THE mark of conservation works well done is not being able to tell they've been done at all.
For more than a week, conservator Jude Schahinger has worked with a committed team of volunteers to ensure the city's oldest surviving imperial dragon, Loong, is safe to make his planned appearance in the Bendigo Advertiser Gala Parade.
Stitches you can barely see, patches of calico and lightweight adhesives that won't leave a trace are among the tools they've used to stabilise the dragon, who is about 120 years old.
"I started on the neck," Ms Schahinger said.
Loong's neck consists of long lengths of fabric.
"I've been sewing those for days at home with a thread you can't see," Ms Schahinger said.
The fabric has become brittle over the years, but the conservator said Loong was looking pretty good for his age.
She's worked with him before, back in 2012 when Loong appeared in Chinese New Year celebrations marking the Year of the Dragon.
"The biggest issue, for him, is the condition of the scales because they move and overlap and rub against each other," Ms Schahinger said.
Loong has had an active life. He's been photographed parading as early as 1901, and formally retired in 1901.
But he's since paraded on special occasions, as recently as seven years ago.
All that activity has meant he's been handled a lot in his lifetime.
"And because he's a moving item, everything overlaps and it's all organic materials and, of course, they have all deteriorated," Ms Schahinger said.
She said people had attempted to fix any issues that arose throughout the years - and sometimes that's possibly been a little more harmful to Loong.
"There were no conservators, so someone just did their best," Ms Schahinger said.
"There are a lot of adhesives on him - multiple adhesives - that we'll never get off."
Adhesives are one of the biggest problems conservators face.
"Conservation is all about stabilising what's in front of you and not doing any harm and whatever you do... you need to be able to take off in the future," Ms Schahinger said.
"So adhesives need to be reversible.
"A lot of the problems conservators find is previous adhesives that you can't get off again and it's a mess - it oxidises and goes yellow and so 50 years down the track it looks awful.
"The adhesives we use are all tested for lightfastness and solubility."
Another consideration for conservators is the use of adhesives.
Ms Schahinger said the mirrors and mirror covers on Loong's scales used to be sewn on.
"But, over the years, more and more of them have been glued back into position and, of course, with movement that glue can fail," she said.
Making sure all of the mirrors and mirror covers were well attached was one of the focal points of Loong's conservation works ahead of the Easter festival.
Others included making sure all the scales were well attached.
"Sometimes the stitching has pulled through," Ms Schahinger said.
"It's checking all the way along that the scales are fairly well aligned and redoing any stitching that's stretched or has failed."
Conservation was among the conditions of the permit Heritage Victoria issued for Loong to partake in this year's parade.
Loong is one of Victoria's oldest ceremonial Chinese dragons and is believed to be the world's oldest intact imperial dragon from the Qing dynasty.
Ms Schahinger will walk with Loong during the parade, representing Heritage Victoria, to ensure he is not damaged.
"Any potential hazards, and I do have the authority to call it and say, 'Sorry guys, we've got to go home'," she said.
"There are a whole lot of strict handling protocols that have been dictated by us and Heritage Victoria that all the handlers are very aware of."
Loong will be carried by some of the city's most experienced handlers.
"Part of the permit sees that all handlers have to have carried dragons before. All the head carriers have to have carried either Loong or Sun Loong's head before," Ms Schahinger said.
"Everyone working with him and handling him on the day is really well aware of how fragile he has the potential to be and they're all on board with the handling of him, which is vital. If they weren't, he wouldn't be going out."
Loong's condition will be reassessed once he returns to the Golden Dragon Museum, after the parade.
"That will influence whether he ever goes out again," Ms Schahinger said.
Loong's appearance will also be subject to weather conditions.
If there's a drop of rain or the wind is too strong, he won't be heading out.
But, if all goes according to plan, Loong will play a key role in the parade.
He, Sun Loong and night dragon Yar Loong will head down View Street to the Alexandra Fountain, where they will meet new dragon Dai Gum Loong.
Loong will then lead all the dragons home to the Golden Dragon Museum, via Pall Mall.
City of Greater Bendigo tourism and major events manager Terry Karamaloudis said a special route was planned for this year's parade to welcome Dai Gum Loong.
"It will also allow plenty of opportunity for spectators along the whole route to see the dragons," he said.
He said meeting at the Alexandra Fountain was significant because it was where Loong met Sun Loong for the first time in 1970.
"The decision to introduce Sun Loong to Dai Gum Loong at the same location continues an important tradition for the city and this is a great way to mark the occasion," Mr Karamaloudis said.
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