James Lerk

Readers of the Bendigo Weekly will be sad to hear that one of our most valued contributors, James Lerk, will be taking a break to concentrate on writing his memoirs.

We have estimated that over the past 20 years, Mr Lerk has written well over 1000 articles for us and over two thirds of a million wonderful words.

The popularity of his column, Discover Bendigo, is based on Mr Lerk’s ability to research our rich history and to write in an entertaining and accessible manner for our curious readership.

Here in Bendigo we are lucky to still be living among our history – our buildings both monumental and humble, our scarred landscape and a wealth of archival material which Mr Lerk can so adeptly explore.

Much of his time has been given freely to organisations and individuals who have asked for his help to research and publish books and to preserve buildings.

Along with the late Daryl McClure OAM, Mr Lerk was instrumental in the reprinting of George Mackay’s History of Bendigo and with Mr McClure he republished Frank Cusack’s much respected, Bendigo: a history revised edition.

Mr Lerk protected and ensured the publication of another significant historian Bill Perry, who wrote Tales of the Whipstick and the End of an Era.

As a valiant fighter for the preservation of our history, he has saved a number of Bendigo’s historic homes from almost certain demolition by purchasing and then restoring them.

He even helped save our glorious town hall which in 1971 caught the attention of a certain civic engineer on council who wanted to bowl it over.

Mr Lerk spearheaded a campaign which letter-boxed ratepayers, printed car stickers, and forced a poll of ratepayers.

The result of the poll? In August of 1971, 8708 people wanted to save the town hall and 2150 were against the poll.

Another of his many achievements is his contribution to having the Central Deborah Gold Mine placed on the Heritage Register and the establishment of the Bendigo Trust.

In 1993 Mr Lerk researched and wrote on a voluntary basis, Bendigo’s Central Deborah Gold Mine and its Era.

One of his most recent books is On the Tail End, Chinese Working Mine Tailings on the Bendigo Goldfields.

Not all of Mr Lerk’s achievements have been recorded here, but hopefully readers will grasp the generosity and breadth of his work.

Paradoxically, Mr Lerk was not born in Bendigo but in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the Netherlands in 1943, under the dark cloud of German occupation.

Perhaps these circumstances subconsciously drove him to preserve that which the Nazis tried to destroy, a country’s history, pride and identity.

He and his family were self-funded migrants who arrived in Melbourne on board the Fairsea in May 1952.

He came to Bendigo in 1969 and taught at White Hills Technical school.

Apart from preserving our local history, Mr Lerk loves gardening and travelling the world.

He met his wife Etty in Indonesia, and has two children Tricia and Andre and several grandchildren.

And his favourite part of Bendigo?

Eaglehawk’s wide, wandering roads and its houses and cottages built of mud, stones and bricks and whatever came to hand.

– Dianne Dempsey