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web SHE was a gentle giant who spent 40 years giving rides to children. A visit to Melbourne Zoo wasn't complete without a ride on Queenie. Children and adults would queue for hours and pay tuppence to climb on to everyone's favourite Indian elephant. She would give up to 500 rides a day and amble round and round a circuit, where children left apples and peanuts on the posts for her to eat.But it all went tragically wrong when she crushed her keeper, Wilfred Lawson, in 1944. She was later put down. The controversy of Queenie, Melbourne Zoo's 20th-century mascot, is brought to life in a new children's picture book by Corinne Fenton.

She had given rides for 40 years and travelled 165,000 kilometres, and it was the end of a long day at the zoo," Fenton says. "To do something as monotonous for 40 years is a lot to ask of an animal."When the author came across Queenie's story, she felt it had to be told. She spent four-and-a-half years researching the picture book so that grandparents who may have ridden the elephant can tell the story to their grandchildren and reassure them that things are better today.Joyce Hamilton, 77, vividly remembers the day of the incident. "Queenie kills keeper" was on all thbillboards as Hamilton, then 15, took a train home from work with her heart in her mouth."I was petrified it was my dad," she says. Her father, Adolphus Stanley, had been looking after Queenie for a month while her regular keeper was on holidays. Hamilton rushed home to find her father sitting in his chair. It was Lawson who was dead. Everyone at the zoo was in shock."My dad believed it was deliberate, because Mr Lawson was pretty rough with her." She says he hit the elephant with a piece of wood behind the ears when she did not move fast enough."My dad used to say she was 'the loveliest animal in the zoo'." She believes that after a month of her father's care, Queenie cracked when Lawson returned as her keeper.What was even more shocking was that Hamilton's father was asked to shoot the elephant when the decision was made to put her down. He was the best shot in the zoo and, although he hated to do the deed, he wanted it to be quick and painless.  

 Queenie was six when she arrived in Melbourne in 1902. She started giving rides aged nine and soon became a star attraction. Children would travel from afar for a ride, and she was a big earner for the zoo.. After Lawson's death, a coroner's inquest found her guilty of killing her keeper. Following public support, the zoo board decided to keep her as an exhibit. But nine months later, officially due to a war-time shortage of fodder, Queenie was destroyed. Next page