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Born out of the frantic days of the goldrush, Victoria's largest inland city has matured into a gracious collection of elegant public buildings, fine parks and landscaped gardens. Ballarat is situated just 110 kilometres west of Melbourne - a short hour's drive.
From its initial gold find in 1851, the area produced 27 per cent of Victoria's gold by the turn of the century. The initial fields to be exploited were the alluvial fields of Ballarat East. In the years following, the rich leads buried under the Sebastapol Plateau were to produce enormous yields. The resulting need for heavy machinery meant a growth in local industries such as Cowley's Eureka Iron Works and mining suppliers like The Phoenix. These manufacturing concerns created a permanence for Ballarat.
Not only did the Goldfields bring wealth, but along with it came turmoil. In fact, one of the greatest dramas in Australian history occurred on the Ballarat goldfields. The Eureka Stockade remains the only armed civil uprising against the government in Australia's history.
All miners on Victorian goldfields were expected to pay, in advance, a licensing fee. This aroused discontent amongst the miners who developed the slogan "no taxation without representation". On November 29, 1854, thousands of miners gathered at Bakery Hill and defiantly burnt their licenses. A few days later, after grouping together behind a stockade, they were confronted by the soldiers.
In the early hours of December 3, 22 miners and six of the attackers died in the battle. Eureka was the name of the claim in which the miners built their timber barricade.
The battle only lasted 15 minutes but the event will remain deeply engraved in Australia's history. Its outcome was the quickening of the development of democracy in Australia, the license fee was replaced by a miner's right and holders of miner's rights were given the right to vote.
Ballarat is also home to the delightful Sovereign Hill - a faithful and fascinating re-creation of an old gold mining town of the 1850s. It is located on the site of the former Sovereign Quartz Mining Company. Here you can see township bakers demonstrate colonial breadmaking, a smithy showing how horseshoes are made, an old fashioned printer producing a newspaper and pan for real gold. You can visit the mining museum and discover the process of obtaining gold from quartz. At night, the sound and light performance Blood on the Southern Cross encapsulates the Eureka story.
Opposite lies the Gold Museum where the history of this magic metal has been captured and detailed. Nearby, the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery houses early and contemporary Australian art. Here, such finely regarded artists as Eugene Von Guerard, William Dobell, Sidney Nolan and Russell Drysdale chronicle the history of early Ballarat and Australia. You can also see the Eureka Flag donated by the widow of a trooper who fought at the Eureka Stockade.
Ballarat is also known as 'the city of statues'. The Botanical Gardens have a fine classical collection donated by gold mining entrepreneurs. The Flight From Pompeii, and Spring. Autumn, Winter, Hebe, Leda and Pomona grace these gardens. The Prime Ministers' Avenue is updated with a new bust to record each incoming Prime Minister of Australia.
While you are here make sure you visit the magnificent Craig's Royal Hotel. Mark Twain and Prince Alfred once slept here. Today you can enjoy its colonial authenticity, as you can at Ballarat Terrace where gracious accommodation is offered in the renovated Victorian terrace home. Surrounding Ballarat are further attractions like the famous Yellowglen Vineyards. Don't miss the Wallace Cheesery and the Yuulong Lavender Estate.