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A Free Walking Tour of the History and Heritage of Ballarat

Home > Ballarat > Free | Historic Houses | Tours | Travel | Walks
by Lionel (subscribe)
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Published July 24th 2014
city of ballarat
Photo courtesy of City of Ballarat

There are few cities in Australia where the history of the place can be experienced in a short stroll. Ballarat offers the rare opportunity to relive Victoria's colonial heritage simply through its streetscape. All you have to do is take a walk along Sturt and Lydiard Street. The wealth generated during the gold rush of the 1850s deposited a plethora of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, churches, statues and gardens. This fine collection of bluestone and brick buildings remained intact, hosting today's cafes, restaurants, shops, hotels and offices. The grand architecture and history of Ballarat beckons to be discovered. So put on your walking shoes and enjoy one of Australia's best-preserved heritage streets with all its impressive buildings. You might just uncover some of the secrets hidden within.

Pioneer Miners' Monument

On the corner of Sturt and Albert Street is a monument made largely from lumps of quartz, topped with a miniature gold mine and replica of the famous Welcome Nugget. The Welcome Nugget was the largest mass of gold unearthed on 9 June 1858. Constructed by the members of the Ballarat Historical Society, this monument is dedicated to the memory of the pioneer mines of Ballarat and commemorates the discovery of gold at Poverty Point on 2 August 1851.

St Patrick's Cathedral

Built between 1857 and 1871, the style of the church is early Gothic from the era of Edward the 1st in the 13th Century. Constructed in bluestone, St Patrick's Cathedral contains outstanding examples of craftmanship from that era. Highlights include the stencilled patterning on the boarded chancel ceiling, the stained glass, the stone carvings and the cast iron gates and fence with crowned piers demonstrate outstanding craftsmanship. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ballarat.

Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute

ballaarat mechanics' institute
Photo courtesy of Arts Victoria

The Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute (BMI) is the world's most authentic, architecturally grandest and best-preserved example of a substantial 19th century Institute. Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, BMI has operated as a community-based cultural and educational organisation since 1859. It is home to a rare collection of old local newspapers, books and other historic items. The beautifully restore function rooms also host many cultural and social events that are open to public. Located at 117-119 Sturt Street, the library is open daily from 9.30am to 4.30pm and 9am to 12pm on Saturdays.

Former Unicorn Hotel

The highlight of this building is its Victorian Heritage Register-listed facade. It is one of the few buildings allowed to retain its cast iron verandah during the 1960s. The former Unicorn Hotel on 127 Sturt Street was one of the city's popular pubs and its verandah served as an informal outdoor stock exchange where share brokers gathered to trade gold shares. The 3rd oldest hotel built in Ballarat which took 5 years to restore was reopened in April 2012 as the Unicorn cafe and restaurant. To visit the tapered posts and original swag belly panel, just head on into the cafe.

23 Sturt Street

23 sturt street
Photo courtesy of Colliers International Australia

This blue and white coloured building on 23 Sturt Street is the only surviving example of Edwardian Flemish baroque architecture in Victoria. The rounded balcony hides an apartment with art nouveau interiors above the ground floor retail space.

Town Hall

You can't miss this impressive two storey classical revival tower on 225 Sturt Street. The Town Hall is not only one of the most distinctive buildings in Ballarat but one of the few grand-scale symmetrical town hall designs in Victoria. Its history includes 3 reconstructions, the first when the original was destroyed by fire in 1859. The reconstruction after the fire ceased due to budget constrains. The final reconstruction completed the facade in 1870. Ballarat is the only city in regional Victoria with 2 working sets of old bells and The Alfred Bells is located in the Town Hall. It is believed that the Town Hall is also one of the only three such buildings in the world equipped with bells. The Town Hall continues to serve as the working offices of the City of Ballarat.

Former Post Office Building

Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, this 5-level Italianate palazzo-style building housed the second largest post office in Victoria after the GPO in Melbourne. It was constructed in 1864 with the second section of the tower added in 1885. Today, the building on the corner of Sturt Street and Lydiard Street North hosts the Post Office Gallery and the Arts Academy of Federation University Australia.

Burke & Wills Fountain

Located at the Sturt and Lydiard Street intersection is the Burke and Wills Fountain. This centrepiece of the streetscape was constructed in 1863 in memory of the 2 famous explorers who perished while crossing Australia in 1861, Robert 'O' Hara Burke and William John Wills.

Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ the King

This English Gothic-style structure is believed to be one of the earliest stone buildings in Ballarat. Located on 49 Lydiard Street, it contains 3 light stained glass windows depicting the Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection dating back to late October 1869. The Church is opened daily to public.

