The Roots Of Heaven : The Book & The Movie

My latest read for the Gaia Reading Challenge was The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, considered ” the first identifiably ecological novel in the literature of France, and perhaps the world.”- David Bellos

I had watched the movie of the same name earlier in the year featuring Errol Flynn, of course playing the town drunk. Sadly, I doubt any acting skills were required and released only twelve months before his death should be enough to paint the picture. Poor ol’ Errol.

It’s not a good movie, prone to preaching, being over wordy, and all the big name actors try to outshine each other which grates: Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Orson Wells, and Juliette Greco’s bosoms. However, the storyline about a wildlife enthusiast who attempts to protect African elephants from being hunted for their ivory was interesting enough to encourage my pursuit for more information which surely says something positive for the movie. (As does the cinematography featuring jumbos in all their magnificence in  French Equatorial Africa.)

The book, written between 1953-54, received the Prix Goncourt for fiction ( “for the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”) and was translated into English in 1957. It too is wordy though beautifully written, and a great deal of effort goes into explaining the motivations of each of the characters’ stance on the killing of elephants. 

In begins with Morel, played by Trevor Howard in the movie, seeking signatures on a petition to cease the hunting. In all, he obtains only two names. Even the local Priest refuses to sign as he has enough misery in solving the issues of the Africans with their leprosy, poverty, illness and starvation. Morel bellows, “this is nothing to do with politics – it’s a matter of humanity“. All the misfits come together – the nightclub hostess (Greco), the American outcast dishonourably discharged from the Army ( Flynn), the journalist (Albert) – after much navel-gazing in an attempt to thwart an attack on a large herd. 

Of course, the novel isn’t that simple with a cast of characters with different viewpoints; the “environmentalist” capturing elephants as zoo specimens, the commandant in charge of the territory with political aspirations, the Jesuit priest, the politician using the demise of the elephants to promote the view that Africa’s natural resources are being “stolen”  promoting Africa’s stance that it should become an independent country. 

There’s a law which allows you to kill as many elephants as you like when they are trampling down your fields and threatening your crops. It’s a wonderful excuse for the good shots among us. All you have to prove is that an elephant has crossed your plantation and has trampled a field of squash, and there you are, free to decimate a herd, to indulge in reprisals, with the government’s blessing.”

Honestly, it all becomes too complex especially when you realise the elephants become a symbol for human life. 

John Huston, the Director of the movie, said he was “completely responsible… for the badness of The Roots of Heaven. I really wanted to make that one and Daryl Zanuck got me everything and everybody I wanted. But I had the screenplay done by someone who had never done one before, and it was bad. By then the cast, crew and me were in Africa; it was too late to turn back, we would have spent a fortune for nothing, so we went ahead and did the best we could.”

Producer, Zanuck (and sheet warmer for Greco) said “This picture is really great for us – intellectually great. Whether it’s commercially great, whether people will grab on to it, we must wait and see. If they grab on to a man in love with a bridge, then why shouldn’t they grab on to a man in love with an elephant?” 

Answer : Because there comes a point when a line is drawn between being lectured and being entertained.

30,000 Elephants killed in a year. Horrendous!

Platypus Matters : The Extraordinary Lives of Australian Mammals by Jack Ashby

Jack Ashby is the Assistant Director of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary research fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. His first book was Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects and Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Lives of Australian Mammals was published in 2022.

Let me start by saying that Jack Ashby is a marsupial loving eccentric and I just love him. His favourite marsupial is the platypus, followed by the echidna and then the wombat. He puts his special regard for these three creatures down to the fact that they “waddle”.

Ashby may well be a science nerd but he sounds like great fun around a barbie. In this book he makes the case that Australia’s wildlife is not a collection of oddities or creatures that can kill you as is so often presented in the media. He argues “why it matters that we think about how these animals are portrayed – how we talk about them, how we represent them on TV and in museums, and how we value them” . He states that “our unique wildlife is disappearing at a rate unparalleled by any other large region on Earth, and its conservation is surely tied to how these animals are understood.”

What could have very easily become another catalogue of interest only to other scientists or zoology students is fast paced, humorous and fascinating. Ashby’s respect for the platypus shines through with not only a discussion about their physiology, but also their history in relation to Indigenous Dreamtime, early colonial poetry, and an array of information which I have stored in my Trivia Bank.

For instance, newborn platypus ( or platypups) require mothers milk though platypus do not have nipples. They have milk patches. Who knew! The male is venomous, and war hero Keith Payne VC testifies that the pain from an affliction is worse than a gun shot wound.

