The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

Did you know we had a Great Stupa of Universal Compassion in Australia? Neither did we.

We found it searching on TripAdviser when we were looking at what to do in our short time in Bendigo. After spending the day being tourists and hopping on and off the Talking Tram we thought we’d spend the next morning checking out the Great Stupa.

What a surprise it was! I really had no idea what to expect apart from the brochure I’d picked up in town with a photo of a large white, rather oriental looking building.

What is a stupa?
Wikipedia says that “A stupa is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics (……typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns) that is used as a place of meditation.”

But what is it doing here near Bendigo?
Well it’s really a story of two men, one a local boy whose family have lived in Bendigo for over 150 years, Ian Green. The other is Ian’s teacher a Tibetan monk Lama Thubten Yeshe. After a successful career in advertising where Ian admits to ‘burning a candle at both ends’ he undertook a trip to India in 1971 where he saw first-hand spiritualism in everyday life and began reading Buddhist texts. He joined a Tibetan Buddhist group in Melbourne and, when it began searching for somewhere to build a retreat, Ian’s late father offered them a 20-hectare bush block near Bendigo.

Ian, his partner Judy (a Buddhist since the 1970’s) and her three young sons left Melbourne in 1981 and moved onto the block into an old railway carriage to establish a mediation centre. For a few years they had no running water or electricity. Lama Thubten Yeshe visited two years later and shared his vision of building a Buddhist village and stupa on the site. Since then more land has been donated to the project and the grounds now cover some 86 hectares.

After Lama Thubten Yeshe’s death his disciple Lama Zopa Rinpoche chose the 600-year-old Great Stupa of Gyantse in Tibet as the model for the project. When complete the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion will be 50 metres tall and 50 metres square at its base. This will make it the largest stupa outside of Asia. The outside of the stupa will look like the Tibetan one, however, inside it will have 80 ornate shrine rooms, teaching spaces, a central temple and a library, as well as holy relics on display.

The stupa has been engineered to last more than a 1000 years and has an estimated cost of $20 million dollars funded by donations. To date, the Victorian government has contributed $2.5 million in regional development funds.

There are ambitious plans for the site which you can view on their website at These plans include a museum, restaurant, a hotel, Peace Park, monastery, nunnery, village, event rooms, an aged care facility, a school and all built to be off-grid and sustainable.

The Great Stupa is located on 14km outside of Bendigo and, after turning into the entrance, you wind your way through the bush to the carpark. From there you get your first really good view of the stupa. It is HUGE. The carpark is large and there was plenty of space for the motorhome. You enter through the visitors centre that currently houses a shop, a cafe, toilets and a small theatre where you can watch a short video on the Great Stupa. It’s a good idea to start with this. It is free to enter and you are given a map to guide you.

Leaving the Visitors Centre on foot you arrive in the Peace Park. You follow your map to each display from many different faiths around the world. All faiths are welcome.

Through the Peace Park you arrive higher in the gardens to an area surrounding the Great Stupa. Three great circles of gardens encircle the stupa. Along the outer circle are the Memorial Walls. On top of each wall are Stupas that are filled with holy objects and are consecrated. Below that ashes of the deceased or momentos are placed in the niches which are then sealed with a bronze plaque. Alternatively you can choose a tree Memorial for your loved ones. Their remains are mixed with the earth at the base of a tree and a bronze plaque is placed on a block of sandstone below the tree.

Finally you reach the imposing Great Stupa. Around the outside are lots of golden prayer wheels. The size of the stupa was a bit mind-boggling. It is so high. Decoration of the outside has commenced but so far only the top few levels have been completed.

Then you walk inside and it is HUGE. A big open hall with huge smaller shrines around the outside. One thing strikes you immediately, it’s so colourful. Colour is everywhere. The tall pillars are covered in colourful silk banners in the five colours that represent the five Wisdom Buddhas, Blue, White, Red, Green and Yellow. Each colour is associated with an element and a Buddha. For example Yellow symbolises rootedness and renunciation, the element of earth. Buddha Ratnasambhava is associated with yellow. Meditation on humility and equanimity transforms pride into wisdom.

