Today Australian author Frank Prem shares his love of his hometown, and the inspiration behind his recently released collection of poems and stories.. Small Town Kid.
Hello and welcome to my hometown of Beechworth in north-east Victoria, where we nestle in the foothills of the Victorian Alps within easy reach of snow and skiing.
The north-east is awash with pretty and charming small towns and interesting villages, but Beechworth is a special place. It sits in the centre of an historical golden triangle of interest to visitors and tourists alike. The beauty of the scenery through the seasons has to be seen to be believed and won’t be easily forgotten (particularly the gorgeous foliage on display in the autumn), and immaculately preserved honey-granite-constructed buildings of historical significance occur all through the town.
Beechworth traces its roots to the late 1850’s, when it rapidly became one of the richest goldfields in Victoria, and was recognised as a centre of some influence in colonial Victoria. In total, some 212,500 ounces of gold were produced.
Relating directly to the gold rush period, you might like to look out for a few of the significant buildings, such as the original prison and telegraph office on Ford Street (where you can send an old-fashioned telegram), the post office located on the main intersection in town, and the old Gunpowder Magazine located in the bounds of the Gorge that looks across at the town and was the source of the granite hewn to make these buildings. Guided walking tours of Beechworth cover many of the points of interest mentioned so far.
A consequence of the early success of the town was the advent of bushrangers in the district, the most famous being the notorious Kelly Gang comprising Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne, who pillaged in and around the district during the late 1800s. Kelly himself was held in a cell in Beechworth, while his mother, Ellen Kelly (née Quinn), was imprisoned at one time in the local gaol, and former friend turned police informer Aaron Sherritt was murdered by the gang member Byrne at the locality of Woolshed, just outside Beechworth.
I and all of my childhood mates were of course, at one time or another, the one and only ‘real’ Ned Kelly – marauders through the wild bush around the township, growers of voluminous amounts of imaginary facial hair, holders-up of tourist vehicle traffic trying to circumnavigate the Gorge on the tourist road.
More contemporary points of interest would have to include the Beechworth Bakery , which is now well-known in many parts of Australia, the Beechworth Brewery, a multi-award-winning local microbrewery, and the Beechworth Sweet Shop Company. These are particular favorites for me in my life around the town – the bakery for early morning coffee before I start work, the brewery for gourmet pizza lunch when my wife and I want an informal lunch out, and the sweet shop… well, whenever the yearning for hand-crafted dark chocolate calls.
The town holds more festivals and gatherings than I can recount in full, but a few of them come to mind. The The Golden Horseshoes Festival is perhaps the main draw card for visitors and takes place every Easter. The story goes that a horse was shod with golden horseshoes by an election candidate in 1855 and ridden through the town.
Goodness knows what that would have done to the horseshoes, but it suggests there was a lot of wealth about the place. This festival culminates on Easter Saturday morning with a massed parade of exhibits on floats that often seems to go on forever.
Other festivals include the Harvest Festival, the Celtic Festival, the Kelly Country Pick and of course the Ned Kelly Festival. There are definitely plenty to choose from, and the town fairly bursts at the seams with tourists whenever a festival weekend arrives on the calendar.
But why am I living here? What does this town mean to me?
I grew up in Beechworth, the son of an immigrant family that settled here in the migration wave that took place in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I have memories that curl around my mind rising from every street corner, particularly from the schools, the state and catholic primary schools as well as the local high school. But the wilderness calls me too, recalling my youthful solitary adventures whenever I glimpse the forested Gorge that surrounds the town.
And the old Mayday Hills Psychiatric Hospital reminds that it gave me my career as a psychiatric nurse, each time I step onto the grounds to wander the wooded parkland surrounding the old buildings. It amazes me to see the ‘For Sale’ signs on dilapidated wards where I and my family before me used to work. Privatisation is an amazing thing when places like an old lunatic asylum, as it once was, can be repurposed into hotels, accommodation and private housing. Who would have thought?
This is my home town, I wrote my first poems here, and I bid you….
…welcome to Beechworth.
About Frank Prem
I’ve been a storytelling poet for about forty years. Longer in fact, as I remember the first poem I wrote while at secondary school was about 150 – 200 words long and was accepted in lieu of a 500 word essay. I think that may have been the start.
I love to read my work to a live audience, and have audio recorded some recent recordings and popped them on my author page. I have also done some studio- recorded work under the direction and accompaniment of my wife Leanne Murphy that can be listened to there. These poems are on mythological themes and the accompaniment by Leanne makes them a little bit extraordinary.
By profession, I am a psychiatric nurse and have worked across most facets of public psychiatry and the mental health/mental illness spectrum. My experiences and reflections on what I have seen and done are the subject of a forthcoming memoir – scheduled for late 2019, or perhaps more likely, 2020.
I’ve been published in magazines, zines and anthologies, in Australia and in a number of other countries, but for a long time I haven’t sought much publication. The whims of editors are a little too capricious and unknowable, so I have preferred to hone my craft and self-publish on my poetry blogs
Leanne and I reside in the beautiful township of Beechworth in the North-East of Victoria (Australia).
About Small Town Kid
Small Town Kid is the experience of regional life as a child, in an insular town during the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, remote from the more worldly places where life really happens, in a time before the internet and the online existence of social media.
It is a time when a small town boy can walk a mile to school and back every day, and hunt rabbits with his dog in the hours of freedom before sundown. He can hoard crackers for bonfire night and blow up the deputy school master’s mailbox in an act of joyous rebellion.
A time when a small town teenager will ride fourteen miles on a bicycle for his first experience of girls, and of love. A time when migrating from a foreign country to a small town means his family will always feel that they are strangers, while visitors to the town are treated like an invading host.
It is also the remembrance of tragedy for inexperienced friends driving on narrow country roads.
This collection of poems and stories shares the type of childhood that has mostly disappeared in contemporary times. Come and revisit it here, in the pages of a Small Town Kid.
An extract from one of the recent reviews for the book
This delightful book of poems by Frank Prem is packed with interesting poems about his childhood, growing up in a small town in Australia. I love history and also enjoy learning about people and how they live so this book appealed to both of these interests of mine.
There are poems about a small child being cared for by both of his grandparents while his own parents work and the little pleasures such as eating home made poppy cakes, and peeks into the lives of close relatives such as an aunt who had a very lively spirit that showed through at certain times in her live belying the prim and proper exterior she was expected to display as a married matron.
The author clearly grew up in an old fashioned society where people were careful with things and tried to stretch a penny:
for a couple of pounds of paper
and the news
becomes the wrapping
for another feed
of tender young chops.”
My favourite of all Frank’s poems, a tricky place (the annual fete) was a superb insight into small town life at the time. I am not going to give you a peep into that poem, you will have to purchase the book and read it for yourself.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Small-Town-Frank-Prem-Memoir-ebook/dp/B07L6114KS
Find more reviews and follow Frank on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18679262.Frank_Prem
Connect to Frank
Website Audio: https://frankprem.com/audio-recordings-spoken-word/
Seventeen Syllable Poetry: https://seventeensyllablepoetry.wordpress.com/
Thank you for dropping in today and I am sure you have enjoyed this lovely nostalgic post from Frank about his home town… he would love to receive your questions and feedback. Thanks Sally