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!

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING: The CACH campaign seems to be growing – and not surprisingly, as so few reasonable people would support the farming of lions to be hunted. I now ring travel agents when I see advertisements for tours to Africa and check they are sending their clients to reputable wildlife sanctuaries. Canned Hunting was also mentioned in a recent 60 Minutes story on Kevin Richardson and his lovely shampooed looking lions in South Africa.  Richardson is on the “reputable” list – but I do think he takes risks with the lions, even though they adore him. I did finally watch the story that was on Dateline SBS in January How Much Would You Pay to Kill a Lion?  I could hardly watch as lions were shot and the hunters gloated over their successful kills.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

In Australia, a Liberal Party MP Jason Wood gave a speech in the House of Representatives about canned hunting and against importing lion and animal parts into Australia.  I very much appreciate his efforts. You can sign his petition here. This is what needs to happen in the USA and Europe. I received a formal (unsigned) response from The White House and Barack Obama to my email about the importation of lion and animals parts into the USA.  He “shared my concern for animal welfare”.  At least someone received it!

 

AVAAZ: They are running a campaign in South Africa against the trade in lion parts. They intend for this campaign to hurt South Africa as a tourist destination so sign their petition here. There is also a petition about the illegal sale of exotic animal parts – and ivory – on eBay – sign the petition here.  Whenever I say “sign here” rather bossily, I know you all make up your own minds, but I know most of you care deeply about many of these issues.

 

TONY THE TIGER:  Shamefully, the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has “quietly” signed a bill allowing the owner of Tony the Tiger to keep him as a roadside attraction.  The ALDF are filing a lawsuit for violating the State Constitution.  This is SO depressing – I do urge any Americans to ring the Governor and express your displeasure. This is completely unacceptable. Read more on the update here.

Angel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for DolphinsAngel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for Dolphins

Angel the dolphin. Image sourced: Australia for Dolphins

ACTION FOR ANGEL: Yet another story of an imprisoned animal for our “entertainment”. Angel, the albino dolphin calf is in a tiny indoor tank at the Taiji Whale Museum. Sign the petition here organised by Australia for Dolphins – and they ask for us to circulate it. The Japanese seem determined to continue hunting whales…and their annual slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. This Sunday 29th June there is a Whale of a Debate at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney (at 2.30pm) discussing historical and contemporary anti-whaling.  Speakers will include members of the Sea Shepherd and conservationist and photographer Jonny Lewis.

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers' Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers’ Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

ALICE WALKER: The Sydney Writers Festival was on recently and while I did not attend, I heard and saw various interviews on radio and television. It did make me think – we have so many intelligent, perceptive, compassionate and ingenious people in the world – why is our country (and the world) run by so many moronic people that just don’t get it? I know I can be slow onto some things, but I am now mad on Alice Walker – she get’s it!  I hung on her every word and will now start reading her intensively. I feel as if I know The Color Purple although I’m not sure if I read the book in the 1980s or saw the movie.

When asked for her advice for Obama Alice said “RUN”!  She hates the use of drones and that he is part of the “war machine”.  “Aren’t we smarter than buying weapons?”  “We have to change the system” – all presidents are hostage to it. The capitalist system is now part of the problem. She supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and thinks women would make more empathetic leaders.

While nature is for her a “balm” that we “abuse”, writing is a “medicine”. She listens to, and “only”works for her ancestors. Fiction has a “freedom”, while poetry is autonomous. It “descends”, you “can’t chase after it”, and the “muse comes at will”.  She named Tolstoy and Dostoevsky first when asked which writers she admires. She saw her mother and grandmother enslaved by their many children so didn’t particularly want to be a mother.  I thought she was amusing about her daughter who has been quite critical of her in the past, although I’m sure this was hurtful. She wants us to” turn to each other” and “talk things through”. Life’s purpose and why she isn’t sitting on her cushion meditating “or scuba diving” is “we exist to help each other”. “The deep joy is to show up for others”.   For her, this included being part of the flotilla that sailed to Gaza in 2010.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

USA: Last month saw yet another senseless mass shooting in the USA. One of the victim’s father Richard Martinez was so articulate asking: “Why did Chris die?  Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians, and the NRA…. What has changed?  Have we learned nothing?  Where the hell is the leadership?…  Life doesn’t have to be like this”. When members of the US Congress rang him offering him condolences he said “I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me.  Get to work and DO something”.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent book No Place to Hide he describes his encounter with Edward Snowden. He had to put his mobile phone in the hotel mini bar – as now anything can be transformed into a listening device!  He says the Snowden cache reveals a regime seeking “the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide”!

Hillary Clinton was very articulate in an interview on our ABC promoting her book Hard Choices. Phillip Adams and his guests were not flattering about her on his radio program. They found the book  mostly tedious and boring.  Adams choked over the $14 million advance!  They acknowledged that she is very hard working and clever, but thought she was a better administrator than a politician. It appears as if she is already campaigning for the Presidency and certainly has a chance, especially as she has such good “name recognition”.  Adams prefers Elizabeth Warren.  Hillary and I are about the same age (and both Scorpios) and I have fantasised, as you do, wondering if I could physically and mentally do a big job like that now.  I don’t think I ever could have!  Americans are less ageist than we are in Australia, and I do think Hillary appeared quite good as Secretary of State, especially compared to John Kerry.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

CLIMATE CHANGE: Well done Obama for acting on climate change with the US cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2020. Our PM Abbott was recently in Canada and wanted to form a conservative climate change deniers club with PM Harper, but the UK and NZ did not want to join. Next day (after dinner with Rupert Murdoch) Abbott was star struck meeting Obama and said he and Obama’s climate change policies were very close, which is just a complete lie. Next day he was praising King Coal in Houston and saying the world would be dependent on coal “for decades”. What does this man actually believe?

Abbott has succeeded – so far – in ensuring climate change is not on the agenda at the November G20 meeting  of world leaders in Australia!

 

GOOD ARTICLES: Paul Krugman has written an excellent article on climate change in the New York Times. Krugman argues that the economic impact of carbon reductions is actually quite modest – despite the scare mongering, and the debate is a “toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism” which is very true of our conservative politicians and businessmen in Australia.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change movement 350.org writes in an article that Abbott and Harper have put nations “on the road to disaster”.  He points out how Harper was a former oil executive and how he has been described as a bully, “intolerant of criticism and dissent”.  The development of the Canadian tar sands and Australia’s coal in the Galilee basin alone could ensure it would be impossible to ever bring the world’s temperatures under control. He notes, however, that their extremism is spawning “widespread resistance”.

There was an excellent summary about action on climate change in the editorial in the SMH June 24th see here.

Ian Dunlop, a former oil, gas and coal industry executive, recently wrote in the SMH that our federal government “is taking anti-science to new heights. Its scorched earth approach discards virtually everything not in line with narrow, free market ideology centred on sustaining Australia’s 20th century dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out economic growth model”.  Dunlop goes on to say that the government’s Direct Action white paper has no scientific and economic grounding…and is “the climate policy you have when you don’t want a policy”.

Uncertainty is affecting – as was intended – investment and confidence in the renewable energy sector.

Encouragingly, the tide may be turning, and just when this government is about to remove our effective carbon tax, 63% of Australians are now increasingly concerned about climate change (again) and now believe we should be taking a “a leadership role in reducing emissions”.

In the most surprising move, our billionaire mining maverick politician Clive Palmer, who through several senators holds the balance of power in the Senate, turned up at a press conference with Al Gore by his side!  No-one is sure yet what this means for action on climate change, and if this was just a stunt and Gore has been played as a sucker. Palmer mines coal and nickel so will love not having to pay a hefty carbon tax.  We could be left without an emissions trading scheme and a plan to do nothing, but Palmer, apparently at Gore’s urging,  seems to now want to retain the Renewable Energy Target and oppose the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority.

forests

CELEBRITIES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: About to air in the USA is a television series, Years of Living Dangerously  which urges action on climate change and has the involvement of industry heavyweights and celebrities like James Cameron, Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently spoke out about the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, which is at risk of being listed as “in danger”.  Leonardo has witnessed the changes for the worse since he first swam there 20 years ago.  This year he has donated $US10 million to ocean conservation, and $4 million to tiger and elephant projects.

Geoffrey Rush spoke up about our government’s attempt to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s forests which has just been rejected by the World Heritage Committee. Our government’s arguments for delisting were described as a “feeble justification”, while many people were shocked that the delisting had been attempted in the first place.

 

boy with fish

IPA:  I am only just beginning to comprehend the undue and insidious influence of the conservative “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Australia. This ideologically conservative group is our Tea Party, but smarter and therefore more dangerous. Abbott addressed them in April last year  and the audience included the unholy alliance of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and Cardinal Pell!!!

Until I read this article I had no idea of the influence of the IPA on the country, and on Abbott who is implementing many of their policies.  I have already discussed the appointment of several of these climate change denying, older businessmen to key positions and reviews:  Tony Shepherd conducting the heartless Commission of Audit; Dick Warburton reviewing the Renewable Energy Target; and Maurice Newman, Chairman of the PM’s Business Advisory Council.

The IPA are skilled propagandists and work through fronts such as the Australian Conservation Foundation which is actually anti-conservation!  They “muddied the waters” recently over the attempt to delist part of the Tasmanian forest.  In what has been described as a “global conspiracy” the IPA have led an active campaign (courtesy Murdoch press) against the plain packaging of cigarettes, trying to make a case it has led to more smoking – which apparently it has not.  The IPA are funded by companies such as Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Esso and Caltex.

Our PM was recently abroad – his school boy French in France was excruciating – worse than mine, and he has a certain gaucheness which could be endearing if he was not our PM.  I liked the letter to The Australian newspaper which stated “I am confused – there appears to be two Tony Abbotts travelling around North America, one as described by the Fairfax and ABC media outlets and another Tony Abbott as reported by The Australian”. (from Michael Burd, Toorak, Victoria).

Australia does seem to be currently divided along these lines.  Murdoch controls over 70% of the print media and unashamedly and uncritically supports the government,  backed up by a few popular and shrill radio shock jocks. Their targets consistently include the Fairfax media and especially the ABC.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks starred in the film Jedda which was a very dramatic and tragic Australian film made by Charles Chauvel in 1955.  Jedda was about race and forbidden love, and was way ahead of its time.  After retreating to a convent, Rosalie emerged to become a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.

Recently on a television program (Q & A on the ABC) a fellow guest who I think was Peter Coleman, suggested that the “Aboriginal problem” could be “fixed” by assimilation into white society.  Rosalie responded with the most brilliant and emphatic declaration of her Aboriginality and who she was.  She was reported (inaccurately) in the press as saying:

“My language is (Arrernte) in spite of the whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem”. See the footage of her full response here.

 

UTOPIA: John Pilger’s documentary Utopia examines the present situation for Aboriginal people.  Rosalie actually comes from Utopia. The documentary is too long but devastating nevertheless.  Pilger has filed several stories over the decades on this subject, and very little seems to have changed.  One wonders if things have actuallyeven got worse in many respects for Aboriginal people: their housing; health; employment opportunities; incarceration rates; suicide epidemics etc. These days the Labor Government and the “left” are criticised with some justification for failing Aboriginal people. Many people like myself have supported Aboriginal “self-determination” and we have also been criticised for caring about digging up and trashing the environment. Apparently we have  held Aboriginal people back from economic development.  I would caution Aborigines from expecting too much from conservative governments and the mining industry…

Alice Walker: “The coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse – I don’t see it – even today”.

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition Strength and Beauty, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

MICHAEL RILEY: Michael Riley was a leading Aboriginal photographer who died in 2004. The National Portrait Gallery recently purchased a selection of his portraits taken between 1984 and 1989 and these photographs are currently on exhibition.  Michael’s subjects at this time were his extraordinary generation of attractive and talented Aboriginals that had emerged and broken the stereotypes in many ways – not least how they were represented.  They included artist Tracey Moffatt, politician Linda Burney and curators Djon Mundine, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins.  I was asked to speak at the NPG as I was a friend and had exhibited Michael Riley.  I am also on the Michael Riley Foundation.  More of Michael’s work can be seen at www.thecommercialgallery.com or www.michaelriley.com.au.

Darrell by Micahel Riley

Darrell by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Animals Category winner in the iPhone Awards, Michael O’Neal of San Francisco said that he came across this friendly fox in the Wyoming wilds. “I sat in the road for 10 minutes with him…no cars, not a soul around, just me and this red fox” he said. Foxes and cats are primarily blamed and demonised  for Australia’s extinction rate of native animals which is “the worst in the world”.  We are losing one mammal every decade and have lost 28 or 29 since colonisation in 1788, with 60 presently endangered.

Fox by Michael O'Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

Fox by Michael O’Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

AG-GAG LAWS: It is going to become an offence to film inhumane conditions for animals in Australia.  In the USA it is already an offence for any “audio or video recording” at a farm facility. Why is it not an offence to have animals cruelly confined in appalling conditions?

 

ISRAEL: The Australian government created yet another unnecessary problem for themselves by arguing that East Jerusalem was “disputed” and not “occupied”.  Israel is the only country in the world to articulate similar views. Our government argued that this was not a change of policy, but they have been changing their position over Israel by stealth, illustrated by several votes, or abstentions, at the UN.  Trade sanctions over our cattle, sheep and wheat exports were subsequently threatened against Australia by Arab and Islamic countries,  and 22 international diplomatic representatives demanded to meet our Foreign Minister in Canberra.

Israel is building 3000 more settlement homes in the Occupied Territories as a punishment for the reconciliation between the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas, who control Gaza.  Many Palestinians are also being punished at the moment  because of  3 missing Israeli teenagers.  While  their disappearance is extremely concerning – what about the 7 Palestinians that have been killed in the search for them?  Israeli forces seem to have rampaged through many Palestinian houses, and harassed and detained hundreds of people.

Alice Walker on Israel: “The land they are taking is not theirs and they have to give it back”.  She actually made her remark that “the coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse” about Israel, but said it applied everywhere – Australia, USA etc.  She also said that with $3 billion a year coming from the US to Israel, “we can’t afford you”.  Her participation in the flotilla to Gaza in 2010 demonstrated her courage and commitment.

 

horse leap

 

MIDDLE EAST: Iraq is disintegrating and in the absence of any solutions it is tempting to just think Iraq and Syria should be left to unravel.   Their borders are an unnatural colonial construct and they should regroup along more natural tribal and sectarian lines. It is the humanitarian catastrophe for so many innocent civilians that is most concerning. Tony Blair is still in denial, blaming the Iraqi PM and inaction over Syria. I loved Boris Johnston saying  “Tony Blair has gone mad”. George Bush Jr and our John Howard have been VERY quiet.  Cheney is as cocky and without remorse as ever, and seems to blame Obama.

Many millions of us marched around the world against the invasion of Iraq, and we were right!  I did mention the threat and ambitions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) several blogs back – how has everyone been taken by surprise?  It is a complete intelligence failure. The thug in the suit, Nouri al-Maliki was an appalling choice as PM by the West and he has made no attempt to include the Sunnis or Kurds.  Even now he is refusing to consider a unity government. One of many disastrous decisions by the USA was to de Baathify Iraq as it left no-one with any experience for administration or the army, and just created many disaffected and resentful enemies. The Sunni-Shiite split goes back to the succession to the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632!  Shiities say Ali, the prophet’s cousin was the rightful successor and was cheated by the Sunnis “Rightfully Guided Caliphs” Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali!!!!!

