Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ballarat--Victoria, Australia--From the Travelogue Archives July 2011


Monday July 19th, 2011
Set my alarm for an early hour (7 AM) and for once actually woke up when it went off (a small victory for me.)

I had decided to get an early start and spend the day sight seeing in Ballarat town (W).

There were 3 points of interest which made me want to visit Ballarat.
The first was a wildlife park (where I thought maybe I could see some Australian animals for once. It would be a pity to spend a whole year here and not at least glimpse a kangaroo or a Koala.)
The second was the gold rush history in this town. (Bill Bryson deals nicely with the history of the Australian gold rush in his book.)
And thirdly was the Eureka Stockade (W).

The Eureka Stockade was (to the best of my recollection) not mentioned in Bill Bryson's book. But it's something I've heard a lot about since arriving in Australia. Particularly when hanging out with the Socialists and other lefties down at Trades Hall.

It's sort of the "Paris Commune" of Australian history. It was a group of miners who banded together to demand an end to government corruption, unfair licencing acts, and universal suffrage (in those days voting was still restricted to property qualifications.) They set up a small stockade, elected their own leaders, designed their own flag, and then and were massacred by the British soldiers. (I'm deliberately giving the short version of everything here, because I don't want to spend a lot of time babbling on about things that can easily be looked up elsewhere on the Internet for anyone interested in more detail.)

Trades Hall (W) in Melbourne flies the Eureka flag on the top of the building (in addition to the Australian flag, the Aboriginal flag, and the red flag). And there are a couple other plaques around Trades hall commemorating the Eureka stockade.
And I've also noticed that the Eureka flag (W) pops up at a lot of rallies and protests here in Melbourne (I think I saw several of them at the May Day march.)

Even some of my non-leftist Australian friends have recommended the Eureka stockade as an important part of Australian history I should see

So, anyway, off to Ballarat to see the sights.

The train station was located at Southern Cross. This was the first time I had used the regional trains, so it involved figuring out everything for the first time. (Figuring out where Southern Cross station was, figuring out where to go to buy tickets, figuring out where to stand on the platform, all the usual stuff.) But eventually I got everything sorted and boarded the train.

It was an hour and a half out to Ballarat, all through gently rolling hills and pastoral grazing land. Very green even in winter, and very scenic (--and much different than my image of the Australian countryside as just barren desert.) I thought to myself it was a shame I had waited this long to get out and see the countryside.

I tried to take a couple pictures of the scenic farmland from the train, but with not very much luck (the sun was shining right at me, and the train was moving) so you'll just have to take my word for the fact that it was quite nice.

Once I got off the train in central Ballarat, I had decided to try and get to everything on foot. (I hate the headache of trying to figure out public transportation. Plus walking is good exercise. Plus I figure I get to take in more of the city that way.)

So I headed off.
Unfortunately I spent most of my morning/ afternoon walking in the wrong direction before I figured it out. (Among my many failings it must be added that I'm no good with directions.)

In addition to a few pointless kilometers walked though, I did get to see Ballarat cemetery (which I probably otherwise would not have run into.) There were several signs about the history of the cemetery.

All the Eureka martyrs had originally been buried in a mass grave, but later as public sympathy changed, some of them were given a proper burial. There was also a monument to the Eureka martyrs in the cemetery.

There was also a separate shrine to the 3 British soldiers killed in the Eureka attack with the words "duty" inscribed all around the shrine.

Once I realized I was heading in the wrong direction, I eventually did change course. By the time I had retraced my steps and walked back into town, and then headed to the Eureka stockade museum, it was getting into the mid afternoon.

The Eureka stockade museum must be one of the major tourist draws in Ballarat, because as you get closer and closer to it you see lots of signs, and even themed restaurants and hotels.
Along the way I also saw a marker where the first gold was discovered (as well as historians can guess) in Ballarat. Although the sign accompanying it was not so much about the gold rush, but about the awful treatment the Chinese had received during the gold rush (something also covered in Bryson's book.)

I eventually got to the Eureka stockade museum itself.

I was kind of expecting the original stockade to still be standing, but it turns out it wasn't a well built fort that could be preserved or anything. It had just been a collection of tents with some fortifications around it. But you could see the ground where it used to stand, and there was a flag and some markers commemorating the spot.

The actual museum was really well done. It incorporated a lot of audio and visual, and told the whole story really well, including all the events that had led up to the Eureka rebellion, and the fallout afterwards.

