Lunar New Year decorations are seen at the Chinatown area on Little Bourke Street, Melbourne on February 1, 2021. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)

Melbourne Prepares for Year of the Ox

BY :SIENNA CURNOW

FEBRUARY 03, 2021

Melbourne. As the Lunar New Year fast approaches, Melbourne-based Indonesians looking to celebrate the occasion are doing so a little differently this year. 

In the heart of Melbourne’s CBD lies Chinatown, an area dedicated to East and Southeast Asian culture and community members. Chinatown is the home of Imlek events in the city. 

With early events already underway, organizers are keeping the messaging of the annual Chinese New Year Festival optimistic under the slogan “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Following the decorative festivities and display competitions on store fronts, the Dai Loong (“big dragon”) awakening parade stands as a showstopping event set to take place again. Beginning at the Chinese museum, Dai Loong will make its way through the CBD of Melbourne, completing its journey at Queensbridge Square. 

However, to see in the year of the Ox, much of these cultural events are expected to have reduced crowds in strict adherence of the organizer’s Covid-safety plans.

In this Feb. 1, 2021 photo, an intersection at the Chinatown area in Melbourne looks quiet ahead of the Lunar New Year as Covid-related social restrictions are in place. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)
In this Feb. 1, 2021 photo, an intersection at the Chinatown area in Melbourne looks quiet ahead of the Lunar New Year as Covid-related social restrictions are in place. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)

The City of Greater Melbourne currently stands at almost 30 days with zero locally acquired Covid-19 cases recorded, though much of Imlek is encouraged to be celebrated privately to prevent risk of potential new cases. 

Tens of thousands of visitors are usually in attendance at the large celebrations for the Lunar New Year -- or "Imlek" as Indonesians call it -- in Melbourne’s centre, where much of the city’s Asian population lives or works. Events have been held in this location for more than 160 years. 

According to the 2016 Australian Census data, 24.4 percent of Melbourne’s population is of Asian descent. Due to the pandemic, much of these community groups find themselves unable to celebrate with their loved ones.

Recent media graduate and freelance videographer, Neville Kurniawan, has lived in Melbourne for almost 5 years. For Imlek, he would usually have returned home to celebration with his family in Lampung. Typically, this celebration would involve the family going to someone’s house, a tradition incompatible with each member all being in quarantine.

He described these celebrations as something which he never considered to be related to the Chinese mythos, but something which brought him and his family together for a time of reflection.

Neville Kurniawan, an Indonesian Chinese living in Melbourne, poses for a photo at State Library of Victoria on February 2, 2021. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)
Neville Kurniawan, an Indonesian Chinese living in Melbourne, poses for a photo at State Library of Victoria on February 2, 2021. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)

“You kind of grow appreciation for a tradition that you never really thought about,” Neville shared with Jakarta Globe in a recent interview. 

“The fact that we celebrated it every year since birth, the fact that I’m missing out on it, made me realize that I need to compensate in some sort of way.”

Food being quintessential to the ways Neville was raised to celebrate Imlek means he plans to connect with his Indonesian friends in Melbourne for a dinner to celebrate the occasion in the absence of the opportunity to be with his family. 

Banin, a manager of an Indonesian restaurant in Melbourne, spoke highly of the influence which the parade had each year on their business. Nelayan Restaurant is located in Melbourne’s CBD in the same position that Dai Loong would usually be making its path.

Just over a week out from Imlek, they are yet to hear about whether or not this parade will be taking place. They would usually invite patrons inside and serve traditional Indonesian dishes, such as lompong soup with rice patties to bring the Indonesian twist to the holiday.

Nelayan Restaurant on Swanston Street, Melbourne. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)
Nelayan Restaurant on Swanston Street, Melbourne. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)

Banin said that though she is Indonesian Chinese, she has tended to not celebrate Imlek as much since arriving in Australia over two years ago. Given that many of her Indonesian friends in Melbourne all have their own ways they traditionally celebrate the occasion depending on their cultural background, Banin would tend to spend more of her time with the business instead to celebrate with her staff.

Immediately following the 2020 Chinese New Year events, the organizing committee spared no time in preparing the 2021 events. According to Melbourne Dai Loong Association President, Eng Lim, the organizing committee during the planning stage chose to go ahead with all events keeping Covid-safety in mind. At the risk of unforeseen restrictions not allowing for the events to take place, the team could simply revise or cancel the events rather than having nothing prepared in the first place.

Queensbury Square in Melbourne is decorated with red lanterns ahead of the Lunar New Year that falls on Februaty 12, 2021. The photo was taken on February 1, 2021. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)
Queensbury Square in Melbourne is decorated with red lanterns ahead of the Lunar New Year that falls on Februaty 12, 2021. The photo was taken on February 1, 2021. (JG Photo/Sienna Curnow)

“Melbourne is a very multicultural society and this festival is very strongly celebrated by the Asians in Melbourne, including all other races,” Eng said.

Whether celebrating privately or in large community events, many of Melbourne’s Asian community members are excited at the prospect of seeing in the new year as hoped.

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