What would you say if I told you I spent my day with a 4 metre high, 19 metre long, to-scale Titanosaurus on the outskirts of Melbourne? Would you smile, dear reader? Would you shrug in hapless indifference? Would you fix me with your gaze, squinting in vague disgust, figuring out the most scathing way to tell me you don’t give a rat’s arse?
Well. How about if I told you this wasn’t even the first time in under a year I’d stood face-to-face with a life-size replica dinosaur at a gallant retiree’s south-east property. As it turns out, the hazy inland fields at the entrance to the Mornington Peninsula are home to this phenomena.
If you still don’t give a shit, let me introduce you to Mark Pottinger, a cavalier “dinosaur dealer” who flips life-size replicas of the long-dead beasts at his ten-acre property in Langwarrin. He’s a rugged and limber kind of jack, exactly the type of person you’d expect to own a private property-slash-theme park filled to the brim with miscellaneous animalia.
The second I rocked up, Mark – clothed in dusty workwear and an Akubra, obviously – got me on his ATV buggy to take a tour of his dino palace. It was straight out of Queensland, a Palmersaurus mirage, all ancient rainforest ferns and gravel paths, fruit trees, a miniature railway track and a petite swimming pool. And dinosaurs. Dinosaurs everywhere.
“It started out as an accident,” Mark said. “I picked up, from Ballarat, a second-hand dinosaur, convinced the owner to let me bring it back here, fixed it up, and people went wow, that’s good. Next week, I ended up going to China. I went for one dinosaur, and came back with 15 dinosaurs, two forty-foot containers.”
“And from then on I was hooked, I just love these guys.”
If we may return to my documented experiences with life-size dinosaurs on the Peninsula, it was only a few months ago that I stared into the abyssal jaws of a frill-necked beast at the property currently home to Rosie the Shark, the stuffed Great White rescued from an abandoned wildlife sanctuary and airlifted into a forever home by a “botanist, geologist and entrepreneur”, Tom Kapitany. I asked Mark whether he knew of Tom and his Crystal Warehouse.
“That guy’s great, he’s just like Indiana Jones,” Mark answered, as we cruised over to a pair of giant shark jaws that looked instantly familiar.
“I got those jaws from Tom,” he gestured.
Of course they knew each other.
Mark had burst into the cultural zeitgeist when his listing for “Jack”, a 19 metre long, 4 metre high, life-size replica Titanosaurus went viral on Facebook Marketplace. Notoriously home to some absolutely batshit listings, Mark’s dinosaur, listed at the bargain price of $58,000, was an early yet easy contender for the most insane sale item of the year.
And it’s not every day that one gets a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the international dinosaur trade. Mark, who is retired, purchases the dinosaurs in China, gets them shipped over, and flips them for thousands of dollars. The sales generate enough money to keep buying dinosaurs. That, and his hobby business of selling tropical plants, which he grows from seed.
As we cruised around the vibrant property, I asked Mark whether the construction of life-size dinosaurs was big business in China.
“It actually is, especially for America – all those big theme parks, they just love this kinda stuff. Because the kids – it’s like a magnet, they’re drawn to them. It’s where happiness lives.”
Mark has been flipping dinosaurs for 5 years. What started as a hobby has become a business, with a website dedicated to moving the beasts. But Mark also collects them for himself. Dinosaurs were strewn everywhere across the property, as well as tigers, gorillas, cows and even a horse. All stoic replicas, of course.
“The good thing about this is I’ve got heaps of land where I can really take advantage and try to theme it out. And get all the different characters in the right kind of spots,” he told me, as we pulled up to a gravel path marked “Railway”. Standing guard was a watching Pterodactyl, strung above us in the trees.
“This is a train station I built for myself for fun,” Mark gestured, as we walked down the path, arriving at a little valley. Standing there was a horrifying pink and red dinosaur with a threatening mohawk, and beside it, a railway station, complete with a turnstile and a platform. Next to the platform lay a sprawling forest of palms, the ground scattered with life-size gorilla figurines.
We walked up the miniature railway track, which disappeared into a tunnel, where, peeking out at us through the gloom, was a Thomas the Tank Engine caboose. Its haunted little eyes watched me. On top of the tunnel stood a looming Triceratops.
Mark told me his plan was to install a giant T-Rex head on the other side, so that when he drove people through – on the caboose – it would be as if they were going into the dank belly of the T-Rex.
Yes, he was slowly building some kind of Gonzo Jurassic Park at his property – But it wasn’t open to the public.
“I’m pretty selfish. Well, I think the public can be quite selfish at times,” he explained.
However, Mark did say that if people have kids with illness or disability, or if kids from marginalised groups want to come around and enjoy the dinosaurs, they can call him.
We hopped back in the ATV and drove towards the entrance, marked by a long driveway, as Mark told me about how they go “picking for palms” for the place and rescuing trees whose owners want them cut down.
“They really add to the feel of the place, that 60 million years’ back look,” Mark said.
We drove up the driveway, Mark pointing out his – real, alive, mooing – cows, and then, the Big Ones.
“Have a look on the right here, this is King Kong. He used to rule the place, everyone driving up the driveway had to pass him,” he gestured to the enormous gorilla statue, gazing back at us in glazed disapproval. “But now we’ve got a new king, the Titanosaurus. King Kong’s not happy.”
I looked up over my shoulder, following Mark’s instruction, and there it was: the $58,000 Titanosaurus. Mark’s pride and joy.
“This thing’s huge!” he announced, hopping out of the vehicle and slapping the beast on the arm.
“The person who will buy this has to be someone that’s passionate, loves prehistoric animals, and wants to share it – a gift! So kids can really see what the past looks like. It gives hope for the future. These guys lasted millions of years, it’s a statement of where we’ve come from.”
The dinosaur was, indeed, huge. It’s difficult to give a sense of just how huge it was in writing, but let’s just say it was 19 metres long, and 4 metres tall.
But you’re probably wondering: why? Why all of this? Why dinosaurs…? …Why?
Well, Mark “just loves it”.
“Dinosaurs just attract people! Why is Jurassic Park so popular? Why does every kid know about dinosaurs? It’s the secrets of the past coming forward, we can’t imagine what 65 million years ago used to look like, well hey, look behind me! He’s the king of the jungle.”
“When I first started with the dinosaurs, I just had them as collection pieces, but all my friends came round and wanted to buy them. So now it’s a business,” he said, grinning proudly.
“This guy’s $58,000, and he’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. I’ve had so much interest due to the uniqueness of this beautiful animal.”
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