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Ballarat, VIC

Gracious and historic city - the largest in inland Victoria

Ballarat is a major rural centre with a population of more than 100,000 which makes it Victoria's largest inland city. Only Melbourne and Geelong have more people. Ballarat is hugely impressive and has an air of stateliness and grandeur as a result of its elegant wide thoroughfares, its Victorian and Edwardian heritage buildings, tree-lined avenues, parks, gardens and statuary, and its substantial educational institutions.
Historically it was created as one of the great Victorian centres of gold mining and prospecting. Today it is driven by a combination of tourism, retail, manufacturing and community services. The city's most important event, a defining moment in Australian history, was the Eureka Stockade rebellion in December, 1854 when miners rose up and fought the local authorities. It is celebrated throughout the city and particularly in the city's major tourist attraction, Sovereign Hill. There is so much to see and experience at Ballarat that visitors need to spend two to three days ... and even then they will feel there is still much more to enjoy at the nearby towns of Buninyong, Clunes, Smythesdale and Daylesford.



Ballarat, which is 441 metres above sea level, is located 115 km west of Melbourne.


Origin of Name

It is claimed that the local Aborigines, the Wathawurung people, called the district 'Balla-arat' which meant 'a good resting place'. and referred to where they liked to camp on the shores of Lake Wendouree.


Things to See and Do

Heritage Buildings
The city is so rich in historic buildings that it is hard to see all the impressive structures - symbols of the wealth brought to the city by gold - that there are three heritage walking trails through the city exploring its mining past. The trails are along Sturt Street, Lydiard Street and Camp Street and deserve to be enjoyed by leisurely strolls. There is a useful brochure, available at the Visitor Centre, titled Ballarat's Historic Streetscapes. In total it lists 35 places of historic interest on the Lydiard Street Walking Trail and 25 places on the Central Ballarat Walking Trail which combines Sturt Street with Camp Street.

1. Sturt Street and Camp Street
Sturt Street is the city's main street. It is six lanes wide with an elegant median strip characterised by numerous statues and monuments. The section between Grenville Street and Pleasant Street is a wonderland of gracious Victorian and Edwardian buildings which bear witness to the wealth of the city during its goldrush heyday.
Buildings of particular interest include:

2. 23 Sturt Street
This wonderfully ornate, bright blue, building, sometimes called the Log Tavern, is listed in the Victorian Heritage Database. It is Victoria's only surviving Edwardian Flemish Baroque building and stands out as a unique contribution to the town's rich architectural heritage.

3. Former Sutton's Music Store
Located at 31 Sturt Street, was built in 1891. Today it stands as an impressive the three storey structure. It was the tallest commercial building, standing twenty-two metres, when it was built. Richard Henry Sutton’s started his music business in a tent on Bakery Hill in 1854. When the building was completed the ground floor featured five German-made decorative stained glass panels. Each one had an image of a celebrated musician. Today only one, Mozart, can be seen just above the veranda. Richard's son, Henry Sutton (1856 – 1912), who was born in Ballarat, worked in his father’s music business but became a noted inventor. His inventions included an experimental ornithopter (c.1870), driven by clockwork, could fly in a circumference of twelve feet (3.7 m) and from left to right and upwards at any desired angle. In later years Henry built a hydraulic lift for his father’s music store and invented more than twenty kinds of telephones. For more detailed information check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/40262251@N03/6724275755.

4. Pioneer Miner's Monument
Located on the corner of Sturt and Albert Street, the impressive Pioneer Miner's Monument (sometimes referred to as the Gold Monument) was dedicated in 1951 - a century after gold was first discovered - and lists, in great detail, the richest alluvial and quartz mines and the largest nuggets. It is fun to notice, for example, that a total of over 20 million ounces were dug up in the district and that the Welcome nugget weighed in at 2,217 ounces. For more detail, and a list of the information on the monument, check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/technology/industry/display/30212-gold-monument/photo/6.

