The final stop on our weekend in Ballarat was the Gold Museum that is adjacent to Sovereign Hill. It’s been there for some time- in fact, it even has a statue of Sir Henry Bolte out the front, welcoming his contribution to the creation of the Sovereign Hill/Gold Museum precinct. I suppose that there’s a long tradition of commemorating patrons with a statue.
The Gold Museum had always seemed a rather strange place to me. I remember it having many displays of gold coins and nuggets which have never particularly interested me. I’m not sure whether they’re authentic or reproductions: I suspect the latter because there seemed to be little overt security presence. As a display, it seemed even more disjointed this time around and rather tired.
However, this was only part of the display, and the rest was excellent. There was a rather dimly lit exhibition about gold and its impact on Victoria generally, and Ballarat in particular, and it was very well done. We spent probably 45 minutes looking at a panorama of Ballarat taken by William Bardwell from the top of the town hall spire in 1872. (See here for just one of the 15 images) I assume that the photographs had been taken in the early morning because there are not many people about and the clarity, especially for a photograph of its age, is amazing. We spent ages picking out buildings we knew, contemplating the variety of industry and civic life depicted, transportation etc– very well done indeed.
A temporary display highlights letters of the goldfields, and in particular the Petford Letters Collection. This is a series of 36 letters written by James Petford who arrived in Adelaide in 1848 then travelled between goldfields in Victoria. It’s sobering to see how tenuous the communication links could become between family members with letters waiting literally years before being collected, and vain attempts to keep some sort of chronology intact with marriages occurring and breaking down, children being born and dying and people moving on.
We had been lured up to the museum by the Anne Frank travelling exhibition which had closed in Melbourne before I got to see it. No doubt, those who have seen the Anne Frank house itself would sniff at this travelling exhibition but given that I’m not in Amsterdam…. There was a good video, then a pictorial display based on a timeline. All very apposite, given that last week was Refugee Week. I’d like to think that I would have had the courage to help had I been in the situation, but I fear that I wouldn’t. Life was so cheap. I hadn’t realized how close to liberation Anne Frank’s death was, and I continue to be impressed, especially when I hear readings of her diary entries, by how well she wrote.
And so, completely museum-ed out we headed for home. Where next, I wonder, within 100 km of Melbourne?