AUS: 1300 630 488    NZ: 0800 1477 6287

Ballarat – not just a gold rush town

Ballarat's heritage-listed railway stationA gold rush town with a rich history, grand architecture and a burgeoning wine industry, Ballarat’s the place to be.

Ballarat’s history and the turmoils of the 1850s helped forge the stereotypical Australian identity. This city of 83,000 people is actually Victoria’s third largest.

Ballarat, 106km north-west of Melbourne, witnessed one of the richest gold rushes in Australia in the 19th century, and the events of December 1854 – the Eureka Rebellion, or Stockade, as it’s popularly known – changed colonial Australia for ever.

Ballarat means ‘resting place’ in the local Aboriginal language, however, the tranquillity of the region was forever shattered when John Dunlop and James Regan struck gold in August 1851. By September, 1000 miners had arrived, by 1853, some 20,000 people of all nationalities had moved in and, by the 1860s the population had soared to 64,000.

The small town had a bewildering 300 mining companies, 56 churches, three town halls, 477 hotels and 11 banks. 

The gold find was astronomical; in the first six years more than 77,700kg were sent under police escort to the Melbourne Treasury and, by the time the last mine closed in 1918, the total yield had exceeded 640,000kg, worth about $10 billion.

It wasn’t all rich pickings though. Three years after gold was discovered, disgruntled miners, fed up with expensive licences and brutal treatment, staged a protest that escalated into an armed civil uprising; 22 diggers and six soldiers and police were killed in a short-lived battle, now considered a defining moment in Australia’s history.  

Today’s town

While a visit to Ballarat certainly provides a history lesson in gold and Eureka, the town itself is anything but old and stuffy. Today’s Ballarat fuses its historic precincts with contemporary restaurants, trendy bars and cafes, and showcases its past through self-guided walking tours, a recreated goldfield town, an exciting sound and light show, and impressive artworks displayed both indoors and out.

The legacy of extraordinary local wealth is a city of broad avenues lined with grand buildings, stately gardens and galleries, and museums packed with priceless art and historical relics. The tattered remains of the Eureka flag, which fluttered above the stockade, are displayed under glass at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, while a heritage walking trail winds along elegant Sturt and Lydiard streets, linking more than 50 significant sites.

Grand buildings include the Town Hall and Mechanics Institute and the old Post Office in Sturt Street, while Lydiard Street, considered one of the grandest thoroughfares in the country, displays late 19th century splendour in the Mining Exchange building, Her Majesty’s Theatre and the magnificent Craig’s Royal Hotel.

A visit to Sovereign Hill, a recreated 1850s gold-mining town, is a must for a snapshot of everyday life in Ballarat’s early boom days. The mock village with old-fashioned lolly shops and horse-drawn carriages morphs into an open air theatre at night to stage Blood on the Southern Cross, a sound and light show depicting the tragic Eureka events.

Ballarat’s heritage buildings now house boutique hotels and fine restaurants, including the 1870s hotel Ansonia on Lydiard, Craig’s Royal Hotel and the Lydiard Wine Bar, whose extensive list of local and international wines and cosmopolitan menu saw it take out the region’s 2011 Golden Plate award for best restaurant.

Image courtesy of Tourism Victoria