Explore gold rush history, culture and colonial architecture in Bendigo, Victoria’s one-time boom town.
By Stephanie Williams
The gold might have gone but the good times are still rolling in the elegant and historic regional centre of Bendigo. Its grand buildings, Chinese heritage and living museums are a visible legacy of the 1850s and ’60s gold rush that transformed the region. Bendigo’s arts scene is thriving with one of the best regional art galleries in Australia, Bendigo Art Gallery, as well as independent galleries, workshops and theatres. The gold rush wealth funded many fine buildings here, including Bendigo Town Hall, the restored Alexandra Fountain, the magnificent former post office and law courts. Stroll through the broad boulevards and tree-lined streets or call in to one of the quality wineries nearby to get a true taste of the Bendigo terroir. The Heathcote region is just south of Bendigo and known for outstanding Shiraz. For a taste of modern Bendigo architecture and design, check in to the Schaller Studio, inspired by the working studio of contemporary Australian artist Mark Schaller.
HOW TO GET THERE
The drive from Melbourne to Bendigo takes just under two hours; break the trip in pretty Kyneton village. It takes about the same time on the train from Melbourne's Southern Cross station.
- View impressive art and architecture at Bendigo Art Gallery
- Take an historic excursion aboard Bendigo Tramways Talking Tram
- Learn about Chinese gold rush miners at the Golden Dragon Museum
TOP THINGS TO DO IN BENDIGO
Explore the thriving arts scene
Walk along View Street and discover Bendigo’s vibrant arts precinct. Be sure to visit the Bendigo Art Gallery, first opened in 1887. The collection features Australian art dating back to 1850 and attracts dynamic global exhibitions. Explore smaller galleries such as the Post Office Gallery and antique shops such as Valentine's Antique Gallery. Catch a show at the elegant Capital Theatre, opened in 1873 or for contemporary-flavoured entertainment, the new Ulumbarra Theatre in the grounds of the old Sandhurst Gaol. The Schaller Studio hosts artisan markets and other events in its landscaped gardens.
Experience the life of a miner
Don a hard hat and explore the hidden underground tunnels of a real gold mine that operated during the gold rush at Central Deborah Gold Mine. The mine operated from 1939 to 1954 and extracted almost one tonne (1.1 ton) of gold in that time. That’s about AUD $46 million in today's prices. You can descend to 228 metres (748 feet) and see first-hand how the gold was mined amid such harsh conditions.
Visit an 1850s joss house
When gold was discovered in Bendigo in 1851, Chinese miners flocked to make their fortune and in the 1870s a temple was constructed for the miners' spiritual wellbeing. Standing for more than a century, the Bendigo Joss House Temple is one of the few remaining buildings of its type in Australia. The distinctive red building is dedicated to Guan-Di (Kwan Gong), the god of war and prosperity, and is open to visitors daily between 11am and 3pm. The Golden Dragon Museum is a hub of Chinese cultural activity in Australia, where the fascinating connection between Chinese miners and rural Bendigo comes to life. Visit the gardens modelled on Beijing's Imperial Palace and see the work of traditional artisans.
Ride the Bendigo Tramways Talking Tram
Trams began operating in Bendigo in 1890 and continued to operate until 1972. Luckily the tracks, trams and depot were preserved and have morphed into the Bendigo Tramways Talking Tram, which takes visitors on an historic tour of Bendigo. There are a number of different touring trams, such as the Vintage Talking Tram, the Anzac Centenary Tram, and the Blues Tram complete with a live blues band on board.
Discover historic pottery kilns
Get behind the wheel at Australia’s oldest working pottery, Bendigo Pottery. For more than 150 years, Bendigo Pottery has been turning out high quality ceramics such as clay pipes, roof tiles, bricks and tableware. See the most significant collection of ceramic wood-fired kilns left in the world and visit the Interpretive Museum, a converted kiln itself. Here you’ll learn about the techniques the potters and kiln workers used to create the renowned pottery and see how it is produced today.
Discover Aboriginal stories
Long before the Chinese and Europeans came to Bendigo, the indigenous Jaara Jaara people lived on the land where gold was discovered. You can celebrate with descendents of the Jaara Jaara during July's Naidoc Week festivities. Witness the flag raising ceremony to mark the start of the week, which increases awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, or see fascinating Jaara Jaara rock wells on the nearby Eureka Reef walk.
Enjoy natural pleasures
When you're done with history, relax in one of the city's beautiful parks, visit a local winery (try the well established Balgownie Estate) or cycle the 65 kilometre (40 mile) Bendigo Bushland Trail past dazzling flowers, abundant wildlife and famous heritage buildings.
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