The Peculiar Climate of Ballarat

Snow in Ballarat in 1887

Snow in Ballarat in 1887. (Source: City of Ballarat)

We Ballaratians have always copped our fair share of banter from outsiders when it comes to the weather, and sometimes we may even be guilty of a little complaining about it ourselves! Residents and visitors alike have been known to describe our weather, and winter in particular, in rather bleak terms: ‘bitterly cold,’ ‘overcast,’ ‘grey and windy,’ ‘rainy and miserable,’ ‘lots of morning frost,’ ‘exceptionally unpleasant,’ ‘dismal,’ ‘four seasons in one day,' just to name a few. Relative to the rest of Australia, the sentiment may well be justified – Ballarat has a mean annual temperature sitting at just 12.3˚C, colder than any other major Australian city, and colder even than Wellington, Paris, or New York. I once knew an old Glaswegian who constantly complained that Ballarat was ‘colder than Scotland!’ That, of course, is a step too far. But there may be a grain of truth in the notion, not that it is colder here, but that it feels colder here. While Glasgow is 2 to 3˚ colder than Ballarat when it comes to actual temperature, it enjoys warm breezes from the Gulf Stream originating in distant tropical Florida. On the other hand, Ballarat’s highland location often exposes us to strong winds and cold fronts, bringing frigid air from Antarctica. And not only are we one of the coldest cities in Australia, but also one of the windiest, with a wind chill factor capable of reducing the apparent temperature by up to 10˚C. Needless to say, thick jumpers, warm coats, and puffer jackets are a common sight for much of the year in Ballarat.

snow on nature strip

One of Australia's few cities to see occasional snowfall, though in terms of actual temperature winters are not as harsh as much of the northern hemisphere.

What about our plants? They are unaffected by the wind chill we humans can find so unpleasant. What plants care about is actual temperature, but even by this measure Ballarat’s cool climate is more akin to cities such as London and Paris than any other major city on the Australian mainland, including nearby Melbourne. Hence the popularity of English-style gardens in Ballarat. Deciduous trees, roses, bulbs, and herbaceous perennials are in abundance, especially in the old, established suburbs of our city. Our streets are adorned with oak, ash, elm, and plane, forming part of the heritage that this historic city is famous for.

Frost on a redcurrant

A frosty morning at Hollyhock Hill: frozen redcurrant leaves.

Compared with the rest of mainland Australia, Ballaratians share the coldness of their climate with just a few small towns that sit atop the Great Dividing Range, such as Lithgow in New South Wales. So, with no other major city on the mainland quite like Ballarat, where else in the world is? Here is a look at some other parts of the world that share a climate similar to Ballarat, with consideration given to a variety of factors, including seasonal and annual temperature and rainfall, latitude, altitude, wind speed, and sunshine hours.


515 km away SSE as the crow flies, Launceston in Tasmania is, climatically speaking, our closest sister city in Australia and the world. Launceston (which is colder than Hobart) has near identical average temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and sunshine hours as Ballarat. What grows in Launceston will certainly grow here!

Across the Tasman and even further south, another city in the southern hemisphere with a similar climate to Ballarat is Christchurch, New Zealand. It has similar rainfall, the same pattern of drier summer and wetter winter, and very similar average temperatures.


Except for the bottom tip of South America, the rest of the southern hemisphere around our latitude is ocean. Temuco in the Araucania region of southern Chile is the only other place like us in the south. Strikingly similar in temperature range with an identical average temperature, Temuco sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes at a similar latitude and altitude to Ballarat. Buddleja globosa is native to this part of the world, as well as Araucaria araucana, a.k.a. the Monkey Puzzle tree. Several alstroemeria species are also native. Like here, however, many of the naturalised and established plants in Temuco are introduced from Europe or elsewhere. Temuco experiences very wet winters, and, like Ballarat, summer is the drier season.


In the northern hemisphere, similar climates to Ballarat are usually found at a higher latitude. This is because there is more ocean and less land in the southern hemisphere, which has a cooling effect on our atmosphere. In Europe, the northern Spanish cities of Vitoria-Gasteiz and Pamplona in the Basque Country are our closest relatives. The amount of introduced flora we have in common with this region is remarkable, thanks to our near identical climates – these two cities are like us in everything from altitude to annual rainfall, to the wet winter/dry summer pattern, to the average annual temperature range and sunshine hours. Even most of our weeds are the same, as are most of the flowers that readily naturalise in our gardens. This is the native homeland of some of our all-time favourite naturalised garden flowers, such as aquilegias, foxgloves, sweet scabious, poppies, and daffodils. Buxus sempervirens, what we call ‘English’ box, has its main native range across this region of northern Spain as well as southern France. Other similar cities in western Europe include Gijon and Valladolid in Spain, and Poitiers in France. London and Paris are also quite like us, to the extent that Ballarat's climate has more in common with these two cities than with any of Australia's capital cities.

