Gang weren’t inmates didn’t stop me from reading everything the goal had on them.
The information is not all about bushrangers and the gaol. There was an area dedicated to telling the life story of “Possum”. He wasn’t an inmate of the gaol but a shearer looking for work in hard times. When he arrived in the area he wasn’t a member of a union so he was refused employment everywhere he asked. To add to his hardship he was not offered any rations (farmers would offer food to the people looking for work to help them on their way.) With no money to buy any Possum who was known as David James Jones decided to reject society and went bush. He fished the river and ate off the land, finding shelter when he needed it. The local dump was a source of treasures for Possum yielding most items he would need. From needle and thread to old buttons and razors.
Farmers would hear an ax early in the morning or find the woodpile had grown. Broken fences were repaired or farmers would find their sheep had been crutched. Sometimes gardens were weeded (and often newspapers would go missing only to be found a few days later where they should have been.) Payment for the work was made by leaving items at the gate post. Things like salt and matches. Sometimes other items were left for Possum but they were often found left behind.
Later in life author Max Jones interviewed Possum. It is said Max was one of the few people who met the enigmatic man and immortalized him in a book telling the story of Possum’s life.
The story told how David as a young lad of 23 arrived in Australia from New Zealand (and still has family there.) How Possum gave his address as “Under the canopy of heaven most of the time.” The Australian name for David came from people spotting him sleeping up trees.
What became of Possum? Some of the coldest frosts hit the area in July of 1982. Possum lit a fire to keep him warm through the cold night. He never saw the warmth of the sun again. David James Jones was 81. Did the legend of Possum end there? No, it only grew. Now stories were told how Possum could swim as good if not better than a fish. How he ate young foxes and wild cats, stole honey from the bees themselves and gorged on the native treats.
The local people paid to lay Possum to rest and a statue was erected at Fotherby Park in the Town.
The story of Possum made me smile. I read a movie was to be made about the “Man, Myth, and Legend, the old Man of the River, Possum” based on Max Jones’ book but I don’t know if it ever happened.
If you are interested in old gaols there are 700 images at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney. Why so many? In 1914 a request was sent out to every police station in NSW. It asked for a photo of every police owned building to be sent to Sydney. People throughout the state obliged and over several years the 700 photos were sent. Most of the photos were taken by local people. Some of them are out of focus, others over or underexposed, but it doesn’t matter as the images don’t only capture the buildings but gave a snapshot of the locals as well. Often family members or important people of the area were photographed in front of the buildings reflecting on the people of the time.
After we spent most of the day at the gaol we took a walk down to the wharf and had a look around the town.
Then it was on to the Perry Sandhills. The Dunes were named after George Perry who was the first land commissioner (1850) in the area. (Generally if you are the first, then you get to name things.) During the second world war, the area was used as a bombing range. Now they are world famous as The Perry Sandhills have been used as a backdrop for many films and TV shows as well as being seen in commercials and music videos.
The dunes were once the original river bed, with some of the layers seeing the ice age come and go. Wow, that makes some of the dunes about 100,000 years old. The dunes were whipped into their form by time and wind and cover an area of 333 hectares (822 acres) and they are still moving. A Redgum thought to be over 500 years old and now called “The God Tree” has been almost buried by the moving sand leaving enough room for people to touch the canopy. (Redgums can stand over 6 meters (20 ft))
The remains of giant megafauna who are the ancestors of our kangaroos, emus and wombats along with some smaller present day animal bones been found. Megafauna in Australia were a lot smaller than the rest of the world. Where everywhere else an animal in the megafauna classification would have been over 100kg (220 bl) or 130% body mass of their closest living relative. In Australia, they only have to be over 45kgs and 130%. If we look at the Red Kangaroo which can stand up to 1.8 m (6 ft) and times that by 130%. I will let you do the maths on that one but it is big. Maybe it is a good thing the megafauna became extinct 50,000 years ago. Most of the world has the idea Australia had kangaroos jumping down our main streets, the megafauna would have made a big impact.
The area was amazing. Little white and yellow flowers dotted the sands. There was a feeling of being alone in the world, no wonder it has been used so often in movies. It was a hard slog, going up the dunes so we didn’t go very far. I was still impressed though.
On our way back to the van we stopped off at McClymont House. It is a “Drop Log” building and was built in 1863 and was Wentworth’s first Court House. After it was decommissioned as a Court House it became a family home for Andrew McClymont. In 1972 the building was moved to where it now sits to enhance its preservation. Sadly there isn’t much to it, just an outer shell.
The park has a statue of Possum with an added bonus of his life story for a small cost.
There is also a tractor on a pole. Yep, you read it right, a tractor on a pole. Okay, it’s not a big tractor but it is a real tractor. So why is it up a pole? I am pleased you asked. It is a tribute to the Harry Ferguson Tractors. The tractor was used to build massive levee banks which protected Wentworth from devastating floods in 1956. It may be a small tractor but it did a mighty job. Even with the tractor working hard almost a third of the town was affected by water. The people of Wentworth were asked to leave and abandon the town but they chose to stay on to fight. The tractor could be heard all hours of the day and night working away alongside the people of Wentworth. (She didn’t do it all on her own.) After that day she was raised high and still remains there now watching over the town she saved. Nice.