They were big enough to take down an aeroplane but were invented before the Wright Brothers’ feet ever left the ground — two punt guns are among some of the historical oddities being documented in Victoria’s gold rush capital of Ballarat.
Over the past 12 months, Ballarat City Council has been cataloguing hundreds of historical items stored at Town Hall in the hope of attracting more tourists to the 147-year-old building.
The items range from paintings, weapons and manuscripts, to a crucible believed to have been used during the Eureka Stockade.
Consultant curator Roger Trudgeon has catalogued 600 items in the past year but expects that figure to double.
“There’s at least another 600 to 1,000 to go that I know about,” Mr Trudgeon said.
“I’m aware too that there are other sites that the Council is responsible for where there will be more material.”
Terrifying weapons offer insight into government
Prior to the Ballarat City Council confiscating the illegal firearms in the early 20th century, the punt guns were used to hunt wildlife, mostly ducks, at Lake Wendouree.
“They are said to take 10 to 15 birds at once,” Mr Trudgeon said.
“The cartridges are massive and the power they represent is enormous. I think any self-respecting wildlife would run a mile if they knew this was coming.”
But Mr Trudgeon has found a historical significance in the punt guns that goes beyond their impressive size and rarity, and shows how the role of local government has changed over time.
“They show some of the more unusual parts of Ballarat’s history,” he said.
“The historical collections here are full of things that surprise you about what councils do and what they had to do in the past, and how effective they were playing their role in trying to create some sort of order out of the chaos of the gold rush.”
A painting of Victoria’s legislative assembly in 1896 points to Ballarat’s significant role in pre-Federation politics, with many feeling the city had been robbed of becoming the national capital in 1901.
“Ballarat had the distinction of being the electorate that had the highest vote for Federation of any electorate of Australia … something like 96 per cent of people voted for it,” Mr Tudgeon said.
“One of these reasons that people in Ballarat were very much in favour of it was because they believed at the time that they were going to be the national capital.”
Collection being digitized with 3D scanners
In March, Ballarat City Council commissioned a private company to create 3D scans of some of its historical collection, including a relay torch from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and a mining pick used on the Ballarat goldfields.
Mayor Samantha McIntosh said Council wants to create a virtual catalogue of its historical collection so that people can view it online.
“We’ve rescued a lot of pieces that have been in roof lines and containers and the like, that are property of the Town Hall, that really do connect with the history of the city,” Cr McIntosh said.
“We want it to be online, we want to make sure that we’ve got availability for everyone.
“It’s a heritage building and therefore doesn’t meet all regulations, doesn’t have access for everyone, so we want to make sure that there is an accessible way for anyone to view and enjoy the history of our Town Hall.”