She was the win­some mer­maid in a hit 80s ro­mance, but Daryl Han­nah finds her sec­ond ca­reer as an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist more re­ward­ing, writes Gaby Wood

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

SOME peo­ple think Daryl Han­nah is a lit­tle nuts. In fact, she has been con­sid­ered to be vary­ing de­grees of nuts since she was a child. I am not a doc­tor, but af­ter spending an un­in­ten­tion­ally crazy day with her, I have come to the con­clu­sion that she is one of the most quick-wit­ted and be­guil­ingly ec­cen­tric peo­ple I have met.

We had ar­ranged to meet for lunch in Mal­ibu, then drive more than an hour north to a site where we would release a Cal­i­for­nia con­dor into the wild. A pro­duc­tion com­pany had con­tacted Han­nah to ask if she would par­tic­i­pate in a doc­u­men­tary about en­dan­gered species for the ca­ble tele­vi­sion chan­nel Show­time, and since she had seen the mag­nif­i­cent 2.7m wing­span of a con­dor only once, she jumped at the chance.

In the mid-1980s there were only 25 of them in ex­is­tence; af­ter years of breed­ing in cap­tiv­ity, there are 85 con­dors fly­ing free in Cal­i­for­nia. Two weeks ear­lier, Han­nah had posted a no­tice on her web­site about two con­dors that had been shot in Big Sur and the $ US30,000 ($ 38,500) re­ward that was be­ing of­fered if the shooter was found. It was just af­ter this that the Show­time peo­ple got in touch.

Han­nah, 48, looks re­mark­ably as she did when the world first saw her in 80s films

and She’s still wispy haired and wafty voiced, very long and lean. ( She tells me she did so much bal­let as a kid that she can wrap her legs around her neck without stretch­ing.) Her eyes are pale blue with a fleck of yel­low that looks as though it has been im­ported from an­other species. And al­though she still acts, her main oc­cu­pa­tion th­ese days may best be de­scribed as be­ing the good fairy of the bio­sphere. She di­vides her time be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Colorado, and in both places lives ‘‘ off the grid’’, with her own sources of wa­ter and power. Her homes are pow­ered by so­lar pan­els, her toi­lets are com­post, her cars run on leftover grease from fast-food restau­rants. She grows her own food and brings what she can’t eat to a farm­ers mar­ket; she keeps bees and makes honey, she knits, she sells teepees on her web­site.

She gets ex­cited about bat­tery stor­age and new de­signs for low-pro­file wind tur­bines. (‘‘ I’m a lit­tle bit of a nerd,’’ she ad­mits.) She wears re­cy­cled neck­laces made of boiled-down shot­gun cas­ings. She has more than 20 res­cued an­i­mals: horses, al­pacas, chick­ens, dogs and cows. Oc­ca­sion­ally some­one will aban­don a horse at the lo­cal vet and he’ll ring her up and say: ‘‘ Got an­other one for you.’’ Re­cently she found a mul­ti­coloured frog sev­eral thou­sand kilo­me­tres from where it looked as if it ought to be. ( An un­writ­ten rule of the wild: all lost trop­i­cal frogs must make their way to Han­nah’s house.) She has just adopted two more dogs from a shel­ter, though for the most part she just picks up strays. ‘‘ I find stray dogs all the time,’’ she says. ‘‘ Don’t you?’’

The three best roles of Han­nah’s ca­reer have been oth­er­worldly crea­tures — an an­droid, a mer­maid and the psy­cho­pathic one-eyed killer in Quentin Tarantino’s — and you can see what may have led to such cast­ing. But Han­nah’s oth­er­world­li­ness is ac­tu­ally over- world­li­ness: she just hap­pens to love this planet in a way that ex­ceeds most peo­ple’s com­mit­ment. ‘‘ When peo­ple talk about rein­car­na­tion,’’ Han­nah tells me over an or­ganic salad, ‘‘ I al­ways feel that if there is such a thing, this is def­i­nitely my first time be­cause I’m al­ways amazed. I’m both amazed at how hor­rif­i­cally we can treat each other and all other liv­ing things, and also amazed at the won­der and the beauty.

