City Hub

Can you help solve a Sydney dragon boat mystery?

The Sydney University Dragon boat team that Patrick Dang travelled to China with. Photo: Provided

Opinion by PATRICK DANG 

Dentist Patrick Dang has been a resident and business owner in Pyrmont since 2007. When he was a student at the University of Sydney in the early 2000s he got into the sport of Dragon Boating. 

Little did he know, his hobby would lead him to where he is today- collecting evidence for a case before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. Now he’s turning to the local community for help collecting evidence before an official investigation can commence.

Can you help Dr. Dang solve his dragon boat mystery?


In 2003, I was a student studying dentistry at the University of Sydney and was also a part of the dragon boat organisation called Dragon Boats NSW.

 In August that year, then Prime Minister John Howard visited China. Upon his return, it is believed that an invitation was sent to the University of Sydney (via the federal government) to attend a Chinese Communist party organised event in the city of Tianjin. 

The event was hosted by the Chinese government as part of their October 1st National Day celebrations and included an international university dragon boat tournament, the Tanggu Cup. 

A dragon boat team representing the University of Sydney was put together and flown over to compete in the cup. Harvard and Princeton universities from the United States were also invited.

The only two western countries invited to the event were the USA and Australia. The event would provide a positive talking point during the historic joint visits of Presidents George W Bush and President Hu Jintao into Canberra on the 23 and 24th of October in 2003. 

International trade talks with the Chinese (the Chinese Australia Free Trade Agreement) commenced not long after this event.

As the event was hosted by the Chinese Communist party and televised live to 1.3 Billion Chinese people, the invitation would have required the appropriate diplomatic approvals from the federal governments on both sides.

 However, not all was as it seemed.

The University of Sydney did not, in fact, have an official dragon boat team nor did it participate in the sport of dragon boating. I believe the appropriate course of action for the University of Sydney, federal government and dragon boating organisers would have been to decline the invitation.

Instead, however, a fake team consisting of 22 students was created. I was one of the students on this team. Approximately half of the team never even attended the University of Sydney. 

The two main organisers from the dragon boating side were Carlos Ung from the Chinese Youth League dragon boat team and his Dragon Boats NSW counterpart president Melanie Cantwell.

Their counterparts in the University of Sydney and who approved the invitation from the federal government remain a mystery.

In 2016 when I approached the University for more information about the event in order to make a documentary story, the University of Sydney advised me they had no knowledge of the event and were never involved. This contradicts the fact our custom made uniforms were picked up from an office in the University of Sydney’s main quadrangle and the university provided a $1000 sponsorship.

In addition, Dragon Boating NSW and Carlos Ung have gone silent on the matter. They have not responded to fair questions in relation to the event.

I wrote to our Federal Minister Tanya Plibersek in March this year who also contacted the University of Sydney for a response. The University of Sydney have decided to action a complaint that I have since written.

I am calling on the community to contact the NSW ICAC (NSW ICAC case no. E19/0691) or the University of Sydney if you have any information which might help solve the mystery of how the team was formed and who was involved.

Video footage from the event in China can be seen here

Related Posts