Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

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”.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

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.

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

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.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

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

Great Barrier Reef

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.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

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.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

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.

Magpie

Magpie

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.

Fairy Wren

Fairy Wren

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.

from FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

From FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

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.

dogs1 dogs2 dogs3 dogs4 dogs5 dogs6 dogs7 dogs8 dogs9 dogs10 dogs11 dogs12

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”.

WATCHING:  The series REDFERN NOW  is the best contemporary Australian television I have seen for ages, and I loved watching again David Bowie – Five Years In the Making of an Icon .

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”.

Horse's skull with pink rose by Georgia O'Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

Horse’s skull with pink rose by Georgia O’Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

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 painting

Christian The Lion painting by Karen Neal

New Zealand artist Karen Neal has captured a very good likeness of Christian many of us can recognise. She very generously donated the proceeds of the sale of the painting to the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. There are limited edition prints of this image and you can contact the artist direct on her website.

It is the first day of summer and the weather here has been wonderful, and after some rain, the drive through the Royal National Park to Bundeena is beautiful, with many flowering native trees.  The jacarandas, oleanders and bougainvillea have also been particularly beautiful throughout the suburbs. In the Blue Mountains last weekend I saw waratahs and rhododendrons in the prettiest colours. I have resurrected my vegetable garden and have eaten some salad greens already. While I was mulching some of the plants on my hands and knees, one of the cats jumped on my back like a jockey. Always so helpful.

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

AUSTRALIA: Our political debate recently has mostly been name calling rather than examining important legislation the government somehow keeps generating.  The Opposition just says “no” to everything and produces few alternative policies.  To counter accusations that he is a “misogynist”, the Opposition leader has suddenly surrounded himself in public by his wife, his statuesque daughters and he even trotted out his mother and sisters.  He has been letting his female Deputy lead parliamentary attacks. Neither leader is popular but Julia Gillard is clawing Labor’s way back in the polls and this is enough to keep deposed, but ever circling PM Kevin Rudd at bay.

However, the PM is being dogged by a 20 year old darkening shadow from her past when as a lawyer she did some work for a boyfriend who it seems turned out to be pretty dodgy.  This story has been prosecuted primarily by Murdoch’s The Australian over many months, and an increasingly shrill Opposition keeping it alive.  So far there are insinuations and alleged discrepancies, but not precise accusations or proof of any wrongdoing.

Another shadow is the ridiculous promise to return the budget to surplus, which is looking very unlikely, especially with the drop in commodity prices, a 45% decline in Chinese investment in Australia, and no income from the contentious mining tax.

STATES: The new conservative governments in Queensland and New South Wales have between them opened the way for development unfettered by some previous environmental safeguards, or access to legal advice by communities from bodies such as EDO . Uranium exploration and nuclear energy are back on the agenda.  National Parks are suddenly vulnerable to shooters, horses and cattle grazing etc.  Public service jobs have been cut and while the respected Gonski Report recommended that $6 billion needs to be spent nationally to remove the inequalities in the education system, the NSW Government  responded by slashing  the education budget.  Some Arts courses have been eliminated or made prohibitively expensive and even a major literary prize has been scrapped.

Meanwhile the previous Labor government is being exposed and humiliated at ICAC for actions involving a powerful family and their mates, inside information from a disgraced ex Mineral Resources Minister, and the potential for them to make many millions of dollars through alleged corruption in relation to coal exploration leases and tenders.

On Sunday I attended a protest in Bundeena against shooting in National Parks.  Bundeena is surrounded by the Royal National Park (and the sea) and thankfully we are exempt from shooters.  The NSW Government needs the votes of the Shooters Party to get legislation through the Upper House and are blatantly prepared to accomodate their cruel, anachronistic ideas and practices.  Apart from the danger to bush walkers and others, the indiscriminate shooting of feral animals makes no contribution to environmental conservation or preservation.  We are being encouraged to write to the Premier Barry O’Farrell c/- Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney 2000.

Jacaranda, Bundeena

Jacaranda, Bundeena

CLERGY: Recently a policeman wrote a letter to the NSW Premier about the lack of action by police and the Catholic Church on child sexual abuse by clergy.  This has now led to a broad national Royal Commission which will encompass all institutions and organisations involved with children. The Catholic Church has felt “smeared” by reports in the media of their inaction and obfuscation, but six times more accusations are against the Roman Catholic Church, with very few incidents reported to the police.  The interests of the Catholic Church always seems to be put ahead of the victims.  After a meeting with Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, the parents of two abused young girls described him as a “sociopath with a lack of empathy”.

Meanwhile the Anglican Church has a former oil industry executive Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Although women have been ordained clergy for 20 years, a recent decision still prevents them from becoming bishops. This is a very disheartening, especially as more women than men are joining the ministry.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Conditions for asylum seekers living in tents in Nauru, possibly for years, have been described as “appalling” and “completely unacceptable” by Amnesty International.  More than 7500 Australia bound asylum seekers have arrived by boat since August, not discouraged by the hypocritical and inhumane government policies, or the very dangerous journey (7 asylum seeker boats have sunk in 3 years with the loss of 400 lives).  Appallingly, the “race to the bottom” by both parties just gets deeper and deeper.  Australia’s mainland was even excised from our migration zone!

Into seas without a shore, 2012. Photograph by Mark Kimber. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Mark Kimber builds miniature sets with added special effects, and then photographs them. I think he is very creative and imaginative and this image of the ship is so evocative – and ambiguous, I could not resist buying it. I loved many of the photographs in his recent exhibition The Pale Mirror.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has been very busy and quite successful with some highly contentious issues.  He has juggled the competing interests in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (irrigators, communities, environmentalists etc), and placated opposition by spending a “flood” of money over the last few years on already beneficial  infrastructure and “buy-backs”.  Environmentalists still think that not enough water will be returned to maintain the health of the rivers.  The long running forestry dispute in Tasmania may be finally close to a resolution, or a workable compromise.  The supertrawler has been banned from fishing in Australian waters for two years and the Japanese have cancelled this year’s whale hunt.

