SIGN THE PETITION HERE to OPPOSE SB 250 and to UPHOLD Louisiana State Law PROHIBITING private ownership of tigers.

Louisiana Senator Rick Ward has introduced bill SB 250 seeking to: “exempt certain persons from the requirements of the big exotic cats rules” (specifically to allow Michael Sandlin to keep Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana.) The bill is scheduled for Senate floor action TODAY.

Tony has been confined for all of his nearly 14 years. We all know that many many animals are confined and imprisoned all over the world, but somehow for me, Tony the Tiger – in a cage at a truck stop – is a symbol of all that is unacceptable in human-animal relationships.

Let’s do our best to get him released and make his last years peaceful and more enjoyable.

You can read more about the issue HERE and see what further actions we can take. Keep up to date with Tony the Tiger via Facebook and Twitter.

Please spread the word urgently!

Many thanks ACE.

 

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR: I always look forward to the final selection of photographs in the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, now open at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The competition is open to all nationalities and different age groups and categories.  These photographs are the 2013 finalists and tour internationally.  The exhibition always reminds me what a beautiful but fragile world we live in, and not to take it for granted.

GLOBAL MARCHES FOR LION: Many thousands of people around the world in 62 cities marched in support of lions and against trophy hunting and “canned” lion breeding and hunting in South Africa.

Johannesburg

Protesters in Johannesburg. Photograph by Simon McDonnell

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING (CACH):  The Marches were the idea of South African Christine Jordaan who had been inspired – or stirred into action – by becoming aware of the work of long time conservationists Chris Mercer and Bev Pervan of CACH, the Campaign against Canned Hunting.  Chris was interviewed recently by Phillip Adams on Radio National and you can watch Chris speaking more about the issue here.

With great cruelty, lionesses are forced to have too many litters, and the cubs are taken from them immediately to be hand-raised and to build a trust in humans.  The cubs are then available for cub petting by tourists etc.  When old enough, they are often drugged, and while anticipating food, they are shot instead.  Hunters from the US (55%) and the EU (40%) pay a lot of money for this.  I find it just impossible to imagine what sort of pleasure this gives, or what sort of people they are.

I was heartened to see that so many people turned out in South Africa, but I’m sure that anyone benefiting from this ghastly trade, and breeding the lions, will be formidable opposition.

For a few years I have been saying that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  It’s much worse! According to Chris Mercer there are approximately 20,000 lions left in Africa, and there has been an 80-90% decline over last 15 years.  Like elephants and some other animals, this is an extinction vortex.

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney. Photograph by Aidan Basnett

The Sydney March seemed to be organised by several young women and I applaud their efforts and dedication to the cause. One of the organisers, Alison Lee Rubie, told me she has spent time with Kevin Richardson and his lions in South Africa, and that she really admired the work he was doing and it was an exceptional experience.  You can follow Alison’s updates via her Facebook page Lobby for Lions.

I spoke briefly at the March and I think this is going to be a growing protest that many of us will want to participate in, including many of the organisations concerned about animals, and lions in particular.

I contacted the South African High Commission in Canberra to try and determine the S.A. Government position on canned lion hunting.  I have had no response to date and I did warn them that this could grow into a very large protest – or even a boycott by tourists of South Africa, and that there were other African countries to visit and see wildlife.

I’m sure President Zuma has many pressing problems to address – like the poverty so many people still live in.  However, paying back the $25 million of taxpayer’s money spent on his lavish country estate is not one of them, as “they did this without telling me”.

I am delighted that Botswana intends to ban canned lion hunting and banned both trophy hunting and the export of wildlife (excluding pets) in January this year.  Many people have told me that Botswana is their favourite African destination.

FOR THE DIARY AND PLANNING: WORLD LION DAY on 10 August.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: Congratulations to all of those people who have worked for so many years to see the International Court of Justice stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.  The Court ruled that in this case Japanese whaling is a “commercial” exercise dressed up as a “scientific” exercise.  Unfortunately, Japan can still kill whales in the Northern Pacific, and several other countries will continue to slaughter whales needlessly.

AUSTRALIA FOR DOLPHINS:  The argument that hunting for whales and dolphins is traditional is actually only true for very few people.  The Japanese were encouraged to eat whale meat after the deprivations of the Second World War, and most of the Japanese are not too concerned about this issue.  I very much admire Sarah Lucas and her father and their work for Australia for Dolphins, especially protesting at the gruesome annual slaughter and capture of dolphins in Tajii, Japan. Visit their official website here and watch the 60 Minutes report  on their trip to Tajii.  We can help by donating and by becoming members of AFD.

Twin Hope by Diana Rebman in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

“Twin Hope” by Diana Rebman, in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

JANE GOODALL:  I do know my gorillas from my chimpanzees!  The indefatigible Jane Goodall, now 80, will be touring Australia from May 31 – June 8.  I can still remember her haunting chimpanzee call echoing through the Sydney Opera House on a previous visit.  Her Roots and Shoots program for school children is the most marvellous way of interesting and involving children in projects to care for our environment.

Captured: The Animal within Culture

Captured: The Animal within Culture

CAPTURED: I spoke briefly at the launch of CAPTURED The Animal within Culture which includes one of the most extensive interviews I have given.  I was interviewed by the editor, Melissa Boyde, a distinguished academic, and Chairperson of the Australian Animal Studies Group.  Melissa felt that the key themes in Captured are “encapsulated in Christian’s story: the implications of the physical and cultural capture of animals”.  I found the contributions very interesting and thought-provoking, especially:  the Ethiopian giraffe that walked 7000 kilometres from Marseilles to Paris in 1826 as a gift for the King Charles X;  “cultural imagining” associated with albatrosses;  the songs of whales;  the flourishing trade of exotic animals in Victorian England; and the ideas associated with the cultural representation of animals and our connectedness to animals.  I think the extent of the work being done in academic and creative circles on animal studies and human/animal relationships is so encouraging and informative – although Peter Singer did write Animal Liberation in 1975!

Unfortunately the book is quite expensive. It would be great if some of you could buy it, read it, and then possibly donate it to your local library?

COLONIAL ART: There is a superb exhibition in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, entitled Artist Colony: Drawing Sydney’s Nature.  These artworks are primarily painted in the first decade after the 1788 settlement.  Most of the works are drawn from the State Library/Mitchell Library collection, but many were newly acquired in 2011. At this time of exploration, many European collectors were finding the exotic discoveries from our region both “fascinating and disorientating”, and were hungry for specimens and these watercolour images.  Most of the artists – some still unidentified, were very good.

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

AUSTRALIA: Although our concerns in Australia are very minor in comparison to people in Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Ukraine for example, I am in danger of being what P J O’Rourke described as “the perpetually outraged”!  With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating categorically that “everywhere and everything is being impacted by Climate Change”, it is frustrating living under a government that in 2014 does not seem to believe 97% of scientists about climate change, or that urgent action is required NOW.  All our recent and more frequent extreme weather events in Australia are just because we have always been “a land of droughts and flooding rains”, according to our PM.

I was ashamed to hear that the Australian Government, who is hosting the G20 Summit of world leaders here in November, has tried – unsuccessfully, to remove climate change and global warming from the agenda!

