I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published July 30th 2013
Victoria's Authentic Gold Rush Experience
The minute you enter Sovereign Hill the clock is turned back to the 1850's and there is little to shatter the illusion.
Sovereign Hill's poppit head
The dominating feature of the place is the mine poppit head but it and the technology associated with it are a far cry from the gold extraction methods available to the very first diggers. For them it was a case of back-breaking digging and 'panning' by hand tonnes of earth in the hope of finding a flicker of gold in the sediment which remained in the bottom of the pan. Visitors to Sovereign Hill can make their own strike in the very same way, following the directions of the experts on the site of the Red Hill Gully diggings.
Sovereign Hill's main street is living history
From this most basic process your journey around Sovereign Hill follows the development of gold mining. You'll see the use of basic machinery such as the cradle which took the place of panning, the windlass used to raise the wash dirt from the shaft and the windsails which funnelled fresh air to the miners below ground.
This early fire engine is just one of hundreds of collectables on display
Horses played a big part on the gold fields and Sovereign Hill honours the 'neddies' with working exhibits such as the puddling machine and the Chilean mill used to crush gold bearing quartz prior to the introduction of the steam driven batteries.
The battery house itself is a working monument to steam technology, the ten-head battery being driven by a steam engine built at Ballarat's own Phoenix Foundry.
Demonstrations include the pouring of solid gold ingots
For me though the highlight of the day was the underground tour. Cramped, damp and dark the mine tunnel incorporates displays which leave a very realistic appreciation of the conditions to which the miners were subjected.
Horses played a big part in goldfields life as they do today at Sovereign Hill
But this fascinating experience of life on the goldfields goes far beyond the actual mining. All around you is a living town with everything needed to support the diggings. Along Main Street you will find shops going about their business just as they did in the 1850's . You can purchase gold at the Waterloo Store, have your photograph taken at the authentic Red Hill Photographic Rooms or mail a letter at the fully functioning Post Office. There's the cabinet makers workshop, Soho Foundry and the Criterion Store, the Gold Office, The Colonial Bank of Australasia and, for those with a sweet tooth, Brown & Co Confectionery.
Realistic to the last bump and a highlight not to be missed is a ride on the authentic Concord coach along the Canadian Gully track.
The kids will love a ride in the authentic Concord Coach
Sovereign Hill is a vibrant and exciting experience. When you visit here you do more than learn about gold field's history – you live it and can't help but come away with a new found respect for those hardy souls and their enterprising ways.
Little wonder then that this is a multi-award winning attraction of world standard.
Cost:Adult $47 Concession $37:60 Child (5-15) $21:40 Family (2 Adults & up to 4 children) $117:50 or (1 Adult & up to 3 children) $85:30. Look into the all-inclusive 'Gold Pass' for significant savings.