If you’re into gold, rebellion and history – or even if you’d just like a nice place to relax, sample some local wine and stroll through beautiful gardens – Ballarat should be top of your ‘I’m-on-my-way’ list.
Victoria’s third largest city, with a population of almost 100,000, sits on the Yarrowee River approximately 100 kilometres north west of Melbourne.
Its Victorian era heritage and relaxed, culturally rich ambience make it a grey nomads’ favourite … and then of course, there’s always the chance of unearthing a little gold.
Founded in 1837 by a squatter who set up camp on the shores of Lake Wendouree, Ballarat changed dramatically when gold was discovered in 1851. Within a fortnight the population increased by 400 and by 1853 there were 20,000 men digging for gold. Over the next four years, more than 2.5 million ounces of gold, worth about 10 million pounds, was taken from goldfields at Ballarat.
Mining companies moved in and fortunes were made. It was not all plain digging however, as the government’s policy about mining licences generated unrest and ultimately led to the rebellion at Eureka Stockade. This incident is part of Aussie folklore and you shouldn’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the history of those turbulent times.
Sovereign Hill, located close to the city centre, is one of Ballarat’s major attractions and if you haven’t yet experienced this re-creation of a gold-rush community, put it on your must-do list. Everything from the buildings to the horse-drawn carriages and from the activities of the ‘townsfolk’ to their interesting costumes are all in the spirit and style of the gold-rush days. There are street performances, 1850s craftsmen demonstrations, old mine tours, the chance to have a go at panning yourself, and lots more. Just beware of the many horse-drawn vehicles (and droppings) when you cross the main road!
Once you’ve saturated yourself with the historical, there are some very nice things to see in terms of the botanical. The city’s botanic gardens, located on the shores of Lake Wendouree, are a lovely place for a walk.
The best times to visit Ballarat are in spring and autumn. Wildflowers in nearby Enfield Park and Creswick Park are ablaze in early spring and in March the begonias blooming in the botanic gardens form the focus of the city’s popular Begonia festival.
IN THE AREA
Centrally located between Ballarat and Daylesford, Creswick Regional Park is home to a variety of native wildlife and colourful spring wildflowers. Unfortunately, many areas of the park were damaged by heavy rainfall and storms in early 2011. The park service says work to repair roads, walking tracks and visitor facilities will continue for some time.
Mount Beckworth Scenic Reserve 35 kilometres to the north is another area well worth a visit. It offers magnificent views and a rich variety of spring wildflowers. The extensive series of tracks make this is a bushwalker’s paradise.
Around Ballarat there are a number of places where you can pan for gold in creeks but you must have a ‘Miner’s Right’ to do any fossicking in Victoria. Check with Department of Natural Resources and Environment Information Centre in Ballarat to obtain one.
If you fancy a bit of a tipple, there are a myriad of wineries within a 25km radius of the city which offer cellar door sales and samples.
So, with its interesting history, great local wines, and beautiful gardens, a visit to Ballarat is as good as gold.
MAKE SURE YOU …
Spend a day at Sovereign Hill; try your luck panning for gold; stroll around the city enjoying the Gold Rush architecture of buildings such as the Ballarat Mining Exchange which was built in 1888; if you’re here in the right season discover the area’s wildflower magnificence.
WHERE TO CAMP
A wide range of caravan parks is available in Ballarat itself and also in some of the smaller towns in Victoria’s golden triangle. Free short-term camping is allowed in Creswick Regional Park at the Slaty Creek camping and picnic area.