Capture

Cartoon by Cathy Wilcox. Sourced from The Sun Herald.

MP Scott Ludlam’s Welcome to West Australia Tony Abbott has gone viral and  sums up how many of us feel about him.  Ludlam polled well in the recent W.A. election and perhaps the Greens, the conscience of the nation (if sometimes naive and a little misguided), are on the way back.  We need them.

I should just let Shawn Micallef’s hilarious show Mad as Hell on the ABC ridicule the government with the ample material they supply.

After promising to be a “transparent” and “no surprises” government, here are some examples:  trying to revoke legislation to remove the requirement for financial advisers to act in a client’s “best interests”;  our professed Christian Minister for Immigration has 66 “spin doctors” to prevent any information emerging about our inhumane detention policies or details of the riot that killed detainee Reza Berati on Manus Island in PNG;  repealing race hate laws, and in the name of free speech, allowing us “to be bigots”;  and back to the future, without even informing his own party and to widespread derision, PM Abbott reverting to granting Imperial Honours after 25 years.

New Holland Crane, 1790s

New Holland Crane, 1790s

G-Gs: Outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce will primarily be remembered by me for her attention-seeking bright outfits, has been made a Dame, and incoming G-G Peter Cosgrove has been knighted.  I’m sure he is a nice enough blokey Australian, but as a Major General I dread any more jingoism, especially with the anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign next year.  With so many young Australian soldiers’ lives sacrificed on the shores of Turkey in 1915 on behalf of the British, I just can’t understand why this is meant to define us as a nation?

Wildlife photographer of the year finalist.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

ENVIRONMENT:  There was a succinct article by Nick Feik in the new thesaturdaypaper.com who wrote that “from a new government that at times appeared otherwise unable even to tie its own shoelaces”…”the brute efficiency of its program to damage environmental interests has been breathtaking”.  Casualties include:  the Climate Commission; funding to the Environmental Defenders Office;  the Australian Renewable Energy Agency;  the Biodiversity Fund;  the Climate Change Authority; and an attempt to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Environmental approvals have been “streamlined” and as I have discussed previously,  the Great Barrier Reef and areas of the Tasmanian forests are at risk.  Apparently too much of our National Parks are “tied up”, and “commercial opportunities” are being considered, while timber workers are “the ultimate conservationists”. Most cynically, a climate sceptic has been appointed to review the Renewable Energy Target. Unfortunately many of these actions will be irreversible, and immune to legal challenges.

According to a Canadian Dr. Kevin Taft who recently visited Australia, this behaviour is similar to what happened with the conservative government in Canada who has also stripped away as many environmental protections as possible.  Taft reminded us how completely we are hostage to the fossil fuel industry, and in Canada they even created their own political party The Wildrose Party – cute?

Douglas Seifert / wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Douglas Seifert / Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

MINING: It is hard to assess or predict just how central coal and other fossil fuels will be to our energy needs in the future. According to BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie, 70% of the world’s energy will still be supplied by them until 2030 – but he would say that wouldn’t he!

Other people, with less of a vested interest, give coal another 10 years when it will become a “stranded asset”.  Japan is reopening their nuclear reactors, even though the Fukushima disaster has contaminated workers, food, and the surrounding land and ocean. China, with shocking pollution levels creating social unease, will apparently start to go easier on the use of coal – and use nuclear reactors, hydro and a variety of renewable energies.

 

Warkworth mine pit aerial. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Warkworth mine pit. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Isn’t this the most horrifying photograph?  Is this the face of the future?  This coal mine is in the Hunter Valley which is one of the most fertile and beautiful parts of NSW, and used to be a most attractive place to live and visit.   Communities and people who grow our food and have horse studs, vineyards etc are being driven out by these mines and coal seam gas sites. Rio Tinto has just lost a court battle to extend this already huge Warkworth open-cut mine, but undeterred, has resubmitted its application!  People in the nearby township of Bulga are fighting for their survival.

82 people have recently been arrested for protesting against the construction of another coal mine and the clearing of part of the Leard State Forest in north-western NSW.  “Activist journalist” Margo Kingston was also arrested – see her No Fibs website here, and the protesters have been accused of using social media to intimidate police!

What is good is that we ordinary citizens are fighting back: the community of Bulga;  the Lock the Gate Alliance of landowners and others who are especially concerned about the destruction and poisoning of water aquifers in prime food producing areas;  the most prominent people in racing are protesting against the Drayton South mine proposal; and court actions have been instigated, for example, against the criminal dumping of sludge into the Great Barrier Reef.

Hugh Jackman and other celebrities supported Yoko Ono’s protest against shale gas fracking in the US, and I’m hoping to see Hugh standing up for similar environmental causes here.

Do sign this Australians for Climate Action Petition to the government over their inaction on climate change.

wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

RENEWABLE ENERGY: I listened to a very interesting discussion (Science Show on Radio National) about renewable energies. Australia has “internationally competitive” Research – but “bugger all” Development.  Much of the discussion was too scientific for me to fully understand but I’ve always been cynical about  sequestration and carbon capture and storage, and there are no real breakthroughs yet.  But there is apparently deserved optimism about renewable energy from sources that include solar cells, voltaic cells, algae, human waste, and nuclear fusion.

VOICELESS: I participated in a very effective initiative against farmed food – a Meat Free Week supported by voiceless. I know I have discussed vegetarianism before, with some of you mischievously asking me how I was going….  The week without any “meat” was quite easy and I realised my diet is quite vegetarian.  I’m notoriously inept in the kitchen, but it made me think more creatively (and intelligently) about food, and I think I found the week quite liberating rather than limiting.  With advice from friends and my naturapath I ate a greater variety of food.  Once the week was over I decided it was a pity to not continue. It has been hypocritical of me to try to save and assist some animals, and eat others!  So I’m now officially a lacto-ovo vegetarian (which excludes meat and fish, but includes eggs and dairy products).

Hélène from Canada sent me this poignant and upsetting video about caged hens released from their imprisonment – made by Animals Australia.  Watch it and you may never eat chicken or eggs again!  I am only going to eat eggs when I can be assured of their origins – either “organic” or ideally, when I see the conditions for myself.

Ironically I still have to buy meat for my cats as I dread to think what additives are contained in tinned pet food.

Arriving at MONA

Arriving at MONA, Hobart, Tasmania

AUSTRALIAN ART WORLD:  We have had two very regrettable scandals in the Australian art world lately.  Transfield Holdings, founding sponsors of the Biennale of Sydney (but now only providing 6.1% of the budget), has an interest in Transfield Services which was recently contracted by the government to run several off-shore detention centres.  Unfortunately for them, this was highlighted by a violent  recent riot on Manus Island, PNG, that resulted in the death of  Iranian detainee Reza Berati.  Consequently, several invited artists decided to boycott the Biennale.

To my disbelief, such is the influence of big business on our lives, there was an almost universal public outcry against these artists, even initially by the Biennale Board and others in the art world. While philanthropy is to be encouraged, I think we are entitled to know the source of the money.  Many patrons do have a real love of art and make very generous contributions, but in return, the art world provides them with business opportunities, respectability, and a social cachet some would never normally have.  Led by social media, more support did come for the artists’ justifiable right to make a stand, and I hope people were made to think about our inhumane asylum seeker policies.

