Vagabonding – Ballaarat

Week 8

Still Tasmania – Happy Chook Farm

As I have been releasing each blog post on a Sunday and we stayed on the farm with Nan and Danny, (see last weeks blog for details), until Wednesday there’s a little bit more to tell about our stay in Tassie before we get to Ballaarat.

Rainbow over the farm house

After the cold and stormy weekend the weather improved on Monday and, including a few light rain showers, was quite delightful.

Interesting Rainbow Effect

The rain showers coupled with the bright sunshine brought with them some pretty stunning rainbow effects like this. It looks like the rainbow is emerging from the forest canopy. In my travels around the world I don’t think I’ve seen rainbows like I have seen in Tasmania.

Shy Rainbow
Shy Rainbow hides in the trees

Here’s a small fact, to observe a rainbow you need the rain in front of you and the sun behind you. I grew up in Ireland where it rains 330 days a year and never saw any rainbows like these. Mind you, you need sun as well as rain to get a rainbow and there’s not much sun in Ireland when it rains, which might go some way to explaining it. There’s a joke told of an American tourist who was driving around Ireland for a month getting rained on every day. He was going crazy and couldn’t understand this perpetual downpour. One day on his travel he was standing beside a small Irish boy who was looking at the American tourist. The American turns to the child and asks, “Does it ever stop raining here?” The child replies, “How would I know, I’m only eight, you’ll have to ask an older person.”

Having driven around the island quite a bit I do have a couple of observations about Tasmanian driving.

I am certain that in the “Driving a Logging Truck” handbook in Tasmania it must include a clause, “If, while driving along a narrow road with an 80 kph speed limit,  you observe an obvious tourist in a car in front of you, like a Mazda 3 with a roof box for example, going at exactly the speed limit to avoid a speeding fine, you must accelerate immediately and ensure you remain no more than 10 centimetres from the back bumper of that car at all times. If you are on a road with 110 kph speed limit that minimum distance must reduce to 5 centimetres.”

A sub clause also states, “If approaching an overtaking lane and the tourist car slows down for you to pass you must not. You must slow down at the overtaking zone and stay behind your target tourist car for at least 40 kms to ensure maximum tourist terrification opportunities are extracted from this situation.”

Despite this, and after much terrification, we made it all around Tasmania unscathed and to the ferry at Davenport for our return trip to the mainland.

Crossing the Tasman

Not much to say about this part really. We crossed the Tasman Sea. It was calm. As it was a day sailing we saw the sister ferry going the other way. We got 8 hours of work done during the journey.

Spirit of Tasmania 1

We saw an enormous cargo boat loaded up with containers of Australian goods, (Boomerangs? Fosters Lager? Didgeridoos? Holden Utes? Hats with corks hanging from them?) heading for who knows where.

Cargo vessel
Cargo Ship sails into the sunset

As we sailed through Port Phillip Bay we passed Ocean Grove where we stayed a few weeks ago and saw the famous Black Lighthouse, also known as the High Light at Fort Queenscliff which is one of only three in the world that are made of unpainted black basalt stone. It is the only black lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere. The white lighthouse you can see is known as the Low Light.

Queenscliff Black Lightouse

As mentioned, the Black Lighthouse is built of black basalt. There’s an interesting tale that says it was cut in Scotland and transported over to here and rebuilt stone by stone by numbers, like a lego set. We were heading to Adelaide for the next part of our Vagabonding journey but as it’s a good 8 hour drive from Melbourne we decided to have a break in Ballarat for 3 days, and it was there we drove to that night when we disembarked.


We were staying at Oscar’s Hotel. The building reminded me of the Poirot TV series.

Oscars’s Art Deco Hotel

We were going to get in about 8:30pm and the restaurant closed at 8:30pm so we called ahead and they promised to keep the restaurant open for us till we arrived. Now that’s good service.

