Our Chinatown returns in a blaze of celebration
Colourful spectacle: A large crowd watching the dragon parade at Cairns' Chinese New Year party on Grafton St. Picture: Stewart McLean
A RECORD crowd of up to 15,000 people turned out to take part in the noisy and colourful Chinese New Year celebrations in Grafton St as Chinatown "returned to its roots" on Saturday.
"Attendance definitely exceeded my expectations," Cairns Chinese New Year co-ordinator, Nathan Lee Long said.
"It was definitely over 10,000 and probably in the order of 15,000."
"This year we have definitely seen an increase in interest as well as attendance."
While the crowds were enthralled by the colour and spectacle of the Chinese dragons and lions and wowed by the fireworks, the event also marked a return to a part of the city first inhabited by Chinese a century ago.
"The big highlight was taking the festival back to what was Cairns Chinatown," Mr Lee Long said.
A hundred years ago when Grafton St was known as Sachs St, it was the centre of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
"So it was very good to take them back to where they were held many years ago," Mr Lee Long said.
"It is Chinatown returning to its roots."
Mr Lee Long said that at one time Chinese people made up 30 per cent of the population of Cairns but the numbers had now dwindled to about 5000.
He said they came during the gold rush in the Palmer River area and when that ended they moved down the east coast to Cairns.
However, Mr Lee Long said that the White Australia policy which required them to speak English and convert to Christianity, as well as lack of employment opportunities saw many of them go back to China.
"They were made to return to China if they weren't following the guidelines that were set down," Mr Lee Long said.
Many of those who remained were merchants or businessmen.
But these days the city is welcoming the Chinese with open arms and the influx of tourists from China is renewing the old connections.
"I think it adds to the attraction of the area for the Chinese people knowing that there is such a rich Chinese history to Cairns," Mr Lee Long said.
The Chinese New Year marks the change from the Year of the Dragon to the Year of the Snake which will be characterised by building, forging and strengthening family and business relationships, friendships and bonds.
Check out photos of Cairns' Chinese New Year celebrations online here.