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

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

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

Migaloo the whale

Migaloo the whale

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

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

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

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Red-Sided Garter Snake.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake

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

Giraffees

Giraffes

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

Swan with cygnets

Swan with cygnets

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

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

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

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

Boy and marmot

Boy and marmot

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

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

Raju the elephant

Raju the elephant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

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

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

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

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

Christian's paw by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian’s paw by Ace Bourke 1972

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger and cub

Tiger and cub

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

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

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

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

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

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

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

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

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

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

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

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

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

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

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

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

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

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat

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

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

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

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

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

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

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

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

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

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

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

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

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

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

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

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

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from www.fatheroflions.com

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

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

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

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

Jumbo at London Zoo. Photograph: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR: I always look forward to the final selection of photographs in the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, now open at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The competition is open to all nationalities and different age groups and categories.  These photographs are the 2013 finalists and tour internationally.  The exhibition always reminds me what a beautiful but fragile world we live in, and not to take it for granted.

GLOBAL MARCHES FOR LION: Many thousands of people around the world in 62 cities marched in support of lions and against trophy hunting and “canned” lion breeding and hunting in South Africa.

Johannesburg

Protesters in Johannesburg. Photograph by Simon McDonnell

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING (CACH):  The Marches were the idea of South African Christine Jordaan who had been inspired – or stirred into action – by becoming aware of the work of long time conservationists Chris Mercer and Bev Pervan of CACH, the Campaign against Canned Hunting.  Chris was interviewed recently by Phillip Adams on Radio National and you can watch Chris speaking more about the issue here.

With great cruelty, lionesses are forced to have too many litters, and the cubs are taken from them immediately to be hand-raised and to build a trust in humans.  The cubs are then available for cub petting by tourists etc.  When old enough, they are often drugged, and while anticipating food, they are shot instead.  Hunters from the US (55%) and the EU (40%) pay a lot of money for this.  I find it just impossible to imagine what sort of pleasure this gives, or what sort of people they are.

I was heartened to see that so many people turned out in South Africa, but I’m sure that anyone benefiting from this ghastly trade, and breeding the lions, will be formidable opposition.

For a few years I have been saying that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  It’s much worse! According to Chris Mercer there are approximately 20,000 lions left in Africa, and there has been an 80-90% decline over last 15 years.  Like elephants and some other animals, this is an extinction vortex.

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney. Photograph by Aidan Basnett

The Sydney March seemed to be organised by several young women and I applaud their efforts and dedication to the cause. One of the organisers, Alison Lee Rubie, told me she has spent time with Kevin Richardson and his lions in South Africa, and that she really admired the work he was doing and it was an exceptional experience.  You can follow Alison’s updates via her Facebook page Lobby for Lions.

I spoke briefly at the March and I think this is going to be a growing protest that many of us will want to participate in, including many of the organisations concerned about animals, and lions in particular.

I contacted the South African High Commission in Canberra to try and determine the S.A. Government position on canned lion hunting.  I have had no response to date and I did warn them that this could grow into a very large protest – or even a boycott by tourists of South Africa, and that there were other African countries to visit and see wildlife.

I’m sure President Zuma has many pressing problems to address – like the poverty so many people still live in.  However, paying back the $25 million of taxpayer’s money spent on his lavish country estate is not one of them, as “they did this without telling me”.

I am delighted that Botswana intends to ban canned lion hunting and banned both trophy hunting and the export of wildlife (excluding pets) in January this year.  Many people have told me that Botswana is their favourite African destination.

FOR THE DIARY AND PLANNING: WORLD LION DAY on 10 August.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: Congratulations to all of those people who have worked for so many years to see the International Court of Justice stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.  The Court ruled that in this case Japanese whaling is a “commercial” exercise dressed up as a “scientific” exercise.  Unfortunately, Japan can still kill whales in the Northern Pacific, and several other countries will continue to slaughter whales needlessly.

AUSTRALIA FOR DOLPHINS:  The argument that hunting for whales and dolphins is traditional is actually only true for very few people.  The Japanese were encouraged to eat whale meat after the deprivations of the Second World War, and most of the Japanese are not too concerned about this issue.  I very much admire Sarah Lucas and her father and their work for Australia for Dolphins, especially protesting at the gruesome annual slaughter and capture of dolphins in Tajii, Japan. Visit their official website here and watch the 60 Minutes report  on their trip to Tajii.  We can help by donating and by becoming members of AFD.

Twin Hope by Diana Rebman in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

“Twin Hope” by Diana Rebman, in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

JANE GOODALL:  I do know my gorillas from my chimpanzees!  The indefatigible Jane Goodall, now 80, will be touring Australia from May 31 – June 8.  I can still remember her haunting chimpanzee call echoing through the Sydney Opera House on a previous visit.  Her Roots and Shoots program for school children is the most marvellous way of interesting and involving children in projects to care for our environment.

Captured: The Animal within Culture

Captured: The Animal within Culture

CAPTURED: I spoke briefly at the launch of CAPTURED The Animal within Culture which includes one of the most extensive interviews I have given.  I was interviewed by the editor, Melissa Boyde, a distinguished academic, and Chairperson of the Australian Animal Studies Group.  Melissa felt that the key themes in Captured are “encapsulated in Christian’s story: the implications of the physical and cultural capture of animals”.  I found the contributions very interesting and thought-provoking, especially:  the Ethiopian giraffe that walked 7000 kilometres from Marseilles to Paris in 1826 as a gift for the King Charles X;  “cultural imagining” associated with albatrosses;  the songs of whales;  the flourishing trade of exotic animals in Victorian England; and the ideas associated with the cultural representation of animals and our connectedness to animals.  I think the extent of the work being done in academic and creative circles on animal studies and human/animal relationships is so encouraging and informative – although Peter Singer did write Animal Liberation in 1975!

Unfortunately the book is quite expensive. It would be great if some of you could buy it, read it, and then possibly donate it to your local library?

COLONIAL ART: There is a superb exhibition in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, entitled Artist Colony: Drawing Sydney’s Nature.  These artworks are primarily painted in the first decade after the 1788 settlement.  Most of the works are drawn from the State Library/Mitchell Library collection, but many were newly acquired in 2011. At this time of exploration, many European collectors were finding the exotic discoveries from our region both “fascinating and disorientating”, and were hungry for specimens and these watercolour images.  Most of the artists – some still unidentified, were very good.

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

AUSTRALIA: Although our concerns in Australia are very minor in comparison to people in Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Ukraine for example, I am in danger of being what P J O’Rourke described as “the perpetually outraged”!  With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating categorically that “everywhere and everything is being impacted by Climate Change”, it is frustrating living under a government that in 2014 does not seem to believe 97% of scientists about climate change, or that urgent action is required NOW.  All our recent and more frequent extreme weather events in Australia are just because we have always been “a land of droughts and flooding rains”, according to our PM.

I was ashamed to hear that the Australian Government, who is hosting the G20 Summit of world leaders here in November, has tried – unsuccessfully, to remove climate change and global warming from the agenda!

Capture

Cartoon by Cathy Wilcox. Sourced from The Sun Herald.

MP Scott Ludlam’s Welcome to West Australia Tony Abbott has gone viral and  sums up how many of us feel about him.  Ludlam polled well in the recent W.A. election and perhaps the Greens, the conscience of the nation (if sometimes naive and a little misguided), are on the way back.  We need them.

I should just let Shawn Micallef’s hilarious show Mad as Hell on the ABC ridicule the government with the ample material they supply.

After promising to be a “transparent” and “no surprises” government, here are some examples:  trying to revoke legislation to remove the requirement for financial advisers to act in a client’s “best interests”;  our professed Christian Minister for Immigration has 66 “spin doctors” to prevent any information emerging about our inhumane detention policies or details of the riot that killed detainee Reza Berati on Manus Island in PNG;  repealing race hate laws, and in the name of free speech, allowing us “to be bigots”;  and back to the future, without even informing his own party and to widespread derision, PM Abbott reverting to granting Imperial Honours after 25 years.

New Holland Crane, 1790s

New Holland Crane, 1790s

G-Gs: Outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce will primarily be remembered by me for her attention-seeking bright outfits, has been made a Dame, and incoming G-G Peter Cosgrove has been knighted.  I’m sure he is a nice enough blokey Australian, but as a Major General I dread any more jingoism, especially with the anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign next year.  With so many young Australian soldiers’ lives sacrificed on the shores of Turkey in 1915 on behalf of the British, I just can’t understand why this is meant to define us as a nation?

Wildlife photographer of the year finalist.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

ENVIRONMENT:  There was a succinct article by Nick Feik in the new thesaturdaypaper.com who wrote that “from a new government that at times appeared otherwise unable even to tie its own shoelaces”…”the brute efficiency of its program to damage environmental interests has been breathtaking”.  Casualties include:  the Climate Commission; funding to the Environmental Defenders Office;  the Australian Renewable Energy Agency;  the Biodiversity Fund;  the Climate Change Authority; and an attempt to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Environmental approvals have been “streamlined” and as I have discussed previously,  the Great Barrier Reef and areas of the Tasmanian forests are at risk.  Apparently too much of our National Parks are “tied up”, and “commercial opportunities” are being considered, while timber workers are “the ultimate conservationists”. Most cynically, a climate sceptic has been appointed to review the Renewable Energy Target. Unfortunately many of these actions will be irreversible, and immune to legal challenges.

According to a Canadian Dr. Kevin Taft who recently visited Australia, this behaviour is similar to what happened with the conservative government in Canada who has also stripped away as many environmental protections as possible.  Taft reminded us how completely we are hostage to the fossil fuel industry, and in Canada they even created their own political party The Wildrose Party – cute?

Douglas Seifert / wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Douglas Seifert / Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

MINING: It is hard to assess or predict just how central coal and other fossil fuels will be to our energy needs in the future. According to BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie, 70% of the world’s energy will still be supplied by them until 2030 – but he would say that wouldn’t he!

Other people, with less of a vested interest, give coal another 10 years when it will become a “stranded asset”.  Japan is reopening their nuclear reactors, even though the Fukushima disaster has contaminated workers, food, and the surrounding land and ocean. China, with shocking pollution levels creating social unease, will apparently start to go easier on the use of coal – and use nuclear reactors, hydro and a variety of renewable energies.

 

Warkworth mine pit aerial. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Warkworth mine pit. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Isn’t this the most horrifying photograph?  Is this the face of the future?  This coal mine is in the Hunter Valley which is one of the most fertile and beautiful parts of NSW, and used to be a most attractive place to live and visit.   Communities and people who grow our food and have horse studs, vineyards etc are being driven out by these mines and coal seam gas sites. Rio Tinto has just lost a court battle to extend this already huge Warkworth open-cut mine, but undeterred, has resubmitted its application!  People in the nearby township of Bulga are fighting for their survival.

82 people have recently been arrested for protesting against the construction of another coal mine and the clearing of part of the Leard State Forest in north-western NSW.  “Activist journalist” Margo Kingston was also arrested – see her No Fibs website here, and the protesters have been accused of using social media to intimidate police!

What is good is that we ordinary citizens are fighting back: the community of Bulga;  the Lock the Gate Alliance of landowners and others who are especially concerned about the destruction and poisoning of water aquifers in prime food producing areas;  the most prominent people in racing are protesting against the Drayton South mine proposal; and court actions have been instigated, for example, against the criminal dumping of sludge into the Great Barrier Reef.

Hugh Jackman and other celebrities supported Yoko Ono’s protest against shale gas fracking in the US, and I’m hoping to see Hugh standing up for similar environmental causes here.

Do sign this Australians for Climate Action Petition to the government over their inaction on climate change.

wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

RENEWABLE ENERGY: I listened to a very interesting discussion (Science Show on Radio National) about renewable energies. Australia has “internationally competitive” Research – but “bugger all” Development.  Much of the discussion was too scientific for me to fully understand but I’ve always been cynical about  sequestration and carbon capture and storage, and there are no real breakthroughs yet.  But there is apparently deserved optimism about renewable energy from sources that include solar cells, voltaic cells, algae, human waste, and nuclear fusion.

VOICELESS: I participated in a very effective initiative against farmed food – a Meat Free Week supported by voiceless. I know I have discussed vegetarianism before, with some of you mischievously asking me how I was going….  The week without any “meat” was quite easy and I realised my diet is quite vegetarian.  I’m notoriously inept in the kitchen, but it made me think more creatively (and intelligently) about food, and I think I found the week quite liberating rather than limiting.  With advice from friends and my naturapath I ate a greater variety of food.  Once the week was over I decided it was a pity to not continue. It has been hypocritical of me to try to save and assist some animals, and eat others!  So I’m now officially a lacto-ovo vegetarian (which excludes meat and fish, but includes eggs and dairy products).

Hélène from Canada sent me this poignant and upsetting video about caged hens released from their imprisonment – made by Animals Australia.  Watch it and you may never eat chicken or eggs again!  I am only going to eat eggs when I can be assured of their origins – either “organic” or ideally, when I see the conditions for myself.

Ironically I still have to buy meat for my cats as I dread to think what additives are contained in tinned pet food.

Arriving at MONA

Arriving at MONA, Hobart, Tasmania

AUSTRALIAN ART WORLD:  We have had two very regrettable scandals in the Australian art world lately.  Transfield Holdings, founding sponsors of the Biennale of Sydney (but now only providing 6.1% of the budget), has an interest in Transfield Services which was recently contracted by the government to run several off-shore detention centres.  Unfortunately for them, this was highlighted by a violent  recent riot on Manus Island, PNG, that resulted in the death of  Iranian detainee Reza Berati.  Consequently, several invited artists decided to boycott the Biennale.

To my disbelief, such is the influence of big business on our lives, there was an almost universal public outcry against these artists, even initially by the Biennale Board and others in the art world. While philanthropy is to be encouraged, I think we are entitled to know the source of the money.  Many patrons do have a real love of art and make very generous contributions, but in return, the art world provides them with business opportunities, respectability, and a social cachet some would never normally have.  Led by social media, more support did come for the artists’ justifiable right to make a stand, and I hope people were made to think about our inhumane asylum seeker policies.

For the record: the sponsor with the interest in detention centres (Transfield’s Luca Belgiorno-Nettis) resigned from the Biennale Board, and called the artists “morally reprehensible”!  Malcolm Turnbull, an MP rapidly losing any political capital he may have had, said the artists had shown “vicious ingratitude”, while Leo Schofield said arts funding is “not the artists’ business” and they were “exhibiting self importance that they haven’t earned”.

While the arts in general undoubtedly enrich our lives and often provide pure pleasure,  many artists over time have also sought to illuminate, educate, lead, and question.  Alain de Botton recently said “Most great artists have had a mission”.  Some Aboriginal artists I have either worked with or observed over the years have been able to compete internationally as superb artists, and the art of many Aboriginal artists often seems to have what I can only describe as the “weight” of  thousands of years of traditions and beliefs, a deep understanding and attachment to land, or strongly felt political convictions.  In comparison, I can find some contemporary non-indigenous art rather vacuous or too contrived. It is concerning that SMH art critic John McDonald can say about the current Biennale that “very few gems emerge from this quagmire of mediocrity”.

I can remember when artists were usually rather hopeless at promoting themselves, but now many of the successful ones have become assiduous networkers and self-promoters.  This is also true of supposedly introspective and reclusive writers who now seem to have to spend half the year talking at literary festivals.

MONA

Museum of Old and New Art

A more concerning scandal is that it has emerged that the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia (and other international institutions) have spent millions of dollars buying stolen Indian antiquities from the now disgraced Indian dealer Subhash Kapoor.  The failure by the relevant directors and curators to diligently check the provenance of these items has tarnished their reputations.  Both these institutions have even been tardy withdrawing the items from view, or promising to return them to India.  We have been reminded that these are fundamentally sacred objects that are worshipped and greatly missed in their places of origin,  not just art exhibits for our enjoyment.

Anselm Kieffer at MONA

Anselm Kiefer at MONA

MONA: On a brighter note, an individual  has given us the most wonderful gift with the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. David Walsh has a brilliant mind and has made a fortune as a professional gambler!  MONA has been carved into a cliff face above the Derwent River.  The current exhibition curated from Walsh’s extensive collection is The Red Queen, and includes  an eclectic combination from Egyptian hieroglyphics to Anselm Keifer, Tracey Moffatt and Fiona Hall.  Many objects, sculptures and artworks are exhibited in this antithesis of the white cube – an exciting building that is quite maze-like and where the exhibits are theatrically lit and shown. It has become a “travel destination” – and Hobart, and Tasmania are lovely to visit.

The White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney is another example of generous philanthropy, where the Neilson family exhibit their huge collection of contemporary Chinese art.

MAIL: Many of you were very supportive of the GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS, so thank you for getting the word out and let’s keep the momentum up.  I’ll keep you informed and please keep me informed.

Meanwhile of course, Tony the Tiger remains imprisoned in his cage in America, which makes me feel depressed and that I have failed him personally.  Is there any news?

I do read everything sent to me and view your profiles, even if I don’t always respond.  Many of you are interested in such fascinating subjects, and your sites contain so many good images.  It is very heartening that many of  us share such a love of our animals and our fellow humans, and a concern for the world we live in…..

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Cole Classic. Photograph by Anthony Johnson

30th annual Cole Classic.
Photograph by Anthony Johnson

I love the photographs each year of this Harbour event for intrepid swimmers of all ages.

BLOG: I realise my mix of interests isn’t necessarily yours, and I try not to let my politics and layman attempts to understand world events alienate those of you who are more interested in animals and wildlife issues. That’s why I have my paragraph headings – so you can skip.  However, I don’t think a love and concern for animals, wildlife, and the environment can actually be separated out from the political, social and economic issues that are facing the world.  Is the present rate of economic growth sustainable?  Can there be a balance rather than competition between humans and animals for diminishing resources and habitats?  What sort of society are we becoming and do we care for the less fortunate and for other related social justice issues?  Trying to understand these questions inevitably leads to asking which leaders, or political parties, in one’s own opinion, are best equipped to grapple with these very difficult questions. So to me, all these issues I am concerned about are related, and any solutions have to be holistic.

Tony the Tiger - Courtesy of S. Zaunbrecher

Tony the Tiger. Courtesy of S. Zaunbrecher

TONY THE TIGER: Thanks to Dee de Santis for this very comprehensive update on Tony. Many comments left by people were touching. It was quite a thrill to see new photographs of him, and then heart breaking to think how much more time will he waste in that cage?  Let’s hope for some action after the 19th February court case. There is a petition to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which I urge you to sign and publicise – this is an easy way we can help. I’ve also renewed my membership of the ALDF.

TIGERS: Several of my friends have loved the book  Life of Pi, contrary to my earlier assertion that many did not finish the book.  The film is beautifully made and deserves the Awards it has won.  I am unsettled by both the film and the book but find it hard to describe why – I got a little waterlogged in both.  I’m concerned about the portrayal and role in the human/animal relationship of aggression, domination and training, fear and self –preservation notwithstanding. However, perhaps that is the power of this story/fable to raise questions which I am still thinking about.

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

I loved the tiger not being particularly grateful.  What cat ever says thank you!  I’m always rather annoyed by my cats’ behaviour at dinner time. They love me and rub themselves against my legs in anticipation of dinner, but once fed, they never say thank-you, and groom themselves with their backs to me and make me feel I am completely irrelevant, which for the time being, I am.

TIGER STATS: 3,062 to 3,948 in the wild; 40,000 in captivity; 1,571 to 1,875 in India; 923 killed by poachers in India between 1994 and 2010.

BOURKE: I was appalled recently to see the headline in the SMH: Bourke tops list: more dangerous than any country in the world. This country town in the remote north west of NSW has the highest assault rate in the state, along with break ins and car theft. Most crime is opportunistic and committed by disadvantaged youth. The population of 3000 consists of a large indigenous population made up of 22 different language groups who seem to have  been failed by both Federal and State Governments for many generations. Unfortunately, many country towns face similar problems and challenges.
My ancestor Richard Bourke has given our name to the town and I feel personally ashamed that people in Australia have to try and live under these conditions. When surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell visited the area in 1835, after “tensions” with the local aboriginals, a stockade was built for protection, and as Bourke was Governor of NSW at this time (1831-1837), Fort Bourke was named after him. A fort or stockade was not an auspicious start.

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

John Lindt took these photographs in the Grafton area in the 1870s. Carefully staged studio photographs like this were popular in Europe, and helped to make Lindt’s reputation. The local community has been trying with some difficulty to identify the subjects and unfortunately this shows how successfully Aboriginal people were dispossessed from their land, and their family histories and ties broken.

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Aboriginals make up a disproportionate percentage of our prison populations. Although they are only 2.3% of the population, 45% of male prisoners, 33% of women prisoners and 50% of juvenile detainees are indigenous. Unfortunately for some it is a rite of passage, or a respite from tough home lives. There are very few community based diversionary programs focused on drug or alcohol prevention or rehabilitation.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: While our treatment of Aborigines is an historical, and ongoing national disgrace, our treatment of asylum seekers is a present one. Both parties are competing to be as mean as each other. There have been recent scathing reports and accounts of conditions at the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island (PNG) and Nauru. As of November 2012, 10,000 asylum seekers were held in detention centres or in the community. 591 have been in detention for more than 2 years, and 923 detained for more than 12 months. Many children are included in these statistics, and unsurprisingly, people are developing serious mental problems and self-harming.

ENVIRONMENT: Both major political parties in Australia seem to be intent on “cutting it down, digging it up and shipping it out”. The Federal Government has just given the go ahead for several highly contentious projects. Five thousand hectares of old growth forests in the Leard Forest will be cut down for the Maules Creek mine, threatening koala habitats and much else, and forcing farmers off their land by soil and water damage. The Boggabri mine will be expanded and permission has been given for a massive Coal Seam Gas development for Gloucester. These projects will produce 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – more than some countries produce.

Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, recently said the decisions was further proof that the Labor Party was in the pockets of the big miners. “They have not only sold out the Great Barrier Reef to the mining industry, James Price Point to the gas industry, some of Australia’s best farmland to coal seam gas, but now they have also given over the Tarkine”. The Tarkine is a pristine wilderness area in Tasmania and the Government has just ruled out giving it a natural heritage listing which would offer some protection against exploitation.

Without any fuss and arousing little concern, the “agreement” between the Greens and the ALP has been dissolved.

The NSW Government has been forced by community outcry to create a 2 kilometer buffer between residential zones and mining.  Tensions also seem to be escalating as the date for hunting in some National Parks and reserves draws close.

The highly contentious Mining Tax which the miners spent $22 million opposing, and contributed towards Rudd losing his Prime Ministership, has only raised a paltry $126 million as opposed to the projected $2 billion – but I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of that.  Unfortunately it contributes to making the government look incompetent and combined with bad polls for Julia Gillard, feeds the incessant leadership speculation.  The amount of “look at me” media attention Kevin Rudd generates each day is just appalling and counter productive.  Interestingly, both parties have ex leaders who are much more popular with the public.

George Adamson and Christian c.1972/3.  Courtesy GAWPT

George Adamson and Christian c.1972/3.
Courtesy GAWPT

Joy and George Adamson were among the first to warn of the fragility of the environment and could see from experience how animal numbers were dwindling and the many challenges that lay ahead.  There are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  I think this is one of the last photographs of Christian and shows what a huge lion he was growing into.

I think the conservation movement in Australia is getting stronger and stronger and with a new constituency – conservative land owning people who have never protested in their life but do not want to live with the effects of mining and the contamination of their land – by dust, or destruction of the water aquifers etc.  They also want to farm sustainably and care for their animals humanely. They are finding common ground with the Greens and environmentalists, and overall many people are just no longer prepared to vote for parties that have so little disregard for our long term sustainability or viability.

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS: Nate Silver correctly forecast the results in 50 states in the last American election. He has been in Australia playing poker and based on opinion polls he thinks the Coalition Opposition should win our next election on 14 September 2013.  He did say however, he needs to see polls closer to the election.  I think Julia Gillard has been amazingly resilient and hard working – but she has no vision beyond the cliche “working families”.  The ALP can’t construct a positive narrative for themselves from their successful economic management in troubled times, they make unnecessary mistakes, and are dogged by several unsavoury scandals.  The Opposition leader Tony Abbott has few policies and none seem costed, but somehow he promises to return to a budget surplus. It is becoming very obvious he is avoiding any serious interviews or scrutiny – he specialises in macho sports shots or in a hard hat at various places most days, although lately he has been trying to look “presidential”.  Removing the carbon tax as he has promised already looks problematic and complex, apart from being reactionary.  Although Tony Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar, we just can’t have a PM that says “somethink”!

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo looks in my window

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo looks in my window

If I can find one, I’m going to vote for a party or a politician that has values beyond their own short term interests  (usually getting into parliament, and then hanging on), and obviously with views I agree with. I want to see a genuine concern for the environment and it’s sustainability ( I can live with less if that is what is required); fair access to education for all; reconciliation and compensation to Aboriginals; Australia becoming a republic; leadership on social justice and human rights issues, and genuine care of the less fortunate.

