ASE recently attended a familiarization in Ballarat.
OK not the most obvious location to visit for event industry stories but our interest was piqued by the recent announcement that Ballarat would host a regional version of White Night in 2017.
We were joined in Ballarat by a group of PCOs from Victoria, many of who traveled from Melbourne by train, and they were very complimentary of that experience stating that it was just as quick as driving and much more relaxing.
We stayed at The Mercure Ballarat as guests of GM Simon Monk.
The Mercure hotel rooms are spread across a very large property which lends itself to weddings (of course) and to easily accommodate events held by car clubs, who are frequent visitors to the property.
Most of the buildings are constructed from recycled bricks, many of which were made in the brickworks and pottery that formally occupied the site.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable. The Mercure convention centre is surprisingly large for a country location and is in use not only for conferences and weddings but GM Simon has also launched out to utilize the space for dinner cabaret shows. The convention centre, which seats up to 850 pax, is complimented by another eight venues that accommodate between 50 and 400 pax.
The restaurant area of the property has recently been completely renovated and relaunched as Billy’s Bistro and Bar and is now popular with locals and guests alike especially as that refurb included the installation of a new chef, Donatello Pietrantuono. To showcase the work of the kitchen we were treated to a degustation dinner. Chef Dona (as he is affectionately known) explained that his food philosophy is to source locally and seasonally as much as possible. This approach applies not only to the restaurant but also to conference catering (so don’t expect your conference dinner menu to be set until close to the event).
I took the opportunity to have a chat with Simon Monk about his time in the hospitality industry, the history of the property and some of his favourite events there.
Sovereign Hill is Ballarat’s most famous tourist destination and is well known for their sound and light show ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ which has been running for some years now. We were guests for the new immersive experience that celebrates Christmas in July, complete with snow.
Sovereign Hill is also a popular destination for incentive groups and although the park is never closed for exclusivity these groups are treated to some very special experiences. ASE spoke to CEO Jeremy Johnson about the history of the park and in particular about the Amway India incentive visit to Sovereign Hill last year.
Sovereign Hill has a variety of rooms available for hire accommodating from 10 to 250 delegates.
So will ASE be covering White Night Ballarat? As much as we would like to, maybe not. On that weekend Ballarat will be hosting a very large Rotary conference that has almost all the accommodation booked out! Well let’s hope the Rotarians enjoy exploring the arts facilities throughout the night.
However Ballarat is hosrt to plenty of festivals and events throughout the year – check out the options online
On Saturday morning we took a walk around the centre of Ballarat. Our guide from Ballarat Heritage Tours managed to not only engage us with stories of the foundation of Ballarat but included venues of particular interest to PCOs and event mangers, including…
The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute (and that is not a typo, it is the original spelling) has been a working subscription library since the 1860s. The spacious hall in this venue is available for hire and you can present from the same stage from which Mark Twain addressed a fascinated audience in 1895. Then around the corner you can stay or have a drink in Craig’s Royal Hotel which not only hosted Mr Twain but also royalty of the 19th century. One of them was Dame Nellie Melba who stayed in this hotel when she performed in the Her Majesty’s Theatre across the road. The Royal Hotel now boasts five banquet and meeting rooms.
The seating in Her Majesty’s Theatre was refurbished earlier this year and with a seating capacity of 890 this beautiful venue would be perfect for a conference opening. Also managed by Her Majesty’s is the Ballarat Mining Exchange. Although this an open space we were surprised to find the concrete floor has heating pipes ducted through it. On the day we visited the annual beer festival was being setup – not a bad idea for a conference welcome function.
Our tour of Ballarat central finished at the premises of Mitchell Harris Wines where we were shown around the almost 150 year old building by Alicia Mitchell. The premises have served as a produce store, canvas manufacturing, an electric motor workshop and now (since 2013) an urban cellar door, wine bar and event venue.
The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) is a relatively new building on the site of the Eureka Stockade that boasts a 110 seat theatrette along with the original Eureka flag and interactive displays that would take many hours to consume. Cocktail functions can held in the display area.
Kryal Castle is on the outskirts of Ballarat and offers guests a medieval experience with rooms that can accommodate up to 250 pax and an arena that can cover 5000 people under a marquee. They also boast seventeen suites that all themed.