Conservation team for Bendigo’s Imperial dragon win cultural conservation award
A team working on conserving Loong 龍, the world’s oldest surviving intact Imperial processional dragon has been awarded the prestigious Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM) Outstanding Conservation Treatment of the Year Award for a second consecutive year.
The University of Melbourne Grimwade Conservation Services has received the honour that recognises excellence and industry best practice in the field of conservation, for their conservation work on Loong.
Loong - who is 40 metres long and over 120 years old - was constructed in the late 19th century by master makers in Guangzhou, China, and sent to Bendigo in wooden boxes for his first recorded processional appearance in the 1901 Bendigo Easter Fair.
Loong was constructed from thousands of elements including silk, feathers, papier-mâché and bamboo, cardboard and paper.
Over the next 70 years, Loong appeared not only at Bendigo’s Easter parades but at charitable and important government events outside Bendigo. Since retirement, Loong has been kept in Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum.
Though supported over the decades by Bendigo Chinese Association community conservation and repair work, particularly pre-and post-parades, the dragon was deteriorating due to his advanced age.
In 2021, the Golden Dragon Museum was awarded a $133,000 Living Heritage Grant from the Victorian Government to restore Loong, in recognition of the dragon’s cultural and historical significance.
The team of 12 conservators and five Master of Cultural Materials Conservation students began a year-long conservation project, working alongside Bendigo Chinese Association volunteers and local conservator Jude Schahinger, who has conserved and cared for Loong for a decade.
Grimwade Conservation Services conservation project leader Dr Holly Jones-Amin said: “Loong had a very active public life, so it’s no surprise that over time there were a lot of elements that needed repair. The most fragile part of Loong is his silk body that supports thousands of individual scales of cardboard, silk, paper and mirrors, all held in place by aged glue and thread. The silk body had tears and the scales required extensive conservation. Amongst many other steps, we also realigned Loong’s bamboo supports to reduce tension along his body, repaired holes and tears in his silk skirt, and repaired his silk head.”
Loong’s size and condition required he be worked on in situ at the Golden Dragon Museum, in full view of the public, rather than behind closed doors in a conservation lab.
“It was wonderful to undertake Loong’s treatment in the museum, with visitors walking through the gallery as we worked. Many were curious and stopped to ask questions about our work. It was a great opportunity to talk with the community about what we do, and why caring for our cultural materials is so important.” Dr Jones-Amin said.
The AICCM jury were impressed by both “the extent, detail and quality of the treatment” and the “wonderful collaboration between the Grimwade Conservation Centre [sic] and community members from the Bendigo Chinese Association”.
Conservation student Gemma Ghoukassian, involved in the project as part of an internship, described the experience as “fantastic”. “I had the opportunity to demonstrate some basic techniques to volunteers from the museum, who were then able to undertake these simple but time-consuming tasks. Not only was it an incredible experience to work alongside professional conservators, it was also a real gift to be able to share this wonderful experience with the Bendigo Chinese Association members who feel a real attachment to Loong and are equally invested in his welfare,” she said.
The careful conservation of Loong means the Bendigo community, and many out-of-town visitors who visit the Golden Dragon Museum each year, will be able to appreciate him in all his glory for decades to come.
Learn more about Grimwade Conservation Services here.