5. Ballaarat Mechanics Institute
Located at 117-119 Stuart Stret and open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.30 am - noon on Saturday, the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute was established in 1859 in a Reading Room at the local Fire Brigade. The website (https://ballaratmi.org.au) records: "On Friday, September 28, 1860 the foundation stone of the back section of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute was laid with full Masonic honours in front of a crowd, estimated by the Ballarat Star, as numbering 10,000. This first part of the building consisted of a reading room, library, lecture room and two classrooms on the ground floor and a large hall on the first floor, capable of seating 1200 people. Charles Boykett was the architect. The cost of the building was reported to be around £3400 and the Committee of the day took some time to pay off the debt. The lecture hall on the first floor was not finally completed until 1864. By 1868 the Institute was running out of space, so the Committee boldly decided to erect the existing, grand three-storey frontage to Sturt Street. The design of architect J.H. Jones, of Ballarat, was chosen in mid 1868 and the front section was completed in July 1869 at an approximate cost of £6000. Difficulties with the foundations, the architect and the contractors caused a substantial overrun in cost."
The Victorian Heritage Database records: "The Ballaarat Mechanics Institute is a brick building with an impressive four level symmetrical rendered Victorian Free Classical style facade with a verandah with a central barrel vault. The facade has a recessed central section flanked by two three storey bays with Greek and Roman classical motifs. The coved arch above the entrance is bordered by sculptural relief panels with two reclining figures, and to either side are shopfronts. The library floor has a central arched and fanned alcove with a slightly projecting balustraded balcony. The central bay of the top floor is also recessed with a small balcony and above the parapet is a sculpture of Minerva, the Roman goddess associated with wisdom, symbolising the Institute's desire for knowledge. The building is substantially intact internally. The library houses a vast collection of eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century books, newspapers, journals, and Institute records dating from c. 1857. It includes early Ballarat and Australian colonial publications, and collections of notable individuals such as John Fawkner and JB Humffray." Today it is only one of ten Mechanics Institutes in Victoria which provides library services to the community. There are also tours, cultural events and exhibitions. For more information tel: (03) 5331 3042 or https://ballaratmi.org.au.

6. Former Unicorn Hotel
Located at 127 Sturt Street, the Unicorn Hotel, now known simply as The Unicorn, was built in 1866. The facade was completed that year and the rest of the building was constructed in the next few years. The Victorian Heritage Database notes that: "The hotel facade is composed on the upper floor of French doors surmounted by austerely detailed Renaissance heads on consoles, and on the centre door a pediment. The building has a particularly elegant and early veranda and balcony, which tend to over-shadow the facade. It is a two storey version of the early single storey flat roofed and balustraded post verandas. The original elements are (from ground up): the slender cast iron columns with Corinthian capitals; ground floor brackets, swag bellied balcony panels; the double timber balusters with frieze iron inserts; cornice and brackets ... Early photographs and etchings show the hotel as an opulent structure which was originally luxuriant with potted palms on the first floor level ... This building, and especially its veranda, is of great interest in a state wide context. This is the only remaining two storied veranda of this form." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/123569/download-report.

7. Former National Mutual Insurance Company
Located on the corner of Lydiard and Sturt Street, this imposing building was completed in 1905 to a design by J.J. and E.J. Clarke. The Victorian Heritage Database notes that: "The building is a sizeable composition with mixed Renaissance and Venetian Gothic characteristics, including recessed logias on the three upper levels, with trefoil Gothic arches to two levels and very unusual cusped stilted segmental arches on the top storey. From the roof projects an openwork octagonal structure, formerly domed with pinnacles at the corners." For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/120901/download-report.

