Baby Black Rhino. Photograph by Jodi Cobb. source National Geographic.

Baby Black Rhino. Photograph by Jodi Cobb. Source National Geographic.

OCT 4th World Animal Day: According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, half the world’s wild animals have been lost in the last 40 years from habitat destruction,hunting and deforestation. On this World Animal Day let’s work together and combine our efforts to reverse these terrible statistics – their survival is at stake.

SYDNEY: People are meeting beside Sydney Town Hall at 11am on Saturday 4th October. Organisers seem to be a coalition of Lobby For Lions, Animal Works and felinefoundation.org – see their sites for information. The March is for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions primarily…but let’s salute all animals!

MELBOURNE: fortheloveofwildlife is staging a fund raiser, primarily for a documentary exposing the cruelty of farming lions for the canned hunting industry in South Africa. Apart from the entertainment, the evening will feature Ian Michler, a well-known wildlife journalist from South Africa.

Please consider signing this petition to ban lion trophy imports into Australia – this is a very effective way of discouraging hunting.

Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations Conference

Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations Conference

FIAPO: The Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations staged a very informative and effective conference in Jaipur. A federation can combine all our voices and efforts and be very influential. People were eloquent advocates on behalf of a wide variety of animals and issues.  In attendance were esteemed elders, generous patrons, dynamic individuals and groups, and many concerned and enthusiastic young people.

There are strong laws to protect animals in India – it is the implementation that is problematic.

My Opening Address, illustrated with photographs, seemed to be quite well received – they love Christian’s story!  As the auditorium was full of animal lovers, this was not surprising. The audience clapped when Christian jumped up on us – and some shed a few tears – it was beautiful!

This is the link to the original and my favourite Youtube clip – as it includes Whitney Houston’s emotive back track I’ll Always Love You. 

At the conference there were many dedicated and hard working people (including some interesting foreigners that came to India on holiday and stayed).  Many run animal shelters where dogs, donkeys, camels, snakes, birds etc are rescued and cared for. Sessions ranged widely from dealing with the packs of dogs and rabies in communities, bears that have been rescued from a life of “performing” with gypsies, to the huge tracts of land required for elephants that have been “rescued” from miserable lives performing or working.

Listening to many of the speakers made me think deeply about animal rights, and how we use animals selfishly for our own purposes. We farm them cruelly for our food, work them hard, and use them for our “entertainment”.

We can visit animals in the wild and observe them appropriately…we can walk in our national parks full of birds…swim under water in our oceans….visit reputable wildlife sanctuaries, “open air” zoos, and conservancies where vast tracts of land are protected.

Incidentally, behavioural ecologist Justin O’Riain who is currently visiting Australia, has said electrified fencing can reduce the vexed issue of animal/human contact – from the baboons in the suburbs of Cape Town, to deterring lions and elephants from local villages.

We can stay home and watch the most beautifully filmed and educational nature documentaries. We can donate to causes we believe in. Most satisfyingly, on a daily basis we can look after the dogs and cats in our lives – preferably rescued from shelters.”Companion pets” so aptly describes the roles they play in our lives…

Camel shelter with Jeannette Lloyd-Jones

Camel shelter with Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Fellow Working for Animals committee member Jeannette and I visited the Camel Rescue Shelter established on the outskirts of Jaipur. Camels and a donkey were recuperating, and a cow was on a drip watched by the anxious owner. It was a reminder of just how tough village life remains for most Indians. While India seems to get easier to visit, and the middle class expands, one can’t forget that for the majority of Indians life remains extremely hard. Many live on the street, or in slums, and life remains precarious. The weather is extreme –hot and cold, monsoonal rains caused flooding in Kashmir (blamed on climate change, deforestation and unsuitable over development), and temperatures I would find unbearable (45!). Overall I love the vitality of Indians and many have a great sense of humour.  The new PM Modi seems energetic but it is too early to judge him.

MAC3: I’ve now been asked to show the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at another important conference – the Minding Animals Conference 3 in New Delhi 13th January – 18th January 2015.  Minding Animals furthers the development of animal studies internationally and helps to establish legal and moral protections.

Hawa Mahal, built 1799, City Palace, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, built 1799, City Palace, Jaipur

After three days of the conference I looked forward to a walk around the attractive City Palace, and dinner at the luxurious Rambagh Palace.

BENGAL TIGERS: I was deeply shocked to find out there were only 1500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild in India. Indians were equally shocked that only 20,000 wild lions remain in Africa. I was asked by people at the conference how to protect tigers – and a starting point was this petition on my last blog (sent to me by Francois) which most Indians were not aware of. 96,300 acres of forest are to be cut down in the state of Maharashtra for bamboo and teak – but it includes vital tiger habitat. Please sign the petition and circulate.

UNITED NATIONS: By abolishing our carbon tax Australia should have been embarrassed at the United Nations summit on Climate Change. 300,000 marched in New York and Obama is certainly talking about climate change with much more urgency. On the other hand our government is in denial and we are now on the wrong side of history.

We have no designated Minister for Science and funding for science and innovation is at a 30 year low.

