Norfolk Island, Reports from CSIRO & OECD, Art, Middle East, Australia, Germaine Greer, Rin Tin Tin, Earth Hour etc
March 29, 2012
NORFOLK ISLAND: The island is breathtakingly beautiful. Driving around much of the island one gasps at the dramatic coastline – which has always made any landing by sea very difficult. It also has rich soil and rural pockets with fat, contented looking cows, and banana trees and palms which give it a Pacific and tropical look. The population is around 1800 but diminishing. A headline in a newspaper recently declared the island had “gone bust”, with the banks foreclosing on various businesses and residences. I think all our holiday destinations are doing it tougher post GFC and with the high Australian dollar. The Foundation Day re-enactment of the landing in March 1788 was both kitsch and moving. History is very much alive there with ongoing resentments between these First Fleeters who arrived with my ancestor Philip Gidley King in March 1788, and Pitcairners, Mutiny on the Bounty survivors, who were relocated to the island in 1856. My ancestor unfortunately was involved – or initiated, the kidnapping of two Maoris to instruct about flax which grew on the island. They lived with Philip Gidley King who promised to return them to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, which he did months later. This little known episode had very far- reaching consequences, possibly laying the groundwork for the Treaty of Waitangi. I am continuing to research and write about this as I am especially interested in my colonial family interactions with indigenous people.
CSIRO: It seems none of the Republican presidential candidates believe in climate change or renewable energy, not unlike our own conservative politicians. Perhaps they should read the recent report State of the Climate 2012, a review by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Australia’s current climate “cannot be explained by natural variability alone” and “multiple lines of evidence show that global warming continues and that human activities are mainly responsible”. Click here for the full and detailed report. The CSIRO is a government body (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) not like the US Heartland Institute which appears to fund climate scepticism through “academics” for hire.
Janet Laurence’s After Eden exhibition/installation at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney (until 19th May) examines extremely evocatively, through various media, our experiential and cultural relationship with the natural world. Laurence thoughtfully addresses issues such as the destruction of the environment, particularly animals, and notions of healing and caring.
OECD: Another important recent report is from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Environmental Outlook to 2050. As Ross Gittins asks “Do you ever wonder how the environment – the global ecosystem – will cope with the continuing growth in the world population plus the rapid economic development of China, India and various other “emerging economies”? I do. And it’s not a comforting thought”.
To cherry pick some of the points or questions in the report which Gittins writes about: there will be irreversible “tipping points” in climate change, species loss, groundwater depletion and land degradation; since 1970 the world economy has tripled but with significant cost to the environment and natural resources; by 2050 and with a projected extra 2 billion people, with 70% living in cities this “will magnify challenges such as air pollution, transport congestion, and the management of waste and water in slums, with serious consequences for human health; the ability of the resource base to support increasing demands for energy, food, water and other natural resources; 80% more energy will be required with the mix similar to today – 85% fossil fuels, 10% renewable, and 5% nuclear; increased competition for land; global emissions increasing by half and average temperatures increasing by 3 to 6 degrees by the end of the century; loss of biodiversity and 13% less native forests; urban air pollution becoming the top environmental cause of premature death.
Gittins concludes that “the purpose of reports like this is to motivate rather than depress…there are policies we could pursue that made population growth and rising material living standards compatible with environmental sustainability”.
MIDDLE EAST ETC
SYRIA: 15th March marked one year of the “Syrian uprising” and 9100 deaths later, even Russia is finally growing impatient with Assad and talking about desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Governments have a “responsibility to protect” its citizens, but there are allegations of the use of torture on both sides. The opposition, which I think was originally peaceful, is now running out of ammunition, which coupled with their disunity, will unfortunately give Assad heart to continue his violent repression. Assad has promised to abide by Kofi Annan’s recent peace proposal, also supported (finally) by Russia and China, although it is difficult to believe him and not to be pessimistic.