8. Sugg Lamp
Notice the remarkable street light in the centre of the road at the corner of  Lydiard and Sturt Street. It is known as a Sugg Lamp. The Ballarat Revealed website (see ) notes: "In 1881 the City of Ballarat introduced 20 gas lamps - this is one of two 'original' Sugg lamps in Ballarat (the other one is at the junction of Sturt and Grenville Streets), the oldest of their kind in the world. It is particularly rare because these English 12 sided lamps were built large enough to house candles, pre-dating piped gas systems when street lights became much smaller. In 1807 William Sugg became the first person to make and lay a gas pipeline for lighting, and the Sugg company which designed and manufactured gas lighting was for a time one of the biggest such companies in the world." The lamp is the same as those outside Buckingham Palace in London. Check out https://williamsugghistory.co.uk/?page_id=94 for more detailed information about the history of the lights.

9. Town Hall
The Ballarat Town Hall, which dominates Sturt Street, is actually the third Town Hall in the city. The Victorian Heritage Council (see https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/67573/download-report) notes: " It was constructed in 1870 to the designs of Architects J J Lorenz and H R Caselli (Interiors), the 1860 second Town Hall (Police Court) being incorporated in the new building but refaced . The symmetrical facade decorated with a trabeated system of pilasters, is dominated by the dome roofed clock tower, which has a peal of bells and pedimented end towers with fan-shaped windows ... The building is one of the earliest very substantial town halls in the State and is one of the very few with a central clock tower. Ballarat Town Hall is believed to be one of a few in the world with a peal of bells. The detailing of the corner towers is most unusual. Parts of the interior are intact." If you really want to experience the building in all its glory there is a ten point audio tour which looks at the building and various rooms - the Portrait Room, the Council Chamber, the Jessie Scott Room, the Morton Room - in great detail. It can be accessed, and listened to, at http://www.hulballarat.org.au/townhall.php.

10. Former Post Office Building
Located at the corner of  Lydiard and Sturt Streets, the former Post Office was Victoria's second largest post office. The GPO in Melbourne was larger. "The earliest section, designed in Italianate palazzo style by the Public Works Department during William Wardell's tenure as Inspector-General and Chief Architect, opened in 1864. A telegraph office and treasury was added to the Lydiard street north frontage in 1871, followed by further offices and a clock tower in 1885."For more detailed information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1364/download-report.

11. Camp Street
In the 1850s a Government Camp (hence the name) was established on this elevated site to give troopers an open view of the gold diggings below. It was from this point that government troopers left to march to the Eureka Stockade on 3 December, 1854. Today Camp Street is notable for its impressive historic buildings including the Masonic Hall, the Police Station, the YMCA and the Trades Hall.

12. Summerscales Building
Occupying the corner of Lydiard Street and Camp Street, and with a number of shops under the awning, the Summerscale Building was constructed in 1895 by bookseller, H.J. Summerscales. The shop he built included part of the Mining Board Room and was extended in 1901.

15. Former Police Court
Located just up from the corner of Lydiard Street, this handsome redbrick Federation-era courthouse (sometimes known as the Sheriff's Office) was built as the New Police Court in 1904 and contained a two-storey courtroom with Clerks’ and Magistrates’ rooms. After 1941, when courtrooms were provided in the new state government offices. It is now used as the Federation University's Arts Academy’s music theatre studio.

16. Ballarat Police Station (also known as Huyghue House)
Located at 15 Camp Street, and uniquely defined by its decorative cast iron veranda, this Italianate multi-coloured building was constructed between 1884 and 1886 on a bluestone base. The old police station was renamed after S. D. S. Huyghue, a Canadian-born novelist, poet and essayist who witnessed the events of the Eureka Stockade. The Victorian Heritage Database records that "This double storey brick building was constructed as a police station for a contract sum of £1623 3s 11d. The northern single storey wing was apparently added at a later date. The brown brickwork is relieved by bands of cream, and rough-faced bluestone is used below grounds floor level along Camp Street. A raised single storey verandah with cast iron columns and balustrading complete the camp street elevation. The use of decorative cast iron (of a type more commonly seen in residential work) makes this police station unique in Victoria." See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/61 for details. The building now forms part of the Art Gallery of Ballarat, housing offices and meeting rooms.

