Time travel to golden era
A 19th-century boom town connects visitors with an important chapter in the nation’s history, writes Sarah Nicholson
I LOVE visiting Ballarat with friends who are making their first trip to the gold-rush boom town.
As we cover the 110km of Western Freeway between Melbourne and Ballarat, I know they’re expecting a modest regional settlement, and can’t figure out why we’re spending valuable vacations days in western Victoria.
Then we arrive – driving past the beautiful homes in Victoria St and into the town centre, where the wide avenues are lined by stately Victorianera facades – and the penny drops.
Ballarat is special because of the gold rush. It was established before the first nuggets were discovered in nearby Clunes in 1851, but blossomed with the hordes of prospectors that descended on the region from around the world to find their fortune.
It wasn’t long before the miners who struck it rich were creating a centre of culture in the bush, building galleries and theatres, elegant hotels and stately homes, and by the 1860s Ballarat had the finest collection of bluestone and Victorian-era structures in the country.
Today visitors can savour the history while engaging in a host of activities that let them connect with the heady days of the 19th century.
Visiting Sovereign Hill – the life-sized museum celebrating its 40th birthday – is like stepping back in time, with a 25ha patch of land re-creating life in the 1850s, including shops, houses, a mine and rustic diggings.
Take a guided tour of the mine; watch a craftsman make a gold ingot from $180,000 worth of red-hot liquid; pan for gold dust; take a carriage ride; have a photo taken in period costumes; march with redcoat soldiers; watch a live performance at the theatre; and talk to a cast of characters from the era. See sovereignhill.com.au
Walking along the footpaths of central Ballarat, it seems as if every structure has a story to tell and the best way to hear those tales is to do a circuit of the city with Golden Nugget Discovery Tours.
The 90-minute Ballarat Walking Tour starts at the Golden Monument in Sturt St before visiting historic hotels, the train station, courts, art gallery, theatre, statues, the mining exchange and even a Titanic bandstand. See goldennuggettours.com.au
Blood on the Southern Cross
Blood on the Southern Cross is a soundand-light show at night that tells the legendary story of the Eureka Rebellion, when an army of disgruntled gold miners took on government troops at a flimsy stockade in 1854.
It takes visitors back to the Eureka Diggings, when the miners revolted against unfair gold taxes and swore an oath of loyalty to the flag of the Southern Cross. See sovereignhill.com.au/soundlight-show