Day 6 of our Victorian Road Trip: Ballarat

When I started this latest series of posts, fellow blogger LordBeariofBow  commented that I was off to “sunny, cloudy, windy, calm, hot, cold, wet & dry Victoria.  And that’s just today“.  Another follower thought that was a cheap shot – but every word of it is true! 

Overnight a wild storm lashed through Ballarat, bringing with it high winds and heavy rain (remember folks, it is summer now in the southern hemisphere, and earlier in the day it had been blisteringly hot). So, for our first outing of the day, we settled on an indoor activity while we waited for the weather to change . . . again.

Firstly, one of my typical potted history introductions:

One of the 5 eight-pointed stars on the 1854 Eureka Flag, representing the Southern Cross constellation

One of the 5 eight-pointed stars representing the Southern Cross constellation, on the 1854 Eureka Flag

Ballarat is synonymous with the gold rush. Nearly everything the casual tourist would wish to see ultimately connects to this event. Gold was discovered first in New South Wales, and the timing co-incided with Victoria separating from that colony, become self-governing in July 1851. The fledgling Victorian establishment needed revenue, and advertised a competition for the discovery of gold, which was quickly claimed by several different people at various sites. On 16 August 1851, Lieutenant-Governor Latrobe proclaimed in the Government Gazette crown rights for all mining proceeds and a licence fee of 30 shillings per month effective from 1 September 1851. And, incredibly, by September the rush was already, definitely, on.

The ever-increasing licence fee, and the punitive manner in which it was collected, became a hotbed of discontent among the miners. By the beginning of 1852, only weeks into the rush, the licence fee had risen to £3 per month. Miners had to have the paper on them at all times, and were subject to frequent, harsh inspections. By the end of 1854 many of the miners had formed themselves into the Ballarat Reform League -a kind of a union or political group (some of them had been Chartists in the UK) – and they passed a resolution “that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.”

The colonial government was having none of that, so the League became more militant, electing a more aggressive leader – Peter Lalor – and swearing allegiance to the Southern Cross, represented on the blue and white Eureka Flag, which deliberately omitted the Union Jack.

Again, the colonial government took a dim view of this, and began building (British Army) troops in the area. The miners retaliated by building a ramshackle wooden stockade and preparing to defend their stance. It is the only armed rebellion in Australian history. (There was an earlier convict uprising but they gained their arms during the fight).

At 3 am on Sunday, 3 December 1854, a party of 276 soldiers and police approached the Eureka Stockade and a battle ensued. It was short, bloody, fatal and doomed from the miner’s point of view. Martial law was imposed and the main rebel miners put on trial for treason.

Here’s the rub though. The backlash was so great that all thirteen accused men were acquitted. After 12 months, all but one of the demands of the Ballarat Reform League had been granted (Wikipedia), and Peter Lalor was elected to government in 1856.

On 24 November 1857 a bill granting universal suffrage for white males was passed in Victorian parliament. It was the first in Australia to grant universal male suffrage.

As a consequence, the Eureka Rebellion is held by many to be the birth of democracy in Australia. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) stands on the site of the infamous battle.

This is a very modern, and highly interactive museum which makes full use of digital technology as well as historical objects to get its message across. Visitors are challenged to assess what democracy means to them, as the story of the Eureka Stockade is mixed with later fights, such as female suffrage, aboriginal rights, disability rights and so on.

The message in this museum is POWER: what does it mean to be without power – to have a voice and not be heard? What is the power of numbers, of influence, of words? I was fascinated with a tryptch wall projection which featured iconic speeches of the 20th century written in the central panel, the speaker on the right, and on the left panel, a breakdown of the syntax used in the speech. There is also a section called the Incendiary Library, which displays banned books and words that challenged the world. My US followers still reeling from the Trump election might have found something rather telling in the Power of Numbers section which stresses that in our set-up, democracy depends on all its citizens having their say, hence our dogged loyalty to compulsory voting. I realise that some societies consider that a violation of their civil liberties, but on the whole, we Aussies just don’t see it that way. We are quite free to spoil our ballot papers if that is what we wish, but we do need to turn up to the polling station. They are plentiful, and elections happen on a Saturday; or you can pre-vote, or postal vote, so it is no hardship to voice your opinion.

Of course, what remains of the Eureka Flag is on prominent display in this museum. Parts of it were destroyed in the battle, other pieces were souvenired afterwards, and natural deterioration had also taken place.

The dimensions of the Eureka Flag are 260 cm × 400 cm (100 in × 160 in). The horizontal cross is 37 cm wide and the vertical cross 36 cm wide

I was in for a delightful surprise, also, to discover that the travelling exhibition, Roses From the Heart, was on display for our visit. I had heard about this on the radio but had no idea a part of it was in Ballarat. This is a memorial to all the women who were sentenced to transportation, some 25,566 in the years 1788 – 1853. Each woman is represented in the form of an 1860s servant’s bonnet, symbolising that their story has been “shrouded in a veil of amnesia“. Various descendants have made and embroidered a bonnet with their ancestor’s name. It is a beautiful and touching display. Family oral history states that Anastasia, the convict in the photo below, helped to sew the Eureka Flag.  (Please click in the gallery to see the photos in full).

In conjunction with this, there was also a display of Convict Love Tokens. These Leaden Hearts were usually made in British prison workshops, using smoothed down copper 1797 Cartwheel pennies, and “stippled” or engraved with the message. They were given by the convict to their loved one as a last parting gift. Of the 162,000 (approx) convicts transported, very few of these tokens remain. Perhaps if you can enlarge the story board, you will read of William Mollett, a thirteen-year-old transported for seven years for stealing tea. I can find a newspaper advertisement that his sentence expired in April 1850, but only a small percentage of convicts returned home. Still referring to the newspaper: two years later a person of the same name was acquitted of a charge of stealing, and just before Christmas 1873,  William Mollett, a forty year old hawker, died suddenly of excessive drinking. Such a sad life.

