Day 4 of our Victorian Road Trip: More of Bendigo

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This morning we set off for Bendigo Pottery which was first established in 1858 by a thirty-year-old Scottish settler, George Duncan Guthrie, who originally came to Sandhurst (Bendigo) to try his hand at gold-mining. According to legend, he was apprenticed at thirteen, and was prompted to leave Scotland when a promised partnership did not eventuate. In the course of mining, he discovered a white clay which he deemed suitable for pottery, and he returned to his trade. Over the 150 years of its existence, the fortunes of the pottery have waxed and waned, and the products that it manufactures have varied according to the demand of the day. At one time it was the jugs for soft drinks and alcohol, another the cylinders for acid and other chemicals, then sewer pipes, toilet pans, hospital pans, roof tiles and so on. These days, its mainstay is tableware, bowls and decorative objects.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour through the old factory and understand how the ovens worked and what equipment was used. There is a theatrette located inside an historic wood fired kiln. The short film helped me understand the process of pottery manufacture, and the different ways the products are formed. There are plenty of explanatory boards and product displays, and also recorded interviews from previous employees. I am still trying to do the maths of earning 9 pence per acid bottle and paying the boy who prepared your clay 1 pound three pence per week. Another employee from a later time of fixed wages said his quota was 63 bottles per day, but I think the piece-maker was meant to have a much higher output.

The fellow putting the final touches to these bowls said they were in high demand from knitters – he still had to cut an opening for the wool to feed through. (They are upside down at this point).

Heading back into town, we decided to stop off at Lake Weeroona and take a walk around this man-made waterway. The place was alive with birdlife, in particular Ibis, who were breeding in clumps of reeds and trees at the water’s edge. What a noise! And so much movement! The swamp grass was packed with birds, and many of them must have been recently hatched. Adult Ibis were constantly flying in and out of the outcrops, sometimes with what looked like nest building material in their beaks, or it may have been food, although I have also read that the male attracts a female by offering her a twig. Sheesh! A twig, – oh come on guys! One thing that was very noticeable was that the small patch of skin on the underside of the wing was bright scarlet, almost as if they were bleeding. It is normally a fleshy pink.

Other birds I recognised were coots, dusky moorhens and the purple breasted swamp hen. Several types of ducks had ducklings. And then I came across some geese. Some astute reader will identify the type, and I guess they are migratory.

We left the car parked at the lake and took the tram back into town, as the ticket is good for two consecutive days. I was able to snap off some further photos, which was fortunate, since I subsequently deleted all my others! (click on the photo to open the gallery to full size)

We hopped of the tram at Alexandra Fountain and walked back through Rosalind Park to the Golden Dragon Museum. This museum is dedicated to the culture and history of those Chinese miners who made Dai Gum San or Big Gold Mountain (Bendigo) home. Since most of them expected to make their fortune and return to their homeland, they travelled here without wives and children. The reality for them was that many never returned home, and quite a number married Irish women (being that on the social scale of the day, neither were well regarded by the English settlers). Today a good percentage of Bendigo’s residents can trace their lineage to these events.

Since 1871 an Easter Parade has been held to raise funds for the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum. Loong, 60 metres long and supported by 80 men, was a focus of the Chinese participation until his old-age retirement in 1970. He was replaced by the new and longer Sun Loong. At 100 metres he is believed to be the longest imperial dragon in the world! Both fearful dragons are housed in the museum; Sun Loong’s body and tail winding around the top floor of the circular main display room.

Loong in Retirement

Loong in Retirement

Sun Loong

Sun Loong

As well as the fascinating cultural insight, the museum contains many valuable artefacts including traditional furniture, carts, ornamental screens and a jade carriage. Here are a few sample photos, but if you are in Bendigo, this should be on your “must do” list. There is also a Chinese garden to stroll through.

Detail on Ornamental Screen

Detail on Ornamental Screen

We finished the afternoon off with a little shopping in View Street, picking up a beautiful hand turned glass vase, then a drink at a trendy hotel with a former work colleague, and finally dinner at another upmarket hotel. We’ve packed a lot into this brief visit, and in the morning will be moving on to another goldfields town, the even more famous Ballarat.

(Tuesday 6th December 2016)

7 thoughts on “Day 4 of our Victorian Road Trip: More of Bendigo

    • I thought you would like the pottery Agnes. There was a lot on display that would have interested you. Also the film of the old timer throwing the acid bottles – he was so skilled in the shaping and had the handles on in a few seconds. I think there are certain times when you can try yourself, but we were there at opening time so it was quiet. I did try once though, in school I think, and collapsed my pot immediately.

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      • Lucky you potting at school. Our art class did have one proper wheel and one person each week got to have a go. I was in a big class the ‘pottery’ year and got missed off the list – it’s still on my ‘have a go’ list.

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        • It’s a faint memory – so perhaps a visiting potter dragged their equipment in as an ancient version of “show and tell”. I have a strong memory of doing enamelled jewellery though, so we must have had an oven of some sort.

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