Christian, Harrods, Lions, Exotic Animals, Ivory, Whales, Great Barrier Reef, Tasmanian Forests, GetUp! campaigns, Climate, Tennis, Phillip Adams, Deborah Cheetham, Peter Singer, Christine Townend, Gene Robinson, Australia etc
February 17, 2014
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.
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: 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christian, George Adamson, David Attenborough, World, Australia, Lions, Tigers, Martin Sharp, Art, Ross Gittins, Ross Garnaut, Bourke, Voiceless, Nelson Mandela Etc
December 19, 2013
MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEASONS GREETINGS, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from me to everyone as well. Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s friend and photographer, for his annual Christian Christmas card – it is so sweet! My special love and thoughts to the Cattani family for 2014.
GEORGE ADAMSON: Understandably, people remain fascinated by George Adamson. Although where I live is a small “village” on the outskirts of Sydney, I only recently met fellow locals, well known artist Bob Marchant and his wife Inger. Bob lived in London throughout the 1960s and remembers Christian fondly. I love his painting of George Adamson painted after George’s death in 1989. He has always been a “great admirer of George Adamson and the work he did protecting wild animals”. I’ve lent him the excellent biography The Great Safari: The Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House.
You can ‘like’ the George Adamson Wildlife Trust Australia on Facebook set up by Aidan Basnett.
Recently Aidan emailed me about his recent trip to Kenya, and visit to Kora. Aidan lived for a time in Kenya when he was young, and his trip was a nostalgic pilgrimage to key sites in the Joy and George Adamson story. Consequently I found his video very informative and interesting, although I felt sad seeing some of the graves. It brought back fond and emotional memories of George’s camp at Kora, which looked in good condition.
Just wanted to give you a report on the Adamson Legacy Tour I arranged this year which took in Kampi ya Simba in Kora National Park. Being the home of the late George Adamson, I found the whole experience very poignant and moving. What hit me was I was at last in the spot where it all happened all those years ago – the history. I could not stop thinking of how we were treading in the footsteps of George and his lions, particularly Christian and Boy. Seeing the actual place (Christian’s Rock) where Christian had come down to greet you and John. The years I had longed to visit the area had arrived! We sat atop Kora Rock just taking it all in, and could see George’s grave in the distance. Somewhere out there, all those years ago, Christian had created his domain and we could feel his – and George’s – spirit ! Just an amazing experience I had to share with you and I hope you enjoy the photo and video.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Recently I’ve been especially loving wildlife documentaries. They are so soothing – as long as they are not entirely about extinction! I loved David Attenborough’s recently shown documentary on African lions, and the lions and tigers in his Secrets of Wild India documentaries. Tigers weigh on average 220 kilograms and can be just over 3 meters long. A male can rule for 3 years, and live up to 8 on average. Tigers have up to 12 cubs and raise them for 2 years. They are not social and do not live in prides like lions. The males come and go, and usually kill any cubs that are not theirs. Surprisingly, tigers and jaguars are the only cats that like being in water.
The Asiatic lions in the desert region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India look thinner than African lions – but they may just be hungrier in this hostile environment. Once they ranged from India to the Mediterranean, but their numbers declined to 13 last century. By banning hunting, and other conservation efforts, numbers are now over 400 and climbing.
In David’s documentary on African lions he spoke of the importance of the first two years in the lives of cubs – when they “learnt to be lions”, living in a pride, and acquiring skills for future survival. I suddenly felt guilty about Christian living with us in London during those crucial formative years! However, despite five generations out of Africa, and his London upbringing, Christian seemed remarkably well balanced and adaptable. George thought he had lost none of his natural instincts – he was just inexperienced. George said he was one of the easiest lions to rehabilitate, and Christian who was both canny and courageous, survived those first most dangerous years.
In the African lion documentary, four lionesses lived together, and three had cubs which they looked after collectively. They hunted together effectively, although it is still very dangerous for them, especially against buffaloes. The male came and went, but very aggressively took over a kill a lioness had made, and only reluctantly later shared with his cubs.
I also enjoyed the first episode of a documentary Lions on the Move about South African Kevin Richardson preparing to relocate his 28 lions, 14 hyenas and 2 black leopards to another animal park. The animals seem to love him – the lions loll all over him which looks like lion heaven, but is risky. George Adamson would not have been so physical with lions, and he was trying to minimise their human contact to enable their rehabilitation. We knew Christian so well we could mostly anticipate his behaviour. We did not encourage too much physical interaction with him as he was so quickly stronger than us, and we did not want him to realise this. Kevin knows the individual idiosyncrasies of his lions, and he has to trust his own judgement – and them. Most of the lions looked extremely attractive and shampooed, and several are now 15 years old, which can only be achieved in captivity. Kevin also understands and communicates well with the hyenas, and I was amused by his “baby talk” to the animals – everyone else’s animal/baby talk (except one’s own), sounds so ridiculous!
In general, I don’t like the idea of animals “performing” for our entertainment, and the sensitive question of how animals are handled in films has recently been discussed in The Hollywood Reporter. Apparently King, one of the tigers used in Life of Pi nearly drowned in a water tank filming a scene.
I haven’t yet seen Blackfish, the documentary that traces the history of orcas (also called killer whales) in captivity. I’m not sure why it is regarded as “controversial” documentary, as the cruelty of their confinement in such small areas, for human entertainment, should now be generally acknowledged as completely unacceptable.
A tiger “handler’ was injured by a tiger recently at Australia Zoo. A BBC crew had been filming them, which had probably been a disruption to a normal routine.
I will not be showing the photograph of American Melissa Bachman with the lion she proudly shot. I hope she never returns to Africa.
Meanwhile, Tony the Tiger just waits in his cage. You can read an update here from the Animal Legal Defense Fund which had a victory for Tony in court in October, but proceedings just seem to drag on interminably. You can also sign a petition for Tony.
TARONGA ZOO: Kibali, an adolescent gorilla has arrived from France, and joins two selected females to hopefully form the nucleus of a new family of gorillas at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. The old silverback has been pensioned off to Mogo Zoo down the south coast. Three elephants have been transferred to the more open Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – including the one involved in an incident which injured a staff member last year. A baby elephant has been born in Melbourne Zoo, but one born last year died in an accident, playing with a tyre as a toy.
INDONESIA: A recent report on the ABC showed disgraceful conditions in general at Surabaya Zoo in Java. Sumatran tigers are starving and dying at a time when their survival is under threat, with an estimated only 300-400 left in the wild. A feisty Mayor seems to keep everyone at bay despite the scandalous conditions and a situation that has paralysed the zoo. This zoo compared very unfavourably with Taman Safari Park, Bogor, a few hours south of Jakarta, which seems very well run. The owner has attempted to help the Surabaya Zoo but has now been rebuffed. See – and possibly support - Cee4life who has been campaigning to save the lives of these tigers.
