23 February 2024

Riverina Rewind: When the 'Golden City' Dragon came to Wagga Wagga

| Chris Roe
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The dragon Loong in Bendigo’s Easter parade, 1911.

The dragon Loong in Bendigo’s Easter parade, 1911. Photo: Vincent Kelly (Golden Dragon Museum Collection).

In the wake of the recent Lunar New Year celebrations and the ushering in of the Year of the Dragon, we’re taking a trip back to August of 1941 when a very special Chinese creature paid a visit to Wagga.

There was great excitement in the region ahead of a gymkhana to be staged at the municipal airport on Tarcutta Road in aid of the Kyeamba Shire Queen.

Not only would there be the usual lineup of athletics, horseback events and a mock navy battle to sink a German ‘ship’ but an ‘Oriental Chinese Dragon demonstration’ was to be held.

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According to the Daily Advertiser, the dragon had been loaned to the city by the Chinese Community of Bendigo and Kyeamba Shire councillors would wear masks and join the parade.

“Feature of the fixture will be the Chinese dragon demonstration, which was obtained after considerable negotiation with the Chinese fraternity of Bendigo,” it was reported.

“Observed as a most sacred emblem, it is only on rare occasions, and then only when the cause is most worthy, that the dragon is permitted, to be displayed outside the ‘Golden City’, but in view of the fact that the proceeds of this carnival will ultimately be used in providing comforts for those who, like the Chinese, are fighting for the cause of democracy, the emblem was allowed to come to Wagga.

“In charge of Mr. Tommy Ah War, the dragon will be carried by his compatriots in a spectacular demonstration which should be worth travelling many miles to see.”

Indeed, days before the event, crowds lined the street to see the ceremonial beast arrive on the back of a truck.

“To the accompaniment of bursting crackers and jangling cymbals at intervals along the journey, the ‘dragon’ was drawn on the Kyeamba Shire engineer’s utility truck, a tent-like structure housed the ‘body’ of the ‘dragon’, whose head was seen protruding from the open door of the tent, nodding like a Chinese Mandarin,” reported the Advertiser, making use of a questionable idiom from the time referring to the Chinese practice of bowing.

“The demonstration proved very attractive and intriguing, and just sufficient was shown the public of the ‘dragon’ as to want them to see more of it on Wednesday next.”

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Sure enough, a subsequent article reported that large crowds turned out for the gymkhana.

The draught horse events were a hit along with a clever pony that mimicked the Nazi goosestep march and demonstrated its disdain for Hitler.

There were footraces, potato races, musical chairs, a “slow bicycle race” and of course the much-anticipated Chinese dragon.

“The children were greatly attracted by the demonstration, and as it came to an end, the figures caused much amusement by chasing the youngsters,” declared the Advertiser.

Loong parading at the Easter Festival in Bendigo in 2019.

Loong parading at the Easter Festival in Bendigo in 2019. Photo: Golden Dragon Museum.

The dragon that visited Wagga in 1941 remains on display at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo.

Named ‘Loong’ after the Cantonese word for dragon, he is believed to be the oldest complete imperial dragon in the world.

Made in Foshan, China more than 120 years ago, Loong is handmade from silk, mirrors, bamboo, kingfisher feathers, beads, and papier-mache.

Stretching more than 30 metres in length, the Chinese community would ‘awaken’ Loong each year for Bendigo’s Easter fair where he paraded from the late 1800s until 1970.

The precious artifact recently underwent extensive repair and cleaning.

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