I felt like I learned a lot of really interesting tidbits about the whole affair. Again, I don't want to write down everything I learned here, because I'm sure it can be found elsewhere on the internet. But just a few pieces of interesting information were:
How the Eureka stockade was connected to the Chartist movement back in Britain.
How there were some Americans involved, and the British government tried to blame the Eureka rebellion on Americans agitating for independence and a republic (and the first person tried for treason in the affair was a black American).
How in Melbourne the government had tried to call a meeting to gain support for it's actions after the stockade had been crushed, but the Melbourne citizens drowned out the proceedings by chanting, "wholesale butchers."

At the end of the museum was a room dedicated to the spirit of Eureka, where film images of protests were shown against the backdrop of the Eureka flag, and the word "dissent" was prominently displayed.
I thought it was very refreshing seeing all this in a museum.
(If only the world had more museums dedicated to encouraging dissent, and less museums encouraging patriotism.)

Next, I walked from the Eureka museum down to the wildlife park.

When I got there and walked up to the gates, I found out the price of admission was $32.
The Dutchman in me balked a bit at this price.
Of course I'm not entirely consistent in my cheapness. I've wasted more money on stupider things in the past. But I was trying to travel on the cheap as much as possible, and this seemed like a lot of money to pay just to get in.

Plus, looking at the brochures, the place wasn't so much a wildlife preserve as a sort of petting zoo, where they had tame kangaroos you could feed and Koalas you could hold.

If I wanted to see animals in the zoo, I could do that back home. (Well, granted not hold them and feed them maybe, but still.)

In Australia I wanted to see them in the wildlife.
(Not that seeing them in the wildlife is qualitatively any different from seeing them in the zoo. You're still seeing the same animal. But I suppose like a lot of things in life, you want to do it just to say you've done it--to be able to say you saw natural Kangaroos and Koalas out in the wild.)

So I bypassed the wildlife park, and started walking back towards town to get to "Sovereign Hill", which was a historical village designed to recreate an Australian mining town in the 1850s.

Once I had walked all the way over there, I was a bit shocked by the price of admission as well--$42. (What is this, Disney World?) I briefly contemplated not going here either, but then realized that this was it--this was all Ballarat had to offer for tourists. If I didn't go here, I might as well just head home early.

It was already 3:00 by the time I entered, so I didn't get a full day's ticket for my money. But I would have been hard pressed to spend a full day here anyway, I think.

It was one of these historical recreation villages-- it looked and felt like an American old west town except it was supposed to be an Australian mining village. The staff walked around in period costumes, and for the most part tried to pretend that they were from that era. There was an old-timey saloon, an old theater, an old schoolhouse, old homes, old style Methodist church, et cetera.

Lots of things costs extra money (like visiting the gold mining shaft) but I had already decided I wasn't going to do anything that costs me any extra.

Walked around for a while, poking my head into this and that.
Went into one of the cafes to get a hamburger, and the guy manning it broke his 19th character to talk to me and ask me where I was from, et cetera.
"Does it get pretty cold in Michigan?" he asked me.
"Oh yeah," I said.
"I can tell, you look like you can handle the cold," he said. "We get people in here from Darwin, or other parts of Australia, and they always come inside looking absolutely frigid." (This was another reminder that I was here during the off season, and maybe I should have waited to hit up these places when it was a bit nicer in the spring. But oh well. This is when I have the time off.)

I caught the tail end of a play in the old time theater. Then there was a man in period piece costume demonstrating a brand new electric battery and arguing with a group of children, who were trying to persuade him that this kind of technology was nothing new. He stayed in character pretty well. "What do you know? You're from Mildew," he said. (Mildew apparently being a suburb where these children were from.) I watched it for a while, and then went down to explore the mining river.

Either it was a school excursion, or it was still school holidays, because the place was swarming with kids. And I guess it was kind of a kiddy type place.
(And there were lots of Chinese tourists there as well, so much so that most of the signs were in English and Chinese.)

My admission ticket also included a trip to the gold museum across the street, so I went over there for about a half hour before it closed up. They had a big exhibit on Ned Kelly (W) (not sure what the connection is to gold, but I guess he is an important part of Victoria Province history). Learned a few things about gold, but nothing terribly interesting.

After this walked back to the central part of Ballarat.
Tried to make it to the big lake, and see some of their gardens and POW memorials. But by the time I got to the edge of the lake it was already dark, so I decided to not waste any time walking around it, and heading back to the train.

Nothing more exciting to report for the day. Waited for the next train. Rode back. Went back to the dorms. And went to sleep exhausted.

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