May 2016

One of the good things about a caravan and camping show is the information about where to go and what’s on when you get there. At a previous show we were told about a fabulous spot we subsequently checked out on our trip to Albany. At this year’s show we found out that there is a festival in Toodyay (pronounced “TooJay” and formerly “Newcastle”) each year themed around Moondyne Joe. The brochure and information made it sound like it would be worth the effort so we cooked a plan to go along.

So who is Moondyne Joe? Seems he was a rascal from Cornwall in England, transported to WA in 1853 for stealing. Well that’s not really true. Apparently he was done for stealing, then defended himself with gusto in the courts, and that was his undoing. “Contravening the convention of court proceedings” got him a sentence made up of time in a working party, 6 months in solitary confinement, a disciplinary period of internment and finally a trip east on a boat to the penal colony here in what is now Perth. Other thieves who fronted the judge that day, and kept their mouths shut, got sentences ranging from 3 weeks to 3 months! This part of the story alone endears me the Joe!

As fast as the boat docked, Joe was given a ticket of leave for behaving himself and headed to the hills.  Actually the Avon valley but it’s in the hills behind Perth. I don’t know how they thought he would survive because there’s no mention of a parcel of land or some cash to get started so of course he was doomed from the start. In doing his work of trapping escaped stock, he branded a horse with his own mark and branded himself a horse thief. Poor bloke was never going to get an even break and ended up in the lock up! This is where the story gets exciting because he did a runner and re-stole the horse, killed it and cut out the evidence. As you can guess he was caught but without evidence he got a lenient 3 year sentence which he served quietly.

You can read the rest on the interweb but he was arrested again for cattle thieving, and he protested his innocence regarding this crime for the rest of his life, but it was too late. Not to be deterred Joe basically spent the rest of his life escaping prison or concocting ways to escape prison. With each escape or escape attempt he added more years to his sentences until he was locked up to do hard labour in Freo Jail, and spent his time, chained by the neck to the cell window in an escape proof cell. The constabulary were so sure he was no risk that the Governor was heard to say “If you get out again, I’ll forgive you”. Needless to say Joe got out (this is the bit where you cheer and clap).

Joe laid low for a couple of years and he was yesterday’s news, when he was recaptured in what can only be described as a chance apprehension! The poor bloke tried to steal some good wine from Houghtons at the same time some police were imbibing a few refreshments, and before he knew what happened Joe was back in the clink. Despite the Governor’s commitment, he spent 2 years there, before a new Governor gave him a ticket of leave, finally honouring the promise! Aged just 45 (younger than me) Joe was free to go. He eventually married a much younger girl and spent the rest of his life roaming around, getting in a bit of strife and perhaps spending small amounts of time behind bars, before going completely off the rails and dying aged 74, in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum (which he escaped from 3 times!).

I think it’s unfair to say Joe was a bushranger. Perhaps he ranged the bush, but from what I can tell (and the stories swap and change) he never held people up at gunpoint or robbed a bank. I think it would be fair to say he was a petty criminal and an unlucky one at that! Joe’s story would make a great black and white, slap stick comedy of errors. Fortunately some smart person in Toodyay realised this and started the Moondyne festival in 2000 and it attracts a great crowd of people each year. The day revolves around the story of Joe as he runs riot through the streets and shops with his gang and the floozies, chased by the coppers, to the delight of the crowds. He is tried by the judges and it’s all announced by the town crier along the street and through the colonial village. But more of that soon …

Our trip to Toodyay was probably a whole lot easier than Joe’s would have been 150 odd years ago. Despite that, it was harder than it had to be with the old girl (the car, not me) playing up at the top of the hills. She over heated and boiled but it seems no permanent damage was done. We patiently waited in the pitch black and cold for her to cool before adding a very small amount of water and driving onwards to Toodyay. When times are tough in Australia more often than not people step up, and that happened for us on Friday night. With our hazard lights on, a local stopped to help us and provided copious amounts of water and advice, and came back with even more not long afterwards, before ensuring that we moved to a safe part of the road and were back on our way. We rolled down the hill and into Toodyay well after 8.30 to an almost silent caravan park. Needless to say it got noisy with the camper going up, the boy’s tent going up (just before the rain came down) and dinner getting cooked. Finally we got to bed somewhere around 10.30 after polishing off a bottle of wine to celebrate making it 85kms from home!

