Okay, here we go with a few fast facts about Bendigo. The first is that our accommodation is extremely comfortable and commodious, but the internet connection is extremely dodgy! Okay . . . moving on . . . if I can . . .
Okely, dokely. Bendigo is about two hours from the capital city – Melbourne. It has good rail and road connections (did I mention we have a lousy internet connection?). It is a regional country town; it has an economy based on retail, light manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. The current population is 105,560.
Its original occupants were the Dja Dja Wrung tribe. European pastoralists moved in from around 1840 . . . and then they found . . . gold – and the rest, as they say, is history.
We started our day’s exploration at the information centre, which is housed in the magnificent stone Victorian era building which was first the municipal chambers of the city of Sandhurst (the previous name of Bendigo), and which became the general post office after the separate colonies federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The ornate interior is well worth a look, and it has a magnificent carved timber counter as a relic from its postal days.
It was meant to be a ten minute stop, but being as how these places are manned by volunteers of a similar vintage to ourselves, we were in danger of getting a parking fine before we moved on. We left armed with a ticket for the Vintage Talking Tram Tour.
This hop-on, hop-off tour runs every half hour in peak times, taking tourists from one side of Bendigo city to the other. It is operated using restored trams of several different vintages. It runs on the line that was abandoned for commercial passengers in 1970 when the car became king.
With a little time to spare before the next tram, we went off to explore the Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in the Gothic style between 1897 and 1977. It is one of the most prominent buildings in Bendigo, magnificent inside and out. There are many carved figurines in the vaulted timber ceiling, and gargoyles on the spired rooves. It sits on a corner block, high on a hill, so you can’t miss it.
As for the tram, we started at the beginning of the line, which is also the site of the Central Deborah Gold Mine tour, which we did not do, but does take tourists down to a mine depth according to the price they are prepared to pay.
The tram “talk” is a recorded historical commentary, highlighting all the points of interest as we pass through the centre of town. Bendigo has many substantial Victorian era buildings which were built during a time of admiration for the old country. Hence, the (Princess) Alexandra fountain straddles a cross road where a section of the main street becomes Pall Mall. On one side is Rosalind Park (as per Shakespeare). I’ll skip the detail of each building, but the layout and upkeep does make for a pleasant ambience. Bendigo is a city with soul.
As the tram continues out of the central district, we come to an area which is still called “Irish Town” owing to the large congregation of Irish miners who lived here. Beyond that, we call into the Tram Depot for a ten minute stop. This is where all the vintage trams are housed and refurbished. This is also home to a rescue cat, Birney, who has become their mascot. The gift shop even sells story books of his exploits at the depot. Here he is hard at work at the ticket window.
A half hour ride brings us to the end of the line. This is the part of town which was occupied by the Chinese miners, many thousands who came from the poor southern part of China, often indebted to the people who had provided the transport. They had several temples in the area, this is the last remaining, and is also known as the Joss House.
Back in town, we had lunch at The Hotel Shamrock, a grand 19th hotel located on Pall Mall, before heading off on a self-guided walking tour of Bendigo. We put our head into another Catholic Church, this time the timber framed St Killions, established by German priests. Quite a contrast to the cathedral.
Another group enticed to the goldfields were Cornish miners. When the alluvial gold ran out, the Chinese left the area or found other employment, but the Cornish knew how to dig underground, and their efforts are commemorated in this statue.
The city is hilly, so eventually you have to go up, and on the northern perimeter of Rosalind Park you can find the old gaol, and several schools – again very striking architecture. We also found, and climbed, the observation tower, which gives a good view over the city on four sides.
Finally, we staggered down View Street, which is known as the Arts Precinct, as it the home of the art gallery, theatre house and boutique shops. This leads back to the fountain, where we caught the tram back to the car.
Not surprisingly, I was too tired to blog that night, but I did some work on the best of my photos, including some fabulous old trams. I cropped and touched up, ready to include in the post. Wouldn’t you know it, in trying to resize them – I managed to delete them all permanently by accident!