|This illustration by Charles Lyall, 1854 of a bullock team crossing a river gives|
an idea of what the early tracks, such as that from Geelong to Buninyong
were like. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
The Green Tent is an intriguing but elusive place - notorious even - and is definitely deserving of a post or two of its own.
The exact placement of Green Tent is somewhat unclear and I can find no reference to the original "green tent" which no doubt gave the little settlement and the nearby creek their name. (Green Tent Creek is a short waterway which flows under the Midland Highway before joining Coolebarghurk Creek just over 2.5 km from where the latter meets the Moorabool River.) The earliest indirect reference I can find is an article from the Geelong Advertiser of 1862 which indicated that there had been ruins at the location for some 18 years, dating the Green Tent back to at least 1844 - a time when the settlement of the Port Phillip District was less than ten years advanced and the floods of gold diggers were still some seven years off.
The earliest contemporary reference I found to the Green Tent was the 1851 description mentioned above, which also claimed it as a well established site even at that date. So, where exactly was the Green Tent, what was it and why was it there?
I am not the first to ask these questions. In 2010 an archaeological dig was conducted which revealed the footings of a substantial building of unknown purpose. A local landowner and historian also has a keen and ongoing interest in the topic. So, what did I find?
|Archaeological dig at Green Tent site. Image taken from|
Dr Vincent Clark& Associates website
Prior to the gold rush, the Green Tent seems to have been little more than a watering hole for passing bullockies, but by 1854 - three years into the gold rush - it was cited as the location of one of a number of unlicensed premises or sly-grog shanties (often euphemistically described as "coffee tents") between Geelong and Ballarat. In 1856 Benjamin Annas was fined £30 for "vending three glasses of brandy" at the Green Tent without a license.
|Illustration by S.T. Gill showing a coffee tent and timber huts on Bendigo|
Creek 1852, not the Green Tent, but indicative of the era. Image held by the
National Library of Australia
Elizabeth kept a few bottles of grog a slab of cheese and bread which she would serve to her customers - said to be men working on the roads nearby. By implication, other "services" were also supplied and it is believed that McQueeny was a customer who had been hanging around her tent. She informed at least one neighbour that he was beginning to frighten her. Not surprisingly, his version of events read somewhat differently as this article from The Age shows.
Whilst they make gruesome reading, the newspaper reports of the events surrounding Elizabeth's death give more detail about the settlement at Green Tent. Firstly, Elizabeth was not living entirely alone. It was noted in evidence that other tents in the area had been robbed by McQueeny not long before Elizabeth's murder and Mary Campion (possibly Mary Sampson) indicated that she had, until shortly before the murder, lived within 100 yards of Elizabeth's tent but now lived a little less than a mile away. On the morning of the murder, she and her husband heard a gunshot in the darkness at around 6 am.
In one of its early reports, the Age insisted that Elizabeth did not live near the Green Tent, but that her dwelling was in fact the Green Tent which had been variously occupied for at least five years, during which time it had developed a bad reputation. It may be worth noting at this point, that she had probably been living there for about four months since her husband had left. I also found reference to a William Dawson, a store keeper of Green Tent who was declared insolvent around the same time in March, 1858. I have no evidence, but suspect she may have moved in and occupied an existing empty building (if it could be called that), making her own additions to keep out the elements.
Also living in the vicinity was Mr Thomas Champion, the proprietor of an eating house/store. It was to Champion's that Elizabeth's body was taken for the inquest, after which she was buried on the bank of a nearby creek. In another macabre twist, her body was exhumed a fortnight later to provide more evidence for the trial of her murderer. Some sources indicate that Elizabeth's body was reburied at the Old Meredith Cemetery, however an article published in 1922 which describes the return of Elizabeth's son to the scene of his mother's murder, indicates that she remained buried in the original location and that until a short time before his return, the grave had been surrounded by a picket fence.
So, where was Elizabeth's tent and where were the others in the area living? In one of those curious coincidences, government surveyor Maurice Weston was working in the vicinity of Green Tent, and the day prior to the murder, was only about a mile away. By the end of August, he was surveying the land immediately to the east of Elizabeth's tent, the location of which, he marked in his field books (which can be viewed on the Landata website).
|Page from the field book of Maurice Weston, 1858|
showing the position of Elizabeth Lowe's tent
Weston indicates at least one section of the main road to Ballarat as being "metal" in his notes, which suggests that it was also informally known as "the metal road".
