Review: Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, VIC inner banner

Review: Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, VIC

Step back in time onto the goldfields of the 19th century and meet the characters of the day at fascinating Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. This open-air museum has plenty to offer visitors of all ages.
Review: Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat. Image: Visit Victoria

Top Oz Tours offers a day tour to Sovereign Hill from Melbourne. You can book the tour here.

When planning our recent family holiday to Daylesford in Victoria’s Goldfields region, a day trip to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat came highly recommended.

And it was well worth the 40-or-so-minute drive! Sovereign Hill is a replica gold mining town situated on the site of a 19th century mine, and it provided a fun and engaging day out for all of us — including our teenage son. The name Ballarat is thought to been derived from two Wadawurrung words: ‘balla’, meaning elbow or reclining on the elbow, and ‘arat’, meaning place — such as a camping or resting place. But by all accounts, there was nothing restful about the area once gold was discovered in 1851!


Victoria Tours, Activities & Attractions

The ensuing Gold Rush saw Ballarat morph from a sheep station into one of the wealthiest cities in the world. However, there was a dark side to its meteoric rise. During the trooper musket-firing demonstration, we were told of a violent and corrupt society, with little infrastructure to support the influx of prospectors from around the world. Representing the British administration, a largely untrained police force attempted to govern the throng — but only made many matters worse. And that ultimately led to the Eureka Rebellion: Australia’s only armed civil uprising.

A visit to Sovereign Hill is like travelling back in time — and if you really want to get into the spirit of it, dressing up in period clothing for a photography session is a fun way to do it! It’s a popular activity, so be sure to book this as soon as you arrive to avoid missing out.

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat: Take part in an old-time photo shoot. Image: Visit Victoria

And you’ll be in good company. Across the site, the friendly staff are dressed in costumes from the era and wander around the town playing various roles. They do so with humour and skill, and we were all impressed with the entertaining stories and information provided by these characters. They were very knowledgeable and made learning fun (even for our 14-year-old, who was fascinated by the tales of what life was like in the 1800s).

There were also enthusiastic and passionate volunteers on hand to assist with various activities, including how to pan for gold in the creek bed. Panning for gold, and finding it, was another definite highlight of our day. It was such an exciting feeling to spot real gold amongst the gravel! Sovereign Hill puts around $30,000 worth of alluvial gold into the creek each year for visitors to find. I recommend taking a small container to carry it in, as I lost some the precious metal stored safely, I thought, in my glasses case!

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat: Pan for real gold.

We also enjoyed the underground mine tour — especially the cable train ride into complete darkness. Being down in the tunnels was fascinating and helped us understand the hardships faced by miners in the 19th century. It was interesting to see the equipment and machinery used — not only to extract the gold, but also to make gold bars (which was really exciting to watch!). We also learned about the industries that supported mining in the region. My great grandfather was a saddler, and seeing the saddlery workshop and smelling the leather evoked strong nostalgic feelings for me.

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat: Browse in period stores. Image: Visit Victoria

The shops and businesses that line the main street are known to have existed in Ballarat at the time of the Gold Rush. As well as setting the scene beautifully, they offer a range of products and souvenirs for sale — along with various food options. I bought some old-fashioned toys, and Grandad loved the bakery — which we went back to for seconds! The aroma coming from the confectionary shop was also very alluring. Back in the day, not everyone ate so well or could afford these sorts of luxuries. At the information centre, we learned that despite being an affluent town, many who came to Ballarat made no money. Some lived in leaky tents, others in opulent dwellings with ornate furnishings and peaceful gardens. It must have been a place of extraordinary contrasts.

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat: Watch a variety of demonstrations. Image: Visit Victoria

There were many other presentations and demonstrations staged across the site, but we weren’t able to fit them all into our visit. But that means more to discover next time! I recommend taking a bit of time on arrival to plan your day — and to book any of the optional paid activities, as they do sell out (and can’t be prebooked online). Wear comfortable shoes, and bring a hat and sunscreen as much of your day will be spend walking outdoors. All in all, a visit to Sovereign Hill is holiday gold.

Karen Darling is a freelance writer based in Adelaide.

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Additional images: Bigstock





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