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Lunar New Year

Melbourne's Chinese Heritage

Published: 21st February, 2019

Intro

Melbourne has a very vibrant Chinese community. Although there are now Chinese communities all across the city, the Little Bourke Street Chinatown is the second longest continuous Chinese settlement in the western world. The Chinese have a long history of exploration, but it was the gold rushes of the 19th century that were responsible for attracting so many Chinese to Victoria. Despite being a country which wouldn't exist without immigration, the White Australia Policy was officially in force until 1973. Attitudes towards Greeks and Italians were pretty poor for many years, so imagine what it would might have been like to have been Chinese in the 19th century. Certainly relations between Chinese and white Australians were not encouraged, yet they did occur. Also, many Chinese names were anglicized, so there are possibly a good many Australians with the surname Lee, for example, who have no idea they have Chinese ancestry!

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People arrive in Little Bourke Street early. Usually this street is open for vehicles, so it is nice to be able to wander down here without the cars.

Chinese processions have been entertaining Melbourne crowds since the 1830s; there were even two dragons at the opening of Federal Parliament in 1901. Bendigo's Sun Loong ('new dragon') is still considered to be the longest Chinese dragon in the southern hemisphere, but Melbourne's Dai Loong ('big dragon') is not far behind.

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A large crowd gathers in Cohen Place outside the Chinese Museum. This is the start and end-point of the annual parade.

Celebrations for Chinese Lunar Year take place across the city over a couple of weeks but the dragon parade takes place in Chinatown. Several city streets are blocked off, stalls are set up and large crowds turn out to enjoy the entertainment. The Millenium Dragons are smaller and more manoeuvrable than Dai Loong and together with Lion Dance and Martial Arts teams form the bulk of the displays. Of course, there are also fireworks. Fireworks seem to perform a dual function: to wake the dragon, and also to ward off evil spirits.

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The Millennial Dragons are smaller and more manoeuvrable then the big dragons, so they play a much greater role in the street performances.

Celebrations for Chinese Lunar Year take place across the city over a couple of weeks but the dragon parade takes place in Chinatown. Several city streets are blocked off, stalls are set up and large crowds turn out to enjoy the entertainment. The Millenium Dragons are smaller and together with Lion Dance and Martial Arts teams form the bulk of the displays. The athleticism and choreography shown by the participants is extremely impressive. Of course, there are also fireworks. Fireworks seem to perform a dual function: to wake the dragon, and also to ward off evil spirits.

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Fireworks play a major role in the celebrations.

What strikes you about Melbourne's parade is the diversity. The parade has been enthusiastically embraced by the community and spectators of all backgrounds turn out to enjoy the festivities. The corner of Russell and Little Bourke Streets is quite crowded well before the main event kicks off, and people will cram for every viewpoint, so if you want to see the show, and it is worth seeing, get there early. Little Bourke Street remained crowded all day, largely because that was the centre of activities, but you can get good views of the parade from Lonsdale Street as well.

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It is popular to be photographed with the lions before the parade.

The area of Russell Street around Little Bourke is closed off for a couple of blocks and there are lots of food stalls but this area of Melbourne is well catered for anyway, so check out the food courts in QV and Melbourne Central as well. As well as the diversity of the crowds, much has changed now for the participants. Traditionally the dragons were only carried by men, particularly men with Chinese heritage, but volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are appreciated. The Drum team, for example, was led off from Cohen Place by a female drummer.

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Melbourne's Dai Loong.

If you are keen, get out to Box Hill as well for their celebrations, usually a week before the main Melbourne event. But if you are in Melbourne for the Chinese New Year I highly recommend you get to Chinatown and have a look. The Chinese have a long and interesting history in Melbourne and the musuem is open free of charge on the parade day.

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Lion Dance teams entertain the crowds.

Go to the Melbourne Chinese Lunar New Year 2019 gallery for more images...