Claire’s elephant-sized collection

By John Lewis

Don't mention the elephant in the room at Claire Mehmet's Shepparton home — she has 961 of them.

That's at the most recent count.

John Lewis met the Mercy Place aged care worker who has turned her passion for the giant creatures into a jumbo-sized collection of elephantine figures and sculptures.

Two weeks ago Claire Mehmet had 940 elephants in her Shepparton East home.

This week she has 961 ear flapping, galumphing, bejewelled and noble beasts to trumpet about.

"My son went to a Cobram swap-meet last week and he came home with 21 elephants he'd bought me," Claire says with a guilty look in her eye.

"I'm going to have to calm down a bit and stop — I'm running out of cabinet space," she says.

"But then friends say, `No, you can't stop, you've got to get to 1000'."

Claire has always been fascinated by elephants and has watched documentaries, visited zoos and read books about them for as long as she can remember.

"I just love everything about elephants. They're loyal and wise and caring, and they've got an extremely good memory," she says.

She recounts a story of a man who hunted elephants and who was eventually hunted down himself and killed by members of the same herd. Then there was the elephant carer who was given an elephant guard of honour at his funeral.

"They are magnificent animals," she says.

Her collection really got going about 30 years ago, when her husband Reg bought her a large wooden carved elephant from a Beechworth gift shop.

"He said, `I'll get it for you for good luck'," she says.

Then the collecting bug bit, and Claire began visiting second-hand shops and clearance and garage sales.

Today her home is filled with hundreds of elephant figurines — trunks up and trunks down, caring mums and clumsy babies, roaring males, dignified leaders and tearful grandmothers. 

She has elephants from India, Bali and Thailand was well as ones from gifts shops and Shepparton garage sales. She also has a few antiques dating from the 1950s and 60s.

Many of Claire's elephants come from friends' overseas holidays.

Many are gifts from friends and family — there is never a problem deciding what to buy Claire for her birthday or at Christmas.

"I couldn't have got to this stage without friends and family — every time they go away, they come back with an elephant," she says.

Sometimes her elephants pack a surprise.

Claire recently mounted a big-eared, long-trunked pachyderm head on a wall before her Melbourne-based daughter came to stay for a couple of nights.

"She got up in the middle of the night and got the fright of her life when she bumped into the new addition," she says.

At the moment, Claire's favourite elephant is a giant blue porcelain one with what looks like a bird bath on its back which sits on a table near her front door.

She received it as a 60th birthday present from a friend.

"It's too good for the garden. It's quite useful, people can throw their keys in it," she says.

Does she have any plans for her collection?

"I say to my kids, `I'm going to pass all these on to you, and you can't get rid of them'," she says with a cheeky grin.

"My son laughs and says, 'Yeah right, Mum'.''