Autumn in the regional Victorian town of Bendigo promises to deliver a hubbub of events as diverse and colourful as the fallen leaves that will pattern its streets when the cooler weather arrives. ArtsHub speaks with Tourism Marketing Manager Glenn Harvey, who’s been a Bendigo resident for the past 20 years, about some of the upcoming attractions.
‘Bendigo has a real European feel with its beautiful heritage buildings and parklands, combined with contemporary restaurants, cafés and bars. It’s become a great leisure destination for the majority of the year due to the variety of things on offer,’ Harvey says. He’s particularly excited about the autumnal activities planned for 2023, explaining visitors are to be greeted with aural, visual and sensual delights.
For opera buffs, he recommends Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle by Melbourne Opera (24 March – 30 April). ‘This is the first time the Ring Cycle has been exclusively staged in a regional Australian destination,’ he says. ‘This $5 million production is one of the biggest in performing arts and will employ over 250 Australian singers, musicians, creatives and technicians. It will be held in the 1000-seat Ulumbarra Theatre, a former historical jail.’
Visual art lovers too, will be well catered for, with the exhibition of Australiana: Designing a Nation (18 March – 25 June). Presented exclusively at Bendigo Art Gallery in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), the exhibition ‘identifies the distinct traditions that have reflected and changed notions of Australian identity and style, and will include over 200 objects, ranging from drawings to paintings, photographs and elements of fashion and design,’ says Harvey.
Many famous Australian artists will be featured, he continues, ‘Names like Tom Roberts, Ken Done, Russell Drysdale, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Jenny Kee, fashion house Romance Was Born and Girramay/Yidinji/Kuku Yalanji artist Tony Albert.’
Then there’s the good old family favourite, the Bendigo Easter Festival (7-10 April). Holding the title of Australia’s oldest running community festival at 151 years, the Festival, Harvey enthuses, comprises ‘over 80,000 Easter eggs, Carnival Central, live music and performances, including 100,000 firecrackers as part of the Awakening of the Dragon celebratory dance, and a convoy of illuminated floats in the Torchlight Procession. You can also see Dai Gum Loong, the world’s largest Imperial Dragon, weaving his way through the streets of Bendigo as part of an annual parade that goes all the way back to the historic gold rush days.’
If you need a little timeout to reflect and ponder the achievability of a Zen existence, another all-age activity is the annual festival of Illumin8 at The Great Stupa on 6 May. Located near Bendigo, The Great Stupa is the largest Buddhist temple in the Western world and was created, Harvey says, to ‘celebrate peace and harmony’.
‘Inspired by Buddha’s life, the event has cultural performances, food stalls and light installations, including a spectacular fireworks show,’ he explains.
For those who would like to travel beyond Bendigo, a 30-minute drive away is Castlemaine, which has its own State Festival (24 March – 9 April). It comes with an eclectic mix of music, literature, visual arts and film. Highlights will include performers Frente, Vika and Linda, Ella Hooper and Jem Cassar-Daley, Electric Fields and Dallas Woods, Kian and Jaguar Jonze.
Other events slated for autumn include the Lost Trades Fair (11-12 March), an artisan-led event for career artisans and traditional tradespeople to share skills, Kaleidoscope by Keith Courtney (1 April – 30 April), an installation that transforms a simple toy to epic proportions, the Bendigo Winemakers Festival (22 April) and the Bendigo Writers Festival (4-7 May), featuring over 120 writers and 70 events.
Bendigo has been graced with many awards: last year it won Victoria’s Top Tourism Town and came second nationally. It’s also Australia’s first awarded UNESCO Creative City and Region of Gastronomy. Harvey also notes there are 60 cellar doors, six breweries, award-winning restaurants, farmers markets dotted around.
Whether you’re a day tripper, weekender or interstater, it pays to heed Harvey’s suggestion that you book accommodation and eateries early, before the first leaves start to fall, because the town will soon be abuzz with those wishing to soak up the many social and cultural activities available.