ONE rare piece of Bendigo's forgotten history could easily have been destroyed.
Instead, it has become a local historian's treasured link to the past.
It is a stencil harking back to the glory days when Bendigo grew the state's best tomatoes.
The produce was so highly prized that people at Melbourne markets would lie and say theirs was grown in central Victoria, historian James Lerk said.
"This stencil is a real gem of an artifact. These things would mostly have been tossed out because people would have assumed they were of no value once wooden tomato cases ceased being used," he said.
The stencil was originally used on a farm in Huntly.
The farm was one of a number in the White Hills area that boomed between the 1890s and the 1930s and fed a host of long-gone Bendigo food processing factories.
Mr Lerk was given the stencil as a gift while researching his upcoming book, Bendigo's Once Flourishing Tomato Industry.
"I got in touch with an older gentleman who used to be a nurseryman growing seedlings, as I thought there was a pretty good chance he would have supplied families in the region," he said.
"Anyway, as it turns out one particular grower got some seedlings from this gentleman."
That pair had swapped seedlings for lucurne and Mr Lerk's nurseryman somehow came to own the stencil.
"It's not actually from the family he supplied seedlings too, but anyway, he kept it and gave it to me," Mr Lerk said.
"I'm still wondering how I will present it in the book."
The stencil is linked to one of the pioneering families of the Huntly area, which ran a number of hotels.
"I haven't been able to find the exact properties they had in the rate books yet," Mr Lerk said.
Some of the rates books have been lost over the years, but he hopes later records will shed some light on the exact location the family grew their produce.
Bendigo's illustrious commercial tomato history is now largely lost to history.
"The primary reason for that is W, A, T, E, R. Water. Once a lot of people got in on the act of growing tomatoes the demand for water from the Coliban system was significant," Mr Lerk said.
"You only had to have one or two dry years in succession and there was practically no water, and what did come down could be allocated to others deemed to be in more desperate need.
"The smart farmers who had made some money would move north and buy land near the large rivers."
This article is part of a Bendigo Weekly series about hidden gems lying around our homes. Perhaps you've rediscovered something while locked down during the pandemic. Get in touch: email@example.com