So it turns out I’m the biggest Ballarat fan girl in Australia.
For those of you playing at home, Ballarat is a town (ok, technically it’s a ‘city’) about 100 kilometres out of Melbourne, population 96,000. In 1851 someone discovered gold in the area, effectively launching the town on a muddy, bloody journey that’s rendered it a premier destination in the Goldfields tour district. The unfortunate Eureka Rebellion further secured Ballarat a significant place in Australia’s historical tapestry.
Also, it kicks ass.
My little mate Nikki and I decided to get our country pants on and treat ourselves to a weekend out of the city. We left work in a tizz on Friday afternoon. An hour and forty-five minutes later we checked into a cheap little motel in the middle of Ballarat town centre and unleashed ourselves onto the general population. That is, we peered hesitantly through the windows of the pub next door then sidled inside. We asked the girl behind the bar where we could order a meal, and she gestured vaguely into the next room. We entered to find a dining area approximately the same size as my bedroom, with a bored looking woman sitting alone in an empty kitchen. We asked her if she was lonely back there by herself and she said no, it will get busier later on. We ordered some rissoles and a parma, and an hour later we were still her only customers.
After dinner we donned our high heels and tottered off down the hill in search of entertainment. Nikki had found a trendy looking nightspot on the internet, called Bluestone 101. It’s a massive bluestone building which in a previous life was either a hay storage warehouse or a winery, depending on which 19 year old bartender you happen to ask. It’s so cavernous that blow heaters are used for climate control, as well as oil heaters in various spots against the wall (Ballarat’s a chilly old place in mid-August). Despite its toasty warm interior and tasteful fusion of modern decor and 1880’s architecture, the place had a grand total of twelve patrons. A few more stragglers trickled in over the next couple of hours, but by that time Nikki and I had drunk enough vodka to face the chill again and experience what else the city had to offer. Just as we left, a hollering lesbian got manhandled out the door by a security guard. When he let her go she turned around, punched him in the face, deftly danced back a few steps, yelled “I’ll eat you for breakfast, c***!”, blew him a kiss and swaggered off up the street. Nikki and I followed her (at a safe distance), figuring wherever she was going was bound to be exciting.
We followed her to George’s Hotel. It’s also old and cavernous; additionally it was crawling with ladies who prefer the company of other ladies, some of whom were also old and cavernous. We had a strong suspicion we’d inadvertently wound up in the local gay nightclub, until some young blokes came up and put the moves on Nikki. Then some older ones put the moves on me. Then some more young ones put the moves on both of us, and at this point we decided we adored Ballarat. By the end of the night we had more new friends than we knew what to do with, a swag of local knowledge (the drug dealers hang out in the Big W carpark), I had the phone number of a local real estate agent, an extra shoe, and a terribly aesthetically pleasing 29 year old concreter to walk me home (because by 4am Nikki and I were both a little disoriented and not entirely sure whether we were supposed to be staggering up the hill or down). I gave Concreter what I hope was my phone number, but in the state I was in it could very well have been my shoe size.
The next day we decided to do something a little more wholesome, so we drove out to Waubra to check out the wind farm. I’m a nut for wind farms, I really don’t know why. I could sit and watch a wind turbine for hours.
In the late afternoon we gave ourselves a self-guided walking tour of the town to absorb the culture. We found daffodils and a Mexican restaurant and an adorable young gay man who was happy to chat about his dermal piercings.
As evening fell, we felt an irresistible urge to return to George’s. We promised each other we’d only go for a little while – have a couple of drinks, a bit of a dance, then get home for a good night’s sleep.
I’m sure you can guess how that resolution turned out.
This time around we made friends with Rob, a 50-ish divorcee who looked like Mick Jagger and busted out the dance moves better than any of the young bucks. There was ginger Trav with the broken leg, Brendan and Andrew who taught us about the local barley farming industry, and little 22 year old Simon who was horrified by our cuss words. We later found him peeing in the church yard, and proceeded to mortify him further with penis jokes.
We got back to the motel at 3.30am, barefoot and sharing a gravy smothered sausage we’d wheedled off a pair of street vendors for $1 because that was all the money we had left. (The previous night I’d offered to barter the extra shoe I’d found for a cup of chips – they declined, but it ensured they remembered us).
Amazingly we both woke up relatively hangover free, and geared up for our final day in The ‘Rat. Our first stop was the Ballarat Wildlife Park. The emus and kangaroos had free run of the place, which made me feel sad for the wombats, echidnas, koalas, cobras and crocodiles that were shut away in rather small enclosures looking a little depressed. Granted, a free range spitting cobra zoo probably isn’t toddler friendly, but you’d sure get your money’s worth of excitement.
After the wildlife park we spent a very happy hour trawling through antiques at the astonishing Mill Markets, then moseyed over to Kryal Castle. We’re still not sure what exactly Kryal Castle is, and we weren’t willing to pay the $20 per head entry fee to find out. We asked the lady at the admission counter “so what is this place?”, and she replied drily “it’s a castle.” We decided not to give her our money, and took some goofy photos on the drawbridge instead.
Sadly it was now late Sunday afternoon and time to head back to metropolis, so reluctantly we turned eastwards.
But I can’t lie, I do feel a vague warmth inside when I gaze upon my Melbourne.