Elvis: Direct from Graceland, Bendigo Art Gallery: Long live the king

On a fine Saturday evening in Bendigo, I'm on a vintage tram trundling down the middle of this gracious Victorian Goldfields city, drinking a "Love Me Tender" cocktail, singing along to Elvis classics.

The somewhat kitsch Shake, Rattle & Roll tram (bendigotramways.com) may contrast with the city's historical elegance yet it makes perfect sense to me, and not just because I'm a card-carrying Elvis fan.  It's because, when I look around at the impromptu choir onboard I note how joyful it is, every person of every age having a great time.

And in the end, Elvis was all about bringing the good times, even if his death at just 42 in 1977 was so sad.

Elvis: Direct from Graceland is on at the Bendigo Art Gallery, offering a rare opportunity to see prized items from the Presley collection outside Elvis's Graceland home-turned-museum in Memphis, Tennessee. As well as a dazzling array of his famous jumpsuits, it includes costumes from his movies, mementoes of his hugely successful mid-century recording and concert career, his time in the army, and personal items that illustrate the human behind one of the most influential figures in contemporary popular culture.

Though I've been to Graceland a couple of times, I found the narrative and curation of the show at Bendigo to be particularly insightful and moving.

But outside the gallery the city of Bendigo is putting on its own show, in a manner similar to the King – with style, excitement and more than a modicum of eccentricity. Indeed, under the moniker of the "Viva Bendigo" campaign, the Central Victorian city has gone a bit Elvis mad, even in its much-loved Rosalind Park, where a giant "Viva Bendigo" installation attracts selfie takers with two-metre-high letters illuminated and etched with Elvis lyrics, and his music plays on loop.

In fact be prepared to hear lots of Elvis music across the city or to find experiences themed around it, like my mid-morning snack: a Blue Suede Choux (geddit?) at Bluebird Patisserie (bluebirdpatisserie.com) a chocolate eclair fashioned to fit one of the most famous of Presley hits.  I resist the Big Hunk O' Love banana split at Indulge Chocolates (thus saving myself from burning of the heart variety) but I give into their King of Choc PB&J chocolate bonbon, an homage to Elvis's love of peanut butter sandwiches – though his combination of choice was not with jelly but banana and bacon, then fried. (indulgechocolates.com.au)

Bendigo's "modern American diner", Hustler, is truer to Elvis's culinary indulgences: their tribute includes the Fool's Goldburger comprising peanut butter, bacon, potato crisps, 150-gram patty and raspberry jelly between two jam doughnuts (hustlerbendigo.com). I want to taste it and make my friends share one with me. It's actually not bad, if you lose one of the doughnuts and have just one bite. Other diners have devoured it along with the accompanying bacon-garnished cocktail on offer. I'm not sure even Elvis would have put bacon with bourbon – though one of my friends has one and declares it "smoky" and rather good.

But the decidedly more elegant Elvis-inspired cocktails at Bendigo's fabulous restaurants, Ms Batterhams and The Dispensary are more my thing. (mackenziequarters.comdispensarybendigo.com)


I'm also a fan of the Aloha from Bendigo Pacific Ale, tried at Shiraz Republic in the nearby Heathcote wine region. It's inspired by the King's record-breaking 1973 Aloha from Hawaii TV special that was to turn him into a mega-concert machine. (shirazrepublic.com.au) It also inspired the pineapple pizzas served at St Anne's Vineyard's Rock 'n' Roll Pizza Sundays – whether pineapple belongs on pizza or not is beside the point when you're saluting the King.  (stanneswinery.com.au)

In a weekend packed with more action than the Elvis flick Girls! Girls! Girls!, our group members each paint a pop-art portrait of Elvis while imbibing some BYO East Bendigo Brewing Company special edition King Pale Ale at Pinot and Picasso's "Paint the Town Presley" sessions. (pinotandpicasso.com.au)

But it's at The Engine Room, Bendigo's old fire station-turned-theatre, where the spirit of Elvis finally moves us to dance, when we catch The Burning Lovers with Dean Muller from the Cosmic Psychos on drums as they play some unbelievably good renditions of Elvis classics. They're part of Burning Love, a program of concerts by performers including Emma Donovan, traversing the genres of Elvis's musical legacy. (burninglovebendigo.com)

And just because you can never have too much Elvis: we also visit Shedshaker Brewing and Taproom in Castlemaine for Elvis trivia. I come second. Not bad. (shedshakerbrewing.com)

When it's time to rest, it's at the beautiful new Bendigo Ernest Hotel, a luxe stay indeed fit for a King and a short walk from everything, including the exhibition. From $309 a night. See hotelbendigo.com.au

Elvis: Direct from Graceland is on at Bendigo Art Gallery till July 17. See bendigoregion.com.au/bendigo-art-gallery

Julietta Jameson travelled as a guest of Bendigo Regional Tourism.