My wife and daughters and I have just had the most wonderful “holiday” in Ballarat, a regional Victorian city, which came to prominence with the discovery of gold in 1851. It has been, in the past and is still today (to a lesser extent, but we have hopes for its future), a centre of Catholic life in Victoria.
We went up there because I was teaching a course for Anima Education called “A walk through the scriptures”–more of a “hundred metre dash” really, as it was to be done in just six two hour sessions over this past weekend.
We were the guests of the Sisters of Nazareth at Nazareth House on the shores of Lake Wendouree in Ballarat. The old Convent is now almost totally dedicated to Aged Care, and the eight or so sisters in the community have lots of lay help. We want to thank especially Sr Paula and the indomitable Mary (the very model of the traditional Irish housekeeper). Sister Dominca, the superior in the house, was absent, but we owe her a debt of thanks for the hospitality of the whole community. It was Maddy and Mia’s first time in a real convent, and they found its proportions suitably impressive (and perfect for “adventures” and “exploring”).
And here is it’s chapel (Mass 7am in the morning weekdays–still dark as it was before the end of daylight saving)
Although I spent the last three days teaching, the Sisters were kind enough to put us up for a couple of extra days, which allowed us to explore the Ballarat gold fields together as a family. Of course, Soveriegn Hill was a great attraction. It is a very good reproduction goldfield town, a sort of theme park, where the girls could pan for gold (and yes, we did find some small flecks to bring home) and we could tour the old mines.
The girls also got to handle some real gold nuggets–recently found by metal detector gold seekers–worth about $8-10,000:
Of course, the big news story in Ballarat is now over 150 years old–the Eureka Stockade. It is a complicated story, not helped by the fact that leftist political factions and unions continue to use it as their defining image today (the flag is used by the Union movement–quite provocatively). Australians have never really agreed on the meaning of the battle of the Eureka Stockade, but that doesn’t stop the modern commentary designed for young people and schools using the most ideological language to describe these events. I like to think I used the opportunity well to educate the children in the difference between “facts” and the interpretation given to “facts” when we string them together to make a story or an “history”. Any way, it was still impressive to see the original 150 year old flag at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. Cathy took this picture of it, dim because it is in a very dark room to stop it from fading:
The Gallery has some truly fine art, such as this:
But it was also playing host to an exhibition of prize winning Year 12 student art projects. I must admit that I found none of it fine or beautiful or morally uplifting. I was most embarrased to see that this example won this prize:
Says it all really.
Of course the whole point of spending time at a convent is to learn a little of the “Imitatio Christi”… Here are the girls imitating our Lord in their own special way by walking across Lake Wendouree. Remember we are in a drought here in southern Australia. And yes, those are boat sheds in the background…