One of the “must-see” items in Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum and historical park depicting the early days after the discovery of gold. You have your recreated main street, your shops, your entertainment, your artisans, your costumed ladies, your “redcoats” (British Army), and your daily activities in which the visitor can participate just as if they were living in the 1860s. Two day passes are available as there is so much to see and do. It’s a fabulous credit to its creators.
It was kind of in our heads that we would go there, because that’s what you do when you go to Ballarat. But the weather was still cold and gloomy, not inviting at all, and we looked at each other and said – “but we did this thirty years ago. Heck, I can even still lay my hand to the brochure, and the sepia toned photo of us dressed in period costume.”
It’s a great place to visit, but, see, here’s the thing. It’s set in the 1860s, and that’s where it stays, because that’s its reason for existence. So, if you’ve seen it once, and still have a clear memory, then . . .
On the other hand, something we hadn’t seen before is the Gold Museum. Although it is attached to Sovereign Hill you can buy separate entry tickets. So, wet weather activities still being desirable, that was our visit of choice this morning.
It’s here that I found the information for many of the details I used in yesterday’s post. This is one of those museums where what you see on display is only a portion of what they hold in their collection. According to their website, “The Gold Museum collects, conserves and interprets the mining, social, cultural and environmental heritage of the Ballarat region“. It’s also a museum that is for the locals, even more than the tourists, with its rolling exhibitions, events and school holiday programmes. Well worth a visit if you are in town. We spent hours here. An unexpected surprise was their collection of brewery information and labels, so I added a little more to my store of knowledge on the Magill / Coghlan Phoenix Brewery story.
Another unexpected surprise was their House of Lucas exhibition. I discovered so many wonderful stories behind this clothing manufacturing business. When the young widow Eleanor Price needed a way to support herself and her six children, she took to sewing from home. Widowed again in 1888, she and three of the daughters set up a cottage-based clothing manufacture business, E. Lucas and Co, with a dozen sewing machines and a small workforce. The firm had a reputation for quality and innovation from the outset, and grew quickly. Her son took over the management in 1896, and he was a keen follower of modern production line methods, travelling the world to keep up to date. In 1905 they employed Tilly Clennell (later Thompson) as a “travelling sales lady”. The idea that a woman would be driving around the country showing fashions and taking orders was very novel. This was ground-breaking work. She went on to be in charge of production which included responsibility for the 250 or more “Lucas Girls” on the production floor.
The firm kept up to date with the latest fabrics and styles, and their lingerie was presented in glamorous boxes. Generations of young women prided themselves on being a “Lucas Girl”, and the exhibition includes interview footage with many of the surviving employees. The girls gained a reputation, not only as talented workers, but as great community supporters. During WW1 the women raised thousands of pounds for the construction of the Arch of Victory, a 17-metre-high structure which overlooks Sturt Street, and they planted 5000 trees along the Avenue of Honour. A Book of Remembrance contains the names of every service person in whose honour a tree was planted.
You can read much more of the backstory, and see photos of some of the garments, in this newspaper article from The Weekly Times.
After visiting the museum we drove off to take a look at the Arch. Nearby is Lake Wendouree, site of the rowing, canoeing and kayaking events for the 1956 Olympic Games. The city’s botanical gardens is on the western side of the lake, and contains many interesting sights, but again, the weather did not invite us out of the car. We opted for driving slowly around the entire perimeter of the lake. We do recall, vividly, being there in March during the Begonia Festival. The flowers were stunning, we still talk about it all these decades later, and I recommend it to anyone in the area at the right time.
Lake Wendouree is very central, and on the eastern side is an area known as Soldiers Hill, which piqued my interest from all the genealogical research I do. I knew I had grandfathers from Devon who lived there. (Creft/Crift of Buckland Monachorum and St Budeaux if anyone wants to help me out with that 🙂 )
In the Police Gazette I had found a story, dated 1865, viz, “stolen, . . on 26th January, 7 white, and 2 white and grey geese . . .” Later, in the newspaper, I found an advertisement, dated 1869, advertising the house for sale. The detailed description included reference to a piggery, fruit and vegetable garden, pleasure garden, and even a gold bearing quartz reef. In true real estate jargon, the auctioneer claimed the site as “really the finest on Soldiers’ Hill“.
I felt quite sorry for g.g.grandad Creft who lost his geese, and I wanted to get a feel for where he lived, albeit 150 years have passed. Gregory Street, however, turned out to be a very long street. We cruised up and down, and admired the well-maintained houses of various eras, many being weatherboards in the Californian Bungalow style, but it was, predictably, impossible to tell just where he had called home.
It was very close to our accommodation, and we had promised ourselves some relaxing time. In the end though, I left Bill in the room and took off for the local studies section of library. I just can’t help myself. I spent nearly two hours digging around trade directories and so on, and was rewarded for my efforts. I discovered that two of the Creft siblings had a small private school before the days of compulsory education. I was also shown a photograph of the early Magill brewery. Plus a few other random bits and pieces. You never know when any of this might turn into source material for inclusion in the embryonic novel I have in the pipeline.
Returning to the accommodation, I fooled around on Facebook for a bit, and saw a post from an Adelaide based friend which suggested she was in Ballarat. Sure enough she was in town! What are the chances of that, hey! You drive for hours and hours in different directions and discover you wind up in the same place. We made arrangements to meet up over morning coffee the next day.
One this I forgot to mention before is that Ballarat is where the Dr Blake Mysteries is filmed. Thanks to Derrick Knight (and others) for reminding me. They have a life size cardboard cut-out of him in the Visitor Information Centre, and I meant to go back and have a photograph taken standing beside him.
It went out of my mind when we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant attached to our accommodation. It wasn’t until we walked in without a reservation that I remembered this was a Friday night. It was full of “suits” having after-work drinks, and many people with their office Christmas party. It was no problem to get a table, but it was definitely a different atmosphere from when we’d eaten there a couple of nights before.
Friday 9th December, 2016.