Just a word about the caravan park. It was one of two in town, both of which are owned by the same person / people. It’s situated on Railway Parade which, surprising, is alongside a railway! And not a disused one. Throughout the first night trains roared through our slumber (although they drowned out the mega snorer next door). I think it’s safe to say that the sound of trains would be a feature of any night spent under canvas anywhere in Toodyay. The caravan park also boosts “sparkling clean ablution block with soft, two ply toilet papers – just like home”. I can’t recall, in all my time caravanning and camping, ever reading anything more delightful on a brochure or website. Finally, the park is beautifully located along the Avon River and allows campfires when the fire restrictions are lifted. That is a real treat! If you need accommodation in Toodyay by all means try here. They have cabins if you don’t byo accommodation. I would recommend you byo earplugs.

Despite the really late night, the two boys were up really early. In fact The Piper was up in the middle of the night wanting to hit the skate park. Only the threat of having the BMX run over by the old girl sent him back to bed until 6.30. They were the first kids riding the ramps on Saturday morning by a long way and were back in camp for breakfast before we were up. The neighbours must have hated being next to us! With breaky behind us and a good couple of hours riding completed by the boys, I suggested a walk to town for a look. Walk! To town! Riding and the park were the only things on the 12yo’s minds. So we let them do it. For hours. All day in fact. Meantime we headed for Connors Mill and spent a super hour learning how wheat from the valley was transformed into flour. And learning about Connors. For $3.00 per person visitors get right up close to working machinery and with simple descriptions. It seems Joe was not the only shady character from Toodyay.

Daniel Connors was a convict from County Kerry after stealing sheep. There’s a theme developing here. Following his ticket of leave Daniel Connor (he changed his name “to confuse researchers”) was a hawker who bought land in Newcastle and opened a store. He subsequently bought more land and the mill and finally farms (from clients over whom he held mortgages) and the pub. With his land acquisition he became influential in town business and was generally a pain in everyone’s lives. He had no education but was on the local education board. He sat on the Toodyay Road Board and then flouted the road laws after hosting gambling parties. His only real source of restraint came from his wife. Over time Connor’s prosperity included properties in Perth, up and down what is now Hay Street, Adelaide Terrace, St Georges Terrace and beyond. When he died the bishop said of Connor “Be to his faults a trifle blind, and to his virtues ever kind”. Feeling some affinity to another rascal in Toodyay was worth the $3.00 entry to the mill.

After hanging out in the mill we walked up the main street of Toodyay before the riders found us and we all headed home for lunch. My anxieties about the car overheating were not resolving so I called the RAC and the contractor came out and spent some time teaching me how to drive the car I’ve had for over 15 years. Seems I’ve been doing it all wrong and almost cooked the old girl driving her in overdrive up the big hills. Why it happened on an 85km trip and not a 12000km trip is beyond me but I’m grateful for small mercies. So with a driving lesson behind us most of our afternoon was gone so we settled into making a fire and cooking dinner.

