Wheeler Centre Zoo Fellowships: The Creative Works

Last year, the Wheeler Centre offered a suite of creative fellowships at Melbourne Zoo to four very different writers: novelist, poet and short-story writer Cate Kennedy, blogger and critic Estelle Tang, children’s author/illustrator Sally Rippin and cartoonist and illustrator Judy Horacek.

The writers read early snippets of their works in progress at a Wheeler Centre event last year - and talked about their attraction to the project. During September, we’ll be publishing a piece each week, starting with Sally Rippin’s gorgeous illustrations for a children’s book on meditation, and her reflections on the role of animals in picture books.

Cate Kennedy said that whenever she takes on a Melbourne-based project, she has to really weigh it up, as she lives two hours down the Hume Highway. The Zoo Fellowship appealed for a couple of reasons.

‘It’s great to be able to watch people watching animals,’ she said. ‘People go there to reconnect for a couple of hours - to be in a mini forest or savannah - somewhere that’s not a part of everyday life.’ Her piece, to be published in the coming weeks, draws on her people-watching observations.

Estelle Tang wondered whether the writers would work in a cage, with people watching them as they wrote. ‘People have asked if they could throw peanuts at me,’ she said.

She was inspired by Alain De Botton’s week-long residency at Heathrow Airport, which became a book, A Week at the Airport.

‘When I was approached about this residency, I thought, what a great way to get access to a Melbourne cultural institution.’

Judy Horacek was also inspired by De Botton’s airport residency. She said that she felt ‘a romanticism about the zoo’. She told the story of a volunteer guide who was regularly greeted by a gibbon every time she approached his cage - he would make kissing faces at her.

‘I was hoping for that kind of bond with an animal,’ she said.

You can hear all about the residents' reaction to the fellowship in the below video of a Wheeler Centre event, A Night at the Zoo. (Sally Rippin was absent, due to illness.)

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