An Australian Point of View #3 Sovereign Hill
On the main street of Ballarat there’s a memorial commemorating the centenary of the discovery of gold in 1851. It is dedicated to the miners who toiled on the gold fields and has a replica of the second largest gold nugget ever found. The Welcome Nugget, weighing almost 70 kg and worth £10,500 at the time, was discovered at Bakery Hill in 1858.
More than 25,000 people flocked to the gold fields in western Victoria. Miners with hopes of riches came from around the world and others, who saw the money-making opportunities, provided the goods and services the miners needed. Another life-size replica, even bigger than that massive nugget, allows 21st century visitors to travel back in time to experience life on the gold fields in the 1850s.
Sovereign Hill is one of Australia’s most visited tourist attractions. History comes alive at the open-air museum located on the site of original gold workings.
Cobb & Co coaches once carried passengers and parcels of gold from Ballarat to Melbourne. At Sovereign Hill, teams of Clydesdales pull handcrafted replica coaches and drays through the streets.
On Main Street the grocer, apothecary and drapers sell traditional wares. A popular store is the confectionery, where raspberry drops, toffee apples and humbugs gleam like crystals on the shelves.
There are two hotels, a theatre and a school where today’s students can dress up in knickerbockers and braces, bonnets and pinafores for an 1850s school day. Those who work at Sovereign Hill dress up too; the streets are filled with redcoated soldiers, demure ladies and policemen ready to check for mining licences.
Closer to the gold mine, the blacksmith turns out horseshoes and mining tools. A boiler attendant works around the clock to keep up a constant supply of steam for the mine engines. At the smelting works, a three kilogram gold bar worth $100,000 is melted in the furnace before being poured into a mould to take shape again.
Down in Red Hill Gully, calico tents and bark huts like those the first miners lived in dot the hillside, and a makeshift store sells the necessary fossicking tools.
Modern treasure hunters pan for alluvial gold and, if they’re lucky enough to find some, they can take it home.
Like most of those hopeful miners of the 1850s, they won’t be retiring on their earnings!
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