As Sovereign Hill enters its 50th year this week, the park can boast of having had over 30 million visitors pass through its gates since opening.
It can point to continual expansion, the construction of permanent dwellings and accommodation, and the fact it employs over 350 full and part-time staff, and volunteers.
It could cite the 2015/16 economic study, "Contributing to Regional Victoria" by Ernst & Young, where Sovereign Hill's annual economic contribution to the Victorian economy was calculated at $259.9 million and 1,656 jobs (casual, part and full-time) in combined direct and indirect contribution.
It could celebrate the $183 million and 1,216 jobs it's given to Ballarat.
But perhaps the most significant thing Sovereign Hill has added to Ballarat is a sense of itself as a city.
In the words of former volunteer Clem Newey, the 'gentleman in the gentleman's parlour at the Napier Hotel': "It's lovely to sit there and chat. You meet a lot of people who have travelled from all over the world."
Mr Newey, who died in August aged 94, was a volunteer at Sovereign Hill until he was 90.
In an interview with The Courier in 2016, he said he loved working at the park, saying he came up 'through the social classes' at Sovereign Hill.
"I started as a miner. Then I moved up a bit, to the cottages; then I was getting too old for the hill, to walk up there, so they gave me the job in the gentleman's parlour."
From a modest historical 'village', Ballarat's pre-eminent tourist attraction has benefited the city as it's grown and changed. Over its five decades, Sovereign Hill estimates it has employed over 5000 people.
Built on a parcel of land first reserved for public use 1944, Sovereign Hill originally covered 36 acres (9ha) at Golden Point. In 1970 the government passed the Ballarat (Sovereign Hill) Land Act 1970, which gave the then City of Ballaarat the ability to erect 'buildings and other structures and exhibiting objects to illustrate the living and working conditions, business premises, mining operations, transport, amusements and recreational activities of the gold mining period in Victoria.'
The provision of the Act followed a long period of planning and lobbying by a disparate group of Ballarat historians, enthusiasts, engineers and civic-minded business people, who (it must be said) were almost entirely all men. Certainly they were men passionate about the history and workings of mining.
For three years from 1967 they petitioned the irascible premier of Victoria Sir Henry Bolte with their vision for a theme park celebrating the history of mining, and of the growth of Ballarat.
It was one of many 'vintage villages' around Australia trying to approximate the conditions of a different era - from the very first days of the colony at 'Old Sydney Town', near Gosford in NSW (closed and derelict) to the Australiana Pioneer Village at Wilberforce (closed, heritage listed) and the Lachlan Vintage Village in Forbes, NSW (closed, currently being dismantled).
I started as a miner. Then I moved up a bit, to the cottages; then I was getting too old for the hill, to walk up there, so they gave me the job in the gentleman's parlour.Clem Newey
So how did Sovereign Hill survive when so many other theme parks died in the face of a changing culture?
It seems the driving force behind its continuing existence was in its meticulous planning. The many groups in Ballarat proposing a park, supported editorially by The Courier, slowly coalesced into a single body, The Ballarat Historical Park Association.
It's also been willing to confront challenges. It reviewed its relationship with female staff after ongoing cases of sexual harassment were revealed in 2018; and it's now dealing with the downturn from the pandemic. One of the constants of Sovereign Hill is its ability and willingness to reassess history, such as opening long-ignored Chinese and Indigenous cultural narratives to the public.
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