Early in 1971 Olsen was invited by Ken Taylor to join in the production of the 'Wild Australia' television series for the ABC. The program aimed to document native fauna, particularly the bird life, in natural habitats across Australia. The highly informative documentary presented the scientific knowledge of natural scientists along with the creative responses of the artist. This project was the foundation for Olsen's ongoing interest in Australia's fauna, particularly birds.
The experience of working on the 'Wild Australia' series introduced Olsen to new working methods. He would familiarise himself with a particular species by making a series of detailed sketches with notes, much like an ornithologist doing field research. Olsen amazed his co producers with his ability to capture the particular mannerisms of different bird species with rapid economical illustrations.
Throughout the 1970s Olsen's work continued as a direct response to the natural environment, with a number of trips to a range of remote areas in Australia. His understanding and representation of different species continued to develop throughout this time. During this period Olsen also develop an increasing interest in Eastern art and philosophy, which informed his approach as he had a deep affinity with many of the ideas and concepts they offered. "He agreed with the concept expressed in Chinese painting that 'the particular outward appearance of things, or indeed their accuracy, was of secondary importance to capturing the essence or spirit of the subject.' " (Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Craftsman House, 1991, p144). Olsen holds the view that "Mere scientific observation or topographical rendering in itself would be quite unsatisfactory if it were not informed by some mythic moving force." (John Olsen, The Land Beyond Time, The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 1984, p12)
Olsen painted Night Heron, Clarendon soon after he moved to the country town of Clarendon, situated in a picturesque valley on the Onkaparinga River, 30 km south of Adelaide in 1981. This period witnessed the dynamic culmination of the previous decades work and interests in the form of a series of large, significant oil paintings, which demonstrate his deeper understanding of the natural environment. Deborah Hart, author of the major monograph on the artist, notes that "The seven years Olsen spent in the hamlet of Clarendon saw a resurgence of confidence in his oil paintings, comparable to his work of the 1960sCompared with Olsen's desert landscapes, his paintings of the Clarendon environment are generally characterised by a much greater sense of intimacy and familiarity." (Hart, op. cit., pp 161 & 163)
Until this stage Olsen's wonderfully insightful and inventive depictions of animals had predominantly been works on paper. Night Heron, Clarendon is, significantly, one of Olsen's first major paintings of a wildlife subject. The work demonstrates his confident intimacy with the fauna of the surrounding district. The Night Heron is a water bird that roost through the day and then flies out to fish at the river at dusk. Here the bird, with its exaggerated, elongated beak and neck tucked right back sits, still, in the centre of a twilight landscape. With this painting Olsen has achieved an assured celebration of the idiosyncrasies of the species.