Cities fight for dragon rights

February 24, 2024 BY

Significant: Ballarat’s historical processional dragon Loong, now located at Sovereign Hill, made its debut in 1897, four years before Bendigo’s Loong in 1901. Photo: SUPPLIED

IN two regional Victorian cities live two processional dragons, both of which are claimed to be the oldest of their kind.

Housed at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat and the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo, the artifacts hold historical significance and have been carefully conserved.

Loong, located in Bendigo, has a place on the Victorian Heritage register and he was imported in 1901 to celebrate Federation.

Research by the University of Melbourne suggests it is likely he was made around 1890 by the Sing Cheung workshop near Guangzhou in southern China.

“We certainly know he was at Federation in Melbourne in 1901 which is pretty unreal, and he paraded with the Bendigo Easter fair until 1970,” said Doug Lougoon, president of the Bendigo Chinese Association.

“He underwent conservation with the University of Melbourne in 2022 so Loong is preserved in his best condition he has been for a long, long time.”

Bendigo’s Loong is a complete dragon, whereas the dragon in Ballarat, also called Loong, only has surviving pieces.

Therefore, the oldest complete processional dragon in not only Australia, but the world, is in Bendigo.

“Ballarat’s has a dragon head which is a sibling I think of Loong, but we have the oldest complete imperial processional dragon,” said Mr Lougoon.

“We are not aware of any other dragon like that in its complete form.”

The Ballarat dragon was purchased to celebrate the 60-year reign of Queen Victoria and arrived in Ballarat in 1897.

This means Ballarat’s Loong made his debut four years before Bendigo’s Loong made his first public appearance.

“He came to Australia with a whole processional assemblage and the Chinese community in Ballarat undertook a fundraising initiative,” said Lauren Bourke, collections and curatorial head at Sovereign Hill.

“They brought him here so that they could celebrate with the community Queen Victoria’s 60-year jubilee.”

Ms Bourke said Loong is also believed to have been built in Southern China.

An exact date of construction is unknown, however, due to the likeness to Bendigo’s Loong it is likely they were built in the same workshop.

“We engaged someone to do a research report in 2017 on Loong, our understanding is he likely comes from the southern part of China,” said Ms Bourke.

“My understanding is there were workshops in parts of China at the time, basically factories which were producing these processional assemblages.”

Ballarat’s Loong’s final appearance in public was at the Begonia Festival in the 1960s.

He was then donated to the Ballarat Historical Society before being passed to Sovereign Hill in the 1970s where he is now kept.