Our PM sidestepped Climate Change to give a banal speech at the United Nations about joining the Coalition against the Islamic State. Our indecent haste to rush to war has “added to” making Australians more of a target to extreme Muslims. Our politicians (and some Murdoch journalists) are still in denial about the repercussions from the 2003 Iraq invasion and are no doubt in danger of making the same mistakes all over again – such as having no exit policy. War has conveniently taken the attention off the government’s inept handling of the budget and I still can’t think of one major initiative that gives me any confidence in the government.  Often I’m shocked at their behaviour: like the recent decision to send our asylum seekers to Cambodia for resettlement.  Cambodia is one of the worlds poorest nations with an appalling human rights record.

I liked the break in India from our newspapers…the conservatives in the Murdoch press here are still blaming “ the Left”, the ALP budget deficit, or imaginary “bias” at the ABC.

EBOLA: Isn’t this an emergency the world is inexplicitly slow to respond to?

HONG KONG: The world is admiring the bravery of your citizens as you demonstrate for your democratic rights and  we wish you well.

READING: I adored reading Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest memoir and Alice Walker’s unsettling and often funny In Love & Trouble. I find them fascinating individuals but I also enjoyed the more cerebral and interwoven stories in Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell. I’m listening to music by our composer Peter Sculthorpe, who died recently. His collaboration with William Barton on the didgeridoo is hauntingly beautiful.

Looking forward to celebrating WORLD ANIMAL DAY with you all around the world.

Photograph by Prince Eleazer. Source National Geographic.

Photograph by Prince Eleazer. Source National Geographic.

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

The world is mourning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with those innocent passengers, and their families and friends – so many people are touched by this event.  In Australia we have lost 37 people.  Unfortunately, conflict in the Middle East is also claiming many innocent civilians and it is hard not to feel extremely depressed at the moment about the human condition.

Migaloo the whale

Migaloo the whale

WHALES: Meanwhile, life for most of us goes on, and the whales, including albino Migaloo, continue their migration north along our eastern coast. One whale beached itself and after the efforts of many people over several days, finally swam off. The “debate” on whaling at the Australian National Maritime Museum was most interesting with a first-hand account by Jon Lewis of protests and lobbying which closed the last whaling station at Albany, West Australia in 1978. We also heard from brave participants on the Sea Shepherd fleet up against the Japanese whalers. I don’t think many Japanese actually eat whale meat and I know much is frozen and stored in warehouses. Apart from whaling, another threat to whales is the increasing acidification of the oceans, and the amount of plastic refuse that forms huge islands in the oceans. On exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 1 February 2015) are the marvellous life-size photographs of whales by Bryant Austin.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Ultra nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been in Australia.  Our PM Abbott referred to the Japanese who invaded Sydney Harbour in submarines in the war in 1942.  He said “we admire the skill and sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did”. Needless to say these remarks were not well received by Australian soldiers (or their descendants) who fought in the war or by countries like China that were invaded by Japan. A Chinese Daily newspaper described our Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop “a complete fool” after some of her recent remarks, and predicted that her government won’t last long. Given that the Abbott government has 37 communications and social media specialists (at a cost of $4.3 million and compared to 7 people in the previous government), can’t someone vet these loose cannons? Abbott also recently offended our indigenous population by describing Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” prior to colonisation. But trade apparently trumps all other considerations, and PM Abe was not even questioned over his intention to continue to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

I could not resist this photograph of visitors and a lion at the Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria. They are actually shielded (from each other) by a glass wall. I am ambiguous about zoos even though they have had to make themselves much more relevant in the areas or research and conservation. I try not to be too cute or kitsch in my choice of photographs…sometimes a very fine line I know..

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Despite Amnesty International, the UN and other international human rights agencies documenting in Sri Lanka instances of torture, disappearances, muzzling of journalists, civilian deaths and threats to human rights advocates, our government has blithely returned a boatload of 41 people to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is “peaceful” according to Abbott. The UN has expressed “profound concern” at the actions of the Australian Government. Another 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers that set out in a boat from India are presently in an undisclosed location somewhere at sea in one of our Customs boats. Thirty children are among these people that have been held for four weeks in windowless cabins, while a High Court challenge to this incident is yet to be resolved. Our Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison hides behind 95 spin doctors to ensure we are told nothing! Meanwhile some children are manifesting mental problems in our detention centres and some mothers are self harming.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

I think well known photographer Rosemary Laing captures so powerfully the isolation and forbidding nature of some of our detention centres.  I am ashamed to say most Australians are in favour of our tough and inhumane policy – which has bi-partisan support.  What is wrong with us? Is this the same in your countries? I think of the thousands fleeing into Europe from North Africa (1500 recently in one day), and the 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants detained in recent months for attempting to cross into the USA from Central America. 51 million people are displaced globally.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

LEOPARD: Asa the leopard is the subject of an important “rewilding” exercise in Nepal. Her story is such a typical example of human/wildlife conflict over shrinking natural habitats and the competition for resources. Thanks to Kate who emailed me (below) about Asa and she will be able to give us a firsthand account after her visit to Nepal in November: The leopard is one of the most persecuted and misunderstood of the big cats. In Nepal, a young leopard cub called Asa (which means hope) is the focus of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a collaboration between Wild Tiger Conservation Research and Development, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project.  Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and came into the care of Jack Kinross from Wild Tiger in February this year. Asa soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations. Asa underwent  months of training in a secure area in the Raniban Forest near Pokhara, including daily jungle sessions, and with minimal contact with humans.  It was decided that Asa would be rehabilitated in an area with a good prey base, and away from human habitation, within the Annapurna Conservation Area. After meetings with local communities, Stage 2 of the rewilding process is being launched this month. The rewilding location ensures that Asa, and future leopards in the LRP, will have minimal human contact and the chance to return to their natural habitat. The aim of the LRP is to address the ongoing and complex issues of increasing human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. Follow Asa’s story and the LRP at wildleopard.net and wildtiger.org.

