Step back in time…
Horse drawn carriages on muddy roads, women corseted, with faces framed by bonnets, men who tip their hat to you in the street, craftsmen working their skills and gold … plenty of gold.
Step back in time and enter the world of Sovereign Hill in the bustling old gold rush town of Ballarat.
As Charles Dickens once wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and the Australian gold rush of the 19th century was no exception. Here lies the heart of great success in history, nothing less than true life stories of ‘rags to riches’. Sadly though, there are horrid tragedies and misfortunes also – stories of people risking everything in search of fortune.
Sovereign Hill is a beautiful replica town of the gold rush period. The buildings look very authentic and the place is breathed to life each day by people who work there, dressed in period costume and acting every bit a lady, or gentleman of their class and station.
It is a place that educates and entertains everyone, no matter what age, and an absolute must-visit if you are in Victoria. There’s ‘olden day’ shops, food, craftsmen demonstrations, horse and carriage rides, gold mine tours and gold panning at your fingertips. There’s even wonderful short skits in the street that captivates all the tourists around, as you’re walking by.
Walk up Main Street and stop into every shop, or building that has its doors open to you.
If you’re peckish for a bit of morning tea, you MUST go to the Hope Bakery. While there will be so many sumptuous things to choose from, you have to walk out with the most simple, yet absolutely delicious custard slice you will ever try! The custard slice is not an option, it’s a must.
Everything is freshly made on site and I think you can taste it in the pastry.
…And get a sausage roll while you’re at it. You’re on holidays after all!
Custard slice in hand, keep walking up Main Street and keep exploring.
Head to the newspaper office, where you can get your very own ‘wanted’ poster displaying a hefty reward. You can become the western bandit, or bushranger you always wanted to be.
Pop into the Grocers and see what there is to offer. You’ll find handcrafted souvenirs, trinkets and toys for the kids.
And the jeweller is my personal favourite (apart from obvious ‘bling’ reasons) . It brings back many memories. I’ve bought several silver rings from here over the years (and this last trip was no exception.)
Definitely stick you’re head into the bar, even if you’re not up for a drink. In the morning it’s quiet, so you can get the place to yourself.
And don’t forget to greet the little canary birds near the window.
Why yello there!
I could imagine the gold office would have probably been one of the most important buildings of the town, no doubt, along with the bank and the bar, of course.
And every town has to have a post office.
The hub of gossip no doubt!
Inside the criterion, there’s the beautiful world of fashion!
It is very pretty inside, so do have a look and if you want to spend your pennies, all the items you see are for sale, so you could walk out with a pretty bonnet, or top hat, if you don’t restrain yourself!
The apothecary was a lovely sight as well!
I love all the cute jars and draws, neat and perfectly in order.
All I can say about Main Street, is just keep snooping! You’ll find buildings, offices, rooms and nooks and crannies that are all for you to enjoy. It gives you a wonderful taste of what day to day life would have been like and makes you understand the necessities such a village needed.
While I was walking around, a very finely dressed man burst out in front of me, calling out and attracting everyone’s attention.
He was inviting one and all to enter the beautiful theatre to watch a short act they were about to perform and I was certainly up for the entertainment.
So we entered and took our seats.
The skit was about the class disparity and racial discrimination of those working in Ballarat and Australia at the time of the gold rush. Although all were immigrants to the country, some were sadly treated worse than others and this short play was about shedding light on the topic. It is a sorry tale, but sadly true and it taught us how unfair the whole system was. Certainly not something we want to replicate!
While you need to take your seats for the play, afterwards get up and look around. The theatre is quite impressive inside, for its small size.
Not quite a Phantom of the Opera scale chandelier, but impressive all the same.
Head upstairs for another view.
There’s even a gorgeous dining room cordoned off up there that caught me by surprise.
Now, when you head downstairs, pass through the little hall beside the staircase and check out the beautiful formal dining room tucked away to the side.
The painted wall panels are based of true artworks around the world and I completely fell in love with it.
I could spend the afternoon in that room, but alas! I had to move on.
Heading further up Main Street, you’ll start to glimpse the mine sights and the ‘working part’ of the town.
We were so lucky to have a quiet day here, with not swarms of people around. It made for such uninterrupted photos!
Up further we went to look at the old church…
Carriages at the funeral parlour…
(a bit morbid, sorry)
And most importantly….
The classic bowling alley!
Every historic replica town must have one of those, I’m sure…
Try your aim (or your luck)! I get rather competitive with bowling.
There’s even a man ready to take your pennies, though not really. He’s just there to supervise. Even so, he has a wonderful moustache!
Also, give this old game of bagatelle a go. It is similar in technique to pool, but of course with different rules.
Now, with all the sights to see, don’t forget to keep and eye on the time. Get your hands on a schedule of the skits and demonstrations held throughout the day. I don’t know about you, but when I’m somewhere new, I try and do it all. So if you’re anything like me, be sure to be a little organised as to where and what to do with your time, so your don’t miss anything.
There’s a police weapon demonstration, with a nice loud shot fired at the end.
Next, there’s the blacksmith forge. It is one of the first buildings you’ll see as you enter the site.
Be sure to know what time the demonstrations are on and watch him at work.
There’s also candle making, run by chatty ladies.
And of course, you’ll want to do the mine tours as well.
The Gold Mine Tour you will have to pay a little bit extra for, just as an FYI.
There’s also a wonderful boiled lolly making demonstration that is very interesting and kids will definitely love, because they get to try the fresh product at the end. These lollies have always been of a high quality, so they would be great as gifts.
On top of this, there are horse and carriage rides.
Entertaining skits in the street throughout the day.
And a gun salute!
Which was rather loud!
The wonderful aspects about all these demonstrations is that those working here are not only making their products, but talking, explaining and teaching the audience as well, giving them interesting facts about history. You don’t even realise you’re learning, which is perfect for kids!
Once you’re done with all the ‘show-and-tell’ side of things, wander around to the back of the town and you’ll find the lovely Chinese area, with a Chinese Temple, strikingly gold and red, among the buildings.
And best of all, after all the sights have been seen, go right to the heart of the place, where it’s dirt and sand, wood and make shift calico tents.
Find yourself a comfy spot by the running stream…
Get down in a good squat and pan yourself some GOLD!
Tiny little specs they might be, but gold all the same.
Sovereign Hill is a wonderful place that holds so many memories for me from my childhood. Simply put, I love it! While it is special to me because it is nostalgic, I’m still drawn to the place for other reasons too. Each time you go back, you enjoy it just as much as the last time, children and adults alike.
It’s old, it’s charming, it educates and it let’s your imagination have a wonderful time!
It’s a very popular place, normally swarming with tourists, but fortunately for my family and me, it was a rainy cold-ish day when we went and out of school holiday period, so we really had the place to ourselves. I much preferred it that way, so you might too.
Also, because there is so much to see, it might be a nice option to spend two days exploring everything. All tickets are valid for that length of time and there is accommodation options available on the website here. Also, I highly recommend, if you are going to be in town into the night, attend the sound and light show ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’. It’s really spectacular and worth staying late and paying the extra money for!
Enough from me! You’ll just have to go and experience all this gold rush fever for yourself!