20 years of Bendigo

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 18-Dec-2015

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Town planner Mark Bello from the USA reflects on how Bendigo has changed over the past 20 years.

I’ve just had the opportunity to return to Bendigo after being away for almost 20 years. 

In 1995 I spent a year in Bendigo working as a town planner for the state of Victoria, in a job exchange for a similar position in Portland, Oregon USA. 

My family and I lived in Flora Hill. I rode my bike to the state office on Hargreaves Street and my wife Colleen took our daughter Lydia to nearby Flora Hill School (now closed). 

On the weekends, we explored Bendigo and the surrounding Victoria goldfields.

My biggest memories are of the magnificent Post Office and other historic buildings downtown (central Bendigo). 

In those days, there was no internet service at work and, of course, no home broadband. So letters were very important and communication was slower. 

Those pre-internet, pre-Skype modes of communication days were typical of the pace of life back then. 

It seemed slower and placid. Melbourne was far away and the Calder Highway could be treacherous. 

There were tourist sights but it was all rather low key. 

Another memory was the long walk down Mitchell to the Alexandra Fountain and up View Street. 

The oval at the top of View Street drew us to a local footy game but the ambience was too dominated by traffic.

When it was announced during my stay in Bendigo that the Post Office in Pall Mall would be closing, the Bendigo Advertiser reported that 85 per cent of local residents objected to the change. More than 2000 residents signed a petition in objection. At that time, Bendigo’s population was about 84,000.

Now in 2015, the Post Office is a world-class visitor and tourist information centre, with knowledgeable guides, museum, gallery, and fine art gift shop. 

The refurbished Rosalind Park is the jewel in the crown of visitor attractions that stretch from sidewalk wine bars/cafés on View Street to the sophisticated Ulumbarra Theatre near the Golden Dragon Museum.

The Calder is fully improved. There are frequent trains to Melbourne. Bendigo has near and far residential areas, whether Huntly or Castlemaine. 

Traffic volumes though are much higher and it is difficult to cross many main streets due to traffic.

Given this vibrancy, and the increasing population and economic activity, Bendigo may be in a position to achieve council’s vision of becoming the most liveable regional city in Australia. There are challenges some though:

• There are bike paths everywhere, but it does not seem like residents take full advantage of these paths, especially those that provide such convenient access to downtown. 

• The extensive bus system seems underutilised, particularly as a way to provide alternatives to the need for one car per adult 

• While the widespread use of roundabouts makes car traffic effortless, it comes at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. I can see why residents are disinclined to cross the street. 

• Although Bendigo is surrounded by bush reserves, it seems to be oozing out toward Huntly, Strathfieldsaye, and even possibly south of Kangaroo Flat. If these areas grow as predicted and the train system, now in the midst of an expansion, is not fully utilised, the McIvor and other roads will become crowded and the pressure will build for further highway widenings, more traffic, etc.

After visiting here twice 20 years apart, my most important realisation is that Bendigo has a fantastically rich history and that its history, and culture, endures. 

It is the source of my fascination and appreciation for your city.

I hope that you will solve the puzzle of how to grow and yet maintain your low-stress urban fabric.

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