Interview – Ali Douglas
Taxidermist – Ali Douglas
What do you consider the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
It is most rewarding when you’ve worked away at a challenging animal and you manage to pull it altogether into something that looks animated and lifelike again. Some animals are very difficult because they come to us in such poor condition. Sometimes they’re very rare & you know you may never get another. That’s pretty nerve wracking & challenging. It’s also rewarding to know that I am contributing to science & a greater understanding of the environment. Seeing children & families interacting with my specimens on the display floors is a real highlight.
If people were considering becoming a taxidermist what advice would you give them?
Taxidermy in Australia is not an easy profession and a particularly niche market. There are very limited taxidermy jobs available within museums with only a handful of practitioners still working within our major institutions. This has been because of shifting priorities, out sourcing of exhibitions & a decline in demand. Commercial taxidermists are limited to working with feral species & pets because of our strict environmental laws that make native animals off limits. This is a great surprise to most people. Within the museum I have all the permits and permissions for Australian fauna.
What qualifications or experience is required to become a taxidermist?
Taxidermy is essentially a learn in the job profession. I learnt many years ago from volunteering with the taxidermist at the Qld museum. In America & Europe there are courses you can do to learn. In Australia, there are a couple of people offering short workshops but no formal school or qualification. Some commercial taxidermists may take on assistants.
What path did you take to become a taxidermist?
I should say that I’m not just a taxidermist. That’s just one of the many things I do as part of the exhibitions team at the Queensland Museum. From school I went to art college at QUT and did a bachelor of Visual Arts majoring in Sculpture and painting. I volunteered at the museum before finding work with a public art company. I worked as a sculptor, moulder & caster, mosaicist foundry assistant and sometimes designer. In my early 20s I went to England and for 6 years worked as a prop maker & later set designer for theatre companies. In 2000 I returned to Australia & finally got a job at the museum on the strength of my painting and Sculptural skills and the fact that I could do Taxidermy. I have been there ever since! I have also continued to work as a visual artist exhibiting my paintings and ceramics.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a guide dog trainer!
Is this your first career? Can you see yourself remaining in this line of work forever?
This is not my first career. I have worked as a mosaicist, prop maker, set designer, artist and most importantly as a mother of 2 wonderful children! I’m sure I will be with the museum for a long time to come but who knows what the future holds. I’m hoping to again have more time in the future for my art but feel very lucky to have always been able to work at something I love.
What are your standard hours?
I currently work from 7.30am to 3.45pm four days a week, having dropped back from full time last year.
Is there anything you can tell us about your job that people wouldn’t expect?
People think taxidermy must be very gory. Some parts are, but as Bec will attest, there’s not as much blood as you would think. After the initial skinning stage, it’s all about working with your hands & making. Like being a sculptor or a shoe maker or an upholsterer. Each piece is unique and challenging in its own way.