And did you know that in 1943 Winston Churchill asked Prime Minister John Curtain for six live specimens as moral boosters and to promote the relationship between England and Australia during the middle of World War 2 ? (A Japanese submarine ruined those plans…..)

Facts about the other mammals are also intriguing : how echidnas have intimate relations, wombats pouches face backwards and why their poop is cubed, and taxidermy does not simply involve retaining an animals skin and stuffing it with tissue paper.

Many of these creatures aren’t well known around the world and even the qualified staff at international Natural History Museums are quite clueless. Did you know that Echidna’s back feet are backwards for digging purposes though taxidermied specimens do not reflect this, and the half a dozen Tasmanian Tigers around the world all have erections.

Great read. Jack, I’m in love…….Now feeling pumped for the next Trivia comp at the local bowlo.

Old Man Platypus

by AB Paterson

Far from the trouble and toil of town,
Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,
Look at a fragment of velvet brown –
Old Man Platypus drifting down,
Drifting along the river.

And he plays and dives in the river bends
In a style that is most elusive;
With few relations and fewer friends,
For Old Man Platypus descends
From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank
With his wife and his son and daughter
At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;
And the bubbles show where our hero sank
To its entrance under water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls
They live in a world of wonder,
Where no one visits and no one calls,
They sleep like little brown billiard balls
With their beaks tucked neatly under.

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl
As he goes on his journey lonely;
For he’s no relation to fish nor fowl,
Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl;
In fact, he’s the one and only!

Note :

Platypus are secretive creatures that travel alone. I have been fortunate to have spotted several in their natural habitat; once in the Royal National Park in Sydney and at a bush property on North Queensland’s Atherton Tableland. I also live 1 km walking distance down a bush track to what was once a Platypus Reserve. I keep walking down that way in case I luck out and spot another……

The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen : Book Review

This novel is an unexpected entry in the Gaia Reading Challenge and is most definitely on the quirky side. You see, the narrator is a female Galah by the name of Lucky who translates from “screech to English” the events in a remote coastal village on the north coast of Western Australia in the 1960’s, just prior to the moon landing.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for Galahs. I had my first as a pet when I was 10, Andrew, followed by Sam, playmate Lah Lah , and then Lenny who replaced Sam when he died. Lenny was a hormonal teenager so I had to rehome the latter two birds when I downsized. Neighbours were unimpressed with the noise : Lenny was like a recalcitrant teenager and squawked whenever anything that moved came into sight.

Sam and Lah Lah. I had a pink dressing gown at the time so I’m sure Sam saw me as a large Galah.

The fictional town of Port Badminton is on the open mouth of the real Shark Bay which Charles Darwin noted on his first visit to Australia as having “excessively beautiful parrots“.

Lucky introduces herself before she begins to tell the story of Port Badminton’s role in the 1969 moon landing :

I’m in my cage on the Kelly’s back verandah. I sit here, unheard, underestimated, biscuit crumbs on my beak. But fate is a curious thing. For just as Evan Johnson’s story is about to end (and perhaps with a giant leap), my story prepares to take flight…”

Lucky shares her journey, “nestling with her siblings in our hole in our  gum tree “ on the riverbank,  feeling “a human hand reach in, making exploratory movements” , to finding herself in a cage on a back verandah of one of the locals.

Her position on the verandah provides a view of the happenings within Port Badminton as well as all the characters ; the prawn fishermen, the dingo shooter, the town drunk, the aboriginals, as well as all the newer families to town who are  connected to the Dish, instrumental in keeping communication lines open to the astronauts.

Lucky focuses on the arrival of Evan Johnson, radio technician, and wife Linda who is keen to start a new life away from the Big Smoke. Of course, although Evan is distracted by his work, Linda is like a fish out of water and doesn’t cope.

The small town of Port Badminton becomes every small town, and the dynamics of its inhabitants are both familiar and the perfect combination of nostalgia and brutality. We feel the excitement for the scientists achieving their goals, and pity for the women who are simply making do.

The author includes authentic trivia from the 1960’s including pre dinner snacks of curly celery, feathered carrots, and radish flowers, cereal boxes containing collectable toys, home made Grappa at barbeques,  Brownies raising funds ( Bob-A-Job), and  washing the sheets in a copper each week. Who remembers those? *

The Galah is an intelligent animal, despite its reputation as a clown and a lightweight. A captive Galah needs constant activity if it is not to decline into depression. Tearing up books, page by page, is a mental, physical, and spiritual workout for me; as good as any gym, yogaclass or university”. Lucky’s most recent book is Donald Horne’s “The Lucky Country”.

