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On the Streets of the Golden City

The Aboriginal name – Ballarat – which means „a resting place”, goes back to a time when the city did not exist. And then, in the mid 19th century, gold and freedom were discovered here. Under the flag of the Southern Cross, it was here that the only armed uprising in Australia’s history took place. Having visited this place, Mark Twain wrote: „It was as if the name Ballarat had suddenly been written on the sky, where all the world could read it at once”
Text and photographs: Jelena Sekulić
Only 110 kilometers to the northwest of Melbourne, in the valley of the Yarrowee River, on the slopes of the eastern Victorian uplands, known as the Great Dividing Range, stands the town of Ballarat, unique for its architecture, history and numerous attractions. At first glance, one would think that time had stood still here, and that almost nothing had changed in the past 150 years, which is how long the city has been in existence.
The Victorian style, visible on almost every building, makes this town tell a story to every visitor even without a tour guide. It is enough to follow street signs and read a board in front of a building, and to compile the mosaic of history of this town.
Far back in 1837, a Scottish squatter, who established the first settlement, called his sheep run Ballaarat, a name thought to have been from the local Aborigines, means „Resting place”. Even today, you’ll see, many shops in this town are called Ballaarat. The current spelling – Ballarat – was adopted in 1996.

Southern Crossbalarat8.jpgThe term Southern Cross is used for the cross-shaped constellation of stars which can easily be spotted in the sky of the southern hemisphere. Today, these stars, in their stylized form, can be found on flags of several countries of the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zeeland, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Samoa).

What transformed the vast pastures into a large settlement, and today the third biggest town in the state of Victoria, was gold! The first pieces of gold were found in August 1851. The news that the Yarrowee River valley was actually a big gold field, immediately spread around the world. It was followed by a true „gold rush”. In a few months, 20,000 migrants, predominantly from Ireland and China, rushed to this area to find a piece of gold and so secure their future. They were able to dig from a half to five ounces of gold per day, which was worth four average monthly salaries at that time.
The place soon began to thrive and develop into a small town. By the end of 1858, the „Golden City” already had 60,000 inhabitants. In a short time, 62,000 tons of gold were exported to Melbourne. Tents and barracks were soon replaced by impressive buildings made of bricks and solid material, hotels, galleries and parks, which today preserve the spirit of that time. The railroad Ballarat–Geelong was built in 1862, and this expedited even more the exchange of goods and people. Small private businesses and various tradecrafts grew like mushrooms after the rain. Nothing could stop the boom of this town any more. It soon became an indispensable stop for members of the royal family, as well as other prominent people of that time. After visiting this place, Mark Twain wrote: „As if the name Ballarat was suddenly written on the sky, from where the entire world could have read it.” In 1871, Ballarat gained the status of a city.

It was an event from 1854 that actually determined the course of history of Ballarat and the entire area. As we know, the state of Victoria, just like the entire Australia, used to be a British colony, subject to British law. The news that Ballarat was lying on gold, and that every day an increasing number of immigrants from around the world were arriving there, forced the government to react quickly.
Time Travel About 2.2 million tourists visit this town every year. If you happen to be one of them, you must certainly not miss the Sovereign Hill, the place where the biggest piece of gold ever was found (weighing as much as 69 kilograms). From there, thanks to the gold rush, new pages of Australian history started to be written. An authentic replica of this place from the mid 19th century, unique in the world, with a program worth several million dollars, will leave you breathless. You will realize that time travel is possible!

They adopted a law on mandatory payment of mining taxes, and prescribed that every digger should have a mining licence. The price of taxes and licences, of course, grew every year, and it became increasingly difficult to set aside that amount of money. The initial cost of the mining licence was 36 shillings per month for digging of a small parcel of land of 3.6 square meters, and in one year it increased to one pound per month.
Ever more frequent controls of tax payments, as well as restrictions of the rights of workers, increased dissatisfaction among miners. It culminated in an organized rebellion against the colonial authorities. This was the first and only armed rebellion in the entire history of Australia.
On October 6, 1854, two months before the beginning of the uprising, the miner James Scobie was killed in Hotel „Eureka”. Nobody was held responsible for this murder, because one of the suspects was the hotel owner, who had close ties with the authorities. Indifference of the authorities toward the murder of this miner enraged even more the already disgruntled masses, and at the end of October they burnt the hotel to the ground and began to prepare for the uprising. The police immediately arrested three miners accused of arson, which resulted in the protest of about 10,000 miners in front of the court in the city centre. They requested the miners to be released, as well as abolishment of mining licences. Since the government ignored their demands, at the end of October the miners publicly burned their permits.
Serbs and GoldA piece of gold – weighing 5.5 kilogram – was last found in Ballarat area on January 16, 2013. Its estimated value is 300,000 dollars!
Based on the last census from 2011, there are 50 Serbs living in Ballarat who speak Serbian in their homes.

On December 1, 1854, disgruntled miners built a fortification at Eureka Goldfield and, under the flag of the Southern Cross, they swore to fight together for their rights and freedom until the last man standing. This was the first time in the history of Australia that a flag other than British flag was raised. The flag of the Southern Cross was conceived by the miners themselves, and it would later become the national symbol of the country.

Rejection of the British flag and civil unrest expedited the decision of the authorities to put the situation under control as soon as possible. On December 3, 1854, at night, 275 armed policemen rushed against about 120 miners who remained to guard the fortification. (During the day, up to 1,500 rebels exercised there.) The attack was brutal and lasted only about fifteen minutes. Twenty two miners lost their lives, and as many were taken into custody. The news that the police broke the fortification, that there were dead and injured, spread throughout Victoria. Meanwhile, people started gathering in big numbers, as a sign of support to the miners and their struggle. In order to quickly cover up the situation, they immediately scheduled a trial, which was fair and public. As many as 10,000 people gathered around the court in Melbourne in order to hear the verdict for thirteen most responsible miners. Fortunately, the court ruled in favor of the rebels. The mining permits were abolished, unobstructed export of gold was enabled, the land parcels that belonged to the crown could now be bought by individually, expansion of mines was allowed even to areas outside Ballarat.
Many historians connect the Eureka Rebellion with the birth of democracy in Australia. It was the only armed rebellion in the history of Australia. Its outcome included reform of legislation, recognition of freedom and rights of workers, and the flag of the Southern Cross which is still used by organizations and individuals as a warning against any unfavorable political decision or law.
And so, Ballarat, formerly a peaceful retreat for shepherds and their herds of sheep, became a place where the course of history of Australia took a different turn. Although the last gold mine was closed in 1918, the life in this city did not stop. On the contrary. Today it is the third largest city in Victoria, with a population of about 100,000. In addition to a priceless cultural and historical legacy, it has everything a modern city needs. The difference is that the life here is „slower”, every part of this town is a small history textbook, and it feels as if time stands still.
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