Ballarat nightscape
Ballarat nightscape out of the hotel bedroom window

We were told when we checked in that, as the next day was Good Friday, they had given all the staff the day off so we were on our own. After a very quiet night with the moon and night sky putting on a bit of a show for us out of our bedroom window we did a few hours work on Good Friday morning before heading out for lunch in the optimistic attempt to find a licensed restaurant open.

We did try and do some Googling but opening hours listed on Google, especially on a holiday, are notoriously inaccurate, so we fell back on using the force to find our place and boy did we do well.

Mitchell Harris Wine Bar

Jenni, whose midichlorians were on fire that that day, spotted a wine bar open in the distance and it was there we ended up. The Mitchell Harris Wine Bar was full of ambience and served good food and great wine and beer. Vicky, the waitress was lovely and great fun and kept us fed and watered till it was time to leave. During our short time exploring while looking for the wine bar we spotted some very interesting buildings around the town centre as well as some grand old post boxes.

Ballarat Post Box
Ballarat Post Box

To find out more the next day (Saturday) we booked a walking tour with Andrew Sharpe of Ballarat Heritage Tours which was correctly voted #1 tour in Ballarat on Tripadvisor.

Andrew from Ballarat Heritage Tours
Andrew from Ballarat Heritage Tours

He was great, informative and with a love of Ballarat and it’s history that was infectious. He banged off fact after fact and date after date about this town. Too many to for me to remember all the details but this is what I recalled from the tour.


This area was originally inhabited by the Wathaurong people, an Indigenous Australian people. The name Ballarat comes from the Aborignal name for the place, two words, Balla Arat meaning resting place. The original spelling of the town had two aa’s in it. It was only changed recently, some signs still do have the old spelling such as the sign on the historic Craig’s Hotel.

Craig's Hotel Ballaarat
Craig’s Hotel Ballaarat

Craig’s “Royal” Hotel is called so because it has accommodated royalty, the most famous being Queen Victoria’s son Alfred. More about him later.

Ballarat was just 2 sheep farmers tents until 1851 when gold was discovered. Within two months of that discovery being made public there were 40,000 people there, the largest migration of people since the California Gold Rush. Unlike many other gold boom towns, the Ballarat fields experienced sustained high gold yields for many decades. Gold mining built the town bigger and bigger and it grew in importance until 1890 when  its fortunes declined. Gold continued to be dug though to the early 1900’s, in all, the local fields yielded some 230 million pounds worth of gold between 1851 and 1960.

Ballarat Gold Nugget
Ballarat Gold Nugget

This is a replica of a nugget discovered by a lucky farmer with a metal detector. It was found this way up. When he got a ping he dug down 2 inches and saw a nugget the size of a golf ball and was overjoyed, did a little dance it was said. But when he tried to extract it he had to dig down a lot deeper until he pulled out this beauty.  The original nugget is still in existence and on display in the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. This is not the largest nugget discovered, that accolade was held by the Welcome Nugget for a few years. The Welcome Nugget weighs almost 69kgs, about the same as me, and was discovered in 1851 and is the second largest gold nugget ever discovered. The story goes like this, 3 Jewish brother entrepreneurs, Julius, Isidor and Joseph Wittkowski, came to Ballarat knowing nothing about mining but knew there was money there. When they got here they saw that everyone was smoking or chewing tobacco so they opened a tobacco shop and made a fortune. When they got enough money they invested in mining. The most experienced miners of the time were Cornish Tin Miners so they hired 22 of the best of them and gave them a blank card to go digging where they felt it would be profitable and in lieu of some wages, a share in whatever they found. They found the Welcome Nugget, the second largest nugget ever found and everyone was happy. The Welcome Nugget was assayed by William Birkmyre of the Port Phillip Gold Company, the same Port Phillip we sailed through from Tasmania two days ago. The largest nugget ever found was also discovered in Victoria 11 years later and was called The Welcome Stranger and weighed 97 kgs and is still to be surpassed.

