Whether it’s gazing at botanical, artistic or architectural beauty, putting in a bid as part of a 50,000-head sheep sale or just browsing through great shops, Hamilton offers an amazing array of experiences for all travellers. Hamilton embodies a strong community spirit; an innovative, creative and entrepreneurial population; a wealth of natural assets and education & health facilities that are the envy of other cities of a similar population.
As the centre of a massive and wealthy pastoral industry for over 160 years, Hamilton has become a thriving country city. Although filled with cultural experiences, Hamilton provides a first hand opportunity for the traveller to experience the everyday life of a bustling country centre.
Excellent shopping, diverse architecture, a fascinating art gallery and stunning botanic gardens are just the beginning of your Hamilton experience.
Its position makes the perfect launching pad for any stay in the Southern Grampians, but you would be wise to spend time in this city as the joys of Hamilton take some time to explore.
While other major centres in Victoria were being built on gold, Hamilton was built on wool and the finest of its type in the world. A fifty kilometre radius around the city yields more sheep per hectare than anywhere else on the planet, previously earning Hamilton the title “the wool capital of the world.” A drive around the region will confirm this but will also introduce you to the many other industries that make Hamilton a country city that continues to thrive both economically and culturally. From a very early age the town earned a reputation as “the collegiate city” given the very high standard of education offered by the various secondary schools.
Hamilton oozes with style and quality, a few quiet minutes walking amongst the enormous English Oaks and pines, fountains and rotunda in the botanical gardens will calm and enchant you. Many of the original trees are classified by the National Trust. You will not have trouble finding the very large English Oak that was planted in 1892, the largest known example of the species in the state. Interestingly, it is not the oldest tree in the vast gardens with some of the exotic pine trees planted before this time. The curator of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, William Guilfoyle drew up new plans for the gardens in 1881, about ten years after the first plantings took place. He included the current lake, which is no longer home to the white swans that were introduced at about this time. The gardens are a reminder of how homesick the early European settlers were, as although the district is home to native grasslands and towering forests, the gardens remind you of English grandeur.
The gardens are the perfect spot to spend a fun afternoon with children as acres of well manicured lawns invite games and picnics. The innovative walk through aviary is home to many exotic and native birds while kangaroos, emus and wallabies also reside in the gardens.
Those that designed, built and nurtured the Hamilton Botanic Gardens over the last 150 years would be very proud of how this stunning sanctuary is presented today.
The arrival of the huge cannon from HMS Nelson in 1898 was marked with a celebratory firing. Unfortunately the blast was so great, nearby houses had windows and plaster shattered and cracked. Not surprisingly the cannon has been out of action since, but as you will see, its size is very impressive. Another interesting fact is that trenches were dug in the gardens during the Second World War as shelter for nearby schoolchildren in the case of an invasion.
Hamilton certainly gave of its best during major conflicts. According to the Returned Services League, Clarke Street in Hamilton sent more sons per capita to the Second World War than any other street in the entire Commonwealth.
Hamilton has gained fame for being the birthplace of Sir Reginald Ansett, the founder of Ansett Airlines. The dream began in the early 1930’s with a young and enthusiastic Reginald taking passengers to Ballarat, only a couple at a time… not in a plane but in his De Soto car. By 1935 he had a fleet of these vehicles travelling to Melbourne, Mount Gambier, Naracoorte and Warrnambool. You can still see where the empire all began, not from massive corporate headquarters but a typical bungalow-style house in Learmonth Street, just one part of the interesting walking tours of Hamilton. The wonderful history of how the airline grew into a huge empire is remembered at the Ansett Transport Museum, all housed in an aircraft hanger.
It is easy to forget the importance of horses back before the days of motorised transport. It is from this that racetracks have formed at most country centres. Station owners and farm hands alike would try their luck racing their horses and no doubt win a pretty penny. Although many towns have racecourses not many can boast a grandstand quite like Hamilton’s. Race meetings are held regularly throughout the year.
The importance of sport to the local community can also be seen at Melville Oval in the centre of town. During winter the well-serviced oval becomes a hive of football and netball activity with the grandstand well filled. In summer a more sedate and quieter scene can be found with the sound of leather on willow and modest clapping accompanying a game of cricket. The site has come a long way from the goat herding and slaughter area of the early 1830’s.
