A comment from a shopkeeper that he would never be a "true Bendigonian" has long motivated Golden Square's James Lerk to prove his worth as an Australian and a resident of the city.
Now Mr Lerk is receiving a Medal of the Order of Australia for his significant contribution to documenting and preserving the history of Bendigo.
"I was a little bit overtaken with surprise, because I really thought there are many other people who are probably far more worthy than I am," he said.
Mr Lerk, who came as a child from the Netherlands to Australia in the 1950s, said the shopkeeper's comment when he was recent arrival to Bendigo had always stuck with him, although he later realised she meant that his family had not been there from the gold rush days.
"It was something I guess that sat like a block in my brain and I decided to prove that I could be a worthwhile Bendigonian, so I've been trying to contribute ever since," he said.
Mr Lerk has authored several books on Bendigo's history, helped republish two significant works about the city, and for 20 years wrote a column for the Bendigo Weekly.
He has also helped others publish work on Bendigo's history.
Mr Lerk has been pivotal in preserving the physical remnants of Bendigo's history.
He was a founding director of the Bendigo Trust (now Bendigo Heritage Attractions) in 1971, was once chairman and remains a life member.
His efforts have contributed to the preservation of historical icons including the old police barracks in Rosalind Park, the city's trams, the Town Hall and the Central Deborah Gold Mine.
Mr Lerk considers his greatest achievement to be the work other people thought could not be done or were not worth the effort.
He recalled returning to Bendigo after time overseas in the 1970s and being struck by the dilapidated state of the old police barracks, which dated back to 1860.
Mr Lerk ended up donating sandstone to restore the structure - one of Bendigo's oldest public buildings - and with a team of other passionate people and thebacking of the council, the building was saved.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College continues to use the building.
He is also proud of his contribution to the listing of the Central Deborah Gold Mine on the Victorian Heritage Register in 1999, as well as the erection of the poppet head on Victoria Hill.
Mr Lerk said his interest in history was sparked when, as a child in the Netherlands, he collected a remnant from an old house being torn down, and it was fuelled by the stories of ancient civilisations his father told.
He said it was important to document history to ensure the stories of people were not lost.
"You've got to realise what the history of the place is to be able to appreciate its total environment and so on," Mr Lerk said.
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