Sammy The Dragon
Shinju Matsuri’s Dragon Heart
Sammy the Dragon is the beloved mascot of Shinju Matsuri, who is awakened each year at the festival’s Opening Ceremony and after several appearances over nine days, is finally put back to sleep at the Festival Finale.
Dragons in ancient Chinese tradition symbolised luck, prosperity, abundance, success and high achievement and the dragon dance incorporated into large-scale celebrations and festivals is a tradition that dates back well over a thousand years.
They are also strongly associated with water and pearls in mythology, with dragons often depicted holding a pearl in their claws. Broome’s own Sammy the Dragon is no exception and follows a large ‘Pearl of Wisdom’ as he is lead through the crowds by a large team of dedicated volunteers. It takes over 15 people to manoeuvre the 30-metre icon as Sammy’s ‘legs’ and the skill with which they duck and weave to bring the creature to life is an amazing spectacle.
Sammy is often accompanied by a music cart of drums, cymbals, whistles and crackers plus an entourage of smaller Chinese lions, meaning up to 60 people can be involved in his outings. The very important role of coordinating Sammy the Dragon during Shinju Matsuri has been held for 12 years by Lisa Sweet, the ‘Dragon Lady’.
“I make sure he has enough legs to dance through Broome town and spread his good luck, I help the drum cart and music team to make as much noise as possible to scare away any bad spirits and make way for Sammy’s good fortune,” Lisa says. “I feel very privileged to be part of something so special to so many in our town.”
Sammy the Dragon has been an integral part of Shinju Matsuri since its inception almost 50 years ago. He has had a few iterations over the years, but the current Sammy was donated to the festival by the late owner of the Roebuck Bay Hotel, Brian Coppin.
In the past Sammy the Dragon’s legs were provided by the town’s winning football team for the season. To entice players to join the annual Float Parade, Sammy would stop at the Roebuck Bay Hotel to enjoy a few beers and this tradition of passing by the Roey continues to this day.
People of all ages love Sammy, with some locals starting as lions or drummers as young children, then progressing to be legs and eventually even aspiring to be Sammy’s head. Possibly the most important role in waking and putting Sammy back to sleep each year is played by the oldest living man of Chinese descent born in Chinatown, a title currently held by Doug Fong, who ceremoniously removes Sammy’s blindfold at the Opening Ceremony and puts it back on again at the Festival Finale.
According to Lisa, Sammy has a personality of his own and is curious, cheeky and quite spiritual, with many people feeling a sense of happiness and peace just be being around him.
“When we open the doors to his den to begin training each year it is like greeting an old friend, but he also commands respect, reverence and admiration,” she said.
In the months between festivals Sammy sleeps peacefully on display at the Broome Civic Centre. His skin is made of Chinese silk and his body is bamboo, so he gets some regular maintenance from Broome puppeteer Gwen Knox while he’s resting and has a major repair every four years or so.
Catch some of Sammy the Dragon’s good luck at the LiveLighter Opening Ceremony, LiveLighter Float Parade and Mardi Gras, Festival Finale and other events throughout the festival.
“I try to plan Sammy’s activities during Shinju but Sammy has a mind of his own and when he wakes up I never quite know what he will get up to – he is quite impulsive and if he wants to do something there is no stopping him,” says Lisa.
Get involved: If you would like to help Sammy the Dragon bring luck and good fortune to Broome during Shinju Matsuri get in touch via his Facebook page – Sammy the Dragon and Friends!
Sammy is an ancient but active dragon so strong teens and adults are required to be his legs, however there are roles for all ages, fitness levels and abilities.