CHEETAHS: Andrew has sent me these two articles on cheetahs (in Africa and Iran) who, like most other wild animals are also competing for habitats and struggling to survive. There may be 12,000 cheetahs left in Africa where they also face the problems arising from the spread of human populations.  There are programs to re-introduce, rehabilitate and “train” cheetahs to be wild. There may be only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs left and they are the world’s second rarest cats. They are smaller and slighter and favour mountainous regions.  There is a concerted effort to protect them in Iran, with 125 game rangers to guard them.  Read here  and here.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

AUSTRALIA: We have had chaos in the Australian Senate with the motley collection of new senators (some are there on preferences with less than 1% of votes) creating havoc for an inept government. People are beginning to realise what a good negotiator ex PM Julia Gilliard was, with all the legislation she steered (undefeated) through a hung parliament. The maverick billionaire MP Clive Palmer is turning out to be everyone’s worst nightmare and it is still not really clear what any of his policies are beyond attracting attention for himself and creating chaos. Even The Australian seemed to have run out of patience with the Government’s incompetence with an Editorial (July 12-13) which was finally critical of the Abbott government’s performance and lack of judgement, as was Peter Van Onselen the previous week (July 5-6) in his article July 5-6 “Abbott trapped in downward spiral all of his making”. The mostly rabid letters to the editor of The Australian call for a double dissolution but with the polls SO low for the government this is most unlikely. 61% of the electorate find the budget “unfair” while Abbott’s approval is between minus 25 and minus 35.

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo.

In The Rise and Fall of Australia, Nick Bryant describes how he was surprised on arrival in Australia several years ago about the inaccuracies of the stereotypes about Australians. According to writer/reviewer Louis Nowra, Bryant found a “confident country that was able to absorb many of the better aspects of British and American culture”. However Bryant is “aghast” at the low level of political debate (which, in the case of Abbott in opposition, did not transcend a few slogans), and poll driven policies and responses. He repeats Donald Horne’s quote that Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people. Bryant (and Nowra) wonder why when we have many talented and clever people and are reasonably sophisticated, we present ourselves in such a corny way to the world – kangaroos, Paul Hogan, meat pies etc.  For example, Barack Obama was given a football by Julia Gilliard and a surfboard by Tony Abbott.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz has been in Australia and fortunately quite ubiquitous. See this article he wrote in the SMH titled Inequality: Good reasons to shun the US model about how inequality is now widely recognised as being bad for both the economy and society more widely. One in four families in America live “in poverty”. He thinks Australia would be mad to follow the USA education and health care models. Deregulating university would be a “crime”, while co payments for medical services would be “absurd”. He doesn’t think any of the “for-profit” universities in the USA are particularly good and that they just exploit poor people and are only good at lobbying. See the charmless Judith Sloan in The Australian for her predictable response to Stiglitz’s ideas titled Emulating the U.S? Don’t our politicians (and the Institute of Public Affairs) read or research anything? Stiglitz urges us to tax BAD things – like carbon emissions and pollution, and INVEST in people. He also countered the myth that we have a “debt crisis” and this is backed up by 25 of Australia’s leading economists who have rejected the government’s inaccurate claim that we have a “budget emergency”. They agree that it is only a medium-term “problem” rather than a “crisis”. Read this article by Gareth Hutchens titled Economists rubbish talk of debt crisis.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake

CARBON TAX REPEAL: While the world moves forward on action on climate change, we move backwards!  I am ashamed to say the government has repealed the carbon tax, leaving us with no policy. It is the power and influence of the fossil–fuel industry that is preventing us moving to renewable energy in what has been described as a third industrial revolution. A recent ABC Four Corners program on energy called Power to the People was depressing in that it showed how dumb Australia’s leadership is compared to so many countries – the US, South Korea, China, Germany etc. But I actually found it heartening in that renewable energy will win! Australia may be left behind and miss the economic opportunities but renewables are unstoppable. While investment in renewable energy is now at a “standstill” in Australia, China poured $US19.3 billion into renewables in the June quarter.  See the article in the SMH by Ross Gittins Australia risking future as fuel fossil. The US electric car Tesla with no emissions presently costs $100,000 but with mass production will soon come down to $30,000. Apple is to be 100% off the grid and powered by its own solar farm. There now exists a large scale solar farm that could provide 90% of Canberra’s power needs. Storage of wind and solar energy etc for peak times (or night) is now practical and with increasing capacity.

Giraffees

Giraffes

The ever helpful Rupert Murdoch has just said Australia should not be building windmills and “all that rubbish”. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist and was one of the first to warn about global warming. Lord Deben, who was in her cabinet and now heads the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called Abbott’s repeal of the carbon tax “appalling” and that the Australian government was “more concerned with advancing its own short term political interests”.  He said that, in contrast, “66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming”. After the repeal of the carbon tax, the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs sent a congratulatory email to supporters saying “we did it”.

