Ballarat is a city in the Central Highlands of Victoria, Australia. Located 100 kilometers north of Melbourne, with a population of around 100,000 people, making it the third-largest city in Victoria. But what makes it attractive is its unique history – it was the center of a gold rush migration during the 19th century, when gold was discovered near Ballarat. The main road is packed with colonial buildings and beautiful cathedrals, making it an impressive stroll around the city centre. As always, when travelling with young children, it is not the impressive history that captures their hearts, as nothing can ever compete with a playground – and luckily we found a huge playground right by the lake and spent the whole afternoon running around, sliding and swinging. But we’ll come back to our history lesson soon, not to worry.
Not far from the city centre, located on a small hill, is Sovereign Hill. It is an open-air museum in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat. Sovereign Hill depicts Ballarat’s first ten years after the discovery of gold there in 1851. Officially opened in 1970, it has become a nationally acclaimed tourist attraction. What is most unique about it, is that this is not a typical museum, not at all. As a replica of the town during the Victorian gold rush days, it comes alive with real characters from the old days, taking all visitors back in time. Gold miners, ex-convicts, policemen, soldiers, tradesmen and families.
The entry cost into the museum is as expensive as gold, but it’s well worth it. We took a ride on a horse carriage around the town, watched a smiley policemen demonstrates how to use a rifle and handcuffs, plenty of street shows to entertain the visitors while in between the actors simply mingle in the crowd and have a chat to kids and adults in such a delightful way. A group of british soldiers marched down the main street, stopped for a ceremonial three-volley salute and paused for photos with the tourists. On top of everything, they’ve got plenty of activities for children – old-school bowling, candle making in different shapes and colours, make your own lollies, and more!
Then we got to the highlight – looking for gold. We pulled our sleeves up and went down to the river, where we used the same simple tools people used back in the 19th century to filter through rocks and minerals in the water, until you finally find the precious metal. Well, we seem to have had a lot of luck and the kids found a few gold coins! Can you imagine the excitement?
We took a tour in an old underground mine and time travelled through the progression of tools and industrial machines in support of gold mining over the years. The whole process of finding gold nuggets was laid before our eyes, using steam-based machines to smash the rocks which were pulled out of the ground, giant washing machinery and separating the gold from the rock itself using some unique methods, and eventually melting the gold into well-shaped ounces. The indoor museum presents some of the gold nuggets found in this area many years ago, plus an impressive replica of the Jewish Temple Menorah. Overall, such a great fun and educational day at Sovereign Hill.
Disclaimer: This blog post is a travel memoir about a caravan trip we have done all around Australia a few years back. Clearly, in the current COVID reality, the borders between Australian states and territories are intermittently closed, meaning such a wonderful and amazing experience would not be possible unfortunately.