AFGHANISTAN: Everybody’s patience – both within and without the country – seems to have run out over Afghanistan. I remember in the early 2000s the Taliban were very much in retreat, and our dumb governments left to invade Iraq – one Australian remained there!
I actually saw the ex PM John Howard in the street the other day and felt like accosting him for the many reasons I felt he failed Australia. However he looked so small, old (if chipper), and ordinary – and was just ignored or unrecognised on the street – so I let an encounter I had dreamed about pass…
Not surprisingly, up to 31% of US combat veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder – many of them after repeated deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite a percentage even end up homeless.
As a timely reminder of the sophistication and cultural legacy of the region, a unique exhibition has travelled to Australia for the first time, from the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Love and devotion; from Persia and Beyond consists of nearly 70 rare 13th to 18th century Persian, Mughal Indian and Ottoman Turkish illustrated manuscripts and miniatures. Guest co-curator Susan Scollay gave an extremely interesting lecture on the exhibition at the AGNSW, with another on the 17th April for those of us unable to make it to the State Library of Victoria (until 1st July).
IRAN: A classified war simulation exercise forecasts that a strike on Iran by Israel would be “perilous” for the US and lead to a wider regional war. I applaud the Israeli and Iranian online campaign to exchange messages of friendship and love. “I wish we both get rid of our idiot politicians”.
ISRAEL: A UN Human Rights Council is to launch an investigation into the impact of Israel’s settlement construction on the human rights of Palestinians. Israel was quick to say it would not allow access to the country. Issues include (in some instances and areas): prohibition of Palestinians to build new homes or renovate, and demolition of houses; no access to roads or electricity; hundreds of checkpoints; Israeli settler violence (incidences tripled in three years); and last year almost 10,000 mainly olive trees were damaged, severely affecting the livelihood of hundreds of Palestinian families.
There is a marvellous exhibition Lewin:Wild Art at the State Library of NSW. John Lewin was one of the first professional artists in the colony of Sydney at a time in the early 1800s when collectors in Europe were hungry for images and examples of flora and fauna from our part of the world. I see this giant flower growing in southern Sydney and it is about to flower.
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Our conservative Coalition in Australia behave as if the nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, but our Reserve Bank Governor recently said at an investment conference in Hong Kong (and reported in the SMH), that unlike nearly all other countries, our economy “suffered only a relatively mild downturn in 2008-09, made up the loss within months, and had continued to expand ever since”. However our high dollar had fed a “sense of concern in some parts of the community, and the tendency to focus on the difficulties rather than the opportunities”.
On the same day the SMH Business Day also had an article by Ian Verrender; “Despite all the hullabaloo, and all the hand-wringing and the wailing from various sections of the mining industry, the passage of the Mineral Resources Rent Tax (in Parliament) confirms Australia as one of the world’s most benign destinations for miners”. Again, the conservative party has been saying that this tax would scare off all potential investment. However see here for a detailed examination of how the taxation of natural resources in Australia compares –very favourably – to other countries.
Yet another negative scare campaign from the opposition is the threat posed by refugees and asylum seekers. According to the UNHCR Australia defied a global trend and recorded a 9% drop in claims last year, and that the numbers that come to Australia are “modest” and “manageable”.
When I was on Norfolk Island, although I was very happy, I somehow felt out of my comfort zone and was reminded that the views I hold are held by a minority of people – from climate change, to the need for a Mining Tax, to same-sex marriage (which I regard as a human rights issue). My feeling of being out of step has been reinforced by the recent crushing defeat of the Labor Party in Queensland, where a most intelligent female Premier has now resigned from Parliament. Now most States have conservative governments, and the Federal Government remain very unpopular.
Recently Margaret Whitlam died. She was the wife of Gough Whitlam, one of our most important, if controversial Prime Ministers. Margaret Whitlam was refreshingly her own person. As she came from a rather privileged background she was asked why she supported the Labor Party. “I belong to the party that cares about people”, and this is why I am a supporter as well.
