Continuing our theme of relentless education, we left the Grampians for the big smoke. In our case, Ballarat and the major draw card, Sovereign Hill and the gold rush era. We stopped along the way at Ararat to visit the Gum San Museum. A tribute to the many thousands of Chinese workers who left everything in China for the supposed riches of the goldfields in Victoria. Some made their fortune, but many died either en-route or toiling under unimaginably harsh conditions on the goldfields. Whilst not part of the Eureka Rebellion, they had their own clashes with European workers and police because of the xenophobia of the day and especially when special levies were applied only to the ‘Celestials’ as they were known. Curiously, history may judge it to have elements of a fairness, primarily as they intended to ship almost all their gold back home to China, and in a modern context, one can imagine the taxes and duties applied today if that occurred.
Once in Ballarat we chose a rather posh ‘Big 4′ caravan park within walking distance to Sovereign Hill. This was an advantage given we managed three visits there. Apart from the initial sticker price shock ($293 before a minor discount), we found Sovereign Hill excellent and once inside, you can see where the money goes. Not only do they operate a pair of 104 year old boilers which power the considerable number of steam powered apparatus around the site, but also teams of Clydesdale horses and a plethora of period costumed staff, only some of whom volunteer.
Our ticket also included the ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ night time light and sound show. This was fantastic (K – but freezing!!), and recreates the events leading up to the infamous Eureka Rebellion of 1854. The entire show is a clever mix of carefully timed computer controlled lighting, fires, simulated gunfire and directional sound sources which give the illusion of a much larger stage as the story unfolds. As it is, the event is held in three areas, one of which has been purpose built and is well away from the rest of Sovereign Hill. Just one actor, who plays Eureka activist turned politician, Peter Lalor, brings up the finale to the show. This finishes the show on a more human touch, making you forget the rest of the show is run by a computer!
No not dressed for the snow, just rugged up to cope with Victoria’s version of a summer’s night – 5 degrees! After planning for a year of “summer” we were forced to wear pretty much every piece of warm clothing we had!
Luckily the stiff ticket price includes two days entry as well as entry into the adjacent gold museum. We used both days to see each and every attraction, including having some fun panning for the gold flecks that they’ve thrown into the artificial stream for the last 43 years (we were told they add 3 gm to the stream each day). Apparently up to 50% of the tourists who visit are from China, which we’re told is a result of the heavy marketing in China, and according to one staff member, perhaps their lust for gold.
The gold museum had replicas of some of the larger nuggets found around the place, as well as an exhibition on the history of cycling. I was amazed to discover for instance, that two young ladies decided on a whim to ride to Queensland for the winter and ended up cycling around Australia for three years in the 1940’s. And I thought I was adventurous riding 270 km to Ulladulla in 1987!
K – As well as Sovereign Hill the boys and I managed to have a walk around central Ballarat and check out their Art Gallery. James was keen after spotting an abstract painting in one of the tourist brochures and wanted to check out in the flesh.