After a delicious lunch at the on-site cafe, which makes great use of Australian bush spices and local fare, we were hopeful that the rest of the day would also be fair (a little pun), so, clutching two self-guided walking tours maps, we drove back to the centre of town.

Ballarat, population approx 100,000, is a stunning city, particularly in its two main central boulevards: Lydiard and Sturt Streets. In 1837 Balla Arat was a sheep run. Within months of the 1851 gold discovery, there were 20,000 migrants. A decade later, there were 60,000, mostly itinerant and living in canvas tents close to their mine lease, but in the town itself, many of those more settled were establishing businesses and wooden houses. It is amazing testament to them, and the wealth created by the gold, that within twenty short years, substantial grand stone buildings were erected, and these beautiful buildings along Lydiard Street still take centre stage of the ambience of this city. Our map pointed out thirty-five of significance. Plus another twenty-five in Camp Street, so named because this is where the soldiers camped before they marched out to the Eureka Stockade. True to form, I insisted we tramp up and down both side of the streets, and check out all there was to see.

If you would like to know more of how Ballarat looked on the goldfields, the artwork of Eugene von Guerard and Samuel Thomas Gill is the place to look.

In 1867, HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Vic’s second son, visited Ballarat, the first royal to visit the colonies. I have a scene involving that in my fledgling next novel, as my great-grandfather was one of the guests invited to the grand ball (discovered in newspaper research). He (the Prince, not my grand-daddy) stayed at the Craig Hotel. Mark Twain was another notable guest. So naturally, I had to poke my head in for a good look around! The most important legend to me (Helen dear – please take note) is that in 1870 the publican Walter Craig, owner of a race horse called Nimblefoot, dreamt that his horse won the Melbourne Cup, but that the jockey was wearing a black armband. Sure enough, Nimblefoot won the race, but Walter Craig was not there to see it – because he died two months prior!

At the former Mining Exchange we were able to poke our noses through an ornately decorated metal grill gate and imagine the dealers who would have occupied the various stall fronts, buying and selling the gold from the diggings. Before its construction, such dealings took place on the street outside. Theoretically the building was closed, but we bumped into two ladies who were just leaving their upstairs offices, and they not only let us in, but gave us two tips for drinks and dinner, both of which we later followed up with alacrity.

It was a lucky thing that we had thrown our winter parkas into the car when packing, as we sure needed them on this walk. Rain squalls were coming in every so often, forcing us to duck into protective alcoves, and the temperature was dropping all the time, but I was determined to do as much as possible.

So we shook out the next pamphlet, “Ballarat’s Historic Statues” and set off down Sturt Street to examine each one. It is said that Sturt Street was modelled by the Scottish miners on their vision of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Running down the centre is a green space, and on that, twenty-five different sculptures. Here we have the Goddess of YouthHebe – mixed with various military commemorative pieces. Robert Burns with his dog, stands just before a memorial to the bandsmen on the Titanic. The national sentiment of the colonists is represented by Queen Victoria and King George V.  Not that I was taking notice of the juxtaposition of the subjects. I was simply too freezing to think objectively. This is summer for goodness sake – and by now the temperature was around 14’c or 57’F. As well, the rain, slanting in on a bitter wind, had returned. (please click on the gallery to open)

Eventually even I admitted defeat, and although we still had a half dozen to go – including the famous Peter Lalor – I called it quits and pointed us towards the wine bar that had previously been recommended. We blew in through the front door, and were welcomed warmly by a personable young man. As I defrosted over a mellow local red, I noticed most of the staff were very young – and yet – very professional. This is something Victoria does so well. Cosy wine bars, with passionate staff. I put it down to the weather. If you live in a place where the weather is so changeable, you want to be able to duck in for comfort and protection at any moment 🙂 .

wine-bar-ballarat-8-dec-2016-1-1024x564

We followed that up with the second of today’s recommendations. A tapas restaurant in a nearby street. We shared a jug of sangria over several delicious dishes. We didn’t order a paella to follow – thank goodness – because the meals were so tasty we filled up quickly. Even though the chef, chancing to pass our table, rushed back with more slabs of olive-oil-brushed-then-grilled bread to soak up the rest of our juice from the prawns and the mushrooms, we had to assure him we couldn’t eat another bite. His face dropped. It’s my favourite part, he mourned. “Mine too,” I assured him. But seriously, I couldn’t put a morsel more in my mouth.

Time to go back to our accommodation and not manage to blog  🙂

Thursday 8th December, 2016.Image result

10 thoughts on “Day 6 of our Victorian Road Trip: Ballarat

    • Perhaps you might post some stories of the California 49ers? It struck me as interesting that many of the genealogical stories I see on ancestry.com and such like trace their origins to the agricultural immigrants and not gold rush. There must be a reason for that. I LOVE the cow jokes. I might spread that around if you don’t mind. The Roses from the Heart is indeed touching. My husband has two female convict ancestors, who came so early that they have thousands of descendants. I am not sure if any of them have stitched a bonnet.

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  1. The Roses from the Heart exhibit sounds so moving! The fact so many women were transported so far from home is shocking each time it’s remembered…a forced colonization that’s just one of many inhumane crimes committed in all our histories.

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    • I suppose we have to remember that once they had committed a crime they were no longer considered virtuous women worthy of their society’s respect. Bill has at least two in his history. One did a break and enter, so a bit more than stealing a piece of bread. Happy to say they all improved their lot in the colonies. But how heart-wrenching would it have been to be forced to leave everything you knew. And to be held in those horrid castle gaols and prison hulks in the meantime! Such resilience.

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