The town just breeds talent.
During our time in lockdown, we’ve been taking a look at some of the celebrities or well-known humans born or raised in regional Victoria. A result of a lot of Googling and a couple of wines, we came to the conclusion that Geelong really is a breeding ground for exceptional talent, spawning the likes of Chrissy Amphlett, Portia De Rossi, Daryl Somers and Guy Pearce, among others. Warrnambool proved to be quite impressive too, birthing the likes of Tom Ballard, Lisa Gorman, Airbourne and Jonathan Brown, just to name a few.
Now we’re continuing our journey into exploring the region’s greatest, directing our attention to Ballarat.
Here are a few that we quite enjoyed. Please note, this list is far from definitive and there’s most certainly some names you feel should have been included.
This woman just had to be our number one! An Australian jockey, Michelle became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in 2015, riding Prince of Penzance, literally making the history books!
Looking back, the local legend grew up on a farm at Miners Rest, a locality near Ballarat in central Victoria, where her passion for Thoroughbred horse racing began. After winning first race at Ballarat, aboard Reigning, a horse trained by her father and being involved to a serious riding accident not too long after, Michelle got her big break in 2009 when trainer Bart Cummings offered her the ride at the Caulfield Cup – making her the third female jockey to do so.
While the years following her win saw some controversy (namely testing positive for the drug phentermine), her achievements can’t be overlooked. And been awarded the Don Award at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame awards and the Longines Ladies Award in Washington U.S are pretty huge milestones, acknowledging her positive influence at the time. Just last year, Michelle’s victory was made into a feature film, Ride Like a Girl, with Teresa Palmer in the role of Payne.
Not bad for a Ballarat local, not bad at all.
We can’t really mention Michelle without also acknowledging her brother Stevie. While Michelle became the first woman to ride the Cup winner, Stevie gained fame that same year as Prince of Penzance’s strapper, helping to showcase the capabilities of people with Down syndrome.
Still working together to this day, Stevie actually starred in the aforementioned Ride Like A Girl film as himself.
We love Nick Cave, so we were pretty stoked to find out one of Nick Cave’s closest musical collaborators, Warren Ellis, hails from regional Victoria, having been born in the historical gold mining settlement of Ballarat.
Ellis, who rose to prominence as a member of Cave’s Grinderman and The Bad Seeds projects as well as his own instrumental trio The Dirty Three, stumbled upon his future profession as a musician as a child on a trip to the Ballarat tip, where he found an old piano and convinced his parents to take it home so he could take lessons – and, as they say, the rest is history.
Known around the country as ‘Mona’, Steve is a famed marathon runner best known for his 1994 Commonwealth Games gold medal… which is pretty damn impressive if you ask us.
Born in Ballarat, Steve developed his endurance at high school in the Rat, and began his running career at Ballarat Regional Centre in the under 14 Cross Country race. From there he was well on his way to becoming one of Australia’s greatest marathon runners, having scored bronze at the 1986 Commonwealth Games for his first marathon, before claiming his first marathon victory in Berlin four years later.
From there it was a bounty of successes and course records until his last race representing Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Marathon to which he finished 10th.
He did however continue to race for fun (bless him) and if you’re in Ballarat, you’ll often spot the great running around Lake Wendouree to this day.
Throwing it back to the 90s, it was the moment that The Mavis’s released their sophomore album ‘Pink Pills’ in 1998, the Ballarat band were catapulted to the forefront of Australian music.
Composed of Matt Thomas (guitar, vocals), his sister Becky Thomas (vocals), Nick Gill (guitar), Andrea Vendy (drums), and Josh Alexander (bass guitar), that platinum-selling album made them national treasures, scoring them an ARIA nomination as well as tour support slots for pop princess Kylie Minogue. ‘Pink Pills’ also birthed two singles that remain prevalent as classic hits ‘Naughty Boy’ and ‘Cry’, which appeared on the Triple J Hottest 100 for 1998.
