Bendigo Easter Parade: The Chinese Section
Bendigo Easter Parade: The Chinese Section
Please contact the Bendigo Chinese AssociationCopyright
Bendigo Chinese Association
In this video, the Chinese section of the Bendigo Easter Parade is explored.
The General Manager of the Golden Dragon Museum, Anita Jack, is joined by historian Dennis O’Hoy, Russell Jack Director of the Golden Dragon Museum and members of the Chinese community to discuss the costumes, regalia and traditions associated with the Easter Fair parade, which have been preserved and continued from the 1870s to the present day.
The role of the Chinese Lions are discussed in detail, as well as Loong (1880s), the oldest five-clawed imperial dragon in the world, Sun Loong the longest Dragon in the world, which succeeded Loong in 1970, and Yar Loong the breathtaking 1930s night dragon.
The Chinese arrived in Bendigo, Victoria, during the 1850s gold rush. In 1854, it was estimated that over 4,000 Chinese were on the gold fields. In 1871, the Chinese community joined the Bendigo Easter Fair and Procession (which began in 1869) to assist fundraising for charity. Providing music, theatre and acrobatic displays, the Chinese section of the Procession soon became the main attraction. This remarkable collection of 19th Century processional regalia has been preserved by the Chinese community in Bendigo and is held in the Golden Dragon Museum. It is not only a collection of world significance but, importantly, it contextualises and preserves the living heritage of both Victoria and China through the objects and through the ceremonies that continue to be practised today.
[Customs, Traditions & Regalia]
[Three men preparing the dragon]
The traditions that we have here, for example, Wong Loong and the Awakening of the Dragon, they've been here since the 1800s and all based around the regalia because it's all about the dragon and the costumes that come out at Easter.
[Beginning of the parade]
So it's very important for us to ensure that the way that the procession was run during the 1800s is still the same today.
[Old black-and-white sketches of the parade]
If you look at old sketches in newspapers from the 1850s and '60s and you compare those drawings with the order of the procession today, they match up, and that's probably one of the core features of the procession, is that if you are Chinese and you study processions and you understand that those traditions and the cultural aspect has been carried through from not only generation to generation but from century to century.
[Dennis O'Hoy, Member - Bendigo Chinese Association]
And a lot of the younger Chinese, particularly overseas Chinese, whether they're from China itself or from Malaysia or such, they are amazed to see that the old Chinese traditions are still kept here and it's almost anachronistic - we're in the 21st century but there's this wonderful love of understanding our past and our heritage.
[The Procession & Costumes]
[Chinese Section of the parade]
At the very beginning of the procession, we have the lead section. In that, we have the gongs and we have the open road banner, but the sound of the gong and the open road banner really announce the Chinese section in the procession. The costumes that we use today in the procession are replicas of the original costumes that we had for the General and the Princess.
[Black-and-white photographs of the General and the Princess]
The General always walked in front of Loong when he came over here in 1892 and he was, like, the protector of the dragon.
[Neil Crowle, Former General - Bendigo Easter Parade]
Most of the time, the General has been on horseback but it's been a little bit more difficult lately so, generally, the General walks in front of the throne and protects it that way. The costume is a red suit of armour with the message flags in the back that the old Chinese generals used to have to send directions to a different part of the battlefield.
[Detailed replica of the General's costume]
It has a number of lions and things like that on it so, obviously, representing strength and ferocity if needed. There are also, I think, some coins for good luck and some bats.
[Black-and-white photograph of three persons in costumes]
The costumes were all based on opera costumes, so, therefore, they're quite theatrical. You'd never go into battle with flags and this elaborate headpiece on your head with jewels and gold leaf...
[Felicity Brennan-Tong, Princess - Bendigo Easter Parade 2011]
The garment is amazing. So intricate. Like, you need to have someone help you put it on.
[Shelene Laiu, Former Princess - Bendigo Easter Parade]
There's a lot of padding involved because she's got flags sticking out of her back.
[Princess dressed in pink and blue]
We have a yellow version and we also have a pink and blue version. This year, we had the pink and blue version and that one hasn't been out for about ten years.
You actually do feel a lot like a princess.
[Princess waving at the crowd]
[The Dragons & Lions]
[Black-and-white image of dragon, courtesy State Library of Victoria]
[Eugene Law, Lion Team Leader - Bendigo Chinese Association]
The lions are actually a mythical creature and, to the Chinese, they're believed to scare away any evil spirits, so they bless events and they're a real crowd-pleaser as well.
