Diplomatic mission to heal rivalry

Repairing the rift: The Beehive building was one of the city sites visited by prominent Ballarat citizens on a good-will mission to Bendigo in 1872.

Repairing the rift: The Beehive building was one of the city sites visited by prominent Ballarat citizens on a good-will mission to Bendigo in 1872.

For decades there has been a vigorous Bendigo-Ballarat rivalry.

In recent times, it’s been largely confined to good-natured banter about footy and basketball contests, or it turns up in discussions about which city is larger, richer, weirder, or has more criminals per head of population.

But it wasn’t always so.

The traditional rivalry has long been a favourite field of research for Down The Mall, and today we’ve come up with an indication of how unpleasant it was almost 150 years ago.

It was a report in the old Ballarat Star newspaper of September 30, 1872, and it told of the very concentrated efforts to heal the rift between the two gold cities.

A group of prominent Ballarat folk had been invited by their peers in Bendigo to visit and find out for themselves what Bendigo was really like.

A hint of the sour mood which had built up over time was revealed in the Star’s first paragraph: “(The visit) was altogether a novel, and we are inclined to believe, a very useful episode in the history of the gold-fields.

“It is not too much to say that Bendigo and Ballarat had not been on the best of terms.

“As some suppose, partly because the newspapers took to snarling at each other; partly, because there was, naturally, a race for the metropolitan goldfield’s plate; there had been not a generous but very unpleasant rivalry.

“Local jealousies are not, generally, very edifying, and this, amongst others, was not one to be very proud of, albeit it dated a long way back and was a good old ancient feud.”

The report then slips into a long and highly detailed account of where the “Old Bendigonians” had taken the “Ballarat Pioneers” to show off the best the city had to offer.

They included the Beehive building, the stock exchange, the old hospital, a gold mine, and there seems to have been a great deal of banqueting, drinking and speechifying.

There was a final agreement – although it was oddly secret – that the Old Bendigonians would make a return visit down south.

Yep, curse those snarling newspapers.

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