GERMAINE GREER: Another of our tall and larger than life women, Germaine spends part of her year in Australia and she is very refreshing. Ignore or laugh at her at your peril. She is good “product” on television: attractive, funny, honest, provocative, very informed and very articulate. She now describes herself as an eco-feminist, and said Stephen Hawkings warns that the earth will be uninhabitable in 100 years. She thinks that Australia IS a racist country, especially about each new wave of immigrants, and that this goes back to our unresolved relationship with the original Aboriginal inhabitants. Of course the media here have trivialised her by only highlighting “feminist” Greer’s remark that our PM had “a big arse” and should stop wearing a particular style of jacket. Perhaps as Oscar Wilde said “all criticism is autobiographical”, as she did rather fill the TV screen herself I meanly thought.
A visiting editor-in-chief of the interesting Monocle magazine was surprised that Australia did not take more of a lead – given our location and English language – as a much needed voice in our Asia -Pacific region, rather like Al-Jazeera in the Middle East.
SHAME: The duck shooting season has begun in Australia, although most States have banned it; a visiting Brazilian student was tasered to death on a Sydney street; and there is finally, controversy over the use of whips – padded or otherwise, in Australian horse racing.
FOOD: a report from the Harvard School of Public Health Research states that excessive consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Dietary guidelines in Australia recommend 3-4 servings of red meat per week and to limit or avoid processed meat. The rate of diabetes is predicted to double in a decade.
BOB CARR: In a surprise move the PM replaced Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister with an ex State Premier. Bob Carr is very articulate and intelligent, but as Premier, ran down the State’s infrastructure, and introduced spin over substance into Australian politics. In his maiden speech in the Senate, however, he did speak about an “overlap” rather than a “clash” of civilisations between the Western and Muslim worlds, is a believer in climate change, and is very concerned about the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, after years of attention deprivation, he is a garrulous know-all and has made several diplomatic blunders already.
JULIAN ASSANGE: A tweet from WikiLeaks said Julian Assange intends to stand for an Australian Senate seat – and that this is possible despite his present predicament in England. (27% of Indian politicians have faced criminal charges and I think some have even served from jail, while a Sydney Bangladeshi taxi driver told me 80% of parliamentarians in Bangladesh have had criminal convictions and wear it as a badge of honour!)
Meanwhile a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has accused the US of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of Bradley Manning.
RIN TIN TIN: I have enjoyed the reviews of this recent book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend of the World’s Most Famous Dog by Susan Orlean. Reviewer Delia Falconer in The Australian notes that in the 1920s Rin Tin Tin was earning eight times more than the studios human actors and received 2000 fan letters a week. He was also named as co-respondent in the divorce of his owner. “One gift of his longevity is he allows us to see, through him, an evolving entertainment culture. And, more curiously, how we project the strangeness of our own humanity on to animals – all beasts of burden, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “made to carry some portion of our thoughts””.
Fellow reviewer and dog lover Diana Simmonds in the SMH adds “Among much else, the reader will learn more than any sane person could ever want to know about dogs in movies, dogs in war, dog training, dog trainers and the genesis of the German shepherd (about 1899)”.
MISC STATS: 70% of internet traffic is devoted to porn; ebook sales rose by 623% between January and June 2011 in the UK; Forbes listed 1226 billionaires in the world with a combined wealth of US 4.6 trillion; 8 illegal unmanned drone attacks by the US this year so far – and it seems Australia will be hosting US surveillance drones from the Cocos Islands!
MAIL: Thanks to Kate for drawing my attention to two worthy organisations she supports - David Shepherd Wildlife and Wild tiger. Suddenly there seems to be great support for the endangered orangutangs – check out the Australian Orangutang Project. Apparently there were approximately 5000 orangutang deaths last year, and with 80% of their habitat lost, they could be extinct in 5-10 years. I received a nasty computer virus from a very worthy orangutang site, making my blog later than usual, so I won’t list that site for the moment!