2.3 million square kilometres of Marine Parks around Australia have been declared.  Unfortunately there has been a 50% increase in coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef – due to agricultural run-off, hurricanes, but primarily star of thorns. There is a GetUp! campaign asking for support to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and to ask Tony Burke to commission an independent scientific review of mining operations affecting the reef.  The dredging to build new port facilities on the coast of Queensland is proving very destructive.

Catlin Seaview Survey

Catlin Seaview Survey

Log onto Catlin Seaview Survey to explore the Great Barrier Reef while we have it!  The Australian Marine Conservation Society International Union for Conservation of Nature lists endangered fish – and what  fish we should eat and not eat.

LIVE EXPORTS:  With the recent cruel and unnecessary slaughter of 20,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan, the live animal exports issue is again being debated.  Apparently New Zealand has phased out live exports trading which has been profitably replaced by domestic processes.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  I think we are at the point of accepting  – no longer debating, that the climate is changing and  global warming is a factor, and humans contribute to this.  People will debate timelines, severity, solutions etc, but many more countries are beginning to understand the urgency and are taking action. It took Hurricane Sandy however, to finally have the words “climate change” mentioned during the US presidential campaign. According to a very alarming Report to climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the release of greenhouse gases from the melting of the Arctic permafrost “could ultimately account for up to 39% of total emissions”.

In Australia, official meteorological records kept over 100 years from across Australia, have shown that there has been a 1 degree rise in land and sea temperatures.  Spring now comes two weeks earlier and we are having more rain “than ever”.  The World Bank has forecast what could be a disastrous rise of 4 degrees before the end of the century – also confirmed by a UN Environment Program report, while Price Waterhouse-Coopers forecast 6 degrees. Much greater effort needs to be made urgently by all countries. With the carbon “tax” implemented, Australia may even be ahead of our projected targets and timelines.

Rather disgracefully, many of our own scientists felt it necessary to go to Canberra recently to protest at how their research on, for example, climate change, sustainable stocks etc is questioned or ignored, and underfunded.

ENERGY:  Sixty- six coal seam gas wells may be scattered throughout dense Sydney suburbs, just as new research shows considerable amounts of methane are being released into the atmosphere from CSG.  The public is finally understanding what has caused the huge rise in electricity prices over the last few years (“poles and wires”), with the carbon price/tax, accounting for only 10% of the rise.  Coal consumption is down 30% in the US, and solar seems to be more and more widely utilised. Ten percent of Australia’s energy is now “clean energy”.

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition "Expressions of Waratah" with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition “Expressions of Waratah” with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

MEDIA:  I, fortunately, can work from home mostly. I listen avidly to the news on radio early in the morning (Fran Kelly Radio National), and read the Sydney Morning Herald when it is delivered. Like a robot I turn off the radio and sit at my computer at 9 am – it must be my Protestant work ethic. Lately I have been loving listening to the radio much more throughout the day.  Friends, especially artists in their studios, have been telling me this for years.  There are so many interesting people out there that know about such diverse and fascinating subjects, and they have often just written a book about it.

The ubiquitous ex PM Kevin Rudd has been giving interviews from all over the world, at any hour of the day or night.  He interviewed Radio National host Phillip Adams and they were both very intelligent and interesting.  What a pity Rudd apparently was such a control freak and difficult and demanding to work with.

The always interesting and sometimes controversial Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton is giving the annual Boyer series of lectures – so far about the supposedly surprising emergence of an Aboriginal middle class, and the opportunities for some in the mining industry. Marcia is a supporter of Noel Pearson and the Intervention in Aboriginal communities, and she seems to be getting more conservative.  Perhaps she has just seen too many failed policies in the past – including the idealistic but seemingly now disparaged policy of Aboriginal “self-determination”. People that object to the destruction and degradation of the environment caused by mining were described by Marcia as “a ragtag team of wilderness campaigners and… disaffected Aboriginal protesters”.

The six part series Redfern Now on the ABC has been an excellent and tough portrayal of the lives and problems confronted by many Aboriginals in the city – including  tensions between those that are in the new middle class, and some of the extended family and friends living in places like Redfern who are not doing so well. Redfern is a gritty inner city Sydney suburb, close to the Central train terminal and handy for Aboriginal country visitors. Many Aboriginal families have lived their for generations and have a very strong attachment to the place and the community.  As it is close to the city it is now undergoing gentrification, and many Aboriginals and others will be displaced.

Journalist Mark Colvin’s Andrew Olle lecture was very interesting about the media.  We know newspapers may have 5-10 years left.  There will be very little time (or budget) for investigative journalism. News will be computer generated by an algorithm.  There will be an even greater explosion in blogging and information dissemination through social media – much of it which is generated by spin doctors and publicists.  The Director of the ABC quoted a reporter out covering Hurricane Sandy in Lower Manhattan, who said he was more up to date by watching the live time action of the many twitter feeds throughout the city as the storm advanced.

GAZA: The Israeli/Palestinian war seemed to be announced on Twitter and other social media portals.  The assassination of Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing was posted immediately on YouTube by the Israeli Government.  There was no world outcry at the assassination of a government official – just an almost 100% support for Israel for retaliating against the also unacceptable rockets fired from Gaza on Israeli citizens.

The Australian-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group is one of the largest in Parliament with 78 members.  The informal group for Palestine is 20. Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou said “What I struggle to understand, there seems to be this fear of offending Israel…To be honest with you, I don’t get it. This is an international issue and if you take an intellectual approach to it, it’s about an ongoing occupation that goes to the question of  justice, one people being subjugated by another….I can’t see how my colleagues can’t see this. I don’t understand how you can refuse to see what is happening to the Palestinian people is wrong”.  Expressing opinions about either side does not necessarily mean you are anti the other side or reject their right to exist.  Surely there can be no security for Israel until the Palestinians feel much less aggrieved, and somehow, a peaceful two- state coexistence established.

The PM is a staunch supporter of Israel and was rolled overwhelmingly by the party caucus into voting “abstain” instead of “against” the very successful vote for observer status for Palestine in the UN.  I think there is an international attitudinal sea change happening, with the “peace process” being recognised for what it is – more a “stalling process”.  A lack of any resolution provides more time for settlements to encroach into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making a  viable Palestine less and less possible.

