Victoria is the southernmost state on the east coast of Australia and has a rich and varied history.
Early History of Victoria
Victoria was a bit of a late bloomer on the development front compared with NSW. By the late 1700’s it was pretty clear that the Great South Land was a bit bigger than might have been thought and therefore of great value to the British with their enthusiasm for expanding the Empire. The possibilities were endless and once the first settlement in NSW started to get a bit better established the Brits decided it was a good idea to set up another colony a little further south. This was assisted by news of the French in the area and fears that they would set up a settlement of their own giving them a basis for challenging the Brits for ownership of the continent.
So a further fleet of ships were sent from Britain, again largely made up of convicts, arriving in Port Phillip Bay in1803. They had the usual issues of creating a settlement in the middle of nowhere and the Victorian beginning had a few false starts but it was really John Pascoe Fawkner and John Batman who really got things moving around the Yarra in 1835.
Any new settlement is not usually pretty or wealthy or really very productive for quite some years. Yet Victoria was named a colony in its own right in July 1851. And just as well as by November of the same year gold was discovered leading to the most aggressive and successful gold rush of the 19th Century. Population grew from 80,000 in 1851 to 300,000 in 1854! That’s a population explosion in any country!
Victoria’s Gold Rush
So why was gold so important? It brought money!!! This great influx of money made Melbourne the main financial centre of the colony, bigger even than Sydney.
So what does this mean to the tourists in Melbourne? Look around and see what history leaves you – magnificent public buildings, universities, galleries, theatres – the results of generous donors who did well from the gold rush and beyond. Melbourne has a reputation for being a centre of the arts and culture which will keep any interested visitor busy for days.
Exploring Modern Victoria
So what does the modern visitor find? Melbourne puts on a good show for visitors, whatever you are interested in! If you want to go serious shopping, Sydneysiders think nothing of a weekend with the girls in Melbourne, touring through Richmond where large and small designers show their wares.
St Kilda Beach
St Kilda beach is a famous spot to have a dip – but be warned – when they say Melbourne can do 4 seasons in one day, they are not joking! So always pack an umbrella and a coat just to be safe!
Wineries of Victoria
Do you like wine? The Wineries are world class. Head down to Mornington and tour the hinterland – Portsea and Sorrento are just magic places to visit by the sea with great food and views. A hearty seafood meal and a glass of the local wine – lovely!
If you go further north you will reach the Dandenong ranges – a great mountain range which is a beautiful place for sightseeing, bike riding, bush walking and just generally just enjoying nature. And if you like trains, a ride on Puffing Billy is a must!
Go to the west of Melbourne and you will end up in Geelong – which, like all of Victoria really, is mad about the game called “Aussie Rules”. It’s a variety of rugby (but never tell anyone I called it that!) which is a bit hard to follow, but seems to build inexplicable passion in anyone born in the state of Victoria. If you visit Victoria in the autumn or winter, you have to make time to go to a match – even a local one which you can drop in on for free and see if you can make head or tail of the rules! It’s a great day out especially topped off by a hot meat pie and a nice cold beer.
The Great Ocean Road
Even further west and you start to see some of the most striking landscapes along the coast of Australia. The easiest way to explore is by renting a car at Melbourne airport and taking to The Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road effectively takes you along the coast and into South Australia. A more rugged place you will not find – the coast just drops away into massive cliffs. You will reach the 12 Apostles – rock formations left when sections of the coast fell away thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, in recent years many of these twelve have also eroded to a point where they have fallen to the sea themselves, so I think there are about 9 now. Make sure you visit Portland and Lorne for some great accommodation options.
Gold Rush Territory
Keep going North from Melbourne and you will enter gold rush territory – Sovereign Hill and Ballarat have a history all their own. Gold miners formed a rebellion against the corrupt local law enforcement and the harsh and unreasonable rules of gold mining towns. The outcome was a battle called the Eureka Stockade. The miners lost, however shortly after the laws were revised so I think they made their point. The Stockade saw the early beginnings of the union movement in Australia.
Mt Buller and Falls Creek
And just to top it off, a bit further north again into the mountains and you will hit the snow fields of Mt Buller and Falls Creek. The high country areas are beautiful and rugged. The Man from Snowy River country. Cold, unforgiving mountains but full of natural beauty any time of year.
Have I forgotten anything? I think I should mention the Murray River to – the boundary between Victoria and NSW. A lot of the gold wealth was transported along the river and the traditional paddle steamers are still available for multi night cruises for visitors to enjoy the scenery on the cruise down to Echuca and the coast.
I hope this gives you a few ideas of what is in store for you when you visit Victoria. Its a place that you can visit in sections however – you can stay for a few days or a few weeks and still get to experience the different sites around.