Water Dragons of the Chinese Garden of Friendship – Sydney, Australia - Atlas Obscura

Water Dragons of the Chinese Garden of Friendship

Native Australian lizards inhabit this garden celebrating Sydney and its sister city in China. 


The eastern water dragon Physignathus lesueurii is a reptile species endemic to eastern Australia. These majestic lizards can be found in eastern Australia in areas with ample access to water. This large, majestic lizard can grow up to 80 centimeters (31 inches) long, and the males often have a striking red chest. Their diet includes fish, insects, small mammals, fruit and, where they share an environment with humans, whatever they scavenge from nearby people.

A number of water dragons can be found around the water at Sydney’s Chinese Garden of Friendship. You might see them begging for food from restaurant patrons, or posing around the pond in a beam of sunlight.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship was built to celebrate New South Wales sister state relationship with Guangdong, China. The three-acre park in the middle of downtown Sydney opened in 1988, and was designed by architects from Guangzhou. The layout of the gardens are meant to reflect Taoist principles of balance and harmony. The location of the garden is important in the history of the Chinese community in Sydney dating back to the 1870s and sits adjacent to present day Chinatown.

Long before the Chinese Garden was built, before Australia was colonized, the site where they stand was open water adjacent to a low-lying swamp. As the number of settlers grew and Sydney turned into a city, the area was developed and the land filled in. Starting around the mid-19th century, the area was predominantly an industrial site.

Those buildings were demolished in the 1980s, and the area was redeveloped as Darling Harbour. With the addition of the garden’s lakes and streams, the water dragons settled into the area, where they may well have lived long before the area’s industrialization.

Know Before You Go

Remember to appreciate these creatures from a distance, they are wild animals and while they might be interested in your food, it’s better to let them eat their natural diet.

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