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Deep Australian roots of Chinese dragon parades

This Chinese New Year ushers in the lunar Year of the Dragon. Families and friends will gather to feast, red packets will be gifted to youngsters, and dancing Chinese lions accompanied by strings of crackers will scare away evil spirits and bring good fortune to businesses.

In celebration of the new year, much-loved Chinese dragons will parade on Australia’s streets, including Sun Loong in Bendigo and the Millennium Dragon in Melbourne.

While dragon parades are popularly viewed as displays of Chinese or Cantonese tradition and culture, their history demonstrates how deeply Australian they also are.

Our historical research shows that until relatively recently Australia’s dragon parade tradition was closely associated with Chinese-Australian philanthropy and engagement with Australian civic life, rather than with Chinese spiritual practice.

The earliest dragon arrivals

Australia’s Cantonese immigrants and their descendants have long used dragon processions as ostentatious displays of their culture. Some of the organizers of dragon parades have ancestry dating back to the 19th-century gold rushes. The history of these dragons is almost as old.

The first dragon, nicknamed the “Duck Bill” dragon, was imported from Southern China to Bendigo more than 100 years ago and paraded from 1892 to 1898.

Nearby, Ballarat’s first dragon – also the oldest surviving dragon – was purchased in 1897. It was paraded until the 1960s. Ballarat’s dragon is held at Sovereign Hill.

The “Moon Face” dragon was Bendigo’s second dragon, paraded for just one year in 1900. Then, in 1901, Bendigo imported its third dragon, “Loong.” Remarkably, Loong was paraded for more than 100 years (circa 1901-2019) and now resides at the Golden Dragon Museum.