Thursday 25 April 2013

Bendigo Up Close

Last week while I was staying at Woodend, I hopped on a train for a day trip to Bendigo.

I've always enjoyed this sort of outing, a short rail trip from a place where you're already a visitor.

With no luggage, no bed and no bookings at your destination, you feel even more anonymous than usual as a traveller. Literally, you're just passing through.

I remember a similar jaunt when I was staying in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK back in 2001. Feeling like a break from the wall-to-wall Shakespeareana, I caught a train to nearby Warwick.

Warwick's a small British city with a famous castle, but instead of visiting that I just wandered around town, looking at the streetscapes and having lunch outside a cafe in the sunshine.

In the late afternoon I found myself at an atmospheric old pub writing postcards, before catching the train back to Stratford. Bliss.

So. Bendigo on a quiet autumn Wednesday. For those who don't know, this regional city two hours north of Melbourne was a major beneficiary of the 19th century gold rush. That prosperity is still evident on its inner-city streets, lined with the bold and elegant facades of public and commercial buildings of the era.

I'd been to Bendigo before, however, and this time I was focused on the detail. As I walked along, I looked for the quaint, the odd, the quirky. Here's what I found:

1. Count like an Egyptian. On quiet Rowan Street, behind the old Rifle Brigade pub, I spotted this extravagant display of Egyptomania above the entrance of an accountancy firm. Why was it there? Ra knows.

2. Dragon rising. I found this striking 2007 sculpture, Chase the Dragon, in front of Dudley House, an office building from 1859:

3. Fire door. A little further along View Street was this excellent door; merely a functional element of the former Fire Station, but still crafted with pride:

4. Capital capital. This impressive pillar was one of several along the grand entrance of The Capital, now the city's performing arts centre but originally the 1873 Masonic Hall:

5. Smart art. Opposite these classic facades was something very modern - the exterior of La Trobe University's Visual Arts Centre. Apparently the large artworks on the exterior are changed each year:

6. Tie a red ribbon. I almost missed this intriguing curio as I continued down View Street. A dilapidated sign proclaimed the building the Red Ribbon Rebellion Museum, though it was closed as I passed.

Looking up the rebellion later, I was intrigued to discover it was a huge 1853 protest campaign against the miner's licence, hatred of which led to the revolt at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat a year later (You can read more about the Red Ribbon Rebellion at this link).

7. What's your sign? There's something fascinating and romantic about faded old signs, pointing the way to shops or offices which are no longer there. Here's one I spotted off View Street:

8. Have some fruit instead. Temperance was a big movement around the turn of the 20th century; hence this impressive facade of the Temperance Hall from 1895. No doubt the cornucopia fitted well with the message of healthy living through abstinence from the demon drink:

9. Ticket to ride. Finally, I crossed Bendigo's broad Pall Mall (yes!) just in time to see the hourly tourist tram pull in. This is a remnant of the city's former tramway system, closed in the 1970s except for this single line.

If you're wondering about the unusual destination sign, the tram runs from the Central Deborah Gold Mine to the Bendigo Joss House Temple, which served Chinese prospectors from the 1860s.

I think you'll agree that the old tram is a small masterpiece in itself. Hopefully it'll serve as a nucleus for a renewed tramway network in Bendigo at some future date. Trams are cool.

(And you can learn more about the Bendigo tram and other regional trams in my Australia by Rail app!)

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