EXHIBITIONS: We are currently spoiled for art exhibitions in Sydney. I’ve already mentioned colonial artist John Lewin’s Wild Art at the State Library, and Janet Laurence at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. William Kentridge is at Annandale Galleries. Ruark Lewis is in two beautiful exhibitions – GADAWULKWULK at Cross Art Projects with Barayuwa Munugurr, and in Shadowplay with Jumaadi and Jason Wing at dna projects, Chippendale. The Museum of Contemporary Art opens a new wing, and Michael Brand (ex Getty) has been appointed the new Director of the Art Gallery of NSW.
I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Opera Australia’s La Traviata staged on Sydney Harbour under a giant chandelier.
EARTH HOUR: It is important to participate in this global initiative which began in Australia 5 years ago and is an imaginative expression of a commitment to sustainability and environmental action. People in at least 135 countries and independent states will be turning off their lights (Saturday 31st March 8.30pm Sydney time) – and remember to turn off electrical appliances at the wall as they are extremely wasteful of energy. Click here to find out more. La Traviata’s giant chandelier will be very conspicuous!
Christian the Lion, Middle East, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Greece, Australia, Get Up!, Factory Farming, Australian Wildlife, Orangutangs, Energy, Factory Farming, Whitney Houston, Mail, Norfolk Island etc
March 4, 2012
I’ve just been in Melbourne where I gave a talk about Christian to a most receptive audience at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. I am constantly surprised at the “magic” of Christian’s story. It has had such an effect on so many people – and seems to bring out the best in everyone. I hope we can harness all this goodwill into making a difference for wildlife and our environment. It does mystify me on an existential level – what is Christian’s message for us, if there is one? I was once asked in an interview about this and as I hadn’t really solved it myself I blurted out “I think it is a cry for Africa”. Many people would probably say it is about loving one another.
In a recent report on TV it was stated that there may be less than 30,000 lions left in the wild, and that lions, like elephants (and much else), may be in an extinction vortex. We have been saying now for several years that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time forty years ago. Lions are being shot, poisoned and speared at an alarming rate primarily because they are in competition with local villagers for diminishing resources and habitats. Apart from us loving them, apart from them being an essential link – like everything in our ecosystem, they are Africa’s number 1 tourist attraction.
MIDDLE EAST: Libya is not unexpectedly floundering – with competing regions, personalities and militias, and an understandably inexperienced leadership of the National Transitional Council that is paralysed by the rivalries. There are reports of militia violence, looting and torture. It has been described as “it is everyone against everyone else”. Syria seems to be descending into civil war, while the world stands by. It is a humanitarian catastrophe.There have been reports of widespread systematic torture, and the threat of being tried for crimes against humanity does not seem to have inhibited the government. The opposition to the regime is unfortunately divided, and as commented on before, there are so many agendas driving the conflict, both within and outside the country.
Despite the uncertain outcomes of the Arab Spring, and so many lives sacrificed, it is inspiring to see a critical mass of courageous people speaking up.
It makes me wonder – how would I respond in their situation?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It is ironic that the latest release of confidential emails by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor indicates that the US Department of Justice has issued a secret sealed indictment against Julian Assange. The case against him in Sweden has recently been described as very slight, and mostly grandstanding by Swedish prosecutors. Some of the threats made to him have been appalling – and very frightening. With the example of Bradley Manning who has been held without trial in the US for over 600 days (and his trial finally scheduled for August), Julian has many reasons to fear extradition to the US. I’d also be worried about those drones that the US seem to be increasingly using to murder people, with the push of a button from the safety of an office, presumably in Washington. The publication of classified material of foreign powers is apparently not a crime under Australian law, but the Australian Government has not, and probably will not, assist our Australian citizen.
