WHEN guests visit Michael Dawson’s house, it’s Bubbles, his Tyrannosaurus rex who greets them.
Michael, 70, has hundreds of specially-made dinosaur casts squeezed into his home in Lake Macquarie, NSW.
You even need to step through a pair of Alberto-saurus legs to get into the bedroom.
“I read if you store your collection in the bedroom, it’s an obsession. Well, I store mine under the bed, in the garage, the laundry...” said Michael, from his Speers Point home.
All of Michael’s casts are moulded from real dinosaur bones and fossils from museums around the world. He has skulls, complete skeletons, vertebrae, claws and even plates from a host of different species including the local Muttaburrasaurus and Velociraptors.
But his favourite is the Allosaurus, a large theropod dinosaur that lived 155-150 million years ago in the late Jurassic period.
A former newspaper photographer, Michael taught himself about palaeontology from books. Now he teaches others as much as he can, presenting to schools, holding exhibitions and even lecturing at the University of Newcastle.
“It’s just a hobby that I didn’t know when to stop,” he said. “I’m a little kid that never grew up.”
Michael discovered dinosaurs when he was seven, after his friend showed him a Lipton Tea dinosaur collector card.
“It was a triceratops, though I couldn’t even pronounce it,” he said. “I begged my folks to change from drinking Bushells Tea to Lipton so I could collect my own cards.
“Then I discovered girls, and girls didn’t work out so I went back to dinosaurs.”
Michael’s collection started in the 1970s when a museum train came to Newcastle. The travelling exhibition included an Allosaurus claw. After many phone calls, the Australian Museum was kind enough to make Michael a cast of his very own. Michael then learnt how to make his own casts.
One of the things he enjoys most is finding injuries in the fossils. “It’s like a 100-year-old cold case where all the witnesses are dead," he said.
Some of his specimens show where a broken bone had healed or where the tooth of another animal scratched the bone while eating the meat.
Part of Michael’s collection was on show recently at Swansea Library.The Dinos to Dodos exhibition was so well received that Michael is already planning another about the “imposters” – the animals mistaken for dinosaurs such as marine reptiles. He hopes this will open late this year.
But one question remains: why did he call his T-rex Bubbles?
“I wanted to call it Cupcake, but that was already taken. I just wanted a cute name for something scary.”