The Occasional Tales of Ailsa B du Bois

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A Bit About Ballarat…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on April 30, 2009

Before we head off on this extraordinary trip, it’s probably not a bad idea to reflect, for at least a few paragraphs, on what Ballarat is all about, and why on Earth we chose to move here…   Ballarat being the 18th biggest city in Australia (strange call, I know!).  Well, there are quite a few valid reasons…  no traffic congestion, no traffic fumes, everything is about a 3 minute drive away (seriously), character filled heritage homes, and gracious tree lined streets, throughout the inner city area, and the quirkiest litttle miner’s cottages speckled, higgeldy-piggeldy, across all parts of Ballarat.  It’s incredibly affordable, which is the real winning aspect, because you can still get a 1/4 acre block in the heart of town.  There’s lots of ambient heritage features everywhere you look, like blue-stone spoon drains between the footpath and the kerb, which are not exactly user friendly for drive-ways, but they do add a certain old fashioned charm to the place.   The heart of the city is Lake Wendouree – a large expanse of man-made lake, that once hosted the 1956 water sports aspects of the Melbourne Olympics – currently drought-stricken, but about to be supplied with a whole lot of much needed water.  There’s cute lttle old wooden boat sheds lining the lake, and a walking track around the whole entrerprise.  Nice spot to walk the dog, or just go for a limb stretching walk, at every opportunity.

Ballarat offers the whole gamit of the big four seasons with gusto – long, penetratingly cold winters (with snow once or twice a year), a flower fest in Spring, hot, dry Summers, and spectacular Autumn fall: you get to experience all the elements here in full.  Socially…  Ballarat is very blokey (and frankly mysoginist, which I just deal with by not acknowledging this too much – just act normal – keep moving etcetera).  This is the birth-place of the closest thing Australia’s ever had to a revolutionary moment.  The Eureka Stockade was a very significant rebellion, which marked the beginning of trade unionism for this nation.  Ballarat is, therefore, the home of mateship, standing up for the under-dog, ockerism and affiliated social behaviours, and that’s a big part of the cultural tapestry of this city, all premised on the Eureka Stockade (meaning strong and proud blue collar family lineage, social awareness, and visibility over the lived realities of the working class, and rural poor…).  On the topic of generations of rural poor, I’ve lived in 4 other Australian cities in my life, and visited quite a few dozen or so more, not to mention rather a lot of other places abroad, and let’s say this: I’d always thought of hill-billy’s as characters from 1960’s American tellie shows (and maybe Nimbin, NSW!), until I moved here… let me tell you…  In justaposition to all of this, Ballarat is also the home of some landed gentry and accumulated family wealth, via gold mining and farming interests across the Western districts.  There’s a quiet, discreet, and very dominant, conservative element here; let there be no mistake…

Anyway, moving onto other topics, there’s a big old volcano that sits, smothered with gum trees, within full view of the city, called Mount Warrenheip, and it works well as a land-mark, reminding everyone in the ‘valley’  which direction is South East (and this is relevant, as SE is the way you head if you wish to drive to Melbourne, which is afterall, your most likely destination, when driving out of Ballarat).  Incidentally, no-one ever refers to Ballarat as a ‘valley’, but technically I think it is;  a high set, undulating valley, with lots of interesting angles, ascents and descents around the place.

Ballarat is a really pleasant, and user-friendly, city to inhabit.  If I were single, however, there is no way I would be here.  It’s simply perfect for the white picket fence and rug-rat phase of life.  Curiously, it has an over-supply of hairdressing salons, fitness trainers and children’s dance studio’s, and a lot of good cafes’.  It sadly lacks decent restaurants – who knows why…  as a passionate foodie I find this really tragic.  There’s a disturbingly high proportion of the population that seem to be utterly obese, but I gather this is a growing problem all over the Western world (yes, I’ve been to the sugar puffed state of Wisconsin, so I know!).  And the locals are extremely slow moving, whether it be in verbal interactions, or in their strangely snail-like motion (be it on foot or by vehicle); they’re infuriatingly pedestrian in every way.  As an intrinsically Sydney style driver, I alone speed around the place doing just a tad over the speed limit all of the time, and spend an insain amount of energy cursing and gesticulating, within the relatively private confines of my car, at the infuriating cautiousness and incompetence of local drivers.  I have no understanding of what the requirements are around here in terms of qualifying for a driver’s license, but it seems to me that it’s all highly questionable…  It’s also a Uni town, so there’s a whole lot of 18-24 year old kids share-housing everywhere, having parties, and playing Nirvana, and thinking that’s radical retro (as if…).  In any case, relative to the pace of everything happening in more sizeable CBDs’  around the world, Ballarat is an eon away from the stress levels you have to cope with everywhere else.

Daily activities are very manageable here, and in terms of lifestyle, the fact that it’s just 90 mins from the big smoke, and all of the cosmopolitan dimensions of marvellous Melbourne, makes it a great option if you want a balance of numerous elements: it’s all within reach.  From what I can work out, the closest comparable within Australia, that I’m aware of, might be Newcastle in relation to Sydney… The other major growth corridor identified in recent Australian government reports is the Brisbane to Sunshine Coast area, so I say, keep your eyes on these three tracts of land if you’re into real estate projections…  Thinking about it now, I never have got to that question of how, or why, we actually elected to move here in the first place… Alas, that will have to wait for another post, some time in the future…And yes, some of these observations do reflect the ‘once upon a time’ political sociologist in me…  What Laurie & I know is that Ballarat works well, from our perspective, and we like it here…  We are not uncritical (believe me!), but we’re pretty sure the strengths outshine the negatives.  Still, the idea of boarding a plane and going somewhere else, every so often, is also very healthy!

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