ART: Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition ‘Falling Back to Earth’, is showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, until 11 May 2014. See here for information on GOMA and the exhibition which consists of three huge installations. Heritage (above), described as a “fable of multiculturalism”, with incongruous pairings of animals around pristine white sand and water, was inspired by the artist visiting Queensland’s tropical islands. Head On (below) also has 99 animals made from polystyrene, but in this instance, they are all wolves.
AUSTRALIA: I am finding our new government as bad as many of us feared, and unnecessarily antagonistic, arrogant, secretive and without vision. Our espionage spat with Indonesia worsened through Tony Abbott’s inability to find the right words or actions. Not content, the government then picked a fight unnecessarily with our most important trading partner China – protesting to the Chinese about their actions over disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea.
More revelations from Edward Snowden have shown the extent of Australia’s espionage in the region, including spying on China. Apparently only 1% of a million classified documents have been released so far, and we are “to assume the worst”. It seems we may all have been spied on as well, with the collection of our megadata – mine would be a disappointment.
Not surprisingly, according to the polls, the government’s so called “honeymoon” is already over. A very bad look was the government’s clumsy attempt to break a major election pledge (a back flip on a back flip on a back flip) on education reform.
The implementation of a proposed education reform, which had been worked on over 4 years, was an election pledge by both parties. It was to balance the inequitable funding to schools, which under ex PM John Howard saw already very rich private schools given even more money, while public schools and their students remain disadvantaged, with less access to education.
I find it unimaginable that these days any government would deliberately disadvantage a section of the population, and we will have to wait and see the real intentions of this government. As discussed on an earlier blog, the opportunities for education in the US are also inequitable, cementing a less-educated under class. In 1974 Labor PM Gough Whitlam abolished university fees, and this emancipated many very clever people who were the first in their families to go to university, and have subsequently had an enormous influence on Australia.
Hard as it is to believe, our government seems to be anti-science, and is thoughtlessly dismantling expert bodies that should be consulted and utilised– especially in relation to climate change. The government should not be dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corp which has been successfully finding and working in partnership with major national and international banks, for example, to research and develop renewable energy sources.
ROSS GITTINS: Ross Gittins has the respect of many people. He is an economist but writes more widely. In this heartfelt article, written as a letter to his (future) grandchildren, he expresses his disbelief that Australians have just elected a government “that wasn’t genuine in its commitment to combating the effects of climate change, and that even abolished the main instrument economists invented for that purpose”.
Ross was recently asked to speak at the government’s annual conference on resources and energy and decided to “tell the miners a few home truths”, also published here.
ROSS GARNAUT: In this article about his new book Dog Days: Australia After The Boom Ross Garnaut discusses what economic and policy reforms will be required in this post resource boom era. Neither party seems to have the courage or long term vision for necessary reforms, but “more of the same” is just not sustainable any longer, and will apparently lead to higher unemployment and recession.
ENVIRONMENT: As predicted, the Federal Government has already shown a cavalier attitude to the environment. It has created a “one-stop shop” process with State Governments for faster environmental approvals. Permission has just been granted to expand a coal port (to become the largest in the world), near the already threatened Great Barrier Reef. 3 million cubic metres of seabed – dredging sludge – is to be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may yet refuse to grant a permit.
Tasmanians have been bitterly divided for decades over the logging or conservation of their forests, although an historic Forestry Agreement from 2012 seems to be working and have support. This agreement is apparently also under review/threat from the Federal Government – presumably to now allow logging in heritage listed forests.
There has been a leak of 1 million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry from the uranium Ranger Mine beside Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, this is not the first accident at the mine.
After several fatal shark attacks in Australia in the last year, there is renewed debate about culling sharks, and making our beaches “safer”. I choose not to swim in the sea as I view it as their territory, not mine.
The Japanese whaling fleet has set out for their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, and each year anti-whale activists protest in dangerous confrontations. Sea Shepherd consists of three vessels this year, and will again try to prevent this unnecessary slaughter of whales. Australia took a case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling practices to the International Court of Justice, but a decision is still to be made.
MEDIA: In this article Richard Ackland writes in the SMH how journalism has changed, and how some journalists just advocate for the government of their choice “… ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment”. I do read Murdoch’s The Australian on Saturdays and on my way through to often good articles, I glance at what Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan are saying – and often laugh out loud at their partisanship. (Update: it was Dennis Shanahan in The Australian Dec 21/22 who got the loudest laugh from me with “Abbott: model of a cool, calm and collected PM”. He says there is “an unfair focus on its mistakes”. In this Murdoch parallel universe PM Abbott and his wooden and silenced Cabinet is performing wonderfully, unlike the Opposition, who is still being blamed for everything. Peter Harcher however, was more accurate in the SMH when he said over Indonesia, Abbott’s “toughness is exposed to be phoney, his judgement shown to be wrong, and the damage is not stemmed early but protracted”.
I don’t often read Murdoch’s The Telegraph which campaigned so unfairly and effectively against the Labor Party in the last election. It is a real tabloid, with the usual right wing ranters, but is also fun and a little tacky with many photographs, unlike the rather dull if worthy tabloid- in-size only Sydney Morning Herald.
Advertised in the paper was the National Geographic Photo Contest, just as entries closed. I know many of you are very interested in photography – and wildlife, and may want to enter in 2014. There are many entries to view at http://www.ngphotocontest.com. There are the categories of “people, places and nature”, and “real” images which “accurately reflect a moment in time”. The photo above is of a Little Owl (right) defending its feeding position from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) with both birds showing their full colours with dramatic full wing extensions.
Sony World Photography Awards 2014 is currently accepting entries until 6 January 2014.
ABC: Supported by an avalanche of critical articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the Murdoch press, quite a few members of the government are talking about privatising the ABC – the government funded but independent public media body. Every new conservative government tries to dismantle the ABC (and the trade unions), and allegations of left-wing bias are usually found to be unsubstantiated. I hope it hasn’t got so bad here that we have to again defend the ABC, and that intelligent and informative discussion should be curtailed or shut down. I am addicted to Radio National!
BOURKE: I loved visiting Bourke. It is an attractive town, with some handsome historical buildings, wide streets and trees and parks. It was hard to find a hotel room – there were some tourists, but regional conferences for National Parks, Health etc were being held. I stayed in “North Bourke”, a few kilometres out of town, and over the river. Historically, the town has been a major regional trading centre and transport hub, initially based on the beautiful, if faintly murky Darling River.
