11 January 2022

Charles Massy's dragons tale spreads the word about conservation

| James Coleman
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Charles Massy

Charles Massy and his farm about half an hour south of Cooma. Photo: Charles Massy.

“Beneath the western mountains, on the open plains of the high Monaro where the skies are blue and big, there lived a little dragon lizard.”

The Last Dragon covers the adventures of Timpo, a Grassland Earless Dragon lizard who embarks on a journey to discover if he is the last of his kind in the valley.

Written by a prominent agricultural and conservation figure, Charles Massy, the story is designed to highlight the plight of one of Australia’s most endangered species to the next generation.

Charles drew inspiration for the story from his own backyard near Cooma – it turns out Severn Park is home to a population of the tiny dragon lizards.

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He says that a few years ago, several federal environmental biologists were searching all over Australia for the endangered species, thought to be on the edge of extinction at the time.

“Lo and behold, we found them at home on this grassland.”

The University of Canberra secured a critical population for breeding purposes, and Charles turned to how he might be able to convey the importance of conservation to the next generation.

“The dragons are beautiful little things, smaller than your little finger, and this story came to be a bigger story about extinction,” he says.

Timpo, the last dragon

Timpo, the last dragon. Illustration by Mandy Foot. Image: National Library of Australia.

Charles undertook a Bachelor of Science (Zoology, Human Ecology) degree at the Australian National University (ANU) back in the 1970s, which he describes as a really significant time when endangered species were being exposed all over the world.

His time in Canberra was cut short when he was forced to return to the farm when his father fell ill.

He managed sheep and cattle on the property for 40 years, while continuing to research, lecture, and write books as he could. Charles returned to the ANU in his late 50s to complete a PhD in Human Ecology.

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His expertise lies in regenerative landscape management, or how various farming methods can combat the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ensure our food plains don’t become sapped of future growing potential.

“It’s an area that is gaining huge momentum across the world and not really something we hear a lot about when we’re talking about climate change,” Charles says.

Charles has authored several books and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2011 for his work. The Last Dragon is his first children’s book.

“The story unfolded in a couple of days. It was already deep in my heart anyway.”

The front cover

The front cover. Image: National Library of Australia.

In the story, Timpo stars as the smartest, best-disguised lizard in Narrawallee, the Big Grass Country. Wolfie the spider is his good friend, but there are no other dragon lizards and he is lonely for his own kind.

Through a landscape of grassland, granite boulders, shiny snow gums, and shady creeks the pair search, encountering new friends but also facing grave danger. Wolfie must return home with her young while Timpo trudges on in the hope of one day, finding another of his kind.

“Despite the odds, the existence of these highly endangered, yet cheeky little creatures, is a poignant reminder of the important role we landscape managers and others can play in preserving threatened species through better farming and conservation practices,” Charles says.

Woven into the story are facts of how these little-known reptiles live, with an author’s essay on the dragon and its grassland habitat included at the end. The stunning artwork in ink and graphite was supplied by artist Mandy Foot, who travelled more than 1000 km to observe the dragon in captivity and the grasslands it calls home.

Visit the National Library of Australia for more information on The Last Dragon.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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