For the record: the sponsor with the interest in detention centres (Transfield’s Luca Belgiorno-Nettis) resigned from the Biennale Board, and called the artists “morally reprehensible”!  Malcolm Turnbull, an MP rapidly losing any political capital he may have had, said the artists had shown “vicious ingratitude”, while Leo Schofield said arts funding is “not the artists’ business” and they were “exhibiting self importance that they haven’t earned”.

While the arts in general undoubtedly enrich our lives and often provide pure pleasure,  many artists over time have also sought to illuminate, educate, lead, and question.  Alain de Botton recently said “Most great artists have had a mission”.  Some Aboriginal artists I have either worked with or observed over the years have been able to compete internationally as superb artists, and the art of many Aboriginal artists often seems to have what I can only describe as the “weight” of  thousands of years of traditions and beliefs, a deep understanding and attachment to land, or strongly felt political convictions.  In comparison, I can find some contemporary non-indigenous art rather vacuous or too contrived. It is concerning that SMH art critic John McDonald can say about the current Biennale that “very few gems emerge from this quagmire of mediocrity”.

I can remember when artists were usually rather hopeless at promoting themselves, but now many of the successful ones have become assiduous networkers and self-promoters.  This is also true of supposedly introspective and reclusive writers who now seem to have to spend half the year talking at literary festivals.

MONA

Museum of Old and New Art

A more concerning scandal is that it has emerged that the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia (and other international institutions) have spent millions of dollars buying stolen Indian antiquities from the now disgraced Indian dealer Subhash Kapoor.  The failure by the relevant directors and curators to diligently check the provenance of these items has tarnished their reputations.  Both these institutions have even been tardy withdrawing the items from view, or promising to return them to India.  We have been reminded that these are fundamentally sacred objects that are worshipped and greatly missed in their places of origin,  not just art exhibits for our enjoyment.

Anselm Kieffer at MONA

Anselm Kiefer at MONA

MONA: On a brighter note, an individual  has given us the most wonderful gift with the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. David Walsh has a brilliant mind and has made a fortune as a professional gambler!  MONA has been carved into a cliff face above the Derwent River.  The current exhibition curated from Walsh’s extensive collection is The Red Queen, and includes  an eclectic combination from Egyptian hieroglyphics to Anselm Keifer, Tracey Moffatt and Fiona Hall.  Many objects, sculptures and artworks are exhibited in this antithesis of the white cube – an exciting building that is quite maze-like and where the exhibits are theatrically lit and shown. It has become a “travel destination” – and Hobart, and Tasmania are lovely to visit.

The White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney is another example of generous philanthropy, where the Neilson family exhibit their huge collection of contemporary Chinese art.

MAIL: Many of you were very supportive of the GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS, so thank you for getting the word out and let’s keep the momentum up.  I’ll keep you informed and please keep me informed.

Meanwhile of course, Tony the Tiger remains imprisoned in his cage in America, which makes me feel depressed and that I have failed him personally.  Is there any news?

I do read everything sent to me and view your profiles, even if I don’t always respond.  Many of you are interested in such fascinating subjects, and your sites contain so many good images.  It is very heartening that many of  us share such a love of our animals and our fellow humans, and a concern for the world we live in…..

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972

This Saturday, 15 March 2014, many people around the world will be joining the Global March For Lions to raise awareness about the trophy and canned hunting of lions in South Africa. See – www.globalmarch4lions.org.

It is legal in South Africa to breed lions in captivity, hand rear them for use in the cub petting industry, then shoot them in an enclosure!  I find it inconceivable that people can actually enjoy hunting animals.

You may want to sign the AVAAZ petition against South African lions being slaughtered for their bones and organs.

See here for the list of the many cities around the world participating in this Global March For Lions.

In Australia, you can march this Saturday in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. You can also find more information on Facebook for the Sydney event here and more general formation about the Global March here

John Rendall has just returned from Kenya and will be speaking at the London march in Trafalgar Square.

I will be outside NSW Parliament House, Sydney at 11am this Saturday and marching with the Animal Works team, a conservation non-profit organisation.

Since Christian’s time, like many other animals, there are 70% fewer lions in Africa.  We have to take urgent action, and I know many of you will be supporting the Global March For Lions.

 

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

CHRISTIAN:  Christian was in the news last month when Harrods announced they were closing down Pet Kingdom which had opened in the London department store in 1917. At the end of this London Evening Standard article, there is a link to lovely footage of Christian and the other lions at Kora in 1971. While Christian received quite a lot of press attention, apparently the most “famous” purchase from Harrods was by the (then) Governor Reagan of California, who in 1967 ordered an elephant, the Republican Party symbol.  I am pleased it has closed even though I am eternally grateful for that day in 1969 when we wandered into the Zoo – as I’m sure it was then called – and met Christian.  Last time I visited Harrods a few years ago I was upset to see it was full of the most expensive and unnecessary pet accessories, and offering pet pedicures and haircuts.

The Endangered Species Act of 1976 in the UK prevented some of the trade in exotic animals.  As I have said before, we did come to realise how we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals by buying  Christian, and we have been criticised for this.  I would not want Christian’s story to ever encourage other private ownership of exotic animals. I am very concerned about the number and inappropriate breeding of so many tigers in private hands in the USA for example.  Some say we saved Christian, but truthfully, we could not resist him. While we vowed to secure him the best future we could, we did not imagine he would miraculously be returned to a natural life in Africa.

George Adamson

George Adamson

The indefatigable Aidan Basnett has added more photographs to the Facebook page which is a feast of George and Joy Adamson and lion-related photographs.

LIONS:  In Africa there are 70% fewer lions than in Christian’s time.  In West Africa, there may be as few as 400 lions left, with only 250 mature age lions, according to the organisation Panthera. Like so many other animals, these leaner-looking lions are facing shrinking habitats from encroaching human use.

STANDING UP: I was glad to see prominent people standing up for animal causes:  Caroline Kennedy objected to the annual horrific capture and slaughter of 250 bottlenose dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and Hillary Clinton spoke up against the trade in ivory – primarily to China, which is forcing elephants towards extinction.  Prince Charles,  William, and Harry have just spoken up against the illegal wildlife trade in a campaign which actually might have an effect.  WILDAID certainly has highly influential (and wealthy) supporters like the princes and David Beckham.  From their website http://www.wildaid.org/ I gather they concentrate primarily on education to change attitudes towards the illegal animal trade, ivory, and the use of traditional medicines.

The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade has discussed the lack of action by the Chinese on the trade in ivory, tiger bones and rhino horns.  However, China has saved the panda, and stabilised populations of Tibetan antelopes and snub-nosed monkeys.  Also, after a media campaign and a new government policy, trade in shark fins has fallen dramatically.

Ivory tusks are stored in boxes at Hong Kong Customs after they were seized from a container from Nigeria. Photograph by REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Ivory tusks are stored in boxes at Hong Kong Customs after they were seized from a container from Nigeria.
Photograph by REUTERS/Bobby Yip

IVORY: A 30 tonne stockpile of seized elephant ivory is to be destroyed in Hong Kong, a major transit point into China. Read the media release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare here. The appetite for ivory (particularly from the expanding Chinese middle class), resulted in an estimated 22,000 elephants illegally killed in Africa in 2012.  Both the US and China (for the first time) have also burned stockpiles of ivory. 

