Ararat was one of those towns that we would regularly pass through on our road trips to Melbourne. Mind you, passing through simply meant skirting the city since the highway didn’t head down the main street, and off towards the mountains that marked the road to Melbourne. However, just outside the town was a roadhouse which would be a regular stopping point on those trips, if only to grab a bite to eat. Oh, and there was also the mountains, that seemed to come to an end at the point where the highway skirted around them, and off in all other directions were plains – at least as far as the Grampians.
Ararat is technically at the end of the line, or at least at the end of the V-Line rail service that heads out west. There are only a couple of trains that head here and back daily, though the overland does pass through each way two times a week. I still remember one of those trips we made when my sister’s car basically died on the outskirts of the town forcing us to stay the night in one of the motels, and then catching the train into Melbourne in the morning. However the trip back out wasn’t as easy, as he had to get off at Ballarat and catch a bus the rest of the way.
A Little Bit of History
The story of the founding of Ararat is actually rather interesting. During the gold rush the Chinese emperor would send hundreds of Chinese over to scrounge for gold. As a means on cashing in on this, the Victorian government decided to tax the Chinese, though the captains of the ship had to pay the tax (maybe it was to discourage them from bringing Chinese over). So, the captains got around this by dropping the Chinese off in Adelaide as opposed to Melbourne, and would then point them in the direction of the gold fields.
Anyway, as they were treking across the bush towards Melbourne (and how they actually managed to survive the Australian outback is beyond me, though I suspect the answer would be not well) they came across a stream where they could fill up their water bottles. Anyway, as they were doing this they stumbled upon the main reason that they had come to Australia – gold, and lots of it. Mind you, like everybody who discovers riches, they attempted to keep the discovery to themselves, though not all that successfully because sooner rather than later the cry of ‘there’s gold in them hills’ echoed across the land, and the town of Ararat was born.
As for the struggles of the Chinese during this time, and whether they really were able to cross the bush without to many problems (which is highly unlikely), this is a story for another time. There is a Chinese cultural museum in Ararat, however time didn’t allow me to visit it, particularly since there was another reason why I had decided to head out there – J-Ward, but more on that soon.
Wandering Around Town
Okay, this is probably the first time that I have actually spent some time actually exploring Ararat. Previously we had just passed through on our way to Melbourne, or crashed in a motel after a rather long journey. Actually, Ararat is basically one of those places that people pass through on their way to the Grampians, and they generally don’t spend a huge amount of time here (unless they are looking for cheaper accomodation than is available down in Halls Gap, though when my father took us to the Grampians we actually stayed in Stawell).
So, I jumped off the train, and had quick look inside the visitor information centre. Having decided that I had already worked out what I wanted to do, I decided to head into town to look for some breakfast. Well, that didn’t work out all that well because the first place I went to was packed to the brim. So, instead of sitting down for a coffee here, I decided to grab a takeaway and go for a wander around the main street. I did find a much quieter coffee shop further down the road that is until the ‘king’ and his entourage burst in for a bit. I’m not entirely sure what his purpose was, but he was wandering around the town dressed like a king (though his outfit was probably not that expensive), and barging in and out of shops and cafes. There was also a sausage sizzle going on down the road.
Silly me didn’t bother grabbing anything to eat here and instead wandered back down to a place I had seen earlier. Well, hindsight is always 20/20 because when I wandered into this place, which is actually a bakery as opposed to a cafe, it turned out that they stopped serving breakfast at 11:00. If I have calculated my times correctly though, I would have noted that since the train arrived at 10:45, that would have left me 15 minutes to get there and order some bacon & eggs. Since it takes me at least that long to orientate myself, that simply wasn’t going to happen.
Like a lot of these older towns, there are plaques scattered about the place telling visitors about the buildings. Mind you, they don’t actually say all that much since the only real information they contain is about the origins, the owners, and some major additions. For instance, the Commercial Hotel, which is now called Leopold’s Hotel (named after the guy they kicked off the land so they could build it) used to have a balcony but that was demolished when the council decided that they didn’t want verandah poles blocking the path.
