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The Bendigo Easter Festival, formerly called the Bendigo Easter Fair, is an annual event held in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia since 1871. The festival includes the Easter procession which sees Sun Loong, the longest imperial dragon in the world, dance through the streets.
The first Bendigo Easter Fair was instigated by Committee Members, Messrs. Burnside and Aspinal, to raise funds for the Sandhurst Benevolent Asylum and Hospital. The first fair was held in 1871, raising over £1000 equivalent to $91,459 in 2018. The community considered the fair a success and thus it has been held every year since, making it Australia's longest continuous running festival. The festival is held every Easter and throughout its history has varied from one to ten days in duration.
In 1893 reports in The Weekly Advertiser describe a procession which included a large and colourful Chinese section that delighted crowds. Since then the Chinese community has supported and been an integral part of the festival, complementing their award-winning museum and Chinese Precinct in Bridge Street. In the early 1800s, Chinese gold hunters were persecuted in the district. Bendigo residents today hold their Chinese Community in the highest esteem. At time of writing, the procession features upwards of 100 floats entered by local community groups, schools, emergency services and businesses. The procession traditionally ends with the large Chinese section, which has grown to showcase over one thousand elements and participants. Chinese cultural groups from Bendigo and Melbourne participate in the parade, demonstrating lion and dragon dances. The procession was normally held on Easter Monday each year but since 2011, when it clashed with Anzac Day, it has been held on Easter Sunday. From 1978, Bendigo Easter Processions and events have been attended by a team of radio-equipped marshals, assembled solely for the purpose of improving Festival logistical aspects. Originally formed at the suggestion of Easter Fair Committee member Jim Dobbyn, the Easter Fair Marshals (EFMs) improved entry movements and reduced parade gaps. By the early 1990s, EFMs had evolved into a separate, incorporated entity known as The Dragon City Marshals Inc. (DCMs), with a much wider geographical sphere of activity. By 1994 DCMs were assisting many other festivals and events around Victoria, including Melbourne's famous "Moomba" Festival.
The torchlight procession is a night-time parade which began before 1900. It features local emergency services, with local volunteer and professional fire brigade members marching with flaming brass torches. In recent times the parade has ended at Lake Weeroona where entertainment, activities and fireworks have been held. The torchlight procession is held on Easter Saturday each year.
A fund raising event called the "Popular Girl" was held in which well-known local women raised money for charity and in doing so gained "votes". The woman who raised the largest number of votes was crowned as the Popular Girl. The competition is no longer held. The 2010 parade contained a section in which a number of past Popular Girls paraded once again.
Originally held in several locations, including Rosalind Park, Bendigo Showgrounds and, more recently, the Bendigo Central Business District, the carnival features a large number of "sideshow alley" attractions and children's rides.
Chinese Spring Festival
The Chinese Spring Festival has been held every Easter Sunday in the Yi Yuan Gardens since 1996. The festival includes many cultural performers who demonstrate martial arts, lion dancing, storytelling and traditional Chinese dancing which includes; the fan dance (Chinese), ribbon dance and drum dance.
Awakening of the Dragon
This ceremony is unique to Bendigo. A lot of noise is required to awaken Sun Loong who will slowly rouse himself from his year-long slumber to walk in the Gala Parade. In order to do this the famous Southern Lions perform accompanied by the clash of cymbals and the beating of drums. This culminates in the explosion of tens of thousands of firecrackers. Also during this ceremony the Bendigo Chinese Association Lion Team perform the donation dance. This is another unique ceremony to Bendigo's Chinese community. The donation dance began as a way for the Bendigo Chinese community to raise money for the local hospitals and benevolent societies.
The Bendigo Easter Fair was renamed as the Bendigo Easter Festival in 2001. It is still a very popular event attracting over 100,000 people across the three-day event.
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