17. Pratt's Warehouse
Located at 101-103 Mair Street (on the corner of Camp Street) with the old David Pratt & Sons General Merchants still on the side of the building, this free standing rough-faced masonry warehouse was built in 1869 as McDowall and Gray’s Warehouse to a design by prominent local architect, J.A. Donae. The Victorian Heritage Database notes that it is "a rare example of a two-storey masonry warehouse of the mid-19th century. In its original form, with pulleys, hooks, and hoists, it exhibits the type of warehouse structure of the day ... it is a free-standing corner structure with a double facade. The facade is also notable for its unusual false and real chimneys, used to establish the symmetry on the Mair Street side." Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1347/download-report for more details.

18. Former YMCA
Located at 38 Camp Street(corner of Field Street), the former YMCA " is a fine example of Edwardian style architecture. Built on an unusually shaped and sharp block, the building has a complex design that utilises the tight space. Designed in Federation Queen Anne style the building features a pepper pot dome and an impressive sheer wall disappearing down Field Street. It features a profusion of stained glass windows on all facades, an open bay with Art Nouveau fretwork and circular accented balustrading along the roofline. Built in 1908 on land which was given by John W. Wilson, one of the pioneer citizens of Ballarat, the building was opened by the Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin as Ballarat's YMCA, and operated as such until 1994 ... Queen Anne was mostly a residential style inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in England, but also encompassed some of the more stylised elements of Art Nouveau, which gave it an more decorative look. Queen Anne style civic buildings are a rarity in Australia. The red brick from which the YMCA is built is typically Arts and Crafts as is the the roughcast wall treatment over the portico, on which the Young Men's Christian Association's name appears in stylised lettering. The beautiful stained glass windows on the other hand are very Art Nouveau in design, as is the fretwork around the open upper floor bay. The pepper pot dome is made of pressed metal in a "fish scale" pattern, which was made very popular by the worldwide craze for all things Japanese in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries after Japan opened its borders to Westerners." For more information check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/40262251@N03/7109116899.

19.Ballarat Trades Hall
Located at 24 Camp Street, the Ballarat Trades Hall was constructed in 1887-88 as a meeting place for trade unions and the offices of the local Trades and Labour Council. The Victorian Heritage Database notes: "It is a three-storey brick building set on a sharply angled site. Its rendered facade is executed in a grandiose mannerist design using giant Corinthian orders and broken pediments. The hall is located on the ground floor with offices at the front and the central bluestone stair leads to more office space on the 1st floor and a meeting room on the second. With the exception of the facade, the building is simple, functional and unadorned. The building was designed by prolific Ballarat architects, James and Piper, and built by local contractors, Leech and Outtrim, at a cost of £2,128. Only Ballarat tradesmen were allowed to work on its construction." There is more detail at https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/62.

Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill is a huge open-air museum established in 1970 near the site of the first gold strike at Ballarat and on the site of the Sovereign Quartz Mining Company which sank a shaft of 216 metres near the summit of the hill. It is designed so that visitors can spend a day or two exploring the rich diversity of experiences it offers.
It seeks to recreate aspects of Ballarat as it was in the gold mining heyday of the 1850s. As the website explains: "Sovereign Hill is a living museum with working exhibits brought to life by costumed characters and over 40 horses. Set on 25 acres of an original mining site, Sovereign Hill is a goldfields town with shops, hotels, a theatre, schools, factories, a gold diggings and underground mines to explore. The buildings duplicate the original structures from the 1850s as they were photographed photographed, drawn or painted. Actors in authentic costumes populate the historical park on a rostered basis. They engage in activities appropriate to the era, employ 1850s technology and demonstrate contemporary social values and attitudes. The sounds of Sovereign Hill - the working steam engines, stamper batteries, horses' hooves, passenger coaches - help to make it a convincing and realistic experience.
The daily activities (see https://www.sovereignhill.com.au/visit/what-s-on/daily-activities) include a goldfields tour, diggings tour, Red Hill mine tour, gold panning, demonstrations by a blacksmith, musket firing, theatre events, gold pouring, redcoat soldiers, gold mine tours, candlemaker, metal spinning, wheelwrighting, horses and stables and street activities.

The main activities include:

Mine Adventures - this is a fully guided tour of a gold mine with a tram journey into the heart of the mine. There are three options: (a) the secret chamber - where two Chinese miners seek for gold (b) trapped - recalls the story of 27 miners trapped by a flood at Creswick Mine in 1882 and (c) Journey through the labyrinth of gold - a journey through a Ballarat mine.
Red Hill Mine - this is a self-guided tour which leads to the discovery of the famous Welcome nugget. It weighed 69 kilograms. There is more detailed information at https://www.sovereignhill.com.au/visit/what-s-on/mine-adventures.

Trades, Crafts & Stores - Check out https://www.sovereignhill.com.au/visit/what-s-on/trades-crafts-stores. The range of activities at Sovereign Hill includes a gold smelting works, a wheelwright and coach builder, a foundry, a horse bazaar, a saddlery, a jeweller, a printer, a candle works, a tinsmith, a theatre, an apothecaries hall, a post office, and photographic rooms as well as gift shops, a confectionary and a drapery store.

Hidden Histories - the story of the Wadawurrung Aboriginal people told through a series of excellent and interesting videos. Check out https://sovereignhillhiddenhistories.com.au/videos which offers commentary on the museum collection, the food eaten by the local people before the arrival of European, the Aboriginal mining practices, the role of the Native Police, the use of science to justify racism, the clothing worn by the Wadawurrung people, and the use of trees, ochre, foods and medicine.
Sovereign Hill is open from 10.00 am - 5.00 pm daily and the Gold Museum is open from 9.30 am - 5.30 pm. There are additional costs for the Gold Mine Tours, Coach Rides and the Sweet Experience.
At night time there is the Aura show which occurs twice nightly which, as the website explains (see https://aurasovereignhill.com.au for bookings and times) "Over 64 acres, hundreds of stunning projections create an immersive storytelling experience that transports you back in time. The Wadawurrung creation story is told with projections on a magnificent lake, gunfights and protests erupt under the night sky, and the gold rush is brought to life as never before ... Feel the vibrations as stars explode in front of your eyes, watch as the land is transformed by the gold rush, and dive into the chaos of the Eureka Rebellion as you witness the creation and discovery of the world's most precious metal."
The complex is located in Bradshaw Street, just south of the city centre, tel: (03) 5337 1199 or check out https://www.sovereignhill.com.au.


Other Attractions in the Area

Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail
The Ballarat–Skipton Rail Trail runs 57 kilometres along the old Skipton railway line from Ballarat, south-west through Haddon, Smythesdale and Pittong to Skipton. The total length of the trail is 63 km including a section from Ballarat railway station to the trailhead. One major landmark on the route is the historic timber Nimmons Bridge at Newtown - this is on the 17 km Smythesdale to Linton section. There is a very major description of the stages of the rail trail at https://www.railtrails.org.au/trail?view=trail&id=145. Bikes can be hired at Linton Bike Hire.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to Wathaurong Aboriginal people.

* In 1837 a group of Scottish squatters from the Geelong area headed north searching for sheep and cattle pastures. They were the first Europeans in the district.

* William Cross Yuille, camped adjacent to Black Swamp (now Lake Wendouree) and established the 'Ballaarat' station in March, 1838.

* A settlement developed at Buninyong and on 8 August, 1851, a blacksmith named Thomas Hiscock, found the first gold in the district.

* John Dunlop and James Regan started prospecting on the Ballaarat Station and on 21 August, 1851 they struck gold at Poverty Point in the White Horse Range.

* By mid-October, 1851 there were over 2000 diggers in the area.