Some distance away, on the banks of Coolebarghurk Creek, he also noted the presence of a grave.
|Page from the field book of Maurice Weston, 1858|
showing a grave site. Probably that of Elizabeth Lowe
|Looking south east across the site indicated by surveyor Maurice Weston as|
the site of Elizabeth Lowe's tent
In September, 1859 the Green Tent Hotel was advertised for sale. The description given indicated that the premises were newly-built and extensive but the vendor's name is not mentioned. It could have been Champion's. The following month, Francis M'Kenne, a boardinghouse keeper at the Green Tent was declared insolvent, however there is no mention of the name or location of his business.
By 1860 another player had appeared. William Hooley was running the "Old Green Tent Hotel", a timber structure located not far from the 25 mile post from Geelong. According to the newspapers, Mr Hooley's hotel was situated opposite Champion's. Hooley was not in business for long however as his establishment caught fire and burnt to the ground on 21st March, 1862, leaving only a kitchen and stables which were detached from the main building. His friends and associates rushed to his aid and quickly relocated him to Champion's Hotel "over the road".
Thomas Champion it seems did not remain long either. In April, 1861 he put his hotel - including 10 rooms, a 20-stall stable, stockyards and outbuildings - on the market, then again in May and a third time in August. The property was also described as situated on 2 acres of securely-fenced government land. Interestingly, the early survey maps show a small reserve of about 6 acres, positioned roughly to the south of the Green Tent Creek on the western side of the highway - a likely location for Champion's Hotel.
By October the following year, the hotel was on the market once again. On this occasion however, the proprietor was J.H. Jones and the property was to be auctioned at noon on 29th October, 1862.
The Green Tent is next mentioned in 1866 when John Kneale was described in rate books as keeping a beer house at Green Tent on land owned by Alexander Sutherland. The Sutherland's Native Creek Run was located to the west of the current highway.
|Looking north west across Sutherland's pre-emptive right|
The name Green Tent Hotel continues to appear in the newspapers for some years after this time, however, by the 1870s, the huge amount of traffic generated by the gold rush had begun to decline and the Geelong-Ballarat railway which had opened in 1862 bypassed the little settlement of Green Tent, taking potential customers with it.
So, no-one seems to know the exact origin of the original "green tent" but it may have occupied a site in the area as early as 1844, providing a respite for the early settlers as they made their way with their stock to their distant runs. With the arrival of the gold rush, the Green Tent - by then a well-established watering hole - became a stopping point for the diggers as they came and went from the goldfields; a place where they could spend the night or just quench their thirst with a (sometimes not so legal) drink before continuing their long trudge.
The events surrounding the murder of Elizabeth Lowe established the position of at least one Green Tent residence - hers - and it seems that it had been standing for some years and was thought by some to be "the" Green Tent - a sly-grog shop with a bad reputation. At some distance, but still near enough to be considered part of Green Tent, were two public houses, located on opposite sides of the current Midland Highway. Champion's was a substantial building and it may well be the footings of this building which were excavated during the 2010 archaeological dig on the western side of the highway. The other - presumably older - building occupied by William Hooley, was a timber structure which burnt down in March, 1862.
|Looking south across the site indicated as "Green Tent" on the 1867|
geological survey map and possible site of Hooley's "Old Green Tent Hotel"
|Google Earth image showing my estimations of various locations mentioned above|
Note: a little more research has revealed more circumstantial evidence. An article published in The Argus of 31st August, 1866 indicates that an applicant for some land at Green Tent had 80 acres surveyed which it was said enclosed the only fresh water reservoir for some distance around. The land was indicated as important to the local inhabitants and had previously been a reserve [a government reserve I assume].
Whilst the location of the land is not clear, only a few months later on 27th November, John Matheson of Moranghurk purchased several blocks of land either side of - but excluding - the reserve and a neighbouring block between the railway line and today's Midland Highway.