Ballarat

We travelled home from Bendigo on a route that took us along two sides of a triangle so that we could visit Ballarat. Our journey took us through the old gold towns of Maldon and Creswick. The countryside was quite interesting with its gently undulating hills and lots of evidence of its use as a prime sheep grazing area. The old historic steam train was operating at Maldon and at one place along the road, we passed the ruins of a giant alluvial gold dredge that had long ceased operation.

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Ballarat is located approximately 105 kilometres west-north-west of Melbourne, and like Bendigo it too was built on gold. The streetscapes are lined with grand buildings. like Bendigo. With a population of just under 80,000 people, It is the third largest city in the state of Victoria. It was named by Scottish squatter Archibald Yuille who established a sheep run called Ballaarat in 1837. I think that the name was derived from the local Aboriginal words for the area, balla arat, thought to mean “resting place”.

It is one of the most significant colonial era boomtowns in Australia. Just months after Victoria was granted separation from New South Wales, the Victorian gold rush transformed Ballarat from the original small sheep station into a major settlement. Gold was discovered here at Poverty Point on 18 August 1851 and news quickly spread of rich alluvial fields where gold could easily be extracted. Within months, approximately 20,000 migrants had rushed to the district. Unlike many other gold rush boom towns, the Ballarat fields experienced sustained high gold yields for decades

The gold days are still remembered with the very popular ‘Sovereign Hill’ recreated gold mining village. Once inside, it’s almost as if you were back in the old days and experiencing life with Cobb and Co coaches, gold panning, billiard halls, old fashioned theatre and all the trappings of the boom time.

However Ballarat struck me today as also being a city of monuments.

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The first one that we came across was the memorial to the 1956 Olympic Games The rowing events were held on Lake Wendouree just north of town. Apparently there were no women’s rowing events join those days – just seven or so men’s races.  One of the more strange stories that emerged at the time revolved around the fate of the medal won by Russian rower Viktor Ivanov. He was the stroke in the Russian pair that finished in second place behind the US in the coxless pairs event.  After receiving his silver medal, he accidentally dropped it in the lake. Ivanov dived into the water to look for the medal, as did a cast of local schoolboys. Andrew Hemingway, a 13-year-old student at Ballarat High School, was riding past the lake on his way to swimming training when he noticed dozens of teenagers standing chest-deep in the lake. He learned that they were trying to find the medal in the water.  He deduced that the area in front of the presentation pontoon would have been thoroughly searched so he began looking under the pontoon itself, combing through the shin-deep silt with his feet. Eventually, he found the medal, eventually handed it over to Ivanov in the mayor’s room at the Ballarat Town Hall. Ivanov gave him a box of Russian military medals in return.

For some reason, Ballarat is the home to a very significant war memorial.- one that remembers all Australian Ex Prisoners of War.

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This unique Memorial has a number of rock pillars that list all the places where Australian service people have been imprisoned during war time. A fallen one represents those who died during their captivity. A long marble wall lists the names of all known prisoners of wall including that of Col Hamley, a member of my Probes Club. The memorial was opened on the 6th February 2004 It symbolises that all Australian prisoners embarked to serve away from their homeland and acknowledges the hardship, deprivation, brutality, starvation and disease they endured during their capture and the scars that many continued to endure upon their repatriation to Australia. It is located in the very grand Botanical Gardens and is a nice place of quiet reflection where one can remember loved ones and to mourn those 8,600 Prisoners of War that died in captivity and remain buried on foreign shores.

In the centre of the gardens is a pathway lined by the busts of every Prime Minister to have held office since Australia federated in 1901. The busts are displayed as bronze portraits mounted on polished granite pedestals. I did’t think that they would have caught up with the rapid change of Prime Ministers in the turmoil of the last few years but the bust of our fisrt female PM Julia Gillard, is the most recent addition to the Avenue. She apparently unveiled it herself last year.

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To the north of the city is the very formal Arch of Remembrance and Avenue of Honour. The Arch of Victory is now classified by the National Trust because of its significance as an outstanding landscape monument, It’s a junior version of the Roman and Napoleonic victory arches erected across major routes or carriageways. It is the only memorial arch in Victoria constructed at such a grand scale. It recognises the contribution of local men to the victory gained by the Empire in winning WW1.

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Extending from the arch is a long Avenue of Honour – one of the earliest known and the longest example of this uniquely Australian form of memorial. Planting of memorial trees had been common during the Boer War but the Avenue of Honour at Ballarat was an early planting of an avenue of trees along a roadside as a memorial, setting a precedent which was soon followed by the planting of 91 other avenues, principally in Central Victoria, between 1917 and 1920. The Avenue of Honour consists of 3,771 trees planted at regular intervals of approximately 12 metres along 22km of the Ballarat-Burrumbeet Road. The Arch of Victory marks the beginning of the Avenue of Honour at its eastern end.

Of course, it wouldn’t be proper not to mention the memorial to the Eureka Stockade. The famous rebellion on the gold fields at Ballarat was caused by a disagreement over what gold miners felt were unfair laws and policing of their work by government.

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Miners were unable to claim the land on which they worked, and so risked being relocated at a moment’s notice. They were also required by law to buy a licence and carry it with them at all times, or face a fine and arrest. The miners felt this was an unfair system and were prepared to fight for change. Police invaded the diggings to enforce the licensing laws, in late November 1854. The miners refused to cooperate, and burned their licences and stoned police. Several miners were seriously wounded.

On 30 November, 500 miners gathered under the Eureka flag and elected Peter Lalor as their leader. They swore to fight together against the police and military. After the oath, they built a stockade at Eureka, and waited for the main attack. On 3 December, there was an all-out clash between the miners and the police, supported by the military. The miners planned their defence and attack carefully, but they were no match for the well-armed force they faced. When the battle was over, 125 miners were taken prisoner and many were badly wounded. Six of the police and troopers were killed and there were at least 22 deaths among the diggers. This rebellion against petty bureaucracy and corrupt officials is regarded as an important democratic action in our history.

The last memorial we found was bit of a surprise. Outside the Gold Museum (opposite Sovereign Hill) is a statue of Sir Henry Bolte. He was the longest serving conservative premier of Victoria in the days when I was growing up as a school boy. Depending on one’s political leaning, he was either loved or despised. He was quite a simple man – a farmer from an area to the west of Melbourne. He liked his whisky and smoked heavily and is pictured sitting next to a flask of whisky and a packet of cigarettes. I remember him saying in response to a threat of a strike by unionists; “They can march up and down the street until they are bloody well foot sore because they won’t be getting anything from me”. He was a string supporters, and sponsor of the Sovereign Hill Gold Village.

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So, after spending a day in this city, it seems obvious that if you want to be remembered, persuade someone to erect a statue or monument for you in Ballarat. There is certainly room for some more.

One thought on “Ballarat

  1. Again an interesting commentary Bruce. Despite the youth of white settlement in Australia we do have history to preserve and remember for a spectrum of reasons and achievements. h\Hope you both have enjoyed the tour so far.

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