Tickets are now on sale for Sovereign Hill’s famous Winter Wonderlights

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images supplied

Everyone loves a white Christmas, but we Aussies rarely get to experience it the way our European friends do. Unless you head to Ballarat from June 24.

Victoria’s most popular living museum, Sovereign Hill, is once again hosting its Winter Wonderlights Festival: a three-week bright, white Christmas-themed extravaganza.

Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, it’s the perfect spot to take the family for the school holidays – and don that daggy Christmas sweater you’ve been saving.

Christmas in July

Imagine cosying up by the fire, drinking a mug of hot chocolate while fairy lights twinkle nearby. Sound good?
Now add a brilliant light show illuminating a century’s-old Gold Rush museum into the picture.
You’re starting to get an image of Sovereign Hill’s Winter Wonderlight Festival.

Sovereign Hill

From 24 June to 16 July, the Sovereign Hill streetscape will transform into a snow and light-filled space, sure to dazzle visitors from young to old. There’s a bustling schedule of family-friendly daytime and night-time activities, opportunities to meet Saint Nicholas himself, and enough Christmas-themed treats to last the year.

With so much on offer, we thought we’d give you our pick of the activities. So you can worry less about scheduling – and focus more on merrymaking.

Bright lights, little city

We must begin with the hero of the festival: the light show!

Each night after sundown (around 5.30 pm), Sovereign Hill’s Main Street transforms into a rainbow of light and imagery. Designed in tandem with Electric Canvas – the team behind much of Melbourne’s White Night – these displays are nothing short of magical.

Candy canes twinkle above an antique sign. Neon bows loop and unloop on a tin veranda. Paired with the Christmas carols echoing through the street and faux snow pluming into the air, it’s a feast for all the senses.

The projections finish at 7 pm and can be very busy. So we recommend starting at the top of the hill and meandering through Main Street towards the exit rather than away. You’ll dodge the big crowds and enjoy a better view.

Winter Wonderlights

Warm up your winter with these old-school activities

A regular day pass will buy you all day and night access to the museum. That means you can enjoy plenty of daytime activities and the light show for one affordable price.

Famous for its Gold Rush character, Sovereign Hill has ample activities for the whole family. From candle-making and horse and cart rides to gold panning and lolly eating – you could easily spend three days at the museum and still have more to see.

If you’re travelling with children, you can’t miss the gold panning. We recommend bringing gumboots because things can get wet as you sift through the mud for the treasures.

Once you’ve exhausted the pan, stop by the lolly shop, Brown’s Confectionary, to taste its famous boiled raspberry drops. Handmade to a traditional recipe, these treats are especially sweet in winter.

Continue the shopping spirit with a stroll through the European-inspired Christmas Market. Grown-ups looking to imbibe can warm up with a mulled wine. And there’s gingerbread for the little ones.

Costumed characters walk around throughout all areas, performing pantomimes and interacting with guests. You can find Saint Nicholas and ask for a photograph if you’re lucky. These actors are the final flourish of a very immersive experience.

You can also head to the Victoria Theatre on-site to watch a scripted theatre performance, which we hear is Christmas themed too. A carefully created replica of the eponymous 1850s Ballarat theatre, the space and the stories told there transport viewers to a bygone era.

Winter Wonderlights

Our tips for a smooth stay

The Winter Wonderlight Festival is extremely popular, with tickets selling out quickly. So your best move is to plan your trip and book early.

Here are our top tips to ensure your visit is fun and friction-free.

  1. Book early: We can’t say it enough. Tickets are available now via the Sovereign Hill website. A wide range of access is available, from single to family passes.
  2. Rug up: It’s no secret that Victoria’s Central Highlands get cold. The days in Ballarat average 10 degrees, so be prepared for even chillier nights.
  3. Make a weekend of it: Because the light show is only visible at night, it’s a good idea to book an overnight – or weekend – stay. There are plenty of accommodation options in nearby Ballarat. And if you want to continue the historical theme, BIG4 just opened a holiday park next to Kryal Castle.
  4. Reserve a table: The restaurants inside Sovereign Hill tend to fill up early. So if you’re looking to eat on-site, call or pop in ahead of time to book your seats.
  5. BYO marshmallows: There are places to roast them, but sadly no places to buy them. You will be the envy of everyone there.

Winter Wonderlight Festival
Sovereign Hill Museum, Bradshaw St, Golden Point
24 June – 14 July 2023
Book your tickets here

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Healesville jeweller turning old jewellery collections into a single unique piece

Words and images by Jay Dillon
Additional images supplied

Like so many makers during the lockdown periods of 2020 and 2021, Jeweller Tim Peel and partner Liz were witness to an astonishing increase of customers who wished to have their collection of gold and gemstones reimagined into one singular piece with significant personal importance.