* On 25 August, 1851, the diggers learned that the government was to impose a 30-shilling monthly licence fee. They organised a meeting to oppose the tax.

* On 21 September 1851 the licence impost led to a confrontation.

* By 7 November, 1851 the Poverty Point site was worked out and the area virtually deserted.

* By December, 1851 Ballarat was surveyed and a plan drawn up to establish a town.

* A second gold rush occurred in 1852 and skilled British miners arrived, sinking shafts into the flats at the foot of the hills. Numerous gold-rich quartz reefs, such as the Eureka, Gravel Pits and Canadian leads, were located.

* By 1853 there were 20,000 prospectors working the field. That year 9926 kg of gold were shipped to Melbourne with another 77 700 kg transported from 1854 to 1857.

* The first gold battery in Australia was established at Ballarat in 1854.

* The major single find of these years was the Welcome Nugget which, at almost 69 kg (99% of it pure gold), was the second-largest solid gold nugget to be found in the world. A cairn, on the corner of Mair and Humffray Streets, marks the spot of the find.

* In the meantime the settlement of Ballarat (originally spelled 'Ballaarat') had begun to emerge as a service centre to the diggings.

* Ballarat West was proclaimed a township in 1852 and the first town land sale occurred that year. Initially a 5-km stretch of canvas tents, it began to develop more substantial buildings with the addition of

* a proper hotel in 1853,

* an official post office building in 1854, the commencement of work on Christ Church Anglican Cathedral that same year,

* the erection of two churches in 1855,

* Ballarat became a municipality in 1855. At that time, between one-sixth and one-quarter of the population was Chinese although they were forced into six separate protectorates or villages from 1855. 

* and a gaol and hospital in 1856.

* Ballarat East became a municipality in 1857 and both were declared boroughs in 1863.

* The arrival of the railway from Geelong (Australia's first country railway) in 1862 further enhanced marketing, commercial and social possibilities.

* Small-scale shaft mining was gradually replaced by more ambitious deep-lead mining enterprises, particularly under the Sebastopol Plateau to the west which, between the late 1850s and 1875 (when the mines there started to close), produced far more gold than the Ballarat East fields.

* The Band of Hope Mine had a single shaft which yielded 9700 kg of gold.

* In 1868 the population of the Ballarat goldfield peaked at around 64 000.

* 1870 saw the formation of the Sebastapol Miners' Union.

* By 1870 the city had 477 hotels, 56 churches and 3 town halls.

* Ballarat West was declared a city in 1870

* Ballarat East became a city in 1872 (they were merged in 1921).

* In the late 1860s some 300 mining companies were working the fields and the Ballarat Stock Exchange was set up to facilitate the marketing of shares in mining ventures.

* The Phoenix Foundry was established in 1855, supplied batteries, engines, boilers and mining equipment throughout Australia and New Zealand.

* Other forms of industry appeared, including woollen mills (1872)

* The Phoenix foundry, for example, found a new lease of life when it won the contract to manufacture locomotives for the state government, producing 350 steam engines before it closed in 1906.

* Another local enterprise to emerge was Eleanor Lucas's lingerie factory which started as a cottage industry in 1888 (this factory was eventually taken over by Courtaulds in 1969).

* Moreover, the town became a significant rail centre with the lines to Maryborough and Ararat opening in 1875.

* The last gold mine closed down at Ballarat in 1918 although some tailings dumps were retreated in the desperate years of the Great Depression.

* The local fields yielded some £230 million worth of gold which, between 1851 and 1960, amounted to 27% of the state's total production.

* Throughout the twentieth century Ballarat has prospered as a major administrative, manufacturing and commercial service centre.


Visitor Information

The Ballarat Visitor Information Centre, Town Hall, 225 Sturt Street, Tel: (03) 5320 5741 or toll-free on 1800 446 633.


Useful Websites

The official Ballarat website can be found at https://www.visitballarat.com.au.

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