Swan with cygnets

Swan with cygnets

MIDDLE EAST:  The extremist fighters of the Islamic State now control a third of both Iraq and Syria, and Israel has invaded Gaza. I’m not going to list the growing and disproportionate number of civilian deaths. According to an article by Ari Shavit who wrote My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Israelis have been living in a safe and prosperous “iron -dome delusion” over the last few years, and are now vulnerable to “irregular forces of irregular entities” on their borders that will “disrupt Israel’s order”.  He is very sad that in the relative quiet of 2009 – 2013 “New thinking was never introduced and fresh ideas were not implemented”. This “undeclared cease fire” offered the opportunity for the major players to create a “unique dynamic for a two state solution”. In an article in the SMH Randa Abdel-Fattah examined the “unwavering” support for Israel by Australia (like America, Europe etc).  She thinks the “peace process” is a “farce” and that with the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, a two state solution is “dead”. While acknowledging rockets have been fired from Gaza, she says “One has to credit a military juggernaut and a covertly nuclear state for its success in framing itself as victim even as it bombs a largely defenceless population”…living in what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

According to the Pew Research Centre, over the last 12 months, fear about Muslim extremism have been rising in nations with large Muslim populations. The exception is Indonesia where only 4 in 10 voiced concern about extremism. What is good, is that the majority are losing patience with Muslim extremism, and realise it is counter- productive for their futures.

Boy and marmot

Boy and marmot

We have just had an excellent SBS 4 part television series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl which traces the history of the Lebanese community in Australia over the last 30 years. Given the difficulties of migrating to another country, racism, the language barrier and a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, inevitably a small percentage has been into drugs, crime and car rebirthing etc. Unfortunately the whole Lebanese community has been tarnished by this small minority and demonised by every “Muslim” incident around the world. It was alarming to be reminded of the racist Cronulla riots in 2005, which happened just across the water from where I live. Hundreds of white Anglo kids went on a drunken rampage baying for blood – whipped up by the appalling shock jock Alan Jones. Ugly revenge attacks followed. The Shire, as our area is called, does not appreciate difference or diversity. Perhaps one can understand how our great swimming champion Ian Thorpe, who has lived in the Shire, felt so inhibited – or frightened, of coming out as gay, when initially asked as a 16 year old.

IRAQ: In a recent article for The Saturday Paper titled The Iraq War’s coalition of the shilling esteemed academic Robert Manne revisits our participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fraudulent reasons for it. He concludes: “The leaders of the Australian war party – John Howard, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander Downer – and their most influential cheerleaders – Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan – bear some responsibility for the deaths of half a million Iraqis…deaths still to come…the unimaginable suffering endured…And yet so far as I am aware – their supreme self-confidence apparently unaffected by the catastrophe they had helped unleash in Iraq – not one of these warriors of the right has expressed even one word of contrition or remorse”. ISIL has now declared an “Islamic State” and are the world’s richest militant group with assets of least $2 billion.

Raju the elephant

Raju the elephant

ELEPHANTS: Raju the elephant has been freed from possibly 50 years of begging for coins. Alerted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India, the North London charity Wildlife SOS travelled to India to free him, which was resisted by Raju’s current owner. Save the Elephant estimates that 33,000 African elephants have been killed annually between 2010-2012. This is driven by the price of ivory having tripled in the last four years. China is the world’s biggest market and the Japanese also have an appetite for it.  Sales of ivory in Bangkok have also nearly trebled in the past year.

INDIA: I have been asked to speak at the conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in September in Jaipur. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the delegates who are doing great work on behalf of animals in India. I have visited India many times and appreciate the magnitude of their challenges. I’m now on the committee of Working for Animals, who runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I blogged about my visit there in 2010. As you can see,the shelters are in the most beautiful locations and the animals are cared for so sympathetically. I accompanied the staff and vets to an outlying area where people brought in there cats and dogs for examinations and treatments etc.  Strategies such as these have eliminated rabies from the surrounding areas. WFA also contribute to the Human Elephant Learning Projects which offer instruction on more appropriate care of elephants, and the Help in Suffering Animal Shelter.

CONGRATULATIONS: Joko Widodo appears to have won  the presidential election in Indonesia. I fear Prabowa Subianto will be a very bad loser. The more I read about him the worse he sounds. Megawati and her daughter seemed a millstone around Joko’s neck during the election and are rather clueless members of an elite I hope Indonesia has now broken free of… Our new “teenage sensation” Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa at Wimbledon in the quarter finals (mixed feelings), but Djokovic beat Federer in a marvellous 5 set match. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

MISC STATS: one person dies every 6 seconds from smoking; according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report Australia has the highest rate of ecstasy use, is 2nd for opioids, 3rd for methamphetamine’s, 4th for cocaine and 7th for cannabis; Tracey Emin’s famous unmade bed My Bed sold for $4.6 million at auction; 60% of Americans own pets and their pet industry is worth $55 billion annually; the Pope estimates 2% of the Roman Catholic clergy are pedophiles, but others say it is closer to 4%; Rebekah Brooks was paid 11 million pounds by Rupert Murdoch –see the ABC Four Corners report on the News of the World phone hacking scandal  Rupert, Rebekah and Andy – it is chilling.

MAIL: Thanks to Kate, Francois, Deb, Elaine, Andrew, Bob, William, Madeleine, MoonieBlues etc for contributions and drawing my attention to articles and images.

VALE:  I met Judy Cuppaidge sailing to New York on the SS France many years ago and we remained great friends. She was a well known landscape architect, horticulturalist, artist, writer cat lover and much else, and will be sadly missed.

