Saturday, November 28, 2009

The City Built on Gold

Located northwest of Melbourne city, Ballarat was famous for being a mining town, and the site generated the greatest amount of gold during the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s. The city occupies an area of 740 square kilometres and houses an estimated population of over 88,000, and has a mixture of Victorian-era architecture interspersed by modern day buildings. Considered one of the state's premier tourism destination, Ballarat attracts some 1.8 million day trip visitors and about 13% of Victoria's annual 1.1 million overseas visitors.

Taking a walk along the streets and roads of Ballarat, one can't help feeling that it has retained much of that old world small town charm of a bygone era, while still modernising itself. The streetscape is vastly different from Melbourne as you may have guessed, and while vestiges of gold-generated opulence can be seen in its buildings, most are classically elegant rather than overtly ostentatious.

The Ballarat train station built in 1862 is the first place to check out. One can see that the name Victorian Railways befits the regal look of this building. The V-Line train from Melbourne stops here.

Her Majesty's Theatre is another popular stop where some of the state's finest performing arts acts are showcased.

The University of Ballarat specialises in the arts, and serves as a landmark here.

Our next stop was the elegant Craig's Royal Hotel, decked in Victorian splendour and established during the gold rush period of 1853.

Some of the well known guests who is supposed to be staying here tonight. Or are they?

At the cafe in the hotel, we decided to break for lunch. I had a delicious salmon baguette.

After looking around the cafe, I noticed this rather irreverent looking mug and coaster set!

We also walked around some of the sculptures in the city, like this one here which I think had some connection with the wars.

As well as the majestic looking Queen Victoria, perched in her rightful place in front of Ballarat's Town Hall along Sturt Street. The building actually had three flags - the Southern Cross used in the Eureka Stockade, the Australian Flag, and the Aboriginal Flag.

More Victorian-era buildings such as the famous gold and jewellery shop called the Mining Exchange circa 1887.

Of course, not all buildings are centuries old, and Ballarat does have some modern shops.

Our last stop is the Art Gallery of Ballarat, an impressive attraction with a collection established since 1884 as one of the best regional collections in Victoria.

We spotted this crowd attending the launch of Peter Blizzard's interesting exhibition on sculptures wrought from iron, wood and other materials.

(Courtesy of Ballarat Art Gallery)
The highlight of the gallery was the display of the original Southern Cross flag. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed, but you can see here that the fabric was already fairly worn. It was postulated that some of the miners may have cut off pieces of it to retain as a keepsake.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shockingly Good Advertisements?

As I was walking along Swanston Street this afternoon, a couple of advertisements caught my attention. Both came from the Worksafe Victoria, a government agency tasked to improve workplace health and safety in the state of Victoria. They were both very eye-catching and immediately got the message through.

Here's the first from a tram stop shelter:


And a second one on a tram which is quite unnerving to say the least. I saw a few heads turn to look at it as people boarded the tram:


Graphically painful re-enactments seemed to be the order of the day for their television commercials too. The one below is targeted at reducing musculo-skeletal injuries at the workplace, which fortunately isn't as gory or scary as the posters above, but probably just as painful.

The thing about all the advertisements above is that the message is very clear: Take care of your safety at work, or the consequences can be horrendous.

What do you think of these ads? Would they work elsewhere?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sovereign Hill Shines

Perched atop a hill in the gold mining city of Ballarat in Victoria, Sovereign Hill is an award winning outdoor museum cum heritage attraction which first opened in November 1970. Recreating the essence of a 19th century mining town, the open-air museum occupies a sprawling 25 hectare site that is linked to one of the richest alluvial gold rush in the world. Adding to its authenticity are staff members dressed in Victorian-era clothes who are friendly in an unpretentious manner.

Unlike commercially oriented theme parks plastered with sponsor brands, Sovereign Hill charms with realistic portrayal of life in the 19th century devoid of 20th and 21st century logos. Many of the shops also adopt traditional ways of making and retailing heritage goods and services, from blacksmiths to bars and bakeries. What's especially surprising were the multiple layers of experience which one encounters as a visitor, which whisks one magically away to a different time and place.

Our day began with a bang as a costumed musket-eer shows us how traditional guns were fired.

Wheels were made in the traditional way, using an iron spindle and wooden frame...

...and they were used in these horse drawn stagecoaches which you can ride on for a small fee.

Die-hard jockeys of the Victorian-era can purchase a saddle or horsewhip in this shop.

This is the view inside a foundry where gold-plated decorative items, cutlery and utensils were made. The items are actually hand-made using the machines and tools in the workshop.

Fancy a beard washing bowl anybody?

