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Sovereign Hill is an open-air museum in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. Sovereign Hill depicts Ballarat's first ten years after the discovery of gold there in 1851. It was officially opened on 29 November 1970 and has become a nationally acclaimed tourist attraction. It is one of Victoria's most popular attractions and Ballarat's most famous.
Set in the Australian 1850s, the complex is located on a 25-hectare site that is linked to the richest alluvial gold rush in the world. The site comprises over 60 historically recreated buildings, with costumed staff and volunteers, who are able to answer questions and will pose for photos. The recreation is completed with antiques, artwork, books and papers, machinery, livestock and animals, carriages, and devices all appropriate to the era.
The second-largest gold nugget in the world was found in Ballarat in the Red Hill mine which is recreated in Sovereign Hill. The Welcome Nugget weighed 69 kg,(2,200 ounces) and comprised 99% pure gold, valued at about 10,500 pounds when found, and worth over US$3 million in gold now, or far more as a specimen.
The idea of Sovereign Hill was floated in Ballarat in the 1960s, as a way to preserve historic buildings and to recreate the gold diggings that made the city. The complex was officially opened to the public on Sunday 29 November 1970.
Main street is a loose reconstruction of Main Street, Ballarat East which was once the settlement's main street, consisting of timber buildings. It was consumed in a large fire during the 1860s and a more substantial town centre planned around Sturt and Lydiard Street in Ballarat West.
The gold diggings are the centre point of the complex, featuring a winding creek in which visitors are able to pan for real gold. This area is surrounded by tents and buildings contemporary to the early years of the gold rush. A recent addition to Sovereign Hill is the Gold Pour where pure gold valued at over $100,000 is melted and poured into a three-kilogram bullion bar.
There are two mines which have guided tours at regular intervals. The Red Hill Mine is a self-guided tour that tells the story of a group of Cornishmen and their discovery of the Welcome Nugget. The Sovereign Quartz Mine runs 40 minute guided tours and features several underground displays. Above ground it also features steam-driven machinery for pumping water and processing the ore. More recently an attraction titled "Trapped" has been added. This exhibit, which is set in series of above-ground concrete structures designed to look like tunnels from within, tells the story of the mining disaster at Creswick in 1882. Twenty-two miners died because of the collapse and flooding of the New Australasian No. 2 Mine. This is still considered Australia's worst mining disaster.
The Main Street is lined with shops, two hotels and a theatre. Among the shops on Main Street there is also a blacksmith's workshop, stables, photography studio, apothecary, bakery, jeweller's shop, grocer, tentmaker, tinsmith, bank, post office, nine-pin bowling saloon and library. Behind the Main Street there are a number of cottages which are open for visitors. There are also four schools where children in school-groups dress in period costume and attend as a child of the 1850s. There is also on Main Street a Candle Dipping Shop, lolly shop and bakery. A number of workshops at Sovereign Hill, display traditional trades such as coachbuilder, wheelright, tinsmith, blacksmith and farrier.
Blood on the Southern Cross is a son et lumiere show depicting the Eureka Stockade story of 1854. It is run at night for a length of 90 minutes, using only sound and lights. There are two parts of the show: Located in Main Street and located just east of Sovereign Hill.
Frost, W (2005) Making an edgier interpretation of the Gold Rushes: contrasting perspectives from Australia and New Zealand. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 11 (3), pp. 235–250.
Evans, M (1991) Historical interpretation at Sovereign Hill. Australian Historical Studies 24 (96), pp. 142–152.
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