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

 

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collector's Journey

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

OCEANS:  A recent book Ocean of Life: How Our Seas are Changing by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) has received good reviews.  The oceans are so unexplored and unknown in many respects, but their resources are not inexhaustible and are integral to our lives and survival.  The author paints a frightening and comprehensive picture of what has already been lost  - coral, ocean megafauna, fish stocks etc., and the future challenges.  But Roberts also discusses positive ways to counteract some of the losses – with protected marine areas, bans on many forms of fishing, and global regulatory mechanisms. But despite marine ecosystems being capable of rapid recovery, the world is “living on borrowed time”.

Let’s hope Australia’s newly declared and extensive marine areas are to be adequately protected.

The new CEO for Greenpeace Australia Pacific David Ritter has expressed astonishment – as have many of us – that the Australian Government could be giving the go-ahead for the aptly named Alpha coal mine (co-owned by Gina Rinehart) to build a rail link and one of the world’s largest coal ports ON Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.  The many environmental concerns are to be managed by “strict operating conditions”.  Sure.  After living in Europe, Ritter wonders how Australia could commit to such an old fashioned development involving fossil fuels which is so likely to endanger the Great Barrier Reef?

You can visit the Greenpeace site to protest should you want to.

SHARKS: Apparently there is a new shark app providing ocean observatories through a wave glider robot of mapping technology for Great White Sharks where numbers can be assessed, and one can “interact” with “Chomp, Mr. Burns, Little John” etc!  I’m terrified of sharks and will NOT be watching.

Grey Nurse Sharks. Photograph by Justin Gilligan.

Grey Nurse Sharks by Justin Gilligan, courtesy The South Australian Museum ANZANG nature photography competition

FISH: Protest against the super trawler Margiris (renamed the Abel Tasman!) fishing in Australian waters on a huge scale for small pelagic fish which are critical in our marine ecosystem.  There is now widespread opposition to this 142 metre vessel which will probably vacuum up “by-catch” of other sea creatures indiscriminately.  The trawler is licensed to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish which is 5% of total stocks from a huge area that stretches from southern Queensland, around Tasmania, and across to Western Australia.  Sign the Greenpeace petition here to stop the super trawler.

ASYLUM SEEKERS:  Many boats with asylum seekers have been making the dangerous journey to Australia.  At least 100 drowned last week and there wasn’t even a national outcry, with drownings now seemingly commonplace.  Both major political parties have been in a “race to the bottom” over this issue to demonise these people.  New laws have stripped away their human rights and these inaccurately described “illegal immigrants” are now likely to be locked away out of sight and processed off-shore on a barren Pacific island (Nauru), or a malaria-infested island (Manus Island in PNG) for unspecified periods. Both these previously used centres are in shocking condition and one wonders why the money could not be invested more wisely in the welfare of these desperate people.  This is similar to ex PM John Howard’s Pacific Solution where most people were eventually resettled in Australia, but many with long lasting mental problems. 70-90% of them were found to be genuine refugees.  Australians, I am ashamed to say, have not been compassionate or welcoming.

There has been a fascinating television program called Go Back To Where You Come From on SBS where people with diverse views were actually sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu in Somali to witness for themselves the conditions that have made refugees flee. The Australians were terrified for their safety. They met an Hazara in Afghanistan who belongs to a small minority of people who have been hounded there for decades. Over 300 of them who reached Australia were returned to Afghanistan by the Australian Government, and some have subsequently been killed.  Unfortunately no easy solutions exist, but hopefully after this documentary series more of the Australian population are  now a little better informed and more sympathetic.

The UNHCR estimates there are 42 million refugees worldwide and Australia’s yearly intake is 180,000.

The polls have slightly improved for our embattled Prime Minister – by playing to our prejudices by being tough on asylum seekers, cleverly wedging the Opposition leader on carbon pricing, and talking about important if unfunded policies – a National Disabilities insurance scheme, education reform and dental care.

While the Australian economy has been one of the best performing in the world, there is now talk that our commodities boom is coming to an end, with a fall in prices for iron ore, and a slow down of the Chinese economy.  The deposed PM Kevin Rudd has worryingly reappeared lately with a few strategic appearances.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: David was recently in Australia and his live performances sold out in minutes. In an interview he said that about 10 years ago it was apparent from scientific data that global warming/climate change was real, and today I think it must be very hard for any reasonably intelligent person to argue that this is untrue and not want to do something about it. At 86 he has 70 documentaries to his credit, and still looks handsome, although he hobbled a little which he blamed on injuries sustained while climbing Mount Gower on our Lord Howe Island several years ago.

The arctic ice cap has shrunk to the lowest level yet recorded.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

WATER: It seems the world will not have the water to feed the expected 9 billion people by 2050. A vegetarian diet may be the solution as animal protein rich food consumes 5-10 times more water.  At present 1/3rd of  the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals!

ELECTRICITY PRICES: For those wanting to blame our high Australian electricity bills on the recent carbon tax, I am again pointing out that there has been an 80% increase between 2007 and 2012 (and a cold winter!)

CARBON PRICING SCHEMES: From 2013, carbon pricing schemes are expected to be operating in at least 33 countries and 18 states and provinces. These schemes will cover about 850 million people, about 30% of the global economy and about 20% of global emissions. This includes US states and Chinese provinces. Very recently, the Australian Government has scrapped the floor price for carbon and will join our emissions scheme to the European Union by 2015.  I presume this is a good move and it does blunt the Opposition’s criticism that we are “going it alone” and are economically disadvantaged.

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack at Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

JULIAN ASSANGE: Despite their protestations, the Australia Government has not supported Julian Assange and seemingly lies about what it does or doesn’t know about US intentions. On a television program (Four Corners on the ABC) a few weeks ago it was very apparent the “charges” against Assange in Sweden were non-existent – mere accusations centred around not using a condom.  Julian offered to discuss this matter while in Sweden and was allowed to leave the country. He should be very concerned about extradition to the US where Bradley Manning has spent 800+ days in jail without trial.

Julian should not be surprised by the fierce American opposition to himself and WikiLeaks after his exposures which I support, although I hope no identified “informants” were subsequently murdered.  However I do not support his relationship with both Russia and Ecuador which are two countries with appalling track records regarding freedom of the press.

