I remember sitting in The Hotel Shamrock in Bendigo for a breakfast meeting one brisk morning in 1996. One participant arrived, shook off her coat, and exclaimed: “I took my dogs for a walk through Rosalind Park this morning, and I could have been in Paris!”
She waxed lyrical about the tendrils of fog snaking around the lampposts, the buildings and foliage emerging through the mist, and the sheer beauty of it all.
She was absolutely right. Bendigo can be a beautiful city, with an abundance of heritage buildings erected using gold rush funds; but beauty is only part of Bendigo’s rich heritage.
Before European and Asian settlement, Bendigo lay in Jaara Jaara country, inhabited by the sixteen clans of the Jaara Jaara people, speaking Dja Dja Wurrung dialects.
The gold rushes of the 19th century brought European and Asian settlers to found Bendigo. Bendigo’s gold deposits lay underground, and mines were sunk higgledy piggledy, accounting for the erratic street plans in some neighbourhoods, as thoroughfares take what seem to be meaningless twists and turns now that the mines are gone. Many Chinese miners and merchants arrived during the 1850s, eventually making up 20% of the population.
Mining ceased in 1954, but recommenced in recent years, as new techniques made it economically viable to mine deep seams once more.
Bendigo’s fortunes have not only relied on gold. Bendigo residents carry a proud heritage of innovation. Australia’s first female-only gym, Fernwood Fitness, launched in Bendigo in 1989 and has since spread nationally. Bendigo Bank is also now a national institution, offering a range of innovative and community-based products, and Jimmy Possum, avant garde furniture retailer, is another national success story. (And no, none of those organisations paid me to mention them!)
And then there’s Discovery. It was Australia’s first regional science and technology centre (yay Bendigo!). Housed in a heritage listed building, Discovery combines Bendigo’s rich heritage with its pioneering spirit. To me, Discovery is what Bendigo is all about: past meets future, and something fantastic is born.
Do you have a favourite Bendigo place? Feel free to leave a comment below!