A local joke in Bourke – or rural NSW, is that “NSW” stands for the coastal cities of Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong. There are no longer any rail or air links to Bourke. The area is in drought, and summer temperatures hit 40 degrees. The population of around 2000, is forty percent indigenous, who speak up to 24 different languages. A complaint is that although there is access to various services, there is duplication, and it is not targeted. People I met loved living there and were optimistic about the future. Community leaders are working hard to deal with some of the problems. Most country towns are experiencing high levels of youth unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, unfortunately leading to high crime statistics. See this recent feature article on Bourke The Lost Town.
I travelled to Bourke with a friend Jon Lewis, a well known Australian photographer. We both want to go back. He took some great photographs of people in the community. I think his photograph of me makes me look a bit haughty. See other photographs of Bourke by Jon Lewis at www.jonnylewis.org – go to Blog and Older Blogs (especially postings for November 15-19).
Jonny and I visited an ancient rock art site in the Gundabooka National Park, and Fort Bourke, with several traditional owners and Aboriginal community leaders. Talking frankly with them was a moving and emotional experience. Governor Bourke is, understandably to them, a symbol of colonial dispossession. No governor handled indigenous-settler issues successfully or with honour, and Aboriginal disadvantage from their dispossession continues to this day.
We visited the Back O’Bourke Exhibition Centre and the region has a fascinating history with often larger than life characters. At the Centre it was simply stated that the town was named after Bourke as he was Governor at the time. I imagine people are unaware and uninterested in who Governor Bourke actually was, and I realised that although I live in Sydney, I don’t know much about Lord Sydney either. However, it turned out many were fans of Christian, and I was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Western Herald.
When the surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was in this area on an expedition in 1835, “tensions” with the the local Aboriginal people led to Mitchell building a simple (and small) wooden stockade for protection. A replica exists today. As Richard Bourke was Governor, Mitchell named it Fort Bourke – always a good way to curry favour for the future. Bourke appreciated the beauty of the Australian landscape which was so different to Europe, and travelled on horseback extensively around the colony, although he never visited Bourke.
WORLD: Over 2 million Syrian refugees are now facing freezing winter conditions, while many of those remaining in Syria are besieged or starving – Syria has become the most dangerous humanitarian crisis for decades; Lebanon, like other neighbours, is drawn further into the conflict with all the refugees, and people transiting through the country to join both sides of the conflict (including hundreds of Australians); Netanyahu is apoplectic at the thought of any Iran-US detente; Australia “abstains” in the UN for an order to stop “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” without informing the Australian public of the change of policy; dozens have been killed across Iraq, with December the bloodiest month for 5 years; very violent and dangerous conditions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan; the Philippines still in dire need of help, with 4 million people displaced; anti-government unrest in Bangkok and the Ukraine; wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi visits Australia; ex PMs Rudd and Berlusconi are hopefully gone for good; A.C.T. same-sex marriage legislation is overturned in an Australian court, but the decision clears the way for Federal Parliament to legislate; India (re)criminalises homosexuality; China lands on the moon; Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, while Edward Snowden came second.
MAIL: People love birds as I found out with the response to the last blog. Thanks to the indefatigible Sylvia Ross for her photographs of this birds nest 2 meters from her front door. Over weeks we have followed the drama in the life of the Willie Wagtail – the nest, the attack by a Currawong, a surviving chick (above) appears, and later, 2 more appear! I loved her recent exhibition Feral which was photographs she has taken of pigeons in many countries. They are a beautiful and varied family, and these photographs are used as metaphors for “cultural prioritisation and question the concept of feral”.
I really appreciate the variety of emails, comments, stories and images I receive from many of you, so thank you very much. Several of you unfortunately lost adored companion pets this year and I hope you are managing. I know I am sometimes a little late – or careless, in my responses. Indeed, if I have other things to attend to, my blog can read more like a summary of past events…..
I would like to thank my sister Lindy, and Hayley from HMMG, for their invaluable assistance.
WATCHING & READING: At the moment I’m adoring Andre Agassi’s fascinating autobiography OPEN. He seems to have hated tennis from the start and it was his father’s dream, not his, to be Number 1 in the world. Dad was yet another demanding and scary tennis parent. He expresses the pyschological torment he suffered very well, and envies his main rival Pete Sampras for being “dull” – and more focused. He repeats bitchy remarks directed towards him from McEnroe, Connors, Becker, Lendl etc., which actually reveals more about them. He discovers that famous people, and I presume this includes his ex-wife Brooke Shields, are as mundane as everyone else.
I’m enjoying the Australia-English cricket Ashes Test series. In a form reversal, Australia have now actually won the Ashes, although there are two more matches in the series to play.
VOICELESS: Voiceless is a non-profit organisation which is part of the animal protection movement in Australia, and is especially concerned with raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming and the kangaroo industry. Recently I attended the 10th annual Voiceless Awards and I am constantly surprised and pleased by the very important work many people are doing on behalf of animals. Voiceless is to be congratulated for their impressive track record of advocacy, and generosity through Grants, Prizes and other support. The next day I met several of the dedicated staff, and was delighted to see three of them had their dogs at work.
The Animal Studies Group’s latest online edition of the Animal Studies Journal, has interesting articles reflecting current research in human-animal studies – from living with crocodiles – or owning dogs in Thailand, to animal grief.
MARTIN SHARP: Martin Sharp (1942-2013), another of Australia’s most influential artists, has died. His great friend Richard Neville, wrote a very comprehensive obituary in the SMH. A very clever and creative group of Australians had arrived in London a few years before me, and they were major contributors to the so called 1960s “Counter Culture”: from Oz Magazine to Germaine Greer. Martin Sharp made cartoons, collages, posters, psychedelic pop paintings, and album covers for Hendrix, Cream etc. When he returned to Sydney, Martin lived in his grandparent’s mansion in Sydney, with rooms devoted to his obsessions which included Tiny Tim, Mickey Mouse, Luna Park and amusement park memorabilia. Martin had a huge influence on many of us. He encouraged me to open my first gallery. In 2009, Louise Ferrier and I co-ordinated a survey exhibition at the Museum of Sydney: Martin Sharp Sydney Artist.
NELSON MANDELA: It is the end of an era with the death of Nelson Mandela. I can’t add to the deserved accolades for his extraordinary achievements, especially managing the transition from apartheid to democracy and reconciliation. It has made us all think about leadership – and the absence in most of our lives of visionary – or even practical, leadership. Mandela was a mystical combination of intelligence, resilience, charm, firmness etc, and it has been fascinating reading and learning more about him – the power he exerted from a prison cell!
It has also been a reminder of the many problems still facing South Africa, and many people obviously feel President Zuma has failed to improve their lives.