Many requests came with a personal story of loss and love and often these stories would provide the inspiration for a unique jewellery piece for the owner.

Jewellery Maker Yarra Valley

Liz speaks of a time one customer called, who had recently lost her husband. The couple had married 27 years earlier in the month of September and it was her intention to fulfil his desire to celebrate their 30th anniversary with a sapphire. After hearing her story of loss and plans for remembrance, Liz suggested that her husband’s wedding band be the structural base for the sapphire stones.

‘I think a lot of people have shifted from the idea of accumulating a large collection of rings and necklaces and making the decision to bring them all together into a special and unique piece of jewellery that will become an heirloom of sorts’.

Developing a craft

Tim started tinkering with metal in his fathers’ shed as a boy growing up in Yarra Junction. The passion continued through high school, TAFE and onto the completion of a degree at Monash University, ultimately leading to a job at a jewellery store in the CBD. This was the same store that Liz had previously worked at, and through this connection a loving relationship bloomed, culminating in the union of marriage in 1995.

Eventually, the couple moved back to near where Tim grew up, choosing to make the small bustling village of Healesville a home for their young family. The town also became the location for a studio where Tim could continue in his dedication to his craft, creating exquisite custom pieces formed by the personal stories of his customers.

Even as a master jeweller himself, Tim continues to develop his skills by learning from others and studying new and revisiting old jewellery-making techniques. This includes a continued dedication to the skill of stone setting and gemology, a journey that started by studying alongside Australian jewellery legend Rex Steele Merten (the only Australian jeweller to have won four Diamonds International Awards) before he sadly passed away in 2020.

Healesville Jewellery Maker

‘People are surprised to learn that even the most accomplished jeweller will send the ring and gemstones elsewhere to be mounted. Setting is considered a separate skill and can take years of dedicated practice to become proficient in’.

From quality comes trust

In recent years, Tim and Liz have noticed a shift in people’s understanding of quality when it comes to jewellery and their customers really benefit from their skill in gemstone selection. The Silvermist benchmark for diamonds is an FG colour and VS clarity, which is not something that is normally available at the jewellery chain stores.

In the industry, we jokingly refer to these diamonds as petrified pixie poo, because they are usually cloudy, murky, translucent at best and often full of inclusions. Once upon a time, these diamonds would have been considered industrial grade.

Due to 20 years of building a relationship with local gemstone suppliers, Tim and Liz have the ability to arrange a viewing for the customer that includes a number of gemstones that they can select from.

‘The dealers that I work with have already done the legwork. They have filtered out the rubbish and are only providing our studio with high-quality stones’.

Reputation built through connection

Since the uplift in customers placing orders online rather than in person, Liz has realised the importance of developing trust with the customer.

‘I like to share photos of our family on holidays and out to dinner amongst images from the studio and of individual jewellery creations. I feel it’s important to show that we are people just like them and they are going to receive the personal service that they might not get from the big jewellery chains’.

Jewellery Maker Healesville

Recently, Liz was able to provide an extra level of personal service to a lady whose son was marrying a Vietnamese girl. Liz has first-hand experience, via a Vietnamese brother-in-law, of the custom for the groom’s family to offer gifts to the family of the bride including bespoke jewellery pieces.

Liz encourages all past customers to leave honest reviews, as this is also an important part of building trust with customers who may be placing orders from as far away as Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.

‘We understand that it can be a big decision for people to commission a jeweller to create a piece that is made with the intention of being passed through the family for generations to come. We are grateful to have a long list of positive reviews that we can direct people to so that they can have that piece of mind’.

Who: Silvermist Studio
Where: Healesville
More details: Silvermist Studio

Historic apothecary Dow’s Pharmacy open to the public this month

Words by Tehya Nichols
Images supplied

Discover the gentle thrills of colourful glass vials, antiquated tins of talcum powder, and countless tiny wooden drawers at Dow’s Pharmacy.

Many museums present a snippet of history. Whether through a piece of art hanging on a white wall or a strange wax recreation behind glass. But to step inside history is a rare occasion. Dow’s Pharmacy, located in Chiltern, Victoria, provides such an opportunity and as of August 26th, the public are welcome to wander through this living museum for a weekend of exclusive open days.

