By Tupur Chakrabarty
Yes, that was the first thing we noticed about Bendigo! A laidback town, with speed limits of 40, 50 or 60, and with people who are not rushing to be somewhere.
Why Bendigo? Because it was only a couple of hours’ drive from Melbourne and two to three days seemed just enough to explore the town.
On our way to Bendigo, we stopped at Grist Artisan Bakers in Kyneton for breakfast. The small, rustic bakery had plenty of choices – pies, sandwiches, quiches and petit fours.
We sat in the adjacent room. There was a large piece of machinery manufactured by Thomas Robinson and Sons Ltd, Rochdale, England. We asked the staff what it was used for, but they didn’t know. Later we looked up the manufacturer and found out that they built and repaired flour milling machinery, and since Grist Artisan Bakers is where a flour mill used to be, the machine we saw must be a milling machine.
We entered Bendigo a little before 11:00. As we drove through the town centre, ShNaajh’s eyes widened. She’d spotted a KFC!
“I thought Bendigo was rural and like most other rural areas we’d visited in the past, there’d only be a General Store and the occasional fish and chips!”
Our Airbnb was a granny flat in North Bendigo. If you’re a couple or a family of three, this would be a lovely place for a short stay. The hosts were warm, and their beautiful dog, a surprisingly gentle Tibetan Mastiff, would also greet us in the morning.
With only two nights and three days to spend in Bendigo, there was no time to lose!
Our plans for Day 1 were Central Deborah Gold Mine, the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion and Rosalind Park.
We reached Central Deborah Gold Mine at about 1:00. We’d booked a tour of the mine for 2:30, which left us plenty of time for the Artisan Experience – the blacksmith, the weaver, the beekeeper, the knitter and the candlemaker. The Artisan Experience might only be available during Easter. All other times it might just be Explore the Surface.
ShNaajh was looking for a gift for one of her friends, and the candlemaker suggested a gift with a story – she said ShNaajh could make ten ‘twisty’ candles for her friend’s 10th birthday. ShNaajh’s face lit up! As she dipped the beeswax candles one by one in colour and twisted each pair, Fiona, the candlemker, told us about the Lost Trades Fair, which takes place in Bendigo Racecourse every year in March. It sounded like a great event to experience.
With the twelve – yes, two bonus – candles safely tucked away in the backpack, we continued exploring the surface. We took a peep inside the Engine Room, climbed the stairs to the top of the poppet head and walked across it, and came down to the change room, where visitors had started assembling for the tour of the mine.
After we’d donned our hard hats, an industrial lift took us 61 metres below the surface. Our guide was an incredibly knowledgeable woman, passionate about the history and heritage of the mine, and funny. The tour lasted for an hour – that was an hour well spent.
“I was surprised to find out how difficult it was to mine for gold. I’d always thought it was simple and never considered the dangers of it.”
After a quick lunch of sliders and toastees at Beechworth Bakery, we were off to the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. Unfortunately, we reached the temple only 15 minutes before closing time and although we thought we’d return the following day, we never did. We still had time to walk around the garden. The Stupa stood in its white magnificence as we strolled in the Peace Garden and spun the prayer wheels.
We left the Stupa and headed to the heart (or lungs?) of Bendigo – Rosalind Park. The park is gorgeous! We climbed the Poppet Head lookout for a beautiful view of the town and Sacred Heart Cathedral; we walked between ancient trees and past the cascades; and we soaked in the late afternoon sun. The day couldn’t have ended more perfectly!
Day 2 was jam-packed! On our list were Bendigo Pottery, the Talking Tram, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Alexandra Fountain, Bendigo Art Gallery, the Golden Dragon Museum and Lake Weeroona.
With the clusters of acid bottles, piles of clay pipes and stacks of tiles, Australia’s oldest working pottery transported us to an era long gone.
There was no pottery workshop we could book, but ShNaajh did get a Puzzle Trail activity sheet and had fun finding the answers to the questions on the paper.
Why are these called bottle kilns?
Because they have a bottle-shaped outer shell
What do you think this bell is used for?
To indicate breaks / start and end of shifts
We spent an hour and a half at Bendigo Pottery.
