We are Having a Few Days in Ballarat

Ballarat is a city located in the Central Highlands region of Victoria. It is situated approximately 105 kilometres from Melbourne and has a population of approximately 110,000 people. Ballarat was founded in 1838 during the Victorian gold rush and quickly grew into a bustling city. Today, it is renowned for its rich history, stunning architecture, and natural beauty. We came to visit its numerous heritage sites, including the Eureka Stockade Centre, the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and a number of local museums.

On Sunday, we travelled to Ballarat through Daylesford and stopped at the Wombat Cafe in the Botanic Gardens there for lunch. It always has nice food and a good glass of wine. On a Sunday, Daylesford is exceptionally popular and we wouldn’t have been able to find a parking space anywhere else in the centre of town.

When we arrived in Ballarat, we decided to spend some time at the Botanic Gardens and see the display of Begonias in the conservatory. The annual Begonia Festival was held one week ago and the flowers were still in full bloom.

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Ballarat, as a city, should be congratulated for the way in which it keeps these gardens. The floral displays are always spectacular.

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The gardens have a pathway that is called the Avenue of the Prime Ministers. Busts of every Australian Prime Minister are placed along this walkway.  One that stood out to me was the bust of Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies.  Some others were a little more abstract and less recognisable.

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Scattered through the gardens are a number of marble statues carved out of marble in a classic style. You need a good grounding in Greek air Roman classical education to know all the story behind most of these statues. They were first donated and installed after financing from two wealthy gold miners in the 1880s, There is a beautiful pavilion housing some of the statues

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At the city end of the gardens is the National Memorial to Australian Prisoners of War. This memorial includes prisoners of all conflicts from the Boer War to current ones. I found the name of my friend Colin Hamley who passed away last year. He and his brother, Don, are included in the thousands of names remembered on the wall. A number of central columns represents the locations in which Australian prisoners were held captive with one column resting on its side commemorate those who died in captivity.

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When we reached our hotel, we were surprised to find dozens of Chevrolet Corvettes in the car park. It was the annual meeting of the National Corvette Association and the models ranged from new vehicles to older classic models.

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Monday was a wet day and with Jill’s current lack of mobility, we were reluctant to be out in the wet for long. Our first stop was at the local art gallery which is a splendid gallery. It holds a wide range of works from early Australian painters to Impressionists to works by modern abstract artist. If you are ever in Ballarat it is well worth your time to spend an hour or so at this gallery. Entry is free.

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In a break between showers, I was able to walk down to Ballarat’s Main Street and photograph some of the outstanding gold rush era buildings in this city. The streetscape of Lydiard Street is especially grand. The Town Hall and old Post Office  are splendid examples of the type of buildings that can be constructed when the community is flush with money (as it was in the latter part of the 19th Century).

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At the northern end of the city is Ballarat’s war memorial and the Arch of Victory. This arch is one of Ballarat’s most iconic structures. It stands at the entrance to Australia’s longest commemorative avenue of honour. Across Australia, the Arch is recognised as an obvious symbol of Ballarat.

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Our final activity for the day was a visit to the Eureka Memorial. It is at the site of the place where the Eureka Rebellion took place in 1854. This is where hundreds of miners built a stockade in protest of the gold mining licence fees that they had to pay to the government. This rebellion is often misunderstood as a protest against the British Monarchy but it was really a protest about the corrupt and heavy handed way that local officials forced them pay taxes. Not withstanding this, it has had a long term place in Australian folklore as being the beginning of the democracy movement in Australia.

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I remember, from a previous visit, that the museum on this site was, in fact, called the ‘Museum of Democracy’. It is now, more appropriately called the Eureka Museum. Much more of its content is now about the local rebellion and I think this is a more fitting focus.

Back to the gardens, there are two small cottages that have been preserved and maintained. The first is the home (relocated) of Adam Lindsay Gordon. He was an earthly 20th Century poet. In his days, Gordon’s work was very popular. The cottage is now used as the gardens shop. It was moved to the Botanic Gardens in 1934, after residing previously in the back courtyard of one of Ballarat’s hotels, where the horse-riding poet had stables in earlier times.

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Nearby is the newly refurbished Gatekeepers Cottage. It was erected in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens in the late 19th Century – making it one of the oldest surviving buildings in the gardens. It was once the North Gate lodge (so presumably there was also a South Gate cottage), and it was relocated at the entrance to the gardens just a few years before Lindsay Gordon’s home arrived here.

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