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A local’s guide to Open House Ballarat

Words by Della Vreeland
Images supplied

Call me biased if you will.

Growing up in Ballarat, I’ve been privy to its charm from quite a young age, so much so that it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.

Over the years, I’ve watched my home town evolve from a city synonymous with gold and heritage to a melting pot of contemporary art and culture, incredible food, and high-calibre events and festivals.

I’ve also found it less challenging to convince my metropolitan comrades that Ballarat is indeed a place worth exploring. The fact that events such as the Archibald Prize, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and, more recently, White Night have chosen the city as the base for their regional extensions has significantly helped my persuasive prowess.

Open House Ballarat… will give visitors (and locals) the chance to delve further into the beauty of some of the city’s most stunning locales.

This year, Ballarat will play host to the first ever regional extension of Open House Melbourne (OHM). Open House Ballarat (OHB) will be presented in collaboration with the City of Ballarat and Visit Ballarat, and will give visitors (and locals) the chance to delve further into the beauty of some of the city’s most stunning locales.

Here are some insider tips on how you can best maximise your OHB weekend.


Stay in heritage
Visit Ballarat is offering a selection of special deals at iconic Ballarat hotels including Craig’s Royal Hotel, Twelve Errard and The Provincial as part of its spring Season of the Arts. Head to the Season of the Arts website and secure your Ballarat stay before everything books out. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dine in style
Did you know that Ballarat is home to one of Australia’s best Thai eateries? Fierce food critic John Lethlean said so himself. Upon your arrival, make sure to find your spot at hatted restaurant Catfish Thai and delight in the locally produced fare. Head chef Damien Jones, who trained at the acclaimed Nahm in London, creates all his dishes from scratch – right through to the coconut milk and curry pastes – providing a truly authentic dining experience to satisfy every palate.


Brunch brilliance
Ballarat’s cafe culture has grown by leaps and bounds, with Melbourne coffee roasters including Axil, Sensory Lab, Padre and AllPress supplying to several local operators. For a heart-starting brunch, head to Yellow Espresso and accompany your cup of caffeine with some matcha pancakes, classic smashed avo or an acai berry bowl – all using fresh, local ingredients.

Open the doors
Open House Ballarat will be held on 28 and 29 October, with more than 20 private houses, significant commercial and civic buildings and landscapes open to the public in celebration of the city’s past, present and future. This is the first time ever that OHM has extended its program to the region, showcasing the unique architecture that defines the city and unearthing the wonder that lies under our city’s surface.

Make sure you schedule in time for OHB on both Saturday and Sunday. Of the buildings open on the weekend, 16 will be open access, self-guided or with guided tours, while the remainder will require pre-booking. There will also be a series of special events featured in the program.

OHM has released the list of places set to open for public viewing. These include private residence Two Halves House, Ballarat’s Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, the former Ballarat Baptist Church, and the pristine Loreto Chapel.  Check out all the info here.

Sip the top drops
Mitchell Harris Wines is one Ballarat hotspot you can’t go past. Settle down and savour the James Hallidayrated wines or discover what other delights are on offer. With a menu especially curated for the springtime, you can order a produce platter to share or something fancy just for yourself, matched perfectly with your glass of vino.


Immerse yourself in historic and contemporary art
Head into the Art Gallery of Ballarat – Australia’s oldest regional art gallery. Located in one of the city’s most iconic thoroughfares, Lydiard Street, the gallery provides you with a decent dose of historic fine art as well as a beautiful curation of indigenous and contemporary art. After you’ve looked through the permanent collection, visit this year’s Romancing the Skull exhibition – celebrating the representation of the skull in art and examining the world’s fascination with this symbol of mortality. The exhibition also includes the virtual-reality artwork of Australian artist Shaun Gladwell, whose Orbital Vanitas 2016 debuted at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Lunch vibes
Following your gallery venture, pop into the adjoining Kittelty’s cafe and grab yourself some heartwarming fare. Head chef Sara Kittelty sources her ingredients from the region, and the coffee is locally roasted. The cafe also has an impressive selection of locally sourced pantry goods that will do very well in the goodie bag.

Shop until you drop
If there’s one thing to admire about regional cities, it’s their independent retailers. Ballarat is home to regional Australia’s only niche perfumery, Sweet Fern; and once you enter this boutique store, you’ll know you’ve discovered something special. Stocking a range of fragrances from some of the world’s renowned perfume houses, as well as an extensive range of Aesop products and its own Sweet Fern Botanics range, this little shop is full to the brim with charm.

Discover the hidden gems
Use your visit to Ballarat as an opportunity to explore some hidden gems in the arts and culture space. Enjoy the work of budding artists at the historic Post Office Gallery, or wander through the works on display at The Lost Ones. Housed in a 19th-century Masonic Lodge and boasting its own Basement Bar with cocktails, coffee and cosy corners, this is a gallery worth some hype.

And voila! Your arts and culture visit to Ballarat is complete, for now. You’ve witnessed firsthand that there’s more to this city than alluvial gold, and more to be discovered.

Until next time.

The Details

What: Open House Ballarat
Where: Various Venues
When: 28 Oct – 29 Oct

View the full program here:

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