Ballarat is the place where Sam and I lived for almost six months of our Australian adventure: we arrived there around the 15th of March, knowing nothing about the place, only that it was very close to the farm where we had found a job: we were ready to do the 88 days necessary to extend our visas.
Working with spuds might have not been the best of the jobs, especially in the cold winter, but we grew fond of the people we shared this adventure with, of this “thoughtless” kind of job we did, of the quiet and simple lifestyle we experienced and, ultimately, of this lovely town.
So I have decided to dedicate a post to the city that we have called home for several months, to share the amazing things it has to offer and to spread the word that even the less known towns in Australia can be truly awesome!
♥ A BIT OF HISTORY ♥:
Ballarat is not as small and isolated as many people might think! With its 105,000 inhabitants, it’s the third most populated area in the state of Victoria and the biggest inland settlement.
The Koori People (Indigenous Australians of NSW and Victoria) called the area “Balla arat”, which means “resting place”.
Ballarat is famous for two important historical events:
At the beginning of 1800, gold was found in the state of New South Wales. Many people started to leave Melbourne, trying their luck elsewhere. The Government of Victoria offered a reward to whoever would find gold around Melbourne, therefore attracting people back. This happened in 1851, when gold was found in the Ballarat’s district of Poverty Point; the news quickly spread of its rich alluvial fields and lots of people started to flock into Victoria. The impressive gold rush transformed the town from a small sheep station into a major settlement. In Ballarat, gold-diggers discovered an impressive nugget of 69 kg and named it “Welcome Nugget”.
When lots of people started to flow into Victoria looking for gold, a “licence fee” was introduced. Everyone had to pay it in order to earn the right of digging. It was quite high though and not everyone could afford it (especially as it had to be paid in advance). Dissent started to spread among the diggers.
The very frequent licence hunts, the poor work conditions of the diggers, the brutality of the police and different injustices, all brought to the miners’ rebellion. At the end of November 1854, 800 miners burnt their licences and erected barricades at Eureka (a suburb in Ballarat). The battle that follow was won by the military troops but in the long run, it brought to the abolition of the licence’s fee and more rights for the miners including the first male suffrage in Australia.
For this reason, this battle is considered by some the birth of democracy in Australia.
♥ 10 TOP THINGS TO DO IN BALLARAT ♥
- 1) Visit the BALLARAT WILDLIFE PARK. This is seriously a great place! Ever heard of Patrick, the oldest known rescued wombat in captivity? He even has a Facebook page and a Tinder profile! And he’s not in the Melbourne zoo, he’s here in Ballarat!
You can visit him and other cute wombats, koalas, snakes, dingoes and a huge croc in this place where kangaroos and wallabies roam free… you can even handfeed them! It was the first time I got so close to wallabies and ‘roos, and it was quite an emotional moment.
For $30.00 you can have a very personal experience with a wombat: you can cuddle it, hug it and take pictures with him.
I didn’t really know wombats before moving here: it is not the most famous Australian animal and it is a shame really: these marsupials are indeed very cute and fluffy, they sleep in burrows and eat carrots, walk slowly and they feel very cuddly….I will never regret the moment I hugged this big, sweet animal.You can get close to other animals as well, but remember that when it comes to koalas, here you can only pet them but not hold them: because Australia is funny and every state has a different rule, remember that Queensland is the only state that allows you to hold koalas!
- 2) Go to SOVEREIGN HILL. It’s an open-air, live museum that reproduces the atmosphere of the 1850s Victorian Gold Rush. Thanks to the great attention to detail, with people walking around in costume, you will be swept into another era and you can watch the work of blacksmiths, coachbuilders, candle and sweet makers.You can even visit an underground mine and do a bit of gold panning. Not to be missed!It’s unique. It’s incredible. It makes you feel like you are living directly inside the “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” or “The Young Riders” stories (You’ve never watched these TV series?? Oooh you missed a lot! If you are a lady especially, you missed a bunch of sexy guys on their horses, western style…never mind).