GITTINS: Ross Gittins is always interesting as an economist who appreciates all the other factors which contribute to our lives and well being. He wrote a perceptive article about how people’s perceptions about the government’s management of the economy comes down to their own political alignment and acceptance of the “party line”, even if it doesn’t really reflect their own experience or independent observation. The Opposition have successfully frightened Australians into believing we are on the verge of bankruptcy, while most countries in the world would kill for our triple AAA credit rating. We the general public also have trouble distinguishing between cyclical and structural factors in the economy. Another factor is the media who of course love bad news stories. In another article Gittins says he had a big reaction to his discussion of Jeffrey Sach’s book The Price of Civilization on the take-over of political power by the “corporatocracy” that I mentioned last blog. Gittins discusses a new report in Australia which argues that “big business exerts influence through campaign contributions, influence over university funding, sponsorship of think tanks and in other ways”.  The four most disproportionally influential industries in Australia, are apparently superannuation, banking, mining and gambling.

STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality examines the complex issues of income and wealth inequality. His thesis, which influenced the Occupy Wall Street movement is

“The simple story of America is this: the rich are getting richer, the richest of the rich are getting still richer, the poor are becoming poorer and more numerous, and the middle class is being hollowed out”. Read a review in Murdoch’s The Australian by Frank Carrigan here.

SPORT: We are having our own Lance Armstrong moment with reports of widespread use of performance enhancing drugs amongst our sportmen, a huge growth in betting on all stages of games as they are played, reports of match fixing, and links with organised crime.

Lightning strikes the Vatican

Lightning strikes the Vatican

POPE: It is most unusual for a Pope to retire – none have in the last 600 years and I wonder what the real reason is. It isn’t meant to be a job you can just retire from! Like our Cardinal Pell here in Australia, Benedict XVI certainly put the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of any real action on behalf of those victims sexually abused by their own clergy.  If I was a Catholic I would be very embarrassed by issues that seem to be in the secret dossier on the Vatican – sex and financial scandals, in-fighting and an atmosphere very unconducive I would think to God’s work. My main objection is their opposition to contraception which may have cost many millions of lives from AIDS.

I did like two things about the Pope; unlike our Cardinal Pell, he has the intelligence to acknowledge that climate change is real and that it needs addressing, and he loves cats!

God protect Italy from that buffoon Silvio Berlusconi.

CHINA: Happy Chinese New Year. I am trying to work out what the Year of the Snake may bring – from “steady progress and attention to detail” to “shedding a skin” to “I shall arise the same though changed”.

China’s decade long boom in coal driven industry is apparently about to end and energy conservation is being prioritised by the government. China installed more than a third of the world’s new wind turbines last year.  China is estimated to have burnt 3.9 billion tonnes last year which is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. This government directive is good news for global warming – and the pollution in Chinese cities. This has economic implications in Australia as the world’s biggest exporter of coal and iron ore, and the Australian coal industry doubts that China will be able to cap its coal use given their commitment to economic growth.

China is now the world’s largest trading nation. Last year total trade was $US 3.87 trillion, compared to the USA’s $US 3.82 trillion.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that Unit 61398 in Shanghai seems to be the base of comprehensive and covert cyber-hacking networks into the computers of governments and commercial organisations that China feels are a “threat to their prosperity”.

China’s labour market of former farm workers will face a deficit or 140 million by 2030. The working age population will  go into a “precipitous decline” within 7 years. With people living much longer most countries are not addressing this issue – Australia’s spoiled and demanding baby boomer generation are retiring, and Japan’s new government is grappling with how to afford their aging and long living population.

Serengeti Lion by Peter Beard. Gelatin silver print with blood and ink

Serengeti Lion 1976/2006 by Peter Beard.
Gelatin silver print with blood and ink

ISRAEL: Louis Theroux visited Israel in one of his TV programs called The Ultra Zionists. It was terrifying and fascinating to actually see the settlements and the shocking conditions and tension some people live under. The hatred between the Palestinians and Israelis in some disputed areas was appalling. It is impossible to imagine what it is like to live like that day by day.  For example, some Jewish settlers have moved into Arab areas in Jerusalem as a means of gradually taking them over, but have to live with security guards. Louis – in a bullet proof vest, understandably jumped at every stone thrown at their vehicle by Palestinian youths.

The goal of Greater Israel for these Ultra Zionists ensures they will allow nothing to stand in their way – from Palestinians who have lived there for many generations, their own government, moderate Jews or world opinion. Their zeal was both quite beautiful – pure really, in their belief in what they think is God’s plan – and completely scary.

I am always particularly upset when the settlers cut down Palestinian olive trees. It seems so symbolic of a destruction of lives and livelihoods.

A UN human rights investigation is examining the construction of Israeli settlements and their “creeping annexation” which is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Complaints may be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague which may lead to Israel’s accountability – or prosecution, for “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of International humanitarian law”.

The Israelis recently bombed Syria when they moved surface to air missiles and now that weapons can reach all parts of Israel, they will have to be extremely vigilant 24/7 – or build radically different relationships with their neighbours.

A recent program in Australia exposed the mysterious detention and suicide of a dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier in Israel called Prisoner X. There had been a total censorship of the case in Israel, then suddenly this week a sanitised statement by the Israeli Government, while the Australian Government has so far “revised” their version of event and what they knews three times.  Zygier’s multiple identities and passports probably indicate he had been involved in travelling on his Australian passport to countries where it would be dangerous for Israeli citizens, and Australian passports have been used in previous espionage exercises and assassinations.

This goanna appeared on a very hot day

This goanna appeared on a very hot day

JULIAN ASSANGE: The Australian Government seems to have cared as much about Prisoner X as they do about Julian Assange, who has announced he definitely intends standing for the Australian Senate at the next election.

OBAMA: Many of us in Australia are surprised by the hostility towards Obama in the US – some people just don’t seem to accept a majority of Americans voted for him in the election.  In Australia he is popular even with more conservative voters. I am however horrified by the drones and the 1500 targeted assassinations no doubt with civilian collateral damage. I am also horrified by the huge numbers of Americans still facing homelessness and poverty. In his State of the Union address Obama seemed to make a concern for them a priority, and he did again talk about action on climate change and gun control.  The relationship between the Republicans and Democrats is so toxic at a time when some level of responsible cooperation is necessary to address and try and solve the urgent fiscal and economic problems facing Americans today.

I watched a program on mining for gas in the USA called Gasland. The country seemed pock marked by these ubiquitous mines – with many people  and their stock suffering mysterious illnesses. Their tap water was actually flammable!  Dear old Dick Cheney apparently ensured previously protected areas were opened up to mining, and ensured environmental protections were removed.  Not surprisingly, “fracking” for coal seam gas was actually invented by his old company Halliburton.  The situation is similar in Australia where the Coal Seam Gas industry seemed to arrive by stealth a few years ago and was operational on a large scale before many people were even aware of it.  There has as yet been no definitive examination in Australia of the various side effects of this mining, and possible long term damage, especially to the water aquifers.  Environmental safeguards have been loosened rather than strengthened, and it is only determined community opposition (and the Greens) putting pressure on the government.  Community protests work!

Lot 57 Emily Kam Kngawarray Untitled 1989

Lot 57 Emily Kam Kngawarray Untitled 1989

LAVERTY COLLECTION: Colin and Liz Laverty assembled one of the finest and most comprehensive private collections of contemporary Australian and Aboriginal art. Unfortunately Colin died recently.  A selection of works from their collection is being offered for auction, through Bonham’s on the 24th March at the MCA, Sydney. Above is a painting by Aboriginal artist Emily Kngawarray (c.1916-1996), an exceptional and famous artist who only began painting in old age, and below, a painting by Ildiko Kovacs one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists.

Lot 44 Ildiko Kovacs Travelling Pink Line, 1995

Lot 44 Ildiko Kovacs Travelling Pink Line, 1995

 

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

ART: I was going to try and not do “cute” this blog, although this is often hard in relation to animals.  I was very offended by Rubber Duck (which is 15 metres tall) when it sailed into Darling Harbour as part of the Sydney Festival.  A suitable metaphor for Sydney I thought to myself.  Big and obvious.  Many of us are familiar with the marvellous monumental  installations of the artist Christo (his first major environmental project was wrapping part of our Sydney coastline in 1968/69),  and I thought Rubber Duck made even Jeff Koons and his huge Puppy seem subtle and interesting in comparison. However, the blog is not all about me and when I saw this great photograph in the newspaper, hypocrite that I am, I couldn’t resist using it. The public have loved it – and perhaps it does raise the question – what is art? – or does it matter?

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Also making often monumental sculptural works, Anish Kapoor is at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until April) for his first comprehensive survey exhibition in Australia.  He is super cool – almost too much.  His works have a clinical  perfection, and are made from the most luxurious and expensive materials.  They are emotionally cold and Kapoor will not discuss their meaning – he just leaves it to us to interpret.  I remain an admirer but I was distracted by a surprisingly awkward installation and children running excitedly around the distorting surfaces of his polished mirrors, or staring into the illusionary concave voids.

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

In contrast, Francis Bacon’s work at the AGNSW (until February 24) is very emotionally affecting and engaging.  It is exciting to see the work of a great painter – especially spanning Five Decades. Descriptions of his work range from “depressing”, “joyless” and “haunting” to “beautiful” and “magnetic”!  While I tired of so many paintings given the same “staged” formulaic treatment, his smaller portraits are among the best and most powerful I have seen for a long time, and are poignant and illuminating.  I suppose some people may find the sexual nature of some of the work confronting, but I found the exhibition full of emotional intensity and like life, a mixture of love, anguish and pain.

SUMMER: While many of you in the northern hemisphere are having snowstorms, our summer here in Australia has not been all fun!  Lately, 70% of the country has had temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees. There have been severe bush fires in Tasmania, and many others in other states.  I think there has only been one fatality, although many homes have been lost and there have been thousands of animals killed, especially stock.  Now we have torrential storms and floods in Queensland and northern NSW.

I live surrounded by the Royal National Park and on a particularly hot and scary day recently we had a record 45.8 degrees in Sydney, and because I had to attend to family business out of town, I evacuated my most unwilling cats to my vet.  Although safe and well-looked after, they spent several days in a smallish cage beside yapping dogs, and sulked for quite a while afterwards. I’m only mentioning this as I find care for my cats when I want to go away is a difficult problem that many of us face.  Unfortunately I don’t have cat-loving neighbours.  I  have not liked any of the facilities for looking after animals that I have checked out, but I am grateful that they exist.  No doubt like many of you, I find moving cats at any time quite traumatic for them and me.  When I have moved house in the past I have locked the cats inside for 2 days before introducing them to their new outside world.  A couple in the US lost their cat on a holiday/excursion 320 kilometres away, and miraculously, the cat recently found it’s way home!

'Commander Skyring' Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Commander Skyring Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

USA: It was exciting to see the Obama inauguration. I think we have become blasé about just how historically significant it was that he became President, and then won a second term.  They are such an attractive family, and Obama is capable of stirring oratory – when did we last hear any from our leaders?  It was a real surprise to hear the words “gay rights” or “gender equality” or “climate change” coming from an American President!!!  This was described as “goofy leftism” by a reactionary Republican, and rather than addressing the problem of their shrinking support base, which was apparent in  the election, Republicans will no doubt be as intransigent as ever over many of the very important issues facing the nation.  Let’s hope Obama can deliver.  He inherited a difficult legacy – the GFC, unnecessary wars etc., but he is not beyond criticism.  I am especially horrified by the obviously illegal killing of people by unmanned drones.

GUNS:  It is fascinating, if depressing to witness the power of  the National Rifle Association, with actually very few members. They cleverly monitor, target and threaten politicians to ensure their support against gun controls. Contact your politicians and express your views and encourage them to make a stand!  Statistics indicate clearly that lives are lost – not saved – by having so many guns in the community, or in homes.  I think it is pretty safe to say that the right to bear arms is not God-given!  In Australia we had an Amnesty over guns after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but apparently there are now just as many illegal guns in circulation. Lately, there have been shootings everyday in Sydney, and whereas before quite minor differences or disputes could result in a punch up – now they shoot each other dead!

'Seissa' Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Seissa Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

NSW: As I have mentioned before, to secure a vote for some particular legislation, the NSW Government is allowing hunting in some National Parks, which will be overseen by the Game Council.  This is the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse.  It seems some members of the Game Council are now to be charged with cruelty to animals, hunting without a licence and trespassing.  There is growing opposition to the decision to permit hunting, and to the way the government makes decisions and does business in general, and many people now feel it will be too dangerous from March 1 to go into National Parks.

The 2012 State of the Environment report for NSW shows that Sydneysiders are breathing cleaner air, saving electricity, using more public transport and recycling.  While this is encouraging, overall in NSW there has been a steady deterioration of many native forests and wetlands, and biodiversity is declining with more species threatened than ever before.

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman, made famous by his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was asked in 2011 to contribute a drawing of an extinct bird – and 110 works later, has produced a book Extinct Boids.  Most are real birds that did exist, but some he made up like the “needless smut”, “the lesser-blotted bitwing”, and the “blackened thront”.  Steadman was very alarmed to discover just how many species have been lost, and blames sailors, rats and cats for their extinction.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has some tricky problems to manage in the next few weeks. He will have to decide if he will overrule the NSW Government’s permission to expand Idemitsu’s Boggabri coalmine, and Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine.  There is quite a backstory here I won’t go into, but there is determined opposition from  the local community concerned about coal dust, contamination of the aquifers, the loss of thousands of hectares of critically endangered forest, and the threat to excellent agricultural land and animals.

