Being tourists in Bendigo

What a great day we had being tourists in Bendigo. We hadn’t been to Bendigo for many many years so it was fun to explore the city again.

Bendigo sits in the heart of the Victorian Goldfields and has grown to a city with a population of 153,000. It is the fourth largest city by population in Victoria after Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat

The number one thing to do in Bendigo is to ride one of their vintage trams on the Bendigo Tramway. The number 1 stop is located at the Central Deborah Gold Mine and travels along the Main Street before turning off and finally reaching the terminus at the Joss House. There are 5 other stops along the way. It is a hop on hop off system and you can hop on and off all day. You can purchase your ticket at the Central Deborah Gold Mine and you are given a wristband to wear. This is so the different drivers know you have a ticket. You just wave your wrist at them to show your band.

In the street around the back of the tram stop is very convenient parking for long vehicles. We made use of that and parked our motorhome behind another already there, turned the fridge onto gas so it would stay cold while we were being tourists, and set off to buy a tram ticket.

The all-day tickets were $25 for the two of us and a funny thing happened while we waited for the tram. Just near the tram are some info boards about how a dedicated group of volunteers saved the Bendigo trams. It’s a great story and we were so engrossed we didn’t notice the tram leaving!! Hey come back!

So we had to wait half an hour for the next one! Silly us!

We made sure we were ready and waiting when the next tram came along and took the short ride to the first stop at Charing Cross in the CBD. A commentary is played while you travel along and tells stories of the interesting sites or local characters along the way.

We alighted at Charing Cross stop and walked back past the entrance to Rosalind Park.

In the centre of the CBD is the Alexandra Fountain. The fountain is named for Alexandra, Princess of Wales and was opened in 1881. The grand opening was attended by two of the princesses sons Prince Albert and Prince George and the fountain is considered to be one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. The fountain it 8.5m high and sits in a circular pond 15m across and 0.6m deep. It was refurbished in 2017 at a cost of $350,000.

Strolling along the street towards the Art Precinct we then took a left up a very steep street. I stopped at the corner of Mackenzie and Forest Streets. As I stood on that corner I was able to take a photo of five different churches. Check them out.

Dominating the Bendigo skyline is the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral. It is a marvellous church built in the Early English Gothic style and, I believe, is the third largest in Australia. Construction was commenced in 1896 however the Cathedral was not completed until 1977. This is not unusual with buildings of this size. It took over 162 years to build St Peter’s Basilica in Rome!

We had a wander around this beautiful building and appreciated the beauty of it. The pews are all made from Australian Blackwood.

The organ is a spectacular one and I’m sure it would sound amazing. The organ was built in London in 1904 and installed in 1906.

After spending an hour or so visiting the cathedral we wandered back to Charing Cross and caught the next tram and this time we went all the way to the end of the line so we could visit the historic Joss House.

The Bendigo Joss House Temple is the oldest Chinese place of worship on its original site within Australia. It is 152 years old. Following the diccovery of gold in Bendigo people came from all over the world to seek their fortune. By 1855 there were some 5,000 Chines living around the diggings, about a quarter of the total population.

There were once at least eight other Joss Houses in the surrounding area but this one is the sole remaining one. It was built in the 1870’s using local hand made red bricks. Red is the traditional Chinese colour for happiness, strength and virtuality.

The building was also used by the Chinese Masonic Society as their meeting temple during the 1890’s- 1930’s.

In 1964 the National Trust rescued the temple from becoming a carpark and commenced restoration. It was opened to the public in 1972.

The Joss House consists of three small red brick buildings. The one on the left was the Caretakers Residence and has a large brick stove in the corner.

The Central Building houses the Entrance Chamber and the Main Altar. The main altar is dedicated to Guan-Di, the god of war and prosperity. Guan-Di was seen as a wise judge, guide, protector and provider of wealth and prosperity. Just what the Chinese who came to Australia seeking their fortunes needed.

The third building is the Hall of the Ancestors and is dedicated to the memory of ancestors. The altar here holds the few remains ancestral tablets that were dedicated to the Chinese who died on the goldfields. Sadly most of the tablets have been lost over time.

Out in the garden are Loquat trees and these were first brought to Australia by the Chinese. One was covered in fruit during our visit.

As the next tram was going to be a while, and our visit to the Joss House didn’t take very long, we decided to walk back to the next tram stop. To get there we passed by the Peppergreen Farm. This is where the Chinese used to have their market gardens. It was a common sight among the goldfields to see a Chinese man and his wagon of fresh fruit and vegetables for sale.

