Jockey Michelle Payne Rides Back into Ballarat


Australian Jockey Michelle Payne on her home town of Ballarat. As told by Angie Kelly.

What are your fondest memories of Ballarat?

We grew up on a property in front of the Ballarat Turf Club in Miners Rest – a semi-rural suburb on the city outskirts – so racing was always a part of our lives. We grew up with horses because my dad was a trainer. We had stables at our place so the horses could just walk straight onto the course, and we could hear the races being called from our backyard. My brothers and sisters and I had so much fun being able to roam around the countryside.

Describe growing up there.

My dad was busy with 10 kids so we didn’t go into town much, apart from going to school. I went to Loreto College on the main street, Sturt Street, and I loved doing cross-country running around the botanical garden and parks in town. Obviously, the history of Ballarat as the centre of the Victorian gold rush is amazing and, with the Sovereign Hill open-air museum being one of the main attractions, we went there every year. Every time we had visitors, we would show them around Sovereign Hill. So I feel very connected to the history of the town. We even found some tiny bits of gold in our back paddock, as well as really old coins from the days when miners camped all over Ballarat.

What took you away?

I moved to Melbourne when I was 16 to live with my sister so I could be an apprentice at Flemington Racecourse. 

How often do you go back?

I went back all the time over the years but I recently moved here permanently and am living with Dad while I build a house on my own property, about 10 minutes out of town, and set up my farm. My brother, Stevie, and I have named it Nottingham Farm after Robin Hood, our favourite childhood movie. I’m really lucky, as some of my school friends are back living here, too – as well as my sisters – so that’s really special.

Has it changed much?

Things here feel the same to me. Even though there are a lot of new restaurants and bars, those beautiful big trees in the grand main street are still here and that’s what I love the most. 

What’s your favourite thing to do there?

I love to run around Lake Wendouree; it’s a beautiful place to do your exercise and take in the peace. I like going to The Boatshed Restaurant, The Lake View Hotel and the Ballarat Yacht Club, which I visit regularly for lunch and dinner. There’s also a little place I go to for dinner called The North Britain, a pub with delicious food and live music.

What are three things you think every visitor should do?

The Art Gallery of Ballarat is famous for its collection of early Colonial paintings. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka tells the story of the Eureka Rebellion, which happened on the very spot where the museum is built. Mitchell Harris, in Doveton Street North, is a cool bar and cellar door in an old motor workshop where you can try wines from around Western Victoria. 

About Ballarat

Victoria’s largest inland city, Ballarat was a sheep station until gold was discovered in 1851. Today, Victorian-era streetscapes reflect the gold-rush days and the city of 100,000 is a regional hub for arts, food and events. And it’s just 115 clicks from Melbourne.

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