Treasures await you at another of Hamilton’s main attractions. The rich and diverse collection of paintings and decorative arts at the Hamilton Art Gallery is well worth a visit. Highlights include the fabulous Shaw Bequest left to the city in 1957 and now considered to be one of Australia’s major arts bequests of the 20th century. You will also discover on permanent display an important collection of 29 paintings by 18th century English artist, Paul Sandby, known as the ‘Father of English Watercolour’.
Six galleries feature ever changing exhibitions of historic and contemporary works. You can enjoy outstanding English and European silver, porcelain and glass, asian ceramics and bronzes, paintings and prints as well as a small collection of furniture.
Well known Australian artists represented in the collection range from Louis Buvelot, Nicholas Chevalier and Thomas Clark through to Hans Heysen, Sidney Nolan, John Olsen and Howard Arkley. It is interesting to note Hamilton’s collection includes paintings depicting the beauty of the region by early artists who found the new environment of Australia so different to their homelands. The Wannon Falls and Mt Abrupt near Dunkeld became popular subjects for colonial landscape painters in the late 19th century.
Hamilton’s impressive collection of over 7000 objects is complemented with a program that features some of the finest temporary exhibitions touring Australia. The Gallery is open weekdays from 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 12 noon & 2pm to 5pm and Sunday 2pm to 5pm. Gallery tours are available by appointment and naturally enhance the experience.
Those looking for the moving picture will find the cinema close by. It is here that you can lean back into original leather seats whilst rolling the odd jaffa along the floorboards.
Along Brown Street and around the corner from the cinema in Gray Street and Thompson Street you will find various cafés, serving the finest latte or cappuccino money can buy. Hamilton also has a number of fine dining opportunities, with local gourmet produce always on the menu.
More leisure can be found at Lake Hamilton in the form of fishing, water skiing, sailing or canoeing. The man made lake has been well planned, right down to the five kilometre walking track around its perimeter and the beach on its southern side.
The Hamilton Regional Livestock Exchange offers the tourist an opportunity to check the very pulse of this large farming region. The sheep market is held on Wednesdays, with an additional sale on Thursdays over the summer months, cattle sales also take place at Hamilton on Fridays. You can wander the yards and watch thousands of stock selling at a frantic pace, but be careful not to wave to anyone while there, you may quickly become the owner of a pen of steers. The saleyards are quite an Australian experience with the sheer volume of animals on offer sure to impress, particularly oversees visitors. In the lead up to Christmas it is quite common for over 50,000 lambs to be yarded for sale at the Hamilton Regional Livestock Exchange. In the new year, the annual cattle weaner sales are a great farming tradition, with thousands of cattle yarded.
Without doubt the largest single event in Hamilton throughout the year is Sheepvention, held in early August. Over 25,000 visitors from around Australia come to see the very latest in farming developments. In recent years the event has also become a showcase for everything the region has to offer. With over 500 trade displays, Sheepvention should not be missed if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the region at this time.
The Hamilton Pastoral Museum also offers a detailed view into the districts farming heritage, taking a more mechanical view of rural evolution in western Victoria.
Another lucky find in Hamilton’s more recent history was the rediscovery of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot near the site of the Hamilton tip in the 1980’s. The species was thought to be extinct in the area and it was on the endangered species list. The rediscovery of the striped nocturnal marsupial caused great excitement in the region and a breeding program has since helped to lift numbers.
For a relatively small city, Hamilton has a wide spectrum of fascinating architecture that represents the development of the centre from a colonial outpost to a vibrant country city.
Hamilton’s skyline is dominated by the spires of the Uniting, Anglican and Catholic Churches. All were built in a gothic-style in the late 19th century of local bluestone and led to Hamilton earning the early reputation as a Town of Churches. In fact the town once claimed to have more churches than hotels.
Colonial, Edwardian, Gothic, Victorian, Queen Anne and Federation-style architecture are well represented by buildings within a relatively short distance from the centre of town.
This information has been sourced from Visit Greater Hamilton