Sunday, September 9, 2012

A nanny state and the magpie mafia—the ballad of Ballarat…

Yes, it's Spring!
One lonely daffodil at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens

A lot of our time has been spent driving in New South Wales and Victoria. Other than driving on the other side of the road, driving in NSW is not a lot different from driving in the US except the drivers in Oz are more polite than they are in the US. Victoria, however, seems to think it has to be a nanny to everyone who drives. For example, there are numerous, NUMEROUS, I mean every couple of kilometers, signs like: Drowsy drivers die; Trouble concentrating?  Powernap now; Break the drive, stay alive; Droopy eyes? Powernap now; Open your eyes, fatigue kills; A microsleep can kill in seconds. All those signs just get a bit old after a while!

But the roads are pretty good, the speed limits (camera-enforced everywhere in Australia) are generous, and the distances are great, just like the US! Ballarat to Canberra, our next journey, is about 700 km (437 miles) and (as of almost back to Sydney) we’ve put about 2600 kilometers on our rental car.

We spent three days in a timeshare in Lakes Entrance and five days in a timeshare in Ballarat. The Worldmark Ballarat was elegant and beautiful (as opposed to the ant-infested timeshare in Lakes Entrance) and we really liked staying there in spite of the fact that there was only one bathroom and no dishwasher! Our cabin has no dishwasher so I’m not completely unfamiliar with actually washing dishes by hand but on vacation I really rather not!
Ballarat timeshare
Melinda, Pam, and Randy at our timeshare in Ballarat

We thoroughly enjoyed the Ballarat timeshare both for the activities (Sovereign Hill and Lake Wendouree and the Botanical Gardens and eating out) and for the place itself. It used to be an orphanage (in the  late 1800s) and was converted to apartments some unknown number of years back. Ours was a two-bedroom unit, quite large, and very comfortable. It even still had the old radiators—quite handy for drying your clothes after the rain, of which there was more than we would have liked—plus a more modern wall-AC/heat unit.

Yes, there was rain and there was wind. We were told—we slept through it; that won’t surprise our children!—that the winds overnight were in excess of 140 kph (87 mph). It wasn’t that high during the day but for a couple of days the wind and rain did a great job of keeping us from really enjoying ourselves. We had company, Ian and Melinda (whose wedding we went to in Sydney four years ago; their wedding was the main reason we spent three months in Australia that year), for a couple of days.

Our first day we went to Sovereign Hill, a recreation of a town in the gold period. I had no idea how much gold there was in Australia, let alone Ballarat. More gold has been taken out of the ground in the Ballarat area that anywhere else in the world—according to the Gold Museum in Ballarat, that is. Sovereign Hill is much like many of the places in the US (Williamsburg,VA, and Sturbridge Village,MA, come to mind) that recreate the days of yore. They always make it seem like it would be such fun to live there and then. They seemingly forget to point out all the horse and cow droppings that would have been in the streets, or the mud in the streets, or the fact that you had to trudge through the snow to get to the toilet, and that you washed your clothes by lighting a fire (after gathering the wood to burn to make that fire), carrying water from the “crick” to pour into the copper kettle in which to wash those clothes, and then mashing those clothes with lye and a plunger. Nevertheless, it’s fun to see (sort of) what life might have been like in an ideal long-time-ago.

One of the problems that Sovereign Hill is running into is the difficulty in keeping the demonstrations of work going. The artisans who are, for example, wheelwrights or metal workers, are getting old(er) and nobody wants to learn the trade. One man, the metal worker, told us there is nobody to follow him. When he stops working, the exhibit will become a museum of metal working, as have the ceramics studio and woodworking studio, and so will no longer be a working demonstration. And, presumably, when the men who run the steam engines that drive all the pulleys and gears and machines stop, so will all the work that depends on those steam engines. What a loss!

Sovereign Hill does one thing that is quite a bit different from all the other “old time villages”: they have a school for children, approximately middle school age, to attend in costume and to learn as the children of that era learned. They live for several days at a time at Sovereign Hill, living and learning as the children then did.

In addition to Ian and Melinda, we had a  visit from our friends Lurlene and Gerald whom we met four years ago on our 4WD camping tour from Darwin to Broome to Alice. We had a wonderful visit, catching up on what has happened in our lives in the intervening years. We went to lunch at a wonderful restaurant, the Boatshed, on Lake Wendouree. Wendouree lake was the site and the rowing, canoeing, and kayaking competitions at the  Melbourne Olympics of 1956. But a few years back the drought was so severe in Ballarat that the lake went completely dry. Completely. No water at all. But now it is fuller than full and the water was lapping away at the shoreline and covered in whitecaps because of those winds I talked about.

In between raindrops we tried to see the Ballarat Botanical Gardens but couldn’t really have time between rains to see much. We filled a lot of time visiting with friends or watching the US Open tennis matches. I think Randy was really starved for live sports that didn’t involve weird rules (cricket, otherwise known as baseball on Valium) or funny shaped balls (Rugby and Aussie Rules football).

But all good times must come to an end, so we are off to Canberra, the only major city in Australia that we haven’t visited.
Wind blowing the fountain at the Botanical Gardens

Randy and a very large eucalyptus tree

The magpie mafia: walkers and riders have taken to wearing helmets with little wires sticking us to protect against the dive-bombing magpie mafia

The 1956 canoeing, kayaking, and rowing Olympics were held at Lake Wendouree

Sovereign Hill marching band

Bowling alley, circa late-1800s
View from the other end of the alley
You have to bowl two-handed

Pouring molten gold, $160,000 worth of it!

The gold ingot

How they keep the machines operating at Sovereign Hill

Making gold-panning dishes

This is where you do the washing

This is where you do the cooking

Wealth in Sovereign Hill

Hand-inking the press for a poster for Kathy, our daughter

The wheelwright demonstrating all the machines that go into making a wheel. MUCH easier than doing it by hand!

Arch of Triumph in Ballarat

1 comment:

  1. that place -- Sovereign Hill -- looks way better than Frontierland!!