- 3) Walk around LAKE WENDOUREE. It’s a stunning artificial lake whose 6km of lakeside track takes the name from a local Olympian, Steve Moneghetti. Walking around it is just so relaxing, you can watch and feed Black Swans and other ducks, kayaking in the lake, do some serious house watching (amazing villas around here) or simply sit on a bench and read, enjoying the panorama…there’s even a small Farmers Market taking place here twice a month, with delicious local produce.
- 4) Visit the BOTANICAL GARDENS. These nice and well maintained gardens are situated just across the Lake Wendouree and are worth a visit. We found them extremely nice during winter, so I can only imagine how stunning they look during summer time. Walk along Prime Minister Avenue, and you will see a collection of bronze statues representing the Australian Prime Ministers.
- 5) Walk around LAKE ESMOND. Not as impressive as Lake Wendouree for sure (but on the plus side of the comparison: not as busy!!) but still a nice little lake that is a pleasure to walk around. You can walk up the stairs to find a barbecue area, public toilet and kids playground. From the top of the stairs, enjoy a beautiful view over the lake. If you go at sunset, you’ll have a secure chance to take lovely pics!
- 6) Take the CITY CIRCLE BUS. It’s a free hop-on, hop-off bus that runs every ten minutes, along the main street in Ballarat which is Sturt Street. I found it quite fun how the centre is scattered with yellow footprints telling you how many steps you are from the next bus stop. This free bus started to run in January 2016 and was meant to be a solution to lighten up the traffic in the centre and solve the parking problem. But it is good for tourists too obviously, as a fast, free and comfy way to explore the city centre.
- 7) Go for a show at the HER MAJESTY’S theatre or enjoy movie dates at REGENT cinema. You will find both in the city centre, along Lydiard Street. We went to see the play “Wuthering Heights” at the theatre, which was very good and emotional! If you are still lucky to be younger than 30 years old, it’s good to know that for you tickets cost less than half price!! And at the vintage looking 8 screen Cinema, the three cheapest days to go are Magic Mondays, Terrific Tuesdays and Wonderful Wednesdays. During these three days, an adult ticket costs $ 11.00 instead of $ 18.00. Win!
- 8) Explore the COFFEE SCENE. Everyone knows that there are lots of nice cafes in Melbourne. Well the good news is, Ballarat have them, too! The city centre is scattered with nice little cafés’, with unique atmosphere and interesting menus. As saving money was a must during our stay, we didn’t try all of them eheh but it was good from time to time to treat ourselves with a nice weekend brunch! You savour and appreciate it even more, I think. We loved for example FIKA CAFÉ’, L’ESPRESSO and KNIFE FORK SPOON Café’, the latter famous for its delicious and sexy-looking milkshakes…forget your diet because it is definitely worth it! But remember to always check the opening times in Australia!
- 9) Enjoy a fantastic view of the city at BLACK HILL. Black Hill Reserve is located in the north of Ballarat and it is a nice place to go for a bit of bushwalking. If you are really adventurous (and a bit crazy, might I say?) you can go down hilly paths with a bike…it seems to be quite a common thing to do in Ballarat. But the best part of the reserve is the lookout: the hill rises 495 metres above sea level and it is the highest point in Ballarat. It is particularly romantic going there to catch the sunset, while enjoying the view over the town.
- 10) Walk in the CBD. Last but not least, do the simplest and yet best thing you could do when in a new place: walk around.
Ballarat has little laneways that hide secret bars, cute cafes, unexpected decorations.The main streets Lydiard and Sturt Street are a triumph of Victorian architecture, some say no other place in Australia is so rich in history like these streets: the Town Hall, the former Mining Exchange, the Craig’s Royal Hotel (where Mark Twain stayed as well): simply walk along these beautiful central streets and go back in time with these amazing buildings.
After all, the best things in life are free.
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