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, 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.
February 27, 2011
BUNDEENA: I have been living in Bundeena, a small community on the southern edge of Sydney for several years. It has beautiful beaches, coastal walks and drives, and is surrounded by the Royal National Park. There are many varieties of birds (my favourites are the kookaburras), possums, and the occasional wallaby, snake or goanna. I am aware of the environmental damage cats can cause, and I promise I attempt to bring my very well fed cats in every night. Bundeena is just over an hour from the city, so I am close – and far, enough. Originally a fishing village, the community of a few thousand is seeing an increasing gentrification– and Vanity Fair is now for sale in the newsagent. People like myself are viewed as “city blow ins”. Bundeena is however low-key, and it is possible to be pleasantly reclusive with no social pressures. Quite a few artists live here (there is an Art Trail to many artists’ studios on the first Sunday of each month), and some are very well-known. It has been hot (often in the mid 30s), but it has been very relaxing here over summer, reading, gardening, working on some upcoming projects and exhibitions, seeing family and friends, and of course, just being with the cats. There has been time to reflect on the world, and try to digest the momentous events of the last few weeks and months.
EGYPT: Congratulations to the Egyptian people. Their revolution was more organized than it appeared – by an internet savvy group, and was secular and largely non-violent. We had not questioned or even thought about their decades of repression and it suited our governments to turn a blind eye for a useful ally. The USA funded the regime with an annual US$2billion. The revolution is not complete: the military is not going to relinquish their influence easily. Nor will the US! No-one can really predict the outcome and the wider implications for the Middle East – least of all me.
The Egyptian revolution appeared to be led by a youthful, educated middle class, supported by a down-trodden and repressed general population. Leaders are emerging in the vacuum. Islamic fundamentalists seem a small minority voice at this stage. I have had a friend visiting Egypt who said Facebook was finally useful. I urged him to take care and wondered – how would I have responded if I lived there – and would I have had the courage to be in Tahrir Square? Good luck to the Libyans – Gaddafi will go down with guns blazing (or chemical weapons) on his own population it seems. The West watches impotently – and the Libyans ask legitimately: “why isn’t anybody helping us?”
LEADERSHIP: Poor Mr. Obama. No wonder he is going grey: inherited problems of the GFC, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Republican obstruction of his legislation and attempted reforms. Now their repressive allies in the Middle East are all vulnerable in a shifting landscape. The US are trying to juggle their support for their long-term alliances, AND be seen to be supporting emerging democratic movements and human rights in the region. Democracy is fine – as long as it doesn’t threaten their strategic interests it seems. Hard for them not to appear hypocritical. For the record: US annual funding – Egypt $2 billion, Israel $3 billion, Pakistan $7.5 billion.
The SMH Chief Correspondent, Paul McGeough, has been writing comprehensively, and I think insightfully, about the Middle East. For example, see his article SMH February 21 2011: “Lip service is all US pays in the drive for democracy”. The US veto of a UN Security Council resolution to examine the legality of Israeli settlement buildings in occupied Palestine would not have gone down well on the “Arab street”, especially at the moment, and is a good example of the USA’s conflicting interests. However, the unrest has not been particularly aimed at the USA – except in Pakistan at the moment over the presumed CIA operative that has been arrested. Australia has also just been paying cautious “lip service” in support of these historic changes as well, despite the usual flurry of hyperactivity by our Foreign Minister – the ex PM Kevin Rudd.
I would like to see a very representative and uncorrupted United Nations type body with very strong international powers! I think many of us have realised our leaders are, well, only human like us after all, but it should make us all the more determined to effect change through our own personal, often local, efforts.
McGeough has written scathingly about Tony Blair who he likens to a “drowning sailor”. Blair’s quotes in defence of Mubarek did not look good – or the re-release of those photographs of him helping to ease Gaddafi back into international acceptance in 2004. Still in denial about Iraq – how has Blair got any credibility left in relation to the Middle East as “special representative” of the Middle East Quartet (UN,US,EU and Russia)? I would think some of his reported “consultancies” and relationships would normally constitute a conflict of interest. He is soon to visit Australia to earn even more money on the speaking circuit. Equally shameless it seems, the British PM David Cameron is visiting the Middle East with British arms dealers, looking for sales.
