Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Australia tour - Part 7

Tuesday, December 24

The place we went to today might not be very high on an average tourist's list of must-see places. But it's the type I love. And it was an unforgettable experience - getting into a gold mine. 

It's in Ballarat, the third largest city in the state of Victoria. Its claim to fame is the discovery of gold in 1851, which not only brought an influx of people from around the world in search of fortune but also dramatically changed the socio political and economic profile of the people.

There are many places in the city that showcase various facets of the gold-triggered industrialisation of a hitherto village of sheep farmers. 

But the best place to see is Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum, spread over 25 acres, that has recreated the township, with tents and buildings as they were during the gold rush days 150 years ago. 

When gold was struck first, the miners worked for themselves. Once top layers were mined and it became more difficult to mine, various machineries entered the scene and gold mining companies set up shop there, and miners were employed as workers by them. 

The museum has working displays of machines that are used in the processes involved in the extraction of pure gold from the minerals. At one spot, we can actually pan water and look for very tiny specks of gold.

There is a section called Gold Pour, where an industrial blacksmith melts pure gold that is valued at $200,000 and pours it into a container to turn it into a bullion bar. When he revealed the gold and its price, there were loud gasps of wonderment from the room full of people. 

We got into two mines. One is the Red Hill Mine, which is a self-guided tour of about 15 minutes. As we enter a tunnel, we are guided by an audio description of the mine. There is a very impressive hologram display of how mining was done in those days without the help of any machinery. 

But what is more worth seeing is the guided mine tour that lasts 45 minutes. Along with a guide, we descend into a dark tunnel to around 60 feet below the earth's surface in a small open-roof tram. 

In order to acclimatize our eyes to very low light, the initial couple of minutes or so of the tram ride into the tunnel is in total darkness. We aren't allowed to turn on the torch mobile phone. 

Then, we deboard, and walk through the tunnel. At regular intervals, we halt and the guide explains the life and work of miners. This was a real mine which functioned in the 1870s. Here some mechanical equipment like Rock Drills were used to drill holes into rocks for explosives to blast them.

But the drilling inside the tunnels produced sharp silica dust that got lodged in miners' lungs. Many of them contracted silicosis leading to their early deaths. The Rock Drill came to be known as 'widow maker'. 

A great experience of going deep inside a mine and learning about the life and work of miners. Really worth it! 

Nearby there is a Gold Museum that chronicles the life during the Gold Rush. Apparently photography was a major activity during those days. There was a Travelling Photographer's Cart which had all the equipment for taking a photo. It travelled through towns and villages and parked itself in scenic places. People could take their portraits taken. The museum has a replica of the cart. 

The museum also has a replica or what was called Hansom Cab. It was invented by Joseph Hansom of Birmingham, England in 1833-34, and was introduced in Australia in 1849. It had many innovative features like a front door instead of one in the back allowing better and easier monitoring of passengers by the driver. Also the seats were located such that they helped women to board and alight easily. 

The museum has many such interesting facets of life in those days. 

(To be continued) 


  1. That looks like a great place to visit. My father loves that sort of thing. We have our own history of gold mining and such in the northern part of our state, and my father has visited all those sites and even tried panning for gold. Fun.

  2. Hi Pradeep - Ballarat looks very much like similar early gold mining villages in South Africa - and I went down the first Johannesburg gold mine established about 130 years ago ... it was hot and claustrophobic ... but fascinating ... so glad you went out to see it. Cheers Hilary