During a recent visit to Melbourne we made a trip to Sovereign Hill, an outdoor museum near the historic town of Ballarat, which tells the story of the Victorian Gold Fields of the 19th Century. Ballarat, the largest provincial city in Victoria lies around 105 kilometres west-north-west of Melbourne and was built on the wealth of the gold fields. The name is thought to originate from the Aboriginal term ‘balla arat’, meaning resting place. Gold was first discovered in 1851 and within months what was originally a small sheep run had been transformed by the arrival of 20,000 migrants, as news of the rich alluvial fields spread around the world. In 1854 the Eureka Rebellion ( more popularly know as the ‘Battle of Eureka Stockade) resulted from the miner’s objection to the cost of the Miner’s licence (the means of taxation by the governing authorities) without representation, as well as the conduct of the police and troops. The rebellion was brutally put down by the Victorian government but the resultant massive public support for the ‘rebels’ resulted in full white male suffrage through the Electoral Act of 1856, the first example of political democracy in Australian history. There has been continuing debate over the political significance of the ‘Eureka Rebellion’ and the place of the ‘Eureka Flag‘ ever since.
After a brief trip around Ballarat we headed off to Sovereign Hill which has developed, over many years, into one of Victoria’s biggest tourist attractions. The township has been designed to reflect many of the characteristics of the settlement during the ‘gold era’ and many of the local inhabitants dress up in period costume and become the leading personalities of the town.
Many children from around Australia choose to spend a ‘term’ at Sovereign Hill to experience what school would have been like in the 1870′s. Here they are walking up the hill to their morning class. I looked in on one of their teaching sessions and it reminded me a little of my early school days!
We were able to see shops and restaurants of the period, as well as the local theatre and town apothecary with his various curative offerings. It was important to watch out for the stage coach as it rattled through the dusty township!
I will cover some more aspects of the gold rush days at Sovereign Hill in my next post.