Prior to pastoral settlement in 1837 Aboriginal people inhabited the land in the area which was to become known as Ballarat. This word is of native origin from "Balla" and "Arat" meaning 'resting place'. It was a camp ground or meeting place where groups gathered. In 1837 these two words were first recorded by the squatter Archibald Yuille as "Ballaarat" who no doubt accentuated the vowels in his Scottish brogue. He chose this name for his sheep run on the Yarrowee River.
When surveyor William Swan Urquhart camped on the new goldfield in the summer of 1851-52, he used native names for places on his surveys. For example: "Wendouree" for the swamp, "Yarrowee" for the river and Ballaarat East and Ballaarat West for the localities on either side of the watercourse.
The official spelling of the City of Ballaarat had a double 'a' from the time of the proclamation of the township in 1852, the incorporation of the municipality in 1855, the creation of a borough in 1863 and the declaration of a city in 1870. It remained that way for 143 years until local government amalgamation in 1994, when the spelling was changed to the City of Ballarat to signify the incorporation of districts from an area greater than the pre-1994 city. The nostalgic home town song which begins B, A, double L, double A, R, A, T, was written by Reginald Stoneham and Will A Bevan for a Home Coming to Ballarat in 1927.
From late August 1851 news spread that Ballarat had become a goldfield and this was the catalyst for rapid immigration to the district. Many aspired to find gold and providing for their needs was an opportunity for entrepreneurs to capitalise on the sudden influx of population. The location at some distance from the ports of Geelong and Melbourne allowed this goldfield to develop from a transitory, tented community to a permanent inland settlement in the Central Highlands of the Colony of Victoria. This was known as the Port Phillip District of New South Wales prior to the separation in July 1851 which coincided nicely with the announcement of Victorian gold discoveries.
Gold was first discovered in Ballarat on the rise above Canadian Creek at the base of Poverty Point aka Golden Point in late August (21-24th) 1851. Reports in the Geelong Advertiser instigated the first rush to the Ballarat Diggings. The Gold Commissioner exercised authority over the newly arrived diggers and friction over mining licences and policing rankled many miners, especially those who could not afford the fee.
The Ballarat & District Genealogical Society receives much correspondence about ancestors who may have been in Ballarat at the time of the Eureka uprising on 3rd December 1854. That date is writ large in the history of Ballarat and can be considered a demarcation point to be declared a Ballarat pioneer.
At this time Ballarat Flat and the other diggings along the creeks leading to it were clusters of canvas dwellings on ground which was honeycombed with muddy holes and mounds of wash dirt from alluvial mining. What an exciting cosmopolitan place Ballarat had become within just a few years as mostly young, literate immigrants arrived after a long sea voyage. Accents from all over the world could be heard on the goldfields. Rich finds were made but it is estimated that about one quarter of the population was servicing the needs of the miners.
The summer of 1854-1855 was not as idyllic as the scenic canvas town depicted by Von Guerard but it was hot and tempers flared as the reasons for discontent grew. Thousands of the miners on the Ballarat Diggings protested against the cost of mining licences and the arbitrary manner in which inspections were carried out by police behaving badly. In the context of corruption among some of the officials, the more militant amongst them organised training and weapons to resist the authorities. They built the Eureka Stockade on the Eureka Lead as a barricade for their own protection. Before dawn on Sunday the 3rd of December 1854, the march from the Government Camp began. Armed soldiers from British Army units attacked the Stockade supported by mounted and foot police. This sudden battle resulted in about 30 deaths and the arrest of some 120 diggers.
The upshot of the Eureka Treason Trials held in Melbourne before juries in February and March 1855 was the acquittal of all those accused. The diggers may have lost the battle but they won the war for political reforms. In 1855 men who held miner's rights were qualified to vote in the Electoral District of Ballarat in the Police District of Ballarat. More land was surveyed and suburban allotments were sold. The first wooden buildings were erected up on the escarpment of the Ballarat West plateau, now Lydiard Street. Courts and local government got underway. The Ballarat Star newspaper began its long life.
The wealth from gold made Ballarat the richest place on earth for a time but it was the energy and nous of the new settlers who brought institutions and organisations into being. That first generation of immigrants were 'can-do' people who found ways to overcome obstacles and to work towards a much better way of life than they would have had back in their old countries.
Deep lead mining continued to bring great fortunes to the surface. Merchants imported machinery to make mining more efficient and local industries developed to support the booming mining industry. It has been said that Ballarat's forests went underground to shore up the shafts and tunnels, sometimes miles long. Timber was carted from the remaining forests to feed the boilers of the steam engines to pump water from the mines and to power the stamping batteries to crush the gold-bearing quartz. This din went on day and night. The population of Ballarat continued to grow and some attention was focussed on ways to make the mining town a more civilised place.
Large sums of money being expended on the public gardens and margins of the adjacent Swamp were justified by the expectation of beneficial results that would accrue to future generations.