WATCHING: On the ABC there is the second series of Art + Soul by curator Hetti Perkins. This series does gives the opportunity to look in some depth at Aboriginal art – the first episode was two artists I especially admire – Daniel Boyd and Jonathan Jones.

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

There was also a poignant story on the ABC about the Big Ears Sanctuary where Jacqui Steele and her partner look after many unwanted animals or pets on 25 acres in Tasmania. For many of us it would be a dream come true with 400 rabbits, cats, donkeys, pigs etc. Unfortunately Jacqui is gravely ill but so far is undeterred although the future is so uncertain.  I think they could use our financial support to continue their excellent work – running costs are $90,000 per year. On 60 Minutes there was a story of the 800 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, Congo. The gorillas have survived nearby civil wars, giant displacements of people, poaching etc and their population has stabilised, even increasing, due to the vigilance of the rangers. However, 150 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. We should all pay tribute to the many devoted rangers in Africa and around the world who literally put their lives on the line for animals. There is a foundation to support them and their families – The Thin Green Line Foundation. Of course the new threat to the gorillas is oil and the UK company SOCO. It is alleged that they have corruptly been given exploration rights over 85% of the park, which would herald the end – for the Park, and for the gorillas.

GORE VIDAL: I attended a screening of Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia with the director Nicholas Wrathall available for questions. It has opened in cinemas in the USA and will be screened shortly on our ABC.  You can view the trailer here. I found it a marvellous documentary and Gore was so intelligent and perceptive.  He was well positioned as the ultimate insider/outsider, with an aristocratic family close to political power, and surrounded by celebrities and famous people.  He was so ahead of his time. He was among the first to warn about many of the issues we are still grappling with: economic inequality (which he spoke of in the 1960s); the almost inescapable power of big corporations; the power of the neo cons; electronic surveillance; American imperialism and how this has inevitably made America a target; and he was scathing about virtually all modern presidents… He was a brilliant writer, was urbane, witty and bitchy – and devastatingly sarcastic about people like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F Buckley. Everything rings so true and is so relevant TODAY!

 

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

CACH: (Campaign Against Canned Hunting). I really believe in this cause, and I think we all have the chance to make a difference.  The practice of breeding lion cubs to be petted, then shot by “hunters” horrifies all reasonable people.

See this very recent educational presentation video from CACH and we can help by circulating it as widely as possible.

On the video they have a Call to Action on how we can contribute.  I gathered from reading the CACH website that they seem to hold little hope for appropriate action from the South African Government.  But we are still urged to contact the South African Government and their representatives in our countries.  Despite their growing unpopularity (we all heard the boos at the Nelson Mandela service), President Zuma and the ANC were recently re-elected.

This quote from President Zuma is chilling (and untrue): “compassion for animals is “unAfrican””.

Christian's paw by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian’s paw by Ace Bourke 1972

CACH is also very concerned for lions in the wild – and Chris Mercer from CACH has confirmed for me that there may be only approximately 20,000 lions left in the wild in Africa.  Owners of lion farms kill adult wild lions to capture the cubs to prevent in-breeding and replace depressed animals in their lion farms.

There were 2 petitions in circulation (Care2 and Change. Org) to have lions listed as Endangered in the USA, so let’s hope the USA Government acts.  This would act as a disincentive to would-be American hunters.  Apparently many of you signed the petitions and there was an observable lift in numbers – so many thanks!

CACH is by-passing World Lion Day in August and putting considerable energy and global organisation into World Animal Day on Oct 4th.  CACH will soon be listing ethical travel agents on their website. People around the world are contacting travel agents and explaining how cub petting and walking with lions is often synonymous with canned hunting.  I too will be contacting travel agencies about this and explaining how tourists would love to be contributing to the greater good for wildlife – and not, often unwittingly, being part of the problem.  I think it is important to be able to recommend reputable wildlife sanctuaries as an alternative.

VOLUNTEERS: Quite a few people ask me where they could volunteer to help and work with animals. I usually recommend inquiring about helping animals locally – at animal shelters, and to Google animal organisations.  Perhaps ask your local vets. I have tried to list many reputable animal organisations on this blog over the years.

Alison Lee Rubie who I met at the Sydney Global March For Lions has forwarded me a link from Facebook for Volunteers in Africa Beware listing reputable wildlife sanctuaries. If you don’t have Facebook, you can access the list here. Well-intentioned volunteers have also been unwittingly used by the lion farmers.

Tiger and cub

Tiger and cub

CHEETAHS: See this cute cheetah video.  I have a friend Barry who is obsessed with cheetahs, so this is for him especially.

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: Read here and visit here for recent updates. The Animal Legal Defense Fund urgently asked Louisiana residents to contact House Members to vote against the “exemption” bill.

The vote earlier last week was adjourned and is now scheduled for next week May 28th.  Louisiana residents are URGENTLY asked to contact your House Members!

One has to wonder just what sort of influence  Tony the Tiger’s cruel “owner” has?

FAROE ISLANDS:  The Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within Denmark.  These photographs are sickening. Copy and paste the photos and petition into an email and forward to others to show your support against this absolutely appalling annual slaughter of whales, dolphins and porpoises.  It happened in August last year so it will probably happen again at this time. We don’t care if it is a local tradition going back centuries, and what sort of bloody “right of passage” is it for young men?