PUSSY RIOT:  I want to acknowledge these three brave and articulate girls that have been jailed for 2 years for protesting about increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia and his intolerance to any dissent.  While their performance in a church was provocative, it was appropriate given the Orthodox Church’s political support for Putin.

BURMA: congratulations on the lifting of press censorship…..

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

US: Paul Ryan is an interesting choice for Romney’s running mate although he actually gives Obama more of a target – as Maureen Dowd commented “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in”.  The poor or disadvantaged have to become “more self-reliant”, while the rich get richer and have 80% of the wealth.  Apparently over time this has produced a two-tier society where children of the rich go to the best colleges, and subsequently get the best jobs, leaving most others permanently disadvantaged. While polls are close between Romney and Obama, apparently Australians would choose Obama by a 14 to 1 margin – even 64% of conservative voters.

This is partly a hang-over from the Bush/Howard years and the still lingering negativity towards both of them over the Iraq war which cost $US3 trillion, resulted in many deaths and has ended up with Iraq allied with Iran. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu recently said that Bush and Blair should face the International Criminal Court. Don’t forget John Howard!

I was not impressed with the cloyingly sentimental testimonials at the Republican convention or Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance.  Not surprisingly there was no acknowledgement of the economic and foreign affairs mess Obama inherited from Bush, while Paul Ryan has been accused of making “false or distorted” statements.  I hope Michelle Obama and the Democrats play it a little cooler…

Growth in the US is only 2% but share prices have risen 20% which is one of various indicators encouraging for Obama’s re-election, although 8.2% unemployment is not.  It is anticipated that the US will be energy self-sufficient in a few years from shale gas and oil. No doubt, like in Australia, the short and long term effects of all this mining – on communities, food agricultural land, and water tables, has not been scientifically tested.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Australia is being left behind in R & D and for the first time the Asian region surpassed the Americas in its investment – $518 billion to $512 billion. China spends 6 times more than Australia does – and our scientists are collaborating on carbon capture technology for power plants, climate change modelling, stem cell medical research, solar voltaic materials and disease transmission from animals to humans.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

MIDDLE EAST: In EGYPT the new President seems have asserted himself and one wonders how and when the Generals will fight back….while SYRIA seems to be “exploding” rather than just “imploding” while the world watches impotently. 100,000 Syrians fled last month. The new UN “Peace” envoy to Syria thinks his job is “nearly impossible”.  There were a few more Australian soldier deaths in Afghanistan, and with such a brazenly corrupt government, local warlords and the Taliban lurking, the sooner we stop the charade and leave the country the better.

When I woke up the other day, the news was that the Syrian government forces were shooting  their own people from helicopters as they queued for bread, more asylum seekers drowned on their way to Australia, and some beheadings in Afghanistan. What sort of world do we live in?

ISRAEL: The historian Tom Segev warns that the Arab and ultra orthodox populations in Israel are growing, and that this is “ the main reason I think we should leave the occupied territories. Those Israelis who built Israel as a Jewish and democratic country are becoming a minority”.  He was quoted in an article by John Lyons in The Australian which went on to say that “Children were taught that when Israel was established in 1948 it had been empty – it was a land without people for a people without land. Historians (like Segev) have demolished the myth with documents showing almost half the Arabs who left were forced out, many violently”. This is similar to the myth of ‘terra nullius” in relation to the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the subsequent British colonisation.

We have to remember that many Israelis are also concerned about the military occupation of the Palestinians and realise that the settlements are designed to make peace with the Palestinians impossible. An organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers called Breaking the Silence have compiled a report from soldiers’ testimonies relating to the wounding and killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza. This follows two other reports that detail multiple violations of international law by Israel in its treatment of children.

I did read a worrying article in Vanity Fair about Netanyahu, which despite his comfortable majority in the Knesset is described as “moving forward by standing still” and is now “unrelentingly cautious”.  His wife Sara apparently “runs the show”, and the media has been neutralised with the assistance of two American billionaires.

So is Israel preparing to go to war with Iran over their nuclear program -or merely threatening for the benefit of the US where the Presidential elections are another complicating factor? Apparently Israel, unlike the US, do not have the weapons it needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

The US sold a record $US66.3 billion of arms sales overseas last year.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

NOEL PEARSON: In Australia it is hard to work out Noel Pearson, a very intelligent and articulate Aboriginal.  He is the architect of the Government’s flawed and controversial Intervention in Aboriginal communities – a one size paradigm NOT fitting all by any means, and imposed originally with no community consultation.  The Intervention has rare bi-partisan support which suits both political parties as most policies and vast amounts of money have seen little improvement for Aboriginal people over many years.  Recently there has been a glut of information about Pearson in both major papers, and I can’t work out why.  Unfortunately he seems to have become autocratic, untouchable, and foul mouthed.  His central idea is that the welfare dependency of many Aboriginal people is counter productive, and it is undoubtedly ultimately demoralising.  Unfortunately the Intervention has led to the discontinuation of many worthwhile programs Aboriginals themselves initiated in their own communities.  Pearson’s chosen communities and projects in Queensland, however, ironically seem particularly awash with government funding.  Scrutiny or criticism is treated with contempt, and it is hard to measure any actual achievements as yet.  While one must applaud genuine attempts to counter Aboriginal disadvantage, some of his ideas do seem paternalistic and a hangover from the Mission days. I do support various ideas and projects however, including encouragement for people to have their own gardens and grow their own vegetables. Make up your own mind.

MISC STATS: Facebook 955 million users but the share price halved; Apple worth $622 billion; 100 million deaths in the world from smoking each year and Australia has $200 million invested in Big Tobacco in our Future Fund; 80% fewer koalas on the east coast of Australia because of urban development; 1/3rd more tigers killed in India this year.

READERS:  As readers, my generation, (and a little older and a little younger), have been “spectators” in a sense and are fast becoming an eccentric minority. Now consumers are more “participants” through Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.  More people are now into this constant flow of information and other stimulation. Are they afraid of silence? When is the “quiet” time, or the time for reflection?  Planning?  Thinking?

SMH: Over 70 journalists and writers have taken redundancy packages and left my favourite newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald.  This can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of the newspaper, although several of you have complained in the past about the sources for news and commentary that I rely on!

