Bendigo is the Santa Fe of Australia. Bendigo has a population nearing 114,000 and is growing. The Santa Fe metro area has about 146,000 people. Bendigo is 93 miles from a large city–Melbourne. Santa Fe is 64 miles from Albuquerque. Bendigo during a brief gold rush and for the several decades following it was a major gold mining town. While there is plenty of gold around Santa Fe, New Mexico’s chief mineral is uranium. Between 1950 and 1998 during the Cold War uranium mining was an important industry in New Mexico, which still has the 2nd largest uranium ore reserves of any state. Only Wyoming has more. Santa Fe is a very old city that has managed to hang on to its Spanish heritage. Bendigo has not replaced many of the heritage buildings in its downtown core or the oversized churches that gold wealth built. Bendigo is rapidly growing because it still has small city charm and drivable streets. Santa Fe is a huge walkable tourist destination because of its charm. Many people who work in Melbourne are moving to Bendigo. Many retirees are moving to Santa Fe. Both cities have vibrant arts scenes.
Ruth and I wanted a day away from Melbourne and had never been to either Bendigo or Ballarat. Bendigo won because of Marimekko. Ruth and I really enjoyed our time there and hope to return. Because we took public transportation we were limited to the area near the train station, which contained Bendigo’s historic downtown. We did not get to see The Great Stupa, the Deborah Gold Mine. etc. Both sound worthwhile. A man in the Melbourne Visitor Centre loves Bendigo and helped me plan our visit to the Bendigo Art Gallery, which is as fine as any big city museum, the very impressive Sacred Heart Cathedral, and the Golden Dragon where we met Chinese Australian Russell Jack and his dragon Sun Loong.
Between 1850 and 1900, more than a million and a half pounds of gold was mined in Bendigo. For a time it was the richest city in the world. After Margaret Kennedy discovered gold in Bendigo, $30,000,000,000 flowed in as ostentatious homes, gardens, and churches were built, broad boulevards were developed, and many gold mines opened. Reportedly, Bendigo looked like a rich European city as George Lansell, a mining magnet, became the wealthiest man in the world. The newly restored Alexandra Fountain, a heritage grandstand at the Jockey Club, and evidence of Australia’s oldest tram fleet remain.
Bendigo is a gigantic travel surprise.