It is approximately 105 kilometres (65 mi) north-west of Melbourne, with an urban population of 88,437 people. The city lies at 441 metres (1,447 ft) AHD and consists of an area of approximately 740 square kilometres (286 sq mi), with the city occupying a built up area of approximately 75 square kilometres (29 sq mi).
Gold was discovered near Ballarat in 1851, and the influx of over 10,000 miners in less than a year transformed it from a pastoral town into Victoria's largest settlement. The Victorian gold rush occurred throughout the 1850s and 1860s whilst gold could be readily extracted from the surface. The city's growth slowed after the 1880s and Melbourne quickly overshadowed it in importance. However, Ballarat has endured as a major inland regional centre and tourist destination, having retained much of its Victorian era heritage, a unique culture, and is highly regarded for its grand heritage listed public and private buildings, monuments, statues and expansive gardens.
The site of the city was originally a stock station established by William Cross Yuille and Henry Anderson in 1838 and named Ballarat (originally under the spelling Ballaarat), which was derived from local Aboriginal dialect meaning 'resting place'. Settlement, originally known as Ballarat, flourished in the early 1850s when gold was discovered, the Post Office opening on November 1, 1851 . The area where gold was found was situated northeast of Ballarat, about away. The total area was about , and an estimated 200,000 ounces of gold are said to have been extracted from the area. This made Ballarat the wealthiest city in the district. Additionally there were several other notable gold fields in the Ballarat area including the Berringa, Clunes, Creswick, Talbot and Enfield Gold Fields.
With a huge influx of population and wealth as a major participant in the Gold Rush, Ballarat was, for a time, Victoria's largest township.
Ballarat is notable as the site for Australia's only armed civil uprising, colloquially referred to as the Eureka Stockade but more correctly titled the Eureka Rebellion, which took place on 3 December 1854. The event, in which 22 miners died, is considered a defining moment in Australian history. The purported site of the rebellion contains an historical park and a memorial to the event. The remains of the original Eureka Flag are on public display in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.
During the last 50 years of the 19th century Ballarat prospered on gold mining, being proclaimed a city in 1871. The railway came to the town with the opening of the Geelong-Ballarat line in 1862, with the current direct route to Melbourne completed in December 1889.
The early confidence of the city's early citizens in the enduring future of their city is evident in the sheer scale of many of the early public buildings, generous public recreational spaces, and oppulence of many of its commercial establishments and private housing. The period from the 1880s to the early 20th century witnessed a successful transition of the city from a gold rush town to an industrial age city. Many industries and workshops that had been established as a result of manufacturing and servicing for the deep lead mining industry during the 19th century later made successful transition into engineering and manufacturing businesses throughout the 20th century. Pressure on the state government for decentralisation saw the Victorian Railways open their Ballarat North Workshops in April 1917.
During 1901, the Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V, opened the first Commonwealth Parliament in Melbourne. While in Victoria, the Duke and Duchess made several journeys by train, one of which was on 13 May from Melbourne to Ballarat via Geelong, returning to Melbourne via Bacchus Marsh.
In 1930 an aerodrome was established, which was ceded to the Commonwealth in 1940 as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. During WWII the base was a RAAF Wireless Air Gunners' School as well as the base for USAF Liberator bomber squadrons. During the war the airport was expanded and consisted of three sealed runways of which two were over 2,000 metres (6,550 ft) long and 45 metres (150 ft) wide. The aerodrome remained the RAAF School of Radio until 1961 when it was returned to civil operations. The City of Ballarat is the civil operator of the aerodrome. The site is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register for its social and historic significance.
After World War II, Ballarat expanded significantly to the North West. An acute post war housing shortage was eased with the establishment of an extensive Housing Commission of Victoria estate on the former Ballarat Common (Today known as Wendouree West). The estate was originally planned to contain over 750 prefabricated houses. Whilst planning for the estate began in 1949, main construction occurred between 1951 to 1962. During the 1970s a further 300 houses were constructed. Private housing in the adjacent suburb of Wendouree closely matched and eventually eclipsed this by the mid 1960s. The suburb of greater Wendouree and Wendouree West had evolved by the 1970s as the suburban middle-class heart of the city.
From the late 1970s and early 1980s urban growth slowed in Wendouree and began expanding to the Southern and Western corridors of the city. In 2008 the City Council released a plan directing that growth of the city over the next 30 years is to be concentrated to the west of the city centre and through the redevelopment of inner city housing blocks, and other under-developed inner city land in the East that is being redeveloped to create a higher density housing structure. Throughout the 20th century Ballarat maintained steady economic and population growth, keeping pace with that of the Australian national average without ever experiencing any significant growth surges. Steady population and economic growth has enabled the city to mature and preserve much of its historical grandeur and beauty whilst accommodating thoughtful and modern development. Ballarat's modern architecture was designed to blend with the old with examples being the City Library, the Law Courts and Justice Centre and the Ballarat Base Hospital.
Ballarat is linked directly to Melbourne by a combination of state highway and dual carriageway freeway. Regular rail services on the Ballarat Line from Ballarat railway station run to Melbourne, in addition to Ararat Line in the opposite direction. Ballarat is also served by an extensive public bus service and taxi system.
The city airport, located North-West of the CBD consists of two sealed runways (each approximately 1,400 m/4,600 ft length and 30 m/100 ft wide) as well as extensive sealed aprons, night lighting and NDB Navaid. The Ballarat Aerodrome is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register for its social and historical significance. In 2005 the City of Ballarat commissioned a Master Plan 2004-2014, that outlined future development and growth of the Airport. The report made a series of recommendations and forecasts that included eventual lengthening, widening and strengthening of the existing main runway up to 1800 metres (5,900 ft), consideration for expansion of the passenger terminal and recommendations for future use of aprons and development of future structures supporting larger aircraft and increased frequent usage. It is forecast that by 2012-15 regular domestic passenger services using 40-50 seat commuter aircraft may feasibly commence.
The city maintained a horse tramway system from 1887 until 1909 when they were replaced by electric trams operated by the Electric Supply Company of Victoria. These, in turn, were replaced, in September 1971, when services were replaced by buses. A short section of track continues at the western end of Lake Wendouree as a museum line operated by the Ballarat Tramway Museum. In recent times there have been studies conducted to reinstate sections of tram line or light rail to service key tourist routes and high usage bus services between the city and Wendouree.
In late 2006, a second railway station for the city was being established in Wendouree to service direct links to Melbourne and western distributor lines. A naming competition by the Victorian Government saw the new station dubbed Wendouree by the people of Ballarat, because of its geographical significance to the area. The station is expected to be operational in 2010.
Many of its features demonstrate the breadth and depth of Ballarat's Heritage, which are celebrated during heritage weekend in May.
Ballarat is notable for its very wide boulevards. The main street is Sturt Street and is considered among one of the finest main avenues in Australia with over 2 kilometres of central gardens known as the Sturt Street Gardens featuring bandstands, fountains, statues, monuments, memorials and lampposts.
Ballarat is home to the largest of a collection of several Avenues of Honour in Victoria. The fifteen kilometre (9.3 mi) long Ballarat Avenue of Honour consists of a total of approximately 4,000 trees, mostly deciduous which in many parts arch completely over the road. Each tree has a bronze plaque dedicated to a soldier from the Ballarat region who enlisted during World War I. The Avenue of Honour and the Arch of Victoria are on the Victorian Heritage Register.
The city also has the greatest concentration of public statuary in any Australian city with many parks and streets featuring sculptures and statues dating from the 1860s to the present day.
Some of the other unique memorials located in the Sturt Street Gardens in the middle of Ballarat's main boulevard include a bandstand situated in the heart of the city that was funded and built by the City of Ballarat Band in 1913 as a tribute to the bandsmen of the RMS Titanic, a fountain dedicated to the early explorers Burke and Wills, and those dedicated to Monarchs and those who have played pivotal roles in the development of the city and its rich social fabric. The most recent memorial is dedicated to a war hero Sir Albert Ernest Coates. Sir Albert Ernest Coates was a soldier and a surgeon born at Mt Pleasant in Ballarat who served as a medical orderly at Gallipoli, trained as a doctor on his return and was worked tirelessly with minimal resources to save countless lives in Prisoner of War camps during World War 2.