A small, antiquated mud-brick shop on a quiet country street, Dow’s Pharmacy doesn’t reveal much to the passerby. But to step inside is to feel the gentle thrills of being somewhere you shouldn’t logically be; that being a nineteenth century apothecary. Built in 1859 and purchased by Hilda and Roy Dow in 1930, the pharmacy dolled prescriptions to the public until the late 1960s. When the Dow’s left, they decided—with incredible foresight—to leave everything as it was. What stands now is an untouched collection of over 4,000 historic artefacts to view, from original period fittings, stock and equipment, to instruments used to prepare medicines prior to the advent of modern dispensing.

This makes Dow’s Pharmacy one of Australia’s only remaining authentic historic shops. And something of a time capsule from a bygone era of medicine. Its rich history also includes a brush with political fame; one of the early pharmacists at Dow’s was David McEwen, father of the Australian prime minister, John McEwen.

These days, the pharmacy remains shuttered throughout the winter months and on public holidays, but as a part of the annual Chiltern Antique Fair, Dow’s will open it’s century-old doors (expect a squeak or two) to the public on Friday 26 until Sunday 28 August. The short festival celebrates the history of Chiltern, a Gold Rush town with dozens of intact historic building. Worth visiting is Lake View House—a perfect example of early brick building and the childhood home of author Henry Handel Richardson—and The Federal Standard Printing Works, another living museum of still-functioning printing presses from a century ago.

Just a few hours from the CBD, a day at Chiltern—and in particular Dow’s Pharmacy—feels a whole world away.


WHAT: Dow’s Pharmacy
WHERE: 42 Conness Street, Chiltern, Victoria
WHEN: Friday 26 August (3pm to 6pm) | Saturday 27 – Sunday 28 August (10am to 3pm)
MORE INFO: Dow’s Pharmacy – National Trust Victoria


We wish to acknowledge the Yorta Yorta people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

There’s a new UNESCO World Heritage hopeful in our very own backyard

Images Supplied

Any Victorian who knows the lay of the land will tell you the Victorian goldfields are a special place. Encompassing hundreds of kilometres from Ballarat to Bendigo and surrounds, there are gold mines, awe-inspiring old buildings and a rich history of multiculturalism. And now, there’s a bid to get these incredible pieces of history officially recognised by UNESCO.

Headed up by a team of heritage and regional Victorian specialists along with 13 councils across the Goldfields region, the campaign seeks to inscribe these gold-rush era sites onto the World Heritage list.

The process is a long and winding one, likely to occur over several years, but if approved would draw significant international attention and boost tourism across the region and wider state. That means more jobs, potential new infrastructure and a lot of new business.

Experts around the world have weighed in on the bid, all agreeing that the Victorian goldfields do indeed deserve the UNESCO badge of honour. Author of the UK’s successful Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage inscription Barry Gamble threw his weight behind the bid in a recent statement.

“The Victorian goldfields are the most extensive, coherent and best-surviving landscape anywhere, that illustrates the global gold rush phenomenon,” he said. 

“My conclusion from the comparative work … is that you have in Victoria a range of values in your gold mining landscape that nobody else has.”

The state government is lending a hand as well, earlier this year allocating $50,000 in funding to the Central Goldfields Shire Council and 11 other councils to support a future World Heritage Listing bid.

Now in its two-year tentative listing state, the bid needs to be approved by the State of Victoria and Australian governments before it becomes official. We’re just a little bit proud of our unique mining towns.

WHAT: Central Victorian goldfields World Heritage bid
WHERE: Victorian goldfields
WHEN: Over the next 5 years
MORE INFO: Goldfields World Heritage


Discover the charm of Heritage Harvest Weekend at Sovereign Hill

As autumn paints Victoria crimson, Sovereign Hill invites you to a weekend where the past meets the present.

The Heritage Harvest Weekend on Saturday, 25 May and Sunday, 26 May is a journey back in time – celebrating rustic food and traditions brought to the goldfields from around the globe.

With a vibrant blend of history, gastronomy and community spirit, this festival is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience Australia’s rich culinary heritage. Here’s how you can make the most out of your visit.

Culinary stars take the stage

Julie Goodwin Heritage harvest Festival BallaratPrepare to be dazzled by some of the brightest Australian chefs – Julie Goodwin, Darren Purchese and Tim Bone. Exclusive meet-and-greets aside, these kitchen virtuosos will grace the festival across the weekend in several engaging events.

Ballarat local and host of Good Chef/Bad Chef Tim Bone will be cooking up a hearty dish inspired by the Gold Rush era. Using simple yet flavourful ingredients, Tim’s cooking is a modern twist on the rugged gold miner grub in the Heritage Market Village.

