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Chinese New Year Festival 2016 - Melbourne

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Published February 5th 2016
Year of the monkey in Melbourne
Monkeys in all their guises will hang around the city of Melbourne during the next couple of weeks as the Chinese New Year ushers in a new animal.
A monkey just hanging around the CBD of Melbourne earlier. Photo by Rachel Gray

According to various stories proliferating the internet, people born in the year of the monkey are said to be mischievous, clever, adventurous, and ambitious.

However, prominent Chinese astrologist Edgar Lok Tin said people displaying animal attributes is nonsense.

"We are human, we cannot compare with a pig, with a monkey or with a sheep or a tiger" Mr Lok Tin said.

"There are some people born in the year of the pig, they are not like the pig, they're very extremely clever, they're very hardworking people as well" he said.

Edgar Lok Tin said he believes the concept of the Chinese calendar originated from a time in China when people did not have access to education.

"If you were born in the year of the monkey, and because it is in a 12-year cycle, so when the next cycle of the monkey comes around then you would know you were 13 years old" Edgar Lok Tin said.

Three monkeys
The three monkeys. Picture drawn by Rachel Gray.

During the next two weeks there will be a variety of performances, art installations, and entertainment to coincide with the Chinese New Year.

It all kicks off on Sunday 7th February with two simultaneous Chinese New Year eve events which are open to the public.

In Federation Square, there will be various forms of entertainment, where the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, government representatives, and prominent members of the Chinese community will make an appearance during the day.

At night, from about 11pm, there will be a countdown in Federation Square.

The entrance to Melbourne's Chinatown was built during the turn of the 20th century when the queen visited Melbourne. Unfortunately, her plans changed and she was not able to see the entrances to Chinatown, but it has become symbolic of Chinese culture in Melbourne today.

Simultaneously, in nearby Chinatown, a family day will begin at 5pm which will include tea tasting, soccer games, calligraphy, and face painting.

Event organiser, Belinda Fitzpatrick, said the family day will then become countdown at 11:30pm when a DJ will take over the stage to emcee-in the new year.

"You can appreciate the atmosphere will be quite enjoyable given there will be quite a lot of families out in Chinatown going for dinner and celebrating the New Year's Eve" Ms Fitzpatrick said.

The following day between 7:30pm and 10pm Masterchef will record a live show with two teams doing a cook-off.

Dragon head
The Millennium Dragon's head alone weighs 200kilograms and needs eight people to carry it during the parade. It's tail weighs 100kilograms. Photograph by Rachel Gray

However, perhaps the most anticipated event will be the dragon parade beginning around midday on 14th February, when at least 36 people will carry the 300kilogram Millennium dragon along the streets of Chinatown.

According to ancient Chinese mythology, the Chinese dragon would rise from beneath the ocean during the spring and make clouds from his breath.

From these clouds, the rains would fall to water the crops below, bringing with it a successful year for business.
Chinese dragon mythical
The ancient mythical Chinese Dragon. Drawn by Rachel Gray.

When not parading the streets of Melbourne for the Chinese New Year, and the Moomba Parade later in the year, the Millennium dragon sleeps in Melbourne's Chinese Museum.

With his head lying at the entrance to the Museum and the rest of his body spiraling 63 metres into the basement, this friendly dragon is a spectacle for all to admire.

According to education officer at the Chinese museum, Emily Cheah Ah-Dune, his body is framed with bamboo and wire wrapped in silk, lined with real rabbit fur, and completed with shiny material.

"The shinier the better, because that means that he's repelling all the evil spirits and ushering in good luck for the people who celebrate the New Year with him" Ms Ah-Deune said.

(Above: a video of the Millennium dragon parading the streets of Melbourne during the dragon parade in 2014. It looks like Melbourne's Lord Mayor is giving a little China man a good ol' head rub at 1:39minutes [confirmation of his identity is needed, but I am pretty sure that is the Lord Mayor.] Apparently, seeing the dragon gives you good luck and prosperity for the new year.)

Admiring the intricately detailed handiwork of the dragon in the museum, which was imported from a factory in China in 2003, Ruby from Hong Kong said she was looking forward to the Chinese New Year.

Ruby said the red packets with money inside would be the best aspect of the new year for children, whereas the elderly would receive visits and well wishes from their family members.

"Then, of course, there will be a big, big feast for seven days, and the seventh day, the new year, is the day we call 'every body's birthday'" Ruby said.

"Here, of course, the food will be a bit more westernised, like the fortune cookies are not really Chinese actually, I think that is American" she says with a beaming smile.

Around 70,000 people are expected to pack into the Chinatown area of Melbourne for the Dragon Parade, with a total of around 120,000 people attending events throughout the city.

People escaping oppression in China mainly settled in Victoria and Queensland following the Gold-rush era of the 1800s.

Minature Goldfield of Australia
A miniature version of the Goldfields of Australia is displayed in the Chinese Museum. Photo by Rachel Gray.

The Chinese culture has since become a part of the national landscape of many cultures of which Australia comprises.

On 20 December last year, closer economic ties between Australia and China saw the signing of the historic free-trade agreement called ChAFTA.

For events in Melbourne click this link to see which events are scheduled for this Chinese New Year.

(Above video: Watch Jet Li fight some lions and dragons in Once Upon a Time in China III)

(NB: All interviews in this article are original and were conducted by Rachel Gray.)
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Why? Because there is so much to see and do, and it's just a bit of fun :-) It's also the celebration of diversity in Melbourne where at least 200 different cultures live.
When: For two weeks beginning Sunday 7 February to about the 21st February
Where: Mainly in places throughout the CBD. Including a very large Dragon's Head which will poke out from the Eureka Tower.
Cost: Most of the events are free. Including the night-lit lanterns in the Docklands, Southbank, Chinatown, Federation Square and other places
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