Time travel to golden era

A 19th-cen­tury boom town con­nects vis­i­tors with an im­por­tant chap­ter in the na­tion’s his­tory, writes Sarah Nicholson

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Sov­er­eign Hill

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 tour

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

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