RUSSELL Jack and his nephew Kenan Jack will continue a long Bendigo tradition when they help carry Sun Loong the dragon in the Easter festival parade this year.
At 79, Russell is the oldest carrier taking part while this marks the 31st year under Sun Loong’s head for dragon master Kenan.
“The first time I carried the dragon, I was turning 16 that year,” Kenan said.
“It’s a part of life for our family, it’s our culture. You should be proud of it and do what you can.”
Kenan and Russell have more than 110 years experience at the Easter festival between them.
Russell hasn't missed an Easter festival for 69 years.
“For Chinese all over the world, Chinese New Year is the biggest time for them. But in Bendigo, it’s Easter,” Russell said.
“I think we’re lucky in Bendigo because it’s probably the greatest example of assimilation I’ve seen anywhere.
“You see the procession with 1000 people and 700 of them are white-faced Aussies who want to be Chinese for the day.
“And we accept them, the same as they accept us as Aussies.”
On Sunday when Sun Loong marches out the front doors of the Golden Dragon Museum, the Easter tradition continues for Bendigo.
Sun Loong arrived in Bendigo from Hong Kong in 1970 after being created by traditional dragon builder Lon On Kee.
He replaced Loong, the oldest five-clawed Imperial dragon in the world.
Loong made his debut in the late 19th century and performed every year until his retirement in 1970.
“For years Bendigo has been recognised as the number one dragon city outside of China,” Russell said.
“In 1969 our dragon was almost getting beyond repair, when along came a group of Bendigo businessmen and asked us if we would like a new dragon.
“We said we would love one but we didn’t have any money - we had given it all to charity.
“They called themselves the Loong 100 committee because it was our 100th year of involvement in the Easter Fair and Loong means dragon.”
Russell and Kenan Jack will continue an important tradition this weekend. CHRIS PEDLER writes.
The Loong 100 committee raised more than $13,000 before finding dragon-maker Lo On Kee, whose workroom was so small he couldn’t get the head through the door when it was finished.
“They had to take the roof off the building to get it out,” Russell said.
“That story went all around the world. He got so much publicity from it that in a very short time he made five or six dragons.”
When he arrived in Bendigo, Sun Loong was 200 feet long – the longest Imperial dragon in the world.
“Some years later, Melbourne purchased a dragon that was longer than Bendigo’s and the Bendigo people were most upset,” Russell said.
“So much so that in 1979 the Loong 100 committee raised a further $30,000 to purchase an extra length of dragon.”
Again the longest Imperial dragon in the world, Sun Loong is more than 100 metres in length and requires 52 people to carry his body which is decorated with 6000 scales, 90,000 mirrors and 40,000 beads.
His neck requires three carriers while his head alone weigh 29 kilograms and is carried by fourth and fifth generation Chinese who are members of the Bendigo Chinese Association.
Before Sun Loong made his debut in the 1970 Bendigo Easter Festival, he was blessed and brought to life by 101-year-old James Lew who dotted his eyes with chicken blood - an act that is traditionally performed when a new dragon or lion arrives so their new home is the first thing they see. The loud and colourful awakening ceremonies help wake the dragons, who tend to sleep a lot and are deaf by nature.
The first ceremony is performed the Sunday before Easter and sees three Bendigo Chinese Association Elders bless and feed the dragons accompanied by drums, cymbals, gongs, firecrackers and lion dancing in a ceremony called the Wong Loong.
On Easter Sunday the Awakening the Dragon ceremony, which is unique to Bendigo, includes performances from the famous Southern Lions (See Gee) who always appear with the dragon.
The performance will be accompanied by martial arts displays, a parade, traditional costumes and other Chinese traditions.
When Sun Loong is roused from his slumber by the noise and celebrations, he will take to the street and be on show in the Easter parade.