The discovery of gold in the State of Victoria in 1851 led to the Victorian gold rush, and Melbourne, Australia, which provided services for the miners, became flooded with goldseekers. During a visit in 1885 English journalist George Augustus Henry Sala coined the phrase "Marvelous Melbourne", which still is in use today. A few reminders still remain in the Melbourne area of the wild and wooly days of the Victoria Gold Rush.
Gold fever hit Victoria following early discoveries in the gold fields of Bendigo and Ballarat. But the real rush began with the discovery of the Mount Alexander goldfield northeast of Ballarat. This was one of the world's richest shallow goldfields, with gold lying just below the surface. One of the largest discovered was so big it couldn't fit onto the scale to be weighed and had to be broken up to do so. Today, that nugget would be worth over $1 million.
By the end of 1852, 90,000 newcomers — mostly Irish, German, and Chinese — had flocked to Victoria in search of gold. Provincial cities like Ballarat and Bendigo grew, bringing railways, roads, libraries, theaters, art galleries, and stock exchanges. Melbourne, itself, became one of the world's biggest, booming, and cosmopolitan cities of the era. Its Chinatown remains the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World.
During the 1880s, Melbourne had become the richest city in the world and the largest in the British Empire after London. The flow of riches stimulated the construction of grand civic buildings, including Parliament House, the Treasury Building and Treasury Reserve, the Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria Barracks, the State Library, Supreme Court, University, the General Post Office, Government House, Customs House, the Melbourne Town Hall, St Paul's and St Patrick's cathedrals, as well as the Queen Victoria Market. Men, made wealthy from gold, also built luxurious private buildings such as the Athenaeum Hall and hotels of Melbourne. A land boom, reaching its peak in 1888, produced coffee palaces, palatial mansions, and terrace housing.
While Melbourne has plenty of Victorian-era architecture, it also offers an active cultural scene with fine museums, galleries, and theaters. But it's the towns surrounding it in the former goldfields where you'll find remnants of the gold rush.
At the Bendigo Joss House Temple, a Chinese house of worship built in the late 1860s and consisting of a Caretaker's Residence, Temple and Ancestral Hall, you'll learn about the Chinese migrants who came to Bendigo in search of gold. It's one of the few remaining buildings of its type in Australia. Its builders dedicated the main temple to Guan-Di, the god of war and prosperity, constructing it with locally handmade bricks and painting it red, the traditional Chinese color of strength and vitality.
Visiting Sovereign Hill is like stepping back in time to gold rush Ballarat during the 1850s. From the hustle and bustle of Main Street where costumed ladies and gents parade their new-found wealth, to the excitement of the Red Hill Gully Diggings where you can pan for real gold and get to keep what you find, you'll find lots to do here.
You can see a $150,000 gold pour, visit historic buildings, ride in a horse-drawn carriage, and watch street performers, including the Redcoat Soldiers who march and drill before firing their muskets. Shops along Main Street sell 1850s-style goods and a theater offers goldfields' entertainment.
If you're more into adventure, you can take an underground mine tour with an inclined tramway ride. You can also talk with skilled craftsmen at work in the blacksmith's forge, the candle works, the wheelwright's plant, and the coachbuilder's and the confectionery factory. Be sure to visit the Gold Museum with its s a beautiful exhibition of gold and Ballarat historical artifacts.
Each night, Sovereign Hill presents a spectacular sound-and-light show, "Blood on the Southern Cross," the legendary story of the 1854 Eureka Uprising You'll even be able to eat a two-course dinner with drinks prior to the show if you choose.
Buda Historic Home & Garden is one of the great heritage sights the Goldfields region. Built in 1861, it became the home of noted silversmith Ernest Leviny and his family in 1863. The mansion houses the family's art and craft collections, as well as furnishings and domestic items, while a three-acre 19th-century garden filled with heritage trees, shrubs, and roses surrounds the gracious home which had been the home of the Leviny family for 118 years.
But of all the goldfield attractions, the unmistakable nostalgic sound of a steam locomotive's whistle on Wednesdays and Sundays will bring you back to the goldfields' heyday. The steam trains that operate from the historic Maldon and Castlemaine Stations have a certain magic that will capture your imagination.