Sovereign Hill
May 20, 2015

I am back home in Australia with my wife, and we were recently on a road trip with my parents. We passed through Sovereign Hill, an 1850's themed "town" - more like a living museum of life in Ballarat, Victoria during the Victorian gold rush. I found Sovereign Hill fascinating, because it gives an insite into 19th century Australian life, which shares a lot of similarity with 19th century American life; we were both countries pushing to settle the frontier, made up of mostly immigrants looking for a better life in the new world. Sovereign Hill, as well as much of Australia during that period, feels very similar to the American Old West.

A look down Sovereign Hill's Main Street. There is even a "United States Hotel."

Visitors can pan for gold in the stream.

Soldiers marching down Main Street.

What I really loved about Sovereign Hill is that it felt alive. The buildings felt functional - they were not mere facades. If there was a building or a workshop, you could enter it and watch the townsfolk work.

A foundry.

A founder at work building a handle.

The same gentleman bending a flat plate of iron into the shape of a wok.

His wares for sale. $30 for an iron frying pan you can watch him make isn't bad.

I think Sovereign Hill is interesting from an urbanist perspective because it gives an interesting insight into what our towns we live in today evolved from. Just from walking around, it felt like all of the pieces from a fully functioning town were there.

A fine-dining restaurant of the era.

A baker at work in the bakery.

The local saloon.

The bank.

The local church.

The equiptment used by the local fire brigade.

"Empire Bowling"

A department store.

There was even a functioning theatre with live shows.

Today, we like to separate manufacturing from our cities - placed in dedicated industrial zones, isolated from the rest of town. However, walking around Sovereign Hill, it was easy to notice that most of the buildings were workshops - it is hard to imagine the town being only retail and residential. Where would the people work?

A man building the spokes for a wheel at a 'wheelery'.

One of the carriages they had built.

You could actually go for a ride on the carriage.

Horses needed parking.

Men tending a garden.

You could watch gold being melted down and poured into an ingot.

A confectionist at work.

A room tightly packed with school kids watching the confectionist at work. This would have been a fire hazard back in the United States.

A functioning boiler.

The boilers powered most of the machinary in the town that they used for manufacturing.

You could even stay at accommodations in town, and they even had houses from the period.

Houses from the period.

A typical house. They don't seem very comfortable by today's standards.

One of the nicer houses.

The nice house had a good view of the town below.

Not everyone was privileged to a house. Many of the immigrants to region early on were poor and lived in camp sites near the gold mines.

A Chinese campsite.

An American tent.

It is interesting to see how the early streets were configured. Because they didn't have cars in the 1850s, the town was built for walking. Sidewalks and curbs serve a different purpose than we see in contemporary towns.

A residential street shared by both people and horses. Notice how there is no sidewalk - just one flat surface for everyone to share. There is a ditch for waste water on the left. A precursor to the curb?

Most buildings (including houses) had some kind of porch. Was it to wipe your shoes and keep mud and dust out?

These two commercial buildings were side by side, so their porches are joined together.

On this street lined with commercial buildings, all of the porches are linked together, forming a modern sidewalk. Still, many people passing through just walked in the middle of the street, since there was no traffic (other than the odd horse that came through every 10 minutes), there was no need to give people a dedicated strip to walk on.

Many of the buildings had drains that ran out into the street. It looks very similar to a modern curb.

A street with paved drains, but no sidewalks. Sidewalks wouldn't have a served a purpose anyway since there was nothing to segregate.

An alley between cottages to shortcut between streets. An easy way to get down to the shops below.

Visiting Sovereign Hill was a really fun experience. Not only can you be mesmerized by workers going about their crafts in their workshops, go down into a real gold mine, and learn about the history of the region, but you also get a glimpse of life and our towns were like a century and a half ago.

A lookout over Sovereign Hill.


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Pāson • 06.11.2015 • 11:12 AM (MDT)
Wow, Andrew! Awesome post! I really am surprised that there still is such a place in existence, and one that works too!