Gillard was warned (by her friends) that to vote  with the US and Israel against the rest of the world would be “on the wrong side of history”.  She argued that voting in favour of Palestine would “hurt the peace process” because the US has threatened to withdraw funding for the Palestinian Authority.  No doubt the Palestinians will be punished by Israel over the UN vote, and the US should be increasing financial support for the Palestinians and helping them to build their economy, not threatening them.

Apparently our Foreign Minister Senator Carr believes that “as a friend of Israel, at times you’ve got to save it from itself”.  This reminded me of another remark made years ago: “the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss an opportunity”.

Egypt’s President Mursi earned international praise for his role in the Gaza cease fire, although I’d say it was more Obama’s influence behind the scenes. It is however another indicator of the various and complex changed scenarios, agendas and realignments in the region, post Arab Spring, that require new strategies and approaches.  Next day Mursi granted himself wide autocratic powers “to speed up the transition to democracy”!  This move was primarily aimed at circumventing the judiciary, who are made up of many Mubarek appointments, and who annulled Mursi’s first attempt to form a constitutional assembly.  It has been back to Tahrir Square.

Lives continue to be lost as the war drags on in Syria but the world seems to have given up caring or counting the deaths… 40,000 in 20 months, and millions of refugees now facing winter.

Christian and George Adamson

Christian and George Adamson

MAIL: I received an email from Minding Animals International which detailed upcoming Preconference and Partner Events in New York, Cape Town, Gold Coast, Sydney, Vienna and Berlin. Thanks for the photographs of Christian (and other animal photographs) found on the internet by some of you like Usasportswarrior and Deb, and interesting stories, articles, and emails etc from Elaine, Lisa, Scott, William, Diego, Heulwen, Laverne and others, and apologies for late replies.

VALE: Albie Thoms, film-maker, writer, social historian, and a lovely person who will be very much missed.

US: The world seemed to be holding its collective breath for the US Presidential election, and now for the looming “fiscal cliff” of December 31st.  Still experiencing hard times, a majority of Americans voted very intelligently, and even backed same sex marriage in three states, and a liberalising of some drug laws in others. Romney had a better than expected campaign but the Republican Party has a shrinking base and was shown to be “too old, and too white, too male”.  Unfortunately at a time like this, that calls for reform and attempts to reach a wider support base, parties apparently usually get even more conservative, as evidenced by the emergence and appeal of the Tea Party. Four billion dollars were spent. The Republicans were outmanoeuvred by Obama’s very sophisticated campaigning technology, and  well organised  network of volunteers. Hurricane Sandy did interrupt Romney’s momentum. Yes, there is a degree of schadenfreude for big losers like Karl Rove, Fox News, tweeter Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, who I’m sure Obama would love to pay back for his support of Romney against him. On the other hand, Nat Silver picked the winners in all 50 states.

Every cat should have it's own dog!

Every cat should have it’s own dog!

CHINA: While we may never know – or now ever care about what Mitt Romney actually believes, we know much less about the new Chinese leadership. Xi Jinping is apparently comparatively worldly wise and travelled. Old Jiang Zemin still seems very influential, and this gang of 7 are not known to be reformers. We have at least learnt more about some of the immense wealth some of them have amassed – like US$2.7 billion for the family of Wen Jiaboa.

MISC STATS:  One hundred shootings in Sydney this year -several over the last few days; chances of winning at poker machines 13%; 1 in 8 Australians are living in poverty; 70% Australian males are overweight and 56% of women (while the obesity epidemic  in the US is now lowering life spans); in the top 500 ASX companies 12 have female CEOs, 9.2% have women in senior executive roles, and two thirds have no women on their boards; our Future Fund has invested $37 million in tobacco; as much as a third of some African nations have been purchased by wealthy nations for food production; recent research indicates “nice and less competitive” baboons have longer lives, while chimpanzees and orang-utans slip into a mid-life malaise before bouncing back in old age!

ONLINE EDUCATION: I love the idea of  the many educational opportunities that will increasingly be available online like the Massive Online Open Courses.  I am hoping many courses will be inexpensive and accessible to people previously excluded. Universities are becoming so expensive to operate in their present form as to be unsustainable. It would be sad, however, to lose aspects of university life like the positive social opportunities, face to face contact with lecturers and tutors, and the stimulation of campus life.

I was interested in this article by George Monbiot in the SMH  Children must experience nature in order to learn it’s worth saving. Apart from the existential environmental crises we face, as children’s lives are increasingly removed and disconnected from the natural world, “the young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it”.

Monbiot quotes from Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, that in one generation “the proportion of children playing in wild places in Britain has fallen from more than half, to fewer than one in ten”.  Reasons for this include: a 90% decrease since the 1970s in the areas in the UK where children may play without supervision; parent’s fears; and the quality of indoor entertainment.

People have said to me that part of the attraction of our story with Christian is that it represents a less regulated time when there was more freedom to pursue outdoor activities and have adventures and take risks. We certainly do not encourage others to buy wild animals however, and we now see how by buying Christian we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals. While our experience with Christian has obviously been a highlight of my life, and he was just so full of personality and amazing to know,  it was also always potentially dangerous, and carried great responsibilities to him and the people around us.

Govett's Leap Blue Mountains

Govett’s Leap Blue Mountains

Perth November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Perth November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

SUMMER:  I have been in Perth and the photograph (above) is of the beach at Scarborough, opposite my hotel.  Tempting as the water looks there have been several recent shark attacks on Perth beaches.  I always say I haven’t been in the sea since seeing Jaws, now many years ago – and it is virtually true.  The Australian native flowers in Perth gardens and parks, and at home in Bundeena, have been especially beautiful and already the temperatures are quite hot.  Apologies to everyone going into winter!