Recently (late 2006), the Ballarat "Big Miner" was erected at the eastern entrance to Ballarat. The larger-than-life statue of a miner holding a pick and pan greets visitors as they approach the city from the east.
The town is also home to the award winning tourist park Sovereign Hill, a recreated 1850s gold mining settlement that is rated amongst one of the best tourism theme parks in the world.
Ballarat Wildlife Park a popular tourist attraction covers 32 acres and includes a large reptile collection.
Notable civic buildings include the Town Hall (1870-72), the former Post Office (1864), the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery (1887), the Mechanics' Institute (1860, 1869), the Queen Victoria Wards of the Ballarat Base Hospital (1890s), and the Ballarat railway station (1862, 1877, 1888).
Other fine buildings include the Provincial Hotel (1909), Reid's Coffee Palace (1886), Craig's Royal Hotel (1862-1890) and Her Majesty's Theatre (1875). A history of Her Majesty's Theatre, the oldest intact and operating lyric theatre in Australia, has been written.
Ballarat has what is considered to be the greatest concentration of historic architectural cast iron lace building decoration in the world, with lacework adorning many public buildings, commercial establishments and houses. Considerable efforts have been made in recent years to restore or rebuild some of the more significant cast iron lace verandahs that were torn down in the 1960s. The most recent significant projects include the rebuilding of the 1914 Mechanics Institute verandah and the restoration of the former Unicorn Hotel facade. Information about heritage related things to do and see is found on the City of Ballarat webpage.
In 1998 a group of concerned citizens formed the Ballarat Citizens for Thoughtful Development with the aim of ensuring Ballarat's unique architectural heritage was given due consideration in the planning process. The group is now incorporated as Ballarat Heritage Watch.
The post gold rush era has seen a boom in planned suburbs, particularly in the north and west of the CBD, including:
Ballarat also has some more rural suburbs of 2-20 acre blocks within 15 minutes of the CBD that are very popular with families.
Other major sectors of employment in the city include retailing, service industries, state and federal government branch offices and agencies and health care.
In his 1999 book And Now Here's... (Four Decades of Behind the Scenes Fun in Australian Television), Mike McColl Jones fondly remembers local live television variety. "...and in Ballarat, Victoria, a Tonight show ("Six Tonight") was carving its name into Australian television history. The show, hosted by Fred Fargher, ran for 13 years, and managed to attract many of the top name entertainers in the world, simply by offering them a limo ride to this beautiful country centre, a no-pressure spot on the show, and then a great dinner afterwards at one of the city's excellent restaurants. The sheer bravado of the offer enticed some of show business' biggest names."
Today Ballarat is serviced by five 'free to air' High Definition and Standard Definition Digital television services. Two television broadcasting stations are located in the city including WIN (a sub-licensee of Nine Network) and PRIME (a sub-licensee of Seven Network). These two stations broadcast relayed services throughout regional Victoria. The city also receives Southern Cross Ten (a sub-licensee of Network Ten) that is based in Bendigo but operates a local office. Ballarat television maintains a similar schedule to the national television network but maintains local demographic commercials and local/regional news. In addition to commercial television services, Ballarat receives Government ABC and SBS television services.
Ballarat has four State Government-operated secondary schools, of which Ballarat High School (established in 1907) is the oldest. The other schools are Sebastopol College, Mount Clear College, and Ballarat Secondary College. Ballarat Secondary College was formed in 1994 by the amalgamation of Ballarat East Secondary College, Wendouree Secondary College and Midlands Secondary College. The city is well serviced by Catholic schools, with 8 primary schools and 3 secondary colleges, the all-boys St Patrick's College, the all-girls Loreto College, and the co-educational Damascus College, which was formed by the amalgamation of St Paul's Technical School and Sacred Heart College in the 1990s. Additionally, there are two private day or boarding schools which provide education from Years 1 to 12; Ballarat and Queens Anglican Grammar School and Ballarat and Clarendon College.