We also passed the old Bendigo Gas Works. This is where coal was burnt to make gas and was in operation from 1860 – 1973 until natural gas came to Bendigo. The existing infrastructure forms one of the most intact gasworks in Australia. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

The tram stop at Tysons Reef is right opposite the Tysons Reef Hotel. On the other side of the road is a very busy looking cafe. We chose the hotel for lunch and enjoyed some delicious pub grub.

The next tram took us back to the Joss House before it turned around and headed back to the CBD. Again we alighted at Charing Cross so we could walk to visit the Golden Dragon Museum.

Along the way we passed Queen Victoria’s statue, the RSL Museum, George Lansell’s statue, Sidney Myer Place and the beautiful old buildings housing the tourist office, the Post office and the Law Courts.

George Lansell is one of the men responsible for Bendigo’s wealth. He is shown standing with a lump of quartz in his hand. George was born in England and educated in Bendigo and Melbourne, He inherited his mining father’s estate of six million pounds in 1906. He owned the Bendigo Independant newspaper and merged it with the Bendigo Advertiser, He was chairman of a number of media and other companies. During World War I he served in the AIF and was wounded on the Western Front. He was elected to the Victorian parliament in 1928. He was knighted in 1951 and died in Bendigo in 1959.

George is largely responsible for introducing diamond drilling to quartz mining in Australia and he was famous in Bendigo for his efforts to maintain the mining industry and provide employment.

George gave much to charity and was so highly thought of by the community that at his death flags were flown at half mast in Bendigo. No wonder there’s a statue to him in the CBD!

An interesting snippet we learnt on the tram was that Russian immigrant Sidney Myer started his first department store in Bendigo. Sidney migrated to Australia is 1899 with very little money and little English. He joined his brother in Melbourne and they both worked in an underclothing business before opening a small drapery shop. This was quite successful and they took their goods from door to door. Sidney bought a cart and took their wares to country towns. They later moved to a store on Pall Mall in Bendigo. This was the beginning of the Myer chain of department stores. The little square next to the current Visitors Centre is named Sidney Myer Place.

It was lovely wandering through the lush green Rosalind Park until we arrived at Dai Gum San, a large plaza where lots of market stalls were being packed away. It looked like a market had taken place that day but we missed it.

The Golden Dragon Museum is located in one corner of the Plaza and our entry fee was $10 each for seniors.

Wow, I don’t know what I was expecting but wow. What a lot of amazing artifacts are housed there. The various displays tell the story of the Chinese people in Bendigo (and Australia in general) and there are many objects on display that would have been brought from China with them.

One story was about how the Chinese would land at Robe in SA and walk to the goldfields so they didnt have to pay the 10 pound immigrant tax in Victoria. They walked 260km to save paying 10 pounds!

The most amazing exhibits are the dragons. These ceremonial dragons are used for parades.

Dai Gum Loong is the world’s longest Imperial Dragons. He is Bendigo’s newest dragon and parades every year at the Bendigo Easter Festival.

Loong is also on display and is the world’s oldest Imperial Dragon. He first appeared in Bendigo in 1892 and regularly paraded in the Easter Festival until he retired in 1970. Loong has been added to the Victorian Heritage Register.

Sun Loong is another Imperial Dragon on display. He is over 100 metres long and needs 1 person to carry his head, 3 to carry the neck, 52 people to carry the body, 1 to carry the tail and up to 52 relief people. His head weighs 20.5kg and he is covered in 6,000 scales, 90,000 mirrors and 40,000 beads.

We could have spent a lot more time at this fascinating museum but we had to get back to catch the last tram. We had a quick walk through the Yi Yuan Water garden, a delightful tranquil spot in the middle of the city. We also had a quick look inside the Guan Yin temple next door. This temple is home to a beautiful marble statue of the goddess of compassion. Daily offerings are still made in the temple.

We wandered back to Charing Cross tram stop and were relieved to sit for a bit while we waited. A couple of young ladies came along and asked about the tram and how to get to the Central Deborah Gold Mine. We explained and told them to talk to the drive of the tram. They amused us greatly as they took photos of each other in various poses. No doubt these were uploaded to their ‘Insta’. It was very funny.

Our last little tram ride on the beautiful restored historic tram took us back to where we began the day. We’d had a lovely time being tourists in Bendigo.

Great street art, Bendigo

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