OCCUPY WALL STREET: I was away and missed the most recent Sydney Occupy Wall Street rally.  Responses by the police removing ostensibly peaceful protesters from their sites everywhere are getting more heavy-handed.  There is an attitude “OK you have made your point, now go home”.  Sorry, but I don’t think it is going to work like that. I don’t know if the Sydney group has set up a new camp. Their absence of “leadership” and specific objectives is quite fascinating, and the organic growth of the movement still seems to be gaining momentum. They have certainly made the world – and presumably politicians - take notice.

JULIAN ASSANGE:  Australia does not seem to be assisting this Australian citizen in any way and I imagine Julian will appeal after losing his High Court battle in the UK against his extradition to Sweden.  I’ve been looking up some of the economic and political websites and blogs mentioned at the Occupy rally or by WikiLeaks sympathisers.  Most have been very informative, but some are quite scary.  I try not to be into conspiracy theories but then again I think I’m often very naive.  Fascinating and enigmatic as Julian is, I’ve only read edited sections of his “unauthorised autobiography” in newspapers.

Rafa

RAFA: While Julian may have disowned his autobiography, Rafael Nadal said he hadn’t even read his own “autobiography!  I found it very interesting.  The exceptional natural abilities, mental and physical toughness, and the unavoidable discipline and hard work required to make a sports star.  Then there are other  factors like luck, the other competitors (Federer ahead of him, and Djokovic emerging behind him), and the ever present risk of injury. Rafa is very tough mentally and can exclude all superfluous thoughts – like losing the last point. He is surrounded by a very good team and family. He has an effective if prickly relationship with his coach his Uncle Tony, who has taunted him as a “Mummy’s boy”. Every morning, no matter how late to bed, Rafa is on the court , or in the gym. I’m looking forward to the Australian Open in Melbourne in January – Rafa was injured last year.

TONY THE TIGER:  The victory in his court case has been the best news.  I have been trying to ascertain from the ALDF if he is still in his cage at the Truck Stop, and I fear he is.  What will the “owner” do with Tony, and can he appeal the decision?  Who will decide Tony’s subsequent future?  The ALDF and Dee de Santis will keep us informed hopefully.

Copyright WSPCA

Copyright WSPCA

ANIMAL NEWS: Read WSPA’s latest bear news here.  Also, you can read the new Minding Animals Bulletin #8.

BIPARTISANSHIP:  In Australia we have political bipartisanship only about “hot” and often difficult issues.  Aboriginal issues are often bipartisan, with both parties at the moment supporting an ill conceived and uninvited “intervention” in remote Aboriginal communities some of which are admittedly facing seemingly insurmountable social problems.  It suits both political parties to acquiesce with each other in these failed policies.

Because of our alliance with the US, both parties also agree over war, with our involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq).  However 72% of Australians want our troops to come home – 32 Australian deaths in Afghanistan, and the last few have been killed by rogue Afghans from troops they have been “mentoring”.

Obama has just whizzed through Australia charming everyone and now we are to have American troops stationed here in a few years in northern Australia. Obama is trying to extricate America from the Middle East, and has committed America to the Asia-Pacific region and its growing economic opportunities.  Does this enhance Australia’s security or make us more of a target?  How will China, who has been keeping the Australian economy afloat, react to this? The move has been interpreted as an attempt to “contain” China, and we have been reminded “Chinese strategic missiles can reach Australia”.

Israel is also a bipartisan issue and our government was one of only 14 countries that recently voted against Palestine’s admission to UNESCO.  Although 107 countries supported Palestinian membership, the move has been described as “detrimental to the peace process”.  What “peace process” one may ask?  The US is now refusing to pay their $60 million contribution to UNESCO. Israel as a punishment is withholding at least $US100 million in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority and fast-tracking new settlement development.  It was refreshing to hear just how frustrated Obama really is with Netanyahu.

I wish there was a humane bipartisanship in Australia over asylum seekers and refugees rather than the blatant “race to the bottom” playing to the worst and most uncharitable instincts in the Australian population.  There have been yet more recent drownings in an unsafe boat setting off from Indonesia.

Up to 30 Indonesian children, who were possibly unwitting crew members on these “people-smuggler boats”, are languishing in our jails, while our media is hysterical over a 14 year old Australian busted for buying marijuana and boasting about it in Bali.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Australia’s Clean Energy Bill has passed the Senate.  Al Gore sent a message:

“With this vote, the world has turned a pivotal corner in the collective effort to solve the climate crisis… Today we celebrate.  Tomorrow, we do everything we can to ensure that this legislation is successful.”

Rupert Murdoch has assumed Chairmanship of News Ltd in Australia, and appointed a new CEO.  I was amused to read in his The Australian, that a prominent US physicist and global-warming sceptic in trying to disprove climate scientists were wrong, discovered that they were right – temperatures were rising rapidly.  However, true to form, another report in the newspaper found “an international statesman” who described international carbon trading as “halfway between a fantasy and a fraud”.

The US Department of Energy has calculated the global output of carbon dioxide has jumped by the biggest amount on record, and a draft UN report finds that man-made climate change has boosted the frequency or intensity of floods, cyclones, wildfires, heat waves etc., and this is likely to increase.

As I have previously mentioned, China is acting on climate change and their emissions, but they are also being forced into action because their air is so polluted.  I remember the sky was brown in Shanghai when I was there just before their EXPO in 2010.

Our own inimitable Cardinal Pell says it is “immoral” to spend money attempting to prevent climate change. I would say future generations will say it was “immoral” to do nothing about it.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

CSG:  Both coal seam gas and liquefied natural gas are expected to benefit in the short term from the price on carbon, because they generally emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal and at present they are cheaper than solar, wind or geothermal power. There are 4,000 coal seam gas wells sunk in Queensland already, and plans for as many as 40,000 more!  However the technique used (known as “fracking”) apparently caused a small earthquake in the UK recently, and the long term effects on water tables through this process and the use of chemicals etc., are still unknown.

In Queensland, dredging in ports to facilitate CSG export facilities is endangering The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area ecosystem.  You can show your concern by signing this GetUp! petition.