They actually celebrated the 20th anniversary of that monumental album two years ago with a hometown show at the Karova Lounge (now Volta). The Aussie rockers and eternal cyber punks will forever be remembered as the region’s greats.
A name well known on and off the field, Tony ‘Plugger’ Lockett is one of Ballarat’s most respected sporting heroes.
His achievements are lengthy, but most notably he became the highest goal scorer in the history of the VFL/AFL with 1,360 goals in a career of 281 games, starting in 1983 with the St Kilda Football Club and ending in 2002 with the Sydney Swans. Absolutely huge effort!!
He then won the Brownlow Medal in 1987, becoming the first and only full forward to ever win the award at the time. Proving his elite football skills further, he is also a four-time Coleman Medallist, kicking more than 100 goals in a season on six occasions (an AFL record he shares with Jason Dunstall of Hawthorn), and he is now officially a member of the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
I don’t know a great deal about football, but even I can tell that’s an impressive list of achievements.
Another one for the football fans, Michael Malthouse is another Ballarat born and bred, Wendouree West to be exact. With a notable playing career (included a premiership for Richmond in 1980), it’s Michael’s long-standing coaching career across four clubs that he is best known for.
I won’t go into super specific details, but after beginning as a coach with Footscray in 1984, he became the most successful coach in the history of the West Coast Eagles, holding several club coaching records AND leading the team to the 1992 AFL Grand Final win, which in fact was the West Coast Eagles’ first ever premiership and the first AFL premiership won by a team from outside Victoria. Not bad so far.
He then coached Collingwood to grand finals in 2002, 2003, 2010 and 2011; with success in the 2010 Grand Final Replay, leading Collingwood to its first premiership since 1990.
Following the pies, he then spent two and a half seasons as the senior coach of Carlton from 2013 until mid-2015.
What. A. Man. A coaching career spanning 718 senior games – the all-time VFL/AFL record – over thirty-one seasons is certainly a remarkable feat.
One of Australia’s most beloved actors, William ‘Bill’ Hunter, is another Ballarat born and bred.
Having passed away in 2011, it’s Bill’s list of work that will live on, reading like a history of Australian film and television, with appearances in more than 100 big and small screen productions.
He worked alongside Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981), played the meddling ballroom federation president Barry Fife in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992) and starred as then-newcomer Toni Collette’s father in Muriel’s Wedding (1994).
He also worked on PJ Hogan’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994), starring alongside Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving, and he has had roles in Red Dog, TV miniseries The Pacific, Finding Nemo (he voiced the Dentist), Crackerjack and Luhrmann’s Australia.
We should also point out that in 1978 he won an AFI award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his part as Len Maguire in the movie Newsfront, which won eight AFIs that year, including Best Film.
A great loss to the film industry. RIP Bill.
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The man’s got a whole museum dedicated to him in town so he best make the cut!
Yep, we’re talking about none other than Reginald Ansett, the businessman and founder of Ansett Airways.
While he wasn’t born in Ballarat (he was from Inglewood), our regional town is where most of his business life took place, beginning with a service car operation in the 30s, carrying passengers and small items of freight between Ballarat and Maryborough.
Deemed inefficient, he switched the Ansett Motors operation to a Ballarat to Hamilton service, which soon blossomed into Ansett Airways, and saw him owning one of Australia’s two leading domestic airlines between 1957 and 2001. He went on to establish a number of other enterprises including Ansett Pioneer coachlines, Ansett Freight Express, Ansair coachbuilders, Gateway Hotels, Diner’s Club Australia, Biro Bic Australia and the ATV-0 television station in Melbourne and TVQ-0 in Brisbane which later became part of Network Ten.
A whole lot happened after that before he passed in the 80s, but you can read up on all the intricate details here.
Born it Creswick, John Curtin was an Australian politician who served as the 14th Prime Minister of Australia from 1941 until his death in 1945. He led the country for the majority of World War II, and was the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1935 to 1945, marking its longest serving leader until Gough Whitlam.
While his credentials were certainly recognised, it was Curtin’s leadership skills and personal character were acclaimed by his political contemporaries. You’ve probably noticed that he is frequently cited as one of Australia’s greatest prime ministers.
Ballarat-born David Noonan is a renowned artist currently living and working in London.
He is known for large-scale monochromatic collages on linen comprised of fabrics which are torn, folded, cut, stitched and combined with silkscreened images. He used this approach to produce his 2018 atmospheric film A dark and quiet place.
More recently, Noonan made tapestries in collaboration with Belgian weavers, which have allowed him to combine art and traditional craft techniques. He has been the subject of solo museum and commercial gallery exhibitions in Australia the United Kingdom, Europe and America and he has been included in notable survey exhibitions and biennials. His work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums in Australia and internationally, making him a bit of a homegrown great!
Prior to its closure, you could actually witness his exhibition ‘Stagecraft’ exclusive at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, boasting his silkscreen collages on fabric, tapestries and film.
Another sporting hero spawned from the Rat.
Peter Blackburn is a renowned badminton player who affiliated with the Ballarat Badminton Association. He competed at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, and collected four bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games in Badminton.
Still living in Ballarat today, Peter was awarded the Hollioake Medallion in 1991, 1994 and 1995 for his outstanding contribution to sport in the City of Ballarat prior to the Olympics, and in 1999 he was named Ballarat Sportsperson of the Year.
If you were a fan of Big Brother back when it was at its prime, you’d probably recognise the name.
Now well-known as an Australian media personality , Jamie grew up in Ballarat, Victoria and attended Mount Clear College, before going on to study performing arts at Ballarat University. It was in 2007 that he took to the Big Brother housemate and before that he was connected with Fairfax Media and Super Radio Network.
His other television appearances include a recurring bit part on the Australian television series The Secret Life of Us and as a founding host of video-game based television show Level 3. He was previously a network announcer with Southern Cross Austereo until an acrimonious split from the company in 2015.
Ray Borner OAM
The sporting greats continue. Ray is an Australian former basketball player who competed in the National Basketball League. He was named as the NBL’s Most Valuable Player for the 1985 season, becoming the first Australian born player to win the award.
Born in Ballarat, the legend also competed for the ‘Boomers’ in four Summer Olympic Games: 1984 in Los Angeles, 1988 in Seoul, 1992 in Barcelona, and 1996 in Atlanta. He also played for the Boomers at the 1986, 1990 and 1994 FIBA World Championships.
Borner was inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and was awarded the Order of Australia medal on Australia Day in 2009.
There had to be a Neighbours star amongst the crop didn’t there?!
Born and bred in Ballarat, Kim is most famous for playing Annalise Hartman on the Australian soap opera Neighbours from 1993 to 1996.
She also hosted an Australian series called Just Kidding!, which featured pranks played on an unsuspecting public, played the role of Laura Sinclair in the lavish but short-lived night-time soap opera Pacific Palisades and also made guest appearances on Ally McBeal, Early Edition and Friends, and appeared in the films Psycho Beach Party, The Next Best Thing, The Shrink Is In, Made and South Pacific. In 2005, she returned to Neighbours for the show’s twentieth anniversary and appeared in the 2009 Christmas Special of Australian comedy game show Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation.
One more for the footy fans.
Born in Ballarat, Drew is now a well-known professional Australian rules footballer who played for the North Melbourne Football Club and the West Coast Eagles in the Australian Football League (AFL). At North Melbourne, he was a five time leading goalkicker in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015.
He came out of retirement in 2017 to play for the West Coast Eagles in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL).
Can’t forget Bracksey!
The 44th Premier of Victoria, Steve went to St Patrick’s College and the Ballarat College of Advanced Education (now the Federation University), where he graduated in business studies and education. He first won the electoral district of Williamstown in 1994 for the Labor Party and was party leader and premier from 1999 to 2007.
For more fun content, check out our piece on 25 things you learn during your first year living in Geelong.