A whole bunch of people did a lot of interesting, terrifying, funny things long ago in Bendigo.
So we spent the year writing about them.
Now, in the dying days of 2021, I've compiled some of the more eyebrow-raising tales into a 'best of' list to colour your holiday reading.
It was a more innocent time.
The idea behind the series is to talk about some of the things that make Bendigo unique - especially the bits that our forefathers didn't want us to know.
Those wily old codgers wanted you to think this city's history was boring.
They were probably embarrassed by their shortcomings. Some of them certainly should have been ashamed, though most of them were judging themselves too harshly.
A person's failures tell us more about them than any statue can. It gives us insights into their character, their resolve and their legacy. Often, their "failures" were actually someone else's, or because of a series of events entirely outside their control.
So in their honour, I've put together a short list of heroes and villains featured in a handful of this year's stories, most of which appeared in the Bendigo Advertiser's Saturday lift-out - the Bendigo Weekly.
Let's start with the heroes.
Mary Filbin escaped a jail sentence 150 years ago for swearing after insisting her husband really did deserve a spray.
"[Her lawyer said] that the defendant was a hardworking woman, who had a large family to support, while her husband was an incorrigible loafer, who would do nothing for his living, but lived on his wife's earnings, and this had naturally irritated the defendant," the Addy reported the day after the court case.
She is now my hero, though I would not want to meet her in real life. People who crossed her tended to end up badly injured.
The next person on the list truly was a hero. There is no doubt in my mind.
And, unlike most What Happened stories, this one was harrowing to write. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to experience it first hand.
Bendigo soldier Colin Odlum spent months surviving a desperate siege in North Africa at the height of World War II, 80 years ago.
It is an account of one of Australia's finest military victories during 1941's Siege of Tobruk.
This story tracks nine days of the most intense fighting of the battle as part of a special two-part series (here's the other story) coinciding with both Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the Bendigo Soldiers Memorial Institute.
Strangely, a story about pigeons was the most controversial history story I wrote all year.
Part of that is my fault. I wrote it back in the early days of the What Happened series when I was still trying to work out how to make it all work. I posted a link to Facebook that didn't make it clear it was a story from history and people felt duped.
Fair point. That's why every Facebook post since then has made that clear.
Some people also thought I was denigrating all recreational hunters, which I cared far less about.
If you can't laugh at the ridiculousness of a man aiming for a pigeon and shooting a bystander, you have no business traipsing around a forest with a phallic-shaped hunk of metal in your hands.
I've included pigeons in the hero section because the story I wrote was really about the way people's attitudes changed over 50 years in the pages of the Bendigo Advertiser. The pigeon went from being something dispensable to beloved pets, and then to heroes lionised for their services across the desperate battlefields of World War One.
Never bite someone's nose.
Walter William Baker learnt that lesson the hard way when celebrations marking the end of the Boer War took a violent turn for the worse.
Yet it was what the courts decided to do next that worried many people in and around Bendigo.
By all accounts, the ghost that haunted Bendigo's Bayne Street area for four weeks in 1898 was a real pill.
At least the roaming gangs of armed young men didn't kill him a second time.
He scared a lot of people senseless, got a crossdressing sleuth arrested and triggered a very unfortunate event involving a cow.
One of this city's very first councillors fled town 165 years ago as questions swirled about his finances.
Still, I feel a pang of sympathy for George Haycock. He was clearly guilt-ridden and I get the feeling his downfall was triggered more from naive investments and not sticky-fingered greed.
Did he fake his death? I cannot say for sure.
Haycock was certainly not the only local council official to flee town under a cloud. The Marong Shire's George Marrack was another, and he appears to have ended up in sunny San Francisco.
Now something of a footnote in Bendigo's history, William Baillie did a hell of a lot of good for Bendigo and central Victoria.
Then he was smashed repeatedly in the head until his face was a mushy pulp.
Still, at least he died in a tropical paradise.
But how did this former stockbroker and member of parliament fall so far from grace?
You will just need to read the story.
Tom O'Callaghan is a journalist and life-long Bendigo resident. His editor keeps letting him write history stories most weeks for the Bendigo Advertiser and Bendigo Weekly.
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