“The past does not lie down and decay like a dead animal. It waits for you to find it again and again.”
“The Gilda Stories” ~Jewelle Gomez
At the time when I was running the Soul Food Cafe I created a number of features which are stored in the Box of Wonderment. One was The Dig Tree which examined the fated journey of Burke and Wills and explored what the creative writer or artist could learn from their expedition.
My great grandfather, George Chale Watson, took a great interest in this expedition. He was in Echuca at the time and was inspired to set off on his own journey of exploration after their departure.
Finding myself in Castlemaine I was intrigued to discover that Castlemaine was the first town to decide to build a monument to Burke and Wills. Initially they wanted to bury Burke at the Castlemaine cemetery.
By May 1862, the citizens of Castlemaine had raised £450 for a memorial from public subscription and donations and on the anniversary of Burke’s death, 1 July 1862, a public holiday was declared. A procession of over 2,000, including John King, John Macadam and Frederick Standish, marched from town to a hill to the east of town where a ceremony was performed and a foundation stone laid by the Sheriff of Castlemaine, Richard Colles.
Why Castlemaine? Why the passion and drive to erect this monument? It appears that Burke, who was born in Ireland in 1820, became the Police Superintendent in Castlemaine in 1858, before being appointed to lead the ill-fated Victorian Exploring Expedition which embarked from Melbourne’s Royal Park on August 20, 1860. Their mission was to become the first expedition of Europeans traversing the interior of Australia from south to north. They traversed successfully but that ultimately this venture would cost Burke and his third-in-command Wills their lives on the return leg. Perhaps if they had connected with the owners of the land they crossed they may have survived.
It is fascinating to check out who Castlemaine likes to remember and offers pride of place to. A visit to the local museum gives one perspective of who the town remembers and equally, chooses to forget.
Out at nearby Guildford a memorial has been created for one of their favourite sons, a Castlemaine born footballer, Ron Barassi
At Chewton there is the Monster Meeting Place where the miners rallied. In pride of place, on a hill overlooking the town, a monument costing a small fortune was erected to remember a fated journey and Robert O’Hara Burke, a policeman who is described as being one of Castlemaine. In actual fact he was an immigrant from Ireland and only lived here for a couple of years. At least Senator Lawson who stands in Lyttleton Street had a long association with Castlemaine.
Personally I would like to know more about what the land remembers; what the land looked like before the European invasion. I would like to know more about the lives of the indigenous people who lived here! Who will you remember and how will you remember them?