Exploring where we live

Did you know that the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia or that it has over 11,000 artworks and objects in its Collection?  

One of the Gallery’s important jobs is to look after the Collection for the people of Ballarat. We select artworks from the Collection to create exhibitions that tell stories about art, culture and society including stories about Ballarat and the surrounding regions. Currently on display there are displays of artworks from the Collection that explore different themes including how different artists have explored the theme Place.   

Think about where you live. How do you experience a sense of place and how do you express that? 

Do you live in a city, a town, in the country or in the middle of the bush?  Are there any significant landmarks where you live? What colours do you see around you? What sounds do you hear? How would that place have looked 100 years ago? What might it look like 100 years into the future? Who are the traditional owners of the country you live on? 

In the Place display, Gallery Curator Julie McLaren has selected artworks that explore stories about Ballarat. The hang tells us about Ballarat’s past, present and future as shown in artworks created at different times in history and by artists from different backgrounds. In this display you will find artworks such as Lake Wendouree, Ballarat circa 1875 by Thomas Thompson and Black Swamp, Lake Wendouree 2018 by Aunty Marlene Gilson. 

Both these paintings depict Lake Wendouree a prominent landmark in Ballarat, but although the setting is the same, the two paintings tell us very different stories. 

In her work Wadawurrung artist Aunty Marlene Gilson shares stories of her ancestral land. By depicting Lake Wendouree as it was before the arrival of white settlers, Aunty Marlene is showing the viewer how the landscape may have looked to the Wadawurrung people and the sorts of activities they might have undertaken there.  This painting was created from the stories and Wadawurrung culture which was passed down to Aunty Marlene from her mother and aunties.   

Lake Wendouree, Ballarat by Thomas Thompson also depicts Lake Wendouree but unlike Aunty Marlene, Thompson painted this scene circa 1875, after the arrival of white settlers and 24 years after the discovery of gold in Ballarat. The painting shows us what white settler life was like at the time as well as how much the new settlers altered the environment as they tried to replicate their homelands. The natural swamp flanked by the Australian bush which served as an important food and cultural site for the Wadawurrung people has long gone. Instead, we see a dammed lake with green lawns planted with European plants such as the weeping willow trees beside the landing stage.   

By displaying these two paintings together, we give visitors to the Gallery a greater understanding of the history and stories of the area.  

Exploring where we live

The works in the Place display explore how artists have interpreted their experience of Ballarat. Think about where you live: how could you represent the place where you live? Is it through stories about the past or imaginings of the future? Does the natural environment help to create a sense of place or is it defined by the man-made structures you see in your town or city? Or is place about the family, friends and neighbours around you?   

Using the Gallery gold frame template as a size guide, create an artwork that responds to the theme of Place. Explore where you live as inspiration. Think about how you can display your finished works as a class to create an exhibition. 

Marlene Gilson

Marlene Gilson
Black Swamp, Lake Wendouree 2018
synthetic polymer paint on linen
Purchased with funds from the Art Gallery of Ballarat Association, 2018
Copyright the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary

Thomas Thompson, Lake Wendouree, Ballarat

Thomas Tompson
Lake WendoureeBallarat circa 1875
oil on canvas
Purchased and conserved with funds from the Joe White Bequest and the Hilton White Bequest, 2006

Activity Lesson Plan


A resting place? Or a bold and vibrant community? 

Prior to pastoral settlement, the Wadawurrung people inhabited the land in the area which was to become known as Ballarat. The area was a camp ground or meeting place where groups gathered – the name, first recorded by the squatter Archibald Yuille in 1837, is comprised of two Aboriginal words balla and arat meaning ‘resting place’.  

Gold was discovered in Ballarat in late 1851 and news of the goldfield spread rapidly, causing an influx of people, both gold-seekers and those keen to make money supplying the needs of the diggers. Between 1851 and 1861 about 500,000 people came to Australia from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, China, America, Italy, France, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, India, Africa, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. 

In 1854, two years after its founding, Ballarat was the scene of an armed rebellion known as Eureka Stockade, in which miners demanded political reform and the abolition of licenses. At least 30 men were killed in the battle. 

The wealth of the gold mining contributed to the buildings, streetscapes and parks that can be seen in Ballarat today. Ballarat has continued to grow and is now a thriving, multicultural city of nearly 110,000 people with a strong artistic community and is redefining itself as a creative city. 

Download the Lesson Plan

pdf (270kb)

Download the image resources

pdf (5Mb)

Further resources

Further resources

Other Art Gallery of Ballarat education resources for schools:

A panoramic view of the Ballarat Diggings

Old Ballarat as it was in the summer of 1853-54 by Eugene von Guerard


A First Nations view of the Eureka Stockade

Education resources including an interview with Aunty Marlene Gilson 

Like more information?

We’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us about this or any other programs at ArtGalleryEducation@ballarat.vic.gov.au


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