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Q&A with Valerie Taylor - Playing with Sharks

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by Jenny Hatton Mahon (subscribe)
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Diving into life and love
She is known for her fearless, pioneering environmentalism which has spanned 50 years, and now Valerie Taylor's legacy and that of her husband Ron, is being celebrated on screen with Playing with Sharks.

Playing with Sharks tells the story of these accidental conservationists who turned from hunters to protectors following a successful period competing in spear-fishing contests. At that time, fish in the sea were plentiful and the sport seemingly harmless, but it was the indiscriminate culling of Great White sharks that triggered a change in heart and a quest to protect the sharks and other sea life.

Having been portrayed by the media of the 60s and 70s as the blonde bombshell - the 'Bond girl of the ocean' - Valerie Taylor had a hidden determination and resilience that caught some by surprise, and caught her husband hook, line and sinker.

As a child, Valerie was struck down by polio but overcame that in the same way she's overcome all obstacles encountered during her life. She has been an incredible inspiration to women over the years, pushing through barriers and refusing to be bound by the gender biases of the time. She attributes her fearlessness to her mother who, when Valerie was 15 and left school to get a job to help support the family, told Valerie, "You can do anything you want." That gave her freedom to pursue her passion from which she earned a living and found her purpose. She remains grateful that she had that freedom and that her mother did not place any expectations on her, allowing her to find her own path in life.

Valerie is not resentful of missing school due to polio and having to leave before finishing her formal education. She maintains that "Though my education may be lacking, my education in the ocean and experience is large. When I talk to marine biologists, I realise I know as much as them, if not more, without going to university." She continued, "I believe that experience is the greatest teacher."

Now in her 80's, Valerie Taylor still dives and still advocates for ocean protection and conservation. But in the quieter moments, she can be found drawing (her first job was as a cartoon and animation artist), painting, reminiscing over her underwater photography and writing. But far from a quiet life that one may expect of an octogenarian, she is still incredibly active, a fierce advocate and unapologetic for her candour and forthright approach. Her truth is that nature does not make mistakes and that sharks, like all other marine animals, play an important part in our world. Human intervention, disturbance and manipulation of our ocean and land will come at a price as it has become unsustainable for all life on the planet.

The story is not just about sharks and conservation. It's also a story of hope and about overcoming obstacles in life, finding your passion and living your purpose. Valerie's story goes beyond her connection with sharks and recognises the importance of being connected to our natural world and the importance for all of us to participate in initiatives to protect our environment. Valerie says, "There has always been climate change. The world has always gotten warmer and colder throughout the history of the planet. The planet and nature will take care of it; the big problem is the human race. We've changed the way nature normally works and I believe that global warming is accelerating." She goes on to share one example of how human interference in Antarctica is impacting directly and indirectly on all life on earth, offering a glimpse into how small actions can have a huge and devastating impact.

The story is also a love letter - to Valerie and Ron's relationship, partnership, mutual respect and success, and a love letter to the marine world that they observed and recorded for our benefit. Valerie says, "My hope is that people get a better understanding of life in the ocean environment which has given us all life and should be respected."

Playing with Sharks is abundant with stunning cinematography and archival footage, as well as featuring interviews with those who knew and worked with the Taylors, including influential researchers and ocean conservationists such as Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques).

A remarkable Australian woman and an inspiring story, Valerie Taylor Playing with Sharks will be showing at cinemas from 17-20 June 2021.

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Why? Our oceans are our future
Where: At a cinema near you
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