Heritage Festival offers a chance to get hands-on with the past

Celebrate the Gold Rush history of central Victoria at the Ballarat Heritage Festival.

The historic city of Ballarat – famous as the site of the Eureka Stockade and home to the open air museum Sovereign Hill – celebrates its Gold Rush past with the Ballarat Heritage Festival.

Running over 10 days from 19-28 May and located on Wadawurung and Dja Dja Wurrung Country in central Victoria, the Festival features artisanal crafts, gaol tours, steam trains and the popular Tweed Ride, all set against the backdrop of the city’s beautifully preserved Victorian architecture.

Program highlights include an orchestral concert by candlelight at Ballarat Civic Hall, a musical whodunnit set during the Gold Rush, a celebration of 19th century magic lantern shows, and an exploration of the history of whisky-drinking on the goldfields, featuring traditional folk songs paired with whisky tastings.

‘Ballarat Heritage Festival is one of my favourite events on the Ballarat calendar,’ says Liana Skewes, founder and organiser of the Ballarat Tweed Ride.

‘This year will include theatre shows, the antiques fair, a pin-up competition, the internationally renowned Beard and Stache competition, and steam train shuttles to name a few… There’s adventure in seeing things that are rare and opportunities to interact with experiences that are hard to come by. I spend most of the festival saying, “Oh wow, look at that!” repeatedly,’ Skewes tells ArtsHub.

A participant in the annual Beard and Stache competition. Photo: Supplied.

Several aspects of the program allow visitors and locals alike to get hands-on with history, including a workshop program that draws upon an array of traditional practices such as lost wax casting and printmaking.

Also popular is the Craft Lab, featuring 17 heritage practitioners from across the Ballarat region. Visitors can engage with different crafts and seek guidance from the experts, from upholsterers to spinners, shoemakers to armoury makers, and wild weavers to eco-dyers.

Similarly, the panel discussion Hidden Histories: Why Representation Matters at the Eureka Centre will shed a different light on the past, through a topical exploration around the question of whose stories are and aren’t being told today.

Ballarat Tweed Ride, which sees a costumed cavalcade cycle through the city’s historic streets, is sure to be another festival highlight.

‘The Ballarat Tweed Ride, now in its 11th year is a unique experience because the cycling is non-competitive and relaxed with a focus on the joy of riding. The dress code side of things allows people to participate in more ways than just cycling, showcasing their sense of style and personality. It’s rare to have an event that celebrates fashion with fashion awards for best dressed that isn’t associated with a race or betting. The fashion awards are consciously gender inclusive to ensure all participants feel welcome,’ says Skewes, who was recently made 2023’s Ballarat Citizen of the Year for her work with the Ride and other endeavours.

‘Participants of the event can either spectate or ride any wheeled device that isn’t run on petrol. Last year saw everything from original Penny Farthings from the 1800s through to e-scooters. Participants come from all over the state to take part in the day and enjoy Ballarat’s beautiful autumn streets.

‘This Tweed Ride is one of the largest in Australia. It promotes sustainable transport and sustainable fashion and is a fun spectacle popular with photographers,’ Skewes says.

Ballarat Heritage Festival runs from 19-28 May. Learn more about the festival program.

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