Nicole and I were a little unsure about visiting Sovereign Hill, as it was a bit out of our way, not particularly cheap, and we’d already visited a number of gold and mining related places. However we are very pleased we did end up making the trip – it was definitely worth it. We all really enjoyed both Sovereign Hill, and the ‘Blood On The Southern Cross’ sound and light spectacular that night. We had to come back for a second day to see things we didn’t get to in the first!
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Sovereign Hill is a not-for-profit tourist attraction located in Ballarat, which was the location of one of the biggest gold rushes in the world (the biggest nuggets ever found came from here). Sovereign Hill is a very well done replication of Ballarat from the 1850’s. I’m not talking a tiny model here, I’m meaning full streets re-created in the same style and construction techniques that were used back then. There are hotels, a post office, drapery, blacksmith, candle factory, metal spinning shops, horse carriage manufacturing, candy manufacture, even a 9 pin bowling alley (wooden balls and pins!) and a whole lot more. Then there is the diggings area, with the diggers tents, various equipment, and of course the gold panning creek.
Not only are the buildings constructed to the period, but the internal furnishes, decorations and functional equipment are too. The staff, who are dressed in clothes from that period, actually do many tasks as they would have back then. These are functional shops – the blacksmithing shop actually has a blacksmith in it making things out of metal, using a fire and great big old manually operated leather air bellows!!! Daniel really liked the blacksmith shop. In another building/factory they actually manufacture horse carriages using the old equipment – we did a tour viewing the manufacture of a wooden wheel (wheelwrighting). There are a couple of huge boilers – actual ones from the era, running on timber, that produce steam to power much of the mills, and equipment used on site.
It’s an incredible place, and it’s amazing how well they have replicated the 1850’s. However not everything is exact. The candy maker uses modern food colourings, rather than the insects and poisons used back then! The candlemakers use wax, rather than boiled down animal fats which stink and result in plagues of rats! For the gold pour, they used modern induction furnaces to melt the gold – they could do better on that one I reckon….
The couple of Troopers patrolling the streets, to maintain law and order, are fortunately a bit nicer than they were back then (many convicts became Troopers – ie. law enforcers… like someone in jail being released to become a policeman!). They also left the lead slug out, when firing their muskets! However, Daniel and Jonathan did get pulled up by a Trooper for wearing cut-off pants!!! It was hilarious – they had no idea what he was on about (shorts = cut-off pants for anyone still wondering).
One of the best things was the ‘gold diggings’ tour done by one of the staff. There were only a few families on the tour, so it was personal – Daniel got to become one of his digging associates. We learnt all about the wonderful tricks, treachery, murder, and general lifestyle and goings on at the diggings. Everything from his bucket of natural yellow human byproduct to toughen up the hands, act as an antiseptic, and hide contraband in, to the number of maggots in the meat being used to determine if it should be sold as meat, or used for soup instead…. Daniel found out that he’s far too honest and trusting a soul to be a digger back then – he’d have been done over, probably murdered, many times!!!
Yes we found lots of gold. Or lots of flecks of gold you might say, as each one is tiny and the total weight would still only be a fraction of a gram! Not enough to make a dent on the entry fee, let alone make us rich…! Sovereign Hill seed the creek with gold so that visitors are guaranteed to find some – if you do it correctly!
The ‘Blood On The Southern Cross’ show is at night, and you get moved around to several different locations. It is all about the Eureka Stockade – a partial recreation of it (without using actual actors). Lots of lights, fire, sound effects etc all spread out over an entire hillside (the main part of the show). It is all well done and worth seeing. It’s been running for many years now though, and I wonder if some of the light effects etc could be upgraded – you see some really fancy animated light displays at special events in the city nowadays. But still great to see, and enjoyed very much by all 4 of us. It was completely packed out – a high proportion being school kids on excursions, up from Melbourne I imagine.
Friday arvo we headed off towards Warrnambool, to the start of the Great Ocean Road. We stopped for the night at a lovely free campground on Lake Elingamite, and were treated to a beautiful sunset.