MINING: The Government is still trying to implement a Mining Tax against great opposition from most of the millionaire miners.  Apparently most companies pay as little as 14% taxation, and 83% of the companies are foreign-owned.  Shamefully, Canada is selling vast amounts of asbestos to countries like India for cheap (and possibly life-threatening) housing (Foreign Correspondent 8 Nov ABC).  The Australian Government seems to be about to overturn our ban on uranium sales to India which was based on the fact that India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  This has been a long running impediment in our relationship with India who, despite what happened in Fukushima, Japan, is aiming at a total of 65 nuclear reactors.

RHINOS: As I have previously blogged African elephants are in an “extinction vortex”.  Africa’s Western Black Rhino, however, has been declared extinct and other sub-species may also be facing extinction. Read more in this LA Times article.

A LION CALLED CHRISTIAN:  I send a copy of the book or DVD of A Lion Called Christian to any children’s hospitals I read about and I received a letter back from one saying that Christian’s story was proving to be effective “distractive therapy” – an expression I hadn’t heard before.  I’m so pleased to think this can sometimes help those children facing often dire medical procedures or futures.

The books are available in digital versions and I have included links below.  I’m sort of  surprised that Christian’s story continues to inspire people – except his life was so exceptional!

iBooks: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/a-lion-called-christian/id437005297?mt=11

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Lion-Called-Christian-ebook/dp/B0038LB3Z4/

Waterstones: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/anthony+bourke/john+rendall/a+lion+called+christian+28ebook29/6449728/

WHSmith: http://www.whsmith.co.uk/CatalogAndSearch/eBooksProductDetails.aspx?productID=KB00104739541

Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/A-Lion-Called-Christian/book-OMXKLakmSEyu5TnRXJn31w/page1.html?utm_source=whsmith&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=detailpage

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke

BLOGGING: I finally caught up with the film Julie & Julia which I enjoyed despite Meryl Streep’s no doubt good impersonation of Julia Child’s voice.  I was interested in the blogging – Julie was at it day by day, which I am not, and much more personal.  I don’t want to inflict on you my daily feelings, mood swings and neuroses.  Over a two or three week period what I want to comment on emerges – even if some of it is quite dated by then.  Blogging offers all of us the chance to express what we feel about the world, as many of us feel a certain impotence.  I’ve let you know I’ve had a life after owning a lion when I was young, and had a career in Aboriginal art which I have found fascinating.  In a blog I’m able to talk about other things that I find important or that interest me and I like the way it ends up a sort of diary.

Primarily, however, I hope the blog is a valuable global noticeboard about anyone doing interesting work or campaigning in relation to conservation and animal rights and welfare issues.  This very much also depends on your contributions.  If we together have helped in any way to free Tony the Tiger, for example, I think that is just wonderful.

I get many more emails than “comments” on the blog – perhaps many of you are rather like me and prefer a one-on-one communication, rather than a more public discourse.

MISC STATS: nearly 4000 protesters dead in Syria so far (and thousands of defecting Syrian soldiers joining the protests); 800 million Facebook users; Justin Bieber’s over 2 billion hits on YouTube overtaking Lady Gaga (his voice is breaking); 7 billion people in the world and 30 million millionaires; Chinese artist Ai Weiwei accused of owing $2.27 million in back taxes ( people are throwing money over his wall); 500 have died in the floods in Thailand; George Soros’ accurate prediction that the deal to fix the Eurozone/Greek financial crisis would last between 1 and 30 days – it lasted 4 days (good luck to the new governments in Greece and Italy); Brazil overtakes the UK as the world’s 6th biggest economy; Australia judged the second best country to live in after Norway!

I’m reading and loving The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens, uncomfortably watching The Slap on TV,  loved k.d.lang’s great voice at her concert, and I was in awe and humbled in the presence of many of Picasso’s own Picassos at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Dickie Minyintiri Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks)

Telstra Art Award - Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks) acrylic on canvas by Dickie Minyintiri

ABORIGINAL ART: This painting by 96 year old Dickie Minyintiri has won the 2011 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.  To the initiated clan elders, this painting is a map of their country, especially the waterholes, the tracks of animals, and related ceremonial activities – and much more than we will ever know.  You can view the exhibition online and see the diversity of Aboriginal Art.  It seems Central and Western Desert paintings predominate in this exhibition, but this is often the case.  Isn’t it amazing that such contemporary looking paintings are by people living in remote areas still speaking their own languages and where traditional ceremonies are still strong, although this way of life is under threat.

2011 Telstra Art Award Bobby West Tjupurrula_Untitled

Telstra Art Award - Untitled synthetic polymer paint on linen by Bobby West Tjupurrula

We are going into spring here in Australia and the weather in Sydney has been warm and sunny, but still a little cool at nights.  A magical time of the year.  I feel fine myself, but this is tempered by the bloodshed in the Middle East and the atrocities being uncovered in Libya, and the determination of the Syrian Government to violently repress their people.

UNNERVING:  to discover recently the US and UK government’s cooperation and complicity with Libyan intelligence;  just how cosy Blair was with Gaddafi;  that Blair is a godfather to a child of Rupert Murdoch and worked against further investigation of the phone hacking;  that the Chinese were selling arms to Libya as late as July;  and that Bush’s White House ignored or buried relevant evidence about the connections between the 9/11 hijackers and his Saudi Arabian friends.  As we reflect on the horrific loss of life ten years ago (and the many subsequent military and civilian deaths), let’s try and learn from the inappropriate and failed response of the so called “War on Terror”.

Telstra Art Award - Stone Country natural pigments on bark by Ivan Namirrkki

FOREIGN AID:  At last there seems to be a rethinking of how ineffective some Foreign Aid has been in the past.  Much of it has propped up big man despotic leaders rather than reaching the people who need it.  Of course the Chinese seem to be everywhere and are at least building infrastructure and one hopes the populations will benefit as much as China will.  Obviously droughts cause crops to fail,  but peace and stability is also required to prevent famines.  The colonial carve up in Africa after 1885 is responsible for so many unrealistic and unnatural national borders that many countries have too many disparate tribal groups – a problem facing Libya where three very different rebel groups will now have to work together.  Foreign Aid has also disadvantaged local enterprises in the past.  Now there are initiatives to fund specific projects in villages, overseen by local councils, and for better transparency and accountability, accounts are publicly displayed.

