Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sovereign Hill: Stepping Back In Time

As soon as you walk out of the ticket entrance of Ballarat's Sovereign Hill your senses are met with the sights, smells and sounds of the 1850s - the clopping of the horses drawing the coach around, the smell in the air of the steam engines and the blacksmiths at work, glimpses of men and women in full costume, the unmistakable whiff of horse manure, the repetitive chinking of metal being made into something useful somewhere close by, all contributing to the bustle of Main Street.

For me it was a trip down memory lane with all the childhood and school visits completed over the years, and I was delighted with the sight of a school group making their way through the reconstructed street, in full 1850s capes, long and full skirts, and pantaloons. During weekdays of school terms there can be a number of groups dressed in costume attending classes around the park.

The familiar stores all along Main Street were also a treat to see again, and were frequented by the many tourists visiting on this day. Clarke Brothers Grocers is always a fascinating visit, with the kitchen and homewares of yesteryear. Seeing the printing press of the Ballarat Times, you can still have your name included on a quaint sign from here. The Apothecaries Hall, with the olde medicines and remedies lining the walls.

As you wander up the Main Street, past the New York Bakery and United States Hotel where you can sit for a meal, you also pass the Criterion Store for all your 1850s fashion and lace. The Victoria Theatre hosts shows at regular intervals, and is a gorgeous example of grand Victorian design and trimmings. I had lunch at the modern Cafe by the lake, which consisted of a sausage roll from Hope Bakery, which was as I'd remembered from my school days as the best I've ever had, and still is!

Charles Spencer's is where you find the full range of infamous boiled lollies, like the amazing raspberry drops and humbugs, but around on Normanby Street you can actually watch through the windows as these confectioneries being made with all the old fashioned techniques and detail at Brown's Confectionery. I scored a taste of the still warm results, which are bound to sway your purchase choices!

Aside from the shops and places to explore of the Main Street, the other significant half of Sovereign Hill are the goldfields, which is where all the wealth was found to fund the growing population that became the Ballarat we know today. Here you can pan for gold, claiming some of the $50,000 worth of gold put in the creek every year just for that feeling of luck and fortune-making from your efforts squatting at the waters edge. There are fossickers around to show you some tricks to panning, in costume of course, and you can keep your findings.

This section of the park also contains the tents of the miners who flocked to the region once gold was first found in the area in 1851. The simple set up of these camps makes you feel for these people, placing all their hopes in finding a nugget of gold from their back-breaking toils, whilst living in the freezing conditions of a cold Winter in Ballarat in these canvas tents. Brrrr!

Each tent is set up to tell a story of the conditions or the fails and fortunes of these miners. There is also a Chinese area, where Chinese miners were clumped together in their plots to try their luck away from, but really alongside, their English settler colleagues.

There is loads to see and do here on a visit, and the beauty of your day entry is that you can have your ticket validated as a passout and return the next day to make sure you don't miss any of the features or tours.

This the first post in a series to show off Ballarat's premier tourist attraction, for which I was provided a pass to enter Sovereign Hill for the day. The thoughts in this post, however, are entirely my own.

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