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

BIRDS: I have to admit I’m getting more and more interested in birds and I know many of you are. We grew up with a Neville Henry Cayley painting, and last year Penny Olsen published Cayley and Son: The Life and Art of Neville Henry Cayley and Neville William Cayley.  This book looks at the lives and work of this father and son and demonstrates the generational changes in attitudes to natural history, conservation, national ornithology, bird art, Australian publishing and commercial art.

Gang-gang cockatoo by Neville William Cayley (1886-1950). Courtesy National Library of Australia

Gang-gang cockatoo by Neville William Cayley (1886-1950). Courtesy National Library of Australia

Neville William Cayley wrote and illustrated the hugely successful 1931 book What Bird Is That?  Unfortunately, and unfairly, both father and son died impecunious.  I am advised by my friend Madeleine that the best Australian bird apps are Michael Morcombe’s Australian Birds which is easy to use, has all the calls, distributions, list making and the text and illustrations from his book.  Pizzey and Knight is a more expensive app but has more options. I love the way that bird sightings and locations are now immediately registered, making estimates of populations etc. much more accurate.

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Penny Olsen has also written the recently published An Eye for Nature: The Life and Art of William. T. Cooper. I heard an interview with Penny and William and apparently David Attenborough has described him as the “best ornithological illustrator alive”.  He grew up near Newcastle, NSW where I too enjoyed growing up surrounded by the bush.  His paintings are excellent, and while his background landscapes are atmospheric, they can be for me, a little florid.  His work certainly puts the birds (and other animals) in context with their habitats and food sources etc.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

EXTINCTION: There is an ongoing debate here – and no doubt in many other parts of the world, about the extinction of so many species.  Some argue about saving “key” species – The Eastern Barred Bandicoot and koalas may be “out” for example, but bees are “in” because of their essential pollination.  Incidentally, 30% of our bees have been wiped out by drought and bushfires, although Australia is still mite-free at this stage.

Our beautiful Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, has been described as a biodiversity “basket case”.  We have lost 90% of our small native animals and about 100 marsupial species are at risk. Various introduced species or “pests” are usually blamed, including cane toads who are continuing their march across northern Australia, and the usual suspect, feral cats.

FERAL CONTROL:  People are now beginning to question the cruelty with which these “feral” “pests” – cats, foxes, rabbits, pigs, dogs etc are controlled or eradicated.  They are often poisoned and die agonising deaths. Dr. Clive A. Marks has written an important article: How much suffering is OK when it comes to pest control  He questions why cruelty to  “feral” animals remains largely sidelined in the clash between conservation and animal welfare over “control” of these animals.

I especially object to the vilification of cats who are always photographed in this context snarling – who would not snarl under the circumstances?  It is hardly their fault if they were introduced to deal with the plague proportions of rats…….

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat

CATS: Meanwhile, some other cats are laughing all the way to the bank!  Maru has had 175 million monetised views and Grumpy Cat will soon be starring in his own feature film and has his own agent.  William Braden’s marvellous French cinema spoof Henri le chat noir has been viewed more than 15 million times and earned more than $US25,000.

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Deb sent me the most wonderful collection of vintage photographs of celebrities and I have reproduced three here. They are mostly not studio or posed photographs, or paparazzi – just celebrities with each other, and often an interesting cross-generational mix of some of the most dazzling or interesting stars.

MEDIA: I have the Sydney Morning Herald delivered each morning, but it is so slim these days and there has recently been even more sackings of at least 30 photographers.  I have to confess that I now buy Murdoch’s The Daily Telegraph and The Australian on my afternoon walk.  Despite their brazenly partisan conservative views, they are undoubtedly meatier.  The Daily Telegraph is a trashier tabloid which can be fun – and is also more likely to have photographs of animals and wildlife exhibitions etc that I can use on my blog.  The Australian remains obsessed with the opposition ALP and long past sins – a pity they did not subject our PM Abbott and his mere 3 slogans to any scrutiny while in opposition.

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

It is fascinating watching the Murdoch journalists now beginning to turn on this unpopular government and actually doing their job examining the policies and broken promises.  It is getting harder to defend the indefensible.

The Letters to the Editor in both Murdoch papers are often shockingly cold hearted and completely lacking in any compassion for…humanity.

I did love the account of the Murdoch divorce in the March Vanity Fair – his mother (yes, she died at 103 and was rather marvellous) warned him about the Wendi Dengs of the world. What an incorrigible opportunist Tony Blair appears to be.

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

ENERGY:  Australian households are being conned over electricity. Not the carbon tax!  It is the power of the fossil fuel industry and “gold plating” (where unnecessary poles and wires are built) that is affecting our electricity costs. Peak demand is actually falling. Many people face “energy poverty” – with 10% of their disposable income spent on energy.  Winter is coming with additional heating costs, but we have actually been having the most lovely warm and sunny weather.
Storage of solar energy in batteries is hopefully going to be developed soon which will de-link people off the grid.
Our Treasurer recently attacked wind farms and he particularly referred to the wind turbines at Lake George (on the way to Canberra) which I have also criticised as a blight on a rather beautiful landscape.  I confess I think wind farms should be located where they don’t ruin a great view….

There has just been a victory for a local community in the Northern Rivers of NSW with the suspension of gas drilling at a well. The company, Metgasco, apparently “misled” the public and “did not consult” with the community. Social media helped build and galvanise an effective if unlikely alliance of landowners, locals, and environmentalists.

The current low price for iron ore and coal (especially low grade coal), will hopefully make it not viable to develop some new mines, and they will become “stranded assets”.  Deutsche Bank have just announced that they will not be funding the expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point,Queensland, ostensibly over the dangers to the Great Barrier Reef from the dredge spoils.

