Giulia Collard has turned the tree at the front of her Holland Park West home into an iconic feature in the neighbourhood. Picture: Liam Kidston
Giulia Collard has turned the tree at the front of her Holland Park West home into an iconic feature in the neighbourhood. Picture: Liam Kidston

The woman behind iconic Holland Park ‘stuffed animal tree’

GIULIA COLLARD

Retired, 73, Holland Park

My granddaughter Jaime (now 19) had an old orange orang-utan she didn't want any more.

I couldn't bring myself to throw it out, so I hung it in the tree hoping someone would take it. No one did.

Then on Christmas Eve, Ratatouille arrived at the bottom of my stairs with a sign saying, can I come live in your animal tree? That's how it started. One by one, toy animals would arrive. It's been nearly four years now and more than 160 animals live in my tree.

I love seeing the happy faces of people stopping by to say hello or thanking me for brightening their day.

Every day I hear voices near the tree laughing and carrying on. Kids walking to school stop to play and I let them look in the chook house to see if there are any eggs, which they can take home.

It's not just kids - the local policeman in his uniform and great big, burly garbagemen have stopped to take photos. Today a learner driver went past and yelled, "thank you, you've made me smile!"

 

Giulia Collard has turned a tree at the front of her Holland Park West home into an iconic feature in the neighbourhood. Picture: Liam Kidston
Giulia Collard has turned a tree at the front of her Holland Park West home into an iconic feature in the neighbourhood. Picture: Liam Kidston

 

Sometimes I wake up and think, oh, I don't feel like putting the animals out today - it can take up to an hour and a half, depending who wants to stop for a chat. But then I think, what if people go past and are disappointed?

I have to do it, unless it's raining. It's changed [my husband] Neil's life like a pain in the neck! My daughter Sharon, 53, says, "gosh, Mum, people are going to think who is this crazy lady?" But my other daughter, Pieta, 50, says, "that's public art, Mum, you could get a $10,000 grant". [But] if I got paid, I wouldn't have the joy.

Being Italian, I love my fruit trees and grafting like my late father [Luigi] taught me. I also love gardening and sewing for my grandchildren [Emily, 24, Jaime, 19, William, 12, Samuel, 7, and Isabella, 16 months].

My sixth grandchild, Amelia, is nine weeks old. The boys spend every second weekend with us. Most of all I love cooking, and Neil especially loves my Italian dishes.

I was born in Treviso, about 20km north of Venice, but my family came to Innisfail [in the state's far north] when I was four, sponsored by Dad's father and brothers.

Mum [Noemi] died from leukaemia aged 39, the day after my 15th birthday, leaving me to raise a five-year-old sister [Janet, now 61] and 18-month-old brother [John, now 58]. My two older sisters [Marisa, now 75, and Gina, 74] had started their own lives. When my father got married again, I left home.

 

“My daughter Sharon says,  people are going to think, who is this crazy lady? But my other daughter Pieta says, ‘that’s public art Mum’.’’ Picture: Liam Kidston
“My daughter Sharon says, people are going to think, who is this crazy lady? But my other daughter Pieta says, ‘that’s public art Mum’.’’ Picture: Liam Kidston

 

Neil, now 72, was in the army when we met [in Innisfail] at 19 and we liked each other so much he sent me a plane ticket to join him in Melbourne.

We married when I was 21 and when Sharon was 18 months old, he went to Vietnam. We wrote to each other every day for that whole year.

After six years in the army, he joined marine customs in Brisbane and that's where he stayed until he retired. We also ran several gyms across Brisbane for 15 years and I taught "exercise to music", now known as aerobics.

We were the first gym in Brisbane to offer this. I was also an international bodybuilding judge, with people like Cuban Sergio Oliva and Frenchman Serge Nubret coming to Brisbane for competitions.

When we sold the gyms, I spent 20 years working for Arnott's [Virginia, in Brisbane's north], making biscuits and acting as union leader and senior first-aider.

Neil and I have been back and forth to Italy a few times and I'm still not finished. I just dread the day I'll have to say goodbye, as it's just so beautiful.

We visited Pieta in Japan, when she was teaching there, and [son] Chris, 47, paid for us to go to Vietnam as a Father's Day present to see where Neil fought. Going to all those places, you realised what they went through.

It was the best thing Chris could have done because it helped Neil; it was like a cleansing. [Veterans] got a bad deal when they came back, so it set everything right.

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