This weekend started so well. Mr W left work early after much harassment from me and the children. We wanted him to come to the “new family BBQ” at school on Friday afternoon, so we weren’t on our own for yet another school event. Usually the children and I stand there, looking on as the dads take over the playground, and the mums gush at how “hands on” their husbands are. Tim has to work what he calls, ‘pretty normal hours’, and what I call “single mother hours”. Not here for breakfast, and rarely here for dinner. Oh, but he pays for it with evening teeth brushing duty, which has to be the most painful ten minutes of any parent’s day!
On Friday I twisted his arm viciously enough that he left work a couple of hours early. In typical Tim style he turned up just as the bbq was being packed away, so he missed out on the snags, and ended up having to join me in a fifteen-minute hunt for Monty who was found hiding up a tree. Barefoot, grubby, and giving me even more grey hairs, Monty thought this was hysterical. I have no idea what it is, but he gets so much joy from “freaking” people out.
We decided this weekend we would adventure off to Ballarat to visit Sovereign Hill. I showed the children the videos on the website and they were really excited to get there. Monty kept telling people we were off to get some gold; I think he thought we were going to be coming home with a huge nugget. Oh god, please let us come home with a nugget!
Sovereign Hill is just under 2 hours from us, so we did the usual pep talk as we strapped in the kids, praying that they would survive the journey without being smacked on the knee by my arm bent around my back of my seat. As per usual they didn’t want any of the snacks I had lovingly thrown into a carrier bag, so Tim stopped to put air in the tyres and bought them an enormous bag of mints. *sigh I gave him ‘the look.’ Sugar is never a good decision.
Eye spy was well under way 10 minutes after leaving the house. Poppy started with “eye spy with my little eye, something beginning with F” …. Monty shrieked “POPPPPPPPYYYY! You can’t say an F word it’s rude… Muuuuum!! Poppy said it’s the F word!” The next forty-five minutes consisted of every other clue beginning with F, Poppy grinning, and Monty shrieking with horror. “It’s Forest… Ffffforest….” Thank you Poppy…
The journey seemed to take forever, surprise, surprise. I’m pretty sure this was down to the eye spy hell I was trapped in, and my secret consumption of beer at the school bbq the night before. I must remember in future a banana just doesn’t cut it as decent hangover food.
We arrived at Sovereign Hill about 11, opened the car doors and promptly slammed them shut again. It was bloody freezing. Monty was in shorts and neither of the kids had a coat. Spot the Sydney Siders. I longed for a woolly scarf. We dressed ourselves in the random articles of clothing that had been abandoned in the car from previous days out. Monty found a pair of dirty socks with popcorn crumbs stuck to them; which he put over the ones he already had on to keep his feet extra warm. He had a hoodie that was two sizes too big with strange looking stains on, and Poppy was wearing her netball uniform jacket, on top of her particularly summery outfit. Tim and I had remembered to pack our own warm coats of course, but I still felt the icy wind rushing straight through my body and was tempted to wear Poppy’s netball knickers as a hat. I encouraged the children to star jump their way into the ticket office to save them from hypothermia. This resulted in two shuddering oddballs, wearing the most remarkable outfits falling through the sliding doors into an enormous crowd of Japanese tourists. Once they had managed to stand up, and escape the grasps of some elderly lady grabbing at their cheeks and frantically snapping photos of them, we made it to the counter.
Tickets purchased, we walked into 1850’s Ballarat. Honestly this place is awesome. An enormous outdoor museum presenting the history of Australia’s gold rush. There were people panning for gold in the stream; desperately trying to find specs of gold, surrounded by tents and little wooden shacks that made up the Chinese camp. It was like we had stepped back in time. There were people in costume, playing very convincing characters. We walked up through the high street; the shops full of beautiful handmade trinkets, delicious freshly baked pies and cakes, handmade lollies, candles, lace, beautiful dresses. There was music being played by four men outside the post office which completed the scene and totally transported you back to the gold rush days. It was a magical walk through a bustling mining town, even with Monty hopping and tripping over every little stone, and Poppy walking forwards and looking backwards. Some of the buildings at Sovereign Hill are the original ones, others had been loving restored from pictures left behind. It really is a spectacular place.
