Sovereign Hill - Lost Trades

1 Apr 2019

This school holidays Sovereign Hill has an incredible hands-on program. It’s not just a living museum with buildings you can wander through and people in costume, you now get to immerse yourself in the trades and times by making something for yourself. I was really chuffed that the team at Sovereign Hill asked if I had a spare day to do a trial run of some of their Easter activities before they open up in the coming weeks. They picked out a couple for me and I grabbed my sister and went to have a go.

Sovereign Hill is not something you ‘do’, it is something you ‘experience’. Being in something that has come to life is very different to reading the label of an exhibit. When there is mud under your feet and you can hear a band playing a jig, the smell of pies in the air and the feeling of people, actual people, in incredible clothes walking past you, it becomes a very different kind of experience. The cold air carries the sounds of blacksmiths, and mine machines, and the creek, and gold pans full of dirt and horses hooves, carts and leather, feet on wooden walkways, donkeys braying, goats and chickens, a steam whistle. And that’s just the sound. The taste… well… everyone knows the legendary status of the Sovereign Hill raspberry drops. While mum has been going through chemo, by special request, the confectionary team made me huge batches of ginger boiled sweets to help with nausea. It’s not one they usually sell by the jar over the counter and I knew they had made me a particular batch, so I was excited to be in the place they had made that little treat happen for me.

Our day consisted of two experiences: the sweet making experience and the candle making experience. 

To walk behind the glass at the confectioner's and handle the toffee and the actual original old toffee rolling machine was brilliant. The staff there do all the dangerous parts like handling the boiling sugar and then when the toffee was cool enough (it was still jolly warm to my inexperienced hands) we got to pull it and turn it into different shapes. The staff helped us to work the machine and we rolled out many batches of sweets. We then got to go through the processes of breaking them up into their desired bite-sized chunks. It was awesome. Every step was hands on. Every step had heaps of information coming at you about the history of boiled lollies and how the museum runs a confectioner. At the end we got this really beautiful tin to put all of our hand made treats into to take away. 

We stopped off between the confectioners and the candlemakers to check out the redcoat soldiers. One day I will remember to take earplugs so I can photograph the musket firing. I made the mistake of not covering my ears once. I couldn’t hear properly for about two minutes afterwards. 

The next activity was up at the candle makers. We got to dip a candle in coloured wax and make our own candle in a glass jar using wax blocks. We also got to have fun being really bad at using the old ink pens/quills because as part of this experience you get to put your name onto the candle and your bag (the wax takes a little time to cool completely so you collect later on in the day once you’ve made it, with your cool handwritten name label). I was pretty bad at the candle making but Deneale was brilliant. She did make candles once at the adventure group we were part of as kids though. 

The best thing about the day was that it took experiences that were usually seen from behind glass or a barrier and meant I actually got to feel the ink and wax and candy and glass in my own hands. That’s completely different to watching someone else explain what the process of something is. We only had time to try these two but there are some incredible workshops on offer. One includes three hours with one of the resident blacksmiths where you get to make your own fire poker! There is also an experience where you can make your own leather belt. You can even sit with the Sovereign Hill costuming department and make an apron! The full list of activities is available on the Sovereign Hill website but you MUST book. Some of the activities are almost completely booked out already.

If you don’t book and you get there on the day keen to do one of the activities, talk to the staff at your preferred experience location to see if there are places available that day. 

My recommendations for the day:
  • Wear gumboots or mud friendly shoes in case it is wet. The museum has real dirt.
  • Book your experience in advance. Also, book in for a mine tour or photography session while you are at it.
  • Check the weather before you come and dress appropriately. We’re in autumn now so chilly and wet can be the order of the day.
  • Research before you come. You could spend three whole days at Sovereign Hill and still not see and experience everything on offer. Planning your day will make sure you don’t miss anything you didn’t know about.

Find out more about the program here.

- L

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