READ MORE: A day of joy as mosque construction begins
Premier Daniel Andrews speaks to media about the mosque. Watch the video here:
Bendigo Islamic Association president and Bendigo Islamic Community Centre executive committee member Sameer Syed has thanked all those who have supported the project.
"Today is the beginning of something great," he said.
"Our vision is for every Bendigonian to benefit from the BICC."
The comments were made as part of a celebratory event.
Watch it unfold here:
CONSTRUCTION of the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre has started, with the first sod turned at the East Bendigo site this morning.
It marks a milestone in the project, which has been more than 10 years in the making.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan, Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards, Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O'Rourke joined Bendigo Muslim community leaders at the sod turning event.
Bendigo Islamic Community Centre spokesperson Dr Aisha Neelam said the centre would be a place to pray, but it would be much more than a mosque.
"It will be somewhere people can meet, hold functions, play sport and even grab a coffee," she said.
"Everyone will be welcome there, just as they are welcome in any church or community centre."
From 2014: Bendigo's first mosque in the pipeline
A two-storey, multi-purpose building will be constructed first.
The building will be a place for activities, including meetings, educational events and social, interfaith and wider community gatherings.
A prayer hall, capable of housing up to 375 worshipers, is among the features to be added in subsequent stages.
Car parking, traffic works, a central courtyard, a library, funeral and classroom facilities, a sports hall, cafe, minaret and caretakers residence are also planned.
Bendigo construction company Searle Bros will build the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre.
"The Bendigo Islamic Community Centre will be built around one thing - the Bendigo community," Dr Neelam said.
"The building will complement its beautiful natural surrounds, and has been designed to deliver a bright, open and welcoming space for everyone.
"We love where we live, we feel welcome here and we want to use this facility to reach out to the Bendigo community."
Muslims have been part of the Bendigo community since the gold rush.
Dr Neelam, a Bendigo GP, said Muslim families were like any other in Bendigo.
Read more: How Shepparton embraces its four mosques
"We work here, we're your neighbours, our kids go to school here, we volunteer. We love that Bendigo has something for everyone," she said.
"We have been coming together to pray as a Muslim community in Bendigo since 1997. Our facilities have been pretty limited and we're excited to be taking this step to build something that is more than a mosque for the whole community to enjoy."
The state government has contributed $400,000 to the first stage of construction.
A further $800,000 has been donated towards the project.
The City of Greater Bendigo has not contributed any funds.
"Premier Daniel Andrews has been supporter of this project since the very beginning, and he understands perfectly the benefits that diversity and multiculturalism bring to Bendigo and Victoria," Dr Neelam said.
"Minister for Multicultural Affairs Richard Wynne and local members Jacinta Allan and Maree Edwards, Lisa Chesters and Mayor Margaret O'Rourke, have been remarkably supportive and without them we wouldn't have got to the stage of turning the sod today."
Premier Daniel Andrews said Victoria's diversity was its greatest strength.
"Standing alongside Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Great Stupa, the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre will be a further testament to the vibrant and diverse multiculturalism of this great city," he said.
"We'll always give Bendigo and its many proud communities the support they need to grow and prosper, including the right to practice their faith in their own place of worship."
Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan said the Bendigo she knew embraced diversity and multiculturalism.
"The construction of Bendigo's first Islamic Community Centre will further enhance the city we all know and love," she said.
Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards said today's milestone was significant for Bendigo's ongoing development.
"Our great city would not be what it is today without the contribution of so many different cultures," she said.
More to come
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