One of life’s most amazing pleasures is fire. Not destructive fire but small, warm, peaceful fire. We had only small amounts of very wet wood but we got a nice cooking fire going and roasted a rolled chook and some pumpkin, while the spuds cooked in their jackets. The Piper’s friend was thrilled with the outcome and I got the glory of doing something his mum doesn’t do. Another bottle of wine and the remaining 4 ginger beers gone, we headed for bed, complete with earplugs and grateful the snorer from next door had moved on. Moondyne Joe festival tomorrow …

Sunday dawned cold and a bit damp but it didn’t rain so the camper wasn’t wet for the pack up. The boys were gone again, gearing up for the skate comp that the town included as part of the festival. The arrival of Benny Railwaybenny for the day caused a (very mild, almost imperceptible) stir through the caravan park. I hear you asking who is Benny Railwaybenny? He is a wee terrier dog who “drives” the miniature railway that runs on the edge of the Avon River. Anyway, his arrival heralded the start of a great day in town.
With the camper packed and the rig moved to the parking area for the day we headed into town, past the bmx’ers, to see what the festival is all about. It didn’t take long to feel like we had been transported back in time. We found the colonial village and watched the shearer hand shear a sheep. Amazingly skilfull and he interacted with the crowd drawn to the spectacle. The sheep appeared from within its wooly coat without a scratch and looking none the worse for its experience. The fleece came off in one piece, something I still don’t get how they do! After that enlightening experience we wandered up to look at the old car show, had a look at the various stalls and ended up being admonished by the abstinence advocates. The gentleman made the consequences of The Newby’s “drinking habits” very clear to us. When his rant and tirade (all very tongue in cheek) was over, I pointed out that he picked the wrong bloke to waste all that preaching on, and sent him packing.

We arrived just in time to see Moondyne Joe do a runner from the bakery with stolen goods. As he dashed past the lolly shop a little girl poked her head out the door and shouted at him to “rob the lolly shop! Rob the lolly shop!” So he did! Unfortunately he was apprehended not too much later and thrown in jail, along with his mates and one or more of his floozies! Needless to say he escaped and ran amok through the crowd. We were asked if we saw him and I confess to pointing the police in the wrong direction. What can I say, I think I’m in love with the rascal!

Our next stop was a look at the woodchop. It seems we missed the small amount of chopping they did, but we were invited to have a go at the two person saw. Following our instruction The Newby and I cut ourselves a lovely new round Jarrah bread board that will get used in the camper from now on. It was a great thing to do and reminded me of the many, many times we watched the wood chopping at the Sydney Royal Easter Show with my dad, and the time we saw David Foster chop in Glenreagh, NSW. The Drummer still has an offcut signed by him somewhere in her room.
The next event on the schedule was the rifle regiment, each trying to out do the other in loading their respective weapon and firing it. The sound was ear popping and the show was fun to watch. For me the biggest laugh came when the police woman (as in real police woman, in uniform and on duty), who was standing between the regiment and us, jumped in fright when the rifle was shot. I think she nearly pee’d her pants in fright, while I nearly did the same laughing at her! She saw the funny side too, saying “I didn’t think they were going to shoot them!” Apparently the police don’t know what’s going on in town. No wonder they can’t catch Joe!

Finally we headed back to watch the boys compete in the comp. Turns out it was Round 9 of the Freestyle Now Western Australian Skatepark Series. The boys had a blast and did well in their grade and came away with a prize each. They couldn’t have asked for more and talked the entire way home about bmx and competitions. Well done to Freestyle Now and the Festival organisers for including this event in the program!
Like all good things our weekend eventually came to end. The trip home was uneventful (thankfully) and we have lots more great memories to treasure. In case you’re wondering, no we didn’t get to the jail. We will go back one Sunday for a drive and a wander around. I’m sure The Piper won’t mind. As for geocaching, we stashed a couple but we also left a few for next time …

Sunday 22nd May
On a day trip to Fremantle The Newby and I stopped in at the cemetery to say hi to Joe. They have a heritage walk that includes a map and reference to various famous people buried there. Joe is number 26 and his claim to fame is “escapologist”. I think that is very cool and Joe would be thrilled with that. Eventually we found his resting place (at least it could be, if he hasn’t escaped). He is entombed under a massive piece of granite, engraved with a pair of handcuffs. The word “RYHDDID”, meaning “FREEDOM” is also front and centre. Rest in Peace Joe.

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