Then there are the wonderful descriptions of the environment and landscape. ” Tropical Cyclone Steve, a male cyclone with a beer belly and long, grey, windswept hair, thongs flapping at his feet, formed out of the ether somewhere in the Pacific” and “she watches the water suck back, back and then hears the flute-like sound, a roar, as the water comes crashing in again, sending a giant white fountain into the air. It drops and chases itself back down its lair in streaming white foam rivulets. The gurgling, sucking noises are thrilling.”

This read is a gem. It is not as simple as it seems with layers of storytelling including the frailty of relationships, expectations, and our interconnectedness with the environment as well as with animals. The descriptions of both the natural environment and the wildlife that live within it are totally authentic. Loved it!

*We used the copper for cooking freshly caught sand crabs and prawns. Must have been worth a few bob as it was the only item stolen from the family home after my father passed.

Washing Copper.

* NOTE :

Galah is also a derrogatory term that means a “loud-mouthed idiot.” Named specifically for the galah, a native Australian bird that makes a distinctive (and quite funny-sounding) call.

“Oh, Scottyya bloody galah! What are you ON ABOUT?!”

from the Urban Dictionary.

Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants

During a recent wander around the local environmental centre, Indigiscapes, with the Tuesday walking group I came across this book in the Gift Shop. (So now you also know I’m a sucker for Gift Shops, especially ones that carry jams and condiments made from local products. And children’s books. Children’s Books make me weak at the knees.)

Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants written by Catherine Clowes is exactly as the name suggests: an Australian Native for each letter of the alphabet. Clowes is a botanist and a teacher with a love of sharing knowledge which she does so well in this book which would have been an absolute Godsend to homeschooling mums and dads during periods of Lockdown.

Why?

Each double page is dedicated to a designated native. Those pages contain a concise description without getting over technical and losing the kiddies’ interest and illustrations by Rachel Gyan which are clear and easily identifiable. But the thing I really found both fun and inspirational is that each plant description includes a task to encourage our Little People to immerse themselves and engage in Nature.

For example, under L for the Lilly Pilly is a description, an illustration, and a task. In this case the task is to pick a berry from the Lilly Pilly and to plant it in potting mix and to nurture it with water and sunshine. Will it grow? I don’t know but I’m sure as hell going to experiment once the local Lilly Pillys start fruiting.

At the back of the book is a map of Australia which highlights where each of the 26 selected natives are found. So much information so simply presented.

I purchased several copies because I know several young mums who will find this book a huge help during the next school holidays.

The Water Book – Review

Alok Jha is science and technology correspondent at The Economist and the author of The Water Book.

The blurb on the back cover made it sound fascinating. ” Water seems ordinary – it pours from our taps and falls from the sky. But you would be surprised at what a profoundly strange substance it is. It defies the normal rules of chemistry, it has shaped the Earth, its life and our civilisation. Without it, none of us would exist.” And ” The Water Book will change the way you look at this ordinary substance. Afterwards, you will hold a glass of water up to the light and see within it the strangest chemical, something that connects you to everything and everyone else in the universe.”

The Water Book begins with a quote from chemist Felix Franks, ” Of all known liquids water is probably the most studied and least understood.”

Page by page I started keeping notes. On his way to Antartica, the author tells us ” in those frozen lakes and rivers, the ice does more than decorate the surface; it insulates the water underneath keeping it a few degrees above freezing point – and crucially liquid – even in the harshest of winters”.

After pondering this information one night – because doesn’t that nullify what we’ve been told about the effects of climate change in respect to choral bleaching? – and having read that water comes from outer space I abandoned this book at Page 50. Not the author’s fault : Science was just never my forte and I need my 8 hours sleep.

The L.O.M.L has a brain that functions that way having worked in the field of hospital equipment. He kindly offered to review The Water Book on my behalf and said he loved it.

I know: ain’t love grand………..