The old exchange hall
The old exchange hall

This is the inside of the old Exchange Hall where they traded gold, Ballarat outgrew this quickly and built a much bigger place. It can now be hired out for weddings and parties and functions. It was also reported that during the boom years Ballarat was sending so much gold to Melbourne that they ran out of space to store it and had to build a huge new mint just to keep up with Ballarat’s output.

Mark Twain

In 1885 one Mr. Samuel Langhorn Clemens also known as Mark Twain gave two lectures in Ballarat in the Mechanic’s Institute.

Mechanic's Institute and Titanic Memorial Bandstand
Mechanic’s Institute and Titanic Memorial Bandstand

The Titanic Memorial bandstand in the picture was erected in memory to those who cried when Leo DiCaprio died in the movie.

Do I need to explain who Mark Twin is? He’s a famous American satirist, humorist and author, most notably from his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1875) and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) which I read in school for my O Levels. I still remember the line from the book  “Meat first, and spoon vittles to top off on.” and not having a clue what “spoon vittles” were. Still don’t.

Famous Guest List
Famous Guest List

He stayed in the aforementioned Craig’s Royal Hotel and being of Scot’s Irish descent he was late for one of his lectures due to having a few drinks in the bar of the hotel. A bar Jenni and I had a drink in also.

Hotel Bar, Craig's Royal Hotel
Hotel Bar, Craig’s Royal Hotel

Legend has it his audience were advised to avoid wearing tightly buttoned shirts and bodices as they would likely burst from the laughter he would generate. Andrew also mentioned that Ballarat people were particularly proud that he did two nights here and only one everywhere else.

Rabbie Burns Statue Ballarat
Rabbie Burns Statue Ballarat

The great gold rush in Australia meant there was a lot of money around Ballarat. The Scots folk passed the hat around and got enough money to erect a statue of the poet Robert Burns, the Irish not to be outdone passed the hat around and erected an even bigger statue of the Irish Poet Thomas Moore. This is not my picture but one by Kent Watson from this site.
Thomas Moore

The English, not to be outdone by the Irish and Scots, passed the hat around to raise a statute to the great English bard Shakespeare but unfortunately couldn’t get enough funds so there isn’t one. Being of Irish and Scottish ancestry I don’t know why I find that story, let’s say, entertaining.

Ballarat Train Station

Ballarat's "New" Train Station of 1889
Ballarat’s “New” Train Station of 1889

Ballarat already had a train station, it was built in 1860 and was very small and functional. At that time the train line from Melbourne stopped at Ballarat and went via Bendigo. This was because the straight run between Ballarat and Melbourne was too steep for the trains to climb. In 1889 they decided they needed to build a direct line between Ballarat and Melbourne. So Ballarat decided they needed a new, bigger more impressive station to receive all this new traffic from Melbourne. In 1889 they built this magnificent edifice. All white with neo-classical columns and arches. But, in 1890 the great crash happened and they ran out of money. In fact they ran out of money to finish the station and hadn’t enough to put in a clock in the clock tower as evidenced in this old picture.

Ballarat Train Station without clock
Ballarat Train Station without clock

In 1981 the railway station caught fire and the clock tower’s wooden interior was destroyed. The subsequent refurbishment had enough money in the budget to put in the missing clock so nearly 100 years after it was built the station was finally completed with the installation of the clock you see today.

Ballarat Train Station with clock
Ballarat Train Station with clock

The level crossing still has the old original gates, they were scheduled to be replaced with electronic boom gates as ordered by some nonentity civil servant pen pusher but the locals rebelled and the gates stayed. The compromise was that they kept all the old mechanisms but replace the manual components with electric motors and electronics for safety. Ballarat is rightly, very proud of its historical artefacts.

Level Crossing Gates and Signal Tower
Level Crossing Gates and Signal Tower

From the sign at this station. “When installed in 1885 these level crossing gates were operated by a signalman winding a large wheel in the signal box. This action moved a continuous loop of chain and steel rods below the pavement which operated the four signal gates simultaneously. The gates and interlocked semaphore railway signals and telegraph equipment were state of the art in 1885”

Old Signal Box Mechanics
Old Signal Box Mechanics

As we walked back along Lydiard Street we observed the oldest preserved buildings in Ballarat. Andrew told us of the history of this street.