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

CLIMATE CHANGE: I find it fascinating that the climate change deniers have been squealing that they are treated “unfairly” by the media.  They have been amazingly successful in the debate although virtually unable to produce any credible evidence to back up their arguments.  This is what happened with the tobacco industry and their lobbyists (some of the very same people) which caused many many unnecessary deaths by warding off any action against smoking for decades.

We can’t expect the 97% of scientists that agree that global warming is happening to “sell” the proposition – that should be the job of our political and community leaders.

So it is up to us more than ever to keep emphasising the urgency – and as Annie commented on a recent blog – we live in a very polluted planet regardless…and it is a health issue.  In parts of China it is dangerous to breathe the air on certain days and in many other cities around the world.  Even in Sydney more people are dying from pollution- related illnesses.

In Australia, rather than earning $4 billion in needed revenue from polluters with the Carbon Tax, the government wants to abolish it – and reward the polluters with tax payers’ money. Does this make any sense?

My friend Christine recently heard Clive Hamilton discuss his book Earth Masters  which is about climate change.  I do want to alarm you – he said it is already too late for action!

President Obama is at last speaking up for urgent action. The Republicans are of course  not supportive  as it is a “threat to the economy”.  I thought we lived in a society WITH an economy?  Obama has been briefing weather presenters, hoping people will believe them more than politicians or scientists.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears usually have 2 cubs.  So it was very exciting when people in northern New Hampshire spotted a bear with 5 cubs. A photographer, I presume to be Tom Sears, waited patiently for over six weeks until he managed to photograph them.  He could not believe it the following year when the family emerged after hibernation and he could take such a rare family portrait again.

LION DOCUMENTARIES: Recently the documentary Martin Clunes & A Lion Called Mugie was shown on UK television.  Mugie was the first lion returned to Kora in Kenya after George Adamson’s death in 1989.  As The Guardian commented, Martin Clunes is certainly no David Attenborough and seems to have no natural affinity with animals. It ends very badly – with Mugie tragically killed by hyenas.  It was great however to see some of the footage of Kora, especially some images of Christian. I was reminded just how dangerous Christian’s return to the wild in 1970 was, and I did wonder if George Adamson would have taken a different approach to Mugie’s rehabilitation.  I did think it was discourteous (putting it mildly) that footage of us with Christian in London and the famous reunion in Kenya with him in 1971 was included in the documentary, but we were not even identified!

Also recently shown on Australian television was ELSA, The Lioness That Changed the World made in 2011.  I loved all the old footage used, especially of Elsa.  She did illustrate for the world that, like Christian, an emotional connection was possible with humans, and that every animal is unique. The book Born Free was translated into 25 languages. Again I thought there was a certain amount of rewriting of history or a shift of emphasis.

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from www.fatheroflions.com

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from http://www.fatheroflions.com

Elsa’s documentary seemed to me to imply that George Adamson’s camp at Kora in Kenya was established to rehabilitate Boy, one of the lions used in the filming of Born Free, and who was recovering from injury.  Christian seemed to just turn up from London!  In fact Kora was allotted to George Adamson by the Kenyan Government primarily for Christian’s rehabilitation, and paid for through the success of the two documentaries which starred Christian.  This was thanks to Bill Travers,Virginia McKenna and Morningstar Productions who made the two documentaries.  Despite the huge success of Born Free Joy Adamson did not give George any money towards his projects.  Boy was the adult male lion conveniently available for George Adamson to build a pride around Christian. George in fact described Kora as a monument to Christian – not Boy.

For the record, Christian’s initial introduction to the wild at Kora in 1970 was entirely overseen by George Adamson. Christian was very young and inexperienced.  He had to survive his introduction to Boy who finally accepted him, and negotiate the wild lions in the area. We first met Tony Fitzjohn, now Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, on our final visit to see Christian in 1972, and Tony was of invaluable assistance to George and his lions.

Jumbo at London Zoo, circa 1890. Photograph: Getty Images

Jumbo at London Zoo. Photograph: Getty Images

ELEPHANTS:  Mark Shand, a well known supporter of elephant causes especially through Elephant Family, sadly died recently after an accident.

There is a recent book by John Sutherland called JUMBO The Unauthorised Biography of A Victorian Sensation. Jumbo’s mother was killed in the Sudan and he was taken as a young calf to Europe, ending up as the star attraction in the London Zoo in the 1860s where he and his keeper Matthew Scott became alcoholics!  Jumbo’s story is both disturbing and fascinating.  He was bought by P.T. Barnum for $10,000 to be part of The Greatest Show On Earth in the USA. Jumbo seemed happier in the US as there were 31 other elephants in Barnum’s travelling menagerie. Jumbo was tragically killed in 1885.  He was the template for Walt Disney’s Dumbo, and I still have my Dumbo ornament!

Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd. Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd. Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

DANIEL BOYD:  Congratulations to Daniel Boyd for winning the 2014 prestigious Bulgari Art Award. This painting references a found photograph of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu.  Daniel’s great great grandfather was captured and brought to Australia as a slave to work in the cane fields, like many others.  It is a largely untold and unacknowledged history.  It is a quite mesmerisingly beautiful painting and technically brilliant.

