First published on 14 Dec 2011. Updated on 29 Jan 2013.
Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill is an open-air museum focused on the region’s gold mining history. It was also the site of the 1854 Eureka Uprising, in which miners clashed with British troops. A 70-minute drive from Melbourne, the site is made up to resemble a 19th century outpost of the British Empire, complete with costumed actors and lots of mining-related activities. Sovereign Hill's ‘A Night in the Museum’ package gives overnight visitors (over the age of 16) the chance to experience life in the 1850s, but with better smells and fewer diseases. While gussied up in period costume, guests can stay in accommodations at the top of Main Street, ride in a carriage, pan for gold and take afternoon tea followed by a 'Taste of Empire' dinner. There's also a nightly sound and light show inspired by the Eureka Uprising. Bradshaw St, Ballarat. $390-$670.
The grandiose Rupertswood makes the list by virtue of being the historical home of cricketing’s great prize, the Ashes. Completed in 1876, Rupertswood was the extravagant home of Sir William John Clarke, and was once so popular with the upper crust of the colony that it had its own train station on a line from Spencer Street. The story goes that in Lady Clarke presented England captain Ivo Bligh with the ashes of a burnt bail in response to a recent newspaper ‘obituary’ for English cricket, occasioned by the Australian team winning for the first time on English soil. Those with a love of cricket or a taste for Victorian japery can splash out for the HV McKay suite at $525, or plump for a room in the servants’ quarters from a humbler $200 per night. 3 Macedon St, Sunbury. $200-$525.
At the opposite end of the spectrum there’s Camp Eureka, nestled in bushland about 75 minutes east of Melbourne. Constructed in the late 1940s by members of the Communist Party, the Eureka Youth League and the trade union movement, it’s both a functioning campsite and a Heritage Listed artefact of a more idealistic period in Australian politics. Maintained by a small working collective, the rustic site can be hired for a reasonable fee with preference given to community and activist groups, with a maximum of 32 people. Families are also welcome, but bookings (and a $50 deposit) are essential in all cases to ensure someone is there to let you in. 100 Tarrango Rd, Yarra Junction. Price on application.
The Old Melbourne Gaol rarely allows visitors to stay the whole night – charity events aside, they’re pretty reticent about locking people up these days. However, those with nerves of steel can opt for one of two nocturnal prison experiences. The Hangman’s Night Tour runs four times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), from 8.30–10pm during daylight saving and 7.30–9pm the rest of the year. The tour is conducted by an actor in the character of Michael Gately, a 19th century convict and executioner, and is not recommended for children under 12. The paranormal investigation group Ghostseekers will also be running monthly night tours of the Gaol during 2012, in hope of finding scientific proof of its long-rumoured restless spirits, including Ned Kelly's ma! 377 Russell St, Melbourne. $30-$35.