BEARS:  Recently I saw the most horrific footage of bile being extracted from the gall bladders of roped bears.  This seems to happen predominantly in Asia, where it is estimated up to 20,000 bears are caged, with an estimated 3600 in Vietnam. Visit the World Society for the Protection of Animals website for more information.  There is also a flourishing trade in animal body parts for traditional medicines.  Changing attitudes will be difficult, and require sustained and strategic education and public awareness campaigns.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: the annual hunt and slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean by Japan began last month.  It is truly shocking to see footage of the blood and slaughtered whales in this unecessary exercise in stubborn nationalism.  The Sea Shepherd fleet has been shadowing the Japanese, and despite one skirmish, seems to have quite peacefully prevented the slaughter of any more whales.  The Australian Minister  for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb was very blunt, saying said that the government won’t be complaining to Japan as we don’t want to jeopardise a proposed free trade agreement!

Dolphin

Dolphin

The annual slaughter and capture of the dolphins at Taiji, Japan, unfortunately proceeded despite world condemnation.

SHARKS: 6 people have been taken by sharks off the West Australian coast in the last 2 years. The recently introduced W.A. Government’s shark culling program is using baited drum lines.  There were 16 Australia-wide protests by people against the culling.  Swimmers are philosophical about the danger, and conservationists say the baits will just attract more sharks and the culling will be ineffective.

Sofala, NSW

Sofala, NSW

HOLIDAY:  January used to be the long traditional annual summer holiday. I certainly relaxed, and watched lots of sport.  Without my laptop and often out of mobile range, I loved a few short trips travelling around parts of NSW visiting family and friends: the Goulburn district; through attractive Braidwood to Batemans Bay; up the spectacular south coast back to Sydney; and around Bathurst, including the picturesque old mining towns of Sofala and Carcoar. Much of the state is in drought, but it is a very beautiful country. I saw towns that were thriving, but many – like Bourke, are losing people to the cities with the subsequent loss of services and transport which only exacerbate their problems.  A convoy of 18 semi trailers with 500 tonnes of hay has just driven to Bourke – a gesture of support from farmers in the south for farmers in the drought stricken north-west of the state.  Queensland is 70% in drought.

Sofala, NSW

Sofala, NSW

I think there is a growing movement to at least discuss the idea of repopulating some of these dying country towns and local businesses with asylum seekers and refugees.  Both political parties have demonised them.  Perhaps we should regard them as “opportunities”, beneficial for the community, and we would also be fulfilling our international obligations.

Wind farm, NSW

Wind farm, NSW

I think wind turbines are very beautiful in their way, especially up close.  They have elegant lines and are monumentally tall.  However, they are an imposition, indeed a visual pollution on our marvellous landscape.  I hope wind farms generate enough power to justify themselves, as apparently they are in South Australia, and countries like Denmark and Germany.

CLIMATE: All of us around the world are continuing to experience unnatural weather – from the violent storms and continuing floods in Europe, to freezing conditions again in the USA.  Australia has had the hottest year and temperatures since recorded observations began in 1859.  In Sydney we  had the driest January.  I believe the 95% of scientists that say data demonstrates human induced global warming from carbon emissions is taking place, and contributing to the more frequent and more extreme weather. Unfortunately Australia’s government is defiantly going in a retrograde direction by proposing to cut the carbon tax/price which looked as if it would be effective in cutting emissions.  Since the carbon tax was introduced, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are down 7.6%.

The government’s proposed replacement Direct Action is unexamined, untested and unexplained.  Unlike the carbon tax, there is no incentive for polluters to change their behaviour and reduce their emissions.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has just embarrassed the government by asking it not to abandon Australia’s role as a “pioneer” in the debate on climate change.

See here for a video on climate change, with beautiful images of the earth from space.

Great Barrier Reef. Image sourced from National Geographic

Great Barrier Reef. Image sourced from National Geographic

ENVIRONMENT:  As many feared, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has authorised the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from the coal port expansion at Abbot Point into the World Heritage Area Reef waters. Given some of the appointments to the Authority, this unfortunately was not unexpected.  This is environmental vandalism in an already endangered area and GetUp! is asking for funding to mount a legal challenge to this. You can contribute funds here or sign the petition here.

A historic Forestry Agreement in Tasmania in 2012 ended 20 years of fighting between the forestry industry, unions and conservationists which had divided the community.  The Federal Government is now winding back the protection against logging offered by World Heritage Status, by delisting 74,000 hectares, which includes rain forests and old growth forests.  This will jeopardise the new Agreement which seems to be working. This decision is related to local politics and the upcoming state election, and is unhelpful to the state Labor Government who are in difficulties already over the parlous economy.

GetUp! has a petition to the Minister of the Environment opposing this Tasmanian Forest delisting.

Port Hacking, Bundeena 2014

Port Hacking, Bundeena 2014

MIDDLE EAST:  The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 divided the collapsing Ottoman Empire between the British and the French interests in the Middle East.  As Anthony Loyd wrote in The Australian, these few “hastily drawn lines” were an “imperial clumsiness that ignored the nuances of tribes and restive minorities” which was “shrouded by subsequent dictators”.  With many of them now overthrown, the colonial constructs are unravelling.  The proposed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant which would include parts of Iraq and Syria, is an example of this.

Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, chief executive of the bitcoin funded Australian WikiLeaks Party, intends to return soon to SYRIA with medicines.  He was part of a rather bizarre delegation a few months ago who had a cup of tea with Assad in Damascus.  But as one of them said “is it better to talk with Assad or talk of assassinating him?”, as our ex-Foreign Minister Carr had suggested.  I think Assad is indefensible, and just continuing his father’s contempt for Syrian lives.

One can only be pessimistic about the outcome of current talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict, or easing the conditions for millions of entrapped or displaced people.  It is very difficult to understand all the competing  groups that constitute the “Syrian Opposition”.  It is unlikely they would ever be united, and some groups are very extreme.

Photographic evidence of 11,000 bodies tortured and executed by the Syrian regime recently surfaced.   There has just been a “humanitarian  evacuation” for some starving people from Homs, but apparently some young men among them have consequently been detained.  One commented “I decided I’d rather be shot in the head than continue to starve to death”.

ISRAEL: Actress Scarlett Johansson became enmeshed in the debate over the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  She stood down as ambassador for Oxfam, unable to reconcile Oxfam’s opposition to all trade from Israeli settlements, with her role as spokeswoman for a company called SodaStream.

A recent Four Corners program on the ABC investigated allegations about young Palestinian children being arrested by the Israeli security forces, for intelligence gathering.  These children have mostly been accused of throwing stones and have been arrested in night time raids, followed by intimidating interrogations, and even allegations of torture. An average 700 Palestinian children are arrested, some further detained, each year.  UNICEF has found that the ill treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention  system  was “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

Just as alarming was to see a map of Israeli settlements scattered throughout the West Bank.  An extreme Israeli settler, Daniella Weiss, claimed that since the 1970s land was deliberately occupied to block the creation of a Palestinian state.  Seeing the hundreds of strategically placed settlements, I can’t envisage where a Palestinian state could be located.  Until Palestinians have better lives and futures, Israelis will not have the safety and security they too deserve.

