Located 150 km north-west from Melbourne and 225 metres above sea level, Bendigo has one of the finest collections of Victorian buildings of any inland city in Australia. The streets are literally awash with huge granite edifices and, in the centre of the city, a fountain dedicated to Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, sits in the centre of the main street.
The town was named after a boxer. The world-famous (at the time) English bare-knuckle boxer, Abednego William Thompson whose first name, a Biblical reference, was reduced to ‘Bendigo’. This nickname was given to a shepherd at Ravenswood Run because he was a good boxer. In turn a local creek was named Bendigo and thus it was that this impressive city became known as Bendigo. For much of its life the town/city was known as ‘Sandhurst’. It wasn’t until 1891 that it was officially named Bendigo.
Prior to European settlement it is thought the Jaara Aborigines lived in the area. The first European into the district was Major Thomas Mitchell who passed through the area on his journey of exploration into the western district of Victoria.
By 1840 squatters had moved in and sheep were being successfully grazed. The history of Bendigo changed in 1851 when gold was discovered. No one knows who made the first discovery. A committee in 1890 claimed that the first discoverer was Henry Frencham but there is also a claim that a man named William Johnson was the first person to pick up a nugget. According to one popular legend, Margaret Kennedy, wife of the station master at Ravenswood Run, found gold. If she did discover it, she could not have known that her discovery would create one of the greatest goldrushes in Australian history, that Bendigo bloated by the wealth from gold would build huge buildings celebrating its new wealth, or that the Bendigo gold seam covered an area of 3600 hectares. In the period from 1851 until 1954 (the year of the last gold mining in the district) a total of 25 million ounces of gold were taken from the area around Bendigo.
As miners rushed to the site the settlement grew dramatically. Like so many mining communities Bendigo formed a series of small ethnic communities. The Irish moved into the district known as St Killians. The Cornish (many of whom had come from the copper mines in South Australia) established themselves at Long Gully. The Germans settled at Ironbark Gully. The Chinese at Emu Point made a huge impression on the goldfields. In 1854 there were over 3000 Chinese on the Bendigo goldfields and by 1861 they formed such a distinctive part of the community that Cobb & Co ran a special coach service from Bendigo to Guildford especially for Chinese passengers.
The early discoveries of alluvial gold quickly gave way to the more difficult quartz-based gold. By the 1860s the goldfields had changed from small operations to major mines with deep shafts.
By 1870 Bendigo, or Sandhurst as it was known at the time, was the most important gold mining site in the world. As a producer of gold from quartz it was unequalled for the next thirty years.
When Mark Twain visited the city in 1897 he described it as ‘The town is full of towering chimney stacks and hoisting works, and looks like a petroleum city.’
Today Bendigo is a charming and elegant rural centre with an economy which is driven by a mixture of tourism, industry and servicing the surrounding agricultural district.
The Bendigo Easter Fair, operating since 1871 and climaxing with a famous parade featuring historic Chinese processional dragons, is a popular annual event, as is the Bendigo Cup in November. The Australian Sheep and Wool Show is held on the third or fourth weekend in July each year.