Monday, October 29, 2012

Treehouse of the Brave

My nine-year-old son has a friend at school who invents the most incredible things. His mother tells me he is continually foraging through junk heaps and hard rubbish and sees possibility in everything. The other day, when I went to pick my son up from their house, he insisted I go into the backyard to see his friend's latest invention. I had been hearing a lot about his friend's 'treeless tree house' recently, as we have not long ago moved into a 1950s house without a single full grown tree in the garden - a constant source of despair for my youngest son, who gets antsy if he doesn't have something to climb. When he had told me that his friend had built a tree house that wasn't even in a tree, I had pictured a couple of turned over dining chairs with a sheet draped over the top. This (above photo) is what lay in wait.

As you might be able to see from the photograph, the house has been built over a wood heap and hovers perilously a good shin-breaking distance from the ground. To enter, you have to clamber over all this wood, full of rusty nails and thumb-sized splinters, to reach the ladder which takes you up to the house. The platform itself is propped up by varying lengths of wood and even a wheelbarrow, which you might see wedged in there on your left. If you were thinking this might possibly the most dangerous treehouse in history, I suspect you wouldn't be far off.

But it is also the most incredibly inventive and exciting and creative thing I have seen made by a child in a long time. This is the kind of treehouse my father would have made as a boy, the kind of treehouse I would have loved to make as a child, had I been clever enough or brave enough.  However, I have to say that for me, while this kid is quite obviously a child-genius, kudos must also go to his mum. In an era where you almost need to sign a permission form for your child to use a pair of scissors, I reckon she is a pretty fabulous mum to let her son create something like this. Apparently without even hovering around, shouting out well-meaning projections of fear in the way that I may have.

I would like to think I could be so brave...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Eavesdropping at the zoo

'Hello, Melbourne Zoo...Sheep?...You mean live sheep?...No, no, I just wasn't sure that's what you meant...Um...let me put you on hold for a minute while I ask our director. (Hand over mouthpiece, calls out to the next room) ...Er...there's a man on the phone, says he's got some live sheep he'd like to donate to the zoo for our lions. Can we take them?'
'Hello? Yes, thanks for waiting. I'm afraid we can't take them. We have strict quarantine laws about what the animals can eat and all that sort of thing. Thank you very much for the offer all the same.'

This is just one of the fascinating conversations I've been pretending not to eavesdrop on from my desk at the zoo. I am near the door, in the main office, along with the executive assistant to the director whose job it is to field these kind of phone calls. Apparently they get some doozies! People offering up their pets ('er, sorry, we don't take terrapins') to people asking for advice on snake bites ('I think you should probably call the hospital').

Forget the 'behind-the-scenes' for animals, I am loving the 'behind-the-scenes' for the staff! Being close to the door, I meet lots of keepers as they come in to chat with the director. They introduce themselves as 'Dave, from Hawks' or 'Jenny, from Primates'. I have a morning tea date soon with the butterfly keepers and I have been instructed to bring chocolates.

Then, if this was not exciting enough, I'd like you to think of three of the most amazing things you could put together in one sentence. How would food, animals and Michael Palin sound to you? Yep, thought so. Probably couldn't get much better. As a current 'Zoo Fellow', I received an invitation to THIS yesterday and literally squealed with excitement.

And here is a koala for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Desk at the Zoo

My job as a children's author has taken me to some interesting places. I have had residencies in the Blue Mountains, Beijing and Ghana. This month I have a residency at the Melbourne Zoo. In collaboration with the Wheeler Centre, Cate Kennedy, Estelle Tang, Judy Horacek and I have been offered a 'behind-the-scenes' artist-in-residence experience to celebrate the zoo's 150th birthday.

Today, I took my laptop in to work at the desk that has been set aside for us to use. I share an office space with the director of the zoo and his assistant, who has promised us all kinds of exciting animal experiences which I am looking forward to enormously. But for now, as I have a deadline at the end of this week, I planned to keep my head down and plug away at my novel. As there is no internet access, no loads of washing to put on, or garden to procrastinate in, I decided it would be the perfect working environment.

That was until I allowed myself a lunch break and a little wander. Well, someone should have warned me that the meerkats had just had babies! Who could possibly concentrate on restructuring a novel when there are meerkat babies to watch? Really, they were just too adorable for words. So here is a video:

What did I tell you? Mesmerising, aren't they? Perhaps working at the zoo is going to be more distracting than I first thought...