The regional cultural festival that’s Blooming lovely

From tulips and wine tastings to heritage architecture and an acquisitive painting prize, Bendigo’s Bloom festival has much to offer experience-seekers.
Two white women picnic on a green lawn, with bright yellow tulips blooming in the foreground. More tulips, and striking Victorian-era buildings, can be seen in the background.

Embodying the hope of spring – not to mention a canny approach to water conservation – the City of Greater Bendigo’s annual tulip display has been presented for the last 20 years.

Running from mid-September to early October, the brilliant display of blossoms in the regional Victorian city’s Pall Mall and Conservatory Garden was first held as a response to the long-running Millennium Drought of 1997 to 2009.

‘Our tulip display started back in 2004, during Victoria’s drought period,’ explains Glenn Harvey, Tourism Marketing Manager at the City of Greater Bendigo.

‘Bendigo was very short on water at the time, and the curators thought it would be great to put in a drought-tolerant species that really would brighten up the city and make it look fantastic. Tulips were what was picked, and they’ve been blooming every year annually ever since. We have 53,000 tulips this year that will line the main street, and that’s really the first event that signals the start of Bendigo’s spring Bloom campaign,’ Harvey says.

Bloom – Bendigo’s spring program of events and experiences – embraces all aspects of the UNESCO-recognised City of Gastronomy, from fine food, great wines and local produce to the internationally recognised Bendigo Art Gallery, the city’s Gold Rush-era architecture, and a long and proud history of racial and religious diversity.

Bloom highlights include the annual Vegecareian Festival (14 October), a family and pet-friendly celebration of vegetarian cuisine from around the world, and an acknowledgement of the importance of animal life as well as human life, held at the largest Buddhist temple in the Western world, The Great Stupa in Myers Flat.

There’s also the Heritage and Hidden Spaces Wine Walk (21 October), a day of wine tasting featuring over 18 local wineries, coupled with an exploration of some of Bendigo’s most striking historical buildings; and the Zinda Festival (7 October), which focuses on Bendigo’s ever-increasing cultural diversity – a trend that began in the 1850s.

‘Back in the Gold Rush days, people from across the world came to Bendigo to search for their fortune … and Bendigo remains a very multicultural city, which Zinda Festival really celebrates through a focus on food, culture and tradition,’ says Harvey.

The Vegecareian Festival at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. Photo: Courtesy City of Greater Bendigo.

The City of Greater Bendigo has been a Refugee Welcome Zone since 2002, a fact recognised through the Zinda program, with the festival itself running since 2018. Presented by Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, this year’s festival acknowledges early Chinese settlers as well as more recent arrivals like the Karen community as well as newcomers from the Philippines, India and Africa.

‘It’s based out at The Gardens for the Future, one of our new gardens that have been planted in the last 10 years – it’s a fantastic space and it’s another free event that you can come along to and celebrate the different cultures that make up Bendigo. What I really love about Zinda Festival is that you can walk around and taste different food from different cultures and of course, celebrate with music and dance and art and performance,’ Harvey tells ArtsHub.

Similarly, for visitors wanting to learn more about Bendigo’s First Peoples and explore the living Dja Dja Wurrung culture, regular CBD walking tours hosted by knowledgeable Djaara guides ensure that participants will depart with insights into both history and Djandak (Country).

Also incorporated in the Bloom program are events such as the Bendigo Comedy Festival (11-15 October), now in its fifth year and featuring acts such as Gillian Cosgriff (whose Actually, Good won the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Award for Most Outstanding Show earlier this year) and the Bendigo Yoga Festival (28-29 October), both of which Harvey describes as ‘great festivals that have really loyal followings’.

Rounding out the Bloom program in November is the 2023 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize (25 November – 18 February 2024) at Bendigo Art Gallery, which offers an acquisitive cash prize of $50,000 to the winning artist.

‘We have artists from all over the country that submit their works for this Prize, and not only is it free to visit, it features some of the best art happening around Australia right now,’ Harvey explains.

So why travel elsewhere around Australia when the work of the nation’s best artists come to Bendigo for Bloom?

The City of Greater Bendigo’s Bloom Festival features over 50 events and runs throughout spring 2023. Explore the full program online.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts