"We're going to see a gold mine!"
"Oh." (Insert confused facial expression.) (Is there an emoticon for that?)
"And we'll pan for gold!"
"You'll get to see what life was like in the olden days!"
At this, she runs off to find a toy with which to play.
Okay, it's come to this. "The ladies will be wearing beautiful long dresses..." I have her attention again... "And there will be old-fashioned lollies there."
"Let's go! I'm so excited! I can't wait!"
Sovereign Hill is one of Victoria's top tourist attractions. If you haven't heard of it: (a) where have you been hiding? and (b) get there! It's a recreation of what Ballarat was like during the gold rush, a sort of theme park with actors dressed up and old-fashioned businesses selling replica items. Every Victorian child goes there to learn about the history of this state and the impact it had on the whole country... every kid except me, it seems. It took until I was in my 20s to visit and I enjoyed it then, but going with Abbey was a whole new experience - much, much, MUCH more fun.
Once we got going, anyway.
It's a pretty tricky concept for a four-year-old: money and wealth, moving to a 'new' country in the hope of striking lucky, and the importance of this in the bigger picture of Australia. And I started to understand her earlier confusion and indifference with one question she asked as we walked in the gates: "What's gold?"
Ah, okay. Back to basics.
We started our Sovereign Hill experience with Blood on the Southern Cross, a sound and light show that reenacts the Eureka Stockade, and highlights its importance in developing democracy in Australia. This was a little challenging with kids - a late night, Abbey didn't really get it (and was a bit frightened at times), and I spent the hour and a half rocking and jiggling baby Iris so she didn't cry - but SO worth it for Steve and me. It's a show we'd been wanting to see for years and, well, if only all history was brought to life in this way we'd all be experts in our country's past.
The next morning we headed into Sovereign Hill for a version of the place more suited to young children.
We did a gold mine tour, and then Abbey watched in awe as lollies were made - and of course loved the taste tests that followed.
She chatted to the people who work there. "Hi, I'm Abbey and I'm four," she'd say, with one addition to the ladies: "I LOVE your beautiful long dress!" And so they would chat to her, explaining a little of what life was like in the 1850s - what she would have worn, where she and Iris would have slept, things that were easy for her to relate to. Really, all the staff were super friendly and took the time to help her understand a little of this place.
We panned for gold and she loved seeing the sparkling pieces in the bottom of our pans. Oh yes, we found gold - look closely enough in the photo below and you'll see a speck on my thumb... unfortunately not quite enough to announce our retirements and jet around the world.
It was a really great day - relaxed and easy, and made extra so by staying at the Comfort Inn right at Sovereign Hill. Our room key gave us access to the park during our whole stay so we could come and go as we pleased (during opening hours), the ideal way to do a big day with young kids. Heading to the room to give ourselves a break, and coming back in to do some things we forgot to do earlier really made it an extra enjoyable experience.
Abbey got more from the visit than I expected. I think it's one of those places - like a hands-on museum - where kids get something different from it each time they visit, with their interests changing as they grow older. I'm sure that next time we go to Sovereign Hill she'll be less interested in the lollies and more interested in... oh, who am I kidding?!
It was only my second visit to Sovereign Hill, and definitely the best yet. My highlight was
I think sometimes we get caught up in thinking we should wait until our kids are older before taking them to places like this, but then they prove to us that they're ready to learn at any age.
Have you been to Sovereign Hill?
My family and I were given a weekend in Ballarat with thanks to Ballarat Regional Tourism. We had a ball!