Another building was the Mechanic’s Institute, which actually acted as a school and a library. It was eventually bought by the pub next door, but later taken back, however its usefulness had declined with the development of modern schooling and municiple libraries. However, the pub that used to be next door has also vanished, though you can still see the original building. As for the institute, it is now a hairdressers.
I wandered further up the road to check out the catholic church, and the school, and since I still had a little time to kill, visited a couple of the pubs before heading over to J-Ward. To get there I had to pass through the Alexandria Gardens, which contained not only an orchard garden, no doubt due to the Chinese heritage, but also the botanic gardens. Well, the gardens are actually not truly botanical as they don’t have plaques with Latin names at their base, but it was still quite a wonderful garden.
In the Asylum
On my various treks through the town I would always see this huge building sitting just outside of town. Turns out that this building was Aradale, the former lunatic asylum (which, honestly, doesn’t sound to be an appropriate word to use these days). The asylum was closed down in the 90s when somebody in government had this bright idea that it would be better for the patients to attempt to live in society than to lock themselves up in an institution. Mind you, that opens up a whole can of worms, and many of these people simply aren’t able to adapt to the pace, and pressures, of modern society. Okay, these institutions weren’t necessarily fun either (just read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), but there are people who do need assistance, and honestly, this world is brutal.
Just over from the gardens is J-Ward, which used to be the old county gaol, but when the gold rush ended and Ararat basically became your typical farming community, they decided to close it down. However Aradale needed some more room, so they took over the gaol and turned it into J-Ward, the institute for the criminally insane. I won’t go into too much detail here as that is another post for another time, however they do offer tours of the place, and they even have sleep ins known as ‘ghost lantern tours’ (apparently the place is haunted).
As with most of these tours, they take you around the facilities, show you the people and what they used to do, and how they lived. Mind you, this place was for the criminally insane, which meant that they were much more violent than their counter-parts in Aradale, but were such that they apparently did not have any full understanding of their actions. Mind you, having a good lawyer, and a good psychologist, can get you out of gaol and into one of these institutions – except that unlike gaol you don’t have a set release date (not that you technically have one in gaol either). In these places you are not only at the mercy of the patients, but also of the doctors. Just check out One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest.
If you have been visiting my blog for a while you probably think that I’m some sort of alcoholic. Well, you probably are right, but a part of me really does like visiting pubs, well, pubs that I haven’t been to before. Okay, that might eventually be my downfall, and in some pubs I have had some close calls, but the pubs here in Ararat were okay. The first one I visit was the Courthouse Hotel, which is opposite the courthouse. There is a nice plaque outside telling us about the history the the pub. Mind you, these are country pubs, so don’t expect any fancy beers here.
Like many of these country pubs, they seem to have their regulars, and when I wandered past the place earlier on it seemed as if these regulars would be there from when it first opened. The other thing about this pub was that it had its own pet dog. Sure enough, when I went and sat down with my book the dog wandered up to me and said hello. Actually, it sniffed me because I was clearly a newcomer to the place. Actually, some of these pubs really don’t seem to be all that warm towards the newcomers.
The Ararat Hotel, or the Rat as it has now come to be known as, is a large art-deco building, but as a pub is pretty dull. In fact it seems to be one of the newer pubs as opposed to the ones that had been around since the 19th century. Another thing that I noticed was that out on the main street there were a couple of buildings that clearly used to be pubs, but have since been closed down and turned into other businesses. One of them still has the old Carlton Draught sign out the front.
The last pub I visited (I had visited a couple before J-Ward) was the Leopold, or the old Commercial Hotel. It was pretty quiet compared to the previous pub I have visited, and I suspect I came here years ago when I was stuck in Ararat after the car broke down (though we had had dinner at the RSL). The thing about this pub was that it boasted Ararat’s biggest beer garden, which is not all that hard to do considering that none of the other pubs that I visited actually had a beer garden.
So, it was time to head home, however before I did that, and after grabbing some fish and chips at the local takeaway (and the chips were lovely), I decided to jump off the train at Ballarat and have a bit of a wander around. However, that was simply a stop off, and while the railway station was magnificent, I guess the story about Ballarat is for another day when I have more time to explore.