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Aboriginals at the Goldrush

Aunty Marlene, Uncle Bryon and Aunty Vi at the launch.

LAST Wednesday Sovereign Hill launched its new digital tour focusing on Ballarat’s Aboriginal goldrush history. Questions such as ‘We love Sovereign Hill, but where’s the Aboriginal story?’– from historians and visitors to the outdoor museum alike – prompted Sovereign Hill to create Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People. The free online tour outlines the perspectives and experiences of Aboriginal people on the Ballarat goldfields. It features twelve tour stops around Sovereign Hill, an interactive timeline, videos, games, audio files, and a large collection of images and quotes from the mid1800s. Those enjoying the tour at Sovereign Hill will have the opportunity to try on a possum-skin cloak, and hunt for other replica artefacts hidden around the museum.

Sovereign Hill CEO Jeremy Johnson and Uncle Bryon Powell Wathaurung elder, with the tablet that carries Aboriginal Goldrush History.
Sovereign Hill CEO Jeremy Johnson and Uncle Bryon Powell Wathaurung elder, with the tablet that carries Aboriginal Goldrush History.

‘Sovereign Hill isn’t like other museums. We can’t interrupt the visitors’ experience of goldrush life with signs explaining exactly what they’re looking at and why it’s important,’said Education Officer and Hidden Histories developer Alice Barnes. ‘Hidden Histories provides our living museum with a way to communicate important stories to visitors that perhaps aren’t obvious at first glance. We hope this tour about the Wadawurrung people is the first of many digital tours on hidden goldrush stories.’ This tour has been made with the help of Sovereign Hill Education, Sovereign Hill Design, the Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation (trading as Wadawurrung), and is based on the recent book ‘Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870’ by Federation University historian Dr Fred Cahir.

Developed by Sovereign Hill Education, it is hoped that not just general visitors but also scores of school students will use the digital resource either at school or during their visit. ‘Trials so far demonstrate that we achieved our goal – we have made a fun, fascinating, easy to use, and academically rigorous tour,’ Ms Barnes said. After a warm welcome to country, Wadawurrung elder Bryon Powell presented Sovereign Hill CEO DrJeremy Johnson with a message stick to officially launch the website. Traditionally a message stick gave a visitor permission to be on Aboriginal land, and Mr Powell’s gesture shows the Wadawurrung Aboriginal Corporation’s appreciation of Sovereign Hill’s efforts to redress this previously overlooked aspect of Ballarat’s goldrush story. “We are here because Sovereign Hill Care, Sovereign Hill wants the truth to be told, want the stories to be told and we are here to celebrate that,” Uncle Powell said.