After I showed the children videos of Sovereign Hill, we were all really excited to take a weekend adventure off to Ballarat!
A day at Sovereign Hill
Monty, our youngest, kept telling people we were off to get some gold; I think he thought we were going to be coming home with a huge nugget!
Sovereign Hill is just under 2 hours from Melbourne, which isn't too bad of a journey. We arrived at Sovereign Hill about 11, opened the car doors and promptly slammed them shut again. It was absolutely freezing!
After we dressed ourselves in the random articles of clothing that had been abandoned in the car from previous days out, we fell through the sliding doors into an enormous crowd of tourists.
Tickets purchased, we walked into 1850’s Ballarat. Honestly, this place is awesome. An enormous outdoor museum presenting the history of Australia’s gold rush. There were people panning for gold in the stream; desperately trying to find specs of gold, surrounded by tents and little wooden shacks that made up the Chinese camp. It was like we had stepped back in time.
There were people in costume, playing very convincing characters. We walked up through the high street; the shops full of beautiful handmade trinkets, delicious freshly baked pies and cakes, handmade lollies, candles, lace, beautiful dresses.
There was a four-man band playing outside the post office which completed the scene and totally transported you back to the gold rush days. It was a magical walk through a bustling mining town, even with Monty hopping and tripping over every little stone, and Poppy (our eldest) walking forwards and looking backwards.
Checking out the dunny
Some of the buildings at Sovereign Hill are the original ones, others had been loving restored from pictures left behind. It really is a spectacular place.
Poppy looked at me and said “Mummy this is amazing, I love this kind of thing” as we headed into the theatre. We watched the actors play their characters with enthusiasm as they took us back in time, and showed us just what was thought of the Chinese coming to find gold in Ballarat. It was a real insight into life during the gold rush. The children’s eyes fixed like glue.
The children were desperate to go on a horse and cart ride, they hopped on the front with the driver who was completely in charge for the four huge beasts pulling our carriage through the dusty streets. Monty spent most of the journey talking about and pointing out horse poo, and exaggerating how dreadful the smell was! I’m pretty sure that poor horse is still feeling embarrassed.
A magical horse and cart ride
Once we had hopped off, and patted the horses, Monty had got over the smell, so we headed to the candle shop where the children could colour their own candle. We watched gold being poured, lollies being made, Red Coat soldiers marching, saw muskets being shot, peeked into the houses of the miners, got excited about the bed pans and outdoor ‘Dunny’s’. We even had a go at bowling. The best part of the day for me, had to be the trip down into the mine.
I have been in a mine before in Wales, and I am pretty sure it was a trick. You get in a lift, the lights go out, it shudders a bit and yay, you’re deep underground in the mine (or not). So, getting on the little train to take us underground in Ballarat, I was pretty calm, thinking it would be the same trick. There was no reason to feel at all claustrophobic or concerned about the lack of air, and not need to worry that I didn’t have a canary with me! Poppy was already crying! The lights go out, it’s pitch black and the little train gets moving. I could feel Poppy’s nails digging into my skin, as the guide made a joke about hoping all 32 of us come back out at the end. Monty is screeching that this is “Awwwwesome”, and 60 seconds later we’ve arrived.
Underground in the gold mine
Peter Kennedy was our guide underground. He wore a huge hat, was the most wonderful, enthusiastic man, who straight away made this tour feel exciting. He is what I imagined every Aussie to be like before we arrived Down Under. A mix between Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones.
We all listened intently as he explained about how the mines worked, and how much effort went into finding gold. It was truly one of the best tours we have been on, even though Poppy was heavy breathing, in between laughing at Peter’s jokes and weeping a little.
The train ride inside the mine really showed us what little space the miners had, we saw the nooks and crannies, the holes where they had their tea breaks, and the pick axes they used. To be able to go underground and see exactly where these people spent hours and hours of their lives digging away in the dark is a real eye-opener. The train tracks they used to get the rock to the surface are still visible, and you can almost hear the miners at work if you listen hard enough.
We had the most wonderful day, we took hundreds of photos, played games, panned for gold, the children spent time at the school house learning to use proper pens and ink. The staff were amazing; they knew all the answers to our questions, and seemed to be so thrilled to answer them.
We ended up exiting through the entrance in typical Wilson fashion. I looked up and saw some writing on the wall which I had missed on the way in. It really touched a nerve.
“It was a ‘bright vision’ of prosperity that lured them – an exodus of gold seekers from the farthest reaches of the world. In the earliest years of the 1850’s, half a million men, women and children turned their backs on everything they knew and set sail to find it. Their destination was Australia – half a world away across a vast and perilous sea. “
Sovereign Hill is a fabulous, educational and fun day out for the whole family. If only we could have taken advantage of the second day pass. Oh, and unfortunately we didn't find our gold nugget .. but maybe you will?!
Where: Sovereign Hill, Bradshaw Street, Ballarat VIC 3350
Website:sovereignhill.com.au Phone: (03) 5337 1199