Family tradition carries on this Easter parade

As a small child, Richard Louey used to watch in awe as Sun Loong, the Chinese dragon, snaked its way through central Bendigo in the Easter parade. 

He was "absolutely captivated" with its fierce expression, lines of human legs, cymbals and drums. "It looked really big to me, and really beautiful," he says.

Richard would wear traditional costume and wave while father Peter helped carry the dragon’s head.

Now 46, Richard Louey, of Balwyn, is one of 10 men – and the only Melburnian – who will take turns carrying the head of the dragon in the 2014 parade, starting 1pm on Easter Sunday. 

His daughters Tara, 8, and Erin, 6, now also take part, wearing cheongsams, playing cymbals and waving.

The parade is the centrepiece of the Bendigo Easter Festival, dating from 1871, which claims to be Australia’s oldest continuous festival. 

The parade along View Street and Pall Mall on Sunday, and the Awakening of the Dragon with "100,000 firecrackers" on Saturday at 2pm, are among more than 100 festival events on over four days this weekend.

It is the 44th consecutive year Mr Louey has marched with Sun Loong. As a child he progressed from playing drums to lion dancing.

At one stage as a teenager, he took the train up alone. It was an illicit day out with friends, but also gave the son of Chinese immigrants "a great deal of pride in being of Chinese descent".

The family’s link with Bendigo started in 1970 when Bendigo Chinese elder Russell Jack invited members of the Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne, of which Mr Louey’s father was president, to take part in the parade.

In 1994, when Richard was 16 he had a lighthearted go at hoisting the dragon’s head and Mr Jack, who he called "Uncle Russell", asked him to be part of the dragon’s head team, a coveted post. "I was just very excited, very humbled and very honoured."

Sun Loong means "new dragon" because in 1970 it replaced Loong, a dragon over 100 years old now in Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum.

Sun Loong is over 100 metres long. The head weighs 28kg. Each man in the head team carries it up to 30 metres at a time. The head is made of papier mache, silk and bamboo and the body has 90,000 mirrors, 6000 scales and 40,000 beads. Mr Louey says up close it has "small pillows the size of your hand in the shape of little dragons and lions sewn". More than 50 people are its "feet". 

Although the Bendigo Chinese Association, guardians of Sun Loong, mostly comprises descendants of immigrants during the 19th century gold rush, Mr Louey’s parents Peter and Susan were born in the same area of China as many those immigrants – See Yup (meaning "four districts") in Guangdong, or Canton.

Mr Louey’s father is president of the See Yup Society for welfare of descendants, founded in 1854, which oversees of the Buddhist-Taoist See Yup temple in South Melbourne, built in 1866. 

Richard Louey felt a sense of community in Bendigo. "People treated me very much as one of their own, especially Russell and his [late] wife Joan."

And the town’s sense of tradition is palpable. "The colours seem more vivid, the parade and involvement of people is more intense up there."

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