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Just an hours drive north-west of Melbourne lie the Goldfields. With a heritage as rich as the ground on which it stood, this was once the home for tens of thousands who flocked here over a century ago in search of instant wealth. And while the goldrush has passed quietly into history, you can still capture the spirit of the pioneers in a region of ornate Victorian architecture, grand streetscapes and picturesque botanical gardens.
The Goldfields Towns and Attractions
The huge amount of gold discovered at Bendigo has also left an extravagant mark, making it the most splendid mid-19th century Victorian city in Australia. When you drive through the main street of Bendigo you'll be struck by the city's obvious pride. Flamboyant in appearance, the journey down its side streets unveils even more remarkable buildings - baroque mansions, gothic cathedrals and Georgian-style homes.
Bendigo was the greatest goldfield of all in Victoria. Extending over 360 square kilometres, it comprised about 35 gold-bearing reefs with a total output of more than 22 million ounces. These riches built a grand city which is often regarded as the best-preserved example of Victorian architecture in the State - and possibly Australia. Any city in the world would be proud to boast Pall Mall and its handsome buildings.
The affluence and taste is also reflected in elegant villas such as Fortuna, the home of mine owner George Lansell. Known as the 'Quartz King', he was a larger than life goldmining entrepreneur whose shafts were always the deepest and whose enthusiasm spread and filled the city with optimism and excitement.
Humble single-fronted miners cottages now house fine art, as does the outstanding Bendigo Art Gallery. Here you are offered an insight into the European settlement in this area. The Gallery contains significant European and Australian art collections and has the largest Louis Buvelot collection in the country.
In total contrast, a large portion of Bendigo's rich heritage is due to its Chinese associations. The Chinese arrived in Bendigo in 1854 and China Town was once found in Bridge Street. Today, however, it is the Golden Dragon Museum which contains the treasure-trove of Chinese ceremonial regalia, including the dragons Loong and Sun Loong. If you visit Bendigo during the Easter break you can see the Easter Monday Chinese Procession where Sun Loong, carried by 60 people, is paraded.
The brilliant red Chinese Jess House is an equally startling find. Bright banners, sacred offerings and a variety of tiny alters are found inside. You can also see aspects of Chinese life portrayed in wax at the Dai Gum San Wax Museum.
Situated right in the heart of the city is the Central Deborah Mine shaft which passes through 17 levels to a depth of almost 400 metres. The last deep-reef mine in the area to close, it has been fully restored and is a working exhibit for the public.
Linking many of these attractions are the vintage 'talking' trams. You can listen to a taped commentary on the sights you will pass, identifying points of interest along the way. This eight kilometre tram tour starts and ends at the Central Deborah Mine.
While you are here, why not supplement your visual experience with some of the town's many gourmet pleasures. Wine connoisseurs will delight at the boutique wineries scattered throughout the hills and valleys surrounding Bendigo.
Other attractions include Bendigo Pottery, Australia's oldest pottery still in operation and Sweenies Creek Pottery. At Sandhurst Town, a short drive from Bendigo, you can relive the gold rush days in this faithfully re-created mining town.