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‘Around the globe,

dragons are known

as large, serpent-like

or other reptilian beasts,

mostly with four legs.

But their meaning varies

from time to time

and place to place.’


“Animals are good to think with’,

wrote the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss.

The associations they carry

give them profound meaning and

power in the belief

systems of people

around the world.’


‘Sightings or relics of unusual animals

can give rise to belief

in fantastic creatures.

With the world so full of wondrous


who can be sure that even

the most unlikely


does not exist somewhere?’


‘People have often imagined

weird and wonderful

creatures living beyond the borders

of the known world.

They are a sign

of our fascination

with the dangers that lurk

just over the horizon.

Even today,

with every corner of the globe

known and explored,

we continue to speculate


the aliens of outer space.’


‘Fantastic beings are often a source

of fear. But people can harness

this fear

for their own protection.

To ward off evil,

scary creatures are placed on roofs,

at entrances or crossroads,

or suspended above cradles

and placed into tombs,

or are worn as jewelry

or as a pattern on clothing.’


‘People have often explained

and tried to influence

the dangerous and unpredictable


by linking it with the supernatural beings.

Mermaids, the kraken and other mythical marine creatures

dramatically express the power

of water

and the dangers

of sea travel.’

In Hong Kong they were everywhere: in doorways, in foyers, in shopfronts, in courtyards, they were even on the smallest of balconies; they were used by the wealthy and the not-wealthy-in-the-slightest. And the first thing I did upon returning home – well, not the first thing: I showered, I emptied the backpack, we slept for twelve hours – was go around to the local garden-nursery.  I didn’t expect to find one; I thought I’d have to drive up to the Southern Highlands where the prevalence of rich people might mean these things would be more readily available.  Luckily I didn’t have to go up to the Southern Highlands.  There they were, tucked away in the citrus section: kumquat trees.  I bought one, one with a good shape, and I also bought a suitably deep red pot, and took the lot home, where, happy as a pig in shit, I got it all together at the backdoor.

In Hong Kong, in China, in much of Asia, kumquat trees are a wish for good fortune.  They’re gifted during the various Lunar New Year festivities.  More often than not they’re kept as a very small tree, a couple of feet high at the most; sometimes they’re almost as small as a bonsai.  So, while the fruit is edible (it can be turned into marmalade and chutney), the tree is seen as decorative more than anything else.  Kumquats have been around for centuries: the earliest historical record of the things is in twelfth-century China.  The rather appropriately – and deliciously – named Robert Fortune, a collector for the London Historical Society, introduced them to Europe in 1846.  And I’ve introduced a kumquat tree to my little old house in Goulburn on Tuesday 14 February 2012.

Do I need good fortune?  In the greater scheme of things I’ve been fortunate in my life: I’ve had – I’m having – an excellent education; I’m healthy (no doubt there’s some dodgy wiring in the old brain-box, but that’s de rigueur these days, isn’t it), and I have family and friends, and I have something that I enjoy doing, writing, which brings in next to no money, but that’s hardly the point.  The point is I don’t really need little trees and the associated superstitions to bring in good fortune.  But I did want a kumquat tree at the backdoor; in fact, I’d made the decision even before leaving Hong Kong.

Really it’s just a souvenir, and certainly it’s better than the tacky crap you can buy in the markets or in the tourist shops or at the airport in the moments before departing.  But perhaps there’s more.  Maybe I do want my good fortune to continue.  Maybe I know how lucky I am to be able to jump on a plane and spend a week experiencing another country.  Maybe I don’t ever want to be in a position where opportunities such as these aren’t possible.  What if my good fortune is about to run out?  Not with my kumquat tree at the back door, it’s not.  So I’m off to water it.  I’ll water it every week.  I’ll give it fertiliser.  I’ll look after it during our severe winters; I might even cover it with a blanket to protect it from frosts.

Fine little kumquat tree: I’ll be good to you; please be good to me.

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