They're the protectors of the dragons, so whenever a dragon does come out, there are always lions with them.
The spirit of the dragon is that it doesn't come alive until it has its eyes dotted and then it's fed and you bless the entire dragon. The way the story is told is that he must sleep all year long and only come out once and perform, so, obviously, after a long sleep, he has to be fed, and that's why the papalo leaves will go into his mouth and his whole body is blessed so that he can actually come out and perform.
[Men blessing the dragon]
[Kim Jack, Member - Bendigo Chinese Association]
Part of that ceremony is to, I guess, recognise the local history that the Chinese brought with them. It's a very specific setup. It comes from Taishan. They did the ceremony a particular way and part of honouring the heritage of the Bendigo Chinese is to continue that way of doing it.
[David Hui Tong, Elder - Bendigo Chinese Association]
[David Hui Tong]
You know, really, you can't take the dragon out without having it blessed. It is the most important part, I believe.
[Loong c1880s, The World's Oldest Imperial Dragon]
Loong came out here in the 1890s and it was obviously quite a momentous occasion to have him here and being a five-clawed dragon, an Imperial Dragon, during this time, was very special to the Chinese.
[Black-and-white photograph of the parade]
And unlike a lot of towns that did actually have dragons - Ballarat, for instance - Bendigo kept their own and it became very integral with Bendigo society and Loong paraded in Bendigo from 1892 up until 1970. 'Black-and-white photograph of Loong parading:
The Chinese actually used to pay to carry him because it was considered such an honour.
[Russell Jack, President - Bendigo Chinese Association. Director - Golden Dragon Museum]
In our heritage in Victoria, I think he's so important, you know, in Australia's history, they've protected him for life.
[Sun Loong, 1970. The World's Longest Imperial Dragon]
[Keenan Jack, Member - Bendigo Chinese Association]
I can remember when Sun Loong came in to replace Loong and I can remember going to Melbourne with my parents and my uncles and part of the lion team to welcome Sun Loong into Australia.
[Black-and-white image of dragons on the tarmac with a plane in the background]
So we were actually on the tarmac as he was unloaded off the plane. So I'll never forget that day. That was very exciting for me as a child.
[Close-ups of Sun Loong]
So Sun Loong was purchased and built in 1969 and came over here in 1970, and for the first time, the two dragons met and they weaved their way around the Bendigo fountain, Alexandra Fountain.
[Black-and-white images of the parade around the Alexandra Fountain]
I remember it very well. I was given the pleasure and privilege of carrying Loong - the old one - for its last run, then when we got around the fountain, I was given the privilege of carrying the new Sun Loong, but I didn't realise how big and how heavy it was, and just as it was handed to me, a gust of wind came and I nearly dropped it. That was the last time I carried Sun Loong!
[Yar Loong c1930s. Bendigo's four clawed Night Dragon]
The Night Dragon... his history is a little bit harder to define.
[Night Dragon parading]
Now, there are records of him being here in 1939 and parading. During this time, candles were put underneath the dragon to help him illuminate at night because the torchlight procession became part of the Bendigo Easter Fair Festival. Unfortunately, though, he got quite burnt and damaged during his parading with candles, so he literally got put back into boxes and wasn't seen again for about another 60 years. He was then restored and his head's been completely rebuilt on the original frame and it was his first time out in about a decade and it was to celebrate the 20th birthday of the museum.
[Night Dragon parading amidst the crowd]
Oh, wow! Wow, look at that, Scarlett!
There's dragons everywhere. If you were to go to Melbourne, even, you say to anybody down there, 'Has Melbourne got a dragon?' They'll say, 'Yes, Melbourne's got a dragon.' But you ask anybody in Bendigo, you know what they'll say? 'We have a dragon. We have several dragons.' Bendigo has always been known as the No.1 dragon city outside of China.
They're scary at times.
Yes, they are. Yeah.
What's scary about them?
[Plum Blossom Dancers, Bendigo Easter Parade 2011]
Um, the noise.
They're big. They're big.
The fireworks and the drums. They're really noisy.
And their red eyes.
They're kind of cool as well because they're, like, Chinese.
Do you like how they're Chinese?
Yeah. They're really colourful and they're really cool.
In Bendigo, for the Chinese, it's different from anywhere else in the world. Everywhere else in the world, Chinese New Year is the most important day. In Bendigo, it's Easter.