We must not forget the millions suffering with the famine in Africa and I hope given the millions of people effected, donations and aid are getting through as effectively and quickly as possible.  In Haiti for example, of the US$21.1 billion raised for the 2010 earthquake victims only $286 million has been obligated, and many thousands are still living in tents.

You can donate to the UNHCR’s East Africa Famine Appeal at www.unrefugees.org.au.

Charaxes Australis AMS 193/18 original watercolour by Helena Scott

SCOTT SISTERS: Two Australian sisters Helena and Harriet Scott painted between the 1840s and 1860s. Their exhibition Beauty from Nature is at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The artworks have been drawn from the 100 preliminary botanical drawings and watercolours purchased in 1884.  These sisters were cousins of David Scott Mitchell that I have blogged about previously, and I am proud to say I am also a relation.

SPECIES: Apparently there are an estimated 8.7 million species on earth – 6.5 million distinct forms of life on land, and 2.2 million in the oceans, with 85% yet to be discovered.  Some species of course may vanish before we even know of their existence.  In Australia more than 100 plants and animals have disappeared in the last two centuries, with many critically endangered.  The International Union of Conservation of Nature predicts that 30% of the world’s wildlife will disappear by 2050.  Creating some controversy is the proposal by some scientists to use economics and mathematics to develop analyses of which animals should be saved and which ones should not, and are already prioritising recovery programs.  Read the article Survival of the Cheapest SMH, 11 August 2011.

What can we do, apart from donating?  According to the Sydney Sun Herald:  take rubbish, especially plastic from the beaches;  stop pets hunting wildlife;  grow native plants as a haven for wildlife;  buy furniture timber from sustainable sources;  and eat sustainable seafood.

Chelepteryx Collesi AMS 193/92 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

Unfortunately in our Asian region there is a vast wildlife trade in poaching, smuggling and dealing in protected species and their body parts, much of it for traditional medicines.  Lately there have been reports of tigers being “farmed” in China, like the horrific farming of bears for their bile elsewhere in Asia.  The Global Financial Integrity group using information provided by conservation groups Traffic and the World Wildlife Fund have estimated recently that the illegal trade in wildlife generates up to $US10 billion.

Australia’s live cattle exports have resumed to Indonesia seemingly without any new and effective enforceable safe guards, and questions have been raised about Australian sheep exports to Turkey. Interestingly, after the huge public outcry over the TV footage of the treatment of cattle in the abattoirs in Indonesia, public sentiment then swung to the cattle producers, and the government was then pilloried for the economic damage to the industry caused by the suspension of trade.

Polio Festiva AMS 193/14 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

THE COVE: I finally saw The Cove and it is a devastating documentary.  September marks the beginning of the slaughter of up to 23,000 dolphins and porpoises in Japan.  “Traditional custom” is no longer an excuse.  Apparently many younger Japanese are questioning the harvesting of dolphins and porpoises for captivity and food (which often contains dangerously high mercury levels), and their whaling activities in the Antarctic, and the Japanese media are finally asking questions.  We should all actively oppose and protest.  I hope you will sign this petition.

FAROE ISLANDS: I have once again been sent an email petition to oppose the slaughter of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands.  The images and blood in the water was almost unwatchable.  Unfortunately this petition is now closed, but investigate other opportunities to protest.

TARONGA ZOO CAMPAIGN: There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world primarily because their forests are being cleared for unsustainable farming and forestry, including palm oil plantations. Taronga Zoo supports sustainable palm oil production that does not destroy vital animal habitats.  Zoos are working together to petition for the mandatory labelling of all food products containing palm oil.  You may also want to sign this Don’t Palm Us Off  petition.

Nick Brandt - Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt - Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica.

AGONY AND IVORY: In the August issue of Vanity Fair there is a quite terrifying article charting what could be the extinction of the African elephant.  The demand for ivory, especially from the older “suddenly wealthy” Chinese in the main ivory carving and trading district of Guangzhou is seeing possibly tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year, and a “vortex of extinction” is feared.  Half the poaching in Kenya is happening within 20 miles of one of the five massive Chinese road-building projects.  But ivory is also funding warring rebel groups in Africa, and in Zimbabwe many elephants are being shot by trophy hunting tourists, as well as being killed to provide food for a hungry population.

There are people in China also deeply concerned about the ivory trade and the diminishing elephant numbers, and as we discovered when we visited China, the Chinese Government is much more committed to conservation than I had imagined.

These are most of the people who are mentioned in the VF article that are fighting to save the African elephant:  Amboseli Elephant Research Project;  Kenyan Wildlife Service;  Save the Elephant;  Traffic;  IFAW;  WildAid;  MIKE;  Johnny Rodrigues;  Andrea Turkalo;  and Iain Douglas-Hamilton.  We must help in any way we can and especially stop people buying ivory.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The www.skepticalscience.com website clearly explains the peer-reviewed scientific evidence that rebuts misinformation disseminated by so-called skeptics of climate change.

Robert Manne in an article in the Quarterly Essay, Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation analyses The Australian newspaper’s total coverage of climate change including news items and opinion columns, and by a ratio of about four to one, they have opposed action on climate change or “acting alone”.  (Apparently 90 countries are committed to some action).  Their blatantly biased reporting against the Government would be of similar proportions.  It looks like it is about to get very difficult for James Murdoch in the UK very soon.

Coal seam gas exploration in Australia, with tens of thousands of gas wells planned or approved,  is at last being questioned in relation to the damage to the water table and the effect of the chemicals used in the process.  The cost effectiveness of wind farms is also being questioned or reviewed.

MISC STATS: Apple have $76 billion in ready cash (more than the US Government);  in Australia 1% own 20% of the nation’s wealth and in the US it is 1% owning 40%;  BHP Billiton announced a profit of $22.5 billion – and they opposed a mining tax;  deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon increased by 15% in the past 12 months; the Pope’s World Youth Day event in Spain cost €60 million.