We drove back to Central Deborah Gold Mine and caught the Talking Tram from there. A round trip – about 45 minutes – takes you all the way to the Joss House Temple and brings you back to the Gold Mine, The warm brown interior of the tram reminded us of its beloved cousin in Melbourne – the City Circle tram!
After lunch at Beechworth Bakery – yes, again – we set out to explore the attractions on the Talking Tram route. First stop, Sacred Heart Cathedral. We were hoping to see the inside of this beautiful Gothic building and light a candle, but it was closed, We never found out if the Cathedral opened only during Mass, but we were a little disappointed.
Alexandra Fountain, right in the middle of Charing Cross, was undoubtedly European. We spent several minutes there, one, to take a closer look at the lion heads, white female figures, mer-horses and dolphins, and two, to cool down. Although very different and much, much smaller, the fountain reminded us of the Doulton Fountain in Glasgow, the largest and best example of a terracotta fountain in the world. Probably because we’d also spent a considerable amount of time there!
Bendigo Art Gallery was a short walk from the fountain. It’s a small gallery, not at all overwhelming, and it was great to see Australian art from the 19th century. ShNaajh looked for paintings by Fredrick McCubbin, because her primary school house was McCubbin! She found ‘A Spring Pastoral’! We didn’t go to the Mary Quant exhibition.
We made a quick pit stop for ice cream – it was a very hot day – and walked to the Tram Depot + Workshop, but it was closed. We should’ve checked the Bendigo Tramways website before going there, but in retrospect, we actually did very little research before going to Bendigo, which, although uncharacteristic, was the sad truth! If you have an extra day or two to spend in this lovely town, do look up Things to do in Bendigo for some more inspiration.
Should we walk to the Golden Dragon Museum then? Is it open?
It was open, thankfully! The museum’s star attraction was Dai Gum Loong, the world’s longest dragon. As we were standing in front of the ornate head, trying to work out which way the body went, a gentleman walked up to us and said: “Do you want to hear a story?”
“Never say no to stories!“
Apparently, the making of Dai Gum Loong was meant to be a secret in Australia, but in Hong Kong, where the dragon was being built, everyone knew about the Bendigo Dragon! The dragon arrived in Bendigo in April, 2019, just before Easter. It came in flat packs and was assembled in a hanger at the airport and carried to the Museum. The carriers backed the dragon, tail first, up the stairs and around the circular room, but something was wrong! The head was resting on the steps of the display platform! That’s when this gentleman, sorry, we’ve forgotten his name, but he used to work at the Museum and started volunteering after retiring, got a call from the maker of the dragon: “Did you see my surprise gift to Bendigo?” So the dragonmaker added an extra 20 metres to Dai Gum Loong so that at 125 metres, it would be even more difficult to beat the length of the world’s longest dragon!
It was late afternoon, but the sun was still beating down on us. We walked back to Central Deborah, where we’d parked, and drove to Lake Weeroona. The calm expanse of the lake was exactly what we needed to wrap up the day.
We got up early on our last morning in Bendigo so that we could finish packing and cleaning the bungallow before our visit to the Bendigo Showgrounds Market, which is held every Sunday from 8:30 to 2:00. The Prince of Wales Showgrounds was only 10 minutes from our Airbnb. We didn’t think there’d be so many stalls, selling new and used goods, food items and plants, ShNaajh bought a solar-powered hummingbird, and – why wasn’t I surprised – fairy floss. And the parents bought a couple of succulents and a second-hand vase for propagating their monstera deliciosa!
After saying goodbye to our lovely hosts, the last place we visited was the Botanical Gardens. It wasn’t very big. We walked through the Heritage Garden – the play space, arbour garden, cottage garden, Edwardian garden…
We also followed the pink arrows to the Garden of the Future, but it was booked for an event and since it was during COVID, entry to the garden was restricted to those attending the event.
We’d come to the end of our Easter getaway. We drove back to Melbourne.
We were in Bendigo from 2 to 4 April, 2021. Here’s a snapshot of our expenses, in AUD, sans food and souvenirs:
This article was first published in the blog Travels That Make Us and has been republished here with the kind permission of the author.
Contributing Author: Tupur Chakrabarty is an education manager. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and daughter and dreams of endless travels in wondrous lands.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The Australia Today is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts, or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Australia Today and The Australia Today News does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.