Craig's Royal Hotel

Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, Craig's Royal Hotel has been an icon since Prince Alfred of England stayed there in 1867 and American writer Mark Twain in the 1890s.
As one of the first Grand Hotels in the colony, it was the scene of social events like the Shenandoah Ball in 1865. This Italianate tower was built in 1857 over the original timber pub, with additions in 1890 and 1891. You can enjoy this true icon of the Victorian period on 10 Lydiard Street South by staying in one of the hotel suites or dining in the historic courtyard.

Her Majesty's Theatre

This is the oldest continuously operating purpose-built theatre in Australia. It opened as the Academy of Music in 1875. Located at 17 Lydiard Street South, it is one of the busiest performing arts centres in regional Victoria today with some 300 performances presented each year to more than 70,000 people.

Wesleyan Church

Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, Wesleyan Church was constructed in 1883. This Gothic Revival church located on the corner of Lydiard and Dana Streets is an excellent example of polychrome brickwork and features a stunning amphitheatre-style seating and cast iron galleries at the sides and rear of the nave. This prominent Methodist church also housed the first pipe organ in Ballarat.

Ballarat Trades Hall

Ballarat Trades Hall and Australian Natives Association
Ballarat Trades Hall and Australian Natives Association / Photo by Takver of Flickr

This 3-storey brick building on 23 Camp Street has been serving as the offices for the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council and the meeting place for Ballarat's trade unions till today. Constructed in 1887 to 1888, it is celebrated for its highly decorative baroque facade and interiors of timber-lined ceilings and bluestone stairs.

Former Freemason's Hall

Former Freemason's Hall
Photo courtesy of Colliers International Australia

This landmark building on 14 Camp Street was Ballarat's first Freemasons' Hall. Built in Greek revival style between 1872 to 1874, it is an old masonic temple with large columns on either side of the entrance.

Huyghue House or Old Ballarat Police Station

Huyghue House, Old Ballarat Police Station, Camp Street, Ballarat
Huyghue House, Old Ballarat Police Station, Camp Street, Ballarat / Photo by ssmulyan of Flickr

Another Victorian Heritage Register listed building is the old police station, which was renamed Huyghue House after a Canadian-born novelist, poet and essayist. Located on Camp Street, this Italianate building build between 1884 and 1886 is best known for its decorative cast iron, which was traditionally reserved only for residential buildings. It now serves as the offices and meeting rooms of the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Former Mining Exchange

Located at 8 Lydiard Street North is a classical building that used to bustle with share brokers and mining agents in the late 1880s to 1890s. Built between 1887 and 1889, this mining exchange became a garage, bus depot and craft market over the years after gold mining declined. Highlights include the wide elliptical entrance and the ornate verandah which was reconstructed from old photos. You can still enjoy its interiors during The Design Exchange Market days and also visit the Mining Exchange Gold Shop onsite.

Old Colonists' Hall

Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, this Victorian Renaissance revival hall built in 1888 was a popular gathering spot for early pioneers of the gold rush era. The Old Colonists' Hall located at 20 Lydiard Street North is easily recognised by relief letters and coat of arms in the centre pediment flanked by balustrades.

Alexandria Tea Rooms

This Victorian Renaissance revival building located on 26-34 Lydiard Street North is best known for its 2-storey cast iron verandah and interiors with period features like a grand sweeping staircase. It is now an event venue managed as Alexandria on Lydiard.

Art Gallery of Ballarat

Located at 40 Lydiard Street North is the first provincial gallery and the largest regional gallery in the country. The Art Gallery of Ballarat was constructed in 1884 and continues to house an impressive collection of art spanning early colonial works and prints dating back from Captain Cook's voyages. You can enjoy the heritage interiors and collections from 10am to 5pm daily.

Former Reid's Coffee Palace

Although this building was overhauled in the 1970s to operate as a guest-house, some of the original features of this Victorian classical building remains today. You can view the grand facade, Edwardian balcony, hand-painted ceiling and entrance arch. Located at 128 Lydiard Street North, just next to the Ballarat Railway Station, it was built in 1886 to house Reid's bakery.

Ballarat Railway Station

How often can you arrive in an historic railway station dating back to 1862? Thousands of commuters pass through the Ballarat Railway Station daily, unaware of its rich history. Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, the Station is one of the grandest buildings in Ballarat and a fine example of the city's early architecture. The Lydiard Street railway gates installed in 1885 are the largest surviving interlocked installation in Victoria today. The signal gantries installed after 1888 are also the last surviving installations of their type in the state.
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Why? Where can you find the best of Victorian colonial history in one place?
When: Anytime of the year
Where: Various locations in Ballarat
Cost: Free self-guided walk
Your Comment
The Eureka flag is now located at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE). The gallery is open from 10.00am to 5.00pm now to concise with all the other galleries. Huyghue House also houses the Backspace Gallery opened from 12.00pm to 4.00pm from Thursday to Sunday. I live in Ballarat.
by Belinda Nolan-Price (score: 2|467) 2892 days ago
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