At Araluen in the rowdy days of the goldfields, December 1869, elections for the seat of Braidwood, are on record as one of the most violent with mob rule and intimidation. It became known as the ‘Pick Handle Election’.
There were three candidates standing for election, Michael Kelly, an Irish storekeeper, representing the miners’ interests, Edward Grenville, a Sydney publisher viewed as representing the squatters’ interests, and Dr George Alley, a local medical practitioner.
At 9am the poll was declared open. By 10am, mobs of Kelly supporters packed in and crowded around the approaches of the courthouse and Elliott’s pub, the two polling stations. For those who came to vote for Kelly the crowd would open up and let them through. But those who supported Grenville or Alley did so at the cost of torn clothing, being kicked, trampled and thrown off the veranda of the courthouse.
The police officer charged with maintaining law and order in Araluen was Senior Sergeant Martin Brennan, supported by his local police contingent. Brennan, himself an Irishman, was highly respected, tough and courageous, but this day tested his resources to the limit. He was thrown off the veranda three times and even firing his revolver in the air had no impact. All Brennan could do was to close the polling stations early as voting had become a farce.
Early next morning, December 15, the district returning officer, William Bunn, accompanied by Superintendent Orridge, with a strong force of over 20 mounted and foot police, arrived from Braidwood. But this did little to settle the mood of the mob.
The polling stations were re-opened with a strong force of police being stationed at each, with mounted troopers patrolling the main road. The Braidwood Dispatch newspaper stated, “Large masses of men were suddenly seen, armed to the teeth with pick-handles, shovel-handles and bludgeons of every description, blockading every avenue leading to the main road.”
Not surprisingly, when the poll was declared, Kelly had the majority. Had the Irish miners won the day? The Braidwood Dispatch commented, “How could it be when no-one else had a chance to vote except at the risk of their life?”
Michael Kelly took his seat, being the first candidate to beat the squatters’ nominee since the seat of Braidwood was formed 11 years earlier.
However, the events at Araluen were so outrageous that the government was forced to act. A parliamentary inquiry found that Kelly should never have been elected. He was disqualified and Grenville was declared the new member. Some say Grenville did an immense amount of good work for the district, others said he was the dullest speaker in the house. Either way he never ventured into the Araluen Valley during the 10 years he held the seat.