Ballarat has several public libraries, the largest and most extensive of which is the City of Ballarat Library, located on Creswick Road. Another unique library service is provided by the Mechanics Institute in Sturt Street, which contains an excellent collection of historic, archival and rare reference material.
The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery houses one of Australia's oldest and most extensive collections of early Australian works. It is considered to have the best Australian collections outside any capital city in Australia.
The University of Ballarat operates the Post Office Gallery in the Wardell designed former Post Office on the corner of Sturt and Lydiard Streets.
Additionally the Mechanics Institute hall (seating 700) is used from time to time for travelling performances and cinema shows.
Ballarat is also the home to Australia's oldest and largest annual performing arts eisteddfod. The Royal South Street Eisteddfod is an all-encompassing performing arts festival and competition event that is conducted over twelve weeks annually.
In the 1970s the Ballarat urban area contained no less than 60 hotels. The introduction of gaming machines in the early 1990s has brought about significant change in the city entertainment precincts. By 2006 at least 20 hotels had closed and some of those that remain have been redeveloped as dining and/or gaming venues. Gaming machines have brought significant revenue to the remaining hotels, sports and social clubs which has enabled many to expand and modernise.
The city has several dance clubs as well as a highly active live music and jazz scene. Hotels are popular meeting places for young people. The city has many fine restaurants, wine bars and eateries as well as themed restaurants located at Sovereign Hill and Kryal Castle. December 2006 saw the creation of BTR, an organisation within Ballarat that has begun hosting dance events in Ballarat.
A large cinema complex consisting of several theatres is located behind the facade of the old Regent cinemas in the heart of the city.
Dance parties are popular within the Ballarat area; however, the director of Ballarat Health Services (BHS), Andrew Rowe, has stated that Ballarat is "an inappropriate place to hold a rave" and has called for the Moorabool Shire Council to forbid raves (such as the one held at Kryal Castle) around the immediate Ballarat area.
Ballarat has produced many notable sports people, perhaps the most famous being marathon runner Steve Moneghetti. The city is well endowed with parks, sport fields and organised sporting clubs and associations.
The city is excellently equipped with indoor stadiums and training centres for most sports. The city has three international standard cricket ovals, an international standard athletics track, two Olympic sized pools as well as an indoor 25 metre (82 ft) competition short course pool.
Notable sporting teams in Ballarat include the North Ballarat Roosters who compete in the Victorian Football League and the Ballarat Miners who compete in the South East Australian Basketball League. The region is home to the strong Ballarat Football League and Central Highlands Football League. Ballarat, Lake Wendouree and North Ballarat City have teams in the Ballarat Football League. The Ballarat Football Club, formed in 1860, remains one of the oldest football clubs in the world.
The city has a soccer competition, known as the BDSA.
Ballarat is home to numerous rowing clubs, and annually hosts the Victorian Schools Rowing Championships. Lake Wendouree plays host to the annual 'Head of the Lake' rowing regatta- contested by Ballarat High School, Ballarat and Clarendon College, Ballarat Grammar School, St Patrick's College and Loreto College. The city hosted rowing events for the 1956 Olympic Games.
Ballarat's Eastern Oval hosted a game in the 1992 cricket world cup.
In recent years, Ballarat (along with South Eastern Australia) has experienced a severe decrease in average annual rain fall with falls averaging as low as 400mm per year since 2001. This is evident by the recent drying out of Lake Wendouree and substantial water restrictions being imposed on the city and many other regional centres throughout Victoria. The City of Ballarat, The Central Highlands Water Commission, and State Government of Victoria have initiated a number of projects that are designed to ensure that the city is guaranteed a steady water supply and that the lake will be regenerated using storm water and recycled water from the city's treatment plants. Many residents have become pro-active and redirect grey water from homes directly onto gardens and for outdoor cleaning as a matter of daily routine.
The City of Ballarat is further using the drought as an opportunity to dredge the lake and upgrade the international rowing course. Many decades-old introduced species of trees planted in many of the public spaces around the city have not coped well with the recent, persistent drought prompting the City Council to plan for their eventual removal and replacement with similar looking Australian native varieties that are considerably more dry weather tolerant.