The Water Book, by Alok Jha. ( Review by LOML)

The story of a voyage on Academik Shokalskiy, a 70 metre long  ice-strengthened Russian Polar vessel, on a trip to Antarctica, following in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson, a British-Australian explorer and Geologist, who went there in 1912 and 1929.  Alok was part of a private science expedition, and he tells us what happened from the time they left New Zealand on their journey south, to being stuck in ice for a fortnight, to their rescue in January 2014. 
 He treats us to descriptions of daily happenings aboard ship, then diverts to scientific observations on everything about water, really! From its occurence in the universe from molecular to galaxy size. The people who made discoveries about water, and any of its alternate states. From snowflakes to icebergs, to underground oceans, consisting of ..not only water, but other chemicals, ie, liquid ammonia, close to absolute zero in temperature terms, in our local universe. He explores the relationship between life as we know it, and water in depth..so to speak.
The subjects he discusses never ceases to amaze, and the book as a whole is at once educational and a throughly good read.

The Adventures of Euca – Gaia Reading Challenge

It’s nearing Easter so I am preparing parcels to post to the Little People in my life.

“No chocolate, Mo. No sugar for this Little One”. This from a lass whose paternal grandfather fed her so many chocolate eggs for her 2nd Easter that she was as sick as a dog. Whilst I was quietly fuming – and cleaning – said child’s grandfather instilled his lifelong mantra : ” You’ve not had a good time till you’ve been sick”.

Thank goodness the maternal grandfather had a different outlook on life. A child of the Depression he did not believe in waste, so he lived by “everything in moderation”. Except fish. Fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner but that’s another story.

So that is why my Little People will be gifted something other than chocolate this Easter. Well, maybe a little Darrell Lea chocolate bilby but their main present will be a lovely little book called The Adventures of Euca : A Baby Leaf’s Big World.

Debut author Jennifer Howard is a nature lover who is “passionate about the environment, and about educating future generations on sustainability and the magic of the world we all live in.”

We meet Euca, a baby gum leaf, who lives on the very top of the tree, ” closest to the big golden sun whose lovely warm rays will help me to grow big and strong”.

Eucla takes us through his job role as a leaf to “help freshen the air for the whole wide world” as well as some of the native fauna who use the leaf coverage as home. He is close to his Grandpa Crinkle, an old wrinkled leaf further down the tree branches, and the life lesson is that at some stage the old leaf ” with a strong gust of wind” will fall to the ground and a new leaf will be born.

The illustrations by M K Perring are colourful and easily discernible to young eyes and this story is a gentle introduction to nature and the environment for our Little People.

I purchased my copies through Shawline Publishing Group. Always happy to support the independent author ( who have been known to become my all time favourites.)

Black Summer : Book Review

Australia’s 2019 – 2020 Black Summer bush fires burnt an estimated 18 million hectares. Thirty three people died, 5,900 buildings were destroyed, including 3,000 homes. At least one billion animals lost their lives and some endangered species have been driven to the brink of extinction.”

This is the premise of Black Summer, a collection of short stories written by ABC journalists about the things they witnessed on the ground in almost all the fire sites and communities across the nation. It covers “the stories of loss, courage and community” and was compiled as an acknowledgement of the devastation and destruction of that period as well as the strength and resilience of the people. A portion of proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.

Black Summer is an entry into the Gaia Reading Challenge promoted by Sharon at Galaxies and Gum Trees in that it covers both Nature and the Environment. The book does not pretend to offer any solutions, merely sharing what those in the affected areas experienced ; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

” There are horrific stories of cars with aluminium features melted into a puddle. Many tell of the horrifying roar of the fires. Louise Brown lost her home, but not her Cobargo bookshop which survived the fire that ripped through the town’s main street. She announced the reopening of the shop with a sign in the window :” Post-apocalyptic fiction now moved to current affairs”. Pretty much sums up the situation and the Aussie spirit, I’d say.

In all of the stories Nature played a massive part in the devastation. Fighting the fires in Stanthorpe, QLD, on the border of NSW, was hampered by the 7 year long drought which saw the town’s dam virtually empty and the Council having to truck drinking water in for the locals. Changing winds also saw flare ups across many sites across the country and it was gentle yet continual rainfall which finally helped put the fires out some three months after the devastation started.

Have we learnt any lessons from these out-of-control bush fires?

I could respond though my reply would be considered way too political for general consumption. Next time you are driving past stop by and I’ll share my thoughts over a bottle of chardy and a cheese platter.

The 99th Koala – a Book Review

The 99th Koala by Kailas Wild is not the book to read if you are following authors aiming to be rewarded with the Booker Prize. This is a personal account of an ordinary man during extraordinary times who did some truly magnificent things. Written from the heart this is a book that is raw, with photos that will have you smiling one moment and wiping away a tear the next. Indeed, this is one of those books you’d buy just for the photos alone.

