18 June 2012
It is this passion for Australian history that is my inspiration to seek out places to tour. I love quenching my inner desire to know and connect with this great country. Exploring the Golden Triangle in Victoria seemed to fit the bill – but it wasn't a planned encounter.
After a wonderful week in western Victoria taking in the Grampians and Mt Arapiles, I was at a loss about where to head: continue west to the Flinders Ranges or explore the east? The weather started to close in – an opportune time for a coffee break and some research on the trusty iPad.
While sitting on the horns of a dilemma, a spectacular rainbow appeared, spanned the whole sky. Just beautiful! Being fully aware of what rests at the end of a rainbow, off to the gold fields I went.
Located about 90 minutes north of Melbourne, Bendigo is part of Victoria's Golden Triangle and is a fantastic region for RV touring. Ranging from small iconic towns to the larger city of Bendigo, the area has everything on offer, from shopping and restaurants to galleries and some fine pubs.
One of the most significant periods in Australia's history was the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. The lure of gold attracted many from here and overseas with the dream of finding their fortune.
The Australian Gold Rush began in the Bathurst area after a notable find by Edward Hargraves in 1851. The ensuing Gold Rush yielded NSW around 24 tonnes. But the real action was in Victoria where the region yielded over 250 tonnes during the 1850s.
With the discovery of gold in NSW, rewards were offered by local Victorian businesses to find gold in a bid to slow the draining population to neighbouring states. Six months later, gold was found in Clunes by James Edmonds who had just returned from the Californian Gold Rush.
It is a surreal experience to visit Clunes as it is a step back in time! It is no surprise that the town has also provided the backdrop for many period TV and movie dramas, including the 1974 production of Rush as well as Mad Max and even one of the many productions of Ned Kelly.
Once gold was discovered in Victoria, news and more gold finds spread quickly throughout the region. The biggest gold centre was Bendigo.
The origins of town and city names are often intriguing. Some are of an indigenous nature, others are Celtic transliterations, and some are a combination of the two. Bendigo was originally settled as Sandhurst in 1854 and only later was renamed from a rather interesting story. The name Bendigo was the nickname of a shepherd at Ravenswood, who was a famous local boxer, and was so named after a fellow pugilist William Abednego Thompson (1811–1880). He was a very agile bare-knuckle boxer, earning the name Bendy because of his constant bobbing and weaving around the ring. His nickname evolved and Bendy Abednego became Bendigo.
A grand centre reminiscent of a European city with its beautiful architecture and beautiful cathedrals, Bendigo was the location of one of the largest gold rushes in the world and was the biggest yielder of gold in the world from 1850 to 1900.
Second only to Kalgoolie on WA, Bendigo has yielded over $9 billion in gold. These riches are what built this city, which is one of the most beautiful inland cities in Australia. This history has been proudly preserved, making it a unique place for the RVer to visit and easily experience all that a large city has to offer, with amenities like shopping, restaurants, parks, museums, art and cultural heritage.
• Visit Lake Weeroona – rich with history, this originally dusty eyesore transformed in the mid 1870s into a beautiful botanic garden surrounding the man-made lake.
• Visit the Bendigo Markets – make sure you get out and enjoy the culinary delights of the local produce and you'll only need your wallet to find some hidden gems scattered throughout the stalls. Every second Saturday of the month. 9am–1pm. www.bcfm.org.au
• Shops and cafes – why not hop on a bike and follow the many flowing bicycle tracks throughout the town, stop off along the way for a coffee and to enjoy the extensive lawns.
• Take the City Walk and see the various historic sights including Alexandra Fountain, the Law Courts, Town Hall, St Killian's Church, Gaol, Camp Hill School, Hotel Shamrock.
BENDIGO WINE TOURS
Ph: (03) 5439 3635
CENTRAL WINE TOURS
Ph: 0408 006 603 (Host: Col Scott)
Where: Finn St, Bendigo VIC
Ph: (03) 5443 8222
GOLDEN DRAGON MUSEUM
Where: 9 Bridge St, Bendigo VIC
Ph: (03) 9441 5044
BENDIGO ART GALLERY
Where: 42 View St, Bendigo VIC
Ph: (03) 5434 6088
For a city this size, nearly 100,000 residents, it is nice to see there is a caravan park close to the CBD. Aptly named, the Central City Caravan Park is a mere 2km from the CBD and is ideal for RVers as it is so close to all there is to explore – a great opportunity to stretch the touring legs. If public transport is your preference, buses operate from nearby as do the beautiful old trams that ply the street providing an easy and convenient way to reach all the main attractions around town.