It has been pointed out that “award-winning journalist” Assange’s new TV show The World Tomorrow will air on a state-owned network in Russia, a country where 40 journalists have been murdered in the past decade. Raffi Khatchadourian commented on Julian’s contradictory nature in The New Yorker (repeated in the SMH): “He is a charismatic figure precisely because of the way his contradictions – manifest in WikiLeaks from the start – magically seem to hold together: his self absorption tempered by his more abstract but genuinely felt, pursuit of justice…his utopianism hemmed in by a do-what-it-takes view of combat; his search for hidden truths shrouded by his own secrecy and willingness to equivocate, if not lie.”
GREECE: Greece was faced with one of two unattractive options – a European fiscal strait jacket that will please bankers and Germany especially, or leaving the EU, whatever the scary ramifications of that would be. Sadly, neither option seems to address the challenge of growing the Greek economy, and the majority of people face years of real hardship.
AUSTRALIA: We have had the most extraordinarily bitter leadership battle that would have been fascinating if it didn’t threaten to damage the government so badly. The deposed but still ambitious ex PM Kevin Rudd is more popular in the polls than the PM Julia Gillard which would not be hard. It seems Rudd has constantly been undermining her, and subsequently the government, in the process. He seems totally addicted to media cycles, polling, his own importance and people in shopping centres. David Marr in the SMH wrote that another former Labor leader Mark Latham “once told Rudd to his face that his rise… was due solely to his popularity with people who have never actually met him”. I think the psychological analysis by Michael Duffy in the SMH Feb 27 best sums up how I also feel about Kevin Rudd. He reduced government to a reality TV program, and one wonders what he actually believes in. Moir captured in his cartoon (above) the nightmare Rudd has become for his own political party. After being convincingly beaten in a leadership ballot, Rudd promised his “unconditional support”. Sure. In fairness I must say that he is extremely intelligent, was a very energetic Foreign Minister, and cleverly outmanoeuvred John Howard in the 2007 election. I also believe he reacted quickly and effectively to the GFC.
GETUP!: GetUp! asked their members in a survey what are the 10 major issues we would like them to campaign for on our behalf in 2012. The top four concerns were: investment in renewable energy, followed by protecting Australia’s native forests, stopping harmful coal seam gas mining practices, and the fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
FACTORY FARMING: There is an obvious momentum of public opposition to factory farmed animals and chickens. The organisation Voiceless has done much to bring this issue to public attention in Australia. The live cattle export debate has also brought more support for animal welfare and rights issues – and recently more examples of inhumane treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs have emerged which has reignited the debate. There are calls to ban live cattle exports, or for mandatory pre-slaughter stunning on all animals exported. Interestingly, or depressingly, in the first edition of A Lion Called Christian in 1970 we talked about the inhumane treatment of Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East! There is a petition for banning live cattle exports on change.org, and in the US the ALDF has a petition to US legislators who are being pressured by the corporate agriculture lobby to make documenting and distributing damaging footage of factory farm practices illegal.
DONKEYS: I have two friends Jonathan and David who are very concerned about donkeys and other working animals and think I don’t pay them enough attention! The Brooke is a highly respected international welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules. A recent campaign has been teaching basic animal welfare and care for Ethiopia’s grain market donkeys. William from Florida informs me the organisation was started in 1930 in Cairo by the wife of a British Army officer in response to the condition of many horses left behind in Egypt after the First World War. (I imagine many of you would have seen Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse). The organisations Pegasus and WSPA have been working for better conditions and more effective laws to protect working horses and donkeys in Israel that are also often cruelly overworked, overladen and neglected.
AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE: Recently our attention has been drawn to the increasingly precarious situation of some of our unique wildlife. Our koalas are under threat, and it is estimated that as few as 100,000 may remain in the wild, their coastal habitats destroyed by the vast number of Australians that now live along the beautiful eastern coast. Our Tasmanian Devils have very contagious facial tumours and there is a battle to save the few healthy ones remaining in the wild, and ironically they are safer in zoos at this stage. The Australian Marine Conservation Society works hard to protect our ocean wildlife, and a recent campaign has highlighted how up to 100,000 sharks around the Great Barrier Reef can be legally killed annually for shark fin soup, or fish and chips.
