25 March 2023

UNESCO­’s World Heritage sites: central Victorian gold rush.

Mining Exchange Ballarat, 1888 (top image)

Mining Exchange, Bendigo, 1872 (image below)

There are wide criteria for listing by UNESCO­’s World Heritage Con­vent­ion, from a masterpiece of human genius to exhibiting an out­st­anding example of a type of buil­d­ing, architectural or technological site or land­scape which illus­trates a significant stage in human history. Across the world, most are cultural listings and fewer are natural listings. There are currently 1,121 sites across the world that are off­ic­ially recognised by the World Heritage Convention eg the Corn­wall and West Devon mining landscape was officially designated in  2006. Only 19 UNESCO recog­nised sites are in Australia, including Uluru, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House and Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building.

The Central Victorian Goldfields led the world's gold production in the 1850s. This event created an except­ional cultural land­scape that in turn enriched the capital city, Mel­b­ourne. And even Vict­or­ia’s mul­ticulturalism came from the goldfields which were melting pots back then. So it is not surprising that local pol­it­icians and hist­orians have long discussed putting sites across the region's Central Gold­fields on the World Heritage List. Now Vict­orian coun­cils are push­­­i­ng for UNESCO to formally recognise the area, foll­owing a $50,000 state govern­ment invest­ment in developing the bid.

Shamrock Hotel Bendigo
Originally built in 1854

Joss House Bendigo
built by and for Chinese miners in the 1860s

Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh and Bendigo Mayor Cr Margaret O’Rourke had attended the 15th Organ­is­ation of World Historical Cities Congress in Krakow, Poland in 2019. There the Australians confirmed they planned for the Inter­nat­ional Coun­cil on Mon­u­ments and Sites Sustainable Tourism Committee to visit the region next year. Both mayors joined the Heritage Advisory Comm­ittees.

ICOMOS is a non-government, international organisation dedicated to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. It is one of the two advisory bodies to provide the World Heritage Comm­ittee with evaluations of the cultural and natural sites nominated for World Heritage Listing. In time, ICOMOS will tour the entire Central Goldfields area to assess the historical treasures.

12 councils in Central Victoria are backing the bid: City of Bendigo, Macedon Ranges, Mount Alexander, Central Gold­fields, Camp­aspe, Loddon, Hepburn, City of Ballarat, Ararat Rural City, Golden Plains, Northern Gramp­ians & Pyrenees. And these councils are be­ing supported in their bid by two former Vict­orian premiers from opposing parties, Liberal Denis Napthine and Lab­or John Brum­by. Both became patrons of the bid for UNESCO World Her­it­age listing.

Back in Australia, councillors from these 12 shires etc came tog­et­her in June 2020 to plan the gold­fields’ UNESCO bid. After the dis­cussions, there was a walking tour of Ballarat’s cult­ural land­scape that included Reid’s Guest House, Federation Uni­vers­ity Just­ice Build­ing in Camp St, Hop Temple laneway and Ball­ar­at Trades Hall Building.

The final bid should include mines, architecturally significant buildings and natural landscapes at the heart of Victoria’s gold rush. So re­search will needed to determine which sites will be included in the bid, minimally Sovereign Hill near Ballarat and Castlemaine Alluvial Digg­ings National Heritage Park. The Heritage Park includes mines, panning in river beds, gullies where gold was discov­er­ed and the remnants of hist­oric houses.

In 1854 Ballarat miners, disgruntled with the way the colonial gov­ernment administered the goldfields, swore allegiance to the South­ern Cross flag at Bakery Hill and built the Eureka Stockade at the nearby diggings. As soon as the stockade was lightly guarded, gov­ernment troops attacked, killing dozens of diggers (and sold­iers). Eureka was a significant event in the development of Australia’s eventual government and attitudes towards democracy and egalitar­ianism, and must be included in the bid.

Reid’s Coffee Palace, originally built by German immigrant Joseph Reid
He opened a bakery to serve migrant workers flooding in for the gold rush.

Eureka Stockade Memorial Gardens
East Ballarat

In my opinion the Ballarat and Bendigo's mining exch­anges, the great stock ex­changes of the Goldfields in the C19th, must also be feat­ur­ed. After all, Victoria’s modern values began in the goldfields and at the Eureka Stockade. Other sites that could be listed: Cas­t­le­maine Dig­gings National Her­it­age Park, Maldon and Clunes historic street­scapes and the Hotel Shamrock Bendigo. And note all the beau­tiful churches that were built in the later C19th, and the wonderful post off­ices, town halls and court houses. Plus sites that show the contrib­ution of In­dig­enous Australian and Chin­ese Australians eg Bendigo's Joss House is a historic temple that was built in the 1860s by Chinese miners.

Even before the COVID lockdown, the two ex-premiers had hoped a succ­essful bid would spur another gold rush by bringing internat­ion­al recognition to Victoria’s goldfields. Now they are emphasising that private sector investment in hotels, rest­aurants and oth­er tour­­­ist businesses would be extremely wel­come, boosting the tourist econ­omy. A UNESCO listing would create great publicity and would put cen­tral Victoria on the post-COVID global map again. And a success­ful bid should encourage governments to spend money preparing the sites, many of which have been well pres­er­ved. 

Historians say gold rush era architecture in the region should definitely be included in the bid. But the region has half a million people, covers 40,000 square ks (17% of the state), and includes hun­dreds of signif­icant gold mining sites and archit­ectural treas­ures. These councils want the birth­place of the 1850s Victorian gold­rush to be given internat­ional recognition but if there were too many treas­ures, the final list would need to be limited by the Victorian Gold­fields Tourism Executive.

