I am proudly a Bendigonian though I live in Melbourne. For my overseas subscribers Bendigo is a city in Central Victoria settled in the 1850s when gold was discovered. Thousands of potential miners and their families arrived from all over the world to find their fortune. Some did, but what is more important, the fortune they founded was a great city, a beautiful city, a multicultural city. Here is an old photo of Bendigo showing the Alexandra Fountain at Charing Cross. Yes, we brought some of our English heritage with us!
As Easter approaches I get nostalgic feelings about the celebrations that have occurred in Bendigo since the late 1800s and which have been part of every Bendigonian's life. Of special significance is the involvement of the Chinese community since 1871 onward when the Chinese Bendigonians brought their old dragon dancing traditions to the festivities. To my Chinese friends, please correct me if, in this Blog, I make any errors.
Bendigo's first Chinese dragon, Loong, appeared in 1892 in the Bendigo Easter Procession. He was imported from China by the Bendigo Chinese Association. This photo is from the 1930s.
Loong is entirely handmade and is the oldest imperial dragon in the world. He took part in the procession in Melbourne to celebrate Federation in 1901. I believe Bendigo's festival is the longest (pun intended!) cultural celebration of its type running in Australia. Here is an image of Loong's head. Loong has five claws denoting royalty and thus giving him the highest status amongst all dragons. Loong is built from colourful silks, mirrors, bamboo and papier mache. When he was first made he was about 60 metres long. It took 46 men to carry his legs, and another six to carry the head.
When I was growing up in Bendigo every Easter Sunday we would go with our Dad to watch Loong being woken from his sleep. The Waking the Dragon ceremony took place behind what is now the famous Golden Dragon Museum which is seen as the Chinese Cultural Centre of Australia and opened in 1991. The dragon is woken with the banging of drums and a 100,000 firecrackers. Once awake Loong would take part in the Easter Monday procession that wound its way through the Bendigo streets. This photo of Loong I took myself in 1958.
Loong (whose name simply means Dragon) was retired in 1970 though he did make an appearance, I believe, in the parade in Melbourne in 2001 for the Centenary of Federation. He is now permanently on display in the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo.
But like all dragons Loong became old and eventually the decision had to be made to retire him and replace him with a younger dragon! Sadly it happens to us all, even dragons! Thus began a huge fund raising campaign to get Bendigo a new dragon but not any dragon would satisfy the proud Bendigonians. We had to have the best. The Loong 100 Committee of local Bendigo businessmen were instrumental in raising the money for the purchase of Sun Loong who made his first appearance in 1970. And he is beautiful.
(Ref: By Richard Hill, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38094808)
Sun Loong was made by a traditional dragon maker from Hong Kong, the Lo On Kee (羅安記) owned by a man called Lo On (羅安). He undertook to build Bendigo the longest imperial dragon in the world at 100 metres (330ft).Here he is making his way through the streets of Bendigo.
Sun Loong (simplified Chinese: 新龙; traditional Chinese: 新龍; pinyin: xīn lóng) is the Cantonese pronunciation of "New Dragon".
There are 7 sections to the present Chinese part of the Procession, which displays the costumes of the Lead, Philosophy, Military, Princess, Student, Dragon, and Dragon attendants. Some of this regalia can be seen in the Museum today.
(Ref:ABC News: Bang Xiao)
Sun Loong is covered in 6,000 silk scales, each decorated with 23 tiny hand cut mirrors, totalling 90,000 mirrors.
When out at work, in a procession, Sun Loong is accompanied by little dragons, dancers and musicians.
Chinese dragons, a symbol of China's culture, are believed to bring good luck to people. The longer the dragon in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the community. The dragons are believed to possess qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility and wisdom. Although the dragon's appearance is fearsome and bold it has a benevolent disposition and is seen to represent imperial authority. (Ref: Wikipedia)
Fortunately, or unfortunately (I'm not sure), there is a campaign to replace Sun Loong who after all is nearly 50 years old. I don't think we should tell Sun Loong yet but eventually he will be replaced with a new, younger, dragon. But then, isn't that what life's all about? Rebirth.