The very high ceiling was unfinished and there is scaffolding surrounding one of the giant figures. Alongside it was an area filled with objects in the process of being painted. All this work is done by volunteers.

In one corner is a museum, Unique Tibet, housing wonderful displays of Tibetan clothing, objects of everyday life, and their faith. Arguably the most famous Tibetan of all, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the Great Stupa in 2007. While there he blessed the Great Stupa.

The Great Stupa is home to many holy objects and the most valuable is the incredible Jade Buddha. The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace is the largest Buddha carved from gemstone quality jade in the world. The size and beauty of the statue make it a wonder of the world. The Buddha has been carved from a rare boulder of translucent jade (“Polar Pride”) which was discovered in Canada in the year 2000. The Jade Buddha is 2.5 metres high and sits on an alabaster throne of close to 1.6 metres high. The Jade Buddha itself weighs around 4 tonne and is considered to be priceless. The jade halo of the Jade Buddha is also on display but ironically it is too heavy to be put in place on the buddha itself.

The Great Stupa also houses a huge collection of holy relics. These have come from all around the world. Relics are found in the ashes after a great spiritual master has been cremated. They sometimes look like crystals or pearls and are said to hold the essence of the holy person. These holy relics are venerated in Buddhism. Eventually it is planned that the holy relics will be housed on the sixth level of the Great Stupa.

One of the monks who lives onsite at the monastery was the tour guide for that day and he gave a short talk about the Stupa and what we could see around us. He then wandered amongst the people and was happy to answer questions. The monks live at the Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery, a place where they can devote themselves to study, meditation and spiritual transformation. It’s the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery to be established in Australia to help preserve and disseminate Tibetan Buddhist teachings.

Not far from the Great Stupa is the Atisha Centre. The Atisha Centre is a Buddhist meditation and teaching centre in the Tibetan tradition. The Centre holds regular one-day courses and five-day retreats as well as study groups and community days.

A new library was under construction to house the Great Stupa’s collection. The Library aims to encourage study and research in the areas of science, philosophy and religion by making its resources and facilities available to scholars, researchers and the public. 

After spending at least an hour soaking it all in inside the Great Stupa we made our way back through the Peace Park and into the cafe where we ordered some coffee and a tasty vegetarian lunch. Buddhists are all vegetarian as one of their beliefs is that all animals can be reincarnated as a person so you wouldn’t want to eat one! Our food was delicious.

If you are planning a visit to the Great Stupa you need to allow at least an hour and half to see it (we were there for three) and even then you’ll want to return to see it all again. I know we will put it on our list to visit again to see how much more has been completed.


From Bendigo to home via Echuca

After a busy day being tourists in Bendigo we went looking for a place to camp. Sadly we could find no safe place to camp due to floods having passed through Happy Jacks Reserve and Bullocks Camp so we ended up in a little Caravan Park in Maiden Gully called Avondel Caravan Park

We’d just got everything all set up and were enjoying drinks and nibbles sitting under the awning when down came the rain. There was thunder and lightening as well so we packed away the awning, getting drenched in the process. It was better to be safe than have an awning ripped off in a storm. So we spent the night indoors listening to the rain.

The next morning we set off to explore the the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. What an amazing place that is. It deserves a post all of its own!

After a busy morning and a delicious lunch at the Great Stupa we set off northwards for home. It was very sad driving through the small town of Rochester as it had been completed devastated by a wall of floodwater. The nature strips were piled high with household belongings. Many of the residents were still living in caravans and other short term accomodation at the nearby Elmore Field Day site as their homes were not safe to return to.

It was also sad driving into Echuca where the rivers had also overflowed. Sandbags were everywhere. What a mess!

In Deniliquin the lovely little caravan park that we’d stayed in not long ago was completely underwater. A funny thing happened as we drove into town. A huge kangaroo hopped in front of us and proceeded to hop his way down the road. He was surely lost!

We continued on through Deniliquin and stopped in Conargo where we camped at Bills’ Park. Bills’ Park is one of two free camps in that tiny place. Little Billabong Creek was in flood but we managed to find a good spot with water views in front of us and also behind us. Bills’ Park is a lovely little park that is also home to the local Bush Fire Brigade sheds. There’s water available and a dump point, picnic tables and rubbish bins. You can even camp in tents.

