As befits a city booming with the unbridled wealth of gold, the front pages of early issues of The Courier are comprised of advertising.
Calicos and muslins, flannels and silks fill the copy of ads promising ‘bargains, bargains, bargains’ and ‘great displays’. Fares for road travel by coach fill one column. Ballarat to Daylesford is 12 shillings and sixpence in a Cobb and Co. mail coach, daily.
In 1867, Ballarat is a civic-minded, culturally diverse place, and the scale and grandeur of its buildings reflect the aspirations of some of its better-off citizens for the city to be ‘the Athens of the South’.
Its mercantile roots, sown in the days of the gold rush when savvy merchants saw their fortunes above ground rather than below, have blossomed into stores such as Stone’s Drapery and Abrahams’ Jewellers which will last for a century.
The Ballarat Cup is being held for just the second time. The favourite Exile duly salutes the stewards but tragically collapses past the line and dies. Protests against the win are dismissed.
There is a flurry of construction underway, and horse-drawn drays filled with brick and bluestone line the town’s broad streets. Ballarat is being transformed from a frontier city of canvas, timber and daub to one of respectable Victorian solidity in masonry.
The Town Hall is undergoing the last stages of reconstruction after a disastrous fire in 1859. The first section of the Post Office is still a gleaming new building, as is the Ballarat Railway Station. The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is a single block building set back off Sturt Street.
On the corner of Smith and Barkly streets stands the 1861 Ballarat Synagogue, testament to the number of Jewish immigrants who made their way to the goldfield. It’s the second synagogue built in Ballarat; the first taken over by the Ballarat East Town Council for their initial town hall. The oldest synagogue on the mainland, it is heritage-listed.
One of its congregation, Jacob Bernstein, goes to the gates of his architect-designed shul on July 22, 1867. A stalwart member of Ballarat faithful and respected business owner in the city, he plants a pine tree on either side of the entrance.
Today the surviving pine (there were once two) towers above the synagogue and surrounding streets.
Bernard Stone is the great-grandson of Jacob Bernstein and the secretary of the Ballarat Hebrew Congregation. He and congregation president John Abraham have a family heritage in Ballarat predating the foundation of The Courier.
Jacob Bernstein arrived in Ballarat from East Prussia (now Poland) in 1853, and married in the synagogue in 1863. One of the drivers behind its construction, he was the founder of Stone’s Drapery Store, which opened in 1860 and remained a Ballarat business until 1966.
Sydney Abraham began as a jeweller, pawnbroker and goldbuyer in the 1850s. His son Isaac expanded his business to manufacture Cumberland bicycles here, retaining a mechanic in his Mair Street premises. The Abraham family business remained in Ballarat until 1995, selling records and musical instruments as well.
As The Courier celebrates its sesqui-centenary, we look forward to telling more stories of Ballarat’s rich social and cultural history.