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Is Bendigo in China?

Last weekend I hopped the train to Bendigo, a regional Victorian town best known for its 19th century goldrush that drew prospectors from all over the world. A large group of diggers came from Guandong in China’s south. They packed their culture with them which is so well preserved that it had me wondering if a ticket to China was worth it.

In the 1800s Bridge St looked very different. It was legal to import opium until 1900 and the street boasted no less than three opium dens. Today it’s home to the Golden Dragon Museum, named for characters like Sun Loong (New Dragon) the world’s longest dragon who romps the streets every year at the Easter festival. It’s studded with 90,000 tiny mirrors to repel evil spirits. Wandering the museum’s creepily lifelike wax figures you’ll see Buddhist and Confucian relics because these Chinese immigrants got out before the Culture Revolution crushed their beliefs in China. Further out of town there’s also the Joss House, a tiny temple to Guan-Di, a god of many portfolios including war, literature and, in his spare time, patron of bean curd sellers.

Outside the garden is a modeled on Beijing’s Imperial Garden with a few more nods to Buddha. There’s a large dragon screen much like the one we saw recently in Datong, that repels even more of those pesky evil spirits. As I looked at the two dragons squabbling for a pearl, I was struck by how this ‘immigrant culture’ had outlasted what remained at home. Okay so you'd have to wait 700 years for it to be as historic as the original, but this Chinese Australian construction is unique in its own way.

Comments

  1. It's a terrific museum, isn't it. So sad to read some of the tales of discrimination therein though. And I wish they had more water available for that whole channel area - it must have looked lovely before this enduring drought of ours.
    What an interesting point you raise about the preservation of culture, HP.

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  2. Is it easy enough to get around Bendigo without a car? I have always liked Bendigo it has particularly good op shops and it is so pretty in autumn and winter.

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  3. @Genevieve, I'm really interested in 'migrant cultures' and how they can act as time capsules. Haven't heard tales of discrimination in the 'go. Was there something specific you've seen?

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  4. @Anon, very easy to get around. I hopped off the train walked up the main street and found a hotel within about 20 minutes. The park is a nice stroll in winter.

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  5. I have been meaning to visit Bendigo specifically to see the Chinese museum there - specifically the Dragon. But it came to me instead. You may appreciate this photo I took of the Dragon at the Moomba parade last year.

    An interesting aspect of this 'preservation' of Chinese culture is the number of white Australians who are part of the Dragon dance troupe, working with Australians of Chinese descent to maintain these cultural practices.

    And there are many also involved in the various smaller lion dance troupes too – including in country towns. I gather these are often related to kung fu schools.

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  6. Anon, Bendigo is a great city for walking but especially for bike riding - there are lots of paths that connect the various places in the city and it's really pleasant to cycle around. Great riding culture there.

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  7. @Mark, great pics and interesting observations on Chinese Australians/white Australian involvement. Your own post on the celebration is great and I couldn't agree more on the non-Chow mein-ness of regional Australia. There's diversity there.

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  8. HP I cannot quite remember the details - a few legal cases mentioned in the Museum from early 20thC, I think? also the whole business of the heavy taxes on Chinese gold-miners' ships, so that they walked overland from Robe to get to the goldfields.
    I think I need another visit.

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