Thirty years ago, your scribe became an urban refugee, fleeing the (even then) hurly burly of metropolitan life for places much less crazy and yet still professionally and personally fulfilling.
A fellow reporter at the old Sun newspaper remarked I was going to “the most Anglo” place in the state, inferring it was the geographical equivalent of flavourless white bread.
And yes, it was strange after years in Melbourne not to see so many people whose ancestry went back to India, Asia or the Middle East.
But something odd happened last weekend, and I’ve begun to question whether even though there was – and still is to a lesser degree – less ethnic diversity here, I don’t think that’s reflected in our view of ourselves.
There we were, sitting on a first-floor verandah in Pall Mall, having lunch while watching the Easter Festival parade.
It was an Indian restaurant in a very English named street. Before that, it’d been (our favourite) Greek restaurant, and going right back to the start, it had been a very popular Italian restaurant, Favaloro’s.
Our lunch companions were full of enthusiasm about some aid work they’d become involved in in Nepal and there were other projects discussed in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
And then, down View Street and into Pall Mall came the mighty Bendigo Chinese Association contingent, full of colour and glitter and the sharp crackle of fireworks, the thumping of the ceremonial drums, clashing cymbals and the explosion of cultural colour in Sun Loong.
It was a reminder that in Chinese spirituality, Bendigo is still that rarest of things, a non-Chinese Dragon City. I think we share that distinction only with San Francisco.
The cascade of thoughts then moved to plans for a mosque and Islamic Centre in Bendigo.
Bendigo people and our council proudly stood up for that and held their nerve despite some very confronting opposition.
We have the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion still rising into the sky at Myers Flat.
It’ll be, if it’s not already, the largest Buddhist stupa in a westernised country.
We have the heart-warming way Bendigo people still embrace the people from Karen, as well as the dozens and dozens of student programs all over our city welcoming kids from often troubled parts of the world.
We have seven Rotary clubs in Bendigo, all of which have a chartered responsibility to develop international aid programs.
Other service clubs have similar programs.
Bendigo people have their sleeves rolled up in hot spots all around the world.
The most recent available data on our ethnic mix shows as expected that the major ethnic groups Bendigo people identified themselves as were: Australian 42.8 per cent, English 42.5 per cent, Irish 13.8 per cent (I thought it’d be more), and Scottish 10.8 per cent.
Then, in single digits came the German, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, Welsh and Greek. Others were less than one per cent.
All are roughly in line with Victorian regional demographic averages.
Yet, everywhere you look, you get the sense that while from a numerical point of view, we might still be white bread, we still are fond of ciabatta, wholemeal, naan, pita, focaccia, baguettes, pizza, pumpernickel, bing and probably even Belgian waffles.