Ballarat Travel Guide
Until the 1850s, Ballarat was nothing more than a sheep station to the north-west of Victoria’s capital, Melbourne. Then, in August 1951, John Dunlop and James Regan found a few nuggets of gold at the ironically named Poverty Point on Sovereign Hill and hardly had the word ‘gold’ died on their lips than hopeful prospectors flocked to the area on a scale resembling the California Gold Rush. From then on Ballarat was transformed into a thriving settlement.
The name, according to most Ballarat travel guides, means ‘resting place’, though rest was probably the last thing on the minds of those Victorian prospectors. Within a year they numbered 20,000 and Ballarat officially became a town. Nowadays the gold has all but dried up, but hopeful tourists can still pan for gold and this is one of the reasons why Ballarat tourism thrives today.
Known for its wide, elegant boulevards, Ballarat contains some of the most impressive avenues in Australia, many of which are now ‘avenues of honour’. The 15 kilometre long Ballarat Avenue holds around 4000 trees which form a leafy arbour over the road and each bears a plaque honouring a soldier from the area who volunteered his services during the First World War. In fact throughout the city a proliferation of statuary and monuments pay homage to local people from all walks of life for their services to others.
The city’s gold boom heritage can be seen in its elegant Victorian buildings dotted around the town, particularly around the Lydiard Street area. These include numerous civic buildings built in the mid 19th century like the town hall, railway station, post office and hospital as well as later edifices like hotels, theatres and the grand Reid’s Coffee Palace.
Elsewhere in Ballarat the parks and gardens are among some of the finest in Australia and lend an air of stately grandeur to the town. The Botanical Gardens are known for their flower festival and a walk displaying bronze busts of every prime minister of Australia. War memorials lend dignity and solemnity to the town and are a more sobering reason for its enduring popularity as a tourist destination.
With its wildlife park, bird world sanctuary and nature reserve at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat has proved that it no longer basks purely in the glory of the past and its central role in Australia’s Victorian gold rush. It is an attractive tourist destination with plenty to offer for lovers of both the past and the present.