|Elevation||1,079 ft (329 m)|
|GNIS feature ID||252847|
Today, Ballarat is a virtual ghost town. It was founded in 1897 as a supply point for the mines in the canyons of the Panamint Range. A quarter-mile to the south is Post Office Springs, a reliable water source used since the 1850s. George Riggins, an immigrant from Australia, gave Ballarat its name when he proposed it should be named for Ballarat, Victoria.
Early mining days
The town was founded in 1897. In its heyday—from 1897 to 1905—Ballarat had 400 to 500 residents. It hosted seven saloons, three hotels, a Wells Fargo station, post office (that opened in 1897), school, a jail and morgue, but no churches. Ballarat was a place for miners and prospectors to resupply and relax.
The town began to decline when the Ratcliff Mine, in Pleasant Canyon east of town, suspended operations. Other mines nearby also began to play out, and in 1917 the post office closed and all that remained were a few diehard prospectors and desert rats.
After the mines, "colorful characters" and a hippie festival
From approximately 1918 until his death at Trona Hospital in 1968 of cancer, the sole resident of Ballarat was Seldom Seen Slim (Charles Ferge). Slim claimed not to have bathed in twenty years except for sloshing water on his naked body while standing outdoors. After the town's adobe building degraded beyond liveability, Slim lived in a Volkswagen and house trailer. Slim was the 28th and final person to be interred at Ballarat's boot hill. He used to say, "Just bury me where the digging's easy."
In the 1960s, Charles Manson and the "Manson Family" of killers moved into a ranch south of Ballarat, and left graffiti in the town. The 1969 movie Easy Rider has a scene filmed in Ballarat. After arriving in the town, Peter Fonda's character, Wyatt, removes his Rolex watch and throws it away before he and Dennis Hopper's character, Billy, head east on their motorcycles towards New Orleans.
In the year 2018 Ballarat had three full-time residents, Rocky Novak and his two dogs, Potlicker and Brownie. On afternoons and weekends Rocky would run the general store, which primarily catered to tourists. Novak was featured in the 2018 film vignette "The Mayor of Ballarat" by Mickey Todiwala and Monika Delgado. The five-minute character piece featured a montage of various Ballarat locations with a voiceover narrated by Rocky describing his life in the town, while interjecting his various musings on human nature.
Ballarat is used as a meeting point for four-wheel-drive expeditions into the Panamint Range and Death Valley, and in winter up to 300 people camp in the grounds of the town. The town was recently used as a set to tell the story of the Ballarat Bandit.
The town has a ZIP Code of 93592, and is inside area codes 442 and 760.
Ballarat in fiction
- "Ballarat". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
- Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Clovis, Calif.: Word Dancer Press. p. 1145. ISBN 1-884995-14-4.
- Smith, Dave (August 18, 1968). "Seldom Seen Slim Laid to Rest in Boot Hill". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
- "Death Valley Gets Hippie Rock Mob". The Desert Sun. USA Today. April 5, 1971. p. 3. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
- Wild West: Ballarat P&G Society. By L. Rick. Sep. 22, 2005. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2023.
- Todiwala, Mickey (June 26, 2018). "The Mayor of Ballarat". Vimeo.
- Highlights of Ballarat, California – May 2020 Dave's-Travel-Corner. By Dave Levart. Nov. 24, 2020. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2023.
- Ballarat - A Ghost Town DesertUSA. By Len Wilcox. 2023. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2023.