Tuesday, 8 May 2012

From Gold to Koalas


The outdoor museum at Sovereign Hill is at Ballarat, about 90 minutes drive from Melbourne. It's a living museum which tells the story of the gold rush in the town in the 1850's. I have been to many such places over the years, but Sovereign Hill has to be up there among the very best.



Not only is the setting absolutely splendid, the buildings are so carefully arranged, that you really do feel that you are wandering around a completely authentic town of the period. But what makes it very special are the 'interpreters', the people who play the part of sweet makers, wheelwrights, shopkeepers et al. They play their parts with such enthusiasm and commitment, that it is very easy to start role-playing along with them.
Over the years, the attraction has been expanded, so people who have been there before, will always find something new to appeal. The tour of the gold mine, for example, takes you on a train which gives you the sensation of going deep underground to see two types of mine, the first so cleverly manufactured that it's not easy to see the join between it and the real digging which adjoins.
Redcoat soldiers are drilled, muskets are fired and it all takes place under the Union Flag. God Save the Queen. Huzzah!



It's interesting to learn about the interaction between the experienced Cornish miners and the hordes of Chinese workers who were lured to the boom town to extract a few grams of gold from each ton of quartz. You can pan for gold in a very impressive creek, but, for wow factor, to watch the pouring of a red-hot $140,000 gold ingot and to be able to pass it around only moments later is truly spectacular.
In the street, a constable might have to intervene in a street brawl; in the school, the teacher can be seen showing modern day children the way of learning in the 1850's. NO talking in class!




In the saddlery, Miss Erin and I strike up a role play relationship but, so far, she hasn't written. Oh well.



The ticket for Sovereign Hill also gives admission to the nearby gold museum but to do everything justice, you really need to spend a couple of days.
It is as good a living museum as I have been to in many a long year achieving authenticity without the need for the over-commercial hype of places like Williamsburg in Virginia.
I have no hesitation for awarding Sovereign Hill a thoroughly deserved 'gold star'!

About an hour's drive from Melbourne is the Healesville Sanctuary, where you can see Australia's native wildlife close-up. From kangaroo and koala to wallaby and wombat, they are all here.




The sanctuary is committed to ensuring the survival of endangered species and the conservation message is delivered strongly at every turn.
Especially well done is the 'Spirits of the Sky' show, where two presenters introduce the audience to a range of raptors and other birds.


It is lovely to be able to see and learn about the animals without the feeling that you are in a zoo; the spacious enclosures giving as close a recreation of the animals' natural habitats as possible. The animal hospital is also fascinating, but comes with a warning that you could see an operation or post mortem in progress.

In front of the centre, a fire-blackened tree has been transplanted, another reminder of the Black Saturday bush fires which came so close to the sanctuary that the fire emergency plan had to be implemented and hundreds of animals evacuated to its sister attractions at Melbourne Zoo, Werribee and elsewhere.
A leaflet reminds you that the maximum penalty for deliberately causing a bush fire is 25 years imprisonment.
Healesville undoubtedly does what it does very well and takes every opportunity to deliver its conservation message to its visitors. 

I am never entirely happy with animals being given names or things like 'Magic Moments' where you pay to have a 10 minute 'close encounter' with the animal of your choice, but that's purely a personal view and I am sure the experts have debated the pros and cons long into the night.
The site is very cleverly designed and crams a lot into its paths, which only stretch for a total of 3 kilometres, so ideal for children and the less able.
Healesville Sanctuary is a most enjoyable day out.
Nearby, at Yarra Glen, I buy a couple of tickets for the Tuesday Oz Lotto, the top prize which has now risen to $70 million Australian. 


In the attractive town, the Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company offers a sampling 'paddle' of six of its brews.
It really would have been churlish to refuse.