BENDIGO'S ancestors have had a habit of showing up modern-day Australians when handling religious differences, historians have suggested.
They will showcase a comparison with Bendigo in the early 1900s and mid 2010s - at the height of controversy over plans to build a Mosque - at a La Trobe University history symposium.
The research could hold lessons on social cohesion as the rise of far right extremism swings a spotlight back onto the aggressive debates around the Mosque.
Earlier this week, Bendigo resident Margot Spalding shared evidence with a parliamentary inquiry grappling with the rise of far right extremism.
She recounted her horror as anti-Muslim protesters descended on Bendigo's city centre in August 2015.
"It was an aggressive, violent, hate-filled rally attended by hundreds and hundreds of people. Many were from out of town," Ms Spalding said.
The committee wanted lessons from Believe in Bendigo, the group of residents Ms Spalding co-founded to call out intolerance.
Dr Jones has been researching the debates over the Mosque and comparing them to other moments when Muslims came into the spotlight in Bendigo.
That includes early moments when Muslims asked permission to publicly pray in Rosalind Park.
"The council gave them approval to use the park for Ramadan-related celebrations. Locals came and watched, then participated in the feast at the end of the prayers," he said
Records of those early Muslim community contrast sharply with those from the 2015 anti-mosque debate, when misinformation and opposition on religious grounds took centre stage.
Dr Jones said people in the 1900s were well versed in Islamic beliefs.
"There was a lot of reportage and it was just really factual," he said.
"People were quite well educated about what Islam is, what it meant and the broader geopolitics at that time."
That was partly because European powers had a lot to do with the Ottoman Empire in modern-day Turkey.
Islam was also a more familiar religion to Europeans than other religions that circulated through Victoria at the time, Dr Jones said.
It had evolved from the same traditions as Christianity and Judaism.
"So there's no reports of any conflicts around religious differences with Muslims in this period," Dr Jones said.
Bendigo itself had a thriving community of Muslims in the 1900s, Dr Jones said.
Many appear to have come from places like modern-day India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most were hawkers by trade.
They held their prayers and lunch in Rosalind Park at a time when it would have been extremely visible to other residents.
The park was a major public space just off of Pall Mall, the centre of commerce and social life in early Bendigo.
Young people hid in the bushes during the prayers.
"There's this really cute [moment] when the Muslims give them lollies and sweets as prayers end, then invite them to join in the feast," Dr Jones said.
That is not the only time feasts have brought Muslims and non-Muslims together.
The extremism inquiry this week heard Bendigo's Muslim community had increased the scale of feasts it holds to include more people of different backgrounds.
"People come from all over, now, a lot being non-Muslims ... more people are realising it's not something to be feared ... and it's wonderful having Muslims in our community," Ms Spalding said.
The feasts have helped break down barriers that have come since the September 11 terror attacks in America.
The actions by Islamic extremists shaped some Bendigo residents' thinking about all Muslims' beliefs, Dr Jones said.
Ironically, many of the people who wanted a space to pray in Bendigo had escaped fundamentalist regimes in their home countries, he said.
Dr Jones pointed to research by Monash University's Andrew Markus that found time had eroded Bendigo residents' familiarity with other cultures.
Bendigo simply was not the cultural melting pot it had been in the 19th century.
The White Australia Policy, which had been introduced in the early 20th century, had fundamentally altered a city where one quarter of the population had once been Chinese.
It barred many miners bringing wives and children to Bendigo, among other significant demographic shifts.
"Communities didn't have the skills, education and experience to deal with religious differences," Dr Jones said.
"And so when misinformation about Islam and the Mosque was spreading [in 2015], the community wasn't very well equipped to deal with that.
"But you think about 100 years ago, people had had 50 years with a very, very diverse community well practiced with living with religious differences."
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The toxic nature of the Mosque debate did galvinise community members to make positive change, though.
Ms Spalding told the inquest the city now had a "wonderful" multi-faith council and the City of Greater Bendigo had a "great" diversity plan
"Bendigo's probably a step ahead now," she said.
Dr Jones will speak at La Trobe's Religion and social cohesion in Australia's 'golden age' symposium on June 23. For more information, visit the symposium's eventbrite page.
This story is part of our semi-regular history series, entitled 'WHAT HAPPENED?'
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