Telum Talks To: Helen Chen from SBS Mandarin

Telum Talks To: Helen Chen from SBS Mandarin

To celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year and Year of the Dragon, Telum Media spoke with Helen Chen, the Digital Lead at SBS Mandarin, about its new podcast, "Bendigo Golden Dragon." She shared what inspired the project and its significance, both personally and for the broader Chinese community.

What is the podcast series about, and what message do you aim to deliver?
This three-part series explores a 150-year-old tradition in Bendigo, where the Chinese community hosts dragon street parades during the Easter Festival to raise funds for charities. The podcast shows how this annual practice has integrated Chinese culture into the local community and made the dragon a shared cultural symbol for everyone. It also presents the stories and perspectives of Bendigo's diverse Chinese community from different countries and generations.  

SBS loves sharing the stories of contemporary, multicultural Australia and one of the podcast's key messages is powerfully captured by Bendigo's Jess Hu, a recent immigrant from Beijing: "When we promote Chinese culture, it's not to highlight our differences with others. What we are promoting is the integration and harmony of everyone." 
  
Tell us more about the editorial team.
Developed as part of SBS's Lunar New Year content slate, the podcast received widespread support despite being made by a relatively small editorial team, given the large scale of the project. As the Digital Lead of SBS Mandarin, I played a central role in conceiving, planning, and executing the series. SBS Audio Program Manager, Rajish Aryal, provided crucial editorial guidance and facilitated cross-platform collaboration. SBS Audio Lead Podcast Producer Joel Supple lent technical and distribution expertise. Additional support from the SBS Mandarin team, including EP Lili Zhou - with feedback and voiceovers even further enriched the project. 
 
How did the idea for this series come about, and what was the production process like?
The idea for this series originated during the 2023 Lunar New Year when the oldest imperial processional dragon in Bendigo's Golden Dragon Museum, Loong, was restored to his full glory over 120 years ago. At that time, my interest in Bendigo and its unique dragon dance culture began to blossom. In December, I travelled to Bendigo and conducted interviews with over ten talents, including Doug Lougoon, President of the Bendigo Chinese Association; Hugo Leschen, CEO of the Golden Dragon Museum; researcher Leigh McKinnon; Chinese immigrants Tan See Tuang and Jess Hu; and others. Doug also introduced Russell Goldfield Jack AM, a well-known figure in Bendigo. His significance extends beyond serving as President of the Bendigo Chinese Association for 32 years to founding the Golden Dragon Museum and being called "Golden Dragon Warrior." This process of research and interviews aimed to capture the essence of Bendigo's dragon dance culture, emphasising its unique value and the diverse perspectives of individuals involved. 
  
Do you have any anecdotes or interesting behind-the-scenes stories that unfolded during the production? 
Virtually everyone I encountered in Bendigo - no matter their cultural background or age - shared personal or childhood memories of their "own favourite dragon" from the Easter Festival parades over the years. This phenomenon highlights the deep-rooted affection for their community, where Chinese culture is both integral and well-established. The way that Chinese culture has woven itself into the everyday fabric of this regional Victorian city is truly unique. 
  
As a member of the Asian community yourself, in what ways did your cultural connection influence your approach to producing this series? 
As a Chinese Australian who settled in this country in 2016, surprisingly, the concept of dragon dance was quite unfamiliar to me, given that this cultural practice was primarily brought to Australia by early immigrants from Guangdong, China, thousands of kilometres away from where I was born and raised.  

However, the cultural significance of this tradition resonates with me and aligns with aspects of my cultural identity. Many Chinese people, myself included, regard themselves as "descendants of the dragon," and the dragon dance represents strength, health, and good wishes. Yet, growing up I had never experienced the sight of a dragon dance in my daily life, much like some other new Chinese immigrants I encountered in Bendigo.  

Therefore, producing this podcast series was a fascinating experience for me to explore and gain insights into a cultural totem that is inherently part of my heritage, but that was previously less understood by me. 
  
What distinguishes the process of producing programs for and about the Asian community? 
SBS plays a vital role in providing multilingual services to meet the diverse needs of Australia's multicultural communities, helping to inform, educate, and entertain. A primary focus is to support new migrants in navigating key aspects of life in Australia and developing a genuine sense of connection and belonging to broader society. Producing programs for and about the Asian community - or any community for that matter - requires taking a broad perspective. It's important to showcase diversity within that community and to foster mutual understanding, connection, and inclusion. 
 
Where can listeners find the podcast? 
SBS's 2024 Lunar New Year cross-platform content slate features podcasts, articles, movies, recipes, and more in English and other languages here. The Bendigo Golden Dragon podcast in Mandarin can be accessed on the SBS Audio app on iOS and Google Play Store, LiSTNR, SpotifyApple Podcasts, and other streaming platforms.  

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