This month’s guest on Collectors Corner is Vicky Hunter, a self confessed elephant lover. Not only does she have an impressive collection of elephant memorobilia, but she has also spent some time living with these gentle giants!
What do you collect?
I suffer from ‘Pachydermitis’. I have a passion, obsession and compulsion for elephants! I’m not really sure when this addiction started, as I feel like there has always been an elephant in the room!
As a child, one of my favourite books was The Saggy Baggy Elephant. I loved the movie Dumbo and of course, who could forget Mr Sufffleupagus, the elephant besty of Big Bird in Sesame St.
What prompted you to start collecting, and why elephants?
My mum and dad collected anything and everything, so my genetic predisposition for collecting was instilled in me at an early age. I went through phases of collecting – Barbies, books, bric a brac … but the big beast of the animal kingdom was always present.
My dad had been given a set of elephant book ends that held my most loved books, so I guess that seeing them every day ingrained the elephant into my subconscious. Like the elephant, I couldn’t forget!
Dad had also given me a couple of elephant ornaments, so I guess that’s how it began. Over the years, my collection has increased exponentially.
So that explains how your collection started, but why are you so passionate about this particular animal?
I’ve travelled a great deal throughout South East Asia. Elephants are such an integral part of Asian life and culture. They have been used for centuries working alongside man as a beast of burden. They have been revered in the shape of the God Ganesh and are a symbol of wisdom, famed for their intelligence and are also one of the closest mammals in intelligence to humans.
For me, they represent a unique package – strong family ties bind their herds, and ellies are also extremely sensitive. Unfortunately, hunting and habitat destruction has seen my beautiful animals heading for the endangered species list.
You’ve actually spent time living with elephants; where was that?
In 2010 I took my compulsion to a new level and headed back to Thailand to participate in a very special ‘Elephant Experience’. Having visited Thailand previously, I had seen the tourist side of elephants … poor animals trained to do tricks, paint and carry overweight passengers, then be chained up to a tree when not performing. I’d witnessed baby elephants taken from their mother, to be paraded through the streets and 5 star hotels.
I volunteered for a week at Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand, near Chang Mai (Chang is the Thai word for elephant). It is a rescue and rehabilitation sanctuary for 35 elephants. Set on acres of free land, the aim is to try and rescue and rehabilitate elephants that have had tormented pasts. The project was founded in 1996 by Lek Chailert, an unimposing tiny Thai national.
For the week I lived with my beautiful elephants… feeding, bathing, gathering food and of course, scooping up the end product of around 250 kg of consumed vegetable matter each day. As a volunteer, each day we were assigned different tasks to help in the running of the park. To be up close and personal with these majestic animals was a once in a lifetime experience. The workers at the park couldn’t understand why theses crazy Westerners wanted to pay for the privilege of shovelling poo! I now know where the saying ‘pushing poo uphill’ comes from!
Coming home from the park saw me have an even greater appreciation for my big mates, and my collection took on a greater meaning.
Describe the pieces you have in your collection.
The pieces in my collection are varied in shape and form. I have elephants in the garden in the shape of tea-light holders; they hide in amongst my agaves and greet you on entering my house. Elephants adorn my shelves and hang out in the bedrooms. Then there is the clothing with elephants emblazoned on it, the jewellery, the place-mats, food covers, spoons and so on.
Each piece holds it own story. I do try and limit the size of each piece now and try to limit myself to one piece each holiday (well … I at least try).
At last count, I think there were about 50 elephants that own me, as well as various other items.
Do you have one favourite piece in your collection?
One of my favourite pieces is a table I brought home with me after my dad died. I had always taken the table as a fixture in Dad’s lounge room, something to put my drink on.
It was pointed out to me by my Aunty that the table had elephants carved around it. Needless to say, the table takes pride of place in my lounge room now, and yes – I still put my drink on it!
This story was published in issue 21 Coffs Coast Focus