With the promise of real gold to be found, your kids will grab gold panning dishes and get stuck into the mud. As they shake eagerly, watching for microscopic specks of gold, they will understand the fever which brought people flocking here from all over the world in the 1850s. Surrounded by the sounds and sights of the re-created goldfields – tents of miners, the clatter of horses and carts, and people wandering around in 19th-century dress – they will feel as if they have gone back in time.
■ The free underground Red Hill mine tour, which is self-guided with audiovisual activation.
■ The melting and pouring of a large ingot of gold at the Gold Smelting Works.
■ The chance to take home a horseshoe memento from the blacksmith with your names stamped into it (extra cost).
■ Having a family portrait taken at the photography studio – with everyone dressed in period costume. Phone ahead to book an appointment (extra cost).
■ The school house. If you are lucky, it will be filled with children in 1850s dress having a class. Your kids will be intrigued by the different lessons – students reciting the 17 times table – and a strict teacher wielding a cane.
■ The performances in the Victoria Theatre (no extra cost).
■ Other favourites such as bowling, seeing how to make wooden carriage wheels, and confectionary making, all included with entry cost.
■ The Gold Museum across the road, entry included with Sovereign Hill admission.
The discovery of gold in Ballarat and surrounding districts in 1851 heralded a boom time for the state of Victoria. The population doubled in a year. Canvas villages and solid towns sprang up all over the countryside, and Melbourne was transformed in one decade from a muddy frontier town to a city of grand buildings.
■ Allow a full day for this attraction – and even then you won’t see everything!
■ There are various food outlets, but they can get very crowded and sometimes sell out early. You can pre-order, or you might want to bring your own picnic.
■ Sovereign Hill is spread over a large area so there is lots of walking involved and you’ll spend most of your time outdoors. If you visit in winter, wear warm jackets and old shoes – it gets very muddy underfoot, just as it did in the real goldfields.
■ You can purchase tickets online. There are sometimes long queues at the entrance, but these generally move quickly.
■ There are a few activities not covered by the entry ticket, such as carriage rides and the guided mine tour.
■ You can reach Sovereign Hill by V/line train on the Goldrush Special. It takes you from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station to Ballarat Station, where you are met by a courtesy coach. For more information see www.vline.com.au (select ‘Discover Victoria’).
■ Troopers march around and sometimes fire their muskets (the sound might scare littlies).
■ The guided mine tour (extra cost) is led by a character in costume who pretends that you are new workers about to start.