Bundeena, NSW 2014

Bundeena, NSW 2014

SPORT:  I watched all five tests in the cricket Ashes series against England, unexpectedly won well by Australia, and we are now playing the South Africans.  January is always a big tennis month, with several lead up tournaments to the Australian Open.  The dangerous heat in Melbourne was the initial dominating story – 52.3 degrees on the outside courts.  Top seeds were defeated, talented juniors emerged (Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Bourchard, Pironkova, Muguruza), while Dimitrov, Nishikori, and particularly winner Warwrinka stepped up.  Li Na was third time lucky – and sees her racket (x 8) as a friend. “If you look after her, she will look after you”. I think Jim Courier is a good commentator, as is Leyton Hewitt who has a disarmingly sweet laugh/giggle. It was a feast of previous stars – Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Yvonne Goolagong Cawley etc.  Several are now coaches – some looking better than others: Edberg, Lendl, Chang, Becker, and Ivanisevic.  Rafa made it through to the final but was injured early, making it painful to watch in all respects.  He graciously said “Yes it was tough today. But many people in the world have a very tough day every day”.

All our sporting events have saturation alcohol advertising, and alcohol is usually involved in the celebrations – and we wonder why we have an alcohol-fuelled violence epidemic?

INTERVIEWS:  I have been listening to classical music much more again (encouraged by William from Florida), but I have also heard many fascinating radio interviews, some repeats.  Broadcaster Phillip Adams is one of our few public intellectuals and has had a fascinating and very important career.  He seems to have just worked on through his recent ill health. His interviews on Radio National are always very informative, and he and all of us were dazzled by the intelligence, humour and fascinating life story of Aboriginal Opera singer DEBORAH CHEETHAM.  Deborah sang at the opening of my colonial family exhibition Flesh & Blood at the Museum of Sydney in 1998.  To me, it was an electrifying, beautiful, haunting cry from the heart for the Aboriginal people dispossessed by families such as my own.

Adams also interviewed GENE ROBINSON.  His ordination as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 nearly split the Anglican Church because he is an openly gay man, married to his partner.  He is very intelligent, understanding, honest and courageous.  He reminded us that change does happen.  Up until 1967 interracial marriage was illegal in the US. That same-sex marriages are taking place, and that the majority of the population in many countries are not against it, would have been unimaginable not many years ago.

Colorado has become the first state in the US to begin the legal and regulated growth, processing and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Support for legalisation has grown from 16% in 1987 to 55% today.  So community attitudes can change over time….

I also heard Australian philosopher PETER SINGER interviewed. The three most important subjects to him are: poverty; animal liberation; and climate change. He was talking about his recent book The Life You Can Save, which is a growing movement.  According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, with 1900 children dying a day.  In this annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they argue there is less poverty in the world today and that by 2035 there will be almost no poor countries.  There is a “new class of middle-income nations”.  Bill and Melinda also write that they believe foreign aid has been much more effective  than is sometimes claimed.

Peter Singer wrote the book  Animal Liberation in 1975, and you can read his very interesting essay on The Animal Liberation Movement here.

Christine Townend at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter 2010 Photograph by Ace

Christine Townend at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter 2010          Photograph by Ace

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend convened the first meeting of Animal Liberation Australia in 1976. She had been profoundly affected by Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. In 1980 they established Animals Australia. In 2010 I visited the animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India, overseen since their inception by Christine and Jeremy Townend.  I was very impressed with the care of animals by both shelters, located in  the spectacular foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.  I could see that animals just adored Christine, and that she adored them. Their Working for Animals newsletter is now online and you can read the January edition here. Vaccinations, birth control measures and many animal treatments have controlled the spread of rabies, and saved the lives of thousands of animals.

PETS: I heard a very interesting program about grieving for our companion pets.  An animal shelter and hospital in Melbourne even has a Pastor specifically for grieving.  According to some of those interviewed, the hardest thing is that many people around you, family, friends and work mates, just do not understand  how devastating the loss of a pet can be.  Of course, animals experience their own grief and loss.

Jeffrey Masson’s seminal book When Elephants Weep about the emotional life of animals was praised and referenced in the interview about grieving.  On his latest blog Jeffrey discusses the horrific recent “murder” of the young giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo.  Children (and adults) were especially assembled to watch the dissection.  I’m very much looking forward to Jeffrey Masson’s next book  BEASTS What animals can teach us about the origins of good and evil, due out in March.

I have only read reviews of Peter Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense.  It is a bold promise to “reveal the feline enigma”!  Bradshaw is a biologist who previously wrote In Defence of Dogs.  We are very aware cats are a law unto themselves,  are far less domesticated than dogs, and are much less dependent.  Most cat lovers like this.  Cats were worshipped by the Egyptians, and historically they actually DID something – they were used to catch rats and mice in houses.  Now they have taken up residence and are waited on!  Bradshaw does not think that domestic cats are habitual predators of birds and native wildlife.  While feral cats are no doubt very destructive, domestic cats are so well fed with balanced diets that there is no real need to hunt, and many spend a lot of time indoors.

Pelican by Sylvia Ross

Pelican by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: thanks to Sara, Deb, MoonieBlues, Michelle, Elaine, Helene, Heulwen, Jonny, Sylvia, and others for sending me great images, messages and information.  I am still to respond to some of you and I apologise.  I keep being told Christian’s story is big on Facebook again.

MISC STATS: The world’s 85 richest people are worth US$1.7 trillion (Oxfam); Mark Zuckerburg is worth $US19 billion but gave away nearly $US1 billion; Tiger Woods earned $78 million last year; Sochi Games cost $51 billion.

Kookaburra by Sylvia Ross

Kookaburra by Sylvia Ross

AUSTRALIA:  Australia is quite polarised politically at the moment and the level of our discourse is unfortunately not very sophisticated.  I am extremely disappointed by the new Abbott government so far.  I could list many examples:  clumsy diplomacy, especially worsening relations with our prickly neighbour Indonesia; climate change denial; threats against the ABC; broken promises; inappropriate appointments; excessive secrecy, and none of the promised transparency or accountability.  We are yet to see any economic blueprint other than some slogans like “open for business” or “infrastructure”, and their industry-assistance policy appears ad hoc and inconsistent.  The Government was caught embarrassingly off guard and literally speechless at the announcement that Toyota would cease manufacturing in Australia.

I find it hard to understand how it could be perceived that Abbott is doing a good job. Even one of his chief cheer leaders at The Australian, Dennis Shanahan has finally admitted that “the post-election politics were ragged, rusty and understandably clunky for the Coalition”, and that even Coalition MPs are worrying that they are appearing “hard-hearted”.

Australia could be such a modern, clever, even cool country, and play a major role in the world.  Many of the present cabinet  served in the previous conservative government, and I don’t want a return to the depressingly reactionary HOWARD years:  the sabotage of aboriginal reconciliation opportunities and the attempted discrediting of the “black armband” historians;  jingoism;  holding Australia back from becoming a Republic;  and taking Australia unnecessarily into 2 disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, John Howard delivered a surplus, but he has been criticised for not taking greater advantage of the now ending mining boom, and for buying votes with “middle class welfare”.

