From Ballaarat to Ballarat: What’s really in a name?

Ballarat originated with two boroughs – the Borough of Ballaarat and the Borough of Ballaarat East.

However, the spelling of Ballaarat’s name caused endless confusion in its early days.

It came from two Aboriginal words “balla” and “arat” (meaning resting place) but, while the town’s official municipal name was Ballaarat, everyone else dropped the second “a” over time.

Even today, a couple of organisations still retain the double a, including the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute and the Ballaarat General Cemeteries.

The Borough of Ballaarat was incorporated on December 10, 1855.

It eventually became a city on September 9, 1870.

The Borough of Ballaarat East was incorporated in May 1857 and became a town on August 23, 1872.

On May 25, 1921, the two merged to form the City of Ballarat, absorbing part of the Shire of Bungaree in 1930 as well.

An historic photo from the time shows the first elected council of the City of Ballarat “subsequent to the union”, which included Mayor Cr W. Elsworth, Cr A. Levy, Cr W. Hinn, Cr A. Bell, Cr A. Pittard, Cr R. Cooke, Cr A. Nicholson, Cr A. White, Cr G. Deeble, Cr A. MacKenzie, Cr W. Richards, Cr J. Pryor and city clerk G.F. Morton.

PRAISE: Then Ballarat West MLA Paul Jenkins praised the former councils and said they should be very proud of what they had achieved.

PRAISE: Then Ballarat West MLA Paul Jenkins praised the former councils and said they should be very proud of what they had achieved.

Meanwhile, other local shires were forming around the City of Ballaarat.

These included the Shire of Ballarat, the Borough of Sebastopol, and the shires of Ripon, Bungaree, Buninyong and Grenville.

For nearly 150 years, most of these shires prospered, with Ripon, Bungaree, Buninyong and Grenville all covering mainly rural areas and Sebastopol covering just a few kilometres in the city’s south-west.

During this time Ballarat’s first female mayor was elected in much-loved former Lady Mayoress Jessie Scott in 1976-1977. 

Cr Scott’s husband Gordon led the city from 1958-59.

Other female mayors have included Wanda Chapman, Vashti Lloyd, Judy Verlin, who served two terms, and the current City of Ballarat mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh.

But in the early 1990s, then Victorian premier Jeff Kennett wielded the parliamentary axe on what he viewed as a burdensome local government system and began council amalgamations.

Two hundred people attended the final meeting of the former City of Ballarat Council in early May 1994, chaired by then mayor and now Buninyong MP Geoff Howard.

On Saturday, May 7, 1994, The Courier’s headline screamed: “Super council” as the City of Ballarat merged with the Shire of Ballarat, the Borough of Sebastopol and parts of Ripon, Bungaree, Buninyong and Grenville.

“The regional government merger ‘fix’ which will deliver the Ballarat region its long-awaited super council and two satellite councils was officially delivered yesterday by Local Government Minister Roger Hallam,” The Courier said.

ACTION: Former councillor Wayne Rigg raised questions about council decisions, particularly associations between councillors and developers.

ACTION: Former councillor Wayne Rigg raised questions about council decisions, particularly associations between councillors and developers.

An official report read: “All Mayors, Shire Presidents and Councillors ceased to hold office following the publication of the Order-in-Council which replaced the Councillors with Chairman of Commissioners John Sharpham, Commissioner Bruce Clark and Commissioner Malcolm Lee. Mr Peter Johnstone was appointed as the Acting Chief Executive Officer”.

The Courier had been speculating for days leading up to the announcement that John Sharpham, who had just been overlooked for the role as head of the new University of Ballarat, would be given the plum job by Mr Kennett.

The two satellite councils were the Shire of Moorabool, with its commissioners named as Stuart Bond and well-known local Frank Frawley, while the acting CEO was Jim Elvey.

Reaction around the district was mixed.

Then Ballarat West MLA Paul Jenkins, himself a former Borough of Sebastopol councillor, praised the former councils and said they should be very proud of what they had achieved.

“I’m not in favour of amalgamation. I’m in favour of restructure and there’s a very big difference,” Mr Jenkins said.

However, his Ballarat parliamentary colleagues Barry Traynor and Dick de Fegely both championed amalgamations as “the right decision”.

Two years later, democratic election of councillors began and the new City of Ballarat’s first mayor was well-known Ballarat businessman James Coghlan.

However, the running of local government has been less than smooth in the intervening years since 1996.

CHANGE: Victorian premier Jeff Kennett wielded the parliamentary axe on what he viewed as a burdensome local government system and began amalgamations.

CHANGE: Victorian premier Jeff Kennett wielded the parliamentary axe on what he viewed as a burdensome local government system and began amalgamations.

In 2008, former councillor Wayne Rigg raised questions about council decisions, particularly associations between councillors and developers.

The questions sparked an investigation into the City of Ballarat by former Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer, with former seven-term mayor David Vendy found guilty of three counts of failing to disclose business interests relating to a family trust he thought was no longer operating while fellow councillor Gary Anderson was found guilty of 13 charges.

Both were sentenced to good behaviour bonds without conviction, while the investigation also found there needed to be much clearer Local Government Act rules about councillor pecuniary interests.

Major civic issues have dogged recent councils, with long-running debates over the Civic Hall site and the relocation of the saleyards.