The King isn’t just coming to Bendigo Art Gallery for the Elvis: Direct From Graceland exhibition this month, he’s taking over the whole city and surrounds.
Get ready for tributes, movies and singalongs, jumpsuit-making and yummy blue suede choux. And with so many great events and attractions to be enjoyed, you’ll be hanging around Bendigo long after Elvis has left the building.
In yet another coup for the gallery’s curators in securing a blockbuster based around design and style, Elvis: Direct From Graceland, from 19 March to 17 July, displays 300 artefacts and unique items that are immediately resonant of a performer who dominated not just music, live performance and film, but also popular culture in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
There are the costumes and clothes, such as Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding outfits, the repurposed special costume he wore to meet President Richard Nixon, and of course the dazzling jumpsuits from the Las Vegas era. But then there are the private mementoes, such as his gold telephone, bongo drums that were a Christmas gift from Priscilla, the gi he wore when practising karate, and his crayon box from first grade at school in Tupelo, Mississippi.
And to add poignant context to the display, it’s just been announced that Priscilla Presley herself will be in Bendigo for the opening weekend and will speak at a special event for gallery members.
Lights, Elvis, action in Bendigo!
The Elvis fun doesn’t end there, because you can sing, dance and hang with the King all over Bendigo. Every night the city’s piazza will light up with VIVA BENDIGO in 2.1m-high letters with Elvis lyrics written on them. The Shake Rattle & Roll Cocktail Tram will run every Saturday night so savour the city’s historic streetscape while sipping an Elvis-themed cocktail.
Want to get married, Elvis-style, just like the King and Priscilla did in Vegas in 1967? For the four months of the exhibition, restaurant and bar Hustler is hosting wedding ceremonies and renewal of vows every Sunday – bookings must be made at least 30 days ahead to satisfy legal requirements, although mock weddings can be arranged at shorter notice.
Hustler has devised a special Burning Love menu that’s heavy on peanut butter and jelly, from the cocktails to the burgers. The bar is also running a rock ’n’ roll paint and sip event in collaboration with local studio Pinot & Picasso Bendigo on 2 April and includes an All Shook Up cocktail.
Mackenzie Quarters is hosting Elvis movies at its basement bar Ms Batterhams on 3, 10 and 17 June. Lounge on a sofa or beanbag, or perch yourself on a bar stool to enjoy the likes of Kissin’ Cousins and Viva Las Vegas with a cocktail or gelato in hand. And Star Cinema Eaglehawk will be screening several Elvis films – at least one midweek and one special Friday night screening per month – throughout the exhibition period. If you prefer your Elvis al fresco, Munari Wines near Heathcote has Cinema in the Vines on 9 April with an Elvis double-header – Paradise Hawaiian Style at 4pm, followed by Viva Las Vegas at 6pm.
Making a song and dance in Bendigo
You can swing along on Saturdays at special Dance Nights at Hoo-Gah cafe, or laze away the afternoon at Elvis-inspired Pizza Sundays, with live music, at St Anne’s Vineyards at Ravenswood, just south of Bendigo. Meanwhile, Cafe Essence in Bendigo is taking a more refined approach, with a You Said You Were High-Classed high tea for the sweet-toothed or the That’s Alright Mama savoury option.
Reckon you can sing as good as Elvis? In nearby Castlemaine, regular event PubSing is doing a Tribute to the King on Saturday 4 June at 7.30pm. Participants will be tutored in a well-known Elvis song in three parts, then get to belt it out en masse over a beer and a laugh.
Castlemaine’s historic arts hub The Mill is diving right in, with several unique experiences. On 2 to 3 July it’s Rockabilly Weekend, featuring a Blue Suede Tribute with a vintage car rally, roller-skating displays and, of course, rockabilly dancing. You can test your expert Elvis knowledge at trivia events at Bendigo’s The Urban Cellar on 18 March, and at Castlemaine Mill tenant Shedshaker Brewing on 13 April, 11 May and 15 June.
To look the part, why not join a jumpsuit-making workshop every Sunday at Artpuff Studio or, if you’d prefer to get your gear off the rack, you’ll find plenty of retro stuff at Bob Boutique in Bendigo and Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar.
From jelly to jugs of jailhouse
Elvis’s diet was not ideal, but a little bit of what he liked won’t hurt you, and there’s great choice in and around Bendigo. You won’t fail to spot the Blue Suede Choux eclairs at Bluebird Patisserie, there’s confectionery fit for a King at Bendigo Brittle, while a smorgasbord of tastes awaits at Indulge Chocolates, such as peanut butter and banana splits, Jailhouse hot chocolate and peanut butter and jelly bonbons.
Sip a Blue Suede Shoe cocktail at stalwart Bendigo destination The Dispensary, which is also hosting a Blue Hawaii lūʻau on Sunday 10 April, or head to Cornella Brewery, 50 kilometres east of Bendigo near Heathcote, for the Elvis-inspired American pale ale Jailhouse Hops, which will also be available in select Bendigo outlets. And there’s a discount at Ellis Wines’ cellar door in central Bendigo when you show your Elvis exhibition ticket on the same day.
Click here for more information on all these events and booking details.
Bendigo, of course, has much more to offer, so come for Elvis and stay a while. The Djaara Lights is a new semi-permanent project – it will run until 2024 – that involves street murals, light projections and augmented reality activations along the Bendigo Creek, all to tell the story of the six seasons as seen by the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
More reasons to stay in Bendigo
Around 75 skills will be on show at the Lost Trades Fair at Bendigo Racecourse on 19–20 March. The likes of weavers, bell-makers, leadlighters and candle makers will be at work alongside calligraphers, shingle splitters and rope makers, helped along by live music and food stalls, all by local providers.
And while Leonardo da Vinci may have been a great artist, he was also no slouch as an inventor, and he had ideas that were centuries ahead of their time. Da Vinci’s Machines, at Bendigo’s Discovery Science & Technology Centre until 1 June, features functional devices that were developed by the genius Italian almost 600 years ago, as well as recreations of some of his iconic paintings.
It may be two years late, thanks to Covid cancellations, but the Bendigo Easter Fair is finally getting to celebrate its 150th anniversary over all four days of the long weekend (15 to 18 April). Stage shows, roving entertainers and an Easter Egg hunt will fill Rosalind Park and surrounds, plus there’ll be plenty of dance, drums and fireworks, culminating with the iconic street parade on Easter Monday, starring Bendigo’s new Dai Gum Loong, the world’s longest imperial dragon.
Book your Viva Bendigo experience now
And there are some great accommodation packages for Elvis: Direct From Graceland, from family holidays and romantic getaways, to girls’ weekends. Book here. And for all the Elvis-themed event details, click here.