VISITORS to Bendigo have been eager to enjoy in special experiences and take home souvenirs.
Among the most popular have included hand-made peanut brittle from Bendigo Brittle, historic photo prints from the 1970s and high tea experiences at Fortuna Villa.
Bendigo artist and photographer Gail Tavener captured the last day of Bendigo trams in 1972. She said she was surprised there was such an interest in them when she first displayed them publicly.
“So many people came to the exhibition (in 2011), it was quite a surprise that there was so much interest,” she said.
“(After that) I kept on producing certain ones from the collection. There are more than 50 images in the collection and I reproduce about 25 to 30 on regular basis for small prints, badges and magnets.”
Ms Tavener said while it was understandable local residents were interested in the pictures and stories behind it, new visitors to the city often have no idea about Bendigo’s history with trams.
“Tourists have no idea Bendigo was such a tram mecca back in early days until 1972,” she said.
“They were the transport of the day and because at some stage they weren’t making profit, the State Electricity Commission closed them down.
“But a fantastic group in Bendigo formed to keep the trams and that's why they’re still running from the Central Deborah Gold Mine to Joss House.”
Ms Tavener’s photos are available at a number of Bendigo’s tourist attractions. She said it was important people supported those businesses and artists.
“Some of the gifts at stores like Bob Boutique are totally designed and made in Bendigo,” she said.
“It’s fantastic to see visitors coming to Bendigo who can’t believe all these things are made in Bendigo.
“Little businesses go broke unless people support them. It’s terrifying to lose local products. (When Castlemaine Rock shut down) it broke my heart.”
Castlemaine Rock, a central Victoria confectionery company established in 1853, closed in 2018 due to a drop in sales combined with rising costs.
Confectioner Greta Donaldson and her Bendigo Brittle are filling the hole left by Castlemaine Rock.
“There have been a lot of comments about Castlemaine Rock and how disappointing that was with its heritage,” she said.
“People in Maldon asked if I would consider buying it but it’s challenging enough running a peanut business by myself.”
Ms Donaldson said it was clear visitors and local residents wanted locally-made products.
“It can be so hard to find because it’s hard to get business up and running. I’m lucky I have a good brittle recipe that people love.
“But if I had a jam or soap competing against other (companies) it would be harder. I’m lucky I’m a niche product. I come from a marketing background and knew I needed something different.”
Bendigo Brittle will celebrate three years of operation on Australia Day weekend.
“The first market I did was the Australia Day market at Lake Weeroona,” Ms Donaldson said.
“It was my own little hobby and enterprise that I set up and the first people that discovered me were the Visitors Information Centre, Bendigo Tramways and Bendigo Pottery.
“It's been fantastic with my little team, my family helping me. I have had a great year and am now looking to expand. We are cooking now and stockpiling for the future.”
As Bendigo Brittle has found its market with locals and visitors, Fortuna Villa has created a unique experience of its own.
Owner Paul Banks said the high tea and tour experience at Fortuna is one-of-a-kind.
“It is a unique experience that we have made five stars and very hands on,” he said.
“We have a created a tour that opens the minds of people to plethora of Australian history that the villa presents.”
Mr Banks estimated more than 100,000 people had visited Fortuna Villa since he took it over three years ago.
“Almost 75 per cent of visitors have made (Fortuna) their first port of call and 70 per cent are from out of Bendigo,” he said.
“People are educated on where the Australian coat of arms came from, Australia’s richest man George Lansell and a complete history lesson of Australian history.
“They leave in awe of a building that has its own heritage listing.
“There is nothing like it in the southern hemisphere.”