Sun Loong’s replacement named as hunt begins

Related: Sun Loong’s last dance approaches

FUNDRAISING will begin in the new year for Sun Loong’s replacement – a new imperial dragon to be known as Dai Gum Loong, “Big Gold Dragon”.

A delegation from Bendigo visited Hong Kong in June where they met four master dragon makers in the first step to replacing the world’s longest imperial dragon.

Concepts will be delivered in November, and quoted prices will be given in December, before the community will begin raising funds from 2017.

Golden Dragon Museum general manager Anita Jack said Bendigo expected the best quality for its third master dragon in keeping with the city's tradition.

“The imminent retirement of Sun Loong from active parading illustrates to The Golden Dragon Museum the real need to actively seek funding for his replacement,” she said.

“The public have a high expectation, mainly because they see the best example of Chinese dragons here at the museum and in the annual Easter parade. 

“We believe Bendigonians will not be fooled with a lesser, inferior dragon.”

If all goes to plan, next year is set to be Sun Loong’s last as the sole main feature of the Easter parade, before he is joined by the new dragon in 2018.

From 2019 onward, Dai Gum Loong will complete the Easter parade alone.

He will be equal length to Sun Loong at 100 metres and will be made using the same skills and techniques, where possible, as the original dragon Loong, made in the late 19th century.

A handover for the ages

Sun Loong has lived a long life.

Most imperial dragons are put into retirement after 10 years and placed on display without any more parades.

Sun Loong is 47 years-old, and just seven months ago, he made the one kilometre march down View Street and Pall Mall to the Golden Dragon Museum.

Sun Loong takes part in the 2016 Easter Parade. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Sun Loong takes part in the 2016 Easter Parade. Picture: DARREN HOWE

It may have been his most memorable parade yet, under the gaze of the Marilyn Monroe sculpture.

But the wear and tear is taking its toll. Before the Easter appearance, about $10,000 was spent in conservation works to his neck and head.

A report from 2015 found Sun Loong’s scales had 600 fractures, his body was described as “dusty and soiled” and bamboo had started to protrude.

There was only one solution to save the city’s beloved Sun Loong: It was time for retirement, and a new dragon.

Sun Loong – a life well lived

Sun Loong is one of a kind.

His creation in 1969 required skills not used for decades. He needed to be a fitting successor for old Loong, made in Foshan, China, in the late 19th century.

The Loong 100 committee was formed, with members including former Bendigo Advertiser editor Cyril Michelsen and other prominent businessmen. They raised $13,000 for the task.

The committee chose master dragon maker Lo On Kee, one of only a few in the world to carry on traditional dragon making, to create Sun Loong.

It took his Hong Kong workshop four months to complete the work. The mirrors and fur lining caused problems – a design not seen on most Chinese dragons.

Freelance journalist John Ball and Lo On with the head of Sun Loong. Picture: Bendigo Chinese Association

Freelance journalist John Ball and Lo On with the head of Sun Loong. Picture: Bendigo Chinese Association

Sun Loong was flown to Bendigo to be assembled in time for the 1970 Easter Festival, when he paraded alongside Loong for the old dragon’s last Easter Festival.

An extra 100 feet was added to Sun Loong in 1979 to make sure he remained the world’s longest imperial dragon. Melbourne’s Dai Loong dragon had been created longer – a situation that could not stand.

The next year the late Mr Lo On visited Bendigo for the first time to see his creation parade, watching from the balcony of the Shamrock Hotel.

It was a very emotional experience for the skilled craftsman. Sun Loong is believed to be the last remaining dragon from his workshop.

Dai Gum Loong – a new dragon to be born

“It seemed a very obvious name – it takes cues from our history,” Golden Dragon Museum research officer Leigh McKinnon said.

The city’s new imperial dragon and Sun Loong’s successor will be known as Dai Gum Loong – “Big Gold Dragon”.

The Cantonese words are already familiar to many in Bendigo.

Dai Gum San, “Big Gold Mountain”, was the Chinese name for Bendigo. The Chinese gardens now bare that name.

He will be identical in length to Sun Loong, and will be created using most of the same techniques from the original dragon Loong. Dragon makers could be asked to resurrect some lost arts.

But Dai Gum Loong will also be distinctive.

“He will not be an exact replica, he will be his own dragon,” Mr McKinnon said.

His appearance and colour scheme is up to the dragon maker, while his head will be a unique design.

Even for the most experienced dragon maker, Bendigo’s brief is very ambitious.

Mr McKinnon and Golden Dragon Museum general manager Anita Jack visited four craftsmen in Hong Kong in June.

The Ho Kee workshop in Hong Kong.

The Ho Kee workshop in Hong Kong.

The first was Kenneth Mo.

Mr Mo creates lions, dragons, qilin and other festival paraphernalia. He also has a Bendigo connection.

“Kenneth Mo revealed that he had learned his craft in the Kum Yuk Lau workshop which had made Bendigo’s night dragon Yar Loong in the 1930s,” Mr McKinnon said.

The second dragon maker was Hui Ga Hung, a third generation creator of festival items.

The third was Mr Leung, an egg seller and part-time dragon and lion maker.

The last dragon maker was Yu Ying Ho – a 32-year-old who made his first dragon 10 years ago.

The Bendigo delegation saw one of Mr Yu’s traditional lions perform at a festival in Hong Kong’s new territories.

The four dragon makers will send concept designs and quotes to Bendigo by the end of year.

Ms Jack said the makers would attach one crucial design element to their submission – a sample of one of the thousands of mirrored scales.

“It will be a tender process and along with the pricing we are also seeking a sample scale of the dragon to ensure we chose the best dragon maker for the job,” she said.

“We will be asking the modern day dragon makers to relearn old skills in creating this next dragon – Dai Gum Loong. 

“They will need to make the scales in the old tradition. This is a unique opportunity to reintroduce traditional craft skills back into a modern dragon making workshop.”

A well-earned retirement

Once his work is done, Sun Loong will take pride of place with his father at the Golden Dragon Museum – or his head will at least.

His body requires extensive works before it can be placed on permanent display.

As one of the world’s only surviving Lo On Kee dragons – and certainly the only surviving working dragon from the workshop – Sun Loong is not just of historical significance in Bendigo.

“Sun Loong is an outstanding example of a Lo On Kee Dragon – a master dragon maker – as with our current research he could possibly be the last remaining one from that workshop,” Ms Jack said.

“This is significant in both the responsibility the museum play is keeping artefacts like this and ensuring that continued parading does not result in irreversible damage.”

Next year is planned to be Sun Loong’s last as the sole master dragon in the Bendigo Easter parade.

The handover of dragons, set for 2018, is an important historical moment for Bendigo. It will be just the second time it has occurred in more than 120 years.

Bendigo is sure to give Sun Loong a send off fitting of a grand dragon.