I was very interested in this quote from Mandela on leadership: “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind”.
In his oration at Mandela’s memorial service, Obama said that leaders needed to be filled with “the spirit of Ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word meaning “the oneness of humanity”. Let’s all strive for this in 2014…..
Christian, Lions, Australia, NSW Bushfires, Climate Change, Politics, Great Barrier Reef, USA, Espionage, Sylvia Ross, Birds, Art etc
November 12, 2013
This is another still from my footage of our 1972 visit to Christian in Kenya, which was the last time we saw him. Some of you have inquired about my short, unedited home movie. In The Final Farewell on YouTube you can see equivalent (and more professional) footage from the same visit, while mine is just a little more close up and loving.
This, surprisingly, was the last time I was in Africa and I’d love to go back soon. I later discovered India and visited many times, including staging exhibitions and cultural exchanges in India on behalf of the Australian Government.
LIONS: You can sign the AVAAZ petition here to ask President Zuma in South Africa to protect lions by banning the trade in lion bones. There is of course no evidence these these “potions” have any efficacy. This trade, like ivory, especially to Asia, just has to be stopped and urgently. Depressingly, a subspecies of black rhinos, the Western Black rhino has recently been declared “officially extinct”.
NSW FIRES: Thanks to many of you who were concerned about the bushfires around Sydney. They are terrifying and to date, it is unbelievable that no-one has died. The fire fighters – many of them volunteers, are heroic. Some fires are still burning and new ones have broken out, but seem “contained” for now. I have a National Park at the top of my garden, and many many people will be on alert all of this summer. Apparently people are better prepared about evacuating their pets than they are about themselves. Horses are a logistical nightmare to evacuate quickly, and they can smell the fires well ahead of humans. Organisations like WIRES do an amazing job of treating and caring for injured wild animals.
Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Negotiator, stated that extreme weather and the frequency and intensity of bush fires are a result of human induced global warming, and our PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”. The most common causes of fires are fallen power lines, and arsonists. New suburbs have always been spreading into bushland, but hopefully tighter regulations and more fire resistant houses will offer more protection in the future.
CLIMATE CHANGE: Apparently the extreme weather is, once again, making Australians more concerned about climate change, and the government will appear more and more out of step – with the world. Our thoughts and sympathies for the many people in the Philippines and region who have died or lost everything because of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst typhoons on record. The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, with at least up to 9 million people effected.
With Rupert Murdoch owning 65% of our media, and the media exposure of climate deniers like the ubiquitous Andrew Bolt, it is hard to move the discourse beyond “is climate change real?”, to “what do we do about it?”. There is a very good article News Goes Feral by Robert Manne on Rupert Murdoch and his insidious influence in The Monthly. An analysis of articles and reports about climate change in the Murdoch media indicates very clearly scandalously unbalanced reporting. Ex PM John Howard has been in England addressing a group of climate sceptics. Howard obviously lied to us when he pretended to support action on climate change, when he was trying to win the election in 2007. Now, rather than believe scientists, and after reading only one widely discredited book (by Nigella Lawson’s father!), he says he would prefer to rely on his instinct, which told him predictions of doom were exaggerated!
The first budget cuts by the government were bodies concerned with climate change and science, no specific Minister of Science was appointed, and 1/4 of the scientists at the pre-eminent CSIRO science and research institution have been among the first of many expected job losses.
Although in danger of being “wedged” by the government over climate change, and held responsible for high electricity charges, the Labor Party has affirmed support for a carbon trading emissions scheme. The government never seems to be able to produce a reputable scientist or economist to endorse their alternative Direct Action plan where we tax payers pay the polluters to pollute, and presumably, to encourage them to stop. This scheme will now hopefully be examined for its likely effectiveness – or as widely suspected, will be found to be completely inadequate, which is probably the original intention.
Our current bi-partisan target of a 5% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 is widely regarded as inadequate, which should apparently be around 15 -25%. Although we are a small economy and population, we are the 3rd highest polluter per capita in the world, and we dig up and export so much coal.
I think Australia is now embarrassingly on the wrong side of history over climate change, and the government is not even bothering to send a Minister to the international climate change negotiations in Warsaw. Our Minister of the Environment, who seems to consult Wikepedia for advice rather than scientists, cannot attend as he is so busy “repealing the carbon tax”!!!! It is very Monty Pythonesque and would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.
GET UP! The SYDNEY DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION is on Sunday 17th November in Prince Albert Park, Sydney at 11am – see full details here. This protest is Australia wide, and I hope many people attend to demonstrate our concern and dissatisfaction with a government that does not listen to the conclusions based on research and examination of empirical data, by impartial scientists.
POLITICS (AUS): Our PM recently invited several leading Murdoch journalists to dinner – reputedly as a “thank you” for their efforts helping him get elected, and Abbott recently dined with Alan Jones – one of the worst shock jocks. Apparently Murdoch also wants his “pound of flesh”, and would like the government to make it easier for him to acquire Channel Ten.
Even Coalition supporters are surprised by the new government’s secrecy, lack of transparency, and disregard for accountability. Abbott, who has only spoken in slogans for the last three years, seems to be having difficulty stringing whole sentences together. While hungry for publicity in Opposition on a daily basis, the government is refusing to give information on nearly anything! In comparison, the now Opposition have three very formidable, reasonable and professional spokespeople in Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.
For a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott and why many people are very worried about him, see Victoria Rollison’s Open Letter to Laurie Oakes. Oakes is one of several journalists complicit in the Labor Party election loss, and Coalition win.
The media is getting restless and angry with the government for starving them of material, and with parliament resuming this week, it will not be so easy to hide. Wealthy Clive Palmer finally won his seat in Parliament, and through a few senators in his newly formed party will have a balance of power. He is a rogue conservative who makes outlandish accusations, and should prove to be a headache for the government.
After the hottest summer, winter and decade on record, this year many plants have flowered at least four weeks early. Complex and fragile natural cycles are consequently getting interrupted. I love the grevilleas especially, and at this time of the year all over Sydney one can see colourful patches of the mauve/violet Jacaranda trees.
GREAT BARRIER REEF: There will be an early test for the government in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO has listed as already “in danger”. The Federal and State conservative governments seem to regard environmental regulations and protections as just an obstacle to business. Decisions are expected from these governments in relation to 5 new or expanded coal ports along the Queensland coast. The subsequent dredging (and dumping) will put the Reef at even greater risk. The nearby Galilee Basin holds so much coal that if it is mined, it alone could push global temperatures up past 2 degrees. This is also true of the Tar Sands in Canada where the transportation to the Alaskan coast (en route to China) also puts this area in great danger.
