After Sydney we flew back to Melbourne for a quick weekend before we headed out again to Port Douglas in Queensland for a week of R&R. After all when you are on vacation for two months you do get tired of it and an R&R in the tropics is the way to go.
The weekend in Melbourne was easy, no worries as they say. We were not sure of what to do and Beth was not up to driving hundreds of kilometers to go to the Promontory, the southern most tip of Australia. A very nice National Park with nice beaches and good trails for hiking. So we decided for something that was closer, Ballarat was the destination. A city west of Melbourne, we drove through it on our way from Adelaide. What we did not realize at that time was that Ballarat is the
biggest inland city in Australia and has played a pivotal role in the history of Victoria and Australia as a whole. So we headed back the way we came on the Western Highway for about 100 kays to the city of Ballarat. The next biggest town west is Ararat, go figure!
Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851, this discovery spawned the Victorian gold rush and within a year became the biggest city in Victoria. It was not too last tough as fortune seekers followed a trail of gold discoveries that went around the coast to the north in Queensland and on to Western Australia. The story of gold is told very well at the Gold Museum in Ballarat. More large gold nuggets have been found in the goldfields of Victoria than anywhere else. The world’s largest gold nugget “Welcome Stranger” weighing in at 64.5 kg was found in these fields in February of 1869 by two miners laying a mere 5 cm below the surface. The second biggest was found three years earlier around Ballarat, from the 47 nuggets weighing over 18kg found around the world 40 were found in this area. And gold has not disappeared since then, there are regular discoveries of nuggets worth well over 50,000$. The city of Ballarat and the surrounding region named officially the Goldfields region of Victoria have also found that tourism can also be a gold mine of sorts. There are many things to do in this area but as we only had a day to spare we decided to spend our time in Ballarat. The city has about 80,000 people and it has many fine victorian buildings that have changed little in the last 150 years. Looking down some of the streets with these grand structures bar the cars and bitumen was like looking though a window 150 of history. We headed to Sovereign Hill an open air live gold mining museum that is the most popular attraction in the city. The museum depicts the first ten years of the gold rush, the 1850’s, you can pan for gold just like back then, there are volunteers walking the streets in period costumes happy to pose for pictures and answer questions, mines to tour and spend a few hours in a place that might very well have been a movie set for a western. It was an amazing place and one of the best I have seen, well worth the $40+ that we paid to get in. It is also a sort of place that children enjoy a lot as they can discover and learn a lot by “living” history.
Ballarat turned out to be a nicer city than I had expected, so besides the Gold Museum that we enjoyed where we saw some of the larger nuggets found (replicas & originals), we also walked in some of its parks and wondered aloud about how easy going Australians are. They are outdoorsy and they make use of their many parks. They barbecue, walk, bike, laze in the sun or whatever else they feel up to and they seem totally at ease. Despite the crowds in some of these parks -not only in Ballarat- there is some tranquillity about in the air. The fair weather surely is a factor but it also their general “no worries” attitude towards life that give us that impression. It is also something that our Greek cities can surely learn from, instead of just cementing every little patch they should make sure that citizens can enjoy the outdoors by providing parks like they have here. That is a different discussion though for another time. The parks and barbecue/picnic in Australia go hand in hand and are as simple as it gets but a wonderful combination. The Wendouree Park is worth mentioning because it also has a memorial to POW (Prisoners Of War), a wonderful memorial that resembles the Vietnam Memorial in DC and a nice little Tram Museum. There is also a very nice Victory Arch on the main entrance of the town from the west.
Ballarat is also significant as it is the place of the only civilian uprising in Australia. In September 1851 the Victorian government introduced a Gold License in order to raise money for services and also as a way to discourage people from leaving their jobs to become gold miners. Most of the miners though lived in absolute poverty in the hope of striking gold so they resented this measure which they saw as unfair taxes. It did not help that the local government and police were corrupt as well. They regarded this as taxation without representation, much like the Yankees did in Boston about 80 years before, as they could not vote for the people who governed them. In November of 1854 the diggers appointed an Irishman Peter Lalor as their Commander in Chief and vowed to defend their rights and liberties and build a stockade, made a flag and burned licenses. On December 3, 1854 about 300 soldiers and police officers attacked and massacred the diggers, ove 30 killed and many more wounded. More than 120 diggers were put on trial but none where ever found guilty. Public opinion sided with the diggers and finally Australia introduced major reforms among them the most important the right to vote for parliament. The diggers had finally won. Well, I get easily carried away but this also shows how many hidden gems there are in Australia besides all the known sites and cities.
On that weekend we finally managed to get back to the Aquarium in Melbourne from which we were evacuated a couple weeks ago because of the storm. I had expected more from the aquarium but Ben certainly enjoyed watching all the different fish, including sharks. We then went to Oakleigh, the Greek neighborhood, to meet with relatives on my father’s side. So for the first time I met my aunt Parthena and her three children Coonie and her husband Jan, Varvara and Ari and her grandchildren. We first had to entangle how we are related but then we had fun catching up. On the weekend we also met Maria Mitropoulos and her husband Darren Favretto, Beth’s friends from Adelaide who now live in Melbourne.