In 2008 I staged an exhibition Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770 which examined the arrival of Captain Cook in Australia in 1770 and then the First Fleet in 1788, through colonial material and primarily contemporary indigenous artists.  Daniel is one of the most talented and interesting commentators on the Eurocentric perspectives of Australian history and his installation and paintings were a major contribution to my exhibition.

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

AUSTRALIA: We have finally had our budget delivered from the new government and they have shown their true colours. They have broken many election promises and hit the most needy the hardest while insulating the wealthiest. The budget was foreshadowed in the Commission of Audit and do read Ross Gittins response to that here. The dystopian view of these extreme economic rationalists is of a “harsher, less caring world, where daily life was more cut throat, where the gap between rich and poor widened more rapidly and where the proportion of households falling below the poverty line increased each year”.

As Gittins, the son of Salvation Army officers also says “The report fits with the wry observation “The rich need more money as an incentive and the poor need less money as an incentive”.

The book Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty is getting worldwide attention – although I’m hardly surprised post the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It illustrates that “progressive inequality is inherent in modern capitalism” with the remedy a return to steep progressive taxation and taxes on capital through inheritance taxes etc.

The Australian Government is arguing that it inherited a budget “debt and deficit” “crisis” or “emergency”.  Most agree this is largely confected, although there are undoubtedly middle to long term budgetry problems and sustainability to be addressed.

However FOR THE RECORD, with the ALP (the previous government), Australia survived the GFC better than virtually every other country and did not go into recession. This incoming government inherited an economy with a triple AAA credit rating, record low interest rates and inflation, the third lowest debt in the world, and low unemployment.

The previous government did think big and spend on a National Broadband Network, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and attempted to reform the scandalously inequitable education funding.  I agree that much of this was not properly costed.

The downturn in the resources boom is a major factor in our present budget situation and the “middle class welfare” the previous conservative Howard Government used to buy votes, spending with “epic profligacy”.  Unfortunately this was matched by the incoming ALP Rudd Government.

See more of my Australia rave and some back up statistics here.

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

A disturbing article in The Monthly The Abbott Club May 2014 details how Tony Abbott has surrounded himself with rich, older businessman.  He depends on them for advice, and several are tasked with conducting key reviews. These people have no idea about the lives of ordinary citizens and represent only the business big end of town. Several of them are avowed climate change deniers – Dick Warburton for example has been given the job of reviewing the Renewable Energy Target!

So the budget was predictably mean, unfair, narrow and littered with broken promises. See Ross Gittins for his very fair summary of the budget which gives credit – and criticism where due… “the truth is most of us have been left unscathed…only those right at the bottom of the ladder have been hit hard”. Low-income families on benefits will lose as much as 10% of their incomes, an Australian earning three times the average wage will lose 0.9%, while a childless couple on $360,000 will lose nothing!

See this follow up article by Ross Gittins on the budget which seems to be getting even more criticism as the details are closely examined.  In addition the Prime Minister and Treasurer are selling it to a cynical public very badly.

I am particularly worried about what will happen to some young people who are already facing high unemployment levels and will have NO benefits whatsoever – a recipe for homelessness and a crime wave. The States were swindled unexpectedly and without warning  and have to find $80 billion to fund Health and Education. The government intends building more roads rather than public transport, and supports the fossil fuel industry, particularly the coal-fuelled power sector, at the expense of renewable energy.

Unforgivably, climate change action has effectively been halted with big cuts to research and renewable energy which will make further investment difficult, and will set us back decades.

The Prime Minister, never popular in the polls, is even more unpopular, and it is one of the worst received budgets ever.  Students, who have been docile for decades are protesting nearly daily at changes that will make tertiary education at least twice as expensive, and similar to the inequitable “”two tier” system in the USA.

My sister and I – with up to 10,000 others, attended the March in May in Sydney which was full of mostly young, bright, angry people who despise this government, but also don’t trust the ALP or the mainstream media.  The Daily Telegraph described us as “ferals” and “delinquents”!

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

MAIL: Thanks to Deb, Maura, Sylvia, Melissa, Madeleine, Lindy and others for sending images and information.  I love the emails that keep coming thankyou…about Christian, about your animals (especially cats), families and lives etc. Hi to Tiger aged 7 making her own Christian-based iMovie.  Yui in Japan thought he didn’t like animals until he read Christian’s story and now wants a pet.  Also from Japan, Rei tells me he is very against whaling – and the Japanese have resumed whaling already.

I haven’t forgotten about the world at large: both sides now seem as bad each other in Syria; the worrying future of Ukraine; missing school girls in Nigeria; the loss of many miners in Turkey; catastophic floods in the Balkans with a huge displacement of people, the risk of disease, and all the unexploded landmines from the 1990s; a coup in Thailand – the 22nd since 1932; dissidents disappearing in China with the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square coming up; and the corrupt Congress Party thrown out decisively in India.

Crown, Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI, second quarter of the 1st century CE, gold imitation turquoise, 45 × 13 cm, National Museum of Afghanistan. Photo: Thierry Ollivier

Crown, Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI, second quarter of the 1st century CE, gold imitation turquoise, 45 × 13 cm, National Museum of Afghanistan. Photo: Thierry Ollivier

ART GALLERY OF NSW: The exhibition Afghanistan Hidden Treasures from the National Museum in Kabul is currently in Sydney at the AGNSW until 15th June. It is full of absolutely exquisite items and a reminder of another side of Afghanistan and their rich cultural history that we have perhaps forgotten or overlooked in the last few years.

 

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 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

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