I’ll let Sally McManus (and others) keep adding to this growing list of BROKEN PROMISES by the government, who in opposition hounded Julia Gillard from office over one supposed “lie”.  I was particularly horrified by their early attempt to break their election pledge for  fairer and more equitable education funding.

Predictably, the government has rushed to set up an expensive Royal Commission into allegations of corruption and intimidation in the  TRADE UNION movement.  It is the perfect issue to wedge the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, a former trade union official.  Previous commissions have led to exposing corrupt links between unions, builders, developers and businesses. I admire what the trade unions have achieved historically for workers, and I think workers often need protection and representation in negotiations with employers, who are in positions of power.  However, in 1992 40% of the workforce was unionised, but by 2012 it had dropped to 18.8%. The unions undoubtedly have an inordinate influence on the Labor Party, and although this should be curtailed, it is very unlikely to happen.  I hope the ALP will be an effective Opposition, have the strength to undertake necessary reforms, and do some soul-searching.

I’m now off to Hobart, Tasmania, to visit MONA, the now famous privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art.

Heading for MONA, Derwent River, Hobart TAS

Heading for MONA, Derwent River, Hobart TAS

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEASONS GREETINGS, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from me to everyone as well. Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s friend and photographer, for his annual Christian Christmas card – it is so sweet!  My special love and thoughts to the Cattani family for 2014.

GEORGE ADAMSON: Understandably, people remain fascinated by George Adamson.  Although where I live is a small “village” on the outskirts of Sydney, I only recently met fellow locals, well known artist Bob Marchant and his wife Inger.  Bob lived in London throughout the 1960s and remembers Christian fondly. I love his painting of George Adamson painted after George’s death in 1989.  He has always been a “great admirer of George Adamson and the work he did protecting wild animals”.  I’ve lent him the excellent biography The Great Safari: The Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House.

You can ‘like’ the George Adamson Wildlife Trust Australia on Facebook set up by Aidan Basnett.

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

Recently Aidan emailed me about his recent trip to Kenya, and visit to Kora.  Aidan lived for a time in Kenya when he was young, and his trip was a nostalgic pilgrimage to key sites in the Joy and George Adamson story.  Consequently I found his video very informative and interesting, although I felt sad seeing some of the graves. It brought back fond and emotional memories of George’s camp at Kora, which looked in good condition.  

Hi Ace,
Just wanted to give you a report on the Adamson Legacy Tour I arranged this year which took in Kampi ya Simba in Kora National Park.  Being the home of the late George Adamson, I found the whole experience very poignant and moving. What hit me was I was at last in the spot where it all happened all those years ago – the history. I could not stop thinking of how we were treading in the footsteps of George and his lions, particularly Christian and Boy. Seeing the actual place (Christian’s Rock) where Christian had come down to greet you and John. The years I had longed to visit the area had arrived!  We sat atop Kora Rock just taking it all in, and could see George’s grave in the distance. Somewhere out there, all those years ago, Christian had created his domain and we could feel his – and George’s – spirit ! Just an amazing experience I had to share with you and I hope you enjoy the photo and video.
Aidan

“Christian’s Rock” Aidan Basnett 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

Christian’s Rock photographed by Aidan Basnett, 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Recently I’ve been especially loving wildlife documentaries.  They are so soothing – as long as they are not entirely about extinction!  I loved David Attenborough’s recently shown documentary on African lions, and the lions and tigers in his Secrets of Wild India documentaries.  Tigers weigh on average 220 kilograms and can be just over 3 meters long.  A male can rule for 3 years, and live up to 8 on average.  Tigers have up to 12 cubs and raise them for 2 years.  They are not social and do not live in prides like lions.  The males come and go, and usually kill any cubs that are not theirs.  Surprisingly, tigers and jaguars are the only cats that like being in water.

The Asiatic lions in the desert region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India look thinner than African lions – but they may just be hungrier in this hostile environment.  Once they ranged from India to the Mediterranean, but their numbers declined to 13 last century.  By banning  hunting, and other conservation efforts, numbers are now over 400 and climbing.

In David’s documentary on African lions he spoke of the importance of the first two years in the lives of cubs – when they “learnt to be lions”,  living in a pride, and acquiring skills for future survival.  I suddenly felt guilty about Christian living with us in London during those crucial formative years!   However, despite five generations out of Africa, and his London upbringing, Christian seemed remarkably well balanced and adaptable.  George thought he had lost none of his natural instincts – he was just inexperienced.  George said he was one of the easiest lions to rehabilitate, and Christian who was both canny and courageous, survived those first most dangerous years.

In the African lion documentary, four lionesses lived together, and three had cubs which they looked after collectively.  They hunted together effectively, although it is still very dangerous for them, especially against buffaloes.  The male came and went, but very aggressively took over a kill a lioness had made, and only reluctantly later shared with his cubs.

I also enjoyed the first episode of a documentary Lions on the Move about South African Kevin Richardson preparing to relocate his 28 lions, 14 hyenas and 2 black leopards to another animal park.  The animals seem to love him – the lions loll all over him which looks like lion heaven, but is risky.  George Adamson would not have been so physical with lions, and he was trying to minimise their human contact to enable their rehabilitation.  We knew Christian so well we could mostly anticipate his behaviour.  We did not encourage too much physical interaction with him as he was so quickly stronger than us, and we did not want him to realise this.   Kevin knows the individual idiosyncrasies of his lions, and he has to trust his own judgement – and them.  Most of the lions looked extremely attractive and shampooed, and several are now 15 years old, which can only be achieved in captivity.  Kevin also understands and communicates well with the hyenas, and I was amused by his  “baby talk” to the animals – everyone else’s animal/baby talk (except one’s own), sounds so ridiculous!

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

In general, I don’t like the idea of animals “performing” for our entertainment, and the sensitive question of how animals are handled in films has recently been discussed in The Hollywood Reporter.  Apparently King, one of the tigers used in Life of Pi nearly drowned in a water tank filming a scene.

I haven’t yet seen Blackfish, the documentary that traces the history of orcas (also called killer whales) in captivity. I’m not sure why it is regarded as “controversial” documentary, as the cruelty of their confinement  in such small areas, for human entertainment, should now be generally acknowledged as completely unacceptable.

A tiger “handler’ was injured by a tiger  recently at Australia Zoo.  A BBC crew had been filming them, which had probably been a disruption to a normal routine.

I will not be showing the photograph of American Melissa Bachman with the lion she proudly shot.  I hope she never returns to Africa.

Meanwhile, Tony the Tiger just waits in his cage. You can read an update here from the Animal Legal Defense Fund which had a victory for Tony in court in October, but proceedings just seem to drag on interminably. You can also sign a petition for Tony.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

TARONGA ZOO:  Kibali, an adolescent gorilla has arrived from France, and joins two selected females to hopefully form the nucleus of a new family of gorillas at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  The old silverback has been pensioned off to Mogo Zoo down the south coast. Three elephants have been transferred to the more open Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – including the one involved in an incident which injured a staff member last year.  A baby elephant has been born in Melbourne Zoo, but one born last year died in an accident, playing with a tyre as a toy.

