How to Move a Zoo by Kate Simpson

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

I love true stories and I love elephants, so though the target demographic for Kate Simpson’s How to Move a Zoo is for children four to eight years, this large hard cover book  will remain on my coffee table for all my adult friends to appreciate a slice of Sydney history.  Charmingly illustrated by Owen Swan, the realistic drawings clearly tell the story, so when adults are not around to read, younger children can relive how Jessie the elephant walked through the streets of Sydney.

In was a different time, 1916.  The Sydney Harbour Bridge had not yet been built and the famous Sydney Opera House had not been given any thought at all.  The little Moore Park Zoo was clearly too cramped to cope with a burgeoning population of mammals, birds and reptiles, so a more prestigious piece of real estate was acquired over-looking the harbour at Taronga Park.  Taronga comes from the Cammeraigal word ‘tarong’ which means shoulder, forming the upper part of Bradleys Head peninsular it covers approximately 28 hectares.

Moving a zoo is not an easy project, in all there were 228 mammals, 552 birds and 64 reptiles to be transported to the new facilities, most of which were taken by truck or trailer.  Apart from Jessie the elephant.  She walked early one October morning from Moore Park through Woolloomooloo across the Botanical Gardens to Bennelong Pt.  Then, the biggest challenge, boarding a barge at Fort Macquarie travelling some distance across the harbour to Bradleys Head, and up the ramp to her new luxurious house and pool.

This perilous project is recounted by Kate Simpson in How to Move a Zoo, accompanied by Owen Swan’s drawings that manage to create such empathy for this endearing creature.

Jessie is accompanied by Mr. Miller her keeper.

 It was still dark as Mr. Miller walked through the old zoo.  A kookaburra laughed to tell him that dawn was near, but otherwise all was quiet.  The animals were gone.

All except Jessie.

The next page shows trucks and cars of all descriptions carrying the inhabitants of Moore Park Zoo.  Then a two-page spread of a map of Sydney from Moore Park to Taronga a red line indicating Jessie’s journey.  It was a long way for her softly padded feet to tread.  It must have been a relief to arrive at the Botanical Gardens entering from Bourke Street. Jessie remained calm throughout her long walk but needed reassurance when being asked to board the ferry.  But in true Jessie fashion:  Jessie stood as still as a statue across the harbour.   What a trooper.  The next big challenge was stepping off the barge onto the pontoon, which dipped under her weight.  Step by step, Jessie tiptoed across.  Such intelligence.  Up the ramp to her new home replete with a large pool.  Phew.

I can’t help but think if history were presented this well to young children, they would acquire insight that reaches beyond facts and figures, perhaps resonating into adult life.

History beautifully presented.  Recommended.

How to Move a Zoo

By Kate Simpson & Owen Swan


Allen & Unwin Children

Hard Back

ISBN:  978 176118 030 9

$24.99; 32pp


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