Woolly Days is just back home after a whirlwind trip to Bendigo, Victoria for a wedding. Situated 150km north of Melbourne, Bendigo was founded on its most prize asset: gold. Bendigo lies within the Bendigo-Ballarat zone of the Palaeozoic Lachlan Fold Belt of eastern Australia. It means the city’s bedrock dates from the Ordovician Period, almost 500 million years ago. The goldfield lies in a 9 km wide block of Lower Ordovician turbidites (sedimentary deposits formed by turbidity currents) tending North North West. Turbidite sequences are classic hosts for lode gold deposits. The productive portion of the goldfield lies in a zone 15 km long by 5 km.
Bendigo’s first native humans were the Dja Dja Wrung people. The Dja Dja Wrung catchment area took in the Loddon, Campaspe and Avoca Rivers in the Riverine region of central/western Victoria, centred on an area around what is now Bendigo. The Dja Dja Wrung people survived white invasion thanks predominantly to their women, who learned through their domestic-based jobs how to integrate with the mainstream community and survive.
The first whites arrived in the area in the late 1830s. In 1839 Charles Sherratt squatted on an immense tract of land lying about Mount Alexander, taking 200,000 acres. A small town grew up near the property. The initial name for the town was Sandhurst. Sandhurst got its name on the map in 1851 when Mrs John Kennedy and Mrs Patrick Farrell, wives of workmen on the Ravenswood run, found gold at ‘The Rocks’. It didn’t take long for word to get out and miner’s claims soon dotted the area, especially along the Bendigo Creek (the creek which eventually gave its name to the town was named for a sheep farmer who was handy with his fists and nicknamed for Nottingham prize-fighter William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson) From 1857 to 1954 there were 829 mines in Bendigo. The rapid growth increased demands for the services of a township. The telegraph arrived in 1857. By the end of the decade, Sandhurst had a police force, a court, hospitals parklands and a reliable coach line to Melbourne. The one day journey was dramatically reduced by the arrival of the train line in 1862.
Initially the miners begrudgingly paid a licence of thirty shillings a month for the right to dig. They came from all over the world. They were English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish along with Germans, Italians, Swiss, French, Americans and Chinese. Bendigo’s golden dragon museum celebrates the Chinese contribution to the mines. By 1856 some 40,000 Chinese had arrived to the great gold rush. They were seen as a threat to European miners and suffered great discrimination. In 1856 the colonial government of Victoria imposed a ten pound poll tax on Chinese disembarking at the Port of Melbourne bound for the goldfields of central Victoria. To avoid paying this poll tax ship captains bypassed Melbourne and sailed onto South Australia landing the Chinese at Adelaide, Kingston and Robe. In six years, 16,000 Chinese walked the 500km distance from Robe to the goldfields.
The Bendigo Bank was established in 1858 to serve the goldfields. Initially called the Bendigo Permanent Land and Building Society, it began to finance miners’ cottages to replace the thousands of makeshift tents and humpies that dotted the area. The new city’s fathers laid down an ambitious town plan in 1854. Within 30 years, Bendigo’s gold had financed a building program of grand public buildings to establish itself as one of the most gracious Victorian era cities in the world.
Pall Mall, Hargreaves, Bridge, McCrae and View Streets became the centre of business activity. An array of imposing buildings were built on Pall Mall. The first of three Shamrock Hotel was built in 1854 and destroyed by fire three years later. The current hotel is the third one in on the site and was built in 1896. It is a classic example of 18th century baroque architecture with its distinctive wide encircling verandas.
In 1891 the name of the city was changed from Sandhurst to Bendigo after a poll by ratepayers. One year earlier, the first trams commenced operation. For the first few months they were battery operated. But Bendigo’s hilly terrain meant the batteries often went flat. The trams switched to steam after a few months. In 1903, they went electric which they remain to this day. In 1972, the Victorian Government granted The Bendigo Trust permission to operate a Vintage Talking Tram tourist service between the Central Deborah gold mine and the Chinese Joss House at North Bendigo.
In 1954, the last winch on the city’s last gold mine raised its last bucket of ore. The depth of the mines and the presence of water in deeper mines saw the fields abandoned after 103 years. But there remains a large amount of gold in the Bendigo goldfields at deeper level, estimated to be at least as much again as what has been removed. With modern technology, Bendigo Mining NL has resumed mining over one kilometre deep and will likely be a large producer within 10 years. In 2005, Goldfields Mineral Services estimated that the total gold supply was 4,036 t. As gold is almost 20 times heavier than water, this amount of gold would fill a box 6 m wide by 6 m high by 6 m long. With the price of gold still trending upwards ($US686.90 per ounce at time of writing), Bendigo’s future remains optimistically tied to precious metal.