The Minister will also be presented with a petition from GetUp! about government inaction over damage to the Great Barrier Reef from the construction of coal seam gas processing facilities, and proposals for massive new coal ports along the coast.

The government usually manage to wriggle out of actually confronting Japan over whaling in the southern ocean – hiding behind ” taking Japan to the International Court of Justice later in the year”.  Our Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who trades off his supposed environmental credentials, did not even raise the issue with a Japanese government minister who visited recently.

After boasting last week in an interview about Australia’s action on climate change and emissions, Bob Carr was forced to acknowledge that the forecast expansion of Australian coal mining and exports, will make us, after China, the second largest contributor in the world to new carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

While I have a well-known fear of sharks since seeing Jaws now many years ago, I know they have their role to play and must be protected. This photograph of drying shark fins was absolutely shocking – the scale, the inherent cruelty, and the threat to the species – for soup?

ENERGY: I’m glad I don’t live in western Sydney where up to 66 coal seam gas wells may even be mined under houses!  I have not seen any evidence so far that this is a safe practice, or that the chemicals used will not be polluting the environment, and that water aquifers will not be adversely affected.  It was good to see that Yoko Ono was protesting against fracking in the US.  As previously discussed, bodies and organisations in NSW that do offer the community some advice and assistance against rampant unchecked development (like the Environmental Defenders Office) have had their funding cut after lobbying by the  mining industry.  This is part of a scheme to eliminate any legal challenges to new mining ventures, although it has been described by the government as “greater access to justice for the disadvantaged”! It would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling.

FACT CHECKING  FILE:  We have an election due by the end of the year so I am dreading how wound up I will get.  As we have compulsory voting, our politicians will be pitching to the lowest common denominator in marginal seats in the outer suburbs.

One of the best suggestions of the last few weeks was from Malcolm Turnbull (Coalition/Opposition) who suggested a fact checking website where information could be definitively presented and verified, and people held accountable for inaccurate or misleading statements.  An example could be: is human induced global warming happening?  (Turnbull knows this to be true, yet this was a factor in him losing his position as Leader of the Opposition).  So rather than arguing about is climate change real, we could all see the analysis and conclusions drawn from the scientific data, and actually move on to addressing it – ideally with bi-partisan support.

Another debate in Australia is the ALP Government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis.  From my reading (comments from the IMF, World Bank, a variety of experts and economists etc.)  the government’s quick reaction, and actions, were appropriate.  In the necessary haste, errors were made (and a few inexcusable deaths in the installation of insulation into houses).  Subsequently we have been one of the best performing economies in the world – indeed the “envy” of the world, although the Opposition have effectively scared many of the population into believing we are about to be bankrupt!  True or false?  While aspects of these questions are open to debate, surely at some point there is an objective analysis that can be made?

Another debate is over the carbon tax, although complaints against it have apparently dwindled, which may stop this issue being such a factor in the election. The Opposition have vowed to rescind this tax, with no details of course on what this would cost, or the disruption to the economy, and it has created uncertainty in the business community.  Carbon trading  is “sliding down the corporate agenda”  both here and overseas which apparently should be a “lure” for Australian companies liable to pay for carbon dioxide emissions.  Blackrock, one of the world’s biggest fund managers has recently said that the carbon and mining taxes have had “at most” a “marginal” impact on perceptions of country risk, and our public debt position is very strong.

I was fascinated to see the previous Howard government described by the IMF as one of the most profligate in our history. The profits from the mining boom were not used wisely,  middle class “welfare” was used to buy votes, and infrastructure was allowed to run down.  The much boasted about $20 billion surplus was more likely to have been achieved by selling Telstra (our telco) and Sydney Airport.  I do think the Whitlam Government was very lucky not to be mentioned.  Unfortunately the ALP seems to be unable to construct or sell a narrative of their legitimate economic achievements, and are also dogged by some unattractive scandals.

GETUP!: I was interested to see the make-up of the membership of our effective internet activist organisation.  4 in 10 members are over 56, and fewer than 7% are younger than 25.  GetUp! currently has a survey about what we think they should be doing which you can access here.  I’m going to suggest a Fact Checking File and GetUp! should have sufficient profile for people to have to respond and back up their claims with peer reviewed facts and data. 

LEFT & RIGHT: We are having a debate of sorts here about bias – especially in the Australian Broadcasting Service. I don’t agree that there is bias myself – I see reasonable, well-educated and informed people that give all politicians equally tough questioning, and address the issues of the day. The ABC is tax payer funded so it is legitimate to raise the question of bias, but there are plenty of other opportunities in Murdoch newspapers or on various radio stations for  Right leaning people like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Divine etc, who are as objective as Sara Palin or Fox News in the US.

In 2009 we appeared on the same American television program as the precocious Jonathan Krohn.  The year before (aged 13) he had written a book entitled Defining Conservatism. He was astoundingly articulate and of course I couldn’t resist arguing with him (and his father) in the waiting room.  I was thrilled to recently read that in 2011 he openly declared he no longer held conservative views, although, of course, the conservatives turned on him.  He is much brighter than most of us and can no doubt defend himself and will probably have a fascinating career.

 

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

MONICA & HARLEY:  Harley is a most amazing dog and  I love following his exploits.  He even became friends and swam with a swan called James and was heart broken when he was found dead last year. Fortunately Monika Laryett-Olson takes great photographs.  She makes me feel like my love for my cats is…well, normal, as opposed to obsessive!  See a Harley story here, Harley – my Dog, my Hero.  I also loved the photographs of her visit to the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. See her album of favourite photographs for 2012  here.

OPRAH: Oprah, too, loves her dogs, and I did watch some of her interview with Lance Armstrong.  I thought Oprah looked great and her make-up was just fabulous. Before we went on her show in 2009  her make-up girls sprayed us with  something that I jokingly called spray botox as my face was sort of flatteringly bronzed and frozen into a smile.  Her program has been described as “confessional”, but we were there to talk about Christian of course, not confess!  Mark Zuckerberg was also on the same program as us, and Oprah asked him rather wistfully is she should be on Facebook and meet some people!

