It is 2020 and I’m driving north into Bendigo along the High Street Boulevard. The Sacred Heart Cathedral with its established Aspire Precinct comes into view. I never tire of this glorious vista. The magnificent cathedral is like the guardian of our city; representing the gateway to what lies ahead in beautiful Bendigo.
Despite your religious beliefs, this commanding building defines Bendigo’s goldfields past and a ‘can do’ attitude of never giving up. It also offers a promise; a promise of a city with a great future.
The forecourt surrounding this gateway is the Aspire Precinct, a civic space to rival the cathedrals of the world. It is the final piece in the cathedral’s long history… and it captures the light of another autumn afternoon in downtown Bendigo 2020.
I never expected when I left Bendigo in 1993 to follow career aspirations, that my passion would ultimately be for my community. Growing up in Bendigo where the population sign never changed from 48,000 for so many years; I yearned for the brighter, bigger lights, to work and live in large cities, as well as regional, rural and remote Australia.
Ten years ago my family brought me home; my husband Ray enjoyed Bendigo and wanted our girls to grow up in an inclusive regional community with all of the opportunities of a big city. My passion led me in the direction of connecting communities through digital economic development in education, health and tourism.
Bendigo’s gateway is stunning; no other regional city in Australia has the presence that we have, and on the menu of delicious Bendigo offerings, this gateway really is a great entrée.
The civic open space of the Aspire Precinct is a regular site for markets, boutique concerts and family events and families and diners enjoy the casual cafe and retail experience of the boulevard area. Inner city living on both sides bustling with offices and shops frame this recreational area with its attractive green space and tram stop.
At the main course of Charing Cross, a sweeping suite of historic architecture opens before me, with eateries and shops making use of the Beehive building and other historic gems. The green respite of Rosalind Park is a hub for share bikes allowing residents and visitors to move leisurely around the city. Along Pall Mall past the majestic Shamrock, Old Post Office and Law Courts into the dessert of our city where the restored Vahland Fountain presides with grandeur over this space.
Continuing north on our goldfields history and faith tour we come to the bookend to the city, St Killian’s Church, the largest wooden church in the southern hemisphere and the site of the original 1850s slab and canvas chapel.
I must mention I am following this tour on my augmented reality device powered by a free WiFi mesh over the whole City of Greater Bendigo.
At this intersection we see the entrance to Bendigo’s Health precinct with its world class hospital which has been open now for more than three years and bustling Bridge and Chapel streets with a myriad of allied health businesses. On the opposite corner, the re-purposed TAFE city campus site is now an energetic hub for our youth with the Centre of Excellence in Health educating local, state and international students.
All of these activities are taking place on a stretch of road no more than a kilometre long. These outcomes have taken vision, guts and determination to make them happen. Another example of the ‘can do’ attitude our goldfields were built on, and known for.
Bendigo continues to evolve and grow – it is an innovative city, a smart city, a thinking city, a welcoming city – this is not new it has been happening since the goldrush.
Faith tourism is bringing new economies to Bendigo with faith tours reinvigorating our tourism assets as Aspire shares stories of our goldfields past. Faith tourism is real and in fact the fastest growing tourism sector in the world. Bendigo faith communities are working together to drive this new economy.
The Faith on the Goldfields Interpretative Centre welcomes locals and visitors to experience the many faith assets our region is home to: The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, Chinese Museum and Joss House, Karen Monastery, Islamic Mosque, Greek Orthodox Church, Jewish Community, Coptic Monastery, and the many varied Christian churches built in the goldfields.
The Aspire Precinct’s Library Learning Resource Centre and business innovation hub attracts different people to work together to socialise and communicate in an inclusive environment. They work on social projects to make real change with support of large and small partnering businesses in a think tank approach that is generating strong economic and social outcomes.
Education is a large part of the precinct, with year five and six students from across Australia experiencing an immersive program in the Faith on the Goldfields interpretive centre. As part of their curriculum they are learning from the stories of our past and relating this into their current day and how it will help create their future.
I relax after this satisfying three course dinner, with a coffee, of course. Bendigo’s coffee culture is still thriving in 2020. I reflect on the great strides Bendigo has made in the past four years with the culmination of iconic projects in tourism, education and health.
I also say a quiet thanks to the men and women of the past who started the building of our great city from the mud of the goldfields, to the citizens today who are working together to pay homage to this past and create an inspired future.
Marg O’Rourke is an active member of the Bendigo community, involved in a variety of organisations and charities.