LOCAL AUSTRALIAN ISSUES: (but with global echoes)
NBN: National Broadband Network. This is an example of a subject I find difficult to understand (like GM crops), especially given my own technical ignorance. I believe in essential national infrastructure, but is fibre the right option – especially as the US has opted for wireless? From recent articles it seems that a mixture is the answer. With wireless subject to range limitations, and slowdowns with too many subscribers, fibre should be “the work horse of the data downloads”.
SURPLUS vs DEFICIT: The Opposition here in Australia has got the government very defensive about financial management – “waste”, “big new taxes” etc., but unfortunately their criticism does not extend beyond these few effective but clichéd slogans. They fail to acknowledge that Australia was the only developed nation that did not go into recession during the GFC, unemployment is at 5%, but they endlessly squeal about the deficit. The government – already on a knife-edge with numbers, is hamstrung to actually govern and make some tough economic decisions – rather like Obama. I don’t know why the conservatives are claiming the ascendancy on economic management here or in the US – the GFC developed on their watch, and in Australia the Liberal Party politicians haven’t yet explained the $7 – $11 billion hole in their last election budget. In an article by the excellent economist Ross Gittins in the SMH February 14 2011: “Fiscal heaven is pollies worrying about deficits”, he traces this relatively new obsession with surpluses. Our mining boom (and being the world’s largest coal exporter), will take care of the deficit. But the Liberal Party were good hoarders, even though it was at the expense of infrastructure which was allowed to run down. Shouldn’t an Opposition be offering constructive criticisms, and alternative policies? We are constantly in election mode and a 24 hour media cycle, and the government is too defensive to make any hard if necessary decisions.
“BIG NEW TAX”: Last year we had people power Australia style when a group of mining millionaires and billionaires actually took to the streets with placards in a demonstration! It was surreal. They backed this up with a $22 million advertising campaign against a proposed mining super profits tax on our non-renewable resources. The tax was going to “ruin Australia” – investment would go elsewhere etc. These people have been made to look ridiculous with the recent publication of their company profits or personal wealth. Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart $9 billion, Andrew Forrest $6.9 billion, BHP $10.5 billion half-yearly profits, and huge profits for Rio Tinto and Xstrata. The tax, which was watered down, will probably now be passed.
“STOP THE BOATS”: Our scandalously inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees by both sides of parliament has been in the news lately. This “race to the bottom” as it has been described, has been fuelled and possibly led by the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, and his electorate was the scene of the Cronulla race riots several years ago. He seems to think Muslim demonisation is a vote winner, and it has been reported that he recently suggested his party capitalise on public unease about Muslim immigration. His party has also recently recommended cutting Australian aid to Indonesian schools – a highly successful counter terrorism scheme started by his own party when in office. I used to send him critical emails – he has a long and unattractive track record in my opinion, but lately he has been generating enough negative attention of his own.
CARBON PRICE: I have been trying to chart on this blog the mixed fortunes of the Climate Change debate. From the heady, optimistic days of Copenhagen and a consensus by a majority of people for urgent action, to leaders being deposed, flaky climate change deniers effectively slowing the momentum, and policies subsequently dumped. Both parties have lost credibility on this issue, and this contributed to the Greens doing unexpectedly well at the last election. Despite promising not to introduce a carbon tax at the election, with the increased influence of the Greens, the Government has put Climate Change unexpectedly back on the agenda. They are going to set a price on carbon by July next year, which will lead on to an emissions trading scheme in due course. Many in the Opposition are climate change deniers, and their party has a pretend policy, but this issue which should have bi-partisan support, is going to be, again, a very ugly and divisive debate. This will test our PM’s considerable negotiating (and compromising) skills. The Greens want much more ambitious cuts to our emissions, and no compensation as previously canvassed for the worst polluters (power, energy and transport industries). Those mining zillionaires will be back on the streets protesting!
MY PHOTOS: When I was angling for a compliment about some of my own photographs taken in India on my new Lumix DMC-LX5 which I adore, a friend replied: “you can’t miss with a mountain view like that”, “with digital anyone can take a good photograph these days” and “pity you cut the cat’s ear off”.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…