Working it all out
Ararat may be all out of gold, lost tonnes of fat and closed its asylum but there is still plenty to do and see.
The thump of machines crushing quartz to extract the gold that was discovered in the gullies around Ararat in the 1850s has been replaced by the pounding of feet as Ararat’s locals do their daily workouts.
A 2011 health census found Ararat was one of Australia’s fattest communities, with almost 60% of people overweight or obese.
That changed in 2013 when the reality TV show The Biggest Loser came to town, and locals decided that the rural hub of the Grampians region would no longer be known as Fatarat or Arafat.
The community shape-up continued when the Ararat Council used the winnings from the TV show to extend a fitness and health regimen across the community.
Many newly-fit locals walk around the city’s Alexander Gardens and Lake Walk, which includes an Asian garden, herb garden, Australian native garden and fernery and exercise equipment.
Ararat’s Botanic Gardens were established from 1863, and much of the early work was done by prisoners of the Ararat Goal. The prison’s J-Ward is among Ararat’s main attractions.
A bluestone prison that operated as the Ararat County Gaol from 1859 to 1887, when Ararat was in pandemonium with diggers grubbing for gold, the prison buildings were acquired by the Lunacy Department in 1888 for men deemed criminally insane, and operated as a maximum security ward until 1991.
You can tour these buildings with volunteer guides, who tell stories of the people who were incarcerated there.
There are also tours of Aradale, a labyrinth of 63 mostly Victorian-era buildings on a hill above the town. Originally called the Ararat Lunatic Asylum, the 100ha complex was home to thousands of patients from 1863.
Historically, people with a psychiatric disorder or condition such as epilepsy, autism or Down syndrome could be put in an institution such as Aradale for life. The last patients left in 1993.
More of Ararat’s history is on display at Langi Morgala Museum, which includes Aboriginal artefacts, farm machinery, photographs and other items.
The Ararat Regional Art Gallery, in the late-Victorian town hall, holds a major contemporary fibre and textile collection that is worth a visit.
Ararat has a remarkable association with the Chinese community. A large gold deposit was discovered at Ararat by 700 miners from Southern China as they walked hundreds of kilometres from Robe in South Australia, aiming for the goldfields near Bendigo.
The story of the Chinese in Ararat is told at the Gum San Heritage Centre. Designed in the traditional Chinese architectural style, Gum San houses a fascinating collection of artefacts and interactive displays.
Grapevines were first planted in the region at Great Western by Frenchman Louis Metzger. Ararat remains at the centre of this well-known wine region, with the Grampians and Pyrenees regions boasting a mix of large and exciting boutique wineries.
Wine heritage can be explored at Seppelts and Best’s at Great Western, 16km north of Ararat.
Great Western Winery, bought by Benno Seppelt in 1918, was established in 1865. Gold miners dug a series of tunnels, known as drives, to house maturing sparkling wine, which you can explore.
The Nursery Block at Best’s was planted in 1866. At its Concongella cellar door, take a tour of the winery’s hand-dug 1860s cellars.
Hikers like the Ararat region. A good spot to start is the Ararat Hills Regional Park, just north-west of town, which has many reminders of goldmining days, including water races and mine shafts.
Dominated by One Tree Hill, which has views of the Grampians, Mt Langi Ghiran and the Mt Cole plateau, the 1000ha park has more than 200 native plant species.
Back in town, healthy eating choices are on the rise. The menu at local favourite, the Blue Duck Hotel, includes a Skinny Dip Platter, salads and traditional pub food. Sicilians Restaurant and popular cafes Fred and Bet’s, and Vines also have healthy options.
Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food mobile kitchen will be running cooking classes in Ararat from 27 May to 30 June, showing people how to cook healthy, tasty meals using fresh ingredients.
Aradale tours are held Wednesdays and Sundays at 11am and 2pm (extra tours are organised for public holiday weekends). Cost is $20 adults, $15 children, family $50, bookings at the Ararat Visitor Information Centre. For more on Ararat Regional Park, go to www.parkweb.vic.gov.au.
FREE - A free Ararat Attraction Passport with discounts on entry to attractions is available at the Visitor Information Centre, Ararat Railway Station. Ph: 1800 657 158 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Historic Ararat Walking and Driving Trails brochure or download at ararat.vic.gov.au.