Animals, Australia, Gardening, Urban Walking
Comments 13

Here Be Water Dragons

I think it was Bill Mollison, or maybe it was Masanobu Fukuoka — anyway, one of the great permaculture sages — who advised caution, patience and observation as the first priorities when undertaking the conversion of a property to a permaculture system.

The words I recall are:

First, do nothing.

(That’s so zen, it just has to have been Fukuoka-sensei).

This is such a useful approach to anything, and so suited to my innately indolent ways, that I decided to apply it to the state of unemployment I achieved a few weeks back. Instead of frantically scanning job ads and worrying about What To Do Next, I elected, once the shock and anger had worn off, to do nothing.

I did it very, very well — with a practised hand — but for me, Nothing has a strong perambulatory flavour. With all that extra time to do it, I began exploring some fresh terrain.

I hadn’t had a close look at the Roma Street Parkland, not far from the Brisbane CBD…

..since some student barbecues years back.

They’ve really grown into their new clothes over that time; the gardeners have done a superb job, and the whole place was at its seasonal apogee. I walked there from the Valley, and descended the hills above Albert Park towards Roma Street…

..and across a treetop walkway…

..down a sweeping curve past some native grass trees…

..and into the rainforest area, which features subtropical vegetation, running water, and cool, soothing shade:

But wait — what’s that scuttling through the undergrowth…

..and out onto the path?

Oh, just one of the locals — one of the many hundreds of locals:

I’ve always enjoyed the company of lizards…

..and before long I was scuttling about like my lacertilian brothers and sisters beneath the lushly layered fronds and creepers…

..creeping as close as these human-hardened beauties would allow, while other humans were forced to step over or around my often prostrate form, its arm extended, camera aimed at one of those all-seeing, all-knowing eyeballs:

They got to know me pretty well in ensuing days, as I embraced Nothingness over three or four visits, descending through the Arid Zone…

..and down into the rainforest realm of my new friends.

They go by the name Australian Water Dragons, and consist of but a single species, with two subspecies, the Gippsland and Eastern. The scaly denizens of Roma Street Parklands are of the latter group, characterised by the dark band behind the aforementioned all-seeing, all-knowing eye:

They are superb runners and swimmers, able to evade pursuers by submerging for over an hour, and males may reach just over a metre in length. They’re always found close to waterways and are quite a common sight in suburban — or even inner-city, as here — South-East Queensland.

There’s a plant nursery with a cafe on my side of town where numerous dragons strut and swagger beneath the tables and chairs; more than once I’ve seen a non-local visitor recoil with a shriek as one approached their table. That sort of thing always makes for a worthwhile visit.

The Roma Street branch of the family is used to tourist traffic, and most of them were remarkably tolerant of my intrusions with my compact camera. Sometimes they’d let me get oh, so close, and then in a flash they’d make a dash for the water. If you’ve seen Creature from the Black Lagoon, you have a pretty good idea.

I’ve since gained a temporary stay of execution at my old workplace, with a few more weeks of work that have meant a curtailment of my urban-rainforest explorations. But in celebration of the rapport I developed with these charismatic beasts, here are a few portraits, interspersed with some colour from the Parklands:

And here is a lizard lunch. No, it wasn’t me who left the orange peel:

Two consecutive wet summers have apparently made for a bumper crop of slithery things, including some more lethal varieties. A woman was recently killed in her front yard by a brown snake in rural S.E. Queensland. I’ve certainly been a bit more cautious recently while tramping through the undergrowth.

Leaving the parkland, it seemed that a new Age of Reptiles was upon us:

But I was more worried about the wild dogs:

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Barbara says

    Hi Ian
    I am glad you enjoy my stomping ground.. since I have been working there as a volunteer tour guide and latterly trackless train conductor about once a week for over three years now, I have quite a proprietal interest in the place… it is a very cheerful and rewarding volunteer job…Scarlett really considers it is Grandma’s parkland..

    • That’s cool, Barbara, you and the dragons have a pretty cool stomping ground. It’s really a (relatively) undiscovered/unspoilt asset of the city, perhaps safely distant from the action downtown to preserve its treasures.

  2. Love dragons. Being a from-around-Adelaide boy, we had bearded dragons (“mother-in-law lizzards”) as our sole dragon species.
    I remember seeing water dragons during my trips to Brisbane and Cairns. I envy you.

    And it must be worth a million dollars to see some urbanite chick scream as a dragon props up beside her.

    • Mothers-in-law lurking around — bearded ones at that — terrifying!

      Yeah, I can’t for the life of me understand how people can find lizards less than beautiful. Then again, I recently saw a mother with a child (and hence a person who should know better) exclaim, when said offspring pointed out a beautiful, blue jellyfish in the water below, “YUCK!”

      I suspect the jellyfish was thinking the same thing…

  3. I love the part of the whole park!
    I think the newspaper got that backwards…the suburbs invaded the snakes.

  4. About the snakes… I believe that no-one had died from a brown snake bite since the development of an anti-venom in the 1950s… another first for Queensland?

    • Apparently the snake landed a lucky bite on a blood vessel and when the venom goes straight into your bloodstream, you have to be close to medical assistance or your chances are not good…

  5. My God, those Water Dragons are BIG! (the longest lizards here in the Uk are but a few inches). “Doing Nothing With Lizards”. Hmm … with a bit of tweaking surely a possible title for a future autobiography?

    • Nice idea, though I was thinking ‘The Lizard Prince’ 😉 Yes, they’re big alright, though of course they’re mere infants compared to our mighty goanna (also widespread though not quite as commonly seen). So big the indigenous Australians would feast on them.

  6. This is an entertaining post too! I can understand the fascination with reptiles. It wasn’t the done thing for girls to like creatures like that when I was a kid. We were supposed to squeal and run away but I thought they were so cool! I’ve never seen them eat peel before. 🙂

    • If I had my time over I might try a little harder in high school science and try to get myself a career as an animal scientist. But I think looking at them artistically is just as rewarding.

      • My original plan was to be a zoologist/biologist or vet. “Life” happened though, as it does for many of us. I did marry an Entomologist while at uni though and helped him with his research and having three kids in the outback was a bit like being an animal scientist on some occasions! I agree, looking at them artistically is very rewarding. There is so much out there to capture on camera but it often feels like there is just not enough time. I always feel art and science overlap anyway. In the past people like Da Vinci were keen scientists, inventors and artists! Now we seem to make kids decide on a particular stream early when the fields benefit from each other. Artists are often great at observation, looking at life from a different angle and curious about the world in general – qualities that are needed in science research! 🙂

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