Chinese Association Floats the Dunedin Festival Procession 1985-99

By Gordon Wong

Chinese Association Festival Procession Timeline
  • 1985 – first time we entered a float which was hastily built
  • 1986 – 1st Historic Section - the first appearance of our papier mâché/chicken wire constructed dragon head. Chinese Teahouse
  • 1986 - The float from 1986 was taken on the road for the 125th Anniversary of Lawrence
  • 1987 - Chinese Emperor - float ruined by torrential rain during the procession.
  • 1988 - A very basic last minute entry
  • 1993 – 1st Historic Section and Champion of Champions
  • 1994 – 1st Historic Section (Period Section)
  • 1998 – participated in the 150th Anniversary Procession
  • 1999 - 4th place out of 120 - March
From the mid 1980's to 1999 the Otago Southland Chinese Association took part in the procession (aka the Dunedin Festival Procession) during Dunedin's Festival week held in February. The floats were "home made" by projects driven by the Wong and Loo families.The consistent driving forces and workers throughout this period were Ann and George Loo. For each procession, apart from 1988 which was a last minute entry, McCormick Carrying Ltd provided a truck and driver free of charge.

After an initial hastily prepared entry in 1985 consisting of a truck, paper flowers (made by Ann and her children), a skirt around the truck and the Chinese Lion head, the floats in subsequent years met with great success.

After the initial float in 1985, Ann Loo and Gordon Wong concocted an outrageous plan to build a dragon head using chicken wire and papier mâché based on a magazine photo. In those days, there was no funding, nor the Internet to provide information and imagery, not even a video. After months experimentation with wire, cutters, paper, glue and paint, the dragon head was placed on the roof of the McCormick truck on a float that won the first prize in the Historic Section of the procession in 1986. You will note from the pictures that the dragon head was used a number of times including the final entrant in 1999! The dragon head however was only part of the attraction. On the truck of this float, was a Chinese teahouse built by Kevin Wong. The columns in the teahouse were built using page cardboard cones! The float was completed by including a number people (members of the Association - Loo, Sew Hoy, Yee and Chan family members to name a few) in costume, young and not so young within the tea house, along with Gordon playing the Lion Dance drum, George Loo and Lee Wong playing the gong and cymbals. The float was sponsored in part by Sew Hoy and Sons Ltd.

The procession in the following year, 1987, was ambitious and undone by the weather. The float was built around the throne of the Emperor (Gordon) and his two wives (Karen Loo and Debbie Sew Hoy) or concubines. Like the float in 1986, much of the material was cardboard and paint which were sodden and destroyed by torrential rain on the day of the procession. We must pay tribute to brave bunch of kids beautifully dressed in period costume toughing it out in the very cold rain.

After the rough weather and disappointment in 1987, there was no preparation for a float in 1988.  However, a last minute entrant was put together by wrapping a car in ribbons and towing a trailer with Gordon playing the Lion Dance drum, followed by Lion Dancers, banners and costumed girls.

In 1993 a slightly revised team returned to action, still driven by the Loos and Wongs (Gordon was away overseas by then) and built a magnificent float. The building was a joint effort by Kevin Wong and Micheal Loo. It proved to be the greatest winner of all - Champion of Champions. But the float wouldn't have been nearly as effective without the trimmings and the children in costume.  In fact you will see from the pictures that project was well supported by a large number of members of the association.

An equally marvelous construction followed in 1994 that included a teahouse and a bridge. This was arguably an even better float that the one in 1993, but had to settle for First in the Historic Section, but not Champion of Champions.  The float held up well despite the extremely damp conditions on the day of the procession. As in 1987, kids young and not so young had to brave very wet conditions, but at least some of the kids had a bit of shelter in the teahouse.

Dunedin's Festival Week was stopped in the late 1990s, but a procession was organised for the 150th Anniversary of the Otago province in 1998. An even more ambitious construction was built for this procession that included a platform for the Chinese Lion Dance drummer above the roof of the truck.

In 1999, the magnificent construction from 1998 was reprised with a makeover to publicise the "Chinese Splendour" exhibition at the Otago Museum and to welcome the Year of the Rabbit. This entrant place 4th out of 120 entrants.

Road Trip to Lawrence 125th Anniversary Celebrations 1986
As a consequence of winning the historic section in 1986, the association was invited to take part in the procession in Lawrence for it's 125th Anniversary (not far from Gabriel's Gully where gold was first discovered in Otago in 1861). This was the only procession (apart from 1988 when a truck was not required) in which McCormick Carrying Ltd didn't provide the truck, however they did provide the driver. The truck was provided by K Y Young (Sam Young Ltd), a market gardener in Outram. The truck had been driven to Lawrence, loaded with disassembled components of the float on the previous day by Gordon Wong. On the following morning the float was reassembled and the procession went without a hitch.

1994 - First Historic Section

1998 - 150th Anniversary of Otago

1999 - 4th Place out of 120 entrants
1985 - Beginnings

1986 - First Historic Section

1987 - The Emperor


1993 - First Historic Section and Champion of Champions
Float builders: Four Loos and a Wong - Karen, Ann, Micheal, Kevin, George
The kids that were the icing on the cake.

1986 - Float on a road trip to Lawrence (125th Anniversary)