The Great Bake Off’s Darren Purchese will share his handy tips and insights into creating delicious, sweet treats this autumn. And Julie Goodwin, the inaugural winner of MasterChef Australia, will lift the lid on preparing the ultimate family feast in a live demonstration.

‘I’m delighted to be doing cooking demos at Sovereign Hill’s Heritage Harvest Weekend, sharing my passion for delicious, seasonal dishes,’ says Goodwin. ‘Our food traditions are such an important part of who we are and where we come from.’

Plus, under the moderation of Kara Monseen, Herald Sun’s food and wine editor, you’re in for a treat as these chefs share their passion for delicious, seasonal dishes and sweet treats in an interactive Q&A session.

A community of flavours

Heritage Harvest BallaratThe festival proudly showcases over 30 producers and artisans, turning Sovereign Hill into a paradise for food lovers.

Wander through the village market to find quality locally made wares, watch live demonstrations of traditional crafts and cooking along Main Street, and let the kids explore their culinary creativity with special activities.

Highlights include Sweet Sage Farm – full of traditional homemade condiments, gourmet salts and natural herbal balms; Mrs Brown Bakes, selling delicious treats like cookies and their famous Brownie Boys; and The Cottage Herbalist will bring a selection of award-winning tea and herbal tisanes to the Heritage Harvest Market.

And don’t miss the cooking and craft sessions hosted by the esteemed Country Women’s Association, celebrating the essence of community and shared knowledge.

More than just taste

Sovereign Hill heritage harvest weekendHeritage Harvest Weekend offers more than just a taste of the past. You can join in various rare trade activities that celebrate the goldfields’ cultural diversity and rich history.

From gold panning, coach rides and candle dipping to butter-churning and damper-making, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Just ensure you wear comfortable clothes to make the most of the fun!

And if you’re ready to stock up on handcrafted wares? Stop by the Botanical Bar, where longstanding potter Tony Barnes will be throwing clay at the wheel and selling his fine porcelain stoneware in copper red, cobalt blue, rutile and celadon glazes.

Another must-see for lovers of old-fashioned gems is the Basketmakers of Victoria stand. Weavers will be on hand to sell their sustainable, natural handmade baskets – and demonstrate their handiwork, skills and materials.

To keep the weekend’s activities buzzing, local bands The Valentines and Morrigan & Wilding will provide a jazzy, folk-filled backdrop.

And for the little explorers

Kids activities sovereign HillIn true Sovereign Hill style, the Heritage Harvest Weekend has plenty for the little ones.

Kids can get up close, say hello, and learn more about their favourite animals at the Fun Farm2U petting station. Or get their hands dirty in the Little Green Thumbs garden – where they can plant seedlings to take home. Plus, lawn games, face-painting and other interactive activities are guided throughout the day.

The Little Explorers Refreshment Hub offers the perfect break for families. While the kids navigate the straw maze, parents can relax with a Gilded Grog cocktail and a famous chicken sandwich, enjoying a pause in your day of festival exploration.

This hub is located at the Hotel Parade Ground, ensuring that kids and adults alike can recharge with some delicious food and drink.

Tickets and timing

The festival is accessible with the standard Sovereign Hill ticket, ensuring you can experience the entire immersive weekend.

Running from 10 am to 5 pm on both the 25 and 26 May, make sure to book your tickets in advance to secure your spot in this celebration of heritage, harvest and community.

Planning your visit

Before you head out, check the event program online to plan your day. With activities and sessions throughout the weekend, a little planning can go a long way in ensuring you don’t miss out on your favourite parts of the festival.

Remember, some experiences require separate bookings, so it’s best to look into these details beforehand.

Whether you’re a foodie, history buff, or simply searching for a unique weekend out, head to the Heritage Harvest Weekend this May.

Heritage Skills Initiative: Grace Barrand

Words Jess Gadd
Images Supplied

Not gone, not forgotten. There’s still time to revive our nation’s heritage skills and lost trades – and the International Specialised Skills Institute (ISSI) is leading the charge, says ISSI project coordinator Grace Barrand.  

Tell us what the Heritage Skills Initiative is all about?

The project is all about skills; it’s about celebrating, preserving and reviving the use of rare and traditional skills for the future of Australia. Changes in education over the past few decades have resulted in a lack of training opportunities in traditional trades for new generations, leading to an alarming loss of creative thinking, hand skills and advanced knowledge in our workforce. The result is an increasingly ageing workforce of highly skilled practitioners with limited or no opportunities to pass on their skills and knowledge. The Heritage Skills Initiative has three major aims: to support the work of artisans through professional development, to create new and exciting opportunities for students to engage with these skills, and to develop a strong community of conversation and collaboration between practitioners, peak bodies and professionals to advocate for change.

