AS A WAY to re-connect with Ballarat and to say welcome back, Sovereign Hill will offer heavily reduced ticket prices to visitors when gates re-open on June 27.
The living history museum was one of the first organisations in the region to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic, having also already been hit hard by a drop in Chinese tourist numbers in the summer.
Sovereign Hill chief content and engagement officer Katrina Nitchke said museum staff and volunteers had greatly considered how to re-open, given the incredible community support and well-wishes during lockdown.
"We know the role we play in the community with so many people working here and so many relying on our business. We're a visible part of Ballarat," Ms Nitchke said.
"We really wanted to welcome people back. People have such strong family memories here and memories they want to share with their kids."
Adult entry will be reduced more than 50 per cent at $30 while a family and children's tickets will be discounted about one-third of the usual price for the museum's school holiday re-opening.
There was an excited buzz about the park on Wednesday with staff easing back on to site and collecting their costumes once more.
Confectioner Ben Bignell fired up his stove for the first time in months to make classic favourite raspberry drops during The Courier's visit.
His team has been able to keep working to meet demand for their hard-boiled lollies through the pandemic, but at the Alfredton wholesale factory with Gourmet Brands.
Sovereign Hill produced 20 tonnes of raspberry drops alone last year with the iconic flavour making up a third of their confectionery production each year.
The process in the Alfredton factory is similar to what unfolds in Brown's Confectionery Factory on Sovereign Hill - only the scale of operations demands machinery presses.
"It will be good to be back doing demonstrations. Personally, this is my job, I have been doing it for 17 years and it's been a bit weird without having people come through watching," Mr Bignell said.
"The only thing that has really changed in that whole time has been opening up the glass so now I can talk to people as I work. The one question people all really want to know is can they try one of the raspberry drops."
You could smell the early stages of raspberry drops drifting up Main Street on Wednesday morning. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, gardeners have reported smelling butter ball production as far away as the Gold Museum.
Peppermint is one of the strongest flavours, but people often later notice if Mr Bignell has been working with aniseed, too.
The original Brown's Confectionery was established in Dunolly in 1857 and the business moved to Ballarat in the late 19th century.
The sweets became a key attraction of Sovereign Hill in 1974 and are still made in the same way with the original Brown's press to create the drop balls.
The sugary recipe is heated to 160C when it is poured out with Mr Bignell working fast to knead by hand, using a coat of flour to protect his hands from the heat. This was a skill, he said, for which you had to build up tolerance.
Sovereign Hill has added new flavours to its lolly collection, including popular takes on strawberries and cream, cola and rhubarb and custard. The team hopes to launch the new peaches and cream for the re-opening.
Limited tickets for re-opening dates will also mean smaller groups for demonstrations, which Mr Bignell hoped would allow him more time to answer questions and share stories with visitors.
Victoria Theatre, troopers and red coats, gold panning, coach rides, the gold pour and quartz mine will also be operating with a reduced capacity.
Ms Nitschke said sharing stories was fundamentally Sovereign Hill's purpose. While a skeleton staff had worked behind the scenes during lockdown, the museum needed its visitors.
The museum's 50th birthday celebrations for November remain in planning stages. Ms Nitschke said how celebrations would look depended on how restrictions cleared.
"What is truly at the beating heart of Sovereign Hill is that it is a not-for-profit museum that has come from the community," Ms Nitschke said. "We exist from people's dream and passions to hold stories here. Our 50th will help how we reconnect with the community."
Sovereign Hill re-opens June 27 and will be open Fridays to Sundays. Tickets only available online: bookings.sovereignhill.com.au.
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