Mural at Cafe Cortille
Stone Dragon, Golden Dragon Museum
Paper Tiger Lantern, Golden Dragon Museum
Urn at the entrance to the Golden Dragon Museum
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This picturesque place is one of Victoria’s historic gold rush towns

Situated 153 km northwest of Melbourne, Bendigo is a city with a rich and colourful history. The town is a two-hour drive or V-line train ride from the Melbourne CBD, making it a popular tourist destination for Victorians and visitors to Victoria alike. Picturesque and leafy, it is one of Victoria’s historic gold rush towns, with many beautiful, well-preserved Victorian buildings still intact. The area is a primary exporter of livestock, wool and fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, and the fertile soil in the region has made it renowned for producing quality red wines.

Unlike many Australian towns and locales, the city’s unusual name does not derive from the indigenous language of the traditional owners of the land (in this case, the Dja Dja Wurrung tribe), but rather, it comes from the nickname of English bare-knuckle boxer, William Abednego (Bendigo) Thompson, who was popular around the time of the town’s settlement. The owner of a major sheep farm in the area was a big fan of the boxer and often stationed at a hut overlooking a watercourse, which soon became known as Bendigo Creek.

A turning point came when gold was discovered on Bendigo Creek in 1851, following the discovery of gold in New South Wales. This discovery brought in a sudden influx of migrants from all over the globe, creating rapid development of the settlement of makeshift tents and huts, into a vibrant, cosmopolitan city. Both locals and migrants left their jobs to find their fortune in the goldfields, creating a society of ‘diggers’, united in their quest to stake their livelihood on striking lucky in their search for the precious metal. As the city expanded, it was briefly named Sandhurst in 1854 after a British military college, until a plebiscite (advisory referendum) was held in 1891, during which an overwhelming number of residents voted the name be officially changed back to Bendigo.

Bendigo’s rich cultural diversity was present from the time the area grew from a camp to a city. The sprawling township grew out of a collection of small communities made up of different migrant groups, including Irish, Cornish, German, and Chinese camps.

By 1854, the Chinese population on the Bendigo goldfields was over 3,000, and by 1861, the leading coach company Cobb & Co ran a special coach service from Bendigo to Guildford, especially for Chinese passengers.

One of the must-see sights in Bendigo is the Golden Dragon Museum, which was established in 1991 to preserve the rich history of the local Chinese migrant community, one of the first significant communities of Chinese in Australia. Several festive processional dragons are on display in this museum, including the heritage-listed ‘Loong’, the oldest intact processional dragon in the world. These dragons have traditionally been featured in the town’s annual Easter Parade.

Text & Photos Maggie Ng