Here Be Dragons

Imagine living in a garden full of dragons. Imagine have breakfast while chatting to one, or walking down the main street and seeing one casually draping itself over a sign in front of the police station.

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This little one was draped over a sign outside the police station in the main street.

I’m speaking of course of the Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

Growing up to a metre in length they are the largest dragons in Australia but are sometimes mixed up with their cousins, the Gippsland Water Dragon. You can tell them apart if you look at their faces: the Gippsland ones don’t have a black stripe going from their nose to their ear.

Water dragons are, as their name suggests, very well adapted to water. Their tails constitute 2/3 of their body length and are used for swimming while their nostrils are on the top of their heads making it possible to breathe while their heads are submerged, a trait they share with crocodiles. Like other lizards such as lace monitors and goannas they can use their strong claws to climb quickly and easily.

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This little girl is taking a dip in one of the ponds out front.

They are good indicators of biodiversity as they mainly prey on insects and frogs as juveniles, meaning that if there is a healthy population of dragons there is also a healthy population of insects and frogs. When they’re older they become omnivores. It’s always nice to see predators like dragons and kookaburras in the garden as it means that the garden ecosystem is diverse and healthy enough to support them.

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Aw, yiss.

It is possible to identify males and females as males have crimson, vermilion or orange chests to attract mates. After mating a female will lay a clutch of eggs in soft soil or sand by the water and when the baby dragons hatch they are completely self sufficient. However, studies have shown that the temperature of the eggs during incubation can determine the sex of the dragons. This is worrying as males are only produced in middling temperatures, with females produced in cooler and warmer temperatures, so over time the species may becomes less viable as there are fewer males produced due to the temperature of the ground being affected by increasing temperatures.

Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
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The red on the chest identifies this one as male. He’s just chilling on the front deck.

Although it’s legal to keep water dragons as pets in NSW you need a license for it and it is ideal that you only purchase reptiles from other license holders to try and source reptiles that are healthy and well looked after. It is illegal in Australia to keep animals that have been collected from the wild. Keeping these beautiful lizards as pets seems strange to me, why not just make your garden suitable for them?

Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They're not like dogs; they don't like you, you don't have a relationship with them. You just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.
Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They’re not like dogs; they don’t like you, you don’t have a relationship with them. You’re just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.

Do that and they’ll come of their own accord. Build a pond or a small waterway, have lots of native shrubs to hid in. Make sure that your garden has plenty of flowers to attract insects and have a pile of old logs and tiles for reptiles to hide in and sunbake on. Also, keep your cat indoors. Or just don’t have a cat. (We were talking about this last night at dinner and I said “At least with dogs you can fence them in; there isn’t much you can do with cats.” Without missing a beat Dad said “You can do two things with cats: drown them or shoot them.”) Dragons aren’t meant to be kept in small glass boxes; they’re wild animals, not puppies to be played with.

Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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These tiles are onduline, a cladding and roofing material that is soaked in bitumen. Stack them with rocks between them and reptiles will love the heat and safety. Photo: NZ Department of Conservation.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is the perfect hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is a good hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.

If you have lizards in your yard resist the urge to feed them – it’s not healthy for them and teaches them to rely on you. Instead, just sit quietly and watch them. We should encourage and appreciate urban biodiversity, not seek to control it or interfere with it.

If you're going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This raptor is a cheap as chips $2500 from some silly homewares place.
If you’re going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This fibreglass raptor is a cheap as chips at $2500 from some silly homewares place.

Here are some links for those interested in all things dragon:

A fact sheet from the Australian Museum on Water Dragons

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-Dragon

A guide to creating a reptile friendy backyard:

Lizards

Making your backyard wildlife friendly:

Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard

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Hello! I’m a dragon!

 

Sacred Places

sacred adjective 5. regarded with reverence.*

What is a sacred place? How do they relate to geography?

If we go with the above definition, a scared place is a place regarded with reverence. As we’re talking geography, let’s make it a natural or natural/human interface where people feel reverence.

It is important to have such places, and to hold them dear and protect them, otherwise geography sort of falls on it’s sword. What’s the point in sustainable agriculture if we don’t care about rivers and soil health? What’s the point of National Parks if we don’t respect and interact with biodiversity and wild places? What’s the point of stopping logging if rainforests are meaningless for us?

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Logging in the Amazon: it’s probably not a great idea. PHOTO: Stephen Ferry/Getty

In short, why interact meaningfully with the Earth’s natural systems if we have no reverence for them?

It may be a big ask for every part of the natural system to be a sacred space, but everyone should have one. A place to connect to and recharge in. Where you feel the wind in your hair and the water on your skin, where you squint in the sun, and hear leaves rustling and watch birds and sunsets and small kids playing with dogs.

Though I haven’t seen much of it, I love Australia’s environment. Salt bush plains, Tasmania’s alpine areas, rainforests, open woodlands, agricultural areas, the aridity of the Flinders, marshes replete with water-birds, the wilderness of the NSW South Coast, it’s all amazing and you should see it. I love it all, but my sacred place is a few beaches along the NSW Mid-North Coast where I grew up. It’s the border of land and sea and sky, where Norfolk pines and beech trees and rainforests and banksias all rub shoulders. It’s where I learnt about the threat of climate change to the ocean, to agriculture, to human health.

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North Sapphire Beach, near where I grew up. The Island is Split Solitary and is in the Solitary Islands Marina Park, where warm tropical and cold Southern Ocean currents mix, creating unique and intense biodiversity.
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Underwater in the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
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Grey Nurse Sharks hanging out in the Solitary Islands Marine Park. They are gentle, beautiful creatures but sadly are critically endangered.

I study ecological decline for (theoretically) about 60 hours a week.

It’s highly stressful, learning about it all the time, hearing about boundaries and tipping points and dead canaries  that have all been ignored, so when I go to that part of the world it’s like a tonic, and I remember why it’s so important for us to study geography. I go back to study refreshed and ready to solve some wicked problems.

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Storms at Jetty Beach.
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Sunset at Secret Beach.
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Sunset at Secret Beach.
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Evenfall, Hills Beach.

Up until about 1908 no-one really admitted to seeing beauty in the Australian landscape, and then Dorothea Mackellar penned My Country.

Now we’re allowed to love it and be reverent, and it is because I share those feelings that I study geography.

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A clear day at Sawtell Beach.
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Sunset at Jetty Beach.
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A shack and friend and I built one summer.
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Me at Hills Beach.
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Banksia silhouettes, Hills Beach.
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Spilt Solitary (the further island) and South Solitary. Growing up my sister and I just called them Lighthouse and First Island respectively. This is the view from the verandah of the house I lived in in high school.
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Sunset at Hills Beach.

*Definition from the Macquarie Dictionary, Federation Edition. 

All of the photos in this post are my own.