A dragon has been awakened from his slumber of over 50 years to be one of the Ballarat Chinese community’s forgotten artefacts showcased in an upcoming exhibition.
With a painted head mainly made from papier-mâché and cane, the dragon Loong last publicly appeared at the 1960 Ballarat Begonia Festival after years of hard use.
“At one point he was sitting on a car at the Begoinia festival. He was used in a whole range of ways and repainted a few times,” Manager and senior curator of the Ballarat Gold Museum Michelle Smith said.
“He’s one of the four imperial (pre-1911) dragons left in the world. Another two are in the US and one in Bendigo.”
As one of the few remaining Qing dynasty dragons left in the world, his head and what remains of his body will be at the front line in the Ballarat Gold Museum’s Re-awakening the Dragon exhibition.
Featuring an extensive array of Chinese social, cultural and religious artefacts, the dragon, a lion and other processional material will be showcased in the event, along with carvings and altar pieces.
Like many of the pieces which will be displayed at the exhibition, the history of Loong can be traced back to 1897, when colonies staged Diamond Jubilee Day festivities to mark Queen Victoria’s 60 year British Commonwealth reign.
The Ballarat Chinese community were involved in the celebrations, making their own procession with objects acquired from China.
Ms Smith said the fact that the Chinese were very much part of all the activities showed they were an important part of the community, especially from the 1890s onwards.
The objects entered the museum’s collection in the 70s and 80s after being passed on by the Ballarat Historical Society, where they’d ended up following the closure of the Main Road Chinese temple in the 60s.
The textiles, including 120 year old silk and gold thread processional costumes are quite unique Ms Smith said.
“Visitors from China have been amazed because they can’t see textiles like this in China anymore,” she said.
In collaboration with the exhibition, an Awaken the Dragon Appeal has been launched to assist with the next stage of the conservation process for the collection.
Ms Smith said the conservation can take years to do but they feel it is worth the effort and would like to raise enough funds to at least start the process.
“While we’re reintroducing the objects, we’re trying to gather more information about them,” Ms Smith said. “We’d love to see photos of the dragon in use.” The exhibition will run from October 5 until April 15 at the Ballarat Gold Museum.
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