Sir Richard Branson backs new imperial dragon for Bendigo

“We’re definitely chipping in.’’

They were words no one expected to hear, but words which caused a Bendigo delegation at Melbourne Airport to erupt into applause yesterday.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of one of the world’s most recognisable brands in Virgin airlines, and one of the ultimate global entrepreneurs, committed to helping Bendigo secure a new imperial dragon to replace Sun Loong.

His comments came during a press conference that had already put Bendigo, and our much-loved night dragon Yar Loong, front and centre as Sir Richard launched Virgin’s flights from Melbourne to Hong Kong.

Yar Loong was prepared on Tuesday evening and kept in lockdown, before Sir Richard joined a Bendigo Chinese Association team to carry him through Melbourne Airport as a prelude to the launch.

He surprised onlookers when revealing himself to be carrying Yar Loong’s head – and as cameras recorded the moment, Bendigo was rejoicing. Our city’s name was splashed across global media outlets on Sir Richard’s t-shirt.

The event was coordinated as part of the city’s efforts to secure a new dragon, Dai Gum Loong, by 2019. Sir Richard has agreed to help freight the new dragon from Hong Kong, when it is ready. He has also now agreed to ‘chip in’ to fundraising efforts.

Bendigo is incredibly grateful for such generosity.

But we still have a way to go to fund our new dragon – the people’s dragon.

The Bendigo Easter festival attracts 30,000 visitors to Bendigo each year, and contributes $5.9 million to the local economy. The parade is the festival highlight – and particularly because of the dragon.

While community support is building, and we cannot put a price on yesterday’s exposure, it is time our state and federal governments recognised the importance of the dragon to Easter, and to Bendigo.

We hope Victorian tourism minister John Eren commits to not only exploring opportunities as to how he can support our city’s fundraising efforts, but finds a way to assist. We also hope the federal government will recognise the need to offer support, and the importance of the dragon to our city.

Sun Loong needs to be preserved and retired, to rest with Loong at the Golden Dragon Museum. And soon. Bendigo cannot have an Easter without a dragon.

Nicole Ferrie, editor