Here a more egalitarian society was being created, where the mine managers would live among the miners. Churches, schools, hotels, the hospital, the courts, the gaol, lodges, sporting bodies and charitable institutions were established to improve social interaction and the quality of life.
Grand designs for water storages, road construction and the edifice of the third Town Hall which we still see today almost bankrupted the municipal government but things improved and once more mining boomed. In the main boulevard of Sturt Street were constructed stone buildings giving the city its streetscape of today.
There were many more children to provide for as children born on the goldfields in the 1850s married and began to produce second generation Australian born families of their own.
Such was the prosperity of Ballarat, it was often compared with a cities in Europe, and Edinburgh in particular because of the 3-chain wide grand boulevard that Sturt Street was becoming. Scottish-born benefactors whose wealth had come from gold wished to emulate the famous Royal Mile in Scotland's capital city. The streetscape of the main thoroughfare began to be adorned with commemorative monuments, following the gifts of classical marble statuary for the Botanical Gardens. These collections were presented by generous men who were grateful for their good fortune in the city of their creation.
The pioneers retained strong links to Britain and celebrated public holidays for the Queen's birthday in May and for the Prince of Wales in November. Civic pride reached new heights with the 1887 revised edition of Withers' History of Ballarat with its gold embossed cover but many of the young men born in this decade would be lost at Gallipoli and on the Somme.
Ballarat was proud of its part-time military force of over 400 in a population of 40 000 which was a better effort than 'Marvellous Melbourne". A goodly percentage of Ballarat women signed the Women's Suffrage Petition and bicycles became popular for both sexes with a resulting impact on fashionable clothing. The first Arbour Day resulted in the planting of Victoria Park in one day by groups representative of Ballarat's clubs and institutions. The telegraph, then telephone came to Ballarat and electric light replaced the gas lamps.
Magnificent public buildings such as the art gallery, theatre and library were added to the double-storied streetscapes. The new Gardens Pavilion provided facilities for crowds of locals as well as for people arriving at the Ballarat West Railway Station in their thousands for annual industry-based picnics. Dozens of hotels were closed by local option just prior to the Bank Crash of 1893. Much of the wealth of individuals and organisations was suddenly lost. Workers sought greener fields, especially in the gold mines of the West and in New Zealand.
Eight months after the unveiling of the glorious Queen Victoria statue in Sturt Street, HM's death brought the Victorian era to an end. With the new King and the first meeting of the Federal Parliament in Melbourne, an exciting era began. Ballarat provided the first Prime Minister and continued to behave as a self-important City-State by giving leadership to the nation on many issues. Men were sent to the South African War, the 50th anniversary of Eureka was celebrated, electric trams replaced the horse-drawn ones and the Coliseum Hall was ambitiously designed to accommodate 10 000 people for gala events and concerts. Visitors were encouraged with the publication of views in and around Ballarat. The old pioneers were fading away but the cultural and social institutions they had founded were flourishing. More of their grandchildren could go beyond a basic primary education with the opening of Ballarat High School.
The last goldmine in Ballarat closed at Black Hill in 1918. Mining had become unprofitable due to the cost of pumping ground water from the deep mines and because of the labour shortage caused by World War 1. The large cohort of young women destined to remain single by the devastating impact of WW1 were dominant among the tree planters of the Avenue of Honour and largely provided the funds for the Arch of Victory.
Finally in 1921 the Ballarat West and East Councils amalgamated across the Yarrowee River which had been the Rubicon since local government began six decades earlier.
BALLAARAT CITY COAT OF ARMS
The Ballaarat Municipal Coat of Arms depicts elements that have shaped Ballarat’s history. The farmer and the miner stand either side of a shield with a icons at the top - a sheep for agriculture, a harp for music and the arts and a wheel for industry. We see the southern cross on a blue background, reminiscent of the Eureka Flag, and crossed oars for the City's proudest achievement to date - the transformation of a murky swamp into a beautiful lake for sports and recreation.
A translation of the Latin motto CULTUS FORMS ET INDUSTRIA can mean ’Culture and Industry’ or even dilgence brings civilisation.
Life just got better with the popularity of the motorcar, the infrastructure for sewerage and Royal visits. For the Floral Festival in 1938, celebrating the founding of the Colony of Victoria, Ballarat was in its element of flowers, trees, statues and song.
Belying this facade was the Great Depression which was the impetus for regional migration of men seeking work. This generation was also impacted by the horrors of WW2, as were their parents for the Great War.
Although over the years Ballarat largely retained its population numbers, the stability disguised the mobility of the people as some people moved away to take other opportunities. This movement of individuals has provided many people with some connection with Ballarat. Wild estimates are as high as one in eight of 4th or 5th generation Australian families. What is indisputable is that Ballarat’s role in the complex, interrelationship of migration, settlement and industry in the initial years, left it a unique role in history, genealogy, family and local history.