Ballarat was booming and in 1887 Prince Alfred came to visit and stayed a while. While he was here he commemorated the laying of three of the principal building’s cornerstones, one of which was for the Old Colonists Club.


It’s a club for rich old miners whose crest you see below.

Old Colonists Club Crest
Old Colonists Club Crest

Andrew explained that the two figures are old miners. Mining was dangerous and if you got to be 50 years old and didn’t die you were doing well. The top left of the shield or crest is a crossed pick axe and shovel to represent the surface miners, the top right represents the underground miners lowering down the shaft, the bottom left is the cleaning of the ore and the bottom right, the bag of gold. Their motto is Advance Ballarat.

Old Colonists Club
Old Colonists Club

The Eureka Rebellion

The Eureka Rebellion happened in Ballarat and is taught in Australian schools and I’d never heard of it. It happened in 1854 and was instigated by gold miners who revolted against unfair taxes. It culminated in the Battle of the Eureka Stockade.

Old Sheriff's Office
Old Sheriff’s Office which overlooked the Eureka Stockade

In 1854 Melbourne was empty of people, especially barista’s, as they were all off mining for gold in Ballarat and the gentrified folk of Melbourne, who were without their soy latte’s and tiny biscotti biscuits, had had enough. There were also no policemen or doctors or fireman or anyone who could actually do anything. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, was dying. So they slapped a massive, punitive tax on mining to make it unattractive. A miner had to pay 30 shillings a month just to mine a patch of ground 8 feet by 8 feet. The miners revolted.

Peter Lalor Statue
Peter Lalor Statue

Things escalated, and eventually, under the leadership of Peter Lalor an Irishman from Laois, the miners were formed into a paramilitary force to rebel against the unfair treatment by the colonial authority of the United Kingdom. The Irish have always been a natural at this sort of thing. The miners dug deep and created a stronghold at the Eureka Stockade, but the authorities did what they always do, they over reacted, and sent a nearly 2000 strong battalion force of redcoats and conscripted convicts in a pre-dawn raid to take the stockade. On the 3rd of December 1854 they stormed the stockade and killed 27 miners and in 15 minutes the battle was over due to the overwhelming force of the troops against the mostly unarmed miners. Support for the rebels in Melbourne, when they came to trial, was overwhelming. The punitive tax was removed, reduced to 20 shillings a year, the miners were given rights, Peter Lalor, the outlaw, became a politician and was Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria and the Eureka Rebellion was cited as the birth of democracy in Australia.

I’m now not surprised that this event is taught is Australian Schools.

Prince Alfred Assassination Attempt

In 1868 HRH The Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria visited Ballarat on the first Royal visit to Australia. He was 23 years old and a bit of a wild boy. He is reported to have called for a bottle of rum to be delivered to him while inspecting a mine in Ballarat. I already like him. This is what he looked like in 1865. I did not take this picture either.

Prince Alfred
Prince Alfred

On 12 March and Irishman called Henry James O’Farrell from Ballarat shot him in the back while he was attending the Sailor’s Picnic in the harbourside suburb of Clontarf, New South Wales in Sydney. The Prince’s thick leather braces, suspenders if you are American, dulled the bullet’s path and the Prince survived. O’Farrell was nearly lynched on the spot before police arrested him. After 2 weeks the Prince recovered sufficiently to be returned home but he decreed O’Farrell, who was recently released from a lunatic asylum, did not know what he was doing and they were to be lenient with him. Immediately after the Prince left they tried him and hanged him. Maybe they hanged him and then tried him, it was 1868 after all.

Immediately after this there was a huge anti-Irish backlash, although I suspect the English were probably still pissed over the Shakespeare statue thing.