INDONESIA: A recent report on the ABC showed disgraceful conditions in general at Surabaya Zoo in Java. Sumatran tigers are starving and dying at a time when their survival is under threat, with an estimated only 300-400 left in the wild.  A feisty Mayor seems to keep everyone at bay despite the scandalous conditions and a situation that has paralysed the zoo. This zoo compared very unfavourably with Taman Safari Park, Bogor, a few hours south of Jakarta, which seems very well run.  The owner has attempted to help the Surabaya Zoo but has now been rebuffed. See – and possibly support - Cee4life who has been campaigning to save the lives of these tigers.

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

ART:  Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition ‘Falling Back to Earth’, is showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, until 11 May 2014.  See here for information on GOMA and the exhibition which consists of three  huge installations.  Heritage (above), described as a “fable of multiculturalism”,  with incongruous pairings of animals around pristine white sand and water, was inspired by the artist visiting Queensland’s tropical islands. Head On (below) also has 99 animals made from polystyrene, but in this instance, they are all wolves.

AUSTRALIA:  I am finding our new government as bad as many of us feared, and unnecessarily antagonistic, arrogant, secretive and without vision.  Our espionage spat with Indonesia worsened through Tony Abbott’s inability to find the right words or actions.  Not content, the government then picked a fight unnecessarily with our most important trading partner China – protesting to the Chinese about their actions over disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea.

More revelations from Edward Snowden have shown the extent of Australia’s espionage in the region, including spying on China.  Apparently only 1% of a million classified documents have been released so far, and we are “to assume the worst”.  It seems we may all have been spied on as well, with the collection of our megadata – mine would be a disappointment.

Not surprisingly, according to the polls, the government’s so called “honeymoon” is already over.  A very bad look was the government’s clumsy attempt to break a major election pledge (a back flip on a back flip on a back flip) on education reform.

The implementation of a proposed education reform, which had been worked on over 4 years, was an election pledge by both parties.  It was to balance the inequitable funding to schools, which under ex PM John Howard saw already very rich private schools given even more money, while public schools and their students remain disadvantaged, with less access to education.

I find it unimaginable that these days any government would deliberately disadvantage a section of the population, and we will have to wait and see the real intentions of this government.  As discussed on an earlier blog, the opportunities for education in the US are also inequitable, cementing a less-educated under class. In 1974 Labor PM Gough Whitlam abolished university fees, and this emancipated many very clever people who were the first in their families to go to university, and have subsequently had an enormous influence on Australia.

Hard as it is to believe, our government seems to be anti-science, and is thoughtlessly dismantling expert bodies that should be consulted and utilised– especially in relation to climate change.  The government should not be dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corp which has been successfully finding and working in partnership with major national and international banks, for example, to research and develop renewable energy sources.

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

ROSS GITTINS: Ross Gittins has the respect of many people. He is an economist but writes more widely. In this heartfelt article, written as a letter to his (future) grandchildren, he expresses his disbelief that Australians have just elected a government “that wasn’t genuine in its commitment to combating the effects of climate change, and that even abolished the main instrument economists invented for that purpose”.

Ross was recently asked to speak at the government’s annual conference on resources and energy and decided to “tell the miners a few home truths”, also published here.

ROSS GARNAUT: In this article about his new book Dog Days: Australia After The Boom Ross Garnaut discusses what economic and policy reforms will be required in this post resource boom era. Neither party seems to have the courage or long term vision for necessary reforms, but “more of the same” is just not sustainable any longer, and will apparently lead to higher unemployment and recession.

ENVIRONMENT:  As predicted, the Federal Government has already shown a cavalier attitude to the environment.  It has created a “one-stop shop” process with State Governments for faster environmental approvals. Permission has just been granted to expand a coal port (to become the largest in the world), near the already threatened Great Barrier Reef.  3 million cubic metres of seabed – dredging sludge – is to be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may yet refuse to grant a permit.

Tasmanians have been bitterly divided for decades over the logging or conservation of their forests, although an historic Forestry Agreement from 2012  seems to be working and have support.  This agreement is apparently also under review/threat from the Federal Government – presumably to now allow logging in heritage listed forests.

There has been a leak of 1 million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry from the uranium Ranger Mine beside Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.  Unfortunately, this is not the first  accident at the mine.

After several fatal shark attacks in Australia in the last year, there is renewed debate about culling sharks, and making our beaches “safer”.  I choose not to swim in the sea as I view it as their territory, not mine.

The Japanese whaling fleet has set out for their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, and each year anti-whale activists protest in dangerous confrontations.  Sea Shepherd consists of three vessels this year, and will again try to prevent this unnecessary slaughter of whales.  Australia took a case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling practices to the International Court of Justice, but a decision is still to be made.

MEDIA:  In this article Richard Ackland writes in the SMH how journalism has changed, and how some journalists just advocate for the government of their choice “… ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment”.  I do read Murdoch’s The Australian on Saturdays and on my way through to often good articles, I glance at what Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan are saying – and often laugh out loud at their partisanship. (Update:  it was Dennis Shanahan in The Australian Dec 21/22 who got the loudest laugh from me with “Abbott: model of a cool, calm and collected PM”.  He says there is “an unfair focus on its mistakes”.  In this Murdoch parallel universe PM Abbott and his wooden and silenced Cabinet is performing wonderfully, unlike the Opposition, who is still being blamed for everything.  Peter Harcher however, was more accurate in the SMH when he said over Indonesia, Abbott’s  “toughness is exposed to be phoney, his judgement shown to be wrong, and the damage is not stemmed early but protracted”.

I don’t often read Murdoch’s The Telegraph which campaigned so unfairly and effectively against the Labor Party in the last election.  It is a real tabloid, with the usual right wing ranters, but is also fun and a little tacky with many photographs, unlike the rather dull if worthy tabloid- in-size only Sydney Morning Herald.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

Advertised in the paper was the National Geographic Photo Contest, just as entries closed. I know many of you are very interested in photography – and wildlife, and may want to enter in 2014.  There are many entries to view at http://www.ngphotocontest.com.  There are the categories of “people, places and nature”, and “real” images which “accurately reflect a moment in time”.  The photo above is of a Little Owl (right) defending its feeding position from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) with both birds showing  their full colours with dramatic full wing extensions.

Sony World Photography Awards 2014 is currently accepting entries until 6 January 2014.

ABC: Supported by an avalanche of critical articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the Murdoch press, quite a few members of the government are talking about privatising the ABC – the government funded but independent public media body.  Every new conservative government tries to dismantle the ABC (and the trade unions), and allegations of left-wing bias are usually found to be unsubstantiated.  I hope it hasn’t got so bad here that we have to again defend the ABC, and that intelligent and informative discussion should be curtailed or shut down.  I am addicted to Radio National!

Downtown Bourke

Downtown Bourke

BOURKE: I loved visiting Bourke.  It is an attractive town, with some handsome historical buildings, wide streets and trees and parks.  It was hard to find a hotel room – there were some tourists, but regional conferences for National Parks, Health etc were being held.  I stayed in “North Bourke”, a few kilometres out of town, and over the river.  Historically, the town has been  a major regional trading centre and transport hub, initially based on the beautiful, if faintly murky Darling River.