Poppy looked at me and said “Mummy this is amazing, I love this kind of thing” as we headed into the theatre. We watched the actors play their characters with enthusiasm as they took us back in time, and showed us just what was thought of the Chinese coming to find gold in Ballarat. It was a real insight into life during the gold rush. The children’s eyes fixed like glue.
The children were desperate to go on a horse and cart ride, they hopped on the front with the driver. She was completely in charge for the four huge beasts pulling our carriage through the dusty streets, past the shops. Monty spent most of the journey talking about and pointing out horse poo, and exaggerating how dreadful the smell was. I’m pretty sure that poor horse is still feeling embarrassed. Once we had hopped off, and patted the horses, Monty had got over the smell, so we headed to the candle shop where the children could colour their own candle. We watched gold being poured, lollies being made, Red Coat soldiers marching, saw muskets being shot, peeked into the houses of the miners, got excited about the bed pans outdoor ‘Dunny’s’, and even had a go at bowling. The best part of the day for me, had to be the trip down into the mine.
I have been in a mine before in Wales, and I am pretty sure it was a trick. You get in a lift, the lights go out, it shudders a bit and yay, you’re deep underground in the mine (or not). So, getting on the little train to take us underground in Ballarat, I was pretty calm, thinking it would be the same trick. There was no reason to feel at all claustrophobic or concerned about the lack of air, and not need to worry that I didn’t have a canary with me! Poppy was already crying! The lights go out, it’s pitch black and the little train gets moving. I could feel Poppy’s nails digging into my skin, as the guide made a joke about hoping all 32 of us come back out at the end. Monty is screeching that this is “Awwwwesome”, and 60 seconds later we’ve arrived. I was winking at Tim; he was looking at me as if I was mental. “You know we are underground don’t you?”
Oh good god, I looked back up the train track and he was right, we were underground. Actually in a mine…. Are those strategically placed bits of wood really able to stop the roof from caving in on us all? How much air have we got left? What if the power cuts out? Now do you see where my daughter gets it from?
Peter Kennedy was our guide underground. He wore a huge hat, was the most wonderful, enthusiastic man, who straight away made this tour feel exciting. He is what I imagined every Aussie to be like before we arrived Down Under. A mix between Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones. We all listened intently as he explained about how the mines worked, and how much effort went into finding gold. It was truly one of the best tours we have been on, even though Poppy was heavy breathing, in between laughing at Peter’s jokes and weeping a little. The train ride inside the mine really showed us what little space the miners had, we saw the nooks and crannies, the holes where they had their tea breaks, and the pick axes they used. To be able to go underground and see exactly where these people spent hours and hours of their lives digging away in the dark is a real eye-opener. The train tracks they used to get the rock to the surface are still visible, and you can almost hear the miners at work if you listen hard enough.
We had the most wonderful day, we took hundreds of photos, played games, panned for gold, the children spent time at the school house learning to use proper pens and ink. The staff were amazing; they knew all the answers to our questions, and seemed to be so thrilled to answer them.
We ended up exiting through the entrance in typical Wilson fashion. I looked up and saw some writing on the wall which I had missed on the way in. It really touched a nerve. It made me think of what a journey it has been for us moving to Australia, to leave everyone we love behind, and really, we are a tiny dot in the huge numbers of people that have done this before us, and with none of the luxuries we have today.
“It was a ‘bright vision’ of prosperity that lured them – an exodus of gold seekers from the farthest reaches of the world. In the earliest years of the 1850’s, half a million men, women and children turned their backs on everything they knew and set sail to find it. Their destination was Australia – half a world away across a vast and perilous sea. “
Family days out always seem to have some sort of drama for us. The kids get bored, we end up telling them how spoilt they are…. You know what it’s like. You spend all that money for a day out, and you end up going home feeling exhausted and a little ripped off with the ungrateful brats in the back of the car with fist fulls of treats. Well, this weekend, we had the brats in the back, but in no way did we feel ripped off. Sovereign Hill is a fabulous, educational and fun day out for the whole family. If only we could have taken advantage of the second day pass.
Here’s to more fun and adventures….