Dragons bring history to life

Discover the world's longest Imperial Dragon, Dai Gum Loong, at Bendigo's Golden Dragon Museum, where this delicate and historical treasure weaves its way through the city's streets in a tradition dating back to 1892.

Collections Manager Megan Hall constantly monitors the impact of light, humidity and movement on the delicate exhibits at Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum but, come Easter, she hands over responsibility for one of the most fragile items, an Imperial Dragon, to the local Chinese community.

The Bendigo Chinese Association has permanently loaned its collection of historical artefacts to the Golden Dragon Museum, which also has three Imperial processional Dragons on display. The youngest, Dai Gum Loong, is the star attraction of the Bendigo’s Easter Festival, when he weaves his way through the streets of the city in the continuation of a tradition that began in 1892.

At 125m, Dai Gum Loong is the world’s longest Imperial Dragon, featuring more than 7,000 handmade scales and requiring at least 70 people to bring him to life. But the museum also cares for Loong, the world’s oldest complete Dragon, who first paraded in the Easter Festival in 1901. Loong took part in the Federation celebrations in Melbourne that same year, and returned to Melbourne in 2001 for the Centenary of the Federation Parade, earning him a listing on the Victorian Heritage Register.

‘Loong retired from performing in 1970 and is now so delicate that he can’t be moved without risking significant damage,’ Megan says.

During a ‘Behind the Screens’ tour of the museum for the Australian Heritage Festival, Megan confesses that it’s stressful to hand over responsibility for the Dai Gum Loong. Made of light materials including bamboo and fabric, Dragons are fragile and sometimes require repairs after their outing. However, as living history it’s important that Dai Gum Loong leaves the museum to proudly continue the Bendigo festival tradition, despite the risks of damage from sunlight, moisture and movement.

‘This museum was created by the Bendigo Chinese Association for the community,’ Megan says. ‘It was never intended to hide the Dragons away. It was always intended to protect the Dragons so we could continue to parade them into the future. That’s one of the core purposes of the museum.’

The Golden Dragon Museum opened in 1991 and recognises the significant contribution of the Chinese community to Bendigo. It is housed on the site of what was known as Chinatown following the Gold Rush when tens of thousands of Chinese flocked to Bendigo in the 1850s to try their luck on the goldfields. Back then the city was riddled with more than 5,500 mines and relations between the Chinese miners and the rest of the community were tense. Fundraising for a local hospital and participation in the parade were all part of the Chinese community’s efforts to improve the strained relations.

In a sign of how much times have changed, the sight of an Imperial Dragon, accompanied by dancing lions, parading through the streets is a very much a highlight of the Bendigo Easter Festival.

‘Everyone in Bendigo is so connected to the Dragon procession that even if you’re not Chinese, it means something to you. The Bendigo Easter Festival uses Dragons as part of their marketing. It’s completely embedded into the identity of Bendigo as a city,’ Megan says.

Visit the Golden Dragon Museum
Open 9.30 to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday
Tickets from $10 – $16, children under five are free
See goldenDragonmuseum.org

Article written by Kate Robertson for the 2023 Australian Heritage Festival.

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