The Executive is co-fund­ing the project, committing $200,000 over 2 years to progress the World Heritage List­ing bid. The money will be used to conduct community and industry engagement across the region and will also aid dev­elopment of a sustainable tourism plan. But any for­mal pitch for World Heritage status will need to be made by Aust­ralia’s Federal Government. Note that the Federal Government has sofar prov­ided no assurance it will participate. 



My name is Erika. said...

These are interesting places. I'm a fan of world heritage sites because they say something about the place they are. The one that really caught my eye was the Joss House Bendigo. Maybe it's the red. Have a great weekend. hugs-Erika

Train Man said...

The Exchange Hotel opened in Bendigo running a life-saving service for sweaty, exhausted men during the Victorian gold rush that started in 1851. As the population rocketed up, they renamed the hotel as The Shamrock, and entertained the men with half stripped lady performers. The Hotel is therefore a core part of 1850s heritage. And still a handsome pub.

abasozora said...

nice looks very beautiful, as well as a comfortable atmosphere

Andrew said...

I agree with your suggested inclusions. I am rather annoyed that I did not know about this worthy bid. I recall being in George Town, Penang and seeing a sign that that the central area of the town is a World Heritage site and so therefore was a no smoking area. Of course being Malaysia, this was ignored but no one smoked openly on the streets.

Patrick Hunn said...

The former Reid’s Coffee Palace Ballarat was designed by Tappin and Gilbert in 1886. Heritage sites like Reid's Coffee Palace aren’t just bricks and mortar, they’re our very identity, said Richard Wynne, former Victorian Minister for Planning. Reid’s Coffee Palace has a proud past, and now we’re giving Reid’s Guest House an equally secure future.

Hels said...


world heritage sites are important because, as you note, they record the most important places and events of our past. And, secondly, they protect those very places for the generations yet to come.

The Bendigo Joss House Temple opened in 1871 to service the Chinese who arrived in large numbers to Bendigo in search of gold. And is a significant part of Bendigo’s cultural history today.

Hels said...

Train Man

The Shamrock Hotel displays beautiful architecture from the outside, and is totally worth heritage listing. But there is another issue to mark. Wealth and tradition in central Victoria were originally based on 1] gold and 2] beer-based social life in a new country. What a great site.

Hels said...


Both Ballarat and Bendigo are very fine rural cities, yes. I would recommend a visit, if you have time to travel. But only in summer, autumn and spring... winter is a bit cold in Ballarat.

Hels said...


I lived for two years in Bendigo and truly loved it. I visited Ballarat many times, but I don't know that lovely city nearly intimately. And I don't know George Town at all.

Hels said...


Reid's Coffee Palace was a temperance hotel that had to convince decent people that a coffee palace was as stunning and much fun as a large pub. Inside, the stairwell with the balcony veranda still look terrific make the coffee palace important to protect for the future.

I, a devout coffee drinker, have only one problem - do Australians actually think coffee palaces are our very identity, that they have a proud past?

DUTA said...

The Gold Rush architecture, mining fields, mining exchanges, should definitely be included in the UNESCO World Heritage.
The buildings displayed in your post are quite impressive!

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Historic preservation must recognize the collective importance of widespread sites instead of only individual buildings or battlefields. We also have talked here before about the importance of context in preservation, to prevent travesties like only one building in a neighborhood being saved, the re-developers then repeatedly pointing to that one lonely building and falsely prating how their efforts have preserved the area's historic ambience. And what better to declare a unified site that the gold fields of Victoria, comprising the actual mines, mining communities, and the cultural and practical buildings and resources that resulted. Did the Victoria mines really outproduce the California ones in the 1850's? I tried to look it up, but found only confusion.
p.s. I agree with Erika--that Joss House certainly is red!

Viagens pelo Rio de Janeiro e Brasil. said...

Boa tarde, bom sábado e um ótimo final de semana.
Minha querida amiga o Parque Chico Mendes é bem preservado e cuidado.
Luiz Gomes.

Hels said...


Agreed. Every nation has its own special history and it would not be appropriate in Australia or New Zealand to celebrate an Eiffel Tower or Nelson's Column. But our 1850s gold mines and booming towns in Central Victoria were very important .. and are still beautiful.

Hels said...


Does Brazil have its finest buildings etc declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO?

Hels said...


From 1851 on, Victoria's Mines Dept recorded 1,900,000 kg of gold mined in Central Victoria, so our gold output was greater than in ANY other country except for California’s mines which were larger.

From Ballarat and Bendigo in particular the gold was transported into the state treasury in Melbourne, fighting off bushrangers en route. Thus Marvellous Melbourne, as it was called, became a boom-town during the gold rush. Thankfully Ballarat and Bendigo’s gold rush sites were well preserved, even though or because they were relatively small cities.

diane b said...

The buildings in old towns are so interesting. Ballarat and Bendigo in particular. I hope those pushing for Unesco listing are successful.

hels said...

I think Australians and New Zealanders have little knowledge of their histories and don't value what they do know. If you ask school children whether they study very old history at school, they MIGHT refer to WW1. If Bendigo and Ballarat received World Heritage listing, schools might take the students on important excursions.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - I'd love to see this area ... having seen some of early mining sites in Southern Africa, Canada and coming from the UK - our heritage matters - I hope Unesco listing happens - cheers Hilary

Hels said...


it is such an exciting area for history fans, both to see the mining sites themselves and then all the growth that was needed when tens of thousands of miners, builders, teachers, gold designers, religious ministers etc arrived. Absolutely heritage does matter! So UNESCO listing is vital.