‘Hallmarks of hate crime’: Great Stupa and museum chiefs shocked at damage

UPDATE, 3.55pm: Premier and Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan said it was a “senseless” act of vandalism.

“Our Golden Dragon Museum is a wonderful place to celebrate Chinese culture and heritage and how Bendigo and the broader goldfields was built off the back of so many Chinese migrants … and that rich heritage lives on today.”

She described Sun Loong as an “icon of our city” and to do this sort of damage was just “disgraceful”

Ms Allan said she had spoken with Doug Lougoon, the chairman of the Golden Dragon Museum, and that he would “come back to me in terms of the costs that they will incur”.

She said she could hear how devastated Mr Lougoon was about the attack.

“It’s done a fair bit of damage to both the wonderful historic artefacts that are housed in the museum and also damage to some of the statues around the forecourt,” she said.

“It is outrageous behaviour.

“It’s hard to fathom a motive.”

UPDATE, 3.20pm: Mr Leschen said Loong was listed with Heritage Victoria, which had been advised of the vandalism.

“Fortunately, the damage to him is minor, and limited to a tiny drop of fluid behind the lip and mouth, and some residue on a glossy surface that we hope can be removed with the appropriate treatment,” Mr Leschen said.

“However, within the mouth of Sun Loong, the oily liquid has been absorbed and seeped across the open mouth of the dragon, damaging the silk and paper that he is made of.

“It is hoped no permanent damage has been caused but the liquid is both clear and does not smell, so it is difficult to know at this stage what it is.”

Mr Leschen said the incident was “extremely serious and hugely upsetting and disappointing for our staff” and “the local Chinese community”.

Mr Green said the Great Stupa suffered similar damage to numerous sites in the peace park including Christian, Buddhist and Sikh iconography.

“The objects at the Stupa are considered sacred and many have been entrusted to the Great Stupa by various faith-based communities to help preserve and celebrate their traditions, providing a space for worship and fellowship,” Mr Green said.

“We expect at least a dozen statues have been targeted, both inside and outside the Great Stupa, including sculptures that we had just finished painting.

“Due to the nature of the liquid, we are seeing paint lifting on our Saint Francis of Assisi statue and the liquid has also permanently stained a granite wall.

“We estimate the repair bill will run into the tens of thousands of dollars and we will work to repair what we can.”

UPDATE, 11:00am: The leaders of both the Golden Dragon Museum and the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion have been left dismayed at an alleged act of “mindless” vandalism against both iconic cultural sites.

Golden Dragon Museum CEO Hugo Leschen and Great Stupa chairman Ian Green said there had been extensive damage to multiple statues and relics at both locations.

Police allege a man, a woman and two children visited the museum on May 5. The woman allegedly flicked an oily substance from a water bottle on to statues and at least two processional dragons.

Mr Leschen said the vandalism had caused around $100,000 worth of damage.

“The difficulty in this situation is how we can treat the objects to remove the damage,” he said.

“Because it is an oily liquid it has seeped in particularly to the statues and it may in fact be impossible to remove.

“The figure mentioned of $100,000 is our estimate really at this quite early stage given the number of statues and paintings and objects that are being impacted by this attack … it may be more, it may be less.”

Mr Green said the Great Stupa suffered similar damage to numerous sites in the peace park including Christian, Buddhist and Sikh iconography.

He said the Great Stupa was a place that aimed to “uplift” and “inspire” people.

Mr Green said the Great Stupa would redouble its effort to spread joy and compassion in light of the alleged act which he labelled “a hate crime”.

“The whole point of the Great Stupa and why it is built here in Australia and Bendigo is to actually inspire people to live a more peaceful, more harmonious life,” he said.

“I’ll be honest with you, this act has all the hallmarks of a hate crime.

“Targeting a cultural centre (like the GDM) and another centre like the Great Stupa which is a spiritual type place, it is very deliberate. It is not, I don’t believe, just a casual act of vandalism at all.”

Both men said given the age and cultural significance of the affected statues and relics, there would be consultation with conservators about the cleaning process.

UPDATE, 10.15am: An oily liquid has been used to damage the mouth of Sun Loong and stain statues at the Golden Dragon Museum and the Great Stupa.

CCTV footage shows a man, woman and two female children visiting both sites on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Between 1.30pm and 2pm, the group was at the Dai Gum San precinct and walked through the Yi Yuan Gardens, Guan Yin Temple and Golden Dragon Museum.

The woman allegedly appears to discreetly flick a light oily substance from a water bottle.

Statues, stonework, temple artefacts, artwork, and parading dragons Sun Loong and Loong were allegedly targeted.

About 3pm the same group visited the Great Stupa, where the woman allegedly again flicked contents from a water bottle onto religious objects.

About a dozen statues, both inside and outside the Stupa, have been damaged.