There are many factors threatening the health and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, including the destructive crown of thorns star fish, and it is inconceivable that we let it be destroyed. A recent book The Reef by Iain McCalman, is a “passionate history” which includes the dangers the reef posed to early navigators such as Captain Cook, the formation of the coral, and the future the reef faces.
USA: It was almost a relief to know that Obama was spying on world leaders like Angela Merkel, and not just us ordinary citizens. Hacking into Google and Yaho0! has angered many people. There seems to be no end to Edward Snowden’s fascinating revelations. Australia is part of a US-led global espionage network, and we are spying on our neighbours. While this should not surprise anyone, countries in the region have expressed appropriate indignation. The Abbott Government’s relationship with Indonesia is particularly uneasy at the moment, and their initial attempts at diplomacy described as “inept”.
Congratulations to the extraordinary Serena Williams who had a 78-4 win-loss record in 2013, won 11 titles, and earned $US12,385,572. Unfortunately up to 50% of Americans are not so lucky and are living with “financial insecurity”. One in five children live in poverty. In Australia we are staggered by America’s low minimum wages. The esteemed Joseph E Stiglitz has said America is a “rich country with poor people” He wrote an excellent article in the New York Times earlier in the year titled Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery.
The $20 billion cost of the Tea Party-led shut down of the US Government was an inexcusable waste of money, and trashed their own reputation. Perhaps the Republicans should have put the media spotlight on the many inexcusable teething problems over the introduction of Obamacare, rather than themselves.
WEALTH: 35% of Russian wealth is in the hands of 110 billionaires, which is the highest level of inequality in the world. Putin was recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful man – through the power of the office he holds I gather and the largesse he can distribute. Some are predicting however that Russia’s economy is faltering and this will change everything.
The median wealth of adult Australians is the world’s highest at $233,504 (US$219,500), although the Swiss beat us when measured by average wealth. In Australia the richest 10% have gained almost 50% of the growth in income over the past three decades. In America the richest 1% gained almost half the growth in individual income over the same period.
The New York Times recently had an article with the headline: Rich People Just Care Less. Apparently research has found the wealthy to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous, and less compassionate. It is an interesting and thought-provoking article, especially about what this social and economic inequality means for the future. Americans however, do have a great tradition of philanthropy, which is, sadly, not very evident in Australia.
MIDDLE EAST: Poor Secretary of State John Kerry zig zagging around the Middle East with such volatile issues to negotiate: Syrian chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear future, Mursi’s trial in Egypt and much else no doubt. Israel’s decision to build 1500 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem is extremely unhelpful to the “peace” negotiations with the Palestinians. I/3 of Syrians have left their country and we won’t forget those images of Syrians finally escaping from their neighbourhoods where they had been imprisoned. Some had resorted to eating cats, dogs and grass. Australian soldiers are finally leaving Afghanistan which has cost us $7.5 billion, the deaths of 40 Australians and many injured, and an unknown number of civilian deaths.
BIRDS: In a recent poll the Fairy Wren was voted Australia’s favourite bird. Magpies and Kookaburras (see images above) were the runners up. I particularly like Kookaburras – they have lots of attitude.
MISC STATS: In Australia: 65% of Queenslanders are overweight or obese; many of our trainee apprentices are illiterate and enumerate – as are a truly alarming % of Tasmanians; 25% of jockeys, and 40% of apprentice riders are now women; 30% of women in their 20s have tattoos.
SHADOWS: We are all appalled by the level of corruption by some Labor politicians in NSW over the last decades which has been exposed at recent inquires, and should result in criminal prosecutions. Also extremely depressing are inquires here into child abuse in institutions, with the Roman Catholic clergy the principal, but not the only, offenders. The reputation of the church is being fiercely protected ahead of concerns for victims. There are estimates that 50% of Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) enjoy active consensual sex. So much for celibacy. In Ireland ¼ of Irish women have been abused as children, and 1/3 of men.
This image from the exhibition FERAL by Sylvia Ross (co-exhibiting with Emanuel Raft) shows the beauty of a pigeon, widely considered a pest in Australia. Sylvia Ross is an artist, long time Head of the School of Art (COFA UNSW), social activist and dedicated animal lover.
Sylvia sent me these dog photographs which are amusing.
MAIL: I have been asked lately where to buy the A Lion Called Christian DVD and the best source is via Amazon or Blink Films, and via Amazon for the book. I am encouraging anyone to write and post their animal stories, or their feeling about Christian, on www.alioncalledchristian.com.au. It is my fault that it is not as up to date as it should be and I’m checking back for stories I have overlooked. It will be a marvellous archive of your touching and interesting animal stories.
READING: Ashamed by my confession of my lack of reading last blog, I threw myself into the biggest book I could find – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Often named by people as their favourite book, it was extremely readable, and it provided a very thorough context for what was to happen in Russia in the early 20th century. Anna was a fascinating character beautifully created by Tolstoy, although I could not quite conjure a mental picture of how she looked or her age. I became a little exhausted by the spell of her beauty and her melodramatic life, and I was always quite relieved to read about the duller Levin in the country, thinking about seemingly lost love, farming, labour, the landscape and the seasons. He thought he had “lived well but thought badly”.
QUOTE: Winston Churchill apparently said “A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down at you, but a pig looks at you as an equal”.
ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation. I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised. America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially. I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.
Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia which has just been aired. It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.
VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists: Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart. They were much admired and dearly loved.
BOURKE: I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis. Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback. There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here. I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces. Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it. It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!
Christian The Lion, AWLNSW, Elsa, Australian Election, AWC, World, Nick Brandt, Art, USA, William Abbey etc
October 4, 2013
When we returned again to Kenya to visit Christian and George Adamson in 1972, I took a super 8 video camera. I’ve finally had my very amateur footage transferred to DVD, and this photograph is a still from it. The footage is a loving portrait of Christian – I remember thinking I will never remember just how beautiful all his markings were. He was growing into a very big lion, and was increasingly independent. We didn’t know that we would never see him again. I recently showed this short, unedited footage for the first time, at a fund raising art exhibition for the Animal Welfare League NSW in Sydney.
Animal Welfare League NSW: I have visited the two animal shelters in Sydney (Ingleside and Kemps Creek) run by the Animal Welfare League NSW where dogs and cats wait to be “re-homed” to a suitable household. The shelters are very well administered, in attractive settings, and depend on donations, sponsorship and the loving care of volunteers. Animals are well looked after and are assessed and monitored by vets and animal behaviourists. The AWL also campaigns, for example, against puppy farming, and acts on reports of animal cruelty.
Artists who generously participated in the AWL fund raising exhibition included Joanna Braithwaite (below), and Janet Laurence. I recommend you watch Laurence’s beautiful and meditative series of animal and nature videos here. Many artists these days are imaginatively examining human/animal and environmental inter-relationships. They share a great love of animals and generously support causes related to animal welfare and rights.
