Lion tamer Claire Heliot poses with her arm draped over a lion's mane
Lion tamer Claire Heliot (author's collection)

We talk to Peta Tait, author of Fighting nature, about animal performers, opportunistic showmen, and the particular challenges and excitements of working with theatrical ephemera.


A female lion-tamer in Victorian dress stands in front of five lions perched on pedestals
Lion tamer Madame Pianka (Charlotte Bishop) poses with five lions in a publicity photograph, circa 1902.

It’s always a thrill to receive a new book from the printer, and we’re particularly excited about this new release, the latest in our Animal Publics series. In Fighting nature: travelling menageries, animal acts and war shows, Peta Tait reveals the captivating and sometimes disturbing history of animal performances in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Travelling menageries became widespread in Europe, Britain and the USA during the nineteenth century. Some acts featured elaborate military re-enactments, real and simulated violence, and nationalistic displays of pomp and ceremony. They also had a knack for attracting controversy. Female lion tamers, and acts that involved a tamer putting his or her head into a lion’s mouth, proved particularly scandalous, especially in the colonies in Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa. In this edited extract, Peta Tait describes how feeding displays played a central part in these performances, and how spectators responded to them with a mixture of fascination and disgust.


At night, coloured lanterns decorate a wire fence
Photo by Hannah McFarlane

Inspired by Gardens of History and Imagination, we at SUP decided to compare notes about our gardening adventures. We'd love to hear your stories, too (head over to our Facebook page to share your garden-making pictures, and for a chance to win a copy of the book!). Even within the SUP team we discovered a surprising diversity of gardens, from coastal balconies to bushland plots. Here's a little more about how our gardens grow ...


Australian poetry reaches ‘far and wide’!

The Australian Poetry Library site reaches thousands of poetry lovers worldwide, connecting users with research interests, study materials, long-lost memories and their favourite poems.


What was the inspiration behind your chapter in the Gardens of History and Imagination?

My growing fondness for, and fascination with, harbourside gardens inspired my chapter, ‘Riverine Gardens of Sydney Waterways’. These properties did not simply look out at the water; they deliberately incorporated their harbour views into their landscapes, and were themselves designed to be seen from the water.

Pavilion at Riverview, photo by Stuart Read
Pavilion at Riverview, photo by Stuart Read


Are you a keen gardener?

“Dig for victory” – and so, like many others in my family I did. Lawn was sacrificed to rows of runner beans, carrots and lettuces. Behind them all was the mess that ducks, and later hens, produced. We kept the roses for the hips and grew edible flowers like nasturtiums as well as mint, parsley and thyme. But it was all very unstable – no certainty that one would still be there to reap what one had sown as even civilians were directed hither and yon. What fascinated the child that I was, was how things grew. You took a boring-looking, blackish pip and put it in the ground. You watered it and waited and after a time the earth above it was broken by a greenish something and if you sheltered this from the birds and the squirrels it turned into a plant – and one lump grew into a bean plant and another into a carrot. I have never lost this sense of wonder even though I am amongst the world’s worst gardeners – give me a flourishing plant and it is likely to die in my hands. As I grew, I came to wonder where all these different seeds came from and how they were brought together, how long people had nurtured them and where they had found them.

Spring flowers outside the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, photo by Sybil Jack
Spring flowers outside the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, photo by Sybil Jack


Knowledge Unlatched logo

Knowledge Unlatched (KU) is an organisation helping libraries, publishers and authors to work together for a sustainable open future for specialist scholarly books. Their vision is a healthy market that includes free access for end users.

KU asks libraries to choose titles they would like to support, and to pledge funding to make these books Open Access. In the pilot round, over 200 libraries from around the world paid around $60 per title to 'unlatch' 28 books, which are now globally available.

KU uses the pledge funds to pay a title fee to the publishers of selected books, to cover fixed costs and offset any decrease in sales that result from OA.

The books are licensed under Creative Commons licences - either CC BY-NC (no commercial reuse without permission) or CC BY-NC-ND (no commercial reuse or derivatives without permission). For more information on CC licences, see Creative Commons.

The current round of funding has two components - front list ( not yet published) and back list (recent releases) titles.

Publishers are invited to suggest titles for these collections. A selection committee of partner libraries then vote for the titles they would like to see in the collection. A short list of titles is then created, which libraries can view and 'pledge' to support.

Sydney University Press is always looking for new ways to reach readers. So this year, we decided to submit a few titles. This allows us to gauge if libraries around the world share the same enthusiasm for our books as we do. If our titles are selected, we can also assess the impact this has on citations, readership and sales. Stay tuned!

To see previous KU unlatched titles, see here for Round 2:
KU Round 2 titles

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