Sammy's Saviours

  • Tell us how you went about it (did you get a group together, what research did you do, where was it made?

For the past 5 years the dragon team had noticed a deterioration in the Sammy Dragon fabric and structure. After all, he’s had 23 years of parties and float parades! During conversations with the Broome Chinese Association about where to source a new dragon, we were given the name of Wing Wai Australia, a dragon and lion dance costume and outfitter. It is a Sydney based family business which has a network of providers, artisans and designers in China – it commissions custom made speciality items and acts as the liaison between the customer and the factory/workshop. Vanessa Mills sent measurements of our dragon and requested a replica to be made – because the current incarnation of Sammy was so familiar, loved and well photographed (compared to the pre-2000 era Sammy Dragons) . Vanessa and I got regular emails/whatsapp messages going over details and specifications, short videos or photos. We were impressed with the attention to detail – Wing Wai also checked with elders in its Dragon Dance group to ensure that things were culturally correct and suitable – such as ensuring the new dragon’s eyes were wooden not plastic, and certain symbols on the head were positioned correctly. This particular style of drgaon is unqie, and no longer made, so it was a design challenge for everyone.

It was initially a daunting prospect considering a new Dragon for the Broome community – not only the barrier of knowledge about where to buy one, but also knowing how important this mascot is to Broome. The Dragon symbolises so much joy and love the community has. I was so relieved and excited when the new dragon arrived – first in the giant wooden box and then had his first outing in public. The colours and style and attention to detail were glorious. It is also slightly slimmer and more agile than the hefty bamboo structure we were using.

  • What obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

During COVID so much got put on hold. Then the high cost of the handmade dragon was a concern, worrying how and who might have enough funds to contribute. But I had faith that Western Australians would come through for such an important symbol of Broome – and they did. The other factor was the timeline of production, because there’s a busy period months out from Lunar New Year as the workshops make thousands and thousands of items for celebrations around the world – if you miss placing your order at the right time you might not get your dragon in time, before the big lunar new year break and then the shipping period needed to be allowed for; a ship to Sydney, a truck to Perth, another truck to Broome…!

  • Please share some highlights of your journey (people you met, Chinese blessing etc)

This experience has been enriching for the Sammy Dragon team –we had the incredible test of putting the entire dragon together from out of his box with no instructions except a video call from the Wing Wai team on a Sunday morning outside the Civic Centre.

We also learnt a lot about the cultural significance and a lot of detail about dragons and Chinese culture. With some of the funding we brought Willis Koh from Wing Wai to Broome for the official cultural blessing ceremony, which is essential to bring the spirit of the dragon out of the sky into the dance apparatus. Having Willis guide Broome’s Doug Fong through the special ceremony at Shinju Matsuri opening evening was a beautiful experience for us all. We learnt about the symbols and rituals, and plan to have a lot more information written down, to share between each year’s dragon team – since so much had been oral history prior.

The new dragon was also visited by a special member of the Sammy Dragon team of years gone by – Greg Quicke has now seen three Dragons in his time as the Head. He helped with some moves in our training again this year.

For the first time – because of Willis’s knowledge – we implemented the lucky lettuce and red packet ritual for those Chinese owned businesses which wanted the blessing in Chinatown and made a special detour to Fong’s Store in old Broome for this, which includes the turning of a lucky circle.

Best of all was the smiles and squeals of delight from families and children, and old timers, as a bright and vibrant dragon twirled past in the Shinju Matsuri float parade and events. The happiness that people shared with me about seeing a new but familiar dragon was uplifting.

  • Did you achieve your vision? is there still more to do?

Part of the funding was used to upgrade the old musical equipment, cymbals, drums and whistles, which are essential parts to the Dragon dance and ritually are used to ward off bad spirits and give the dragon a beat to dance to. We’ve been able to better plan for the future now and bring an ad hoc disparate group to a new level and standard without losing any of its community based values and dragon magic. We need to make sure Sammy and the equipment is well cared for and maintained.

  • Can you tell me something about the Dragon Year?

The Chinese Zodiac has 12 animals – the Year of the Dragon starts February 10th 2024 and ends January 29th 2025. Because dragons are the peak spirit it’ll be an important year. Dragons represent kindness, luck, benevolence and prosperity. They’re sources of the elements (wind, earth, fire, water). Dragons need to be courageous and resilient. 2024 should be a year of prosperity.