Sunday’s gala parade gets underway from 1pm. Tune in the Bendigo Advertiser’s Facebook page to watch a live stream of the gala parade.
It is the Easter highlight in Bendigo.
Sunday’s gala parade will show off the city’s vibrant community with thousands of people marching through the city centre and thousands more lining the streets to watch.
As the oldest continually-running festival in Australia, the Bendigo Easter Fair began in 1870 as a fundraising event for the Sandhurst Benevolent Asylum, now known as Bendigo Hospital.
City of Greater Bendigo parade manager Raph Beh said more than 60 community groups and organisations would take parade in the showcase event – the gala parade.
“Every year is different and the community is always great to work with,” Mr Beh said.
“They have so many ideas that end up as floats in the parade and people love it because they see what a vibrant community we have in Bendigo.”
Mr Beh said the biggest challenge he and his team face is closing down the city centre’s roads.
“It’s a massive road closure. We’re closing the city down for the parade from early morning until the parade is over,” he said.
“People come and sit (by the route) and wait from 7am with their picnic rugs and chairs to catch a glimpse of the parade.”
Group pieces together its first parade entry
The Bendigo Lego User Group is one collection of people that has a big idea for a float.
For its first ever gala parade, Bendigo LUG has created a 2.5-metre long Chinese dragon using more than 100,000 Lego bricks.
The dragon is the centrepiece of their Chinese-themed float.
“The Chinese theme builds around the dragon,” Michael Peebles said. “We have Chinese characters, lanterns and somebody's done a miniature version of the Great Wall.
“The float idea started eight months ago and building the dragon took about three months.”
Mr Peebles said the parade gave the small but passionate Lego group a chance to show off.
“We have been going now for almost four years. We’re a free, not-for-profit group where people come along and share a love of Lego,” he said.
“There is about 50 active members and 400 members online in our group. Lego is a growing area and has had a massive resurgence since the movies and there are more to come.
“It was also a chance to promote our major display, which is coming up after Easter.”
Cosplayers are eager to dress to impress
Having formed just over 12 months ago, Bendigo’s Cosplay Society will also join the gala parade for the first time.
Society assistant administrator Trent Cooke said the group wanted to put themselves out in the community more.
“We are always trying to assist with charities. Our most recent one was raising money for the Starlight Foundation with Zing! in the marketplace,” he said.
“In cosplay a lot of the people involved can be introverted, so they use (dressing up as pop culture characters) as a bit of an escape for the day.
“Kids also love seeing their heroes come to life but also we can draw parents in with characters they have grown up with.”
Mr Cooke said Captain America, Spider-Man, Harley Quinn and some Disney princesses could feature in Sunday’s parade.
“The Disney princesses are always popular but it can also depends on what is the popular character of the moment,” he said.
Mr Cooke has lived in Bendigo for five years and said it was easy to see the importance of the Easter festival.
“I saw it instantly. It’s a showcase of the region, the cultures, religions and different interests (Bendigo has),” he said.
Group’s huge task one of the most popular displays
One of the iconic cultures on show is the Bendigo’s Chinese heritage.
The Bendigo Chinese Association, which helped establish the Easter Fair in the 19th century, is by far the biggest participant in the parade.
With 800 people carrying dragons, lions, banners and showing off traditional regalia and costumes, it is a huge task for the BCA to take on each year.
Brian Lougoon is the BCA’s parade co-ordinator and has been taking part in it for almost 30 years.
He said while it was a chaotic morning on Sunday ahead of the gala parade, it wasn’t the association’s busiest part of the weekend.
“Saturday (is more hectic) when we have three things one after the other – the Spring Festival, the Awakening of the Dragon and the Torchlight Procession,” he said.
“But the Sunday procession is twice the size of Saturday. It’s a matter of getting everyone (of the 800 participants) here and getting them fed and dressed.”
The star of the gala parade – Chinese Imperial dragon Sun Loong – isn’t scheduled to come out of the Golden Dragon Museum until 1.45pm, 45 minutes after the parade as started.
“We join on the back end, so head of parade going down Bridge Street 20 minutes before we even get Sun Loong out,” Mr Lougoon said.
“There is usually at least 1000 people watching the regalia and dancers come out of the museum with the four other dragons in the parade then Sun Loong emerges.”
The BCA contingent walks up Park Road, in front of Ulumbarra and to the Queen Elizabeth Oval where it joins on the end of the parade.
Mr Lougoon has been part of the gala parade for 27 years without a break. His family has been involved for almost 80 years.
After carrying the heads of other dragons during his time with the parade, Mr Lougoon first had the chance to carry Sun Loong’s head about 10 years ago.
“It was really exciting. The head carriers swap a lot because Sun Loong’s head is so heavy and you really get a chance to see everyone cheering and clapping on the side of the road,” he said.
“All people are waiting for parade finale of Sun Loong and the love seeing him in the street.”
Scottish group takes pride in its Chinese connection
Another Bendigo group that has a close association with the gala parade along with Sun Loong is the Clan MacLeod Pipe Band.
After forming in 1953, the band joined the Easter parade in 1954.
The band’s parade history means it has piped for Loong, Sun Loong and, come next year, new dragon Dai Gum Loong.
Clan MacLeod pipe major Darryle Kenyon said it was the band’s biggest weekend of the year.
As well as the gala parade, the clan performs at the Awaken of the Dragon ceremony and the Torchlight Procession.
“This is our 59th or 60th year at the Awakening. Having played for that, Loong, Sun Loong and hopefully the new dragon is a rare privilege,” Mr Kenyon said.
“For the past 20 years we have also piped the dragon in a special ceremony as he is backed back into the museum.
“Most bands wouldn't have such a long association with a non-Scottish Association. People wouldn’t connect Scottish pipe bands with Chinese culture.
“It is a big honour and takes a lot of time and effort but we never tire of it.”
It is a big honour and takes a lot of time and effort but we never tire of it.- Clan MacLeod's Darryle Kenyon