Darling River at Port of Bourke

Darling River at Port of Bourke

A local joke in Bourke – or rural NSW, is that “NSW” stands for the coastal cities of Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong. There are no longer any rail or air links to Bourke.  The area is in drought, and summer temperatures hit 40 degrees. The population of around 2000, is forty percent  indigenous, who speak up to 24 different languages.  A complaint is that although there is access to various services, there is duplication, and it is not targeted.  People I met loved living there and were optimistic about the future.  Community leaders are working hard to deal with some of the problems. Most country towns are experiencing high levels of youth unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, unfortunately leading to high crime statistics. See this recent feature article on Bourke The Lost Town.  

I travelled to Bourke with a friend Jon Lewis a well known Australian photographer.  We both want to go back.  He took some great photographs of people in the community.  I think his photograph of me makes me look a bit haughty. See other photographs of Bourke by Jon Lewis at www.jonnylewis.org – go to Blog and Older Blogs (especially postings for November 15-19).

Ace Bourke in Bourke

Ace Bourke in Bourke by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Jonny and I visited an ancient rock art site in the Gundabooka National Park, and Fort Bourke, with several traditional owners and Aboriginal community leaders. Talking frankly with them was a moving and emotional experience.  Governor Bourke is, understandably to them, a symbol of colonial dispossession. No governor handled indigenous-settler issues successfully or with honour, and Aboriginal disadvantage from their dispossession continues to this day.

We visited the Back O’Bourke  Exhibition Centre and the region has a fascinating history with often larger than life characters.  At the Centre it was simply stated that the town was named after Bourke as he was Governor at the time. I imagine people are unaware and uninterested in who Governor Bourke actually was, and I realised that although I live in Sydney, I don’t know much about Lord Sydney either.  However, it turned out many were fans of Christian, and I was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Western Herald.

P1010694 (2)

When the surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was in this area on an expedition in 1835,  “tensions” with the the local Aboriginal people led to Mitchell building a simple (and small) wooden stockade for protection.  A replica exists today.  As Richard Bourke was Governor, Mitchell named it Fort Bourke – always a good way to curry favour for the future.   Bourke appreciated the beauty of  the  Australian landscape which was so different to Europe, and travelled on horseback extensively around the colony, although he never visited Bourke.

Leaving the rock art site

Leaving the rock art site

WORLD:  Over 2 million Syrian refugees are now facing freezing winter conditions, while many of those remaining in Syria are besieged or starving – Syria has become the most dangerous humanitarian crisis for decades;  Lebanon, like other neighbours, is drawn further into the conflict with all the refugees, and people transiting through the country to join both sides of the conflict (including hundreds of Australians);  Netanyahu is apoplectic at the thought of any Iran-US detente;  Australia “abstains” in the UN for an order to stop “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” without informing  the Australian public of the change of policy;  dozens have been killed across Iraq, with December the bloodiest month for 5 years;  very violent and dangerous conditions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan;  the Philippines still in dire need of help, with 4 million people displaced;  anti-government unrest in Bangkok and the Ukraine;  wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi visits Australia;  ex PMs Rudd and Berlusconi are hopefully gone for good;  A.C.T. same-sex marriage legislation is overturned in an Australian court, but the decision clears the way for Federal Parliament to legislate;  India (re)criminalises homosexuality;  China lands on the moon;  Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, while Edward Snowden came second.

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: People love birds as I found out with the response to the last blog.  Thanks to the indefatigible Sylvia Ross for her photographs of this birds nest 2 meters from her front door.  Over weeks we have followed the drama in the life of the Willie Wagtail – the nest, the attack by a Currawong, a surviving chick (above) appears, and later, 2 more appear! I loved her recent exhibition Feral which was photographs she has taken of pigeons in many countries. They are a beautiful and varied family, and these photographs are used as metaphors for “cultural prioritisation and question the concept of feral”.

I really appreciate the variety of emails, comments, stories and images I receive from many of you, so thank you very much.  Several of you unfortunately lost adored companion pets this year and I hope you are managing.  I know I am sometimes a little late – or careless, in my responses.  Indeed, if I have other things to attend to, my blog can read more like a summary of past events…..

I would like to thank my sister Lindy,  and Hayley from HMMG, for their invaluable assistance.

WATCHING & READING:  At the moment I’m adoring Andre Agassi’s fascinating autobiography OPEN.   He seems to have hated tennis from the start and it was his father’s dream, not his, to be Number 1 in the world.  Dad was yet another demanding and scary tennis parent.  He expresses the pyschological torment he suffered very well, and envies his main rival Pete Sampras for being “dull” – and more focused.  He repeats bitchy remarks directed towards him from McEnroe, Connors, Becker, Lendl etc., which actually reveals more about them.  He discovers that famous people, and I presume this includes his ex-wife Brooke Shields, are as mundane as everyone else.

I’m enjoying the Australia-English cricket Ashes Test series.  In a form reversal, Australia have now actually won the Ashes, although there are two more matches in the series to play.

VOICELESS: Voiceless is a non-profit organisation which is part of the animal protection movement in Australia, and is especially concerned with raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming and the kangaroo industry. Recently I attended the 10th annual Voiceless Awards and I am constantly surprised and pleased by the very important work many people are doing on behalf of animals. Voiceless is to be congratulated for their impressive track record of advocacy, and generosity through Grants, Prizes and other support.  The next day I met several of the dedicated staff, and was delighted to see three of them had their  dogs at work.  

The Animal Studies Group’s latest online edition of the Animal Studies Journal, has interesting articles reflecting current research in human-animal studies – from living with crocodiles – or owning dogs in Thailand, to animal grief.

MARTIN SHARP:  Martin Sharp (1942-2013), another of Australia’s most influential artists, has died.  His great friend Richard Neville, wrote a very comprehensive obituary in the SMH.  A very clever and creative group of Australians had arrived in London a few years before me, and they were major contributors to the so called 1960s “Counter Culture”: from Oz Magazine to Germaine Greer.  Martin Sharp made cartoons, collages, posters, psychedelic pop paintings, and album covers for Hendrix, Cream etc. When he returned to Sydney, Martin lived in his grandparent’s mansion in Sydney, with rooms devoted to his obsessions  which included Tiny Tim, Mickey Mouse, Luna Park and amusement park memorabilia.  Martin had a huge influence on many of us. He encouraged me to open my first gallery.  In 2009, Louise Ferrier and I co-ordinated a survey exhibition at the Museum of Sydney: Martin Sharp Sydney Artist.

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

NELSON MANDELA:  It is the end of an era with the death of Nelson Mandela. I can’t add to the deserved accolades for his extraordinary achievements, especially managing the transition from apartheid to democracy and reconciliation.  It has made us all think about leadership – and the absence in most of our lives of visionary – or even practical, leadership.  Mandela was a mystical combination of intelligence, resilience, charm, firmness etc, and it has been fascinating reading and learning more about him – the power he exerted from a prison cell!

It has also been a reminder of the many problems still facing South Africa, and many people obviously feel President Zuma has failed to improve their lives.

I was very interested in this quote from Mandela on leadership: “A leader is like a shepherd.  He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind”.

In his oration at Mandela’s memorial service, Obama said that leaders needed to be filled with “the spirit of Ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word meaning “the oneness of humanity”.  Let’s all strive for this in 2014…..

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