Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Digital Documents Record

1621 Description of the 1901 Chinese federation procession held in Melbourne

Full Document Caption:
Description in the Age of the Chinese procession held to celebrate the opening of the first Federal parliament in Melbourne on the 8 May 1901. The article refers to Charlie Ah Goon as a Little Bourke Street ‘celebrity’ and Charles Powell Hodges, a Chinese interpreter and apparently the only non-Chinese person included in the parade.

Source: 'Chinese procession', Age, 8 May 1901, p.8

Region: Date From: 1901 To: 1901
Victoria - Melbourne    

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Probably 200,000 people witnessed and enjoyed the Chinese procession through the principal streets of Melbourne yesterday afternoon, but, still more probably, not 200 quite understood what it meant beyond and above the compliment paid by the Chinese of the city to the festivities of the "foreign devils." People of a devout disposition might, possibly did, ask in the words of the prophet - "Why do the heathen so furiously rage together, and why do the (Chinese) people imagine a vain thing?" For, of a truth, the long and gloriously-garbed and decorated column of Celestial men, women and things rages, to English eyes in the most amazing and purposeless way, and was yet as full of imagination and other vanities as the celebrated Shaker elder told of by Artemus Ward.

The procession formed up in "Lillee Bulke stleet" - where else would it have formed? - and, after waiting twenty minutes over the appointed time (2.30 p.m.) on account of the late start made by the Stockmen's Procession, then got under way at the Swanston-street end. First came the inevitable and indispensable body of mounted police, followed by a lusty brass band in full blare. At the head of the procession proper rode a mandarin, and by his side, as marshal of the ceremonies, walked Charlie Ah Goon, a "Lillie Bulke stleet" celebrity, arrayed like to Confucius seeking audience of the divine Wang. Next, on white horses, bearing wonderful umbrellas, which looked like much-glorified sweet-drums such as are hung upon Christmas trees in the old world, rode certain magnificent personages of evident importance, and at their heels came what might be called the full band of the Victorian Sons of the Sun. The music discoursed by these earnest instrumentalists was of the highest class - so high, in fact, that to the uneducated ears of the crowd it sounded further off than the remotest "C" (in the treble clef) - and it was produced for instruments only one degree less wonderful than those used by the Inquisition some few centuries ago. A bevy of young Chinese girls, pretty, delicate and rarely seen, succeeded, escorted by men in uniforms which would have turned Solomon pale with envy. Scarlet, rose pink, gold, blue, purple, and yellow silks clothes these descendants of Ching, War, Hong and Foo with splendor and distinction, and they wore them with the impertubability of the Duke of Cornwall and York himself. Boys mounted on horses, with vast white and black false beards depending from their smooth and youthful checks, came behind the girls and a joss, on an exaggerated perambulator with carving and in laid metal on its sides, topped with a handsome canopy, preceded a dragon fearfully and wonderfully made. This fabulous monster was probably 50 yards long, but it was quite an infant compared with that which brought up the rear of the procession, and which must have been fully 80 yards in length! If tradition does not lie in these presentments of to-day, they must have bred decent sized dragons in Old China in the days of the Heavenly Woo! These two exhibits were furnished with heads calculated to frighten a year's growth out of anybody under seventeen, and their limbs were suggested by dozens of men in rose pink and orange and purple robes, with flesh pink tights, walking under a body built on some light frame-work. This body was gorgeous with an exceeding gorgeousness - being made up of red, yellow and blue silk, lopped with hundreds and hundreds of little mirrors, representing scales, fixed in plaques of gold bordered red and yellow material, and as the men moved underneath, giving a sinuous and natural motion to the imitation, the effect was very striking. Bands of youths in colours of the brightest, most harmonously arranged, followed the josses like acolytes, and mounted mandarins and girls apparently standing on the thin bough of a tree or on the hand of another girl (really only a clever deception) made up the remainder of the picture. At the very tail of the last dragon there came a band of sturdy and athletic men, clad in rose pink, with dark orange sashes, and in their midst was a hideous and gigantic mask, called the "Gawk Gwe" which was marvellously manipulated by those escorting it. It represented some legendary and awful monster which had a commendable habit of seeking for and killing dragons - a sort of Chinese St George, in short - and it was evidently in a terrible rage. It reared, and tossed, and swayed, and pawed about clapping its expressive ears and roving expressive eyes while the smile on its mouth was as wide and as comprehensive as the Commonwealth Constitution. To appease or frustrate it, two youths walked in front of it, and with either hand pointed a stick with a ball on top at its eyes and mouth - another typically Chinese method of defence which has recently been shown in many sterner places than the Melbourne streets. Every two minutes the men working the "Gawk-Gwe" were relieved by some of their comrades, who vied each other in extravagant and suggestive movements. Mr Hodges, the Chinese interpreter, who bears the rank and wore the robes of a Chinese mandarin of the second class, brought up the rear, modestly hiding his blushes and his blazing uniform in a carriage.

The whole idea with which the procession had been arranged and which it was intended to convey to the unintelligent foreigner was this: - The Son of the Sun and Brother of the Moon is going out to war, and his mandarins follow in his train. Naturally, being celestials, they like to take their wives, daughters, tents, flags and carpets, dragons and other little things like that along with them - partly, to frighten the enemy, and partly, no doubt, to somewhat ease their hard and difficult march. By the blessing of their ancestors, and under the guidance of the Most Holy Lung (or God of Dragons), they proceed safely until, on reaching a dark and awful pass in the mountains (Collins-street), the evil spirits, who are basely assisting the enemy, despatch one of their tame Gawk Gwes to intercept the army, and wipe out the dragons. But, fortunately, the josses give timely warning, and two gallant knights - the boys with sticks - are sent from heaven, and they "stand off" the Gawk Gwe until the army gets through, and falls upon the too-prematurely-rejoicing enemy. Having given him "Wha' for," they go home, and worship at the graves of their ancestors (Lillee Bulke-stleet), and commit to memory the words at the top of this column. "Hteng Chung Ging Yung.," which, being rendered into English, is that "Purity of heart, faithfulness, and a brave and benevolent spirit are the whole armor of a man." Which would seem to imply that between the teachings of Confucius and Paul there is no very great gulf fixed.

It is unnecessary to add that the procession got a great reception on its round via Swanston, Flinders, Queen, Collins, Spring and Bourke streets, and to the many scores of thousands of visitors and young people in the crowd it proved highly delighting. The work done by the police under Mr. O'Callaghan, the superintendent, in handling the vast crowds which thronged the principal places on the route was worthy of the highest praise - more especially when it is remembered that the barriers were not up in many parts.