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Chinese New Year in Cairns will be celebrated on Saturday February 9th from 3-9pm on Grafton Street, formerly the site of Cairns' own Chinatown, then known as Sachs Street.
It's expected that the Cairns Chinese New Year festival this week will be the biggest celebration in over 70 years with over 20,000 Chinese visitors coming to holiday here!
It may be a week of festivities. but we wonder how many will know that the festival is being held right on top of the site of what was the largest Chinatown in Queensland, home to two Chinese temples, such as the Lit Sung Goong Temple of which we can still see, deity statues, paintings, bowls, processional banners, drums, lions, gongs, incense burners and fortune telling blocks.
This is definitely one of a kind, surely only the Cairns Chinese New Year festival will offer live snakes to hold, Beijing opera style face painting, a Chinese horoscope reading to see which animal you are. as well as raffles to win 2 tickets to Shanghai, hot air balloon rides, Great Barrier Reef trips and zip line rides over crocodiles!
To the Chinese, the new year is the most significant of all the traditional holidays. Also called the Spring Festival, its ancient beginnings started with a battle against a fabled beast called the Nian. The first day of the first solar month marked the end of winter and the shift into spring when Nian would appear and feast on farmers produce.
To defend themselves, the villagers would leave food at their door as an offering believing that this would safeguard above everything else, their precious children. It is told that one year the Nian came across a child wearing a red cloak, but instead of gulping her, he was frightened away by the bright colour. This is said to be the origin of the red lanterns and red scrolls synonymous with Chinese New Year, seen in homes, shops and cafes.
Many visitors will not know how Cairns came to be hosting such a large and festive Lunar New Year celebration but they will certainly appreciate the Chinese banquets on every night of the week in every Cairns Chinese restaurant, where the Lion Dance will happen twice an evening where restaurant diners can feed the lion red packets (lei see) and begin to understand that red is regarded as the symbol of energy, happiness and good luck. And to finish off after the Lion Dance, a long string of Chinese firecrackers are on each restaurant's doorstep to ward off bad luck for the year ahead.
This large influx of Chinese New Year revellers to Cairns will see on Saturday February 9th a Dragon Parade from 4pm, followed by Chinese dancing by Molihua Dancers, that features a drum dance, hoop dance & a celebration dance There's plenty of time to wander around the Grafton Street stalls and marketplace, set up by families and friends of locals with Chinese heritage and taste some delicious homemade Chinese dumplings, tasty noodle dishes, pork dumplings, Chinese New Year Cakes and lots more.
Something unique and special for international visitors to Cairns Chinese New Year festival will be a traditional welcome to country by local indigenous leader, Seth Fourmile a member of the Gimuy Walabara Yidinji followed by a drumming performance by local Australian Chinese students and then the Dotting of the Eyes of the Lion dance performance. Look further up Grafton Street to see Puppet shows, Kung Fu performance and even a Hip Hop Chinese Lion! Or try some Chinese calligraphy, Chinese percussion instrument or try speaking Chinese and say Ni hao (hello) and what's your name ("ni jiao shen me ming zih)?
The 20,000 visitors from China here for the Cairns Chinese New Year 2013 Festival are travelling to Australia via 50 scheduled flights to Cairns Airport flying direct from China, with the local Australian Chinese community, Cairns City Council, the Queensland government and the Cairns tourism industry all working together towards one huge celebration.
Momentum has been building for many years, as it was over 20 years ago, that Cathay Pacific began flying to Cairns and recently began daily flights with Cathay's A330 aircraft, with Cairns being one of the few destinations in the world (other than, Sydney, London, New York, Vancouver and Mumbai), to offer Cathay Pacific's business and premium economy seats.
Then last year, China Eastern Airlines began direct flights from Shanghai to Cairns and just this month China Southern Airways commenced flights Cairns to Guangzhou. So travelling to Cairns for Chinese New Year, is easier than ever.
Over time, it has become clear that the popularity of the Great Barrier Reef and especially Green Island with Chinese visitors to Cairns was increasingly driving demand for travel from China to Queensland.
This combination of Cairns day tours plus the celebrations on Grafton Street for Chinese New Year is sure to impress the international travellers when they experience a tropical Chinese New Year in Australia that is a lively, loud and sensational arena of music and festivities.
And hopefully during the week of Chinese New Year, visitors and locals alike will get to appreciate the real connections and history between China and Cairns. This joint history started back in the 1870 when the alluvial diggings on the Palmer River, 4 hours north of Cairns, were opened up in September 1873 and Chinese diggers and merchants rushed the field. Stories of the fabulous fortunes to be won quickly reached China but in less than a decade the gold was gone. The Chinese miners though went on to successfully form a community in Cairns.
Traditionally great traders in the Pacific, Chinese merchants established Chinatown in Sachs Street which is now Grafton Street. There Chinese families set up as importers, general merchants, herbalists, fruiterers, boarding houses and where gambling dens operated.
During construction in the 1990's of a new backpacker hostel, building was halted while all the Chinese artefacts on the Grafton Street site could be found then on display are from the Cairns Chung Shan Mui Temple which was situated in Grafton Street, formerly Sachs Street. This Joss House fell into disuse in the 1950's and was dismantled in 1964 when the site was redeveloped.
Even today if visitors travel to Aloomba, south of Cairns it's still the site of extensive Chinese sugarcane farming or to Innisfail, where Australian Chinese families still grow bananas or to Atherton to the Hou Wang Chinese temple. Or for those really interested to dig into China-Australia history further, head west to Croydon, where the remains of the former 'Chinatown' precinct exists as a significant Chinese Australian archaeological site, and to Cooktown where the Palmer River Gold Rush started.
But back to the Cairns Chinese New Year festivities, remember definitely to book a table if you want to go to the Festival and then kick onto a Chinese banquet later in the night. Cairns is home to some amazing Chinese chefs, try the locals favourite Jade Plus in the slightly unusual location upstairs at the Cairns International Tennis Centre. Or if you'd rather a short walk from Grafton Street, try either Golden Boat Chinese Restaurant or Taste of China Cafe or wander inside Cairns Reef Casino's restaurant and try Café China or across the road China Palace Restaurant.
No matter which part of Cairns you experience Chinese New Year 2013, know that you'll be in one of the best spots in Australia, after all, isn't the first rule of travel, eat where the Chinese eat and with over 110,000 Chinese visitors to Cairns this past year, you can't put a foot wrong.