Telstra Art Award - Mayilimiriw natural pigments on bark by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

BUFFET: It was interesting when Warren Buffet recently wrote “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.”  With America seemingly on the edge of a double dip recession, with unemployment at 9.1%, 14 million people out of work and zero jobs growth, this just seems incomprehensible.  The wealthy refuse to pay enough tax necessary to maintain infrastructure or support the impoverished, and consequently nearly one in a hundred Americans are imprisoned.  The sophisticated US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich has recently said that without the tax breaks, the top 1% in America could be contributing $500 billion in the first year alone.  One does have to ask, is there any concept of “national interest”?  Are the conservatives prepared to wreck the country just to reclaim political power which they see as their entitlement?  Exactly the same thing has been happening here in Australia, where a shrill and negative but effective Opposition, aided by shock jocks, has convinced a large section of the population that our current Government – the envy of the world economically, is a catastrophe.  They are contributing to undermining consumer confidence in a time of global financial uncertainty and obstructing necessary reforms like a carbon tax.  I really despair.

DEWEY AND MARLEY: Over the last year or so I’ve looked rather enviously at two books that are always prominently displayed in airport bookshops.  So I thought it was time to read DEWEY The Small Town Cat Who Touched the World (by Vicki Myron), and Marley & Me: life and love with the world’s worst dog (John Grogan).

I was very amused when I was in a book shop thinking of buying Marley’s book and I asked “what is it like?” and the response was “I much preferred the one about the lion – A Lion Called Christian”!  Our book is about an extraordinary animal, indeed an exotic one, but most people can probably relate more easily to stories about an ordinary cat and dog, albeit with strong attractive personalities.  Their books take in the span of their animal’s natural lives, and are autobiographies of the authors.  Our book covers just a few years in our lives, and was written when we were in our early twenties.

Dewey by Vicki Myron

Dewey the cat had great confidence, a certain charisma, and yes, he was very cute.  The book paints a picture of a small rural town in Iowa struggling to remain economically viable.  I’m not sure Dewey turned the town around as implied, but his national and international fame has put it on the map.   “We didn’t want him to be anything more than the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa. And that’s all he wanted too.”  In trying to analyse Dewey’s attraction Myron writes “He found his place.  His passion, his purpose was to make that place, no matter how small and out of the way it may have seemed, a better place for everyone.”  Each day he “never left anyone out or took anyone for granted… and he made everyone feel special.”

Marley & Me by John Grogan

Marley’s book is a little more sophisticated, indeed the author is a writer.  The idea for the book must have come from the response to an article he wrote (with some hesitation) after Marley’s death which unleashed a deluge of over 800 emails and communications from people.  He commented “Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and hearts as big as a cloudless sky.” And I recently read we are apparently 30% less likely to have a stroke.

Marley was, let’s face it, quite mental and very destructive, but apparently he had intuition and empathy, gentleness and a pure heart.  He was completely entwined with his family who just adored him and felt his loss very deeply.  Grogan writes “Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart.  He taught me to appreciate the simple things… about optimism in the face of adversity… friendship and selflessness… unwavering loyalty.”

Marley taught them about unconditional love.

Both writers felt that their animals had the simple qualities that really matter, that many humans have lost sight of.  They were just authentically themselves.  I loved their stories and understand why they have captured so many hearts.  I had a good cry when they died.

Incidentally, I have been told by vets that 12 or 13 are dangerous years in the health of cats and dogs, and if they survive this period can live up to 20. Marley died at 13 and Dewey died at 17.  Lately in Australia there have been some horrific dog attacks on people.  Certain breeds have been targeted and there are suggestions that they be banned. However, this would be circumvented by cross breeding, and experts say it is the socialization of the dog that is important, often requiring work (and vigilance) by the owners.

Koko in Red Dog

RED DOG: See Koko’s superb screen test to play Red Dog!  The film has been doing very well and although I haven’t seen it yet, I know it is a legendary story.

While reading about Marley, Dewey, the elephants, the responses to Christian’s birthday blog, or watching the dolphins in The Cove, someone in every story, no matter which animal, said “They are trying to communicate with us.”  Are we listening?  What do you think they are saying?

April

April 23, 2010

NEXT WEEK: 2 FUNDRAISING AUCTIONS

27th April New York: this classic photograph of Christian by Derek Cattani has been invited to be in an auction to raise money for the Humane Society auction to raise money for an animal shelter and refuge.

“On Tuesday, April 27, 2010 from 6:00–9:00 pm the Humane Society of New York will be holding our Third Benefit Photography Auction at Diane von Furstenberg’s new gallery, DVF Studio, New York City.  Photographers, participating by invitation only, include Nick Brandt, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, Michael “Nick” Nichols, Gregory Colbert, Howard G. Buffett, Milton H. Greene, Mary Ellen Mark, Elliott Erwitt, Mikhail Baryshnikov, William Wegman and many more.  We have just discovered your amazing images of Christian the Lion and all of us at the Society were overwhelmed!  We would be truly honored if you would agree to donate one particular photo showing Christian lying on stairs in support of our work.” Humane Society of New York

Congratulations to Derek for deservedly being in such prestigious company, and good luck for the cause.

29th April Sydney: a reminder that the auction of artworks by leading Australian artists for voiceless is at the Sherman Galleries in Sydney.

AUSTRALIAN ANIMAL STUDIES GROUP

One of the many surprises of my re immersion in the world of animal and wildlife conservation over the last year, has been the fascinating and pioneering work being done at an academic level in relation to many issues relating to animals, their rights, the ethical perspectives on animals, and human/animal relations. I have mentioned that I spoke at the Minding Animals Conference in Newcastle last year. I was the light relief! I’ve just been reading the March 2010 eBulletin of the Australian Animal Studies Group, and it is very comprehensive and international. There are fascinating Conferences all over the world, mostly at Universities, on many different aspects of human/animal issues, and articles, profiles and book and documentary reviews. A website is underway. The many listed events include Global Animal: An Animal Studies Conference at the University of Wollongong 27-28 September 2010, and Animal Rights 2010 15th-19th July in Washington D.C. There is very useful information such as the World Animal Net – the world’s largest network of animal protection societies.