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

READING, LISTENING & WATCHING: Wimbledon is on and I was thrilled of course that Rafa won recently in Paris. This was his 9th French Open.  It was a great victory and he is now equal second with Pete Sampras on 14 Majors. Elizabeth Wilson has recently written a book LOVE GAME A History of Tennis.   Her book sounds very informative historically and unlike most sports, women participated from the start.  Like many people today, she prefers Federer’s graceful style to Rafa grinding his opponents down in a “python strangle”.

NSW has finally won the State of Origin rugby league after Queensland won for 8 years straight. I am sort of watching the World Cup but prefer the news reports of the few spectacular goals. This sport is building in Australia, especially as there are serious injuries – especially concussion, in the rugby union and league codes. Soccer officials will have to do something about the blatant corruption, like awarding the World Cup to Qatar.

OK, I confess I have been watching The Voice.  I don’t care too much about the contestants but I love the judges: Ricky Martin is, well, Ricky, Kylie Minogue has been surprisingly engaging, Joel Madden goes down very well in Australia and will.i.am is brilliant!

I haven’t read anything by the serial novelist (4 books a year) Alexander McCall Smith. I heard a repeat of his interview at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2013 and he was hilarious and laughed along with the audience at his own jokes and the madness of life. I’ve just bought his book on his favourite poet What W.H. Auden Can Do For You.

pups

JEFFREY MASSON:  I’ve just read Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s latest book  BEASTS – What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.  I think Jeffrey combines all of his experience, knowledge and intelligence in this book, examining the huge question of violence in humans and animals and the “search for the origins of human violence”.  It is a complex debate, and I found the book very thought provoking as he argues, for example, how agriculture, property ownership and the domestication of animals changed human behaviour.  The book contains fascinating information about many different animals and species, and the effects of human intervention in the natural life of animals.

Christian the lion is mentioned as an illustration of a wild animal expressing friendship and love for another species – especially a predator, and how Christian’s wild lioness friends “indulged” us which we also found astounding.  This made me think about Christian and the other lions in George Adamson’s man-made pride, as they were an “intervention” into the territory of wild lions already established at Kora.  These lions mostly tried to kill most of George’s introduced males and cubs, but mated with the lionesses.  Christian, however, seemed to come to what has been described as an unusual “truce” with them, but he ultimately had to look for his own territory elsewhere.  BEASTS  also made me think very deeply about the behaviour of cats!

 

WORLD: China is being quite confrontational/active/defensive in the South and East China Sea offending Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA. Russia is getting more actively involved in Asia and cooperating much more with China (suppyling natural gas etc). 6 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of survivors are still without homes in the Philippines. Military leaders seem to be on the move and are usually bad for the economy – and for press freedoms and democracy.  In Egypt an Australian journalist Peter Greste working for al-Jazeera has just received a 7 year jail sentence.  He and two other journalists have been caught in the machinations of the Saudi Arabia vs Qatar enmity.  al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and is regarded as the “mouthpiece” of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.  Many of the Brotherhood are still facing imprisonment and even the death penalty in Egypt.  Saudi Arabia is now giving Egypt $12 billion, compared to $650 million in aid from the USA. The military are installed in Thailand and  Frank Bainimarama  is bound to win in Fiji. Ex general Pabowa Subianto, who has a terrible human rights record is gaining momentum for the next presidency in Indonesia, while the running mate of his opponent Joko Widodo also sounds pretty frightening.  Papua New Guinea’s PM Peter O’Neill is fighting corruption charges, and while we are not entirely innocent in Australia, corruption does seem endemic in our nearest neighbours PNG and Indonesia.

 

MAIL: Thanks to Scott, MoonieBlues, Bob, Tim, Aidan, Jeffrey, Sylvia and others for sending me interesting articles and images.  My thoughts are with William who lost his beloved cat O’Malley,  and Ines who takes in cats from shelters and recently lost another one called Bonnie.

To keep up to date with interesting articles and animal related activities all over the world see the latest Minding Animal Bulletin No22 here, especially about a Documentary Festival in New Delhi 13 -20 January 2015, and interesting articles and reviews in Vol 3 Number 1 of the Animal Studies Journal  here.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

VALE: One of Australia’s leading artists Gordon Bennett has died unexpectedly. Many of his works concerned his identity as an Aboriginal person, but his subject matter and styles were wide ranging.  He could out post-modernist the post-modernists!  I was lucky to have known him and curated his work into several of my exhibitions.  He summed up what I wanted said so eloquently about colonisation – the way Daniel Boyd has more recently. He was highly intelligent, attractive and quite shy and private.  His work is currently in the Berlin Biennale.  See Richard Bell’s article on Gordon Bennett in The Guardian here. My condolences to his mother, his wife Leanne and daughter Caitlin.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEASONS GREETINGS, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from me to everyone as well. Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s friend and photographer, for his annual Christian Christmas card – it is so sweet!  My special love and thoughts to the Cattani family for 2014.

GEORGE ADAMSON: Understandably, people remain fascinated by George Adamson.  Although where I live is a small “village” on the outskirts of Sydney, I only recently met fellow locals, well known artist Bob Marchant and his wife Inger.  Bob lived in London throughout the 1960s and remembers Christian fondly. I love his painting of George Adamson painted after George’s death in 1989.  He has always been a “great admirer of George Adamson and the work he did protecting wild animals”.  I’ve lent him the excellent biography The Great Safari: The Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House.

You can ‘like’ the George Adamson Wildlife Trust Australia on Facebook set up by Aidan Basnett.

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

Recently Aidan emailed me about his recent trip to Kenya, and visit to Kora.  Aidan lived for a time in Kenya when he was young, and his trip was a nostalgic pilgrimage to key sites in the Joy and George Adamson story.  Consequently I found his video very informative and interesting, although I felt sad seeing some of the graves. It brought back fond and emotional memories of George’s camp at Kora, which looked in good condition.  

Hi Ace,
Just wanted to give you a report on the Adamson Legacy Tour I arranged this year which took in Kampi ya Simba in Kora National Park.  Being the home of the late George Adamson, I found the whole experience very poignant and moving. What hit me was I was at last in the spot where it all happened all those years ago – the history. I could not stop thinking of how we were treading in the footsteps of George and his lions, particularly Christian and Boy. Seeing the actual place (Christian’s Rock) where Christian had come down to greet you and John. The years I had longed to visit the area had arrived!  We sat atop Kora Rock just taking it all in, and could see George’s grave in the distance. Somewhere out there, all those years ago, Christian had created his domain and we could feel his – and George’s – spirit ! Just an amazing experience I had to share with you and I hope you enjoy the photo and video.
Aidan

“Christian’s Rock” Aidan Basnett 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

Christian’s Rock photographed by Aidan Basnett, 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Recently I’ve been especially loving wildlife documentaries.  They are so soothing – as long as they are not entirely about extinction!  I loved David Attenborough’s recently shown documentary on African lions, and the lions and tigers in his Secrets of Wild India documentaries.  Tigers weigh on average 220 kilograms and can be just over 3 meters long.  A male can rule for 3 years, and live up to 8 on average.  Tigers have up to 12 cubs and raise them for 2 years.  They are not social and do not live in prides like lions.  The males come and go, and usually kill any cubs that are not theirs.  Surprisingly, tigers and jaguars are the only cats that like being in water.

The Asiatic lions in the desert region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India look thinner than African lions – but they may just be hungrier in this hostile environment.  Once they ranged from India to the Mediterranean, but their numbers declined to 13 last century.  By banning  hunting, and other conservation efforts, numbers are now over 400 and climbing.

In David’s documentary on African lions he spoke of the importance of the first two years in the lives of cubs – when they “learnt to be lions”,  living in a pride, and acquiring skills for future survival.  I suddenly felt guilty about Christian living with us in London during those crucial formative years!   However, despite five generations out of Africa, and his London upbringing, Christian seemed remarkably well balanced and adaptable.  George thought he had lost none of his natural instincts – he was just inexperienced.  George said he was one of the easiest lions to rehabilitate, and Christian who was both canny and courageous, survived those first most dangerous years.

In the African lion documentary, four lionesses lived together, and three had cubs which they looked after collectively.  They hunted together effectively, although it is still very dangerous for them, especially against buffaloes.  The male came and went, but very aggressively took over a kill a lioness had made, and only reluctantly later shared with his cubs.

I also enjoyed the first episode of a documentary Lions on the Move about South African Kevin Richardson preparing to relocate his 28 lions, 14 hyenas and 2 black leopards to another animal park.  The animals seem to love him – the lions loll all over him which looks like lion heaven, but is risky.  George Adamson would not have been so physical with lions, and he was trying to minimise their human contact to enable their rehabilitation.  We knew Christian so well we could mostly anticipate his behaviour.  We did not encourage too much physical interaction with him as he was so quickly stronger than us, and we did not want him to realise this.   Kevin knows the individual idiosyncrasies of his lions, and he has to trust his own judgement – and them.  Most of the lions looked extremely attractive and shampooed, and several are now 15 years old, which can only be achieved in captivity.  Kevin also understands and communicates well with the hyenas, and I was amused by his  “baby talk” to the animals – everyone else’s animal/baby talk (except one’s own), sounds so ridiculous!

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

In general, I don’t like the idea of animals “performing” for our entertainment, and the sensitive question of how animals are handled in films has recently been discussed in The Hollywood Reporter.  Apparently King, one of the tigers used in Life of Pi nearly drowned in a water tank filming a scene.

I haven’t yet seen Blackfish, the documentary that traces the history of orcas (also called killer whales) in captivity. I’m not sure why it is regarded as “controversial” documentary, as the cruelty of their confinement  in such small areas, for human entertainment, should now be generally acknowledged as completely unacceptable.

A tiger “handler’ was injured by a tiger  recently at Australia Zoo.  A BBC crew had been filming them, which had probably been a disruption to a normal routine.

I will not be showing the photograph of American Melissa Bachman with the lion she proudly shot.  I hope she never returns to Africa.

Meanwhile, Tony the Tiger just waits in his cage. You can read an update here from the Animal Legal Defense Fund which had a victory for Tony in court in October, but proceedings just seem to drag on interminably. You can also sign a petition for Tony.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

TARONGA ZOO:  Kibali, an adolescent gorilla has arrived from France, and joins two selected females to hopefully form the nucleus of a new family of gorillas at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  The old silverback has been pensioned off to Mogo Zoo down the south coast. Three elephants have been transferred to the more open Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – including the one involved in an incident which injured a staff member last year.  A baby elephant has been born in Melbourne Zoo, but one born last year died in an accident, playing with a tyre as a toy.

INDONESIA: A recent report on the ABC showed disgraceful conditions in general at Surabaya Zoo in Java. Sumatran tigers are starving and dying at a time when their survival is under threat, with an estimated only 300-400 left in the wild.  A feisty Mayor seems to keep everyone at bay despite the scandalous conditions and a situation that has paralysed the zoo. This zoo compared very unfavourably with Taman Safari Park, Bogor, a few hours south of Jakarta, which seems very well run.  The owner has attempted to help the Surabaya Zoo but has now been rebuffed. See – and possibly support – Cee4life who has been campaigning to save the lives of these tigers.

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

ART:  Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition ‘Falling Back to Earth’, is showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, until 11 May 2014.  See here for information on GOMA and the exhibition which consists of three  huge installations.  Heritage (above), described as a “fable of multiculturalism”,  with incongruous pairings of animals around pristine white sand and water, was inspired by the artist visiting Queensland’s tropical islands. Head On (below) also has 99 animals made from polystyrene, but in this instance, they are all wolves.

AUSTRALIA:  I am finding our new government as bad as many of us feared, and unnecessarily antagonistic, arrogant, secretive and without vision.  Our espionage spat with Indonesia worsened through Tony Abbott’s inability to find the right words or actions.  Not content, the government then picked a fight unnecessarily with our most important trading partner China – protesting to the Chinese about their actions over disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea.

More revelations from Edward Snowden have shown the extent of Australia’s espionage in the region, including spying on China.  Apparently only 1% of a million classified documents have been released so far, and we are “to assume the worst”.  It seems we may all have been spied on as well, with the collection of our megadata – mine would be a disappointment.

Not surprisingly, according to the polls, the government’s so called “honeymoon” is already over.  A very bad look was the government’s clumsy attempt to break a major election pledge (a back flip on a back flip on a back flip) on education reform.

The implementation of a proposed education reform, which had been worked on over 4 years, was an election pledge by both parties.  It was to balance the inequitable funding to schools, which under ex PM John Howard saw already very rich private schools given even more money, while public schools and their students remain disadvantaged, with less access to education.

I find it unimaginable that these days any government would deliberately disadvantage a section of the population, and we will have to wait and see the real intentions of this government.  As discussed on an earlier blog, the opportunities for education in the US are also inequitable, cementing a less-educated under class. In 1974 Labor PM Gough Whitlam abolished university fees, and this emancipated many very clever people who were the first in their families to go to university, and have subsequently had an enormous influence on Australia.

Hard as it is to believe, our government seems to be anti-science, and is thoughtlessly dismantling expert bodies that should be consulted and utilised– especially in relation to climate change.  The government should not be dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corp which has been successfully finding and working in partnership with major national and international banks, for example, to research and develop renewable energy sources.

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

ROSS GITTINS: Ross Gittins has the respect of many people. He is an economist but writes more widely. In this heartfelt article, written as a letter to his (future) grandchildren, he expresses his disbelief that Australians have just elected a government “that wasn’t genuine in its commitment to combating the effects of climate change, and that even abolished the main instrument economists invented for that purpose”.

Ross was recently asked to speak at the government’s annual conference on resources and energy and decided to “tell the miners a few home truths”, also published here.

ROSS GARNAUT: In this article about his new book Dog Days: Australia After The Boom Ross Garnaut discusses what economic and policy reforms will be required in this post resource boom era. Neither party seems to have the courage or long term vision for necessary reforms, but “more of the same” is just not sustainable any longer, and will apparently lead to higher unemployment and recession.

ENVIRONMENT:  As predicted, the Federal Government has already shown a cavalier attitude to the environment.  It has created a “one-stop shop” process with State Governments for faster environmental approvals. Permission has just been granted to expand a coal port (to become the largest in the world), near the already threatened Great Barrier Reef.  3 million cubic metres of seabed – dredging sludge – is to be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may yet refuse to grant a permit.

Tasmanians have been bitterly divided for decades over the logging or conservation of their forests, although an historic Forestry Agreement from 2012  seems to be working and have support.  This agreement is apparently also under review/threat from the Federal Government – presumably to now allow logging in heritage listed forests.

There has been a leak of 1 million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry from the uranium Ranger Mine beside Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.  Unfortunately, this is not the first  accident at the mine.

After several fatal shark attacks in Australia in the last year, there is renewed debate about culling sharks, and making our beaches “safer”.  I choose not to swim in the sea as I view it as their territory, not mine.

The Japanese whaling fleet has set out for their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, and each year anti-whale activists protest in dangerous confrontations.  Sea Shepherd consists of three vessels this year, and will again try to prevent this unnecessary slaughter of whales.  Australia took a case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling practices to the International Court of Justice, but a decision is still to be made.

MEDIA:  In this article Richard Ackland writes in the SMH how journalism has changed, and how some journalists just advocate for the government of their choice “… ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment”.  I do read Murdoch’s The Australian on Saturdays and on my way through to often good articles, I glance at what Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan are saying – and often laugh out loud at their partisanship. (Update:  it was Dennis Shanahan in The Australian Dec 21/22 who got the loudest laugh from me with “Abbott: model of a cool, calm and collected PM”.  He says there is “an unfair focus on its mistakes”.  In this Murdoch parallel universe PM Abbott and his wooden and silenced Cabinet is performing wonderfully, unlike the Opposition, who is still being blamed for everything.  Peter Harcher however, was more accurate in the SMH when he said over Indonesia, Abbott’s  “toughness is exposed to be phoney, his judgement shown to be wrong, and the damage is not stemmed early but protracted”.

I don’t often read Murdoch’s The Telegraph which campaigned so unfairly and effectively against the Labor Party in the last election.  It is a real tabloid, with the usual right wing ranters, but is also fun and a little tacky with many photographs, unlike the rather dull if worthy tabloid- in-size only Sydney Morning Herald.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

Advertised in the paper was the National Geographic Photo Contest, just as entries closed. I know many of you are very interested in photography – and wildlife, and may want to enter in 2014.  There are many entries to view at http://www.ngphotocontest.com.  There are the categories of “people, places and nature”, and “real” images which “accurately reflect a moment in time”.  The photo above is of a Little Owl (right) defending its feeding position from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) with both birds showing  their full colours with dramatic full wing extensions.

Sony World Photography Awards 2014 is currently accepting entries until 6 January 2014.

ABC: Supported by an avalanche of critical articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the Murdoch press, quite a few members of the government are talking about privatising the ABC – the government funded but independent public media body.  Every new conservative government tries to dismantle the ABC (and the trade unions), and allegations of left-wing bias are usually found to be unsubstantiated.  I hope it hasn’t got so bad here that we have to again defend the ABC, and that intelligent and informative discussion should be curtailed or shut down.  I am addicted to Radio National!

Downtown Bourke

Downtown Bourke

BOURKE: I loved visiting Bourke.  It is an attractive town, with some handsome historical buildings, wide streets and trees and parks.  It was hard to find a hotel room – there were some tourists, but regional conferences for National Parks, Health etc were being held.  I stayed in “North Bourke”, a few kilometres out of town, and over the river.  Historically, the town has been  a major regional trading centre and transport hub, initially based on the beautiful, if faintly murky Darling River.

Darling River at Port of Bourke

Darling River at Port of Bourke

A local joke in Bourke – or rural NSW, is that “NSW” stands for the coastal cities of Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong. There are no longer any rail or air links to Bourke.  The area is in drought, and summer temperatures hit 40 degrees. The population of around 2000, is forty percent  indigenous, who speak up to 24 different languages.  A complaint is that although there is access to various services, there is duplication, and it is not targeted.  People I met loved living there and were optimistic about the future.  Community leaders are working hard to deal with some of the problems. Most country towns are experiencing high levels of youth unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, unfortunately leading to high crime statistics. See this recent feature article on Bourke The Lost Town.  

I travelled to Bourke with a friend Jon Lewis a well known Australian photographer.  We both want to go back.  He took some great photographs of people in the community.  I think his photograph of me makes me look a bit haughty. See other photographs of Bourke by Jon Lewis at www.jonnylewis.org – go to Blog and Older Blogs (especially postings for November 15-19).

Ace Bourke in Bourke

Ace Bourke in Bourke by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Jonny and I visited an ancient rock art site in the Gundabooka National Park, and Fort Bourke, with several traditional owners and Aboriginal community leaders. Talking frankly with them was a moving and emotional experience.  Governor Bourke is, understandably to them, a symbol of colonial dispossession. No governor handled indigenous-settler issues successfully or with honour, and Aboriginal disadvantage from their dispossession continues to this day.

We visited the Back O’Bourke  Exhibition Centre and the region has a fascinating history with often larger than life characters.  At the Centre it was simply stated that the town was named after Bourke as he was Governor at the time. I imagine people are unaware and uninterested in who Governor Bourke actually was, and I realised that although I live in Sydney, I don’t know much about Lord Sydney either.  However, it turned out many were fans of Christian, and I was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Western Herald.

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When the surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was in this area on an expedition in 1835,  “tensions” with the the local Aboriginal people led to Mitchell building a simple (and small) wooden stockade for protection.  A replica exists today.  As Richard Bourke was Governor, Mitchell named it Fort Bourke – always a good way to curry favour for the future.   Bourke appreciated the beauty of  the  Australian landscape which was so different to Europe, and travelled on horseback extensively around the colony, although he never visited Bourke.

Leaving the rock art site

Leaving the rock art site

WORLD:  Over 2 million Syrian refugees are now facing freezing winter conditions, while many of those remaining in Syria are besieged or starving – Syria has become the most dangerous humanitarian crisis for decades;  Lebanon, like other neighbours, is drawn further into the conflict with all the refugees, and people transiting through the country to join both sides of the conflict (including hundreds of Australians);  Netanyahu is apoplectic at the thought of any Iran-US detente;  Australia “abstains” in the UN for an order to stop “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” without informing  the Australian public of the change of policy;  dozens have been killed across Iraq, with December the bloodiest month for 5 years;  very violent and dangerous conditions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan;  the Philippines still in dire need of help, with 4 million people displaced;  anti-government unrest in Bangkok and the Ukraine;  wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi visits Australia;  ex PMs Rudd and Berlusconi are hopefully gone for good;  A.C.T. same-sex marriage legislation is overturned in an Australian court, but the decision clears the way for Federal Parliament to legislate;  India (re)criminalises homosexuality;  China lands on the moon;  Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, while Edward Snowden came second.

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: People love birds as I found out with the response to the last blog.  Thanks to the indefatigible Sylvia Ross for her photographs of this birds nest 2 meters from her front door.  Over weeks we have followed the drama in the life of the Willie Wagtail – the nest, the attack by a Currawong, a surviving chick (above) appears, and later, 2 more appear! I loved her recent exhibition Feral which was photographs she has taken of pigeons in many countries. They are a beautiful and varied family, and these photographs are used as metaphors for “cultural prioritisation and question the concept of feral”.

I really appreciate the variety of emails, comments, stories and images I receive from many of you, so thank you very much.  Several of you unfortunately lost adored companion pets this year and I hope you are managing.  I know I am sometimes a little late – or careless, in my responses.  Indeed, if I have other things to attend to, my blog can read more like a summary of past events…..

I would like to thank my sister Lindy,  and Hayley from HMMG, for their invaluable assistance.

WATCHING & READING:  At the moment I’m adoring Andre Agassi’s fascinating autobiography OPEN.   He seems to have hated tennis from the start and it was his father’s dream, not his, to be Number 1 in the world.  Dad was yet another demanding and scary tennis parent.  He expresses the pyschological torment he suffered very well, and envies his main rival Pete Sampras for being “dull” – and more focused.  He repeats bitchy remarks directed towards him from McEnroe, Connors, Becker, Lendl etc., which actually reveals more about them.  He discovers that famous people, and I presume this includes his ex-wife Brooke Shields, are as mundane as everyone else.

I’m enjoying the Australia-English cricket Ashes Test series.  In a form reversal, Australia have now actually won the Ashes, although there are two more matches in the series to play.

VOICELESS: Voiceless is a non-profit organisation which is part of the animal protection movement in Australia, and is especially concerned with raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming and the kangaroo industry. Recently I attended the 10th annual Voiceless Awards and I am constantly surprised and pleased by the very important work many people are doing on behalf of animals. Voiceless is to be congratulated for their impressive track record of advocacy, and generosity through Grants, Prizes and other support.  The next day I met several of the dedicated staff, and was delighted to see three of them had their  dogs at work.  

The Animal Studies Group’s latest online edition of the Animal Studies Journal, has interesting articles reflecting current research in human-animal studies – from living with crocodiles – or owning dogs in Thailand, to animal grief.

MARTIN SHARP:  Martin Sharp (1942-2013), another of Australia’s most influential artists, has died.  His great friend Richard Neville, wrote a very comprehensive obituary in the SMH.  A very clever and creative group of Australians had arrived in London a few years before me, and they were major contributors to the so called 1960s “Counter Culture”: from Oz Magazine to Germaine Greer.  Martin Sharp made cartoons, collages, posters, psychedelic pop paintings, and album covers for Hendrix, Cream etc. When he returned to Sydney, Martin lived in his grandparent’s mansion in Sydney, with rooms devoted to his obsessions  which included Tiny Tim, Mickey Mouse, Luna Park and amusement park memorabilia.  Martin had a huge influence on many of us. He encouraged me to open my first gallery.  In 2009, Louise Ferrier and I co-ordinated a survey exhibition at the Museum of Sydney: Martin Sharp Sydney Artist.

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

NELSON MANDELA:  It is the end of an era with the death of Nelson Mandela. I can’t add to the deserved accolades for his extraordinary achievements, especially managing the transition from apartheid to democracy and reconciliation.  It has made us all think about leadership – and the absence in most of our lives of visionary – or even practical, leadership.  Mandela was a mystical combination of intelligence, resilience, charm, firmness etc, and it has been fascinating reading and learning more about him – the power he exerted from a prison cell!

It has also been a reminder of the many problems still facing South Africa, and many people obviously feel President Zuma has failed to improve their lives.

I was very interested in this quote from Mandela on leadership: “A leader is like a shepherd.  He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind”.

In his oration at Mandela’s memorial service, Obama said that leaders needed to be filled with “the spirit of Ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word meaning “the oneness of humanity”.  Let’s all strive for this in 2014…..

 Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

This is another still from my footage of our 1972 visit to Christian in Kenya, which was the last time we saw him.  Some of you have inquired about my short, unedited home movie.  In The Final Farewell on YouTube you can see equivalent (and more professional) footage from the same visit, while mine is just a little more close up and loving.

This, surprisingly, was the last time I was in Africa and I’d love to go back soon.  I later discovered India and visited many times, including staging exhibitions and cultural exchanges in India on behalf of the Australian Government.

LIONS: You can sign the AVAAZ petition here to ask President Zuma in South Africa to protect lions by banning the trade in lion bones.  There is of course no evidence these these “potions” have any efficacy.  This trade, like ivory, especially to Asia, just has to be stopped and urgently.  Depressingly, a subspecies of black rhinos, the Western Black rhino has recently been declared “officially extinct”.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

NSW FIRES:  Thanks to many of you who were concerned about the bushfires around Sydney. They are terrifying and to date, it is unbelievable that no-one has died. The fire fighters – many of them volunteers, are heroic. Some fires are still burning and new ones have broken out, but seem “contained” for now.  I have a National Park at the top of my garden, and many many people will be on alert all of this summer.  Apparently people are better prepared about evacuating their pets than they are about themselves.  Horses are a logistical nightmare to evacuate quickly, and they can smell the fires well ahead of humans. Organisations like WIRES do an amazing job of treating and caring for injured wild animals.

Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Negotiator, stated that extreme weather and the frequency and intensity of bush fires are a result of human induced global warming, and our PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”.  The most common causes of fires are fallen power lines, and arsonists.  New suburbs have always been spreading into bushland, but hopefully tighter regulations and more fire resistant houses will offer more protection in the future.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Apparently the extreme weather is, once again, making Australians more concerned about climate change, and the government will appear more and more out of step – with the world.  Our thoughts and sympathies for the many people in the Philippines and region who have died or lost everything because of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst typhoons on record.  The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, with at least up to 9 million people effected.

With Rupert Murdoch owning 65% of our media, and the media exposure of climate deniers like the ubiquitous Andrew Bolt, it is hard to move the discourse beyond “is climate change real?”, to “what do we do about it?”. There is a very good article News Goes Feral by Robert Manne on Rupert Murdoch and his insidious influence in The Monthly.  An analysis of articles and reports about climate change in the Murdoch media indicates very clearly scandalously unbalanced reporting.   Ex PM John Howard has been in England addressing a group of climate sceptics. Howard obviously lied to us when he pretended to support action on climate change, when he was trying to win the election in 2007.  Now, rather than believe scientists,  and after reading only one widely discredited book (by Nigella Lawson’s father!), he says he would prefer to rely on his instinct, which told him predictions of doom were exaggerated!

The first budget cuts by the government were bodies concerned with climate change and science, no specific Minister of Science was appointed, and 1/4 of the scientists at the pre-eminent CSIRO science and research institution have been among the first of many expected job losses.

Although in danger of being “wedged” by the government over climate change, and held responsible for high electricity charges, the Labor Party has affirmed support for a carbon trading emissions scheme. The government never seems to be able to produce a reputable scientist or economist to endorse their alternative Direct Action plan where we tax payers pay the polluters to pollute, and presumably, to encourage them to stop.  This scheme will now hopefully be examined for its likely effectiveness – or as widely suspected, will be found to be completely inadequate, which is probably the original intention.

Our current bi-partisan target of a 5% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 is widely regarded as inadequate, which should apparently be around 15 -25%.  Although we are a small economy and population, we are the 3rd highest polluter per capita in the world, and we dig up and export so much coal.

I think Australia is now embarrassingly on the wrong side of history over climate change, and the government is not even bothering to send a Minister to the international climate change negotiations in Warsaw.  Our Minister of the Environment, who seems to consult Wikepedia for advice rather than scientists, cannot attend as he is so busy “repealing the carbon tax”!!!!  It is very Monty Pythonesque and would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

GET UP!  The SYDNEY DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION  is on Sunday 17th November in Prince Albert Park, Sydney at 11am – see full details here.  This protest is Australia wide, and I hope many people attend to demonstrate our concern and dissatisfaction with a government that does not listen to the conclusions based on research and examination of empirical data, by impartial scientists.

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

POLITICS (AUS):  Our PM recently invited several leading Murdoch journalists to dinner – reputedly as a “thank you” for their efforts helping him get elected, and Abbott recently dined with Alan Jones – one of the worst shock jocks. Apparently Murdoch also wants his “pound of flesh”, and would like the government to make it easier for him to acquire Channel Ten.

Even Coalition supporters are surprised by the new government’s secrecy, lack of transparency, and disregard for accountability.  Abbott, who has only spoken in slogans for the last three years, seems to be having difficulty stringing whole sentences together.  While hungry for publicity in Opposition on a daily basis, the government is refusing to give information on nearly anything!  In comparison, the now Opposition have three very formidable, reasonable and professional spokespeople in Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.

For a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott and why many people are very worried about him, see Victoria Rollison’s  Open Letter to Laurie Oakes.   Oakes is one of several journalists complicit in the Labor Party election loss, and Coalition win.

The media is getting restless and angry with the government for starving them of material, and with parliament resuming this week, it will not be so easy to hide.  Wealthy Clive Palmer finally won his seat in Parliament, and through a few senators in his newly formed party will have a balance of power. He is a rogue conservative who makes outlandish accusations, and should prove to be a headache for the government.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

After the hottest summer, winter and decade on record, this year many plants have flowered at least four weeks early. Complex and fragile natural cycles are consequently getting interrupted.  I love the grevilleas especially, and at this time of the year all over Sydney one can see colourful patches of the mauve/violet Jacaranda trees.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

GREAT BARRIER REEF: There will be an early test for the government in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO has listed as already “in danger”.  The Federal and State conservative governments seem to regard environmental regulations and protections as just an obstacle to business.  Decisions are expected from these governments in relation to 5 new or expanded coal ports along the Queensland coast. The subsequent dredging (and dumping) will put the Reef at even greater risk. The nearby Galilee Basin holds so much coal that if it is mined, it alone could push global temperatures up past 2 degrees.  This is also true of the Tar Sands in Canada where the transportation to the Alaskan coast (en route to China) also puts this area in great danger.

There are many factors threatening the health and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, including the destructive crown of thorns star fish, and it is inconceivable that we let it be destroyed. A recent book The Reef by Iain McCalman, is a “passionate history” which includes the dangers the reef posed to early navigators such as Captain Cook, the formation of the coral, and the future the reef faces.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

USA: It was almost a relief to know that Obama was spying on world leaders like Angela Merkel, and not just us ordinary citizens. Hacking into Google and Yaho0! has angered many people. There seems to be no end to Edward Snowden’s fascinating revelations. Australia is part of a US-led global espionage network, and we are spying on our neighbours. While this should not surprise anyone, countries in the region have expressed appropriate indignation.  The Abbott Government’s relationship with Indonesia is particularly uneasy at the moment, and their initial attempts at diplomacy described as “inept”.

Congratulations to the extraordinary Serena Williams who had a 78-4 win-loss record in 2013, won 11 titles, and earned $US12,385,572. Unfortunately up to 50% of Americans are not so lucky and are living with “financial insecurity”. One in five children live in poverty. In Australia we are staggered by America’s low minimum wages.  The esteemed Joseph E Stiglitz has said America is a “rich country with poor people”  He wrote an excellent article in the New York Times earlier in the year titled Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery.

The $20 billion cost of the Tea Party-led shut down of the US Government was an inexcusable waste of money, and trashed their own reputation.  Perhaps the Republicans should have put the media spotlight on the many inexcusable teething problems over the introduction of Obamacare, rather than themselves.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

WEALTH: 35% of Russian wealth is in the hands of 110 billionaires, which is the highest level of inequality in the world.  Putin was recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful man – through the power of the office he holds I gather and the largesse he can distribute.  Some are predicting however that Russia’s economy is faltering and this will change everything.

The median wealth of adult Australians is the world’s highest at $233,504 (US$219,500), although the Swiss beat us when measured by average wealth.  In Australia the richest 10% have gained almost 50% of the growth in income over the past three decades. In America the richest 1% gained almost half the growth in individual income over the same period.

The New York Times recently had an article with the headline: Rich People Just Care Less.  Apparently research has found the wealthy to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous, and less compassionate.  It is an interesting and thought-provoking article, especially about what this social and economic inequality means for the future.  Americans however, do have a great tradition of philanthropy, which is, sadly, not very evident in Australia.

Magpie

Magpie

MIDDLE EAST:  Poor Secretary of State John Kerry zig zagging around the Middle East with such volatile issues to negotiate: Syrian chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear future, Mursi’s trial in Egypt and much else no doubt. Israel’s decision to build 1500 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem is extremely unhelpful to the “peace” negotiations with the Palestinians.  I/3 of Syrians have left their country and we won’t forget those images of Syrians finally escaping from their neighbourhoods where they had been imprisoned.  Some had resorted to eating cats, dogs and grass.  Australian soldiers are finally leaving Afghanistan which has cost us $7.5 billion, the deaths of 40 Australians and many injured, and an unknown number of civilian deaths.

Fairy Wren

Fairy Wren

BIRDS: In a recent poll the Fairy Wren was voted Australia’s favourite bird.  Magpies and Kookaburras (see images above) were the runners up.  I particularly like Kookaburras – they have lots of attitude.

MISC STATS:  In Australia: 65% of Queenslanders are overweight or obese; many of our trainee apprentices are illiterate and enumerate – as are a truly alarming % of Tasmanians; 25% of jockeys, and 40% of apprentice riders are now women; 30% of women in their 20s have tattoos.

SHADOWS:  We are all appalled by the level of corruption by some Labor politicians in NSW over the last decades which has been exposed at recent inquires, and  should result in criminal prosecutions. Also extremely depressing are inquires here into child abuse in institutions, with the Roman Catholic clergy the principal, but not the only, offenders. The reputation of the church is being fiercely protected ahead of concerns for victims. There are estimates that 50% of Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) enjoy active consensual sex.  So much for celibacy.  In Ireland ¼ of Irish women have been abused as children, and 1/3 of men.

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

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

This image from the exhibition FERAL by Sylvia Ross (co-exhibiting with Emanuel Raft) shows the beauty of a pigeon, widely considered a pest in Australia.  Sylvia Ross is an artist, long time Head of the School of Art (COFA UNSW), social activist and dedicated animal lover.

Sylvia sent me these dog photographs which are amusing.

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

MAIL: I have been asked lately where to buy the A Lion Called Christian DVD and the best source is via Amazon or Blink Films, and via Amazon for the book. I am encouraging  anyone to write and post their animal stories, or their feeling about Christian, on www.alioncalledchristian.com.au.  It is my fault that it is not as up to date as it should be and I’m checking back for stories I have overlooked.  It will be a marvellous archive of your touching and interesting animal stories.

READING: Ashamed by my confession of my lack of reading last blog, I threw myself into the biggest book I could find – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Often named by people as their favourite book, it was extremely readable, and it provided a very thorough context for what was to happen in Russia in the early 20th century. Anna was a fascinating character beautifully created by Tolstoy, although I could not quite conjure a mental picture of how she looked or her age.  I became a little exhausted by the spell of her beauty and her melodramatic life, and I was always quite relieved to read about the duller Levin in the country, thinking about seemingly lost love, farming, labour, the landscape and the seasons. He thought he had “lived well but thought badly”.

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

QUOTE: Winston Churchill apparently said “A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down at you, but a pig looks at you as an equal”.

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

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

ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation.  I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised.  America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially.  I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.

Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia  which has just been aired.  It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.

VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists:  Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart.  They were much admired and dearly loved.

BOURKE:  I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis.  Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback.  There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here.  I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces.  Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it.  It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

Eternal Hug 2013 by Jiawei Shen oil on canvas 213 x 167 cms

Eternal Hug 2013 by Jiawei Shen oil on canvas 213 x 167 cms

Artist Jiawei Shen, who as I do lives in Bundeena on the edge of Sydney, has painted this portrait of Christian and me – me as I am now obviously.

Jiawei said he wanted to paint this portrait for several reasons:  Christian is an experience that will always be part of my life; it is a story that the internet has introduced to a new generation; and for what it says about human/animal relationships. Obviously he is a big fan of Christian and the story has touched him.  In Eternal Hug he wanted to capture and express some of the deep and various emotions this image generates.

Jiawei Shen has an international reputation, and has painted “well known” people such as Princess Mary of Denmark (who is from Australia) and he has recently exhibited the first part of a huge and epic painting of 300 historical figures active in China between 1936 and 1937.

When I first saw Christian’s painting reproduced, I thought I looked a little worried.  But when you see the actual painting I do have love in my eyes.  I think he has captured the most amazing likeness of handsome Christian, and as the old saying goes, never compete with animals or children!  Jiawei says he never realised just how individual lions looked until he painstakingly painted Christian’s fur stroke by stroke, and compared him with other lions.

Ace and Jiawei Shen in the studio. Photograph by Lan Wang.

Ace and Jiawei Shen in the studio. Photograph by Lan Wang.

I also love the smaller quick study of me which he painted (above left) and generously gave to me.

Christian was born on the 12 August 1969 – 44 years ago in Ilfracombe Zoo, Devon.  In the wild he may have lived to be 10 or 12 years old, and some lions can live up to 18 years old in a zoo.  Some of you may have seen his good looking parents Butch and Mary in our original documentary, pacing up and down a small concrete cage enclosure. Such was his size, frustration and anger, Butch once or twice smashed his way out, no doubt creating havoc!  We only found out a few years ago that Christian and a sister were hand reared by a staff member which may explain why he seemed to fit so easily into our lives.

Jaiwei Shen’s portrait is based on a 1970 photograph by Derek Cattani, taken when we were living in the country with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna while waiting for permission to go to Kenya.

On the YouTube video entitled Christian The Lion- HUG! you can see the same image as Christian jumps up on me when I enter his specially built compound.

We celebrated Christian’s first birthday there, and Christian’s great friend, Unity Bevis-Jones brought Christian a mince birthday cake with one candle on the train from London.  She was heart-broken when we finally left for Kenya soon after.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Now aged 87, with a new titanium knee and a recently fitted pacemaker, David Attenborough did not miss a beat at his recent appearance in Sydney. He was touring with a Q & A show which reflected on his extraordinary career, illustrated with excerpts from many of the programs he has produced or narrated over so many years, that have changed or illuminated our understanding of the natural world. The audience was a heartening mix – of everyone! I have to say he seemed much warmer than the equally indefatigable and admirable fellow English octogenarian Jane Goodall.

It was only at the conclusion that David spoke about climate change and the world’s present ecological tipping point.  He has seen the effects over years with his own eyes, and the consequent diminishing habitats for wildlife, and the loss of species and biodiversity.

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx, native to parts of southern Europe, is the most endangered cat species in the world. There are estimated to be just 250 left in the wild. They may become extinct within 50 years as there are fewer rabbits, which are their main source of food, and their habitats are shrinking.

Also alarming is that only an estimated 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild.

AUSTRALIA: Sorry to go on about Australia, especially as I have many more readers in the rest of the world.  I do try not to be too parochial, but I would imagine many of you would find parallels in your own countries.

Our Federal election has been called for September 7th.  As I have said, I think Australians face an appalling choice for Prime Minister between Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott who has so far mostly reiterated slogans rather than costed policies.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Both Rudd and Abbott are involved in a “race to the bottom” over the treatment of asylum seekers which contravenes our legal and international responsibilities to them.

Many of us are deeply ashamed – of our harsh treatment of them, of our politicians who have demonised them, and of  the majority of Australians who seemingly feel no compassion for them.

We are now dumping these traumatised people on a malaria-infested island in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

ECONOMY: The growth record of the Australian economy post GFC has yet again been recently described as remaining the “envy of the advanced world” and partly due to “sensible macro-economic management”, according to one of the world’s foremost economists Willem Buiter.

The National Australia Bank’s CEO Cameron Clyne also recently said that as an AAA rated country the government should “issue more debt to fund desperately needed infrastructure”, and that debt can be used productively (read the article here). The Opposition, however, has successfully convinced many in the community that the government is economically incompetent.

The government has been unable to construct a positive narrative of their considerable achievements, which has not been helped by some bad political judgments, disunity, and some truly appalling corruption allegations – especially in my home state of NSW.

I have been interested to learn recently that in the last conservative Howard /Costello government (which I found repugnant in many ways), it was their unnecessary granting of tax cuts as vote buying  “middle class welfare” that accounts for a $40 billion revenue shortfall today!!!!

MURDOCH: Rupert is unashamedly backing the conservative Opposition – as he did unsuccessfully in the US with the Republicans.  As he owns 66% of our print media this is very unfair. The Daily Telegraph newspaper began the election with the headline “THROW THIS MOB OUT”!  His supposedly more highbrow The Australian is sometimes so partisan that you just cannot believe that professional journalists and columnists allow themselves to be so manipulated.  Another factor could possibly be that he may view the government’s National Broadband Network as a threat to his own Foxtel cable TV monopoly.

CLIMATE CHANGE: As I have said several times, the Coalition has a pretend policy on climate change. Depressingly and ashamedly, we may be the only country going backwards on this issue, although various countries in financial difficulties are reconsidering various “green” initiatives.  Our Prime Ministerial contender Tony Abbott recently described the carbon price he has promised to abolish as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, while ex PM John Howard now says “there’s more serious questioning of the science”.  This is just untrue.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Unfortunately neither party can be relied on to protect the environment.  For the conservatives “economic factors” seem to be the “principal consideration” in all decisions, overruling everything else.  However the Labor Party has just approved two iron ore mines in the Tarkine region of Tasmania which is a unique wilderness area.  This also poses a threat to the Tasmanian Devil population which is already decimated by a contagious face tumour disease.

BRADLEY MANNING: Whistleblower?  Traitor?  Hero?  Manning still faces up to 90 years in jail, even if he has not “aided the enemy”!  The prosecution had difficulty finding even one example of someone harmed by his “Wikileaks”.

There have been more espionage prosecutions under Obama than all other Presidents combined.  Apparently we should watch to see if the military judge Colonel Denise Lind gets a promotion.

I’ve just looked again at Youtube and viewed the horrific footage that Bradley Manning thought we should see of those Americans shooting innocent civilians and two Reuters reporters in Baghdad from the Apache helicopter in 2007.   It is appalling in many ways: cold blooded murder; the cynical attitude of the Americans as they shot them and then shot the people that ran to help them; shooting the children in the van; the Pentagon saying the Americans had done “nothing wrong”; and that no-one was charged.  On the other hand, people called for Manning’s execution, and he was subsequently locked up and tortured.

I’d also like Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Howard to be finally called to account for their lies, actions and resulting innocent deaths,  and the “basket case” that is their legacy in Iraq.

Apparently 55% of Americans view Edward Snowden as a “whistleblower”, while 34% view him as a “traitor”.  Both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are ironically being protected by two countries with appalling records on press freedom and human rights.

MIDDLE EAST: Let’s just see how the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations play out….but I can only be cynical. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion – late in the day and reluctantly, that while the Palestinians “have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, Israel has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian State, and the continued building of their illegal settlements on Palestinian land is to ensure that this will soon be an impossibility. They are just playing for time.

I wish the Egyptian General al-Sisi would take off his dark glasses and we can see who Egyptians are actually dealing with. Incompetent as the Muslim Brotherhood were in governing Egypt, one does have to wonder what the reportedly charismatic General’s own ambitions are in the power vacuum he has created.  The Egyptians do have a propensity for a strong military leader.  Mediation seems to have failed so far, and one fears the imminent removal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters can only result in more bloodshed.

Unfortunately Assad in Syria seems to be regaining territory, but at what a price – whole neighbourhoods and suburbs of cities seem to have  been entirely flattened.

MALALA: Shot and badly injured by the Taliban in Pakistan, who will forget the courage and leadership of young Malala Yousafza and her address to the United Nations Youth Assembly about the importance of education?

David Bowie

David Bowie

WATCHING: I loved a recent documentary on David Bowie who was emerging with his Ziggy Stardust persona in the early 1970s as the world moved on from the 1960s “Carnaby Street” and the “Kings Road” era.  Isn’t it interesting how some music is the backdrop to our lives at various stages.  I do think Bowie was much more innovative and interesting that most of the others.

I did not enjoy watching the film Behind the Candelbra.  While I loved the performance of Michael Douglas as Liberace, they were all rather horrible people to have to spend a few hours with.  Many years ago with friends I met Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson in Sydney when they were promoting One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest, and they both bought art from my first gallery, Ace’s Art Shop.

Dr Chris Brown

Dr Chris Brown

CHRIS BROWN: When we appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show several years ago, of my own volition I took tapes of Chris Brown’s Bondi Vet television program.  Chris is the son of a family friend.  I thought he would be great on the Animal Planet channel which I think Oprah had just acquired an interest in.  As an excellent vet with a personable manner and movie star looks, he could be a huge success in the USA, as he is in Australia.  Chris is finally about to make his debut on US television on CBS as Dr. Chris: Pet Vet.  Starting on September 28th, the program is aimed at teenage audiences.

The Marmalade Cat

Orlando The Marmalade Cat

My godmother loved cats and she presciently gave me this book Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) His Silver Anniversary when I was born and it is my favourite book.  Isn’t it interesting how we remain so attached to our childhood books and I still cannot give any away. My mother had a garage sale many years ago when I wasn’t paying attention, or out of the country, and I still have to resist the urge to replace several books that went missing, especially some that had beautiful illustrations.

UncleTruffl

I think the author Kathleen Hale’s illustrations in the Orlando books are superb and I don’t know why the books have never been re-released, although there are so many excellent children’s books on the market. I quite often look online and consider buying ALL of Orlando’s books!

I just loved Orlando and his family, although I was nervous of their Uncle Truffle (above).  I was frightened of the Katnapper because he stole cats, although he said he just could not help himself, and that the cats found him irresistible.  I think the fish and prawns in his pockets helped.  I think I probably also envied him – his house was cat heaven!  I sometimes wonder what effect this story had on my life….

The Katnapper

The Katnapper

So, Happy Birthday Christian.  Many of us will never forget you, could never forget you, and we will continue to be concerned about animal and wildlife issues because of you, and in your name.

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