ORANGUTANGS: I have friends who have recently visited or drawn my attention to various centres in our region that do great work protecting orangutangs. These include the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan Borneo and the Camp Leakey Orphan Orangutang Care Centre in Kalimantan. Apparently the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yuddhoyono was recently seen in a Jakarta IMAX watching a documentary on the orangutangs of Kalimantan. Let’s hope he was sufficiently moved to do more to protect the habitats of many animals that are being destroyed, especially by palm oil plantations.
ENERGY: Despite all the cries of “we’ll be ruined by the impending carbon tax” by our conservative opposition party, and some millionaires and billionaires, there has been surging investment in coal exploration. Apparently there has been a break-through (after many years) in carbon capture and storage. Let’s hope so, but I remain sceptical. The newish (conservative) leader of my state of NSW, has lifted a ban on uranium mining. Waste disposal is of course a still very unresolved and contentious issue, with a remote Aboriginal community, Muckaty in northern Australia, being targeted as a nuclear waste dump. Despite the catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the US the government has approved the building of two nuclear reactors. There are also more worrying reports about mining for gas: double the anticipated green house gases leaking in the US, and in Australia, the release of contaminated water into the environment. On the subject of water, each day each person in an industrialised nation personally consumes about 1,000 gallons (3,785 litres) embedded in the food we eat. Pumping, conveying and treating water is extremely energy intensive, and the energy industry is the largest single water user.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: It was when her song I Will Always Love You was added to the YouTube footage of our reunion with Christian that it went viral, so we are very grateful to her – and to Dolly Parton who wrote it. Many of you have said how much you love the song too, and are saddened by her death. The footage is unique, but the song beautifully heightens the emotional impact. Mind you, I was reprimanded in a conference for liking it by someone who thought the music interfered with the pure response to an extraordinary animal/human experience. With Whitney, while every life is sacred, one wonders how someone so precious and talented can be allowed to slip through our fingers. I immediately went to listen to her on Christian’s ALCC website but the clip had been blocked, presumably for copyright reasons. After much searching however I was very pleased to find one “reunion” video with her song on The View, even if I was called Ace Berg!
MAIL: I’m very much appreciating the images and information I am being sent and can share. Thanks to Dee for the sweet photograph (above), and click here to see more Some Photos Just Don’t Need a Caption. Thanks also to Heulwen for the beautiful photograph of the three cheetahs in South Africa.
Thankyou to Deva Delanoe who sent me some important links. Click here to see a report on the number of tigers in private hands in the US – possibly more than twice the number left in the wild. Issues of great concern include inappropriate breeding and declawing. People like the Hollywood star Tippi Hedren are campaigning against private ownership, and I very much hope to visit her at The Shambala Preserve, her big cat sanctuary north of Los Angeles. Some experts have complained that the tigers are losing their “tigerness”. Christian was a 7th generation “European” lion, and in his case George Adamson was fascinated to see that ultimately Christian’s natural instincts were not impaired. Another link highlights the work for animal welfare in Afghanistan by NOWZAD. It is tough for most people there, so these endeavours on behalf of animals are to be applauded and supported. Deva also sent a link to the Soi Dog Foundation who are trying to prevent the very cruel illegal dog export meat trade in Thailand. Warning: the photographs on this site are particularly upsetting.
I haven’t personally researched or checked the credentials and records of many of the animal welfare organisations I have blogged about, so we should all take normal precautions before we donate or assist their work. I am sure however that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, and many are run by quite extraordinary selfless people, deserving of our support and gratitude.
NORFOLK ISLAND: I’m about to leave for Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia for the celebration of Foundation Day on March 6th. My ancestor Philip Gidley King sailed from the new colony of Sydney in early February 1788 to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, and I am researching some family history. I’m also hoping to avoid the incessant rains that have caused flooding throughout much of NSW, but have filled most of our dams after many years.