Sovereign Hill

Originally published on weekendnotes.com

Winter fun in Sovereign Hill

Spare the rod and spoil the child“, says the stern round schoolteacher, bonnet pulled tightly, framing her face. A teenager enters the school house and is asked her age. “16! You should be married by now“, the mistress pronounces. The poor child doesn’t know what to say or where to look. Her stunned parents are the same. This generation has no understanding of what life was like in the olden days. No iPhone, no wifi, no overseas holidays, no freedom, just marriage and babies for women and hard manual labour down a mine for the men.

Sovereign Hill offers a marvellous learning opportunity for children in the central goldfields of Victoria, only ninety minutes from Melbourne. With dramatic reconstructions of town events and a myriad of tours and exhibits for visitors to experience, people can gain some insight into what life was really like in the 1800s in a gold rush town. In the tour ‘Trapped’, we felt genuine sadness as we listened to the voices of men and their women who prayed for them, and real fear as the lights flickered and a mist was sprayed over us, an imitation of when in 1882 the mine actually flooded and 22 lives were lost. We learnt that it was the worst gold mining disaster ever recorded in Australia and changed many of the processes and operating systems of the mines.

After warming their hands by the street fires, kids can take a horse and cart ride around the streets of the old town, create their own candle by dipping it in coloured wax, try their luck panning for gold in the town’s little river, or play a game of wooden bowls at the indoor lanes. Being at Sovereign Hill makes visitors feel like they’re in a real functioning town. The tavern, the bakery and the all-important boiled sweet shop are open for business and do a roaring trade. Actors who stay in character and are wandering the town in costume and inspire visitors to dress up and experience the discomfort of a hoop petticoat and ruffled underskirt, or the excitement of wearing a peaked cap and holding a real gun, as a photo is taken from an authentic looking plate camera on a tripod.

It’s the little touches that bring this town to life. The blacksmith stoking his fire and tapping away at his irons, and the chooks scratching in the yards of little miners’ cottages. It’s the kitchen bowls and chamber pots on display in these homes, the warm hearths and the old ladies knitting by the windows, and it’s the handwritten letters found on a camp bed from a miner to his wife about the sick children at home and how he wishes he could be there.

In July, Sovereign Hill runs a winter wonderland. ‘Snow’ falls from the sky regularly and at night the whole town lights up in a beautiful display created by those who run the White Night events in Melbourne. Get there this weekend or you’ll have to wait another whole year.