NEW workshops and enhanced visitor experiences are part of an $11 million expansion for Bendigo Heritage attractions.
Works on the the Bendigo Tramways Development Plan are expected to start next year and include the creation of 20 manufacturing jobs as well as the creation of 10 ongoing jobs.
The ongoing positions will help Bendigo Heritage Attractions take on the increasing demand for their specialist restoration services.
Bendigo Heritage Attractions chief executive Peter Abbott said the expansion would see the workshop go from three work bays to eight.
"It allows us to expand our operations and workforce (with) the surplus made from the workshop going to retaining Bendigo's iconic talking trams," he said.
A selection of historic W-class trams are being moved out of workshops in Newport to be restored in Bendigo thanks to the expansion.
Bendigo Heritage Attractions is renowned nationally and internationally for their talents in restoring heritage trams.
"When this all started, it was an idea about what can do with all these Melbourne trams in storage in Newport," Mr Abbott said. "We approached them said there's a block of land available next door, we've got the workforce to convert these (trams) into something special rather than just getting rid of them. It was an opportunity to add value and give them new life.
"We brought VicTrack up about 18 months ago and that opened their eyes to the great workforce we have here and the quality of work we do.
"Over the years we have developed a reputation for restoration. But we don't want to do just trams, we want to do train carriages, buses, anything. We want to become a national restoration centre."
As part of the expansion, Bendigo Heritage Attractions will expand their premises to the south of their current site in Hargreaves Street.
The land has environmental issues due to its historic use as a fuel depot meaning the project will involve rehabilitation works, including around Bendigo's Back Creek.
"This exciting project is a critical part to the resurgence of heavy manufacturing in Bendigo, and a great way of protecting the rich heritage of our trams," Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards said.
Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said the state-government funded project would see Bendigo contribute more heavily to the preservation of Victoria's heritage trams.
"Bendigo Heritage Attractions is the leading provider of tram restoration services in the country, and a huge contributor to the economy and tourism in central Victoria," she said.
"There's no space on the current site, so we grabbed an opportunity with some significant backing from the state government. We are backing it because it creates jobs and supports the tram network in Melbourne.
"This expansion will enable them to take on more staff and ramp up their operations, providing jobs for local people and an improved tourist destination in the heart of Bendigo."
Ms Allan said many people in Bendigo couldn't imagine the city without its trams.
"(The trams) wouldn't be here without passion of the community symbolised by the team in 1972 who helped save the trams," she said. "That's why this announcement is exciting, it recognises the rich history this site has and sets it up for the future."
Ms Allan said the announcement also recognised Bendigo Heritage Attractions' international reputation.
"They do top quality work and the demand for that is growing," she said.
"It's a great sense of pride for me as a local member but a tribute to workforce here who for many years have kept the work alive and ticking over.
"Now they can think about taking orders with great confidence because they will have the space and facilities to do that."
The expansion was welcome by the current workforce at Bendigo Hertiage Attractions as well as past volunteers who ensured the trams didn't leave the city in the 1970s.
"The workforce found out yesterday and it's a great recognition of their skills and dedication," Mr Abbott said.
"Most of the (1972 rebels) didn't know until today. It was shock and (the expansion) has been 30 or 40 years in the making.
"I found files from 30 years ago of a great dream of expanding the workshop and making a bigger footprint. To announce it is a recognition of their passion."
Project launch a tribute to past chairman
Mr Abbott paid tribute to Wayne Gregson who helped initiate discussions about the plan to expand the Bendigo Tramways workshops.
Mr Gregson died recently after a five-month battle with cancer. He was 64.
As a former acting CEO and board chairman of Bendigo Hertiage Attractions, Mr Gregson is recognised as the driving force behind the continued success of the organisation.
"It's shame he's not here to see this but it was good to have his wife and daughter here today," Mr Abbott said.
"We had lots of glasses wine to work out how to get this project off the ground.
"(Wayne) was a great networker and was able to get us to meet the people who make the decisions to get this going."
Rebels with a cause ensure trams remain part of Bendigo
IN 1972 when a truck rolled up to the tramways workshop, Dennis O'Hoy went to see what was going on.
"The premier of day, Henry Bolte, had decided trams were obsolete and promised one to Adelaide," he said.
"While I was doing restoration, I found the truck out there. I asked the driver what it was for, he said taking a tram to Adelaide. So I called my mates on the tram committee and we made sure the tram didn't leave Bendigo."
Under the cover of night, the volunteers-turned-rebels made sure the Birney tram couldn't be shifted.
"It had been left out in depot yard, so we went in at night and pushed tram into the shed itself. It was a super-human effort, the adrenaline was pumping and we managed to roll it in," Mr O'Hoy said.
"John Kelly, who was a welder, welded pipes across the track. I took carbon brushes out of the tram so it couldn't drive and we welded the shed doors together.
"It was a desperate time, but as we saw today, if we hadn't won, the trams wouldn't be what they are now."
The actions of the "1972 rebels" helped ensure trams remained in Bendigo for decades to come.
"It was fantastic for us. People thought the trams were okay but when they realised we could lose all of our 23 trams, that's when people of Bendigo said 'hey, we can't lose our trams'.
"From then on it's been success after success. We kept those 23 trams and increased our fleet."
The announcement of the $11 million expansion meant a lot to Mr O'Hoy.
"Back in 2000 I was president of the Bendigo Trust and drew documentation up for what this business (needed) to survive and exist. We needed to extend," he said.
"It only took 19 years to eventuate, but I'm tickled pink.
"It's a great success story from a few volunteers working on Saturdays and Sundays to the full-time staff (here now) doing excellent work."
Mr Abbott said he couldn't put his finger on a reason why Bendigo had such a passion for its trams.
"The tram networks closed in Geelong and Ballarat with not much resistance but for some reason Bendigo arked up. They don't like people touching their trams," he said.
"The last tram from Eaglehawk had 20,000 people turn out (to see it) but there were only around 40,000 in Bendigo at that stage.
"The other day the cafe tram in town had its windows broken and the response we got from social media and the passion people have for the city's trams is amazing.
"We want to foster that and ensure we're here for the next 100 years."
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