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August 2016

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.

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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.

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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 ...

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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.

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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

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