Having already shared with you much of what this historic, yet entrepreneurial city has to offer the day tripper (please refer to previous article Top Ballarat Attractions and Activities ) you 'll already know that it's just a 70-90 minute drive along the Western Highway from Melbourne. There is always "something doing "in this place, no matter what time of the year you visit.
My most recent visit introduced me to the incredble work of self-confessed rev-head Eamon O'Toole. For those of you who want to be a "Mark Webber" or who perhaps simply like unusual creativity, this exhibition, partly Formula 1 and partly Toolshed, will certainly fascinate you. If you're a traditionalist, you'll have to wrap your head around the fact that a large plastic, wood and steel model of Ayrton Senna's McLaren Formula 1 car, complete with enamel paint, aluminium & gold leaf, textas and rubber is really worth seeing. (470 x 230 x 90 cms). All articles in Eamon's collection are made from recycled materials with some really innovated thinking behind the pieces. My favourite was an almost life-sized very old classic ute on a mirrored floor which allowed for viewing under the vehicle. Every detail was a replica of the real thing and must have taken ages to complete and a lifetime of patience. This exhibition was obviously a labour of love.
The Eamon O'Toole exhibition was held, like many others, in the lovely old Ballarat Art Gallery and while browsing around, I came across the fact that you can actually adopt a painting , a conservation donation program for the gallery.
It was then time for a change of scenery so a meander along the main streets in the central block was in order, admiring more of the gracious old architecture in buildings such as the Mechanic's Institute and Chinese Temple, the Mining Exchange and Colonist's Hall, Tawana Lodge and the Myer Building, each depicting very different characterists.
Not far from the Town Hall, just near the Mall, I stumbled across the highly unusual Ballarat Carrillon (which is really a Chime) bought when the clock and Alfred Bells were being purchased for the new Town Hall (1873). With 15 bells, it is the oldest Chime in Australia and the only one not located within a church. The Carillon was to be activated by the town clock and was geared to play 4 times a day with a different tune for each day of the week.
Sun: Sun of My Soul Mon: Blue Bells of Scotland Tues: Home Sweet Home
Wed: Merry Bells of England Thurs:Swiss Air Fri: Rule Britannia
Sat: Caller Herrin
Originally there were 16 bells and while many theories have been put forward, there has never really been an accurate explanation for why. Due to a continuing sound problem with the bells, it was relocated to several sites over the ensuing 100 years, but without success. To provide a solution, the bells were melted down and recast in 1983. After a century of silence, the Carillon sounds again.The tower that currently houses the bells was erected in 1988 as a Bi-centennial Project.
While wending my way back down the main street, I noticed lots of people dressed in 50s gear and a host of ardently restored old classic cars. Being an enthusiast of the latter, I went exploring, only to discover that I had missed some of the Ballarat Beat- Rockabilly Festival. On offer were Burlesque Shows, Fashion Parades, Rock' n Roll & Swing Demonstrations and Dance Lessons and Trade Stalls.
The remainder of my afternoon was complete. I went from one magnificent old vehicle to another and marvelled as always at the enormous amount of passion, dedication, time and money that 's needed to restore these beauties. The truth is, "I just wish I owned one"
On the way back to my car, I noticed a graceful white tower standing out above the surrounding buildings. Passing the interestingly green Sebastiaan's on the corner and The Bended Elbow a bit further down (I'm guessing here that it was a pub at some stage) as I approached the tower I realised that it was the Ballarat Railway Station. The large well kept rail yards beside the building and the heritage old signal box (1885) formed part of the restored complex that has been providing Ballarat train services for over 150 years
Just across the street from the signal box stands the once magnificent , Provincial Building. Looking forlorn and unloved, it houses 2000sq mts of floor space over three levels and in it's heyday, was an impressive sight for the train travellers arriving opposite. Once a thriving hotel noted for serving a three course meal in less than 20 mins, it has stood empty for six years, its $2.2 million price tag possibly being the greatest deterrent for an interested purchaser. Still there is no avoiding its striking architecture and its still imposing presence.
So they're my stories from this interesting city steeped in history, buildings and experiences that continue to surprise and delight me. See what you can discover when you next have free time and are looking for an inexpensive, but fulfilling day out. I'm sure you'll find an unusual event and a host of friendly locals to tell you all about it.
Visitor Information Centre
43 Lydiard St N