Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why we love the Rat

After gold was discovered in NSW & the news of the find published in February 1851, it sparked the start of Australia's gold rush. Thousands of workers left their employment in the cities & struck out to the country to seek the riches that the land was offering up.

Now, poor old Victoria was granted independence from NSW in January 1851, but with the news of the NSW goldfields quickly reaching Victoria, the fledgling colony was left floundering when most of
its men headed north to the diggings. So much so, Victoria's Governor La Trobe reported
widespread desertions following the gold rushes, saying in his report back to the British authorities, "cottages are now deserted, houses are all to let,business is at a standstill and even schools are closed. In some of the Melbourne suburbs not a man is left and the women are grouping together for protection to keep house."

The ships in the harbour were deserted and did not have crews to sail, let alone load or unload goods. This was a disastrous start for the new administration.So to try & stem the tide of workers
leaving the colony, the Victorian Government offered a £200 ($1,000) reward for gold found within 200 miles of Melbourne.

So it was on August 8, 1851, blacksmith Thomas Hiscock, found the first payable gold of the Ballarat goldfields, 60 miles from Melbourne & sparked the start of the Victorian gold rushes.

Victoria & Govenor La Trobe were saved.

I have visited most of the NSW gold rush towns, Bathurst, Sofala,
Gulgong, Hill End & even Kiandra, but not one of these areas comes within cooee of Ballarat. I had never been to this part of Victoria before, so as I came over the last hill on the Midland Highway just before the Ballarat exit & seen just how big this iconic Australian town is, well to tell the truth, I was astonished! Not only by the physical size of the place (population - 100,000), but as you drive into the city, just how clean & presentable Ballarat is. Also, amazing is how many historic & refurbished buildings are left in town, especially around Lydiard & Sturt Streets, where you think you had just stepped back in time to the 1880's.

The area around Ballarat is also a tourism Mecca with so many museums & places of interest to visit it is hard to know where to start. We only had basically 2 days to explore the area, so we concentrated on the big 3, Sovereign Hill, The Gold Museum & The Eureka Centre.

If you are going to stay in Ballarat, the Big 4 Goldfields Holiday Park is close to all attractions, especially Sovereign Hill, you can check it out at -

Sovereign Hill & The Gold Museum

Sovereign Hill is an open air living museum that is representative of what Ballarat was like during
the first decade of the township. Sovereign Hill is set on 25 hectares of what was one of Ballarats original goldfields. There are over 60 buildings that have been re-created from original pictures of the Ballarat goldfields, including, schools, churches, hotels & above ground mine workings, including an original & still operational ore stamper battery. You can you can take a 45 minute tour of the underground mine & see how cramped & dangerous these working were for the miners (it is safe for tourists though!). There are numerous demonstrations of all facets of life on the goldfields, including wheelwrighting, candle making, Cobb & Co stages & even kids in period costume getting schooled!

My favourite however was watching the pouring of a an $80,000 gold ingot at the Gold Smelting Works & then getting to hold it, the feel of real gold, so intoxicating. However, if you do want to find your own gold, you can pan for it. You won't find a $80k nugget, but it is still pretty exciting to find flecks of gold which you can keep & take home as a memento of your visit. There is just so much to see & do that even in the 6 hours we stayed, we still didn't get to see it all & another visit is a must.

Across the road from Sovereign Hill, is the Gold Museum which comprehensively covers the
history of the Ballarat goldfields & which also houses the largest gold coin collection in Australia. It also has a wonderful photography exhibition of the Ballarat street scape, so anyone interested in photography must visit this outstanding collection of rare photo's. Again, we only had an hour to peruse the museum, which really isn't enough time to take in all the information presented & another visit has been penciled in.

The Eureka Centre

The Eureka Centre is a brand new building that sits on the site of the Eureka Stockade & gives a comprehensive account of the actions that became known as Australia's fight for democracy & universal suffrage.

It is the place where
at 3am on the 3rd December Commissioner Rede ordered his 276 well armed police & military personnel to attack the stockade which was manned by only 150 miners.This attack left 22 stockaders either killed immediately or died soon after, and a further 12 wounded.The government side also had 4 killed and 12 wounded, so it was an extremely brief & bloody affair.

When I visited this site I got a deep humbling feeling, to be where a lot of what makes us Australian; such as mateship, standing up for our rights & our healthy distrust of authority took place here on our own soil. While the exploits of Australia military forces at Gallipoli &
Kokoda should not be forgotten, it is the Eureka site that should be a place where all Australians should visit in their lifetime. It is a place remember & honour the struggles that were fought for our democracy.

The 3rd day in December each year should be celebrated as our national day, a day when we stand as one nation & swear allegiance to our great country.

"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight defend our rights & liberties!"

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