MAIL: Thanks for the responses to the last blog, and many of you also seem to enjoy Christian’s birthday. People loved and commented on Jiawei Shen’s portrait. Michele, for example, found the painting “mesmerising”. She also wrote “Christian is born in the month of Leo and has the life path of 9. He was born to be a spiritual gift to the universe – he was the consummate LION. The LION of LIONS!!
ELSA: A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Elsa: the lioness who changed the world (you can view some of the clips here). The phenomenal success of Joy Adamson’s 1960 Born Free book (translated into 25 languages), and the subsequent film did help change how people thought about animals – especially “wild” animals. They were now viewed as individual beings, and hopefully this has made us more mindful of their futures. There were interviews with Virginia McKenna, who had played Joy Adamson in the film, and with Tony Fitzjohn who was George Adamson’s assistant at his camp at Kora and is now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.
Joy Adamson took the most marvellous photographs of Elsa, who was, like Christian, an exceptional lion. George realised that they should have retained the three cubs, instead of sending two to a European Zoo, as this would have made it easier to rehabilitate Elsa. Subsequently, he knew to build a pride around Christian.
There was some good footage of Christian, especially with Tony Fitzjohn. Christian was the first lion Tony had met, and he said they were both like new boys finding their way in the wild.
NICK BRANDT: Source Photographica in Melbourne is having another exhibition of the majestic photographs of Nick Brandt from 5 -27 October. The exhibition is the final volume in a trilogy which has been presenting a “complex and deep portrait of Africa”, and it has been fascinating to watch Brandt chart this through his powerful and exceptionally beautiful photography. It is hard not to be depressed that many of the subjects of his photographs are facing extinction, and that there is so little effective action to save them. 80 elephants have just been poisoned in Zimbabwe. It should be inconceivable that we may see the end of the elephant, for example, in our life time, on our watch.
A recent radio interview referred to Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger which she started in India in 1973 when the tiger was on the brink of extinction. From an estimated 40,000 in the early 20th century, numbers had shrunk to approximately 1800 by 1973. She introduced the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, and hunting tigers was banned and reserves created. Unfortunately, after the assassinations of her and her son, the Indian government from 1992 up to the present have made bad and late decisions and neglected necessary reforms, and tiger numbers are now down to an estimated 1700.
AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS: OK, my side lost the election and I’m a bad loser! It was inevitable however, and I hope the Labor Party rediscovers some fundamental values. It has been a hung parliament yet despite an adversarial, negative and policy-free Opposition, alot of legislation was passed, and some major reforms of national significance initiated. But it has not been a pleasant time, and has felt like one long election campaign. It is sort of a relief that it is finally over, even if it is back to the future.
There is only one woman in Prime Minister Abbott’s 20 person cabinet (described as “pale, male and stale”) and he is dismantling our Emissions Trading Scheme and any institutions associated with climate information or policy. The climate sceptics are showing their hands, and there is not even a Minister for Science. Their replacement scheme Direct Action is not taken seriously, but perhaps will now be under scrutiny. David Suzuki, who has been visiting Sydney, has written and spoken about how Abbott is “dooming future generations”, and that “willful blindness” should be an offence.
The recently released latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that there is a 95% certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and the ocean.
In the SMH, RossGittins writes that in the election the public didn’t really like either contender, confirming my own feelings, and that Labor is the eternally dissatisfied party of “reform”, while the Libs are the conservatives, “satisfied with the world as is and trying to stave of disruptive change for as long as possible”.
In contrast to his noise and daily photo ops in opposition, the Abbott government has been almost invisible, and the politicians muzzled. There were a few spiteful sackings of public servants. The Minister of Defence wants to keep up a “war momentum” and has his hopes on possibilities in Pakistan. There was an immediate spat with Indonesia, our closest neighbour, just before Abbott visited.
Rupert Murdoch had a big election win after a blatantly partisan campaign against the government in his newspapers. Too many of his journalists tarnished their reputations. A loose cannon self proclaimed billionaire got 3 Senators and possibly himself elected (subject to a recount), and also holding the balance of power are some wild cards with very few votes who got into the Senate on preference deals.
READING: I’ve actually been watching so much sport (from Rafa winning the US Open, to football finals etc), I haven’t been reading books but I’ve heard or read interviews about:
Starting with Max is by Ying Ying who came to Australia from Hong Kong with her family, and who describes how having a dog has changed her life. After the family cat “decided not to come to Australia and died”, she promised her daughter a dog in Sydney, much against her own wishes. She of course fell in love with Max the dog and her daily walks in the park “awakened her senses”, and opened her own eyes to the natural beauty of Australia. He touched her heart and “made her a better person”.
FERAL, a recent book by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist who I have quoted in the past, is about our need for re-wilding – ‘to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth”. He imagines forests regrowing, and animals returning – like the brown bears have in parts of Europe. Wolves were exterminated from the Yellowstone National Park, but since their reintroduction there has been a restoration of plants, trees and soil, as the deer have been forced higher up the mountain. There is an ongoing debate about deer in Bundeena – a family of deer live at the top of my garden in the Royal National Park. As an introduced species, their eating habits do create environmental problems.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Recently the Australian Wildlife Conservancy arranged for 6 artists to visit Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, their 6000 square kilometre conservancy in the Kimberley region of West Australia. The resulting excellent exhibition was opened by scientist/conservationist/writer/academic Tim Flannery – just sacked by the government as the chief climate commissioner!
I think conservancies and the buying up of tracts of land are an excellent future direction that offers the best protection. In Africa various conservancies are trying to preserve or link uninterrupted corridors of land used as traditional migration routes for animals.
The AWC owns 23 properties in Australia covering 7.4 million acres. They believe in “practical land management informed by strong science”. These properties are offering protection to more than 1200 native animal species, and the AWC runs fire management and feral control programs. It is possible to visit and stay at some of their properties, observe land management practices, see wildlife and many birds, and fly in helicopters over spectacular scenery.
For visitors to Australia this would be a unique opportunity to visit a remote and beautiful part of Australia, especially with the opportunity to view Aboriginal art in places like Broome.
Needless to say, feral cats are the AWC’s Enemy Number One!!!!
WORLD: Obama was made to look “ham fisted” over Syria, and Putin took the chance to question American exceptionalism – in the New York Times. The chemical weapons issue just gives Assad more time to continue killing and displacing his own population. The difficulty is – especially post Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – another American intervention would be another grave mistake.
