Back in March, I traveled to Forbes, New South Wales, with my family for a family reunion. My grandparents were married in Forbes in 1935, and my father and aunts & uncles were all born there, before they finally moved to Mulwala in 1956.
Every year, my family gathers for a family reunion, and it was decided that this year we would head back to where it all started, and it was an amazing weekend filled with family history, laughter and love. But, family wasn't the only thing we did in Forbes. My parents and I went up a few days earlier to do some tourist-y things, as one of the things I wanted to do was check out the history side of Forbes, particularly Ben Hall.
Forbes is situation in the central west region of New South Wales, between Parkes and West Wyalong, and is probably named after the first Chief Justice of NSW, Sir Francis Forbes. It's located on the banks of the Lachlan River and is a rich farming area. The town has also been subject to a number of major floods, most recently in late 2016.
Forbes is particularly well-known for it's historic buildings, with most of them now heritage listed. In fact, the town was featured in the movie The Dish, which is about the Parkes Observatory which has assisted NASA as a Southern Hemisphere communication station, as Parkes has very few historic buildings left. The buildings look absolutely fantastic, and anyone interested in history and architecture is sure to love spending the day roaming around the historic precinct. I'm just really bummed that the Post Office was having it's exterior worked on, and it's meant to be one of the best pieces of architecture in the town.
Most the historic buildings are located around Victoria Park, which is definitely one of the most beautiful parks I've ever seen, featuring a stunning War Memorial, water fountain, and bandstand. Plus, it was clearly named after me! I would have loved to have had a picnic in the park had we had the time! It was a very serene place, and with the historic buildings all around. There was something to look at no matter where you looked.
A lake divides Forbes, essentially between the commercial and residential areas, and I honestly wouldn't blame you for thinking it was actually the Lachlan River. On the map, it definitely looks like a river, but once you see it in person, you definitely know it's a lake - although it's a pretty narrow lake. I'm used to seeing the Murray River, which is pretty wide, so it's no wonder I was thinking the lake could actually be a river. And it was such a pretty lake too, especially with it's water works and wildlife. We stopped to check out the de Havilland Vampire mounted near the lake, and I was slightly worried that it was going to come crashing down on us.
We ended up visiting the cemetery twice - once by ourselves to find my uncle and the famous graves, and the second time with the rest of the family to visit my uncle and find some other relatives. I am someone who really likes old cemeteries - there is just something beautiful, peaceful and eerie about wandering through the old graves. Doing family research, I've visited quiet a few cemeteries in recent years, and Forbes is definitely one of my favourites (which sounds weird when talking about cemeteries, but's such a nice cemetery filled with beautiful and interesting old graves). Apart from finding my uncle, who only just recently got a headstone thanks to my aunt, we also found Ben Hall, Kate Foster (nee Kelly) and Rebecca Sheilds.
Kate Foster was the sister of bushranger Ned Kelly, married to William Foster and resided in Forbes. She drowned in Lake Forbes while saving an Aboriginal child during a flood in 1898 and was found in a lagoon of the Lachlan River, just outside Forbes, aged 36.
Rebecca Sheilds was the great grand niece of Captain James Cook, who died on September 20 (which just happens to be my birthday) in 1902, aged 84.
Now onto Ben Hall, who is probably one of the more well-known historical persons connected to Forbes. Ben, born on 9 May 1837 in Maitland NSW, to parents Benjamin Hall and Eliza Somers, bother of whom were convicts. He became a successful grazier, marrying Bridget Walsh (Biddy) in 1856 and having a son, Henry, in 1859. By 1862, his marriage was in trouble and Biddy left to live with a stockman James Taylor, moving away to Humbug Creek. Soon, Ben became associated with notorious bushranger Frank Christie (Frank Gardiner).
Ben Hall and his various associates (Frank Gardiner, John O'Meally, Johnny Gilbert, Patsy Daley, and John Dunn) carried out many audacious raids across New South Wales, from Barthurst to Forbes, south of Gundagai and east to Goulburn. Unlike many of the notorious bushrangers of the era, Ben was not directly responsible for any deaths. With the Felons Apprehension Act 1865, which allowed any bushranger who had been specifically named under the terms of the Act to be shot and killed by any person at any time without warning, and with police beginning to close in on Ben and his associated, they knew they had to leave New South Wales. At dawn on 5 May, Hall was ambushed by eight well-armed policemen. He was shot dead as he emerged from his campsite and ran to reach his horses, just 4 days short of his 28th birthday. Ben's body was riddled with bullets. He never fired a single shot.
Ben Hall is not a bushranger that I knew a lot about before going to Forbes, only little bits here and there, but he's definitely one of great interest. I definitely recommend reading more into his life and time as a bushranger (plus check out the phenomenal movie The Legend of Ben Hall). We visited his shooting site, which is now just a paddock with a few trees, but there's a marker and some information boards. Plus we visited his grave at the Forbes Cemetery. There's also a Ben Hall tour that you can do, and if we had more time, I wish we could have done it (but it does involve traipsing around the countryside). I definitely want to try and do a tour of all the Ben Hall sites the next time I'm in Forbes!
We also visited the Forbes Museum, which was a fantastic trip back in time. I love going through museums, but it's a lot more enjoyable when it's for a town that I have a lot of interest in. There's a wonderful Ben Hall display, and a lot of history about the early days in the history of Forbes. Plus there's a great collection of photos of Forbes throughout the ages, and a World War One display.
The rest of the weekend was spent with my family, catching up and exploring the old stomping grounds of my father and his siblings. While driving around the streets of Forbes looking for the old houses, we actually met a really lovely woman who now lives in one of the houses, and she was very helpful in describing the inside of the house, and what it looked like when she moved in. She was so helpful and very happy to help us, and my uncle was amazed to find the house and recognise aspects of it.
Forbes is such a wonderful place, and apart from spending time with my family, I was super excited to be there and go exploring. It's definitely a town that I'd love to revisit again in the future, and one that I definitely recommend everyone check out if they are in the area.
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