Standing on a nondescript bend in the Maribyrnong River, between Footscray and Flemington Racecourse, is a most unexpected sight. Rising above a former industrial block, towers the Heavenly Queen of the Maribyrnong.
|The Heavenly Queen of the Yarra, Footscray.|
Under construction for more than a decade, her arrival at this location is a tale that actually stretches back several thousand years.
|Lin Niang; traditional representation.|
Pious, and highly intelligent, Niang began to study Buddhist teachings when she was 10, and was accepted as an apprentice to the village priest shortly afterwards. From her early teens, people from the surrounding area would come to pray with Niang and she developed a reputation as a healer.
|Niang seen by sailors, travelling atop a cloud.|
She also had a profound connection with the sea; Niang's father and brothers were fisherman, and village life revolved around the ocean.
When Niang was 15, her father and eldest brother were out at sea when a fierce storm blew up and overturned their boat. Working on a tapestry at home, Niang was overcome by a powerful vision and fell into a trance. She was able to project her consciousness out to sea (some versions say she was actually transported, via cloud, as depicted above), and was able to drag her brother back to safety. When she returned to rescue her father, however, her startled mother woke her from her trance and her father was drowned.
And there are many more stories of Niang patrolling the ocean, or answering calls of distress, and rescuing sailors at sea.
When she was 27, answering the call of another powerful vision, Niang said goodbye to her family and climbed a mountain that overlooked her village. Clouds covered the peak and, when they cleared, Niang had vanished. It was said that she had ascended to heaven.
Such is the legend of Lin Niang, later known as Mazu, Goddess of the Sea.
|Mazu Temple, Kinmen Matsu Park, China.|
So, it is no surprise to find that multicultural Melbourne, with its high population of Chinese residents, has erected a statue to the Goddess as well.
|The Mazu temple site in Melbourne.|
The project has been a long time in development.
Starting in the 1990s, a fundraising committee was organised to gather money to purchase both a site, and commission a statue. The location on the riverbank was settled on early, as the poor state of the land (it had been the long standing home to a factory) meant it was available at a reasonable price.
The committee, headed by local businessman William Tsang, had ambitious goals; a 16 metre statue, flanked by two temples (modeled after buildings in the Forbidden City, in Beijing), then surrounded by gardens. The statue alone would cost $450 000 and would be imported from Nanjing, in China.
|Mazu: overlooking the Maribyrnong.|
|The elaborate temple site entrance.|
Progress has been slow but steady. At time of writing, the statue and the first of the temples are complete, while the remainder of the site is still under construction (final completion is expected in 2019).
But the statue of Mazu already has a commanding presence. Clearly visible from the main road, and especially from the nearby train line, her calm, inscrutable countenance overlooks the waters of the Maribyrnong, much as it is said she did the waters of the China Sea, a thousand years ago.