 JOHN RALSTON SAUL: In an essay Saul asks “When did saving a bank become more important than saving a country?” I particularly liked some of his ideas as I grapple to understand the effects of the “solutions” to the GFC and the future for countries such as Greece, Spain etc. in the European Union.  Saul is amazed as “those who have produced the failure press on”.  He sees a failure of imagination, and an illiterate leadership.  He challenges the policies of austerity and growth, and asks when did austerity ever historically lead to prosperity?  He discusses the destructive attitudes to public debt and wonders about the primary obligation to the well being of citizens.  He is not surprised by the return of popularism, xenophobia and fear.  He says there is a production surplus and the problem is that it is distributed unfairly. We must “move on to ideas of social and economic well being not dependent on growing consumption”. Read the full article from the SMH here.

FELINE FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently over 10,000 people attended this recent outdoor event in Minneapolis to view 79 selected entries.  Apparently 10 million cat videos are on the internet!  The winner of the Golden Kitty award was Will Braden’s existential Henri 2: Paw de Deux and it is just marvellous!  He certainly understands cats.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Chimp with Camera

CARBON PRICE: Congratulations to Australia for the July Ist implementation of the Carbon and Mineral taxes.  Both issues have cost the careers and credibility of several political leaders in Australia already, and (unfairly) damaged the reputation of the PM. The Opposition, temporarily silenced by our extraordinary annual growth rate of 4.3%, has been campaigning against it and frightening people for years now.  It is actually a carbon price, not a tax, and will transition to an Emissions Trading Scheme in 3 years.  It only applies to our top 300 emitters, and has inbuilt and quite generous compensations. The Opposition have promised to rescind both taxes if elected to office next year (which unfortunately seems likely), but hopefully this will be very difficult. They have an alternative “Direct Action” policy on carbon which no-one seems to take seriously.  It is admittedly a very complex subject to fully understand and is an example of an issue that requires real leadership and education.  It should have bi-partisan support as in the UK and New Zealand.  Even if one does not believe in climate change, who can deny that our water and air are unacceptably polluted and that we have to look for alternatives to our 95% dependence on fossil fuels.

Apparently 85% of the businesses likely to be most effected by the new carbon tax have already acted to decrease their emissions, so it is already having an effect, and they accept that the carbon tax is here to stay. Unfortunately the Opposition’s threat to unwind the tax is creating investment uncertainty. The carbon price is $23 per tonne – which is in the middle compared to a lower price in Europe, and higher in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. A reasonably high price is needed to encourage the transition from coal to renewables.

The Opposition (and miners) have said that these taxes will force businesses to invest elsewhere. The Shell company however, still thinks Australia is a “good place to invest” and will spend $30 billion dollars here over the next five years. The company advocates a price for carbon based on market mechanism, and have costed in a price of $40 per tonne.

Electricity prices have risen 55% in my State over the last 3 years, apparently because of the cost of  building “lines and poles” that I understand the government reimburses the energy companies for.  The network seems very expensively structured just to be able to handle the few and obvious peak consumer demands. While the new tax and the government will be blamed for our already high electricity prices which are anticipated to rise 9%, the most vulnerable people in the community will be compensated. Already households are becoming much more energy conscious, and the demand is already lower.

Energy accounts for 70% of greenhouse gases and a great deal more money needs to be spent on research into alternatives and renewable energies – while “carbon capture” at this stage remains a remote dream. Australia is exporting $44 billion dollars worth of coal this year!

Pup and tail

JAMES LOVELOCK: Interestingly, James Lovelock, the 92 year old scientist, futurist, and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis (that the Earth is a self-regulating, single organism), has surprised environmentalists by his long support for the use of nuclear energy and hatred of wind power.  He has now come out in favour of fracking for extracting natural gas as it produces much less CO2 than burning coal.  He thinks most renewable energy schemes are hopelessly “inefficient and unpleasant”, and that sustainable development is “meaningless drivel”. He envisages a future where we live in megacities. He gives Singapore (one of my least favourite cities) as an example of a very successful city which was built in a humid and inhospitable climate on a swamp. “It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world”.

It is hard to support nuclear energy in the shadow of Fukushima.  Apparently the supports for the pool containing the spent fuel rods in Nuclear Reactor 4 are very badly damaged, and is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. Radiation levels in fish have been picked up as far away as the US coast, destroying marine life – and livelihoods, for decades to come.  TEPCO have deceived the Japanese public from the start and are to be sued for many billions of dollars in compensation.  I feel hypocritical  however as Australia supplies 16% of the world’s uranium.

elephant and boy

RIO+20: One wonders if summits or events like this and the failure rate, only build public cynicism.  Only 4 of 70 “targets” from the last Rio Summit 20 years ago were met.  Meetings on the sidelines were probably more useful and people are recommending abandoning attempts to get governments to agree, and to take different approaches such as persuading financial institutions to change how they invest money, like the UN- backed Principles for Responsible Investment.

MARINE PARKS: Australia has proposed a giant network of marine parks –the world’s largest marine protection area, which still leaves 2/3rds of our oceans for fishing, recreation etc. Oceans are the life-support system of the planet. Naturally this proposal is contentious and illuminates a philosophical difference between the political Left and Right (a divide that seems to be widening rapidly). The conservatives seem to see the environment as a resource for them to utilise, consume and yes, enjoy, while the Left lean more towards treading lightly on the earth, and derive pleasure in long-term conservation and protection.

SHOOTERS: The newish conservative NSW State government has done a shady deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow shooting in 79 National Parks and reserves. This is supposedly an important “conservation” initiative against feral animals, although experts say this is ridiculous, indeed counterproductive.  One of the MPs from this party Robert Borsak goes hunting in Zimbabwe to proudly shoot elephants, also as part of a “conservation” program. His fellow MP Robert Brown, in a debate over this issue in Parliament, said to a Green MP it was a pity he couldn’t take him outside and “beat him to death”.

Cat and man window

THE WORLD: The ongoing Global Financial Crisis seems to deepen and some commentators are saying it is the end- game of an economic and financial model, and the end of an era that began with the free market forces espoused by Thatcher and Reagan.  It seems to be now finally recognised that “growth”,  not just “austerity” has to be a crucial element in any recovery. In the absence so far of any new or innovative approaches to this grave crisis potentially engulfing us all, I did read of a proposal for a Global Rescue “Marshall” Plan (American assistance to Europe after WW2) that everyone would contribute to.  There also now seems to be acceptance that the banks have to evolve as soon as possible towards a single European banking supervision system.

While the US is carrying huge debt, good news is that there is some positive movement in the housing sector, and that the economy is “gaining some momentum”. Congratulations to Mr. Obama for the health-care win in the Supreme Court, and that this result will spread coverage to 30 million Americans presently without insurance.

MIDDLE EAST: It is now called a civil war in SYRIA, and defections from the Syrian army seem to be increasing. Violence is escalating and 16,000 Syrians have died in the last 15 months. Given the Russian and Chinese intransigence there is now talk of Assad leaving the country under immunity, or “political transition”.  Others are questioning the present“veto” option of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and think a “majority vote” would be preferable. We should not forget how the UN was just ignored (and weakened) by the US and UK in their enthusiasm to invade Iraq so disastrously. In LIBYA, while the oil is flowing, groups of heavily-armed militias have a sense of entitlement and are taking control from authorities, and there is very little existing social or political infrastructure to build on post-Gaddafi. Congratulations to EGYPT for their first democratically elected President, although no-one seems to know just what powers the Generals will allow him – and no outcry from the Americans over this or the dissolving of the elected parliament. The Israelis are nervous about the threat to revisit the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, and the Americans will no doubt use  their continued annual funding of $1.5 billion to secretly bargain in their own interests.

Chimp and Lion

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Yet another boat has sunk en route to Australia with at least 92 drowned, with other boats still arriving.  Both the major parties have played politics on this – one determined to cling to office, the other determined to throw them out, and unfortunately both are pandering to Australian racial prejudices and lack of compassion.  Some appalled back-benchers of both parties initiated meetings with each other, but Parliament has concluded for the winter recess without a solution.  The Greens are opposed to off-shore processing, and this does raise an interesting and very difficult question.  Should one stick to one’s principles or be prepared to compromise in the short term – in this instance to save lives? Again it should be an issue for good leadership and bi-partisanship. Australia actually receives a very small percentage of asylum seekers. We take 3%, while the US take 17%, France 12%, Germany 10%, and Canada 6%. The number one country of origin at the moment is Afghanistan and these people are demonised when they try to reach Australia, although we are fighting the same “enemy” in Afghanistan.

THE INTERVENTION:  While we were all diverted by the asylum seeker crisis, or watching Wimbledon, the Senate in the dead of night shamefully passed a 10 year extension to the highly-criticised Intervention in Aboriginal communities. Of course THIS issue has bi-partisan support, and the government did not even allow a Parliamentary Committee to subject the laws to a human rights test.  The Labor Party do test my patience and support to the absolute limit, but the alternatives, in my opinion, are much worse!

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: As you have probably gathered the SMH is my favourite paper and I am often quoting from it. It is under threat. They have lost their fabled “rivers of gold” classified advertisements which have mostly moved online and earn much less. One has to suspect that Rupert Murdoch’s splitting of News Corp into Print and Entertainment companies may be a protection against the repercussions of the UK phone hacking scandal. In Australia he owns 70% of the print media, so many of us rely on the mostly good and objective reporting of the Sydney Morning Herald, or The Age in Melbourne.  However, Gina Rinehart now nearly the richest person in the world has bought 18.7% of the Fairfax company that owns the SMH and has no compunction in throwing her considerable weight around. The company has not been well run, but Gina has far Right political views and a determination to defeat the elected government, a view that seems to be shared by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.  The issue has raised very interesting questions about editorial influence, media controls, and the life expectancy of printed papers versus online readership where already 75% of  SMH readers have moved. My 90 year old mother is furious and not sure she can make the transition to Apps and iPads –  not that I have!

50% of people now get their news through social media and I fear news will be reduced to tweets!

Chimp and bird

CENSUS: Australia’s 2011 census figures have been released. There are now 21.5 million Australians with 548,370 identifying as Aboriginal. Our average age expectancy is for men 76 (Aboriginal men 67.2), and women 84 (Aboriginal women 72.9).  Mandarin has now replacing Italian as the second most used language at home. While Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, “No religion” replaces Protestantism as the second “religion”, behind Catholicism, although their numbers are dropping.  This is hardly surprising with the appalling scandals emanating from the Vatican with accusations of drug money laundering, death threats and their failure to address child abuse by clergy.

JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m not sure how he envisaged getting from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and to the airport without arrest  for breaking his parole conditions, even if Ecuador offer him asylum.  He is ignoring the recent “Surrender Notice”.  I would agree that the US Grand Jury most probably has a sealed indictment against him. Apparently poor Bradley Manning has been trying not to implicate Julian over the information he provided to WikiLeaks, and he has virtually sacrificed his life, possibly naively, in the interests of freedom of information. Bradley has been psychologically tortured in solitary confinement, and the US are most likely hoping to make a deal with him to then move on Julian. Apparently the US cannot attempt to extradite him from the UK because the Swedish case takes precedent, as may a “bid for asylum” over “extradition”.  See Julian Assange’s interview with President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa here.

The Australian Government seems to be just going through the motions of pretending to care for Assange.  He says he has not seen any Australian consular staff since December 2010 – and just gets the occasional text message: “can we do anything for Mr. Assange?” A friend, a little miffed on behalf of the people that have lost their bail surety asks “what exactly is Julian expecting the Australian consular staff to do?”

dolphin

MISC STATS: There is now LESS social mobility in the UK, and LESS economic mobility in the US where 2 million people are in jail; the Indian economy is slowing; 5 million children smoke in Indonesia; in Australia, 58% think Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy (the Queen looked as if she nearly enjoyed her Jubilee – I’ve got nothing against her personally); 3% of our top ASX 200 companies have female executives and there is only a 14% female representation on boards; there is an obesity epidemic (Nauru 1st, USA 9th, Australia 21st), and we are fast catching up. All our well known billionaires are huge – Rhinehart, Packer, Palmer, Forrest, and Tinkler – is this indicative of  their rapacious appetites and attitude to life and our environment?

While 1 billion people live in poverty, the world produces twice as much food as we need.

MAIL: Thanks to Elaine for these photographs (above) and to the photographers concerned, and Jade my Ecuadorian correspondent. Thanks to Deb for the amazing images she sends me too. Several people commented on Ricky Gervais saying in the lead into the BBC interview about Christian (May blog), that animals were not there for our amusement.  He was in the studio to promote his latest program Life’s Too Short -  and I don’t think dwarves are there for our amusement either. For the record, I have never found him funny.

An installation by English artist Philip Beesley titled 'Sibyl'. Photo: AFP

An installation by English artist Philip Beesley titled ‘Sibyl’. Photo: AFP

BIENNALE: The 18th of  Biennale of Sydney has opened (above) and is spread around the city in various venues with artists from all over the world – until September 16th.


Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

NORFOLK ISLAND:  The island is breathtakingly beautiful.  Driving around much of the island one  gasps at the dramatic coastline – which has always made any landing by sea very difficult.  It also has rich soil and rural pockets with fat, contented looking cows, and banana trees and palms which give it a Pacific and tropical look. The population is around 1800 but diminishing. A headline in a newspaper recently declared the island had “gone bust”, with the banks foreclosing on various businesses and residences.  I think all our holiday destinations are doing it tougher post GFC and with the high Australian dollar. The Foundation Day re-enactment of the landing in March 1788 was both kitsch and moving. History is very much alive there with ongoing resentments between these First Fleeters who arrived with my ancestor Philip Gidley King in March 1788, and Pitcairners, Mutiny on the Bounty survivors, who were relocated to the island in 1856. My ancestor unfortunately was involved – or initiated, the kidnapping of two Maoris to instruct about flax which grew on the island. They lived with Philip Gidley King who promised to return them to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, which he did months later.  This little known episode had very far- reaching consequences, possibly laying the groundwork for the Treaty of Waitangi. I am continuing to research and write about this as I am especially interested in my colonial family interactions with indigenous people.

Boatshed, post 1825, situated in the convict National Heritage precinct, Kingston

Boatshed, post 1825, situated in the convict National Heritage precinct, Kingston

CSIRO:  It seems none of the Republican presidential candidates believe in climate change or renewable energy, not unlike our own conservative politicians. Perhaps they should read the recent report State of the Climate 2012, a review by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Australia’s current climate “cannot be explained by natural variability alone” and “multiple lines of evidence show that global warming continues and that human activities are mainly responsible”.  Click here for the full and detailed report. The CSIRO is a government body  (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) not like the US Heartland Institute which appears to fund climate scepticism through “academics” for hire.

Janet Laurence After Eden (detail) 2011

Janet Laurence After Eden (detail) 2011

Janet Laurence’s After Eden exhibition/installation at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney (until 19th May) examines extremely evocatively, through various media, our experiential and cultural relationship with the natural world. Laurence thoughtfully addresses issues such as the destruction of the environment, particularly animals, and notions of healing and caring.

OECD:  Another important recent report is from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Environmental Outlook to 2050.  As Ross Gittins asks “Do you ever wonder how the environment – the global ecosystem – will cope with the continuing growth in the world population plus the rapid economic development of China, India and various other “emerging economies”?  I do. And it’s not a comforting thought”.

To cherry pick some of the points or questions in the report which Gittins writes about:  there will be irreversible “tipping points” in climate change, species loss, groundwater depletion and land degradation;  since 1970 the world economy has tripled but with significant cost to the environment and natural resources;  by 2050 and with a projected extra 2 billion people, with 70% living in cities this “will magnify challenges such as air pollution, transport congestion, and the management of waste and water in slums, with serious consequences for human health;  the ability of the resource base to support increasing demands for energy, food, water and other natural resources;  80% more energy will be required with the mix similar to today – 85% fossil fuels, 10% renewable, and 5% nuclear; increased competition for land;  global emissions increasing by half and average temperatures increasing by 3 to 6 degrees by the end of the century;  loss of biodiversity and 13% less native forests;  urban air pollution becoming the top environmental cause of premature death.

Gittins concludes that “the purpose of reports like this is to motivate rather than depress…there are policies we could pursue that made population growth and rising material living standards compatible with environmental sustainability”.

The squawking of cockatoos drew my attention to this python on the telephone lines next door to me!

The squawking of cockatoos drew my attention to this python on the telephone lines next door to me!

MIDDLE EAST ETC

SYRIA:  15th March marked one year of the “Syrian uprising” and 9100 deaths later, even Russia is finally growing impatient with Assad and talking about desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Governments have a “responsibility to protect” its citizens, but there are allegations of the use of torture on both sides.  The opposition, which I think was originally peaceful, is now running out of ammunition, which coupled with their disunity, will unfortunately give Assad heart to continue his violent repression. Assad has promised to abide by Kofi Annan’s recent peace proposal, also supported (finally) by Russia and China, although it is difficult to believe him and not to be pessimistic.

AFGHANISTAN:  Everybody’s patience – both within and without the country – seems to have run out over Afghanistan. I remember in the early 2000s the Taliban were very much in retreat, and our dumb governments left to invade Iraq – one Australian remained there!

I actually saw the ex PM John Howard in the street the other day and felt like accosting him for the many reasons I felt he failed Australia. However he looked so small, old (if chipper), and ordinary – and was just ignored or unrecognised on the street  –  so I let an encounter I had dreamed about pass…

Not surprisingly, up to 31% of US combat veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder – many of them after repeated deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite a percentage even end up homeless.

Bahram Gur listens as Dilaram enchants the animals. From a manuscript of Amir Khusrau, Khamsa (Quintet), dated AH 1007-08 (1599–1600 AD) State Library of Victoria

Bahram Gur listens as Dilaram enchants the animals.
From a manuscript of Amir Khusrau, Khamsa (Quintet), dated AH 1007-08 (1599–1600 AD).
State Library of Victoria.

As a timely reminder of the sophistication and cultural legacy of the region, a unique exhibition has travelled to Australia for the first time, from the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford.  Love and devotion; from Persia and Beyond consists of nearly 70 rare 13th to 18th century Persian, Mughal Indian and Ottoman Turkish illustrated manuscripts and miniatures.  Guest co-curator Susan Scollay gave an extremely interesting lecture on the exhibition at the AGNSW, with another on the 17th April for those of us unable to make it to the State Library of Victoria (until 1st July).

IRAN:  A classified war simulation exercise forecasts that a strike on Iran by Israel would be “perilous” for the US and lead to a wider regional war.  I applaud the Israeli and Iranian online campaign to exchange messages of friendship and love. “I wish we both get rid of our idiot politicians”.

ISRAEL:  A UN Human Rights Council is to launch an investigation into the impact of Israel’s settlement construction on the human rights of Palestinians.  Israel was quick to say it would not allow access to the country. Issues include (in some instances and areas):  prohibition of Palestinians to build new homes or renovate, and demolition of houses; no access to roads or electricity; hundreds of checkpoints; Israeli settler violence (incidences tripled in three years); and last year almost 10,000 mainly olive trees were damaged, severely affecting the livelihood of hundreds of Palestinian families.

John Lewin The Gymea Lily  watercolour 1807

John Lewin The Gymea Lily watercolour 1807

There is a marvellous exhibition Lewin:Wild Art at the State Library of NSW.  John Lewin was one of the first professional artists in the colony of Sydney at a time in the early 1800s when collectors in Europe were hungry for images and examples of flora and fauna from our part of the world. I see this giant flower growing in southern Sydney and it is about to flower.

AUSTRALIA ETC

PARALLEL UNIVERSE:  Our conservative Coalition in Australia behave as if the nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, but our Reserve Bank Governor recently said at an investment conference in Hong Kong (and reported in the SMH), that unlike nearly all other countries, our economy “suffered only a relatively mild downturn in 2008-09, made up the loss within months, and had continued to expand ever since”.  However our high dollar had fed a “sense of concern in some parts of the community, and the tendency to focus on the difficulties rather than the opportunities”.

On the same day the SMH Business Day also had an article by Ian Verrender;  “Despite all the hullabaloo, and all the hand-wringing and the wailing from various sections of the mining industry, the passage of the Mineral Resources Rent Tax (in Parliament) confirms Australia as one of the world’s most benign destinations for miners”. Again, the conservative party has been saying that this tax would scare off all potential investment. However see here for a detailed examination of how the taxation of natural resources in Australia compares –very  favourably – to other countries.

Yet another negative scare campaign from the opposition is the threat posed by refugees and asylum seekers.  According to the UNHCR Australia defied a global trend and recorded a 9% drop in claims last year, and that the numbers that come to Australia are “modest” and “manageable”.

When I was on Norfolk Island, although I was very happy, I somehow felt out of my comfort zone and was reminded that the views I hold are held by a minority of people – from climate change, to the need for a Mining Tax, to same-sex marriage (which I regard as a human rights issue).  My feeling of being out of step has been reinforced by the recent crushing defeat of the Labor Party in Queensland, where a most intelligent female Premier has now resigned from Parliament.  Now most States have conservative governments, and the Federal Government remain very unpopular.

Recently Margaret Whitlam died.  She was the wife of Gough Whitlam, one of our most important, if controversial Prime Ministers.  Margaret Whitlam was refreshingly her own person.  As she came from a rather privileged background she was asked why she supported the Labor Party. “I belong to the party that cares about people”, and this is why I am a supporter as well.

John Lewin  Koala and young watercolour 1803. Interestingly this painting was owned by Philip Gidley King who was by now Governor of NSW.

John Lewin Koala and young watercolour 1803

GERMAINE GREER:  Another of our tall and larger than life women, Germaine spends part of her year in Australia and she is very refreshing. Ignore or laugh at her at your peril. She is good “product” on television: attractive, funny, honest, provocative, very informed and very articulate. She now describes herself as an eco-feminist, and said Stephen Hawkings warns that the earth will be uninhabitable in 100 years. She thinks that Australia IS a racist country, especially about each new wave of immigrants, and that this goes back to our unresolved relationship with the original Aboriginal inhabitants.  Of course the media here have trivialised her by only highlighting “feminist” Greer’s remark that our PM had “a big arse” and should stop wearing a particular style of jacket. Perhaps as Oscar Wilde said “all criticism is autobiographical”, as she did rather fill the TV screen herself I meanly thought.

A visiting editor-in-chief of the interesting Monocle magazine was surprised that Australia did not take more of a lead – given our location and English language – as a much needed voice in our Asia -Pacific region, rather like Al-Jazeera in the Middle East.

SHAME: The duck shooting season has begun in Australia, although most States have banned it; a visiting Brazilian student was tasered to death on a Sydney street; and there is finally, controversy over the use of whips – padded or otherwise, in Australian horse racing.

FOOD: a report from the Harvard School of Public Health Research states that excessive consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Dietary guidelines in Australia recommend 3-4 servings of red meat per week and to limit or avoid processed meat. The rate of diabetes is predicted to double in a decade.

BOB CARR:  In a surprise move the PM replaced Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister with an ex State Premier. Bob Carr is very articulate and intelligent, but as Premier, ran down the State’s infrastructure, and introduced spin over substance into Australian politics. In his maiden speech in the Senate, however, he did speak about an “overlap” rather than a “clash” of civilisations between the Western and Muslim worlds, is a believer in climate change, and is very concerned about the world’s oceans.  Unfortunately, after years of attention deprivation, he is a garrulous know-all and has made several diplomatic blunders already.

JULIAN ASSANGE:  A tweet from WikiLeaks said Julian Assange intends to stand for an Australian Senate seat – and that this is possible despite his present predicament in England. (27% of Indian politicians have faced criminal charges and I think some have even served from jail, while a Sydney Bangladeshi taxi driver told me 80% of parliamentarians in Bangladesh have had criminal convictions and wear it as a badge of honour!)

Meanwhile a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has accused the US of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of Bradley Manning.

Rin Tin Tin

Rin Tin Tin Source: Spectrum SMH March 24th

RIN TIN TIN:  I have enjoyed the reviews of this recent book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend of the World’s Most Famous Dog by Susan Orlean.  Reviewer Delia Falconer in The Australian notes that in the 1920s Rin Tin Tin was earning eight times more than the studios human actors and received 2000 fan letters a week. He was also named as co-respondent in the divorce of his owner. “One gift of his longevity is he allows us to see, through him, an evolving entertainment culture.  And, more curiously, how we project the strangeness of our own humanity on to animals – all beasts of burden, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “made to carry some portion of our thoughts””.

Fellow reviewer and dog lover Diana Simmonds in the SMH adds “Among much else, the reader will learn more than any sane person could ever want to know about dogs in movies, dogs in war, dog training, dog trainers and the genesis of the German shepherd (about 1899)”.

MISC STATS: 70% of internet traffic is devoted to porn; ebook sales rose by 623% between January and June 2011 in the UK; Forbes listed 1226 billionaires in the world with a combined wealth of US 4.6 trillion; 8 illegal unmanned drone attacks by the US this year so far – and it seems Australia will be hosting US surveillance drones from the Cocos Islands!

MAIL: Thanks to Kate for drawing my attention to two worthy organisations she supports - David Shepherd Wildlife and Wild tiger. Suddenly there seems to be great support for the endangered orangutangs – check out the Australian Orangutang Project. Apparently there were approximately 5000 orangutang deaths last year, and with 80% of their habitat lost, they could be extinct in 5-10 years. I received a nasty computer virus from a very worthy orangutang site, making my blog later than usual, so I won’t list that site for the moment!

EXHIBITIONS: We are currently spoiled for art exhibitions in Sydney. I’ve already mentioned colonial artist John Lewin’s Wild Art at the State Library, and Janet Laurence at the Sherman Contemporary Art  Foundation. William Kentridge is at Annandale Galleries.  Ruark Lewis is in two beautiful exhibitions – GADAWULKWULK at Cross Art Projects with Barayuwa Munugurr, and in Shadowplay with Jumaadi and Jason Wing at dna projects, Chippendale.  The Museum of Contemporary Art opens a new wing, and Michael Brand (ex Getty) has been appointed the new Director of the Art Gallery of NSW.

I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Opera Australia’s La Traviata staged on Sydney Harbour under a giant chandelier.

EARTH HOUR: It is important to participate in this global initiative which began in Australia 5 years ago and is an imaginative expression of a commitment to sustainability and environmental action.  People in at least 135 countries and independent states will be turning off their lights (Saturday 31st March 8.30pm Sydney time) – and remember to turn off electrical appliances at the wall as they are extremely wasteful of energy. Click here to find out more. La Traviata’s giant chandelier will be very conspicuous!

Installation by Jason Wing In Between Two Worlds, Kimber Lane, Chinatown, Sydney. Photograph David Corbet.

Installation by Jason Wing In Between Two Worlds, Kimber Lane, Chinatown, Sydney. Photograph David Corbet.

Cheetahs

3 Cheetahs, South Africa, courtesy National Geographic

I’ve just been in Melbourne where I gave a talk about Christian to a most receptive audience at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.  I am constantly surprised at the “magic” of Christian’s story.  It has had such an effect on so many people – and seems to bring out the best in everyone.  I hope we can harness all this goodwill into making a difference for wildlife and our environment. It does mystify me on an existential level – what is Christian’s message for us, if there is one?  I was once asked in an interview about this and as I hadn’t really solved it myself I blurted out “I think it is a cry for Africa”.  Many people would probably say it is about loving one another.

In a recent report on TV it was stated that there may be less than 30,000 lions left in the wild, and that lions, like elephants (and much else), may be in an extinction vortex. We have been saying now for several years that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time forty years ago. Lions are being shot, poisoned and speared at an alarming rate primarily because they are in competition with local villagers for diminishing resources and habitats. Apart from us loving them, apart from them being an essential link – like everything in our ecosystem, they are Africa’s number 1 tourist attraction.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

MIDDLE EAST:  Libya is not unexpectedly floundering – with competing regions, personalities and militias, and an understandably inexperienced leadership of the National Transitional Council that is paralysed by the rivalries.  There are reports of militia violence, looting and torture.  It has been described as “it is everyone against everyone else”.  Syria seems to be descending into civil war, while the world stands by.  It is a humanitarian catastrophe.There have been reports of widespread systematic torture, and the threat of being tried for crimes against humanity does not seem to have inhibited the government. The opposition to the regime is unfortunately divided, and as commented on before, there are so many agendas driving the conflict, both within and outside the country.

Despite the uncertain outcomes of the Arab Spring, and so many lives sacrificed, it is inspiring to see a critical mass of courageous people speaking up.

It makes me wonder – how would I respond in their situation?

JULIAN ASSANGE:  It is ironic that the latest release of confidential emails by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor indicates that the US Department of Justice has issued a secret sealed indictment against Julian Assange.  The case against him in Sweden has recently been described as very slight, and mostly grandstanding by Swedish prosecutors.  Some of the threats made to him have been appalling – and very frightening.  With the example of Bradley Manning who has been held without trial in the US for over 600 days (and his trial finally scheduled for August), Julian has many reasons to fear extradition to the US.  I’d also be worried about those drones that the US seem to be increasingly using to murder people, with the push of a button from the safety of an office, presumably in Washington. The publication of classified material of foreign powers is apparently not a crime under Australian law, but the Australian Government has not, and probably will not, assist our Australian citizen.

It has been pointed out that “award-winning journalist” Assange’s new TV show The World Tomorrow will air on a state-owned  network in Russia, a country where 40 journalists have been murdered in the past decade.  Raffi Khatchadourian commented on Julian’s contradictory nature in The New Yorker (repeated in the SMH): “He is a charismatic figure precisely because of the way his contradictions – manifest in WikiLeaks from the start – magically seem to hold together: his self absorption tempered by his more abstract but genuinely felt, pursuit of justice…his utopianism hemmed in by a do-what-it-takes view of combat; his search for hidden truths shrouded by his own secrecy and willingness to equivocate, if not lie.”

GREECE: Greece was faced with one of two unattractive options – a European fiscal strait jacket that will please bankers and Germany especially, or leaving the EU, whatever the scary ramifications of that would be. Sadly, neither option seems to address the challenge of growing the Greek economy, and the majority of people face years of real hardship.

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

AUSTRALIA: We have had the most extraordinarily bitter leadership battle that would have been fascinating if it didn’t threaten to damage the government so badly.  The deposed but still ambitious ex PM  Kevin Rudd is more popular in the polls than the PM Julia Gillard which would not be hard.  It seems Rudd has constantly been undermining her, and subsequently the government, in the process. He seems totally addicted to media cycles, polling, his own importance and people in shopping centres.  David Marr in the SMH wrote that another former Labor leader Mark Latham “once told Rudd to his face that his rise… was due solely to his popularity with people who have never actually met him”. I think the psychological analysis by Michael Duffy in the SMH Feb 27 best sums up how I also feel about Kevin Rudd.  He reduced government to a reality TV program, and one wonders what he actually believes in.  Moir captured in his cartoon (above) the nightmare Rudd has become for his own political party.  After being convincingly beaten in a leadership ballot, Rudd promised his “unconditional support”. Sure.  In fairness I must say that he is extremely intelligent, was a very energetic Foreign Minister, and cleverly outmanoeuvred John Howard in the 2007 election. I also believe he reacted quickly and effectively to the GFC.