Marine life in Sydney Harbour – SMH environment
Photographs of marine animals in Sydney Harbour: Richard Vevers from underwatersydney.com.au

COAL

Sydney Harbour may be getting cleaner and healthier, but you would not want to live near a coal mine. Australia survived the GFC extremely well but this is primarily due to the demand for our minerals from China especially.  We have lots of uranium, iron ore and coal. Our governments at Federal and State and Local levels (yes we are overgoverned, and it is expensive), are hostage to this income, and while coal mining is having a ruinous effect on the health of residents in previously idyllic rural areas, the government is reluctant to acknowledge the possibilities or even fully investigate. In one area alone there are 30 dusty open cut mines surrounding residents, and in Gunnedah, another very fertile area of NSW that produces a lot of food, some unlikely conservative/landed gentry landowners are mounting a serious blockade and protest, while some neighbours sell their properties for huge sums. Last month the NSW Supreme Court found in favour of these farmers who were blocking BHP Billiton from exploration, and the NSW Government with their usual cavalier attitude to planning regulations, has just changed the legislation to favour the mining industry. Google Tim Duddy and the Caroona Coal Action Group.

Two new coal-fired power stations have also been announced in our state – just as there were coal mine disasters in both China and the US, and at a time when we should be backing away from coal, and other countries are recognising the economic opportunities offered by alternative and more sustainable energy sources. One estimate has these power stations increasing the State’s total emissions of carbon dioxide by 22.9 million tonnes each year – a 15.1% increase.

This does raise the questions of both our aging city infrastructures – run down in relatively prosperous times by most governments around the world, and population numbers. I think we have about 22 million people in Australia – mostly huddled around the coast and in a few big overstretched cities. There is a projection of 36 million people by 2050. These debates often turn racist here as it concerns immigration targets and asylum seekers, who have been arriving lately primarily from Sri Lanka and Iraq in not inconsiderable numbers. Unfortunately the Federal Opposition has been predictably shrill (there are votes in xenophobia and racism), and our government has caved in and introduced tougher and less humane restrictions on them, and made the asinine comment that it is now safe to go back to their countries of origin!

UPDATE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Jonny Lewis’s Kiribati photographs highlighting rising sea levels is now on exhibition at the Wharf Gallery, Sydney Theatre Company, Hickson Road until the 21st of May.

Isn’t it hard deciphering the different opinion pieces about Climate Change, and whether Copenhagen was a success or a dismal failure. The skeptics are quieter, but worryingly so are the politicians ……. and the public are unaccountably less concerned than they were. But 114 countries have backed the Copenhagen Accord, 74 have submitted targets to cut or slow greenhouse gas emissions, and China and India volunteered to slow emissions. Our Prime Minister, after initial great enthusiasm for one of the great challenges of our times, failed to explain the complexities, and hasn’t uttered the word for months. I’m particularly offended by him at the moment anyway, after reading he had not attended an art event since becoming Prime Minister in 2007!

Unfortunately Australia is also dependent on uranium exports – we own 30% of the world’s resource. I just can’t embrace nuclear power, especially given the problem with waste disposal. A clan of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have been offered 12 million dollars for nuclear waste to be dumped on them. Fortunately neighbouring clans are opposing this, not wanting their land, shared Dreaming sites and water contaminated.

BIRTHS

A baby elephant presumed to be still born surprised everyone by surviving at Taronga Zoo, Sydney. It has been named Pathi Harn which is Thai for “miracle”. It was fascinating watching the mother and other elephants have total faith and patience in the zoo staff working to save the calf, and their loving, casual touching and entwining of their trunks with each other and the staff.

There is a new rhino calf at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in central NSW. Their press release said only 4,230 black rhinos survive in the wild, and since the 1990s the Zoo has produced 11 black rhino calves. Other recent births include four cheetah cubs, three giraffe calves and a Przewalski’s horse foal.

I’M CONCERNED ABOUT

The conditions of designer puppy farming which should be under a lot more scrutiny; Australian sheep wool may be boycotted internationally if mulesing continues (a cruel practice that does however prevent deadly flystrike); the on-going slaughter of elephants in countries like Tanzania because of the black market trade in ivory, as the growing Chinese middle class, especially, want to buy ivory trinkets such as chop sticks; the annual seal “harvesting” in Canada, which is always highly emotive – their blood on the snow, and does raise interesting and difficult questions of culling, traditional practices and all the other animals we eat quite happily, let alone industrial chicken meat production; cruel experiments on animals; a giant new dam in the Amazon and the trees being cut down in the far south coast of NSW, the habitat for the last little colony of koalas there. Don’t we humans ever learn?

SUSTAINABLE EATING

There were some excellent tips in the newspaper the other day for “sustainable eating”: buy local, buy seasonally, minimise packaging, choose unprocessed or unrefined foods, grow your own, eat less meat and consider organic. Easy! Also, think what we could do with all the water we just lose in the cities, and all the uneaten foods or scraps, especially fruit and vegetables, that could be used as compost. What is encouraging is that quite a lot of uneaten food is now distributed in a well organised way to the hungry.

CONGRATULATIONS

Legendary David Attenborough has reached the North Pole for the first time, at the age of 83. He is filming for a BBC nature series highlighting the effect of global warming on the earth’s extreme regions. Apparently the Arctic winter ice has recovered slightly, but long term loss is continuing.

FAVOURITE VIEWING

Beautiful People; Australian “psycho dog man’s” performance now on YouTube (I saw the original footage as I am uneasy about those Staffordshire dogs myself having had a “run in” last year with one; American Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich on Australian television – impressively bright and sophisticated  - after the neo cons we have been sent in the recent past.

Born Free - Joy Adamson

Last month was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Born Free first published in March 1960. I recently bought a copy (14th Impression) signed by Joy Adamson. I have never read it or seen the film, despite them being such huge hits at the time. Watch out for the upcoming documentary on Born Free, as Joy was a fascinating if difficult woman, and her work with George Adamson was so prescient, and I’m going to finally read Born Free…

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