Pamela Green sees nothing unusual about her housemates, from a stuffed fox and eagle in the lounge room, pickled animals on the bookshelf and skulls on the walls.
She’s simply preserving the memory of her nature-loving father who enjoyed the hobby of taxidermy for more than 60 years.
“My dad always called it stuffed with life,” Ms Green said.
Now her biggest problem is to fit the hundreds, if not thousands of specimens into her new home in the Bathurst district of central west New South Wales.
Six decades of taxidermy
The taxidermy collection started by Pamela Green’s father, Allan Green, began in 1925 when the then 15-year-old was walking on Sydney’s Manly Beach and he found a dead fairy penguin.
“He thought ‘How awful; this beautiful thing is dead’, so he bought a taxidermy book and that was his first specimen,” Ms Green said.
Taxidermy was a life-long hobby for her “unusual” father, who worked as a dye-maker.
As well as stuffed animals, birds and reptiles, there are bugs in old stock cube jars, plaster moulds of fish and countless shells and crustaceans.
Mr Green fashioned his own glass display cases out of old aquariums to show his collection.
Growing up with seven siblings, Ms Green said family holidays always involved collecting souvenirs with a difference.
“Anywhere we went there was always roadkill and we always took plastic bags or an item we could wrap it up in,” Ms Green explained.
Although illegal to do so today, Mr Green stuffed and preserved things he found or caught as well as those given to him by native bird and animal collectors.
A freezer full of creatures
Many of the ‘finds’ waiting for taxidermy were kept in the family freezer and Ms Green said her long-suffering mother often longed to have her fridge free of feathers, fur and fins.
However she said her mother would always cook whatever her father brought home and he would eat it, just like [British adventurer and survival expert], Bear Grylls.
Ms Green said the family did not have a lot of money but her childhood was spent helping her father with his taxidermy or learning about nature looking down a microscope.
“We didn’t have a problem with wet days,” she laughed.
Traditional method of taxidermy
Ms Green said instead of using the more modern method of freeze-drying specimens with tissue intact, her father performed traditional taxidermy by removing the body parts and leaving only the bones.
“You have to turn the legs inside out to take all the meat off and with a bird you have to turn the head past the neck to take all the meat off them and then you have to pass it back through the neck which is a skill,” Ms Green said.
She said her father also taught that skill to her daughter, Joanne, because she “had a strong stomach”.
The animals, birds and fish in the collection all tell a story. For instance there is a glider possum that Ms Green said was found “squashed flat”, perhaps by a motorbike, and her father had to rebuild the tiny skeleton.
Another is a koala that was one of seven that died at a Sydney wildlife sanctuary due to paint fumes and the attending vet asked Mr Green to stuff one for his surgery and gave the rest to the amateur taxidermist.
“So my father did this young fellow and the others he disposed of, probably in the backyard, and there’s another baby one, pickled in a jar, still under my house,” Ms Green said.
Curious not creepy
She said she never found it strange or creepy to live with lots of dead things.
“We just assumed ‘Why didn’t everyone have things like this?’ [but] as I got older I learnt it wasn’t quite so,” Ms Green said.
Although Allan Green carefully wrote descriptions and stuck them to all the items in the taxidermy collection there is no full catalogue or count of how vast it is.
For Ms Green its real value is that it speaks of her father and his enduring curiosity about all creatures and how he passed that love for nature onto his children and grandchildren.
“No wonder Dad was upset when he went because he hadn’t done enough and we were upset because he had so much more to give; so much more to teach us,” she said.