Monday, September 1, 2014

The town that gold built.

Time for a change of pace from the beachy, gardeny and templey photos.
In July I spent a couple of wet, windy and wonderful days in Ballarat.
A small town, but steeped in history and architectural wonderments.
I shall take you on a small tour, but first let's start with a little history lesson.

Ballarat was first named by a Scottish squatter, Archibald Yuille, who established the first European settlement in 1837.
His sheep run.
He called it Ballaarat, with the name apparently derived from local Wathaurong Aboriginal words for the area (balla arat thought to mean resting place), but personally I think he may have named it after the noisy sheep.

However soon there would be much more noise than 100 000 odd head of woolly animal.  Gold was discovered in 1851 and the Victorian gold rush of the 1850's and 1860's soon transformed the sleepy little sheep station into a major settlement.  Within months of the first sighting of the yellow stuff, approximately 20,000 migrants had rushed to the district.  Ballarat was different from many other gold rush boom towns in that the gold fields sustained remarkably high gold yields for decades.

The only armed rebellion in Australian history, the Eureka Rebellion, began in Ballarat, with the Battle of Eureka Stockade taking place on 3 December 1854 (in a nutshell, the miners had it up to their mining hats with unfair mining licence fees, police brutality, corrupt magistrates and basically having absolutely no rights or representation).  The rebellion's symbol, the Eureka Flag, is held at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka.  But enough chit chat.  Lets look at some Boom Town architecture.

Come and explore with me................................

First stop Ballarat Town Hall.

Built in stages between 1868 and 1872, the design of this two storey classical revival building was the result of an architectural competition.   The building has a central clock and bell tower of two levels, and rather unusual end pavilions, featuring fan shaped glazing.  Later additions to the building were completed in 1912.
Part of the ground floor street frontage was rented out for commercial purposes which is rather unusual for a town hall.  The last major business there was the Commercial Bank Of Australia which vacated the premises in 1965, after being there for 97 years.
Beneath the building is the former police court and cells.  There is a "Trench Room" which occupies part of the former court room.  So called because it was there that parcels were assembled and dispatched to troops in the trenches in the first world war.
The interior was refurbished in 1996, however much of the original chambers and 1860's chamber furniture remain intact.

 Next stop, the old Post Office.

This gorgeous building is in an Italianate palazzo style which makes a nice contrast to the previous building.
It first opened in 1864, and a telegraph office and treasury were added in 1871.  Further offices and the clock tower were added in 1885, thus completing this magnificent structure.
It was my favourite building because it is so simple in design but yet so elegant.  I had a sudden strong urge to write long and flowery letters or to send an urgent telegraph - but alas - the building is now part of the University of Ballarat.

Got some gold to deposit?  
Well then, lets mosey next door to the Mining Exchange.

This beauty was built in the classical "Boom" style of the 1880's, and looking at it gives one a real sense of what the town was like during the gold rush (just try to picture it without the ute parked out front).  It was designed by a local architect, C. D. Figis who designed numerous other buildings in Ballarat.
The building comprises a two storey block of shops at the front and a large single storey exchange hall at the rear.  The magnificent bull nose, corrugated iron roofed verandah out the front (which brings forth memories of a wonderful old Queenslander style house I once lived in) was removed in 1964, but thankfully reinstated in 1986.
The former Mining Exchange building is of historical significance as it's one of only a few mining exchanges left in Australia, and provides a direct link to Ballarat's gold mining past.

Cold, hungry and tired after a day of digging?  Then off to the Old Colonists Hall you go.

This building was constructed between 1887 and 1889 on the site of the barracks and stables of the gold escort.  The Old Colonists Association was formed in 1869 to help elderly Victorians (as in people living in the state of Victoria, not because they were living in the Victorian age, which actually they were so one could say elderly Victorian Victorians, but then that would just cause more confusion in an already confusing time in history) in needy circumstances.
It's a two storey building with a symmetrical facade, designed in a Renaissance Revival style (who knew there could be so many architectural styles in one little Aussie town?)
The ground floor is now divided into shop fronts, and the central arched entrance provides access to the club rooms on the first floor.  Apparently there is an elaborate skylight and staircase in the entrance hall, and a billiard room at the rear with all original furniture, but I didn't have an opportunity to go inside.  Hopefully next time.

Lets take a break from all the hard work and catch a play.  I hear there's a good one at Her Majesty's Theatre.

One of the oldest continual working theatres in the country, Her Majesty's Theatre has been in operation since 1875 when it was called the Academy of Music.  In 1898 it was renamed Her Majesty's Theatre, and from 1966 to 1988 it was known as the South Street Memorial Theatre. What is it called now?  I really don't know.  But I'm assuming from the picture above it has reverted back to Her Majesty's.  The interior (which again I didn't have time to see) is said to be magnificent.  It has hosted many famous artists over the last century and a bit, including Dame Nellie Melba. 

After a day of sight seeing and listening to me waffle, you might need a stiff drink and a good lie down.
What better place than the Craig's Royal Hotel.  The finest boutique hotel in the colony.

This wonderful building is a mish mash of styles.  The original hotel opened in 1853 and has hosted poets, Princes and Prime Minsters.  The South wing was built in 1862 in the Italianate style, and the North wing was built in 1889-90 in the late boom style.  The cast iron porch entrance was added in 1901.  The interior (which I did get to see part of) is quite lush and I had an urge to climb those elegant stairs, and flop on a soft feather bed.  But I didn't.  I went back out into the rain for more exploring.

Outside I spied two wonderful old gas lamps and tried to get an artistic shot of one - and managed to include a toilet sign.  So much for artistic ability.

Extensive Googling informed me that the gas lamps were probably installed in the 1890's, are constructed of cast iron and glass with the name of the Craig's Royal Hotel at the top and are rare examples of privately funded lighting in a public thoroughfare.  So I wonder if they have always been associated with the hotel.

Well that's all for today.  Ballarat is a magic place and my tiny tour really doesn't do it justice.  Next time I visit I will spend more time exploring the history and buildings and maybe even go inside some of them........

Addit: Have just been informed by Mike Biles from A Bit About Britain (please visit his blog for very informative and extremely funny posts about British places of interest and history) that the town boasts a Ballarat botanical Bravehart monument.  Who knew?


  1. The architecture here is spectacular! I particularly like that staircase and sculpture.

  2. It certainly is. I would have liked to stay and explore a bit longer, but another time.

  3. What an amazing range of architectural styles. The town hall could be somewhere in Britain, the post office looks distinctly continental - but the mining exchange and colonists' hall are something else! And thank you for the very generous mention; much appreciated!

  4. Terrific tour! We have some gold rush towns out west that either sustained or dried up. This town held up remarkably well, I'd say!

    1. It's a buzzing little town with always something happening.


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