Just up the road is the famous Conargo Pub that had recently been rebuilt following the terrible fire that almost completely destroyed the building in 2014. There were sandbags all around the building to stop the creek waters from entering and the road to Carathool was closed. We continued our journey towards home and there was quite a lot of water along the sides of the road so it was a slow trip home.

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

Motorhome or car? Motorhome or motel?

It was decision time. We had a business appointment in Ballarat, Victoria, some 500km from our home in Griffith, NSW. What should we do? Drive our car and stay in motels, pubs, cabin in caravan parks, B&B’s etc or do we quickly pack the motorhome and go in that?

What to do?

We were already in town doing some Christmas shopping when we realised we had the perfect 5 day window to get down to Ballarat and back before we had any other commitments. It was a no brainer really!!

How many of you just jump at the chance to go ANYWHERE in your RV? We do!!

We keep our motorhome well stocked with dry goods, wine, full water tanks and full of fuel. To go anywhere it’s simply a matter of throwing in some clothes, the cold food from our fridge and a few extras like a book or two and my technology bag. We make sure at the end of each trip the motorhome is thoroughly cleaned and any little issues fixed so she is ready to go any time.

So back home from shopping, quickly packed and we were driving out the driveway at 11.30am. Pretty good we thought!

Now Australia has been in the grips of a La Niña event and there had been floods all over the place. Even in places that don’t usually flood. Roads everywhere were in a shocking state and it would take months/years to repair all the potholes. Deciding on a route to Ballarat was going to be tricky. Consulting the NSW Live Traffic app and the VicTraffic app gave us a route from Griffith southwards through Darlington Point, Jerilderee, Tocumwal, Shepparton, Bendigo to Ballarat. It looked like all the roads were open but we were expecting to see roadworks.

Driving through Darlington Point, which is right on the Murrumbidgee River, showed us how full the river was. The lovely little caravan park was underwater. The town was saved by the huge levee bank.

Continuing on we arrived at Tocumwal and again the town was saved by their levee bank. You can see from the photo below how the levee is holding back the water from the town. The mighty Murray River was huge as we crossed into Victoria.

We continued our journey via Shepparton where we discovered road closures in the CBD due to the flooding. It was a traffic nightmare getting through the city. Traffic was diverted into smaller side streets that really aren’t suitable for big trucks and motorhomes. It was a relief to be through and out on the road again.

We drove as far as a tiny place called Corop ad turned off the main road into Greens Lake. This is a lovely free camp alongside a large lake. There are toilets and dogs on a leash are allowed. There were quite a few campers already set up but we managed to find a nice spot and quickly set up camp.

The next morning we headed to Ballarat. We had a brief lunch stop at Creswick where we pulled into Calambeen Park. Calambeen park is home to a large man-made swim ming hole. It even has diving boards!

Just before Ballarat we turned off to meet up with the owner of R&R Pods. They construct glamping pods for the accomodation industry and we were keen to check them out to see if they’d be a good fit for our own place. We have plenty of room.

After checking out the pods we had a quick drive into the city of Ballarat and found the CBD not very friendly for long vehicles and, as we didn’t really need to stay in Ballarat we turned north again towards Bendigo.

We stopped for a lunch break in Creswick and had a delicious meal at the local pub, The Farmers Arms. A quick stop at the IGA for groceries and we continued on.

Around 4pm we started looking for a camp and found another great spot via the WikiCamps app at Franklinford Streamside Reserve. What a lovely spot. The road was a bit narrow and bumpy on the way in and there weren’t too many level spots but we managed to find a spot up high on the hill overlooking the fast rushing stream below. There were roadworks below that indicated the creek had flooded recently and the ford was under repair. It looked like it had been washed away and a lot of new rocks had to be brought in. It is a one way road in and provides access for the people who live on the farms along the way. We watched a few cars cross the precarious bridge and make their way to the other side. You wouldn’t have got me to drive across that rickety bridge! We had a little campfire and enjoyed camping there.