‘‘ I’m like: ‘ Oh my God, look at that bird!’ or ‘ Look at that flower!’ lit­er­ally ev­ery sin­gle day. I can’t get over how peo­ple are putting so much en­ergy and so many re­sources into go­ing to Mars when ev­ery­thing we could ever dream of is on this planet, if we just take care of it. What do they have on Mars? They don’t even have oxy­gen up there!’’

I ask her what she could save if she could only save a few things. ‘‘ Oh God! So­phie’s Choice!’’ she says. Well, I sug­gest, if you re­ally want to help, don’t you have to fo­cus? ‘‘ No, I don’t think so,’’ Han­nah ar­gues.

‘‘ You know, a lot of peo­ple say: ‘ What are you? An en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist? A hu­man­i­tar­ian? We’re con­fused.’ They want to put you in a lit­tle box. They don’t un­der­stand un­less you pick one thing and that’s your thing, un­less you say: ‘ I’m fight­ing for all shoes to be ve­gan shoes.’ I just can’t work that way. It’s all in­ter­con­nected to me and what I’d like to do is help peo­ple un­der­stand that in­ter­con­nec­tion: that if you buy a T-shirt from a chain store, it may have been made with sweat­shop labour, it may have been made by lit­tle kids, it def­i­nitely took more than nine years of drink­ing wa­ter to make that T-shirt, and it prob­a­bly was pro­cessed with a whole bunch of chem­i­cals as well.

‘‘ That’s sort of what my chal­lenge is, to help peo­ple un­der­stand that ev­ery­thing you do, or ev­ery­thing you don’t do, has an ef­fect.’’

I re­mind her that the dystopian world view of was set in 2019, only 10 years from now. Are we there yet? Is the world go­ing bad? ‘‘ Well,’’ she sighs in her best Dorothy-in-Oz voice, ‘‘ we’re cer­tainly in a whole lot of trou­ble.’’

We’re head­ing to the con­dor site now: Han­nah, a make-up artist, the driver of the biodiesel limo she has in­sisted on ( it runs on wal­nut-de­rived oil) and me.

Out­side the restau­rant, a pa­parazzo had been ly­ing in wait in the back of his four-wheel-drive with tinted win­dows. Han­nah took this in her stride. ( The height of the papfest was in the early 90s, when she lived with John F. Kennedy Jr, af­ter which she be­came very pri­vate about her love life.)

It cer­tainly seems a far cry from the dol­phins, with which Han­nah has, of course, swum in the wild: not in one of those groups where the boats chase the dol­phins so peo­ple can swim with them ( she ob­jects to this ap­proach as it dis­turbs the dol­phins’ sleep cy­cles), but on her own, with flip­pers and a snorkel. ‘‘ They love to play Keep Away,’’ she says. ‘‘ If you’re just swim­ming they don’t care, but if you’re goof­ing around, blow­ing bub­bles and hav­ing fun, they to­tally want to come and check it out.’’

She grew up in Chicago, and when her fa­ther walked out and her mother mar­ried mil­lion­aire Jer­rold Wexler, she even­tu­ally be­came one of seven sis­ters and a brother. Han­nah has 33 nieces and neph­ews: ‘‘ They’ve done their part for the over­pop­u­la­tion cri­sis,’’ she says with a gig­gle. Wexler, who died 17 years ago, legally adopted her and she refers to him as her fa­ther.

When she was seven her par­ents sent her to a sur­vival camp in Colorado, where you had to pitch tents in the wilder­ness and dig your own la­trines and tie up your horses.

‘‘ And there I felt . . . comfortable,’’ she re­mem­bers. ‘‘ I felt con­fi­dent and calm, and things made more sense.’’

Han­nah went on to nur­ture this affin­ity with the nat­u­ral world pri­vately, but on Septem­ber 11, 2001, that changed. ‘‘ Be­fore then I fig­ured that the most pow­er­ful thing I could do was just live by my be­liefs. But af­ter 9/ 11, I saw [ Ge­orge W. Bush] try­ing to con­fuse ev­ery­body and pre­tend that 9/ 11 was some­thing to do with Iraq,’’ she says with a laugh. ‘‘ I kind of recog­nised the fact

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