Lance Armstrong carefully stage-managed the interview, (like everything it else it seems), to hopefully clear the way for him to return to competition some time.  The interview seems to have raised even more questions however, and no real remorse was shown.

Our own great champion swimmer Ian Thorpe is also hoping for another comeback after his failure to even gain selection for the London Olympics. Please!  Both he and the openly gay Matthew Mitcham (a gold medal for diving in China) have recently written books apparently discussing the highs and lows of their careers and their depression.  I’d say Thorpe’s second comeback attempt is a recipe for more disappointment.  He actively supports very good causes – just get on with it!

TENNIS: There are tennis tournaments throughout January in Australia in the lead up to the Australian Open. The heat has been nearly unbearable and unacceptable for the players, and some  have even ended up on a drip.  There have been some amazing games and surprises – our young Bernard Tomic beat Novak Djokovic in a warm up tournament. Others, like Sam Stosur, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Finally we seem to have some promising younger Australian players coming through.  I played tennis with former Wimbledon champion John Newcombe at school and have watched the dominance of Australia and America be replaced by waves of Swedes, Spaniards, Russians, Serbians and Croatians, and probably now the Chinese as Li Na makes tennis popular in China.  Our 31 year old Lleyton Hewitt is a good commentator with a surprising sense of humour, and Jim Courier is very insightful. My favourite players over the years have been Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, and now Rafael Nadal.  I usually got bored if anyone dominated for too long.  We have been incredibly lucky to witness the truly exceptional tennis over the last few years between Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.  For a variety of reasons I’ve also loved Yvonne Cawley (Goolagong), Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Goran Ivanisevic, and I the fabulous Williams sisters.  Serena’s career earnings are now over $41,797,909 while Maria Sharapova is the top female earner followed by Li Na.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

ROSS GITTINS: I felt naive after reading this article by Gittins in the SMH about the 4 “complexes” that run the world.  The article mostly quotes Jeffrey Sach’s  book The Price of Civilization.  It helps to explain why: wars are fought; how the GFC occurred and vital reforms are not implemented, and the “corporatocracy”, unlike many of us, bounced back quickly;  why Obamacare is described and demonised as “socialism”; how climate change is kept off the agenda and why we are seeing a fall in value of the world’s renewable energy companies.  These complexes are obvious but it is good to be reminded of them and see how they all feed into each other, with corporate power translating into political power.  They are: the military- industrial complex; the Wall Street- Washington complex; the Big Oil – transport – military complex; and the huge healthcare industry.

WEALTH: The 1% have got even richer and the top 100 are now worth a combined $US1.9 trillion.  Our poor Gina Rinehart dropped $US1.6 billion (because of softer iron prices, and poor investments in media she hopes to influence) and now has only $US 18.6 billion.  Gina actively campaigned against a mining tax, and last year was insensitive enough to say that African workers are “happy” earning $2 a day.

Think what could be achieved globally with this wealth if many of them followed the generous examples of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett?

See this George Monbiot article where he explains that contrary to what we are told, the idea that “the less government tax the rich, defend workers and redistribute wealth, the more prosperous everyone will be” has been a total failure.    Monbiot says this “trickle-down effect” as I think it is called, has only led to increased inequality, more unemployment, with consequently less demand, and more debt.  In general, he does not believe that perpetual economic growth is either sustainable or desirable.

ISRAEL: As I said last blog I was waiting to see Obama’s pay-back to Netanyahu for his blatant and miscalculated support of Romney in the US election. It did not take long – Obama’s appointment of former Republican Chuck Hagel as Defence Secretary, who, it seems, dares to treat Israel in an even-handed way, and has said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here”.

Although cost of living concerns are understandable as a key election issue in Israel, it was very depressing that in their recent election peace (“shalom”) was not even mentioned, and some extreme Right politicians even said they wanted to expand the settlements to ensure there could not be a Palestinian state.

But congratulations to the Israelis for not voting for the Far Right as expected, which resulted in Netanyahu’s “plummet to victory” with fewer seats.  The emergence of Yair Lapid the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party, with the next highest number of seats, is encouraging, and he wants to work with Netanyahu in a coalition rather than oppose him.  He wants to reopen peace negotiations with the Palestinians and said “we are facing a world that is liable to ostracise us because of the deadlock in the peace process”.  This changed landscape in Israel and America, and hopefully a more constrained Netanyahu, gives me some slight optimism.

Meanwhile in the region, people continue to die in Syria, and huge numbers of refugees are swamping neighbouring countries.  Assad’s own mother has left Syria, as have quite a few Russians and their families.  The down-side of the Arab Spring is emerging with the instability in north Africa and the well-armed Islamist terrorist organisations.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

CHINA: While the Chinese Government struggle to control their propaganda and censor the internet, another juggling act is with social media where the Chinese people can now complain effectively, as they did recently with the totally unacceptable pollution in the air in Beijing.  There have also been several mass “airport rage” incidences over cancelled flights. The improved Chinese economic growth of 7.9%  in the last quarter will help to keep many people happy for now, and this has also helped our economic outlook in Australia.

Advising Australia not to be drawn into China’s simmering territorial regional disputes, a Colonel Liu Mingfu recently described Japan as a “wolf”,  America as a “tiger” and he said that Australia should be a “kind-hearted lamb” that should not behave like a “jackal”.

Tourism from China to Australia is growing and up from the 542,000 Chinese that visited in 2011.

R.I.P Pluto

R.I.P Pluto

MAIL: I was upset to be informed by Christian in Italy that his beloved dog Pluto had died at 15.  He was a great companion as we can imagine, and my sympathy is with Christian, and with anyone else experiencing a similar loss.

Thanks to those that emailed me with concern about the fires.  Thanks to Joyce for her comment last blog about where she finds news that is fair, in-depth and free – including Livestation Al Jazeera, France 24, SkyNews, South African, RTI (Russian News) and the BBC.

I am behind in my emails again – both on the blog and the website, and I apologise.  Unfortunately I lost a few emails that  came through mistakenly as Spam and then disappeared into the ether. I am very appreciative of anyone that does email and I intend to respond soon.  I’ve just had a quick look at the emails I haven’t answered yet, and many are from people that have just discovered Christian the lion’s story.  Frankly, I am overwhelmed – by the number, the lovely sentiments expressed, and that  Christian still means so much to so many people.

It is the Australia Day Weekend, celebrating when the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788.  Understandably Aboriginals call it Invasion Day, and while a holiday is always nice, I’ll feel much more comfortable when there has been some genuine reconciliation, and compensation for their dispossession.  I’d also like Australia to grow up and finally become a republic.

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