During the 1850s, the only forms of entertainment in mining fields were wooden bowling alleys like this one, where you have to roll the ball for a looooong distance before it hit the pins. Sorry no Nintendo Wiis or X-Boxes guys.

Candles and soaps were also popular in those days, for reasons of illumination in a pitch-dark mine and hygiene (of course).

These lovely ladies show you how a candle is made. You can choose to make your own too if you wish for between $3 to $4 per candle.

The end products of their labour, resplendent in various colours and shades.

The age-old schools in mining towns then looked quite similar to a chapel. I suppose education was really a God-given privilege then.

Remember what I was saying about hygiene? It does get rather dank and dirty in those musty mines.

Talking about cleverly copywritten posters in "ye olde English", you can make one of your own at this shop here.

Along the way, I spotted some domestic animals like this proud peacock here.

And a rather slim pig hamming it up in the shade during the hot and sunny day.

This three gentlemen provided much needed entertainment by playing many rollicking and lively folk tunes.

Miners who haven't paid their license fees must beware of these redcoats marching through the streets.

At the end of a hard day, one can either catch a show at the theatre or enjoy a meal and drinks at the United States Hotel. Yes, guys, there are many similarities between this and the Wild West.

Honestly, there is nothing quite like an ice-cold golden brew to slake one's thirst after a hard day of digging. Or sightseeing for that matter!

Acknowledgements: This trip was made possible through the kind hospitality of Sovereign Hill and the facilitation of my good friend Tim Richards. Do check out his well written post on Sovereign Hill here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Eureka! Its Australia's Golden Moment.

Eureka Circle with the emblematic Southern Cross located at the Eureka Stockade Gardens

What is the most significant moment in Australia's history?

In the hearts of many, such a moment is represented by the Eureka Stockade, a bloody rebellion of miners against their colonial government oppressors in November 1854. Happening in the gold mines of Ballarat, the tale of the Eureka Stockade is one peppered with values of hardship, courage, determination, and the fight for freedom. What began as a drunken fight leading to the death of Scottish gold miner James Scobie ended up triggering a major skirmish between 276 British military police and soldiers against some 150 men who fenced themselves in with a man-made stockade.

While the following deaths of 22 miners and six armed soldiers were tragic, it ushered in a historic change in gold taxation rules which became more equitable to the long-suffering miners who often worked under appalling conditions. More importantly, it sparked off changes which subsequently led to Australia's independence from foreign domination, leading some to characterise this only rebellion as the "Birth of Australia".

The first stop in the telling of this tale is the Eureka Centre at Ballarat.

Established in March 1998, the $4 million centre commemorates the valour, ideals and sacrifices of those who lived and worked on Ballarat's goldfields.

Decked in the colours of blue and white, the interpretative centre told the tale in an experience rich environment.

"Miners" clad in gold panning for gold in the streams of water at the mines.

A miner using a pickaxe to chisel away pieces of quartz, which are inflected with gold. About 1 tonne of quartz or other rocks yield only 15 ounces of gold (or thereabouts).

Tools of the trade, which also include guns for protection. Yes, those were rather rough times out in the goldfields, where life was harsh and theft could be a problem.

The much loathed gold license of that time costed a whopping 2 pounds for only 3 months. This was a huge amount of money for poor miners, and was applied regardless of their success in digging for gold.

Eureka hotel was the site of the fateful murder of James Scobie by James Bentley, which led to the beginnings of a revolt by the miners against the unjust system which they were governed by.

A replica of the lifeless body of Scobie, glowing in the illuminescence of electric blue.

A giant-sized statue of Peter Lalor, Irish-born leader of the rebellion leading to the Eureka Stockade.

The events of those fateful days were captured by this panel text here.

More giant-sized statues (which admittedly was a little eerie), depicting the skirmish between the miners and the British soldiers clad in red.

Lalor is hurt with a bullet wound while a fellow miner helps him up. While he ended up losing his left arm in the process (medical surgery wasn't very septic then), he did go on to become a member of parliament in Victoria subsequently as a representative of the miners.

Unfortunately, not all of them made it...

...and here's the final tally of the dead and the wounded.

A panoramic diorama of the Eureka Stockade with the miners in the middle surrounded by British soldiers and military policemen.

A similar diorama of the Eureka Stockade created by imaginative school kids. Personally, I liked this one better.

Shards of pottery and other handleables for kids to play with at the children's corner.

Finally, souvenirs bearing the blue and white insignia of the Eureka Stockade at the gift shop for one to bring home.

Acknowledgements: This trip was made possible through the kind hospitality of Sovereign Hill and the facilitation of my good friend Tim Richards. Do check out his well written post on Sovereign Hill here.