How did it get started and how is it funded?

The Heritage Skills Initiative was generously funded across 2017/18 by the Ian Potter Foundation, and is the creation of the International Specialised Skills Institute (where I work). The ISSI is a not-for-profit organisation founded 28 years ago by former Governor of Victoria Sir James Gobbo. Sir James had a vision of building a community of industry specialists who would lead the upskilling of the Australian workforce by undertaking international research Fellowships. With over half of the Fellowships that have been awarded by ISSI (approximately 200) being in the area of heritage skills, we decided that a project seeking to engage specifically with these skills and create a strong community of practice was vital. There is a lot of wonderful work being done in this area around Australia; what we wanted to do was open up communication between these groups for collaboration, while also engaging our Fellowship alumni. We were absolutely delighted when our grant application was approved, and we hit the ground running!

What is the definition of a ‘heritage skill’?

Within the scope of our project, a heritage skill is any trade or craft that has a body of knowledge built over generations with a mastery of hand skills. While most skills interrelate and will crossover, I find that there are two major streams: those that are used in building and construction, such as traditional joinery, faux marbling, conservation stonemasonry, heritage plastering and so on, and those that involve making beautifully useful handmade objects, such as carving, whipmaking, blacksmithing or fabric pleating. I’ve learnt things I never expected to learn from this community, and have loved every minute of it!

Why is it important to retain these type of trades (isn’t there an app for that!)?

People may not realise it, but these skills are incredibly important both culturally and industrially. Due to the educational limitations of our current system, one of the most alarming things that happens far too frequently in Australia is that tradespeople without the skills and knowledge of traditional materials undertake works on heritage properties. This causes huge conservation problems! The classic example is the use of cement to repoint old buildings, which were originally constructed with lime mortar. Cement can be fine for modern buildings but old bricks are different and need to breathe. Lime allows moisture to move through the bricks where cement doesn’t, causing the 100-year-old bricks to literally crumble beneath your hands.

We need these skills so that we can accurately conserve our heritage buildings for future generations. They don’t just appear; artisans and heritage tradespeople have a profound understanding of materials and techniques that build a significant body of cultural knowledge about our country. A master chair maker doesn’t just work with wood, but has a library of knowledge about dozens of tree species, growth patterns, shrinkage characteristics, colour, density, grain and so on. This knowledge embodies our history and environment and has been built over generations of practitioners: we must protect it.

Beyond conservation these skills are increasingly being used to boost mental health and encourage social enterprise in disenfranchised communities. Using your hands is important for development and a fantastic way to combat stress. As people become more and more reliant on technology, we are losing our dexterity and our ability to think creatively. Getting into a hand craft such as a heritage skill engages different parts of both your body and your brain and allows us to just turn off for a while, and focus on what we can touch. I’ve been told that there’s nothing like coming home after a horrible day in the office and winding down with some bobbin lacemaking!

Can people make a living from these trades, or is it more about having a hobby?

Many practitioners not only make a living but are leading the way in practice across Australia. The most wonderful thing about these skills, however, is that you can do either! I know a traditional joiner who has work lined up for the next 18 months around Australia, I know a bookbinder who practises on demand (and indeed in demand) from a home studio and I know 25 gorgeous ladies who just love to get together on the weekend and embroider. Remember that as we move more towards sustainability in our everyday living, the market for quality, handmade and local options is only going to grow, and it’s already started to shift. One thing you do need if you decide to start a business is passion! Nothing has been so striking about this project as the undying passion for their craft shown by these practitioners. They’re a hard-working bunch, but boy do they love what they do.

If people want to learn a heritage skill, how do they get started?

It might sound obvious, but you just have to start! I’ve met countless people that umm and aww about whether they are good enough or if they have the time, but just get going and see where it takes you. Most artisans and guilds will run workshops throughout the year, so check out their websites to see when the next one is and book yourself a place. I would also recommend going along to local markets and trade fairs to get a better idea of what’s out there; see what inspires you and follow that spark!

If you’re already practising a heritage skill and want to grow, you should definitely look into applying for a Fellowship offered by the ISSI. Our Fellows don’t just practise but lead the way towards innovation in Australia. It’s a great community to become involved in and we love learning more about how Australians are striving for excellence in industry.

If you’re still not sure where to start, you can always get in touch with me or anyone on the ISSI team and we can help get you started. We don’t bite!

International Specialised Skills Institute: