When the lion dances, Dr Lai Chu Chan of Pyramid Veterinary Centre in Gordonvale, QLD, is on hand to keep it looking fit and healthy.

“My husband is Irish and I’m Chinese. We have six children—two boys and four girls—and when we moved to Cairns in 1991, I joined the Cairns & District Chinese Association Inc (CADCAI) to get my kids interested in their culture.

“I am the current president of CADCAI and perform a variety of roles, including managing performances by both the CADCAI lion team and Chinese dancers. I spend a lot of time making costumes for the dancers and preparing the lions. I’m also in charge of cultural events and host many cultural exchanges with Chinese delegations visiting Cairns.

“The lion team comprises primary and high school children who train weekly. We regularly take the team to perform in other towns and participated in the Bendigo Easter Festival this year. Although we have a small Chinese community in Cairns, we are an active community group. Chinese New Year is a very busy time and requires a lot of preparation for the Cairns CNY Festival program. It’s one of the largest regional Chinese New Year celebrations in Queensland. The event is celebrated over two weeks with Chinese films, art exhibitions, cultural performances, heritage displays, and a street festival.

“Leading up to Chinese New Year, I spend a lot of time preparing the lions for their performances. The lions are made of papier mâché with bamboo frames and require frequent maintenance. My skills in healing live animals has extended to fixing the lions that get damaged during a performance. Many of them have broken jaws or ears that fall off so I repair and paint them.

“I have never performed the lion dance myself, but I grew up in Malaysia knowing a lot about the traditions associated with it. I believe in tradition and respect the lion—it’s not just a prop we move around. When you perform in the lion, you need to honour the fact that it’s a creature that we have imbued with life. We have a duty of care to look after it and I treat it with the same respect and care I use to treat my clients’ dogs and cats.

“I own and run Pyramid Veterinary Surgery in Cairns and integrate veterinary acupuncture and herbal medicine into the practice. I love what I do and it all works out very well, as I continue on my journey to rediscover my roots and Chinese heritage.”

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