A new exhibition at Sovereign Hill’s Gold Museum will unveil one of the most extensive Chinese artefact collections, and for the first time in over five decades, will reawaken Loong, one of Australia’s oldest dragons. Running from 5th October 2017 – 15th April 2018, ‘Re-awakening the Dragon’ will showcase items once used by Ballarat’s Chinese community for social, cultural and religious ceremonies, including the spectacular dragon.
In 1897, Queen Victoria marked her sixty-year reign over the British Commonwealth, and celebrations were held throughout the colonies on Diamond Jubilee Day on 22 June, 1897.
Ballarat’s Chinese community joined the festivities by staging an elaborate procession featuring colourful costumes, dragons, lions, exquisite silk textiles, banners and other regalia. Money was raised to purchase a collection of materials and textiles for the occasion from Canton, China. The dragon and lion are the oldest documented examples in Australia, and Ballarat is now only one of four known sites where a Qing Dynasty dragon survives in whole or part. The Gold Museum’s dragon can be dated back to the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911). “While Bendigo’s Loong, one of the four surviving dragons is well-known, our dragon will be unveiled for the first time in many years. In every museum, there’s never enough space to display everything in a collection, and that’s why this exhibition is so special,” says Jeremy Johnson, CEO, Sovereign Hill. “These treasures, and the spectacular dragon, have been in the Gold Museum’s collection stores for many years, and will showcase the important role Chinese people, and their processional ceremonies, played to the town of Ballarat and the goldfields.” In 1962, Ballarat’s most prominent Chinese temple, on Main Road, was closed, and while some temple artefacts fell into private hands, the bulk was donated to the Ballarat Historical Society.
The donation included rare carvings, altar-pieces and processional material such as textiles and a dragon and lion dating back to the late 19th century. The collection was transferred to the Gold Museum in the 1970s and 1980s, and has remained in the Gold Museum’s collection stores ever since.