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Artists hope penguins will fly

Date

Ian warden

Alan and Julie Aston with their Emperor Penguin sculptures that are being made for Sydney's <i>Sculptures by the Sea</i> in Bondi.

Alan and Julie Aston with their Emperor Penguin sculptures that are being made for Sydney's Sculptures by the Sea in Bondi. Photo: Jay Cronan

It's not that they're a breeding pair but the two enormous emperor penguins at Alan and Julie Aston's home in Hawker might, in coming months, multiply into a colony of 24.

Alan (''I'm the sculptor and Julie is the artist who adds the artistic touches'') made the legendary zebras of Lake George (of which more in a moment). Now he's turned to emperor penguins. He's made two of the plaster (but copper-beaked) giants. They live indoors and they're life-sized, which means they're 1.2 metres tall and burly and so it's just as well that the Astons have a spacious home.

What will trigger a multiplication of these penguins will not be an amorous encounter between these two completed ones but the nod from the supremos of Sydney's Sculpture By The Sea exhibition.

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That exhibition enables invited artists to install their works for three weeks at what must be the grandest sculpture garden in the world, the stretch of dizzying sandstone clifftops between Bondi and Tamarama.

The Astons have displayed a cohort of zebras there in the past and have a delightful picture of them grazing on the clifftop tinted in a bright pink dawn as the sun gets ready to come bounding up out of the Pacific.

When and if the nod is given (in about April of next year) the Astons will have to break into a frenzy of penguin-making to get a colony of more than 20 of them ready for the show that opens in October.

Alan and Julie Aston's zebra sculptures, at their original home on Lake George in July, 2010

Alan and Julie Aston's zebra sculptures, at their original home on Lake George in July, 2010 Photo: Kate Leith

Back to the penguins in a moment but first to the almost Shakespearean saga of the Lake George zebras.

''Where are they now?'' I hear this column's several million readers cry. Be patient. We're getting to that.

The story is that the Astons (artists and for many years owners of a Christmas tree plantation), inspired by seeing zebras enhancing landscapes in Africa, made four of them (life-sized) and installed them on the African-looking dry lake bed at Lake George in 2010. The spectacle they made was an instant, sensational hit, exceeding everything their creators had imagined.

Glimpses of Andrew in Narrabundah.

Glimpses of Andrew in Narrabundah. Photo: Glen Knight

''They were just great there,'' Alan reminisced, emotionally, on Thursday.

''The numbers of people they attracted! The driver/reviver people loved them and so did the bus drivers. [Tour buses that wouldn't otherwise have stopped used to pull in to allow their patrons to ogle the zebras.] There used to be just an incredible feeling there. People would drive in and get out of their cars and start actually talking to each other! The driver/reviver people said that before the zebras they always had to give people lids with their coffees [because people drove away long before they'd finished drinking] but while the zebras were there nobody wanted a lid.''

Then, tragically, the zebras were vandalised. The published pictures of the smashed zebras broke people's hearts. If ever one had wanted vandals caught and locked in stocks in Civic so that we could throw rotten eggs and offal at them, this was that crime.

''I was devastated,'' Alston remembers, with feeling.

At the time he didn't think he'd be able to bear to repair and remake the zebras.

''But thanks to The Canberra Times word got out and we started getting calls. Floriade wanted them. The Canberra Racetrack wanted them. The Arboretum wanted them. Canberra Airport wanted them. [Laughs.] And lots of private people wanted them for their backyards and properties.''

So he repaired and rebuilt them and now, after several guest appearances around the ACT, they have been settled, for ever, in an idyllic paddock beside a billabong at the Pegasus Riding School at Hawker.

The Astons went on to make some new zebras for a past Sculptures By The Sea. They all were sold to well-heeled homes.

There have since been a few zebra commissions. One stands by the Coogee pool of broadcasting celebrity Amanda Keller. Another, with a view not dreamed of by the zebras of Africa, is on a balcony overlooking Bondi Beach.

Peacock's trip not by the book

The anxiety-making story of the disappearance of Andrew Peacock from his usual habitat of the National Library of Australia has triggered an exciting, if not totally reassuring response.

To recap, Andrew the peacock has lived around the library for about three years but has been missing now for almost a month. Library staff, who love him and who have felt their working lives enriched by seeing him about the place, are upset.

''Librarians pining is not a pretty sight,'' a mournful library spokeswoman told Gang-gang.

We pleaded for sightings and Glen Knight, of Narrabundah, writes to say: ''See attached pictures of what I believe is Andrew. He passed through my backyard on the Tuesday evening of the 27th of November.

''I was in my shed in the yard and the maggies that hang around were making a hell of a racket, but all making the same noise (very unusual) and not the usual random cacophony of noise.

''I took a couple of steps outside of the shed and there he was, taking a casual walk under the clothes line heading up my backyard where he then flew up onto the fence to get his bearings. He looked around for a bit then took off in an easterly direction and landed on a garage roof two doors away …''

Although a more recent sighting would be more reassuring it's good news in a way that Andrew (isn't he magnificent!) has been seen in Narrabundah because it is blessed with a small colony of peafowls. He may have found companionship, even love.

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