Glenrowan is in a unique position in Australia in that it trades almost exclusively on the memory of a long gone historical figure



“A criminal actually, if you want to be forensic about it. A murderer hanged in Melbourne in 1880, almost 26.A bushranger by necessity. But first a rebel. The last great outlaw.”


The only other town that comes to mind as being remotely similar would be Tombstone in Arizona-the heartland of Americas Wild West. Here, the frontier figures of Wyatt Earp and “Doc” Holliday come to life and celebrate a gunfight (OK Corral) that lasted 40 seconds at the most.


Whilst Ned looms large over the town, this section also looks at other aspects of the town including a VERY brief history. I have had a love and respect for Glenrowan for many years and in a way, this is just my personal tribute.



Glenrowen, as it was originally spelt, was named after James Hutton Rowan and George Christian Rowan. In 1842, these two pioneers took up 162,560 acres and called the run “Peechelbar”. In 1846,they acquired a further 166000 acres christened Rowan springs.


In March of 1857, the first 3 sections of the township of Glenrowan  was surveyed by J.Wilmot, the assistant district surveyor. In March 1867, a further 9 sections including the railway station were surveyed by Thomas Nixon, the main district surveyor. Glenrowan and Benalla were proclaimed towns on the same day, 25th February 1861.


For information about the history of Policing in Glenrowan, please refer to Senior Constable Birthesels excellent essay on Gary Deans “Ned Kellys World” site.


Fifteen years before Ned had his Last Stand in Glenrowan, another bushranger visited. Daniel Morgan was in the region in 1865 when the township was only four years old. From there, he went onto Peechelba and to meet his death. Today,his grave can be seen in Wangaratta cemetery.


As a settlement, Glenrowan made little progress until it came to life a decade after being proclaimed with the arrival of the north eastern railway. With the coming of the rail builders ,the town surged into life ,but after the line was opened for traffic in 1873, the town settled into a quieter existence.



Until the Kellys called in June 1880.




There are trees still alive @ Glenrowan that were flourishing in  not only the days of Ned but would have witnessed the passing of Hume and Hovell and perhaps been alive when Captain Cook first sited our coast line. The ancient trees are the “Xanthorhoea Australis” –the giant grass trees. Although not unique to the Warby ranges, they grow to respectable heights (over 3 metres), and live from 250-300 years. So there you go. A surviving living link to the events in June 1880 all those years ago.


Gold was discovered in the Glenrowan quarries on November 5th 1906. It was announced, not surprisingly, that the carting of stone had been stopped. Obviously, nothing much came of it.


Constable Roach of Glenrowan arrested the culprit for the hellish bushfires of January 1916. Greta, Laceby, Oxley and South Wangaratta were all battling for survival. It turned out to be a young Russian swagman who was aquitted due to the fact he had “started fire accidentally.”


Glenrowan is also justly famous for it’s wineries. One of the bigger names in the region is “BAILEYS” in the foothills of the Warby ranges near Taminick. The full bodied flavour of the Reds is due to the unique soil structure. The depth of soil averages almost 10 metres and its composition of red granite, which gives good drainage in winter and excellent water retention in the summer contribute to fine wines. This band of soil occurs in only a very small area at the foot of the Warby ranges and is supposedly unique in Australia.


Varley Bailey planted the vineyard in 1866, producing the first vintage in 1870. Winery and vineyard antiques from the property have been collected and put on exhibition.


1970 was a unique year for Glenrowan in that tourism was kicked off in a spectacular way. The Glenrowan Hall presented the world premier of Tony Richardsons “Ned Kelly” film starring Mick Jagger. Despite the fact it was actually filmed in New South Wales, it was considered appropriate the premiere take place in the heart of Kelly Country. It was just a pity it wasn’t a better film. While strong in spirit, Mick Jagger did not have the physical characteristics a convincing Ned  needed. In fact, the portrayal gained a lot of laughs that night. The biggest one came when the wimpy Jagger was supposed to have prevailed in the bootmakers shop against so many police.


Although the script by Ian Jones was accurate, the initial black and white sequences showed Ned getting married, putting a lot of Kelly purists into a tailspin. Perhaps Gary Dean, proprietor of Cobb and Co. souveniers and museum @ Glenrowan can help out with this one as he claims to have information on Ned Kellys Wedding.


Speaking of film, very soon, if not already, Heath Ledger will be re-treading ground used by the gang as he becomes Ned for the film “Our Sunshine”. It will be lensed in the Warby ranges, not far from Glenrowan followed by studio work in Melbourne. Let’s hope he does a better job than Mick.


Don Tibbits,a former Melbourne printer, was the trail blazer in terms of Glenrowan tourism. Due to the relative success of the film, attitudes had somewhat softened. In 1972, Don and his wife Valda built The Glenrowan Tourist Centre. The prime exhibit was the McDonnells Hotel Railway bar. All available Kelly books of the day were available within, as was every conceivable type of souvenier fron posters to Kelly Gang lolly pops.


The Ned Kelly statue adjacent to “Billy Tea Rooms”

also made its debut…”symbolically ordering tourists to stop and come in to buy”. Over the years, the statue was stolen and re-covered only to finally disappear in late 1987 for good. A plastic statue of the singer “Lazy Harry” now occupies the bluestone pedestal. Not quite the same.


In 1977, the council changed the name of some Glenrowan street names so they had a good authentic tourist ring. Now, you can drive down Ned St, Siege St, Kate St. and Kelly St. At least we haven’t got a Steele St, Hare Ave. or Nicholson Place though I guess.








There was uproar in the town in the late 1980’s First of all, the Hume Freeway by-passed the town, then, to add insult to injury, it was announced that VicRoads were building a major service centre on the freeway on the Wangaratta side of Glenrowan. Although business was quiet initially with the only real casualty being Max Burgin and his Service Station, business soon boomed again thanks in part to promotion signs erected on freeway advertising Ned Kelly and the town. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would prefer a homemade meat pie and sauce from the “Billy Tea Rooms” in Glenrowan than anything from McDonalds @ the service centre on the freeway.But that’s just me!


Another substantial affair in Gladstone St, Glenrowans Main St. and the old section of the Hume Highway, is “Kates Cottage.”Originally established by Nannette Green-the instigator of the excellent Kelly Homestead replica @ rear of property, today business is run by Chris and Rod Gerrett. Currently under going a renovation, I look forward to seeing finished product. It will be a worthy memorial to the Kellys and, fittingly, in their heartland of Glenrowan.



Now that we seem to be in a Golden Age of Ned information, let’s hope we see some excellent things in Glenrowan and surrounds in the coming years.