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The large town of Ballarat (population 63,802) is 111 km west of Melbourne. It prospered during the gold rush and is now a major regional centre and a most picturesque tourist town. The city literally glows in autumn when the leaves of its deciduous trees change colour. The botanic gardens near Lake Wendouree are a tranquil spot in this beautiful city.

Ballarat's origins go back to 1837, when William Yuille and his men camped on the edge of the Black Swamp, an area that has since been reclaimed and is now known as Lake Wendouree. Yuille settled here -'Ballarat' is a word in a local Aboriginal language which means 'camping or resting was not long before the first gold nugget was found by Thomas Hiscock -from the ground near the cemetery in 1851. However, it was not until two years later that two main lodes were found and thousands of miners rushed to the region to try their hand at gold prospecting. Their 'settlement' was a huge tent city.

The Eureka Stockade incident followed in 1854 when there was a major clash over miners' rights and taxes. The miners eventually lined up and simultaneously burnt their licences in a huge campfire. This revolt was led by Peter
Lalor under the blue and white Eureka flag, and within days a fight ensued between miners and government soldiers. More than 30 people were killed. Sent to trial, the agitators were found not guilty and Lalor went on to become a member of the Victorian Parliament. You will still see the famous flag flying throughout this town today. A Eureka Stockade Memorial sits on the corner of Stawell and Eureka Streets, and an exhibition portraying the event can be found on Eureka Street.

Gold provided a great deal of wealth for this area -it is here that the world's second biggest gold nugget was found. The Welcome Nugget weighed 68,956 grams (2437 ounces) and was found at Bakery Hill in 1858. Without doubt, the biggest attraction is Sovereign Hill, a theme park re-creating the old gold rush days. Its staff members dress in period costume, and it contains realistic stores and banks. It is built on the old Sovereign Hill Quartz Mining Site. There were many Chinese working in the Australian goldfields in the gold rush days. It is said that up to one-third of the population during the 1800s was of Chinese descent -the numerous Chinese graves on McArthur Street certainly seem to reinforce this belief.

The Arch of Victory forms an entrance to the town and to the Avenue of Honour, along which nearly 4000 trees are planted in honour of ex-servicemen. Another feature is the Great Southern Woolshed, on the Western Highway. Based around the wool industry, it features displays of sheep shearing, working sheep dogs in action and an animal nursery. Ballarat Wildlife Park, another popular attraction, is set among 116 ha (287 acres) of scenic peppermint forest where native wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, emus and wombats can often be seen. South of town is the theme park Kryal Castle, the world's third largest castle which features Gothic architecture. The staff dress as medieval characters and put on shows. The armour, torture chamber, glass-blowing display and stone maze are popular.

Other features of Ballarat include the Ballarat Aviation Museum, which houses a huge collection of vintage and classic aeroplanes, models and memorabilia, and a gold museum which contains a great collection of the alluvial gold nuggets.

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