Sectarian violence is worsening In Iraq. Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing them underground in Egypt seems extremely provocative – they did actually win the election! Some commentators are saying the Arab Spring has been replaced by Islamic terrorism, as most recently demonstrated in Nairobi. Oil has begun to flow again in Libya. The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been surprisingly/suspiciously conciliatory to the US after 30 years. Pope Francis is sounding encouragingly human.
ECONOMY: From my perusal of business reports in the media, some people are unfortunately warning about a new wave of global financial turmoil. Apparently new money from the printing presses of the US, EU and Japan have caused “a sucking of funds from emerging markets” i.e. countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.
Fortunately China remains “reasonably robust”, and, according to the leaked internal memo Document 9, the Chinese leadership seems more worried about the dire threats and dangers posed by discussions of “democracy”, “universal values of human rights” and a “free press”.
LONDON: A large exhibition entitled Australia has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are 200 paintings from 200 years with 146 artists, with the broad theme of “landscape”. While it contains most of our major artists and some iconic paintings, it has been criticised for being too general, and curatorially old fashioned. One critic described the Aboriginal art as “tourist tat”. As some of the most widely admired Aboriginal artists are represented, few would agree with him. Australian art has been overlooked in the UK for a long time, and this now quite controversial exhibition may – or may not – lead to an interest in more focused exhibitions of Australian art.
USA: I have to mention even more mass shootings in the US recently. As the mother of a victim said about Congress “Who else has to die before you get it?”. I think in Australia we find it hard to imagine how the National Gun Lobby is so powerful and even seem to be extending its influence.
Apparently in The Right Nation, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue that the “centre of gravity of America opinion is much further to the right” than in other rich countries. The Republican Party can seem very heartless, especially at present with the current threats to defund Obamacare, and to “shut down” the government.
The sophisticated American Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, is returning to America. When asked how similar Americans and Australians are, he said we are 80% the same and 20% different. In Australia “there is a great levelling of all people and a great appreciation that no one should think too much of ourselves” and that successful Australians “wear their celebrity and their accomplishments very lightly”.
William Abbey, who grew up in England and lives in Florida, has shared interests in some of the subjects I write about and like many of you, emails me about them. I appreciate this, especially any information concerning animals and how we can help them. William loves panthers and polar bears especially. Click here and here for two articles he has recently sent about the rehabilitation of the Florida panther, and organisations working for the protection of polar bears and their habitat.
I recently enjoyed the exhibition Talk Show where artists responded to the “televisual landscape of this genre of syndicated entertainment”. I bought a painting of Oprah Winfrey from artist Anney Bounpraseuth’s Wailing Wall series. Part Two, Talk Show (after the break) opens at Kudos Gallery, Paddington, Sydney on 15th October. I spoke to co-curator JD Reforma about appearing on Oprah and The View etc, and the exhibition did make me reflect on the “notion of celebrity”, and the “socioeconomic construction of failure and success”. It was never one of my dreams to go on Oprah. It was a big audience to fail in front of! While it was brilliant for Christian’s story of course, I personally found the whole experience rather nerve wracking!
Christian, Jiawei Shen, David Attenborough, Australia, Bradley Manning, Middle East, Malala, David Bowie, Dr Chris Brown, Orlando The Marmalade Cat, etc
August 12, 2013
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!
Artist Jiawei Shen, who as I do lives in Bundeena on the edge of Sydney, has painted this portrait of Christian and me – me as I am now obviously.
Jiawei said he wanted to paint this portrait for several reasons: Christian is an experience that will always be part of my life; it is a story that the internet has introduced to a new generation; and for what it says about human/animal relationships. Obviously he is a big fan of Christian and the story has touched him. In Eternal Hug he wanted to capture and express some of the deep and various emotions this image generates.
Jiawei Shen has an international reputation, and has painted “well known” people such as Princess Mary of Denmark (who is from Australia) and he has recently exhibited the first part of a huge and epic painting of 300 historical figures active in China between 1936 and 1937.
When I first saw Christian’s painting reproduced, I thought I looked a little worried. But when you see the actual painting I do have love in my eyes. I think he has captured the most amazing likeness of handsome Christian, and as the old saying goes, never compete with animals or children! Jiawei says he never realised just how individual lions looked until he painstakingly painted Christian’s fur stroke by stroke, and compared him with other lions.
I also love the smaller quick study of me which he painted (above left) and generously gave to me.
Christian was born on the 12 August 1969 – 44 years ago in Ilfracombe Zoo, Devon. In the wild he may have lived to be 10 or 12 years old, and some lions can live up to 18 years old in a zoo. Some of you may have seen his good looking parents Butch and Mary in our original documentary, pacing up and down a small concrete cage enclosure. Such was his size, frustration and anger, Butch once or twice smashed his way out, no doubt creating havoc! We only found out a few years ago that Christian and a sister were hand reared by a staff member which may explain why he seemed to fit so easily into our lives.
Jaiwei Shen’s portrait is based on a 1970 photograph by Derek Cattani, taken when we were living in the country with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna while waiting for permission to go to Kenya.
On the YouTube video entitled Christian The Lion- HUG! you can see the same image as Christian jumps up on me when I enter his specially built compound.
We celebrated Christian’s first birthday there, and Christian’s great friend, Unity Bevis-Jones brought Christian a mince birthday cake with one candle on the train from London. She was heart-broken when we finally left for Kenya soon after.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Now aged 87, with a new titanium knee and a recently fitted pacemaker, David Attenborough did not miss a beat at his recent appearance in Sydney. He was touring with a Q & A show which reflected on his extraordinary career, illustrated with excerpts from many of the programs he has produced or narrated over so many years, that have changed or illuminated our understanding of the natural world. The audience was a heartening mix – of everyone! I have to say he seemed much warmer than the equally indefatigable and admirable fellow English octogenarian Jane Goodall.
It was only at the conclusion that David spoke about climate change and the world’s present ecological tipping point. He has seen the effects over years with his own eyes, and the consequent diminishing habitats for wildlife, and the loss of species and biodiversity.
The Iberian Lynx, native to parts of southern Europe, is the most endangered cat species in the world. There are estimated to be just 250 left in the wild. They may become extinct within 50 years as there are fewer rabbits, which are their main source of food, and their habitats are shrinking.
Also alarming is that only an estimated 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild.
AUSTRALIA: Sorry to go on about Australia, especially as I have many more readers in the rest of the world. I do try not to be too parochial, but I would imagine many of you would find parallels in your own countries.
Our Federal election has been called for September 7th. As I have said, I think Australians face an appalling choice for Prime Minister between Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott who has so far mostly reiterated slogans rather than costed policies.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Both Rudd and Abbott are involved in a “race to the bottom” over the treatment of asylum seekers which contravenes our legal and international responsibilities to them.
