Zelie Bullen has worked in film and television her entire career. Born and raised in the outskirts of Perth, animals surrounded her life from birth but she was made to wait until her 10th birthday to finally get the responsibility of her ‘very own’ first pony. From a very young age Zelie had planned to become a veterinarian. That was until she discovered a way to chase her true calling which was to “play” with animals and their natural behaviour and then to ultimately train animals for a living. Her memoir, Love, Sweat & Tears, is an inspirational story overcoming hardship, personal tragedy and depression to live her dreams; her courage and strength is truly admirable. Zelie will be my guest at Koorliny Arts Centre’s Stories on Stage event on May 27, but for those who don’t live in Perth, here’s my insight into Zelie:
Monique: What led to your decision to write Love, Sweat & Tears?
Zelie: I was approached to write my story after appearing on Australian Story and was at first reluctant, but was convinced by the publisher that my story may help someone going through equally tough times, to make it through.
Monique: You co-wrote the memoir with your sister, Freda Marnie Nicholls. What was that experience like? Was it emotional? Cathartic/healing?
Zelie: It was a remarkable process, and yes I think it was an emotionally cleansing experience, we were able to discuss out own feelings around certain events, and I think we’re certainly closer as a result.
Monique: Was there a particular chapter or time period that was especially hard to write about? How did you deal with that?
Zelie: We tackled the hardest, more emotional events in my life first. We cried a lot and yet again had an opportunity to express heart felt emotion surrounding these events. I think we dealt with it by laughing and crying together, and it sort of gave rise to the title of the book in the end.
Monique: Can you tell me a bit about the writing process – how it worked and what it involved? Did you and Freda work side-by-side or communicate via email/Skype?
Zelie: Freda travelled up to Queensland about once a month for a week to ten days for three months and we would talk each night, then I’d go and work animals during the day while she transcribed our conversations and put together the manuscript which she then continued writing back at her home in Gundagai. She would email me chapters to look at, comment on and correct as she finished them, and then she again came up one last time towards the end of the first draft and we read the entire manuscript through together.
Monique: What has been the feedback to Love, Sweat & Tears since it was launched last month?
Zelie: Wonderfully positive. Love, Sweat & Tears has touched and inspired so many people. We simply cannot keep up with the responses right now.
Monique: Do you see yourself becoming involved in another writing project? If so, any hints?
Zelie: Freda is currently writing another biography, as for myself I would love to write another book with Freda when the time is right.
Monique: You’ve faced a lot of difficult experiences in your life. What keeps you going when things get tough?
Zelie: Attitude, taking one day at a time, enjoying every moment you can in between the difficult times.
Monique: What advice will you give to your son, Colt, when he comes up against barriers?
Zelie: I’ve started saying to him already, something like this, that you always need to believe in yourself and if you have doubts, don’t be shy in asking for help, so you can do whatever it is you want to do.
Monique: You’ve said that you have accomplished all the dreams you had as a young woman. What dreams do you have now?
Zelie: I’m living my dream, every day.
Monique: You’re working with Circus Joseph Ashton at the moment. I know Craig’s from a circus family, but how have you found circus life?
Zelie: I love circus lifestyle. I love everything about it.
Monique: What’s next after the circus?
Zelie: I never know, my life is always unpredictable.
Monique: Tell me about a typical day working with animals on a film set.
Zelie: Every film and every job has different expectations, schedules, animals and requirements, there isn’t a typical day really.
Monique: It’s often said “never work with children or animals”, yet you’ve made a living from it. What draws you to working with animals? What qualities would someone need to make a career of animal training?
Zelie: I feel honoured and privileged to be around them, I like it when I feel that we understand each other, and thoroughly enjoy time with them. Qualities needed to be a good animal trainer are compassion, be confident enough to establish boundaries and, perhaps most importantly, have a willingness to understand how animals think and their emotional requirements.
Monique: Your life is so busy! Do you ever find time to read, and if so, what sort of books do you enjoy reading?
Zelie: I don’t really have time to read, but when I do, I tend to read work related books or scripts that are sent to me, when a movie is coming up.
Monique: So, what are you reading at the moment?
Zelie: A fantastic script about a female bushranger.
Monique: OK, some just-for-fun questions: If I came over for dinner now, what would we have to eat?
Zelie: Nothing unless my husband was cooking, I don’t cook!
Monique: Must make sure I book in then! Finish this sentence … I really hate it when …
Zelie: … People make judgments without being well informed.
Monique: Which song best describes you?
Zelie: Beautiful Day by U2. Freda is Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python).
Monique: You’ve got me whistling that tune now! If your horses could describe you, what do you think they’d say?
Zelie: A great boss who respects what we want and need, and gives us exciting adventures.
Thank you Zelie!