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Danielle Clode: A life of Boats and Trees

Danielle Clode is an author of Australian non-fiction books for children and adults. Her latest book Koala: A Life in Trees will be launched own Thursday October 13th at Cleland Wildlife Park. See here for details:

Now, let's learn a little bit about Danielle and find out what has she been reading.

1. What’ya reading, Danielle? I’m reading an advance copy of Peter Wohlleben’s new book The Promise of Trees and I’ve just finished reading a friend’s fabulous manuscript about a human-ish biologist studying ocean life on another planet inhabited by somewhat different people. It’s been great fun. I do love science fiction and recently read C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust which was a fairly intense dive into a brutal post-apocalypse/post-human world. Interestingly, none of these books focus on human characters but they all have a lot to say about how we live and interact with other life forms. I also love books set where I live too – so recently I’ve loved Allayne Webster’s latest crazy road adventure That thing I did as well as Hannah Kent’s beautiful tearjerker Devotion which are both set in South Australia.

2. What were the best and worst things about living on a boat? The best thing was the ability to move whenever you wanted to and go to places where there were very few other people. I still miss that sense of solitude and space and distance that you have on a boat. As a kid I was constantly exploring new places so it gave me a great sense of curiosity and investigation. The worst thing was getting seasick – which happened a lot. Luckily you recover quickly when you are a kid!

3. Your portfolio is so diverse that it’s difficult to define what you specialise in. How would you sum up what led you to producing the style of books you’ve written in the past, and what motivates you to keep going?My books cover a lot of different topics – fossils, bushfires, whales, history, biography, adults and children’s books - but they are all linked by environmental themes. My books are mostly about nature past and present as well as the people who study nature and how we interact with it. I am endlessly fascinated by the natural world. I write books in order to learn new things and to share my discoveries and enthusiasm with others. I know most people care about the environment, but recently it’s become even more urgent to make sure we all do our best to protect the world we live in against the damage being done to it by a few who don’t seem to share this concern.

4. What is your number one fashion tip for budding young environmental scientists? Oh, environmental scientists are quite famous for their idiosyncratic fashion sense. My own personal fashion statement while doing field work in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland was wearing waders, an oilskin drizabone, and a much loved khaki hunting cap with fluffy tie-down earflaps. I rather suspect my husband burnt the cap at some point. For the Australian climate though, cargo pants, well-worn boots and disreputable t-shirts are de rigeur, but no matter what outfit you choose the absolute essential is an overabundance of pockets to fill with unexpected biological booty of droppings, bones, eggshells, feathers etc, which also provide a distinctive earthy perfume.

5. Now that you’ve written a book about koalas, would you like to come back as one in your next life?

Hmm – I do think koalas have a pretty laidback life compared to a lot of other animals, but if I came back as one I’d want to make sure I lived on a nice island with lots and lots of trees, not too many other koalas or predators, and no bushfires. Koalas are really struggling with disease, overdevelopment and loss of habitat on the east coast of Australia. And increasing bushfires and climate change are a real threat to them everywhere, even in South Australia where they are thriving.

6. Which woman of science has inspired you the most? That’s a tough question. I was certainly inspired by the trio of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas and their pioneering work on apes, but I think I have been even more inspired by the many women I’ve met during my career just getting on with their work, supporting each other and their colleagues and managing the often tricky combination of family life and research. Fieldwork can be quite challenging to manage with families and this does seem to create greater restrictions for women than for men in general.

7. You’re best known for your non-fiction work, but do you have a secret fiction novel in your top drawer that’s just waiting to be set free? Yes – I’ve written two novels – an environmental science fiction called Tellurian Blue which was shortlisted for the Text Prize and a historical fiction based on the French scientific voyages to the Pacific, both of which have potential for series and have young adult main characters. When I get a minute, I’ll get back to them!

8. Do you believe Australia could better make better use of our edible indigenous flora? Absolutely. And our fauna too for that matter. If we are going to eat meat, we should be eating kangaroo species which are currently in overabundance in many areas. But I think there are a lot of Australian native plants beyond the well known macadamias that we could be making much better use of. I’m looking forward to harvesting native grass on my property this year for their seeds and now that Bruce Pascoe has given me some tips for how to harvest and eat Dianella flax lily tubers I’m going to give those a go too (they grow a bit too well in my garden). It will take a while before we get the hang of how to grow and use these plants but they are much better for our environment than introduced plants.

9. You recently visited Norway. Did you learn anything that would be worth implementing in Australia? I was really interested to learn about how Norway (with a much smaller population of Norwegian readers) supports their writers and literature. Firstly I think Norway has a bipartisan agreement that their national literature is important to protect and encourage, so they have funding systems in place to help writers support themselves and they also buy selected Norwegian books each year to distribute to the libraries. They also have a guaranteed price on all books for 12 months which prevents retailers from undercutting each other (and ultimately the whole industry) through the initial period of publication when most books are sold. We could really use some of these initiatives here.

10. Do you think the world could be a better place if more young girls choose a career in science? For sure. The world would be a better place if more young girls were able to maintain their careers (including scientific ones) through all stages of their lives and I hope we are getting better at doing that. Zoology has changed dramatically since women have been able to study and work in this field – turns out male animals don’t all rule the roost after all! I think all workspaces benefit from having a diversity of people in them who bring different perspectives and experiences to their work – men and women, young and old, people from different language or cultural backgrounds or with different life experiences in terms of abilities and gender identities. The fact that women—more than half the population—are still a long way off being equally represented in many jobs and positions of authorities despite being equally capable, reveals the underlying problems we have with unconscious biases in how we treat and listen to people. We need to be honest about how we all have unintentional biases towards people who are ‘more like us’ in order to make sure we’re not discriminating against people. Simply being aware of gender bias and how to it works makes a huge difference – and we need to start with children’s books where male characters have long been disproportionately more vocal and more active compared to girls!


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