So for me it is a short work to the tram stop to board an old W-Class Melbourne to discover what's on offer in this beautiful city. The first thing that is apparent about Bendigo is the beautiful streetscape that is reminiscent of a European city, complete with a large fountain next to expansive botanic gardens and the striking 87m steeple of the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
A quick trip to the visitor information centre for brochures and maps, and I was directed to the best place to get my bearings – Rosalind Park Poppet Head Tower. After climbing its 124 steps, I had uninterrupted views of the whole city and surrounding area.
There are a many things that Bendigo holds dear – its history, cultural heritage, gardens, and a passionate arts community. With a smart city design, exploring is easy both on foot and by bike.
A unique approach, that is becoming more common in tourism areas, is self-guided touring with help from an iPhone or iPad. If you don't have an iDevice, the visitor information centre can provide one (deposit required) and these iPad tours not only cover the best of Bendigo attractions, but also cover the region taking in Castlemaine too.
To get an insight to gold mining, the Central Deborah Gold Mine, Bendigo's last commercial goldmine, offers guided tours below ground. The mine, which operated between 1939 and 1954, yielded almost one tonne of gold (929kg). In today's terms it would be worth about $17 million. The mine was re-opened in 1986 to offer mine tours, with ex-miners being the very informative guides.
Tens of thousands of Chinese arrived in Bendigo throughout the mid 1800s to mine for gold, and many also became successful merchants, soon accounting for 20% of the population. When the yields from the gold fields started to decline, most of the Chinese population returned home. A small amount remained to form Bendigo's Chinese community.
PLACES TO STAY CENTRAL
CITY CARAVAN PARK
Where: 362 High St, Bendigo
Ph: (03) 5443 6937
A-LINE HOLIDAY VILLAGE
Where: 5615 Calder Highway, Big Hill, Bendigo
Ph: (03) 5447 9568
A must-see in Bendigo is the Chinese Joss House Place of Worship, which is a wonderful reminder of Bendigo's Chinese heritage. Constructed from wood and handmade brocks, the Joss House was made to worship the God Kwan Gung, a former general (AD 221- 26). It fell into disrepair during the 50s and 60s but was fortunately saved from ruin by the National Trust and the community of Bendigo.
Bendigo's connection to the Chinese culture is highlighted in the Bendigo Easter Festival that has been held each year for the last 130 years and features the Sun Loong, the world's longest grand imperial dragon.
I'm probably not alone in saying there are limited shopping opportunities while touring through many parts of Australia – something my partner always reminds me of! Bendigo has it all with many of the bigger names that you would normally only find in the capital cities. And this should come as no surprise, as it was Bendigo where Sidney and Elcon Myer opened their first shop that grew into the 65 national department stores of the Myer empire that we know today.
With a temperate climate and elevated location, Bendigo is known for its parks and gardens, with brilliant floral displays normally associated with higher altitudes. Walking around the city, there is an apparent lack of old native plant specimens around the town. There is a good historical reason for that. With the increased population during the Gold Rush building materials were in short supply, so trees throughout the entire area were stripped bare to use for buildings or fuel. The bush land was left bare, restricting the beauty of the town and its architecture. Thankfully, town planners later made the decision to rebuild and plant a number of exotic shade plants to line the streets. These now provide much needed shelter in the hotter summer months.
There are so many different places and regions we can choose to experience in our RV travels, and more often than not, we'll head either to the coast or seek out the remoteness of the interior. But it's nice is to go somewhere we can spoil ourselves with the creature comforts of the city and an RV combined. Bendigo is just one of those special places!
Melbourne to Bendigo is 153km via the Calder and Midland Highways. Adelaide to Bendigo is 636km via the Dukes Highway.
BENDIGO VISITORS CENTRE
Where: 51–67 Pall Mall, Bendigo VIC
Ph: 1800 813 153
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON BAYLISS