14 Jun

The museum we love

Words by
Sue Turpie
Pictures by
AJ Taylor

In 30 years, the Golden Dragon Museum has accumulated thousands of beautiful Asian artefacts.

No items found.

For almost 150 years, Bendigo has benefited from the generosity of the Chinese community, whose foresight and dedication to preserving tradition and history has culminated in today’s internationally renowned Golden Dragon Museum. This year, the museum celebrates its 30th anniversary by reflecting on its incredible collection of thousands of historic Asian artefacts, including the world’s longest Imperial dragon, wooden screens, processional costumes, intricate ceramics and more.

Since the mid-1800s, the Chinese community has shown its dedication to the city through various philanthropic ventures, including raising funds for the Bendigo Hospital and being a vital drawcard for thousands of tourists who attend the annual Bendigo Easter Festival. For Central Victorian residents, there are fond memories of sitting for hours along Pall Mall to ensure a prime position to watch the Easter procession, and throwing coins into a white sheet from above the car park near Rosalind Park at the annual Waking of the Dragons.

There is an undeniable pride felt throughout generations of locals at being home to the museum and its community, therefore, “The One I Love” seems more than appropriate as the title for an initiative chosen to mark the Golden Dragon Museum’s 30 years of operation. In honour of the milestone, five local identities were asked to nominate an object within the immense collection as the one they loved. As with any such decision, there was a deep emotional connection with the chosen objects that went beyond them being picked merely for their beautiful aesthetics.

Golden Dragon Museum chief executive officer Hugo Leschen emphasises how generations of the Chinese community and Bendigo residents have treasured the collection at the museum.  

“The strength of the collection is not just the physical objects but the provenance of what goes around that object,” Mr Leschen says. “For example, an engagement ring that has cultural importance and community importance could be a plain object, but its story makes it significant. Each of the objects chosen had their own story and the panel worked with Leigh McKinnon, the museum’s research officer, to put together a five-minute presentation on each of them.”

The panel included City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Jennifer Alden, who chose The Cookbook of Roy Greechoun; Golden Dragon Museum patron Russell Jack, who chose the Five Clawed Dragon Screen; La Trobe University distinguished alumni Dennis O’Hoy, whose item was the original dragon Loong; City of Greater Bendigo 2021 Young Citizen of the Year May Aye Paw, who decided on the processional costume of children’s military; and Golden Dragon Museum research officer Leigh McKinnon, who chose the Frood Medal.

In a first, Chinese Australian history and culture expert Dr Sophie Couchman recently assessed the collection, thanks to financial support from the Bendigo Bank’s Community Enterprise Foundation. “This significance assessment of the Golden Dragon Museum’s entire collection will inform management’s research, display and development of the collection for years to come,” Mr Leschen says.

As part of the anniversary celebrations, a fundraising campaign has been launched by the museum to raise $150,000 to help with the ongoing costs of restoration, maintenance and cataloguing of the 30,000 cultural artefacts and objects, guided by Dr Couchman’s assessment.

“To create an exhibition takes three to five years,” says Mr Leschen. “The curator is a professional who works with the collection and tells the stories the items hold. They conduct research and see what objects are available, but before you can do that you have to make sure your collection is properly catalogued, properly recorded and properly stored. Then you can discover it and access it; you know what is there and you know where it is.”

Ensuring the longevity of the Golden Dragon Museum is the driving force behind these events. One important reason for the museum’s success to date has been its place in the heart of the public.

“When you see where something has tried to be imposed on a community, it often doesn’t work,” Mr Leschen says. “But when something comes from the community, it becomes part of that community. Fundamentally, museums tell stories – and a number of the stories of this museum are about the local community, both Chinese and non-Chinese.”

The other reason, of course, is the commitment of all involved in and connected with the Golden Dragon Museum, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which saw much of the community shut down for 2020.

“Last year was a difficult year for all of us, particularly people in entertainment, tourism and aviation and we’re involved in two of those and affected by the third. In 2021, it’s exciting to open up and have visitors again and it’s interesting because we’ve seen a lot of visitors who are locals or from the region who haven’t been to the museum in a long time. It’s fantastic.”

Anyone wishing to support the 30th Anniversary Collection Fund can contact the museum for more information or visit