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Bendigo’s new gold: Culture and gastronomy

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Bendigo’s new gold: Culture and gastronomy
Bendigo was one of the most important cities in the former British Commonwealth during the 1850s, as it was the world’s largest producer of gold – totalling more than 700,000kg, worth $163 billion today.

They say there’s still gold reef right under the centre of town but the City of Greater Bendigo’s marketing manager Glenn Harvey says culture and gastronomy are the new “gold” drawing visitors to Victoria’s fourth largest city.

“Our new gold is that we have become known as a city of arts and culture, but also more recently, we’ve become Australia’s first UNESCO city of gastronomy, so new gold also lies in our food and beverage,” he said, adding that the rebranding had been a 20-year vision.

The latest visitor numbers show that in the year to March 2023, Bendigo had 7.6 million visitors adding more than $1 billion to the local visitor economy.

Just two hours from Melbourne, Harvey says event organisers and PCOs are looking to Bendigo for different experiences for their clients, “so business events are very important and as part of our portfolio we look for events – leisure events, sporting events, business events. And there’s some fantastic venues on offer.”

The largest events, such as Rotary and Lions conventions tend to use Red Energy Arena with its 4,000-seat show court, also used for sport and entertainment events; a former jail now houses the 950-seat Ulumbarra Theatre, built 10 years ago; and a former Masonic Hall is now Capital Theatre, with a full stage and 480 tiered theatre seats.

Smaller events often look to historic buildings in the centre of the city, such as Mackenzie Quarters, a historic former school which caters for up to 110. For historic theming with capacity for up to 400 in theatre style, it would be hard to beat Bendigo’s 19th century Town Hall, where plaster ceiling detail is covered in 22-carat gold leaf, reflecting its reputation as the “City of Gold”.

The heart of Bendigo’s cultural precinct is View Street where Bendigo Art Gallery stands proud. It has led the way in the rebranding with innovative exhibitions including the recent private collection of Elvis Presley to which they attracted his widow, Priscilla. It has also staged displays of French couture dressmaking and fine art including a unique exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographic prints.

“That’s what I really love about Bendigo, the fact that we’ve got these beautiful old buildings, and they are all very close so you can organise unique business events,” said Harvey, who started working for the City of Bendigo in 2015.

“Business events are particularly important for us midweek when we’ve got 4,500 beds. And being recognised by UNESCO as Australia’s first city of gastronomy, delegates can enjoy their time here, having great local food and wine.”

Incentives are also important to Bendigo with one of the more interesting offerings being to descend more than 200m down into the Central Deborah gold mine where it is possible to have a meeting or simply appreciate the rich history of a city that was literally built on gold. 

Like Melbourne, Bendigo had trams and, while they are only for tourism these days, it is possible to hire them out with Blues musicians to enthuse your team.

“One of the things we’re looking forward to next year is the Australian Tourism Exchange, which is in Melbourne, as we’ll be hosting a lot of delegates out our way,” Harvey said, adding that Bendigo has airport buses many times a day direct to and from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. Bendigo airport also has flights to Sydney six days a week.

“Being a creative city, we’re always changing and last year we were Victoria’s top tourism town, which is a way to benchmark us,” said Harvey.

Being on the other side of the Great Dividing Range from Melbourne means the weather can be different from Melbourne.

“We get a Mediterranean climate up this way… a lot of blue sky days…some say we get as many as the Gold Coast,” said Harvey.

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