BENDIGO once had an amazing natural history collection, then part of it was dumped down some old mine shafts.
This is the story about a museum so amazing that 19th century luminaries came from around the world to see it, and what happened when people stopped caring about it.
The sprawling collection at what is now Bendigo TAFE's McCrae Street was so good it even reputedly contained a fully-intact stuffed dodo - a rare thing indeed.
The museum finally lumbered to a close in 1944 long after tastes had changed.
It marked a long, slow fall from grace from the museum's heyday in the late 1890s, Frank Cusack wrote bitterly in his 1973 history of the Bendigo Institute of Technology Canvas to Campus.
"Neglect soon traced itself over disintegrating natural history exhibits in dusty display cases," he lamented.
"Silverfish nibbled faded labels and the musty relics of yesterday ceased to possess interest or relevance.
"Largely through public apathy, a great museum in the making was irretrievably lost."
It is unclear whether Mr Cusack knew where the dodo ended up.
Another historian, Darren Wright, this week told the Weekly that its location remains uncertain.
Mr Wright is well acquainted with the way people once treated Bendigo's history. He has a huge collection of things people once thought was junk.
"They were still chucking out stuff like rocks and books when I was a student," he said of the building.
Mr Wright once saved two trailer loads of books that might otherwise have gone to the tip.
So, how did Bendigo end up with a world-class natural history collection in the first place?
"A school of mines was established in Bendigo in 1873," Mr Wright said.
This was a period in which Bendigo was the richest goldfield in the world and miners were digging increasingly deep shafts to tap into huge reserves, he said.
They needed to know about all aspects of mining, especially how to read the rocks deep below Bendigo's surface.
So the new school of mines began collecting rock specimens from around the world.
Meanwhile, rich benefactors were collecting stuffed animals and other natural history treasures.
"Gentlemen of leisure were often keenly interested in all elements of the sciences. There were quite a number of local gents who really were," Mr Wright said.
"These people all put their heads together and started to assemble an enormous collection. It had minerals, stuffed animals in cases, fossils, you name it."
The museum was supposed to fuel public interest in the natural world. It worked for a while.
But the school's main focus was education and as time went on and the collection fell out of fashion with the public.
It became harder and harder to justify giving so much space and money to upkeep and few local groups wanted to step in to help.
"It was more or less abandoned - a curiosity that was visited only occasionally," Mr Wright said.
"If you think about the big events of the 20th century - the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War - people were focusing their attention on other things, which would have contributed to the collection's problems."
So how did people rid themselves of the collection?
"I think the term 'by any means necessary' fairly applies here," Mr Wright said.
"One of the stories - from former students - that I have heard over the years was that much of the taxidermy specimens were shifted to another School of Mines site and were given away as prizes.
"If you had done something academically that warranted some merit, they would take you to this room and tell you that you could choose something.
"A number of people have told me that, and there appears to be a number of specimens still floating around Bendigo because of it."
Some of the geological collection - or at least the bits that the state's mining department and the school of mines did not want to keep for teaching purposes - ended up in museums, Mr Wright said.
Much of it was dropped down mine shafts, including a lot of raw and rough specimens, Mr Wright said.
He had confirmed the accounts with former students including people who may have helped dump specimens in the early 1940s.
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The events of that decade were all the more unfortunate because a breath of fresh air was already starting to blow through the old education buildings at McCrae Street.
Governments were rethinking what was taught in higher education and enacted a series of reforms that indirectly led to both a TAFE and university in Bendigo.
Meanwhile, heritage activists were able to save buildings like the town hall and the tramways depot after dramatic interventions.
If only those sorts of people had been able to organise and save the museum a few decades earlier.
"It was all the more unfortunate in that a new interest in matters historical, in libraries and museums, lay just around the corner," Frank Cusack lamented in his book Canvas to Campus.
This story is part of the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series WHAT HAPPENED?