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Published October 7th 2015
Experience the gold rush in Ballarat
Sovereign Hill is an open air museum dedicated to the gold rush era of the 1850's in Ballarat. But don't think it is a dull & dusty museum where items are on display behind glass cabinets. Sovereign Hill is in fact a living and working example of Australia's rich history of gold and features working machinery and exhibits, costumed interpreters and plenty of activities and visitor participation.
Immerse yourself in the gold rush era at Sovereign Hill
If you haven't tried gold panning before then this is a must! Don't be fooled as it is not as easy as it looks. But the good news is that there is real gold in the Diggings Creek and if you find it you can keep it. Using a pan or a cradle you can have a go yourself. There are costumed "gold diggers" in the area to ask if you need some expert knowledge or advice about your technique. In its day the Ballarat goldfields were the richest alluvial goldfields ever known.
Go Back to School at Red Hill National School Weekends and Holidays only - check timetable for times
Attend school for a lesson in writing with a nib and ink pen, while sitting on timber bench seats and hearing about the life of school children in Ballarat in the 1850's. Whilst practising your copperplate script, a costumed teacher will talk about schools in the 1850's. School was not compulsory back then and neither was it free, so it really depended on if your parents could afford to send you, and if they valued education. For those that did go to school, they would attend from 9am - 12 noon, go home for lunch, then go back to school from 2pm - 5pm.
Practice your writing technique with nib and ink pens
9 Pin Bowling in the Bowling Alley from 10.30am to 4.30pm daily
The Empire Bowling Saloon features three lanes of 9 pin bowling - two full length lanes and one shorter lane for children. This type of bowling is said to have originated in Germany and was very popular in the goldfields. In the 1850's it was seen as a place "for those who delight in healthy exercise".
Bowling is done with a heavy wooden ball which you roll down the long and skinny timber lane towards the 9 pins which are set up in a diamond formation. You score the most points if you knock down all the pins except for the front pin. A chart on the wall helps you to score. It is a great piece of history and is fun to test your bowling skills. Don't forget to re-set the pins after your turn.
At the Gold Smelting Works you can watch a $160 000 pure gold ingot being poured up close by a blacksmith. It is a spectacular sight as the liquid gold is poured from the crucible and in to the ingot tin, then cooled in water before being displayed to the audience. The demonstration goes for 15 minutes during which time there is also commentary about how gold is separated from the other minerals it is found in the ground with and the impurities removed. Enjoy a game of English Bagatelle
Bagatelle is a type of billiards played on a long skinny table. Instead of holes at the edges of the table as in billiards, in bagatelle there are 9 cups at one end of the table. The game is played by two players . The object is to fill the cups with the balls whilst not letting your opponent score. It is not a game I had heard of before but it was great fun to play.
You might find a game of bagatelle in the Charlie Napier Hotel
There is a table in the Empire Bowling Saloon or you might be lucky to catch a game, as we did, in the back room of the Charlie Napier Hotel. This game was popular with the diggers on the goldfields who would have played at the end of the day in one of the bars in town. Experience a Coach Ride From 10.30am - 4pm daily
The horse & carriage ride through the main street and around the gold diggings does cost extra ($17 for a family of four) but I think it is worth it to experience travel in the gold rush days. The Coach is pulled by four Clydesdale horses. The Coach Ride takes between 5 - 10 minutes and goes along the Main Street, then along Red Hill Road past the gold diggings
There is so much to see and do at Sovereign Hill and you could easily fill 1 - 2 days here. Other activities on offer include mine tours, blacksmith and musket firing demonstrations, theatre performances, sweet making, steam powered machinery demonstrations, candle making and wheel wrighting to name just a few. And if you visit during school holidays there are even more activities to choose from.
A visit to Sovereign Hill is a true step back in time where you can discover and experience the day-to-day activities of life on the goldfields.