The 2019-20 Kangaroo Island fires burnt 211,474 hectares of land and resulted in two deaths, 87 homes destroyed and 59,730 livestock lost. The disaster affected nearly half of the island’s land mass and accounted for around 75 per cent of all hectares burnt in South Australia during the Black Summer fire season.  Who didn’t tune into the nightly evening news to watch the march of these deadly bushfires along the coast of  Australia?

Steven Selwood from South Australia Veterinary Emergency Management claimed 46,000 koalas were thought to be on the island before the bushfires. It is estimated as few as 9,000 remain, as the landscape was turned into scorched earth by the blazes.

Introducing Kailas Wild, self employed arborist, State Emergency Services Volunteer, and a conservationist with native animal rehabilitation training. Although the Australian Defence Force was on hand at Kangaroo Island assisting with the rescue of farm animals and wildlife a cry went out for more volunteers with tree climbing experience, and Kai drove for nearly 18 hours from Sydney to Kangaroo Island to answer the call.

For 7 weeks Kai worked long hours often utilising his own search and rescue techniques for koalas requiring medical attention. His ” days alone amongst burnt trees and dead animals” often left him emotionally and physically drained and ” starting each day crying into his Cornflakes”.

Kai successfully rescued 100 koalas which were transported to a makeshift Koala Hospital on the Island. Do you remember the media images sent around the world of koalas in laundry baskets receiving medical attention?  

Courtesy Reuters

Some koalas that looked healthy died of smoke inhalation and internal damages,  some died from nasty falls and stress, but many were rehabilitated and regained their health and were reintroduced to the wild including numerous joey koalas.

Two facts I found interesting :

  1. After a bushfire the blackened trees start to spurt new growth. I always thought this is a good thing. Guess what : fresh shoots on trees are known as epicormic growth and have a higher level of toxicity that makes them inedible for koalas. From the trees perspective this is a defence mechanism when it is trying to recover from fires.*
  2. Koalas in a tree may look healthy but it may well be that their paws are burnt so badly that any movement is extremely painful. These koalas generally starve to death………..and I simply can’t recount the tales about all the burns  that led to the peeling away of skin. 😢

Kai writes ” we all shared the profound sense of grief at the loss of over a billion of our unique wild animals, along with their habitats. The number was, and still is, beyond comprehension.”

This is the story of what one ordinary man could achieve under horrific circumstances. Let’s all take some inspiration from Kailas Wild.

This Book Review is an entry in the Gaia / Nature Reading Challenge.

If you sign up and submit an entry before the end of February Sharon from Gumtreesandgalaxies.com will donate an Australian children’s book about wombats to a new charity aimed at promoting children’s literacy You can read more here :

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/96945328/posts/3773908941#comments

*It has since been established that some koalas can adapt to eating new growth.

Gaia/ Nature Reading Challenge 2022

Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies is hosting an interesting Reading Challenge this year and it is one that appeals on several fronts. It’s not overly taxing and participants may just learn from it, in turn benefiting their life and the lives of their community.

The Gaia/ Nature Reading Challenge promotes reading about nature, the environment and climate.

The challenge will officially start from the 1st of January 2022 and run until the 31st of December 2022. It is optional if you want to pledge to read particular titles. To help your selection of reading material there is a Book Bingo which is open to interpretation. These are the categories :

The wonder of a child
Deep Dive
Get Active
First Nations
It’s A Small World
Into theForest you go.

I’m a firm believer in trying to effect small environmental changes within my own community. Some of the things I have achieved over the past twelve months include sharing vegetable seedlings with neighbours at the Little Community Library ( instructions included), installing a Butterfly House, putting drinking water out for wildlife, liaising with Council about the planting of street trees on verges ( previously knocked down during the Development process) and shopping and buying local. Little ripples, I know.

Don’t believe me?

A strange car pulled up outside my house on Xmas Eve and I was greeted at the front door by a total stranger who handed me a gift bag and wished me a Merry Xmas. Boggled, I opened the parcel and this is what I found :

My first entry for this Challenge will be Dry To Dry : The Seasons Of Kakadu which covers the First Nations and Wonder Of A Child book categories. Yes, sneaky I know…… This is my first book for 2022 which I’ve pinched from the grandson’s Santa sack.

As per the Challenge instructions I will include a quote. If you too would like to participate and believe in the “ripple effect” – where little ripples can turn into big ripples and effect change – please visit Gum Trees and Galaxies.

Happy 2022 Reading all!