July 12, 2007

One of those towns you love to hate, usually based on bad experiences with weather or traffic, school geography project or resident zealot that just suck the inspiration from you. On the other hand it is hard to not admire a town that has managed to retain so much of its heritage as part of its working streets. Three major goldrushes – California, Victoria (centred on Ballarat) and Otago (NZ) all happened at the same time and this town became the centre of some remarkable wealth. And social and community problems as well but less is made of them than the vast volumes of gold hauled out of the ground here. There are many Australian families and businesses that still trace the strength of their balance sheet to mid nineteenth century Ballarat. I recall driving past a rather stately home in Melbourne and my passenger quipped – “Ahh, Ballarat money.” Indeed, large swathes of upmarket Melbourne came into existence from the businesses that grew up as a result of the goldrush. A lot of that influence is still visible in the architecture of this town, which today has a working class feel and whose industry is now primarily agriculture (although modern technologies are opening up the gold seams again).