Ballarat and Bendigo - Gold Towns of Victoria
Ballarat and Bendigo
In 1851 gold was discovered at Ballarat and shortly afterward in nearby Bendigo. The gold finds set off a gold rush similar to the California gold rush of 1849.
The population of Victoria exploded as its focus went from sheep to gold.
The two regional cities of Ballarat and Bendigo were built from the profits of gold, and have some of the widest avenues, beautiful boulevards and gracious buildings in Australia.
The gold rushes of the nineteenth century and the lives of those who worked the goldfields - the 'Diggers'- are set like concrete in Australian folklore.
The gold rushes had a profound impact on the national psyche. We see ourselves as still upholding the camaraderie, the mateship, found on the goldfields and we are proud of the Diggers' defiance and open disdain of authority.
Like anyone else, we're selective about our history. We remember the good parts, gloss over the bad and ignore the ugly.
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days.
Our soldiers are called Diggers and you can still hear '"G'day Digger" used as a friendly term of address, like Mate
A short trip from Melbourne
Ballarat, population of 84,500, is a large regional centre, blending a budding cosmopolitan lifestyle with the charm and heritage of the gold rush era.
It has a quite distinctive provincial feel and yet it's just up the road from Melbourne, a drive of approximately 75 minutes along the excellent Western Freeway, a duel lane carriageway for almost all of the 110 kilometres.
It's a safe, secure drive although I prefer the Fast Train from Melbourne to Ballarat which takes me at 160 km/h in carpeted comfort. Completed in time for the rise in visitors during the Commonwealth Games in March of 2006, it's now a very popular commuter train.
I've been coming up on a pilgrimage to the Eureka Stockade since the 1950s and it's only the last few years that I've seen this city change immensely.
It's much closer to Melbourne with the freeway, you can easily commute, and a much more cosmopolitan atmosphere has appeared.
Cafes, Bars and Bistrots
Although Ballarat is further north it's significantly colder than Melbourne, perhaps it's the high altitude that causes the freezing nights. (Turn on the electric blanket for a good half hour before you jump into bed, and I always bring a hot water bottle with me.)
The number and variety of restaurants has exploded and now offer a range which includes Thai, Greek, Italian and Fusion styles. The diners have moved outside.
Sitting out on the footpath sipping superb coffee and enjoying the Passagiata, you could almost be in Lygon Street on a quiet day.
Please note, don't expect to get traditional Chinese food anywhere in Ballarat. Strangely, despite the considerable influence of the Chinese, you can't get a decent Chinese meal anywhere. If you're like me, and used to the best of Cantonese and Schezuan cooking in Melbourne, order a pizza instead.
Ballarat Wildlife Park
Get a photo with a Koala
Five minutes from Sovereign Hill. in 32 acres of woodland, is a collection of Australian native animals and reptiles chosen for their educational and conservation potential.
Sunday is a popular day, at 3.00 pm the crocodile keeper feeds the 4.2metre saltwater crocodile and there are always extra shows during school holidays. There are more wild creatures in the Reptile House, frogs. lizards, snakes and turtles. I prefer the Koala Nursery. (You can have your photo taken with one of the resident koalas).
Eureka Stockade Gardens
The Eureka Stockade Gardens acknowledge the Eureka Rebellion as a significant step in the development of political and social democracy in Australia and provides a beautiful and historic setting to celebrate its legacy.
The Gardens, and the Eureka Centre, are an important pilgrimage destination for both national and international visitors retracing the steps of their forebears associated with Eureka and the Ballarat goldfields.
In an official acknowledgement of its historical significance the Eureka Stockade gardens precinct was added to the Australian National Heritage List on the 3rd December 2004 - 150 years after the Rebellion.
Another city built with gold
Just down the highway from Ballarat is Bendigo, (a 90 minute drive north west of Melbourne) and a charming, elegant regional city. An ideal base to explore Victoria's golden heritage.
It is known as a "City within a Forest", being completely surrounded by National and Regional Parks. There are kilometres of interweaving walking and cycle paths through the Bendigo bush, many leading to lookouts with breathtaking views of the city and countryside.
In the centre of town, gold rush era architecture nestles among century-old gardens, sidewalk cafÃ©s, art galleries and antique stores.
There's a significant Chinese heritage here, as there is in Ballarat.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral was built with money from gold.
I'm from Melbourne where trams are part of the background, but Bendigo runs her trams as a tourist attraction.
The current track runs from the Central Deborah Gold Mine through Pall Mall in the city's centre, to Lake Weeroona and the Chinese Joss House on the north side of the city.
The Bendigo Tram Depot is now the oldest operating depot in Australia, and each tram tour includes a stop at the heritage listed depot to explore history dating back to 1903.
Mark Twain writes on Ballarat and Bendigo
THE EQUATOR Part 3. A JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD
BY SAMUEL L. CLEMENS
Read the whole section here on Gutenberg :
- Following the Equator
The approaches to Ballarat were beautiful. The features, great green expanses of rolling pasture-land, bisected by eye contenting hedges of commingled new-gold and old-gold gorse--and a lovely lake. Ninety-two in the shade again, but balmy and comfo
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© 2008 Susanna Duffy