Until about a year ago, the name of Ballarat was merely an historic link with the great goldfields of Australia. Little did I realise that it is also home to a unique organ festival, an army of cheerful friendly people, one of the most beautifully restored 1850s hotels I have ever had the privilege to stay in, and a lonely cricket which I have called George.
The artists are all top-quality, and so are the audiences. I should explain.
You know those quiet passages in concerts which signal "This is the time for everyone to clear throats, hack away your smoker's cough, talk to your neighbour" and generally make a racket? Well, for the mob who are the regulars at Ballarat Organs festival, that would be unthinkable. They turn their phones off. They don't talk. They arrive on time, clutching vital cushions for the hard pews. They applaud wildly when suitable and not when they shouldn't. When things go wrong (see my next posting), they laugh and say they are used to that and it's all part of the fun. They buy stuff and they smile. I love them a lot already.
Besides, what's not to like? Especially when we are staying in the historic Craig's Royal Hotel in Lydiard Street. The welcome board in the foyer would have you believe we are hob-nobbing with the likes of Mark Twain and Lord Kitchener as well as the members of the Eureka Stockade Royal Commission. Pampered is the word that comes to mind. A good dose of old-fashioned, luxury other-worldliness, and perhaps some of the loveliest handprinted wallpaper I have seen in a while.