GETUP!: GetUp! asked their members in a survey what are the 10 major issues we would like them to campaign for on our behalf in 2012.  The top four concerns were: investment in renewable energy, followed by protecting Australia’s native forests,  stopping harmful coal seam gas mining practices, and the fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

FACTORY FARMING:  There is an obvious momentum of public opposition to factory farmed animals and chickens.  The organisation Voiceless has done much to bring this issue to public attention in Australia. The live cattle export debate has also brought more support for animal welfare and rights issues – and recently more examples of inhumane treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs have emerged which has reignited the debate.  There are calls to ban live cattle exports, or for mandatory pre-slaughter stunning on all animals exported. Interestingly, or depressingly, in the first edition of A Lion Called Christian in 1970 we talked about the inhumane treatment of Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East!  There is a petition for banning live cattle exports on change.org, and in the US the ALDF has a petition to US legislators who are being pressured by the corporate agriculture lobby to make documenting and distributing damaging footage of factory farm practices illegal.

Donkey

DONKEYS: I have two friends Jonathan and David who are very concerned about donkeys and other working animals and think I don’t pay them enough attention! The Brooke is a highly respected international welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules.  A recent campaign has been teaching basic animal welfare and care for Ethiopia’s grain market donkeys.  William from Florida informs me the organisation was started in 1930 in Cairo by the wife of a British Army officer in response to the condition of many horses left behind in Egypt after the First World War.  (I imagine many of you would have seen Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse).  The organisations Pegasus and WSPA have been working for better conditions and more effective laws to protect working horses and donkeys in Israel that are also often cruelly overworked, overladen and neglected.

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE:  Recently our attention has been drawn to the increasingly precarious situation of some of our unique wildlife.  Our koalas are under threat, and it is estimated that as few as 100,000 may remain in the wild, their coastal habitats destroyed by the vast number of Australians that now live along the beautiful eastern coast.  Our Tasmanian Devils have very contagious facial tumours and there is a battle to save the few healthy ones remaining in the wild, and ironically they are safer in zoos at this stage. The Australian Marine Conservation Society works hard to protect our ocean wildlife, and a recent campaign has highlighted how up to 100,000 sharks around the Great Barrier Reef can be legally killed annually for shark fin soup, or fish and chips.

Orangutang

Courtesy of wallpaperweb.org

ORANGUTANGS:  I have friends who have recently visited or drawn my attention to various centres in our region that do great work protecting orangutangs.  These include the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan Borneo and the Camp Leakey Orphan Orangutang Care Centre in Kalimantan.  Apparently the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yuddhoyono was recently seen in a Jakarta IMAX watching a documentary on the orangutangs of Kalimantan.  Let’s hope he was sufficiently moved to do more to protect the habitats of many animals that are being destroyed, especially by palm oil plantations.

ENERGY:  Despite all the cries of “we’ll be ruined by the impending carbon tax” by our conservative opposition party, and some millionaires and billionaires, there has been surging investment in coal exploration.  Apparently there has been a break-through (after many years) in carbon capture and storage. Let’s hope so, but I remain sceptical.  The newish (conservative) leader of my state of NSW, has lifted a ban on uranium mining. Waste disposal is of course a still very unresolved and contentious issue, with a remote Aboriginal community, Muckaty in northern Australia, being targeted as a nuclear waste dump. Despite the catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the US the government has approved the building of two nuclear reactors. There are also more worrying reports about mining for gas: double the anticipated green house gases leaking in the US, and in Australia, the release of contaminated water into the environment. On the subject of water, each day each person in an industrialised nation personally consumes about 1,000 gallons (3,785 litres) embedded in the food we eat. Pumping, conveying and treating water is extremely energy intensive, and the energy industry is the largest single water user.

Whitney Houston

WHITNEY HOUSTON: It was when her song I Will Always Love You was added to the YouTube footage of our reunion with Christian that it went viral, so we are very grateful to her – and to Dolly Parton who wrote it.  Many of you have said how much you love the song too, and are saddened by her death.  The footage is unique, but the song beautifully heightens the emotional impact. Mind you, I was reprimanded in a conference for liking it by someone who thought the music interfered with the pure response to an extraordinary animal/human experience.  With Whitney, while every life is sacred, one wonders how someone so precious and talented can be allowed to slip through our fingers. I immediately went to listen to her on Christian’s ALCC website but the clip had been blocked, presumably for copyright reasons.  After much searching however I was very pleased to find one “reunion” video with her song on The View, even if I was called Ace Berg!

Cat on Dog

MAIL: I’m very much appreciating the images and information I am being sent and can share.  Thanks to Dee for the sweet photograph (above), and click here to see more Some Photos Just Don’t Need a Caption.  Thanks also to Heulwen for the beautiful photograph of the three cheetahs in South Africa.

Thankyou to Deva Delanoe who sent me some important links.  Click here to see a report on the number of tigers in private hands in the US – possibly more than twice the number left in the wild. Issues of great concern include inappropriate breeding and declawing. People like the Hollywood star Tippi Hedren are campaigning against private ownership, and I very much hope to visit her at The Shambala Preserve, her big cat sanctuary north of Los Angeles. Some experts have complained that the tigers are losing their “tigerness”.  Christian was a 7th generation “European” lion, and in his case George Adamson was fascinated to see that ultimately Christian’s natural instincts were not impaired. Another link highlights the work for animal welfare in Afghanistan by NOWZAD. It is tough for most people there, so these endeavours on behalf of animals are to be applauded and supported. Deva also sent a link to the Soi Dog Foundation who are trying to prevent the very cruel illegal dog export meat trade in Thailand.  Warning: the photographs on this site are particularly upsetting.

I haven’t personally researched or checked the credentials and records of many of the animal welfare organisations I have blogged about, so we should all take normal precautions before we donate or assist their work.  I am sure however that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, and many are run by quite extraordinary selfless people, deserving of our support and gratitude.

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

NORFOLK ISLAND:  I’m about to leave for Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia for the celebration of Foundation Day on March 6th. My ancestor Philip Gidley King sailed from the new colony of Sydney in early February 1788 to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, and I am researching some family history.  I’m also hoping to avoid the incessant rains that have caused flooding throughout much of NSW, but have filled most of our dams after many years.

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