Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Animal Chronicle II/ World of Strange Animals

By the time of the Black Summer bushfires I had been working on Gentle and Fierce for a couple of years. Part of my writing process was to be attuned to animal encounters in day to day life, however these might arrive. This could mean encounters with animals themselves, or news stories, or objects, or artworks, ranging from the delightful and curious to the distressing and traumatic. Then the fires started, and after weeks, then months, the estimates of animal lives lost soon moved from the millions into the billions. Images of dead and distressed animals that were shown on the news were emblematic of the suffering that was occurring on an immense scale.  

When Anwen and I were preparing the 'We, the Animals' fundraiser, we looked through World of Strange Animals, my favourite of my op shop animal books, to find an image to use for the flyer which, in dedicated lo-fi fashion we were making with cut and paste and a typewriter. The book features detailed close up photographs of animals themed around features such as "excresences", "tentacles and feelers" and "cavernous mouths", all connected by the idea that "there are things so strange that they make us rush to find an explanation of them..."

Through decades of op-shopping I've collected many such picture books about animals. In some of the older compendiums, some of the animals have since become extinct. In these books, though, they still exist in present tense, and my sadness and shame at this realisation duels with the books' intentions to delight and educate. In the time of the fires, I felt this even more intensely.

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