Bendigo grew as a result of gold mining in the mid to late 19th century. Bendigo actually produced much more gold than rival town Ballarat but there were fewer small miners. The mines were deeper and the culture was more corporate than Ballarat. As a legacy of the Gold boom Bendigo has many magnificant ornate buildings built in a late Victorian colonial style, some with a "French" chateau feeling.
After the gold rush Bendigo developed a manufacturing industry. Little of that now remains but there is a large foundry which makes train and vehicle parts and there is also a rubber factory. The ADI or Australian Defence Industries is an important heavy engineering company. Its current status is uncertain, being previously state owned and now going through a process of privatisation. Intervet is an important biotechnology company, producing vaccines for animals. The major industry in Bendigo is now Health with a Base Hospital, a very large old peoples and Rehabilitation home (The Anne Caudle centre) with about 600 beds. Psychiatric services are notably inadequate. There is a medium security gaol. Tourism, based on the old gold industry, is important. Bendigo Senior Secondary College is the largest VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) provider in the State. BRIT (Bendigo Regional Institute of Tertiary and Further Education) and the Bendigo campus of La Trobe University are large and growing educational institutions. Telecommunications provider AAPT has its call-centre based here. Bendigo Bank is Bendigo based (perhaps based on the wealth accumulated in the early 20th century) is now a large "second-tier" bank with branchs throughout Victoria, Tasmania and elsewhere including NSW.
Despite the relative lack of industry Bendigo is growing rapidly, probably partly at the expense of small surrounding rural towns (such as Elmore, Rochester, Inglewood, Dunnolly) which are in steep decline. The surrounding area or "gold country" is quite harsh rocky land with scrubby regrowth vegetation. This "box-ironbark forest" is used for timber (mainly sleepers and firewood) and bee keeping. It is proposed to divert it to ecotourism, but there is considerable scepticism about its potential in this respect. Sheep and cattle are grazed in the cleared areas. There are some large poultry and pig farms. Some relatively fertile areas are present along the rivers and creeks, where wheat and other crops such as canola are grown. The area produces premium wines, including shiraz, from a growing viticulture industry. Salinity is problem in many valleys. There is a relatively small eucalyptus oil industry.
Until overtaken in the 1980s by the Western Australia goldfields, Bendigo was the most productive Australian gold area, with a total production of over 20 million ounces. There is a large amount of gold still in the Bendigo goldfields. The decline in mining was partly due to the depth of mines and the presence of water in the deep mines. With modern technology, Bendigo Mining NL has resumed mining and will likely be a large producer within 10 years.
Bendigo is about 180km or 2 hours by car from Melbourne with most of the journey being on freeway style roads. The residual dual carriageway roads (currently about 60km) are slowly but steadily being replaced by freeway. There is a relatively poor rail service to Melbourne with a limited number of services to Melbourne in the morning and some services returning in the evening. There is a lack of late services and surprisingly, despite Bendigo role as a service area, there are no suitable rail services for people wishing to work in Bendigo. The rail is broad gauge. Some upgrading is planned but the rail service will not be changed to standard gauge, unfortunately. The service with be faster but to a large extent this will be due to an express service with fewer stops.