“What time is it?”
“Dragon time” the team roars before 55 pairs of legs rush off to line-up beneath the 100m long Sun Loong, the world’s longest imperial Chinese dragon. Clearly, there’s no shortage of volunteers when the call goes out ‘dragon legs wanted’. It takes a great deal of noise to awaken an imperial dragon from his year-long slumber but as drummers and lion teams from around Australia gather at Dai Gum San, the forecourt of Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum, it’s in abundant supply.
With an explosion of firecrackers, crashing symbols and beating drums, a pride of lions twitch, tremble and shake their glinting headdresses and shimmering mirrored legs. Quivering in anticipation, they prance on hind legs before bowing down in reverence as the museum releases its minor dragons. Suddenly the ground trembles under a bombardment of firecrackers and drumming reaches a crescendo as the massively impressive Sun Loong snakes onto the forecourt. The sun dances off his hand-cut mirror scales and in one brief moment, the Easter Fair parade’s star attraction magically disappears from view.
Bendigo’s streets swirl with Scottish kilts and pipe bands, sirens wail from gleaming red fire trucks but it’s the rich display of Chinese heritage, of costumes and military banners, lions and dragons that spill out of the museum and onto the streets that’s the annual Easter crowd puller. Twisting and bowing, twirling and surging, lions dart playfully into the crowds lining the route.
The annual Easter festival has been part of Bendigo for 149 years and in 1892, the local Chinese community introduced Loong Mark 1. Created in Fat Shan, the Pearl River city famous for its dragons and built of silk, cardboard, bamboo, mirrors and papier mache, he retired in 1970 but remains on display in Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum.
The ever-industrious Chinese community raised funds for Loong’s replacement and Lo On Kee, a traditional dragon builder was located in Hong Kong and commissioned to build Sun Loong. Created in a tiny 4×4 metre workshop in Hong Kong, he didn’t see his masterpiece fully assembled until he attended the Bendigo Easter Fair in 1980.
As autumn’s shiraz-tinged leaves, reminiscent of the region’s fine wines, scurry across pathways and parklands, it’s clear that there’s plenty see at any time of the year in this compact city that’s an easy 90 minute drive north of Melbourne. Fossicking for food rather than gold is mining a rich new seam of regional, seasonal produce waiting to be discovered in the city’s streets and laneways. Malayan Orchid at 155 View Street has eschewed spicy Baba Nonya food in favour of a sophisticated culinary adventure with a delicate touch.
“We’ve introduced emu, crocodile and kangaroo gently cooked in a sweet spicy plum sauce finished with shiraz jus and our pork and chicken dishes include Sichuan stir fries and Malaysian-style curries,” says chef and co-owner Bob Yam who takes diners on a wondrous culinary journey accompanied by an award-winning wine list.
Hidden down hip Chancery Lane, The Dispensary Enoteca is a fine example freshly sourced, mod-Oz style while exploring Bath Lane’s covetous boutiques and cafes, don’t miss The Good Loaf Sourdough Bakery & Café at the end and which, from the heady aroma, bakes everything from scratch. For an hour and AUD15, trundle back through history in one of the city’s beautifully restored trams or combine a heritage ride with contemporary food and dine in the restaurant tram.
Housed in a former bank building from the gold rush days, Wine Bank on View boasts the area’s most extensive collection of regional wines. Tucked inside the restored building surrounded by bottles of wine, it’s the ideal place to soak up some Bendigo ambience amongst its heritage restoration. Across View Street, the Bendigo Art Gallery’s classic façade belies a sharply modern interior that displays an actively rotated collection of Australian art. It’s also one of Australia’s pre-eminent spaces for showcasing fashion exhibitions. Headlining here until 14 July is an unparalleled collection of British royal portraits: Tudors to Windsors – a must-see for all royal watchers. All along View Street you’ll find a treasure trove of boutiques and cafes, an eclectic mash of old and new, artistic and culinary which interweave seamlessly beneath a streetscape of Victorian-era verandahs.
Bendigo’s Easter Festival for 2019 will be held between April 19 and 22 and includes roving entertainment and carnival rides, antiques and art displays, Easter egg hunts, a torchlight procession and the show-stopping parade held on Sunday, April 21. So stop ‘dragon’ your heels and join in the fun….
www.bendigoeasterfestival.org.au www.bendigoartgallery.com.au www.visitvictoria.com
Tags: Baba Nyonya cuisine, Bath Lane, bendigo art gallery, bendigo easter festival, bendigo grand easter show, Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum, CHancery Lane, dragons, Malayan Orchid, sichuan, Sun Loong, The Dispensary Enoteca, The Good Loaf Sour Dough Bakery, Wine Bank