Loud Fence Movement

St Patrick's Cathedral "Loud Fence"
St Patrick’s Cathedral “Loud Fence”

These ribbons tied to the fence around St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat represent support for victims of child sexual abuse and are part of the Ballarat-born Loud Fence movement, which has spread around the world in the wake of widespread abuse by institutions such as the Catholic Church.

Last December the Vicar-General of the church, Father Justin Driscoll and his parishioners, cut the ribbons down and put them in a box they built at the corner of the church grounds. The supporters of the Loud Fence movement reacted saying, “I believe it is laughable for the church to hide the ribbons in a box when ‘hiding’ things has been a huge part of their now, universally recognised, past poor practices.” Three months later there are 10 times more ribbons on the fence than there was before.

Ballarat is an interesting place with a personality, a soul. We’ll be back and stay a while longer but for now we’re on our way to Adelaide for a month.

The Drive to Adelaide

Early Sunday morning we left on the long drive to Adelaide. The journey non stop was about 7 hours drive, we had planned a couple of breaks so had estimated 9 hours in total. The drive took us through some amazing farmland and countryside. The ground was flat as far as you could see and the vast fields stretched to the horizon. The fields looked like they were mostly grain and had been harvested already. We regularly came across  massive grain silos and sheds and fields full of enormous straw bales.

Straw Bales drying in the fields
Straw Bales drying in the fields

There were towns every 50 – 60 kms or so along the road with names like Ki Ki and Keith and Sherlock. Each town seemed to have a massive grain storage station and a merchants with huge yard selling grain harvesting machinery. There were also an abundance of silo builders and repairers and purveyors and installers of water tanks. We were driving through one of the Australia’s bread baskets that keeps this great nation fed. Our farm, when I was growing up, was about 40 acres. One field I saw must have been about 1,000 acres.

The road between Ballarat and Adelaide snakes across the land and while we drove we were accompanied by 4 other services. There was a pipe about 60 cms in diameter that ran along the much of the length of the road. Crisscrossing the tarmac was the railway line which disappeared from time to time just to re-emerge  to run parallel with the road for hundreds of kilometres before crossing it again and running off into the distance. Along the path of the train line ran a series of telephone cables suspended between thousands of old wooden telegraph poles and sitting on creamy ceramic insulators. On the other side of the road, also running mostly parallel were electricity lines also suspended between poles but these poles were sometime oxidised cast metal or shiny pylons, the wires held up by clear glass insulators. All of these services were headed to the same destination as us, Adelaide. It’s clearly a popular and demanding place.

Grain Silos

We saw dozens of huge grain silos on this journey and mostly they are large, grey, nondescript and boring. However, there’s a growing art movement in Australia that is painting theses silos and turning them into huge works of art. I’d seen one of these art projects on TV and said to Jenni that if we see one advertised on a road sign we should do a detour and get a picture for the blog. As fate would have it a short time after saying this we  drove through a tiny village called Coonalpyn that had these huge painted silos right at the side of the road.

Coonalpyn Grain Silo Murals
Coonalpyn Grain Silo Murals

Reknowned artist Guido van Helten visited the small town and interviewed some of the local school children and chose 5 of them as subjects for the mural. It took Guido 6 weeks and he used a crane and 200 cans of spray paint to complete it.

Grain Silo Mural
Grain Silo Mural

The detail is amazing and it the finished result looks spectacular.

Coonalpyn Murals
Coonalpyn Murals

To get an idea of scale I included the car and Jenni reading the story of the mural

If you want to see Guido paint these in timelapse go here. There are 5 or 6 more painted silos around Victoria and I’d like to go see at least one or two more of them.

We eventually arrived at our apartments in Adelaide. This next few weeks will be extremely busy with work so there may not be much to blog about but I have said that to myself before and each week there’s always something. Till next time.



Notes: Terrification is not a real word, Fosters lager is no longer brewed in Australia and Leo DiCaprio didn’t die in the movie, his character did.

One thought on “Vagabonding – Ballaarat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s