Discovering Australia’s Golden Heritage
If it was 160 years ago, I’d be squatting in mud swirling my pan away hoping to strike it rich. While I can still squat and try my hands at gold panning, the gold rush is no more and my chance of discovering anything more valuable than pebbles and dirt is as slim as winning the national lottery, however it is still possible to at least attempt to live the lives of those who came here for the golden fortune in today’s Ballarat.
Ballarat During the Gold Rush
Ballarat is Australia’s most iconic mining city. It all started in 1851 when gold was discovered at the foot of a hill nearby which began the ‘Gold Rush’ era which brought people from as many as 19 countries to Australia for a piece of the natural wealth.
Today, I am re-living the experience in Sovereign Hill, a theme park like attraction where actors are hired to dress in period clothing, speak in period tones and live life as if it were still 19th century Australia. I browse the Victorian general store for copper pans and china cups, visit the village blacksmith who is pounding away at a piece of iron like his life really depended on it and dodged the drunks that stumble out of the ‘hotels’ swearing their lives to the Queen. Among it all, children emerge from a school to be photographed with the modern day dress aliens that have paid entry into their fantasy world.
Coffee, Markets and Gold Nuggets
I had started the day sipping a cup of strong coffee from Bridge Street Mall in the center of the city while walking through the city streets admiring all the Victorian architecture. From the Town Hall to the train station, from the major roads to the side streets there were history imprinted everywhere, with a bronze Queen Victoria looking onto art deco cafes, boutique stores and galleries wedged in between.
I peer lustfully at an imitation ‘Welcome Nugget’, a piece of gold found in 1858 that weighed a whole 68kg and the second largest gold nugget ever found being displayed in the windows of The Mining Exchange Gold Shop on Lydiard St. While the Welcome nugget is now pieces of British sovereigns, the gold dream is still alive and cross my fingers for my own attempt later at Sovereign Hill.
Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka
Before going to experience history I thought I’d first learn its details and pay tribute to one of the most important event of the Australian Gold Rush era, the Eureka Stockade. On the site of this significant Australian history is now the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E.). A large Eureka flag flies proudly on the site of the rebellion where the original, torn flag taken from the site in 1854 is now being displayed in the museum, along with events of world democratic movements.
Armed with my newfound historic knowledge and a built up falsified confidence of being able to find gold, I am now panning furiously in a mud pool in Sovereign Hill, eyes narrowed and focused on the smallest possibility of glitter. Alas, luck is not on my side, but I am able to put theory to practical understanding through the spectacular Blood on the Southern Cross light and sound show.
On the morning of our departure from Ballarat we head over to Lake Wendouree for the Ballarat Lakeside Market. The tranquil lake is said to be the heart of the city and we sit on the grass, morning coffee in hand and dream of golden thoughts on this enchanting place.
Written by Amy McPherson
Based in Sydney, Australia, Amy is a writer stuck in the corporate world. A Business Analyst by profession, she works her life around travelling and has managed to squeeze in postgraduate studies in writing somewhere in between. Amy met her husband in 2006 while working on a community development project in Peru, and the travel-holic pair celebrated their love by getting married in Vanuatu in 2010. Amy keeps a blog on various travel topics at www.footprintsandmemories.com