15 March 2016
We make the most of our last day in Australia. It is sunny and warm in Bendigo. The continental breakfast at our hotel is very satisfactory – chunks of fresh melon, creamy yogurt, cereals, and toast. The toaster is one of the old-fashioned kind – put your bread on the moving belt on top and it is ejected when the belt tumbles it to the chute on the bottom.
The Botanical Garden is our first destination. As it's a way out of town, we drive. On the third try, we find the right parking lot. The walk through the gardens is very pleasant, and includes a small aviary with brightly colored parrots and a couple of gorgeous, long-tailed pheasants.
Our next foray is made on foot. We walk from our hotel to the Bendigo Joss House. Our host is full of stories and facts and figures, so we learn a lot. Many Cantonese people came here in the 1850s to mine gold; they were also escaping from drought and famine conditions.
At one time there were ten Chinese encampments around the city, and Chinese accounted for 25% of the population of Bendigo.
These migrants faced severe hardships. They were charged 10 pounds each as an entry fee. Then they had to find their way to the gold fields. Many walked the more than 500 kilometers from Adelaide to Bendigo.
As in other countries and cities, they were not well treated, but their culture left an indelible mark on Bendigo. Their history is preserved here at the Joss House and at the Golden Dragon Museum in town center. Each Easter is celebrated by parading a Chinese dragon through the town.
The three buildings of the Joss House have been here some 150 years. Painted red, guarded by a pair of temple dogs, the house faces Bendigo Creek and has at its back a mountain range, according to tradition. There is the caretaker's house on the left, and four altars in the other two buildings. Every altar features offerings of food and drink.
We depart the Joss House and head down a trail to Lake Weeroona. As we walk around the lake young cross country runners pass us, doing loops of the lake track. We venture on south, looking for the local brewery, True Brew. Many steps later, we find it. One of the two brothers who own the brewery greets us. His taps are down – he has dismantled them to take to the Brew Fest being held this weekend in the town. We settle for bottles. The Pale Ale is very nice.
The walk back to town doesn't seem quite so long as the slog to the brewery. Maybe two beers just eased the pain. We grab a quick bite – two tiny sandwiches from El Gordo – and head to the Golden Dragon Museum. Here live the Imperial dragons: the “old” dragon, “Loong”; and the new dragon, “Sun Loong”.
Loong came to Bendigo in 1892, and danced in the Easter Parade until retired in 1970. He is the oldest Imperial dragon in the world. Sun Loong, assumed parade duties in Loong's place. He is the longest Imperial dragon in the world, stretching some 100 meters. The process of fitting Sun Loong's silks onto the bamboo frame for the parade seems daunting – the silks have to be tied just so.
The number of artifacts – dragons, huge pots, flags and banners – is overwhelming. We wish we could see the dragon parading.
Hot and tired, we trudge back up the hill to the hotel to pack. It looks like everything is going to fit and that our bags will weigh less than 22 kilos each. Whew! Drinks, dinner at a pub, and bed. Tomorrow we travel.