Red Spotted Jezebel on Sweet Scabious

A visiting Red Spotted Jezebel and one of our own bees, both feeding on sweet scabious, native to Spain and France.


Columbines, native to Europe.


Washington State is the region most like us in North America, as well as parts of Oregon. Seattle is our closest sister city there, as it has very similar average temperatures. Although it receives higher annual rainfall than us, the pattern is still the same – loads of drizzle in the winter, and generally dry in the summer. Other similar cities and towns in this region include Kent, Tacoma, and Vancouver in Washington State (not to be confused with Vancouver in Canada), and Salem in Oregon. Plants native to this region which grow well in our garden include heuchera, penstemons, and lupins.


The only parts of Africa with a climate like ours are not heavily populated. The closest is the small town of Ifrane in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, which experiences cold, wet winters with significant snowfall, but otherwise near identical average annual temperatures to us. Mediterranean plants such as lavender and rock roses are native to this area, both of which grow well in Ballarat. In southern Africa, parts of the Western Cape come close to us, though South Africa is generally warmer. Nevertheless, many of our naturalised garden plants come from southern Africa, including two abundantly reproductive bulbs we have let go in ours – Gladiolus carneus and Sparaxis tricolor. Also native to South Africa are agapanthus and the arum lily, which can have a habit of establishing themselves perhaps a little too easily in Ballarat.

gladiolus carneus

Mass planting of Gladiolus carneus, a native of South Africa.


Across the vast Asian continent, it is in parts of western Asia where the climate most resembles ours, especially in Turkey. We have a lot in common with Istanbul and Bursa, cities at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. This part of the world is the original homeland of the damask rose, tulips, snowdrops, lilies, cherry trees, the Smyrna quince, around 100 species of salvia, and that most important of the world’s food crops, wheat. Sweet peas, another favourite of ours, were once used as hedge plants in the palace gardens of the Ottoman Empire.

Smyrna quince

Smyrna quince, a Turkish native, harvested at Hollyhock Hill.

Elsewhere in Asia, monsoonal rainfall is a feature across most of the Indian subcontinent and wet summers are the norm in the Far East, both of which are completely foreign to us in Ballarat. We nevertheless share some similarities with the Korean peninsula and the Himalayan foothills, and we seem to have no difficulty growing many species in our garden that are native to Japan, Korea, Tibet, Kashmir, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iran, and even Siberia. Our favourite Geranium, ‘Rozanne’, is a hybrid of two species native to the Himalayas. The Himalayan Butterfly Bush, Buddleja colvillei, the Himalayan cedar, Cedrus deodara, and Clematis montana are some more treasured plants in our garden originally from this mountain range. We also grow buddleja species and hydrangeas that are native to eastern Asia; Fatsia japonica, native to Korea; Salvia yangii, native to Afghanistan and western Asia; Lamprocapnos spectabilis, native from Korea through to Siberia, and the Siberian dogwood, Cornus alba, native to – you guessed it – Siberia.

Dicentra Bleeding Heart

A close-up of the beautiful Asian bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis, native from Korea to Siberia.

I don’t know if I will ever find myself in Washington State, the Basque Country, the south of France, Turkey, or any of the other places I have mentioned, but if I do, I will be sure to spend some time exploring their parks and gardens, knowing that what does well in any of these places is likely to do well also in Ballarat.

So, dear fellow Ballaratians, the next time someone makes a wise crack about ‘Ballarat weather’, you can tell them that it is our much-maligned climate that makes Ballarat's gardens so beautiful. Of course, we could always do with a little less of that bracing wind (a visiting friend from Singapore once opened the window and exclaimed, 'Air-conditioning on the outside!'), but since heatwaves and warming climates are now such a global concern, is there really anything wrong with living in the coolest city of this mostly hot and sunburnt country?

(Author’s note: Excepting the historic photograph from 1887, all photographs in this article are the intellectual property of the author. Climate statistics are in a constant state of flux; the information provided in this article has been compiled from various sources and is intended for illustrative purposes only.)

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