Dragons are, by and large, shy, reclusive creatures.
They prefer staying in their caverns, lying on their hoards, dreaming of gold and magic rings, to parties – particularly adventuring parties. The only time you’ll see a dragon near a barbecue is when they’ve char-grilled a treasure hunter.
Sue Law – also known as Suzii Qu – has a dragon in her Armidale house.
At slightly taller than a human, and only 10 years old, Djang-O hasn’t the stature or age of, say, Smaug the Chief-est and Greatest of Calamities. Nor does he breathe fire, nor eat princesses for breakfast.
“He’s like the pet in the house!” Sue said. “The grand-kids play with him. My close friends that come here always give him a pat.”
And he has different moods.
“His eyes change colour,” Sue said. “Sometimes in the morning, you come out, the sun's shining on him, and he’s just glowing. He sometimes looks to me like he’s going to just about jump. Then other times, he looks quite sleepy. Some aspects, he looks quite ferocious, and others he’s quite cuddly.”
Plenty of personality for a sculpture!
While most dragons are hatched from eggs, Djang-O, you see, started life as rolls of wire and metal rods.
“I was going to make a dragon that flew on the roof – a little light one,” Sue said. “As I made it, it stood up, so then I had to reinforce the frame, and work out what I was going to do for skin.
“I taught myself how to make chain-mail, and spent probably 18 months making chain-mail to cover the skin.”
There are 5000 rings in his nose, and 25,000 big rings in each wing.
“I’ve wrapped up kilometres and kilometres of wire!” Sue said. “Everything I do is hand-made; I don't buy rings, I make them all.”
You might, in fact, call Sue the lady of the rings (or Law of the rings).
Rather than forging her rings in the fiery caverns of Mount Doom, her workshop was her lounge room.
Djang-O’s worn five pairs of wings, and had his legs on and off four or five times. His teeth and claws are made with solder and wire melted into moulds Sue made from clay, and Sue’s friend Donna Santilli made his beautiful glass eyes.
You have to be pretty muscular to grapple with a dragon, as St George could attest.
“There was a time that I could have gone to the pub and had arm-wrestling competitions, and nobody would have seen me coming, I was so strong!” Sue said.
“You're using both arms all the time, and you end up quite fit with it.
“A friend at work had a Bengal cat that used to scratch her all the time. I was coming to work with scratches all over my face. People would joke: 'Gosh, your cat must be wild!' 'No,’ I’d say, ‘my cat doesn't scratch; it's my pet dragon.'”
Sue wants to show Djang-O, either at Bondi’s Sculpture by the Sea, the world’s largest annual outdoor sculpture exhibition, or at Queensland’s Swell Sculpture Festival.
“I'd like to exhibit now,” Sue said. “He's unique, and I love him to bits!”
It’s been a decade-long quest to complete Djang-O – but, having gone there and back again, like Bilbo Baggins, Sue has an even bigger sequel in mind: a scale-mail-coated mother dragon that will wrap around the dragonling.
“If you'd told me when I started it was going to be ten years down the track before I'd have a dragon, I'd have laughed and said, ‘No, won't take that long’. It’s been a labour of love!”
Like many a heroine, Sue started small before setting out to battle a dragon.
She used tie-wires from freezer bags to make little sculptures – figures of horses, men playing guitars, and elephants.
She happened one day to chop wire off a roll, which fell into the shape of the dragon.
“The piece is in the wire, and all I do is become the conduit for it,” Sue said.
“I've never been taught how to sculpt; I've never had an art lesson. I've always wanted to be able to draw and paint, but I'm pretty hopeless with a pen and pencil. You put a mark on a page, you have to erase it, or move it, and then you get lots of lines.
“With wire, you make a mistake, you can always come back, and you've only got that one clean line."
When not making dragons, Sue works in the Armidale Hospital’s medical records department.
“I’ve landed in a fantastic place,” she said. “Best job, best workmates, it’s a really good place to work for me!”
Sue came to came to Armidale from Gunnedah in 1994.
"My marriage broke up,” she remembered, “and I had the audacity to decide to get a degree at uni. Not many people had faith I could do it, and I proved them wrong!”
She studied psychology, criminology, and law at UNE.
“My kids grew up seeing me study all night, and they were young enough to think that's what you do."
One daughter is an epidemiologist; another daughter is a social worker; and the youngest is at MIT TAFE. They’ve also inherited their mother’s artistic talents.
As sculptress of dragons and mother, Sue can be proud.
Sue is also happy to teach people how to make chainmail. If you are interested, contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org.