Muslims have been proud to make Bendigo their home since the Goldrush, contributing to the community and the economy of Victoria’s third-largest city for more than 120 years.
In 1998, the Bendigo Islamic Association was born, with a membership of between 5 and 10 families.
About 20 families join the Association each year, helping to coordinate the religious and social needs of the local Islamic community.
We have seen the Muslim community grow in our region and realise they must have a mosque to conduct their religion and continue their community activities. We have also had the opportunity to meet many of the Islamic faith community and have come to know they enhance our city and particularly the faith and ethical values in our community.Great Stupa of Universal Compassion Chairman Ian Green
Today, about 150 families – around 300 people – are members of the BIA. They are from 25 different nationalities and include students from South East Asia and the Middle East. They worship, socialise and celebrate together, as a single Islamic community.
Not having a formal place of worship or celebration in Bendigo has seen some families move away to bigger, mostly metropolitan, cities, weakening the fabric of the local Islamic, and wider Bendigo, community.
Since 1997, La Trobe University has offered the Muslim community two rooms on its local campus to pray. One, small, room is available every day during semesters only, and the other only during Salat al-Jumu’ah.
The small room accommodates about 40 people, the larger one about 70. Because of limited space, occasionally prayers also have to be conducted in the corridor and attendance of women at prayers is sometimes zero.
With the nearest mosque more than 100kms away, and current, borrowed, facilities inadequate to meet the growing demands of the Muslim community, it is clear a permanent facility to help the Muslim community worship, celebrate and grow is needed.
We have turned to the Australian Islamic Mission for help, hoping to use their expertise and experience to build the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre.
Plans to build the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre were lodged in late 2013. The development, on industrial land at East Bendigo, includes community spaces, a café, a library and a prayer hall for up to 375 worshippers, with associated support rooms.
The City of Greater Bendigo council approved the BICC in June, 2014, with a vote of 7-2, representing the support of the project in the local community.
Diversity is a hallmark of a great city. When cultures come together we get the best in the world in the one place. When compete, our Islamic community will have somewhere to meet and share their faith and pray, as is their constitutional right to have religious freedom.City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Peter Cox
However, a series of appeals delayed planning approval, and protests led by outside anti-Islam groups attracted unwanted attention on Bendigo and the project.
In response, in September 2015, Believe in Bendigo was born. Believe in Bendigo started with a group of about 20 community leaders in a lounge room, and turned into a movement.
At the heart of Believe in Bendigo is the desire to show the world that Bendigo is a welcoming place, a city that celebrates diversity, and is a safe place for people from minority cultures and religions.
Three weeks later, the first Believe in Bendigo community picnic was held, attracting 3000 people in a celebration of compassion and a sea of yellow. The heartening aspects of the picnic were both the numbers and the amount of support for the local Islamic community and the BICC. Five times as many people were at the BiB picnic than the anti-Islam rallies, and they were all local.
Believe in Bendigo acted as a lightning rod for those in the community who supported the BICC, and highlighted the true feelings of the local community.
On June 15, 2016, the High Court dismissed the final appeal against the BICC, giving the go-ahead for the construction of Bendigo’s first Islamic facility.
With the combination of community support, the celebration of diversity and openness, and the city’s rich history and culture, the influences that will dominate the construction of the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre were born.