Things to do and see in and around Bendigo, Victoria
Out & About: Bendigo
A golden start gave Bendigo its solid foundation, but diversification and a gorgeous Mediterranean climate have seen the central Victorian nugget go from strength to strength, writes Bendigo regular Ann Bolch.
Sidney Myer first hawked his wares around this region from an open-sided horse-drawn cart, eventually renting a store in Bendigo’s Pall Mall in 1900 – Australia’s first Myer store, which still stands today. A lesser-known bloke started a pie shop just around the corner and locals have known where to “Get me a Gillies” since 1951. The Bendigo Woollen Mills still sells wool to the public and Bendigo Pottery is celebrating its 150th birthday. There’s a green tinge to the landscape that hides the town’s serious water concerns, but you get the sense that, like Gillies, Myer and the rest, this rural city 150km north of Melbourne will endure.
Streets of gold
Wide, grand boulevards like Pall Mall and View Street are home to some of the best-preserved Gold Rush architecture in the world. One of Bendigo’s oldest buildings is tiny, yet impresses with its fortitude. The Joss House was built of handmade bricks in the 1860s, when 20 percent of Bendigo’s population was Chinese. The temple fell into disrepair – kids of the 1950s and ’60s used it as a cubby – but was restored by the National Trust in 1972. Tibetan Buddhism also has a presence with the Atisha Centre to Bendigo’s south.
The circular Golden Dragon Museum is shaped so that, upon entering, you’re surrounded by sleeping Sun Loong – the longest Imperial Dragon in the world, with his tail wagging more than 100m from his head. Every year firecrackers wake him in time to dip, roll and shimmer at the Bendigo Easter Festival. (Loong senior is more than a century old, so he dozes throughout.)
Nearby Book Now, a gutted redbrick building, sells two storeys of second-hand tomes, while another arty conversion is Eaglehawk’s Town Hall where you can sink into a plush burgundy couch and watch a film.
JOSS HOUSE // (03) 5442 685, www.bendigotrust.com.au ATISHA CENTRE // (03) 5446 3336, www.atishacentre.org.au GOLDEN DRAGON MUSEUM // (03) 5441 5044, www.goldendragonmuseum.org BOOK NOW // (03) 5443 8587, www.booknow.com.au
Life’s a dish
As a student in Bendigo in the ’90s, I could do Sunday lunch for five bucks: a $3.50 pub roast, a dollar beer and a 50c game of pool. Those days are gone, but the National Hotel remains the place to go for big, cheap bar meals. Bazzani Italian could stake a good claim for being one of Bendigo’s best, and it’s not hard to see why; two walls of windows overlook Rosalind Park’s rose garden from the corner building and you can linger over several courses in the warm setting.
The Whirrakee Restaurant has also been a favourite for years. (If you can, reserve the arched-window table overlooking the fountain.) Bendigo’s Toi Shan is Australia’s oldest Chinese restaurant, but the Malayan Orchid and Piyawat Thai also dish up tasty tucker. The Turkish Kitchen has been serving fresh Middle Eastern feasts for years. Their nearest competitor is The Lady Sultan. My father-in-law insists “sultana” is a perfectly good word for a female sultan and you wouldn’t call a queen a “lady king”. Still, he loves their food.
NATIONAL HOTEL // (03) 5443 0591, www.nationalhotelmotel.com.au BAZZANI ITALIANO // (03) 5441 3777, www.bazzani-bendigo.com THE WHIRRAKEE // (03) 5441 5557 www.whirrakeerestaurant.com.au TOI SHAN // (03) 5443 5811 MALAYAN ORCHID // (03) 5442 4411 PIYAWAT THAI // (03) 5444 4450 TURKISH KITCHEN // (03) 5441 1556 THE LADY SULTAN // (03) 5444 5588
City in the forest
Scaling Rosalind Park’s poppet head lookout reveals why Bendigo is known as “the city in the forest”. The Greater Bendigo National Park was recently formed to help the preservation of the unique Box-Ironbark Forests. The changes in colour and topography in the Whipstick or Kamarooka areas are subtle, but these forests are diverse and resilient. The undulating town and country are perfect for cycling.
In town, Rosalind Park is everything a public space should be – schools pour into the sports grounds and pool; the magnificent old GPO and Art Gallery (both dating from 1887) tower beside Bunya-Bunya and Canary Island Pines in among the elms and oaks. For a 360-degree view of the region, walk, drive or cycle to One Tree Hill – every region has one – now a misnomer thanks to the post mining re-growth.
BENDIGO ART GALLERY // (03) 5434 6088, www.bendigoartgallery.com.au
Quenching your thirst
Since Bendigo’s eureka days, the number of pubs per person has dropped. But the Golden Vine draws great live music; and for cosy, bordering-on-cheesy, olde worlde, try Pratty’s Patch. View Street, packed with curios, antiques and collectables, could be renamed Vintage Street and is home to the Wine Bank. Almost three walls of wine and the strong scent of wood smoke have converted this century-old bank into a groovy bar. Opposite, the Capital Theatre greets patrons with towering Corinthian columns and has an extensive local and touring program.
Bendigo is known for its rich, ripe red wines, but you can equally find a lovely chardonnay or sparkling. The Harcourt region does cider and there’s a Swillery making delightful stickies from fruit other than grapes, including prickly pear!
BENDIGO WINEGROWERS ASSOC // 1300 656 650, www.bendigowine.org.au HENRY OF HARCOURT // (03) 5474 2177 PARWILL SWILL // (03) 5439 6496, www.parwillswill.com.au
Deep sleep, and deep exploration
The Hotel Shamrock is a genuine Irish hotel. From most of the rooms you’ll hear the distinctly off-pitch town clock. Another historic place to stay is the elegant manor Langley Hall, and Hunter House, set in Bendigo’s CBD, has a wonderfully exxy look, but standard double rooms start at $135/night, with meal and pamper packages costing more.
Gold money built these mansions and the subterranean wealth was rediscovered a couple of decades ago. There’s a short DVD in the Visitor’s Centre that has a very good go at conveying the immense Swiss cheese below. A tourist shaft takes you down 61m to learn about mines of the past or you can explore a working mine at 85m. With more than ten shafts running more than a kilometre deep and miles of tunnelling between old and current mines, Bendigo enjoys a pulsating underground scene.
THE HOTEL SHAMROCK // (03) 5443 0333, www.hotelshamrock.com.au LANGLEY HALL // (03) 5443 3693, www.langleyhall.com.au HUNTER HOUSE // (03) 5442 2466, www.hunterhouse.com.au CENTRAL DEBORAH GOLD MINE // (03) 5443 8322 www.central-deborah.com