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Feature article
Community celebrating a new building and the Bank’s gift to the community of a new public space, Lyric Square, photographer Peter Richards

Bendigo’s ‘good commerce’

WORDS BY Bill Dowzer

The future of Bendigo’s urban development lies in its traditions of ‘good commerce’. Allister Heath of London’s Daily Times recently wrote of the Davos World Economic Forum – ‘finance when practiced properly and honestly is a socially useful activity’.

The urban core of Victoria’s second largest regional city is testament to a pioneering history and a spirit of entrepreneurship with a global perspective, from its origins in 1851 to the thriving city of today. If future development stays true to this perspective, a confident and sustainable urban fabric will further evolve as a reflection of culture within Bendigo.

Bendigo currently has a population of just over 110,000 residents and is projected to grow to 145,000 residents by 2030 – a 30% increase in size in just over 15 years. 1 Interestingly, 90% of workers are employed within the core of Bendigo, creating a large basis to the urban structure of the city. It is not another regional centre where people are exiting for the city – but rather a place where pride and prosperity is retained and grown.

A new building embedded within the existing cbd fabric, photographer John Gollings

Regeneration of the Bath Lane precinct, photographer John Gollings

bendigo buildings determine the future

The Bendigo community was given a highly valuable gift when the Bendigo Bank decided to build their new headquarters in the heart of Bendigo. This decision showed a foresight into the elements that are needed to ensure a sustainable and vibrant community in an urban context.

On closer examination though, the Bank’s foresight can be seen more as an action based on its cultural background of nurturing communities – arising from their interest in the medieval Siena ‘prosperous village’ model. These theories can be traced back to San Bernardino (1380-1444), a Franciscan friar, scholar and a contemporary of the Florentine banker Cosimo de Medici. San Bernardino looked at economics from both an ethical and legal standpoint and operated within the sphere of justice. At a time when merchants were still considered ‘evil’, San Bernardino concluded that business is perfectly legitimate, if it performed a useful, social function.2

the bank building

The Bendigo Bank headquarters project was completed in 2008 and it demonstrates a clear understanding of the power of the architectural project to determine the city’s future.

It would have been more cost effective to put the new building on a greenfield site in Bendigo, or even in Melbourne’s financial district. However, Bendigo Bank has a history of supporting its community. When the company started in 1858 as a building society its aim was to improve conditions in the Bendigo goldfields and its growth through ‘community’ banking is well recognised.

Bendigo Bank had three main priorities in the brief for the new building:

    • To provide a first class working environment for staff.
    • To enhance the Bath Lane precinct.
    • To create a world class building regarding its environmental performance.

For the Bendigo community, the most important priority was the decision to locate the headquarters in the centre of town. This has revitalised the CBD, employed a large number of local people and brought money back into the city.

The project also put parking issues on the Bendigo Council’s agenda. While the council had initially wanted the project to provide 400 car spaces, the final outcome was that 100 spaces were provided on-site and another 300 spaces were provided by the council a short distance from the building. This in turn boosted local businesses as staff who park in the Council parking area need to pass by shops and local businesses on their way to and from work.

In fact the decision to separate the parking from the building could be taken up as a major strategy in new urban projects – it immediately activates the streets around the building as people have to walk to and from their car.

another building supporting community

The more recent decision by Victorian Health to keep the existing Bendigo Hospital and expand it in its inner city location is another contributor to the community’s sustainability.

The Honourable David Davis MLC, Minister for Health said, ‘Nearly 100 Bendigo Health staff are participating in the design process over the next 14 months, in addition to their “day job” at the hospital. These staff are from all backgrounds including doctors, surgeons, nurses, physicists, cleaners, engineers, clerks and so on.’

The hospital designed by Bates Smart and Silver Thomas Hanley, which is due for completion at the end of 2016, is the largest hospital development undertaken in regional Australia and will deliver better health outcomes for families in Bendigo, the Loddon-Mallee region and northern Victoria.

With a total project value of more than $1 billion over 20 years, there will be significant flow on benefits to Bendigo businesses and the local community.

Mr Davis said the new hospital will make Bendigo Health the leading regional integrated health service in Australia, attracting the best medical experts to work in Bendigo. ‘People in Bendigo will have access to the best available health services without having to travel to Melbourne,’ Mr Davis said.

He also stated that ‘the new hospital will have 372 beds and 10 operating theatres, an integrated cancer centre, a mother and baby unit, a mental health unit and a helipad built on top of a new multi-storey car park.’ Ms Wooldridge said the new hospital would also deliver better mental health services for the Bendigo region. ‘This hospital will also include 80 mental health beds, including a 35-bed adult psychiatric unit, a 20-bed aged psychiatric unit, a 20-bed secure extended care unit and a 5-bed mother and baby unit.’

bendigo stats

The Gross Regional Product is estimated at $4.28 billion, which represents 1.4% of Victoria’s Gross State Product. The major employing industry is health care and social assistance. In addition to a major hospital, the city also supports a stand-alone nursing school, with the next largest employer being the agricultural activities that surround Bendigo city. 92% of the population live within the Bendigo metropolitan area.

The population has a lower proportion of households in the medium to high income category compared to Victoria. This may be a reflection of Bendigo attracting people who can’t afford Melbourne into a community that appears affordable as well as livable.

There is evidence of the city supporting industry start-ups such as Jimmy Possum Furniture and Fernwood Women’s Gyms. It may be the Chinese influence from the gold rush days that explains the entrepreneurial spirit that supports this head office culture.

Currently BVN’s New South Wales Studio Director, Bill Dowzer has been involved in the design and direction of numerous award winning projects ranging from public and educational buildings to commercial work environments. Graduating from the University of Newcastle in 1993 with Honours and the University and RAIA medals, Bill has since lectured at the University of Newcastle, and tutored at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales.


1. Roover, Raymond, Professor of History, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York ‘San Bernardino of Siena and Sant’Antoniono of Florence – The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages’