Isn’t it fun to know you have something in common with a person on the opposite side of the world? ModCloth fans can be found all over the globe, whether that’s down your street or a hemisphere away. Take community member and blogger Liana Skewes, of Finding Femme, who lives in Ballarat, Australia. She may be far from our US HQ, but after hearing about her vintage adventures and delightful taste in afternoon outings, we’re sure we and Liana would be fast friends. Read her eloquent responses to our cross-continental Q&A, and we bet you’ll feel the same!
What, in your opinion, makes Ballarat unique?
Ballarat is somewhere between a city and an Australian country town. It’s big enough to be called a city, but everything is still so slow-paced and friendly. It’s got a surprising number of striking, old, European style buildings because of the wealth that moved through it when it was established as a city from a sheep station in the 1850s gold rush. The indigenous people (the Wathaurong people) that lived on the site for 25,000 years before the gold rush came call it balla arat, which means “resting place”. It’s the perfect name for this city and captures how peaceful it is here. It’s also the location of one of Australia’s only (and also its most significant) civil uprisings, and the home of the awesome Doctor Blake Mysteries crime drama which is set in the 1950s.
Where is your absolute favorite place to spend time in Ballarat?
The Ballarat Botanic Gardens, which were opened in 1857. We’ve got a couple of good cheese and delicatessen spots around town, so over spring, summer, and autumn it’s easy to get a picnic together and end up lounging there under some of the massive old trees. The significant trees in the gardens include some sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia or redwoods) that are over 150 years old. There’s also a stunning statue collection in a pavilion featuring my favourite statue: Flight From Pompeii. I wrote about why I love this statue so much in a blog post here.
The gardens are next to Wendouree Lake, which is a large landmark of the city (6km or 3.7miles around), with black swans, heritage trams and stunning views of weeping willows and tiny boat sheds. There are often yachts out on the lake, people in little white rowboats, or people rowing on the old Olympic rowing course.
There are vintage trams running between the lake and the gardens and a tram museum (trams don’t run in Ballarat anymore). Most of the seasonal events of the city are held here, like summer concerts and the Ballarat Begonia Festival. Doctor Blake has episodes with murders at both the lake and the gardens, if you are up for a fan tour.
What are some of your favorite places to eat and drink in Ballarat?
If you visit Ballarat, you have to eat at Catfish, which is one of the best Thai restaurants in the country. Their food is stunning, surprising, mouth-watering and unique. The chef is incredible and draws inspiration from Thai street food, which makes it unlike most Thai restaurants people get to experience. The menu is done as a banquet, and you can either choose your own food or ask the chef to choose for you, based on your dietary needs.
I also love L’Espresso. They make coffee so delicious that even I as a non-coffee drinker must have one when I’m there. It reminds me a lot of New York, with tightly arranged tables, and the feeling of being nestled in a little hidden gem. They are also a jazz music store and have a wall of music for you to browse and jazz music playing. The menu is seasonal and always great. There are a few writers and authors who live locally and also frequent there. The pizza and cronuts of Provedore are the best in Ballarat. Breakfast is best done at L’Espresso or Open Pantry.
You wrote about a really interesting hat store on your blog. Are there many great places to shop in or around Ballarat?
Oh yeah! That’s the Gordon Hat Shoppe, which is located in Gordon, not far out of Ballarat. Ballarat is surrounded by a bunch of little historic villages that are worth exploring. Almost the entirety of Gordon is a crossroad with a pub on one corner and the Hat Shoppe on the other. It is absolutely magnificent in the Hat Shoppe, but if you can’t get there they also travel to local markets, and most of the little villages have a market. In Ballarat, on Main Road just by Catfish, are a few vintage and antique stores that I adore. There’s also a Mill Market on the edge of town by Provedore. Mill Markets are huge halls where sellers combine their efforts by all renting small allotments that create huge spaces full of everything vintage and kitsch that you can lay your eyes on. I have found the most incredible things at each of the Mill Markets. There are three Mill Market locations — Ballarat, Daylesford, and Geelong.
My sister inherited a stunning white crossed-stitched summer dress from our mum. A few years ago I found one identical at the Ballarat Mill Market, so now we have matching dresses. I’ve found a lot of beautiful books there, tea sets, vintage clothes and all my kitchen chairs. If you like books though, you must get to the Clunes Booktown event. Clunes is a sleepy country town that is so quiet its main street was used in the first post-apocalyptic Mad Max film. For this one weekend each year, every shop, hall, street and alley is filled with books, book-related activities, and good food.
Could you mention some other attractions that someone visiting Ballarat might like to see?
Remember that civil uprising I mentioned? It is known as the Eureka Rebellion and had a huge impact on democracy in Australia. The symbol of the conflict is the homemade flag that represented the resistance, who fought against the troopers: the Eureka Flag. Those resisting the troopers and police saved the flag, and also cut off pieces of it to keep with them as mementos of their fight. The flag itself is now in possession of the Art Gallery, but they have loaned it to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, and you can see it in person there.
The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery is the oldest regional art gallery in Australia, and it has some stunning old and new art works. They often have special exhibits on.
The best time to come to Ballarat is during autumn, especially during May because they have my favorite event on: Ballarat Heritage Weekend. A steam train comes down to visit, vintage cars and double-decker buses line the streets, we have a Tweed Ride, vintage fashion parades, and there is also an Apron Festival. Autumn is when Ballarat is at its most beautiful.
You can’t come to Ballarat and not go to Sovereign Hill, though. It’s often mistaken as a theme park, but is actually an amazing open-air museum of the 1850s goldfields. I’ve written a bit about it here.
+Thanks so much for sharing, Liana! Alright, readers — what part of the world do you call home?