Many of us are deeply ashamed – of our harsh treatment of them, of our politicians who have demonised them, and of the majority of Australians who seemingly feel no compassion for them.
We are now dumping these traumatised people on a malaria-infested island in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
ECONOMY: The growth record of the Australian economy post GFC has yet again been recently described as remaining the “envy of the advanced world” and partly due to “sensible macro-economic management”, according to one of the world’s foremost economists Willem Buiter.
The National Australia Bank’s CEO Cameron Clyne also recently said that as an AAA rated country the government should “issue more debt to fund desperately needed infrastructure”, and that debt can be used productively (read the article here). The Opposition, however, has successfully convinced many in the community that the government is economically incompetent.
The government has been unable to construct a positive narrative of their considerable achievements, which has not been helped by some bad political judgments, disunity, and some truly appalling corruption allegations – especially in my home state of NSW.
I have been interested to learn recently that in the last conservative Howard /Costello government (which I found repugnant in many ways), it was their unnecessary granting of tax cuts as vote buying “middle class welfare” that accounts for a $40 billion revenue shortfall today!!!!
MURDOCH: Rupert is unashamedly backing the conservative Opposition – as he did unsuccessfully in the US with the Republicans. As he owns 66% of our print media this is very unfair. The Daily Telegraph newspaper began the election with the headline “THROW THIS MOB OUT”! His supposedly more highbrow The Australian is sometimes so partisan that you just cannot believe that professional journalists and columnists allow themselves to be so manipulated. Another factor could possibly be that he may view the government’s National Broadband Network as a threat to his own Foxtel cable TV monopoly.
CLIMATE CHANGE: As I have said several times, the Coalition has a pretend policy on climate change. Depressingly and ashamedly, we may be the only country going backwards on this issue, although various countries in financial difficulties are reconsidering various “green” initiatives. Our Prime Ministerial contender Tony Abbott recently described the carbon price he has promised to abolish as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, while ex PM John Howard now says “there’s more serious questioning of the science”. This is just untrue.
Unfortunately neither party can be relied on to protect the environment. For the conservatives “economic factors” seem to be the “principal consideration” in all decisions, overruling everything else. However the Labor Party has just approved two iron ore mines in the Tarkine region of Tasmania which is a unique wilderness area. This also poses a threat to the Tasmanian Devil population which is already decimated by a contagious face tumour disease.
BRADLEY MANNING: Whistleblower? Traitor? Hero? Manning still faces up to 90 years in jail, even if he has not “aided the enemy”! The prosecution had difficulty finding even one example of someone harmed by his “Wikileaks”.
There have been more espionage prosecutions under Obama than all other Presidents combined. Apparently we should watch to see if the military judge Colonel Denise Lind gets a promotion.
I’ve just looked again at Youtube and viewed the horrific footage that Bradley Manning thought we should see of those Americans shooting innocent civilians and two Reuters reporters in Baghdad from the Apache helicopter in 2007. It is appalling in many ways: cold blooded murder; the cynical attitude of the Americans as they shot them and then shot the people that ran to help them; shooting the children in the van; the Pentagon saying the Americans had done “nothing wrong”; and that no-one was charged. On the other hand, people called for Manning’s execution, and he was subsequently locked up and tortured.
I’d also like Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Howard to be finally called to account for their lies, actions and resulting innocent deaths, and the “basket case” that is their legacy in Iraq.
Apparently 55% of Americans view Edward Snowden as a “whistleblower”, while 34% view him as a “traitor”. Both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are ironically being protected by two countries with appalling records on press freedom and human rights.
MIDDLE EAST: Let’s just see how the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations play out….but I can only be cynical. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion – late in the day and reluctantly, that while the Palestinians “have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, Israel has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian State, and the continued building of their illegal settlements on Palestinian land is to ensure that this will soon be an impossibility. They are just playing for time.
I wish the Egyptian General al-Sisi would take off his dark glasses and we can see who Egyptians are actually dealing with. Incompetent as the Muslim Brotherhood were in governing Egypt, one does have to wonder what the reportedly charismatic General’s own ambitions are in the power vacuum he has created. The Egyptians do have a propensity for a strong military leader. Mediation seems to have failed so far, and one fears the imminent removal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters can only result in more bloodshed.
Unfortunately Assad in Syria seems to be regaining territory, but at what a price – whole neighbourhoods and suburbs of cities seem to have been entirely flattened.
MALALA: Shot and badly injured by the Taliban in Pakistan, who will forget the courage and leadership of young Malala Yousafza and her address to the United Nations Youth Assembly about the importance of education?
WATCHING: I loved a recent documentary on David Bowie who was emerging with his Ziggy Stardust persona in the early 1970s as the world moved on from the 1960s “Carnaby Street” and the “Kings Road” era. Isn’t it interesting how some music is the backdrop to our lives at various stages. I do think Bowie was much more innovative and interesting that most of the others.
I did not enjoy watching the film Behind the Candelbra. While I loved the performance of Michael Douglas as Liberace, they were all rather horrible people to have to spend a few hours with. Many years ago with friends I met Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson in Sydney when they were promoting One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest, and they both bought art from my first gallery, Ace’s Art Shop.
CHRIS BROWN: When we appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show several years ago, of my own volition I took tapes of Chris Brown’s Bondi Vet television program. Chris is the son of a family friend. I thought he would be great on the Animal Planet channel which I think Oprah had just acquired an interest in. As an excellent vet with a personable manner and movie star looks, he could be a huge success in the USA, as he is in Australia. Chris is finally about to make his debut on US television on CBS as Dr. Chris: Pet Vet. Starting on September 28th, the program is aimed at teenage audiences.
My godmother loved cats and she presciently gave me this book Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) His Silver Anniversary when I was born and it is my favourite book. Isn’t it interesting how we remain so attached to our childhood books and I still cannot give any away. My mother had a garage sale many years ago when I wasn’t paying attention, or out of the country, and I still have to resist the urge to replace several books that went missing, especially some that had beautiful illustrations.
I think the author Kathleen Hale’s illustrations in the Orlando books are superb and I don’t know why the books have never been re-released, although there are so many excellent children’s books on the market. I quite often look online and consider buying ALL of Orlando’s books!
I just loved Orlando and his family, although I was nervous of their Uncle Truffle (above). I was frightened of the Katnapper because he stole cats, although he said he just could not help himself, and that the cats found him irresistible. I think the fish and prawns in his pockets helped. I think I probably also envied him – his house was cat heaven! I sometimes wonder what effect this story had on my life….
So, Happy Birthday Christian. Many of us will never forget you, could never forget you, and we will continue to be concerned about animal and wildlife issues because of you, and in your name.