We have spent the last few days visiting Bendigo to nail down some more details of our planned 2021 reunion of 85 Transport Platoon (Vietnam). There are enough attractions in this city to keep one busy for weeks and it is good choice for a reunion of our members.
We decided to make a little trip out of this over the weekend so we drove up to Bendigo on Sunday. On Monday morning we woke to a chilly 1C dawn but the day became warmer and was fine and sunny. On Tuesday, we returned home via Kilmore. We had some supermarket shopping to do before getting home and we were quite surprised to find that panic buying has once again returned to the supermarkets – all because there have been twenty or so new virus cases in the state over the last few days and the lockdown has not been released any further. Fair dinkum, some people have the brains of a camel!
Bendigo is located near the geographical centre of Victoria and approximately 150 kilometres north west of Melbourne. The discovery of gold there during the 1850s made it one of the most significant Victorian-era boom towns in Australia. Bendigo has an urban population of about 110,000, making it the fourth-largest inland city in Australia and fourth-most populous city in the state of Victoria. The local government region spreads over 3,000 km2 . Many of the original surrounding gold mining villages and locations with quaint names such as California Gully, Eaglehawk, Ironbark, Kangaroo Flat, Long Gully, Maiden Gully, Sailors Gully and White Hills have now been consolidated into the Greater Bendigo area.
I still have some second / third cousins on my maternal side of the family living in Bendigo and Eaglehawk.
The gold rush brought an influx of migrants from around the world, transforming it from a sheep station to a major settlement in the newly proclaimed Colony of Victoria. Once the alluvial gold had been mined out, mining companies were formed to exploit the rich underground quartz reef gold. As a legacy of the gold boom, Bendigo has many ornate buildings built in a late Victorian colonial style. Many buildings are on the Victorian Heritage Register and protected by the National Trust of Australia.
Fortuna Villa is a large surviving Victorian mansion, once owned by George Lansell. He was born in London, educated in both Bendigo and at Melbourne Grammar School, and in 1906 inherited his father’s estate of £6 million. He owned the Bendigo Independent newspaper and merged it with the Bendigo Advertiser in 1918, and was chairman of a large number of media and other companies around regional Victoria. After serving in the army during WW1, he won election in 1928 to the Victorian Legislative Council as a Nationalist member for Bendigo Province. He died in Bendigo in 1959. George Lansell is widely viewed as one of the great developers of this city.
The post office and law courts were built between 1883 and 1887 and designed by Public Works architect George W. Watson in a style known as the ‘Second Empire’ architectural style. The post office has a 43-metre-high clock tower that houses a five-bell carillon) with elaborate facades on all four sides of building. The building was extensively restored between 1978 and 1987. It functioned as the post office until 1997 and is currently used as Bendigo Tourism’s ‘Visitor Information Centre’.
The Bendigo Law Courts are still in use with daily sittings of the Magistrates Court and other Courts on circuit. A major expansion in 2014 saw the construction of a modern court building behind this original one.
The nearby Shamrock Hotel is a grand 19th century hotel. The Shamrock began life in 1854, as a much smaller pub servicing miners during the old rush. It included a Cobb and Co. stage coach office and a concert hall. Patronage grew quickly and it was renamed the Shamrock in 1855. The concert hall became the Theatre Royal which once hosted Lola Montez who performed for the diggers as they threw gold nuggets to her. Apparently many of these were taken by the Shamrock staff as ‘tips’ while they were cleaning up after the show. The hotel was completely rebuilt in 1864.
In the centre of the city is an intersection known as Charing Cross (named after the location in London). The road junction there features a large, ornate fountain from 1881. The buildings in this area are quite grand. They were built in the days when life insurance companies were very prestigious and showed their affluence by having offices in grand buildings.
Nearby is a large statue of Queen Victoria and the impressive building of the Soldiers Memorial Institute. Built in 1921 by public donation, it was the original home of the Bendigo RSL. It was recently redeveloped and officially re-opened on November 15 2018, exactly 97 years after its initial opening in 1921. The museum is now home to a broad range of wartime memorabilia that has been donated or loaned by individuals and organisations.
Bendigo seems to have a very diverse religious community. While there are hundreds of churches throughout the broader Bendigo area but the one that stands out is the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral. Designed in 1895, it is the world’s most recent Gothic style structure. It is one of Australia’s largest churches and was made possible chiefly through the estate of Henry Backhaus (1811-1882), a German from Paderborn and the first Catholic priest on the Bendigo goldfields.
A few kilometres out ofd town is a Buddhist community which has built the largest Buddhist stupa in the Western world. The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is the same size and design as The Great Stupa of Gyantse in Tibet. It rises to a total height of 48 metres above the local bushland, and is 50 metres wide at its base. It is home to many holy objects. The Great Stupa is home to many holy objects. Foremost amongst these is the magnificent Jade Buddha for Universal Peace which is the largest Buddha carved from gem quality jade in the world. The Jade Buddha toured the world for 9 years and over 10 million people have seen it. He has now come to his final home inside The Great Stupa.
At the end of the reconstructed tram line, to the north of the city, is the Chinese Joss House. Opened in 1871, this Chinese place of worship is one of the few remaining buildings of its type in Australia. The main temple is dedicated to Guan-Di (Kwan Gong), the god of war and prosperity. The Chinese saw him as a wise judge, guide, protector and provider of wealth and prosperity; attributes sought by the Chinese inhabitants of this strange land. The building was constructed using locally handmade bricks and painted red – symbolising happiness, strength and vitality. The Bendigo Joss House Temple is a significant and unique part of Bendigo’s cultural history.
We easily found some accommodation for our two-night stay as most of the hotels are still operational. Business people need to stay somewhere as they travel. Its was harder to find somewhere to eat as restaurants in Victoria are still limited to seating only 20 customers. Tables need to be well apart and guests have to register with their name and telephone number to enable authorities to track and trace any outbreak of the virus. By luck, and good fortune, we found the Woodhouse Restaurant which was taking reservations for Sunday night. It was a superb place to eat – beautiful food, great wine and excellent service. It was a little expensive but totally suitable for our first night out in nearly four months. On Monday night, the restaurant at our hotel was open and we were able to eat there.
For our reunion, we nailed down a venue for the final dinner and confirmed some details with the local members of the Vietnam Veterans Association. We have been very warmly welcomed by these people and will join in their parade and service on Vietnam Veterans Day. Almost everyone on our reunion committee was with us to ensure some consensus on our original suggestions of venues and activities. We still have to organise one function with the local RSL along with some tours and day trips but we have plenty of time to get these into place. Our plans all assume that by August next year we will be able to hold normal reunion functions and we hope that we are not still limited by some form of corona virus restrictions..