Christian, Lions, Australia, NSW Bushfires, Climate Change, Politics, Great Barrier Reef, USA, Espionage, Sylvia Ross, Birds, Art etc
November 12, 2013
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”.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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”.
ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation. I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised. America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially. I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.
Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia which has just been aired. It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.
VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists: Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart. They were much admired and dearly loved.
BOURKE: I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis. Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback. There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here. I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces. Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it. It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!
Christian, Jiawei Shen, David Attenborough, Australia, Bradley Manning, Middle East, Malala, David Bowie, Dr Chris Brown, Orlando The Marmalade Cat, etc
August 12, 2013
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!
Artist Jiawei Shen, who as I do lives in Bundeena on the edge of Sydney, has painted this portrait of Christian and me – me as I am now obviously.
Jiawei said he wanted to paint this portrait for several reasons: Christian is an experience that will always be part of my life; it is a story that the internet has introduced to a new generation; and for what it says about human/animal relationships. Obviously he is a big fan of Christian and the story has touched him. In Eternal Hug he wanted to capture and express some of the deep and various emotions this image generates.
Jiawei Shen has an international reputation, and has painted “well known” people such as Princess Mary of Denmark (who is from Australia) and he has recently exhibited the first part of a huge and epic painting of 300 historical figures active in China between 1936 and 1937.
When I first saw Christian’s painting reproduced, I thought I looked a little worried. But when you see the actual painting I do have love in my eyes. I think he has captured the most amazing likeness of handsome Christian, and as the old saying goes, never compete with animals or children! Jiawei says he never realised just how individual lions looked until he painstakingly painted Christian’s fur stroke by stroke, and compared him with other lions.
I also love the smaller quick study of me which he painted (above left) and generously gave to me.
Christian was born on the 12 August 1969 – 44 years ago in Ilfracombe Zoo, Devon. In the wild he may have lived to be 10 or 12 years old, and some lions can live up to 18 years old in a zoo. Some of you may have seen his good looking parents Butch and Mary in our original documentary, pacing up and down a small concrete cage enclosure. Such was his size, frustration and anger, Butch once or twice smashed his way out, no doubt creating havoc! We only found out a few years ago that Christian and a sister were hand reared by a staff member which may explain why he seemed to fit so easily into our lives.
Jaiwei Shen’s portrait is based on a 1970 photograph by Derek Cattani, taken when we were living in the country with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna while waiting for permission to go to Kenya.
On the YouTube video entitled Christian The Lion- HUG! you can see the same image as Christian jumps up on me when I enter his specially built compound.
We celebrated Christian’s first birthday there, and Christian’s great friend, Unity Bevis-Jones brought Christian a mince birthday cake with one candle on the train from London. She was heart-broken when we finally left for Kenya soon after.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Now aged 87, with a new titanium knee and a recently fitted pacemaker, David Attenborough did not miss a beat at his recent appearance in Sydney. He was touring with a Q & A show which reflected on his extraordinary career, illustrated with excerpts from many of the programs he has produced or narrated over so many years, that have changed or illuminated our understanding of the natural world. The audience was a heartening mix – of everyone! I have to say he seemed much warmer than the equally indefatigable and admirable fellow English octogenarian Jane Goodall.
It was only at the conclusion that David spoke about climate change and the world’s present ecological tipping point. He has seen the effects over years with his own eyes, and the consequent diminishing habitats for wildlife, and the loss of species and biodiversity.
The Iberian Lynx, native to parts of southern Europe, is the most endangered cat species in the world. There are estimated to be just 250 left in the wild. They may become extinct within 50 years as there are fewer rabbits, which are their main source of food, and their habitats are shrinking.
Also alarming is that only an estimated 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild.
AUSTRALIA: Sorry to go on about Australia, especially as I have many more readers in the rest of the world. I do try not to be too parochial, but I would imagine many of you would find parallels in your own countries.
Our Federal election has been called for September 7th. As I have said, I think Australians face an appalling choice for Prime Minister between Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott who has so far mostly reiterated slogans rather than costed policies.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Both Rudd and Abbott are involved in a “race to the bottom” over the treatment of asylum seekers which contravenes our legal and international responsibilities to them.
Many of us are deeply ashamed – of our harsh treatment of them, of our politicians who have demonised them, and of the majority of Australians who seemingly feel no compassion for them.
We are now dumping these traumatised people on a malaria-infested island in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
ECONOMY: The growth record of the Australian economy post GFC has yet again been recently described as remaining the “envy of the advanced world” and partly due to “sensible macro-economic management”, according to one of the world’s foremost economists Willem Buiter.
The National Australia Bank’s CEO Cameron Clyne also recently said that as an AAA rated country the government should “issue more debt to fund desperately needed infrastructure”, and that debt can be used productively (read the article here). The Opposition, however, has successfully convinced many in the community that the government is economically incompetent.
The government has been unable to construct a positive narrative of their considerable achievements, which has not been helped by some bad political judgments, disunity, and some truly appalling corruption allegations – especially in my home state of NSW.
I have been interested to learn recently that in the last conservative Howard /Costello government (which I found repugnant in many ways), it was their unnecessary granting of tax cuts as vote buying ”middle class welfare” that accounts for a $40 billion revenue shortfall today!!!!
MURDOCH: Rupert is unashamedly backing the conservative Opposition – as he did unsuccessfully in the US with the Republicans. As he owns 66% of our print media this is very unfair. The Daily Telegraph newspaper began the election with the headline “THROW THIS MOB OUT”! His supposedly more highbrow The Australian is sometimes so partisan that you just cannot believe that professional journalists and columnists allow themselves to be so manipulated. Another factor could possibly be that he may view the government’s National Broadband Network as a threat to his own Foxtel cable TV monopoly.
CLIMATE CHANGE: As I have said several times, the Coalition has a pretend policy on climate change. Depressingly and ashamedly, we may be the only country going backwards on this issue, although various countries in financial difficulties are reconsidering various “green” initiatives. Our Prime Ministerial contender Tony Abbott recently described the carbon price he has promised to abolish as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, while ex PM John Howard now says “there’s more serious questioning of the science”. This is just untrue.
Unfortunately neither party can be relied on to protect the environment. For the conservatives “economic factors” seem to be the “principal consideration” in all decisions, overruling everything else. However the Labor Party has just approved two iron ore mines in the Tarkine region of Tasmania which is a unique wilderness area. This also poses a threat to the Tasmanian Devil population which is already decimated by a contagious face tumour disease.
BRADLEY MANNING: Whistleblower? Traitor? Hero? Manning still faces up to 90 years in jail, even if he has not “aided the enemy”! The prosecution had difficulty finding even one example of someone harmed by his “Wikileaks”.
There have been more espionage prosecutions under Obama than all other Presidents combined. Apparently we should watch to see if the military judge Colonel Denise Lind gets a promotion.
I’ve just looked again at Youtube and viewed the horrific footage that Bradley Manning thought we should see of those Americans shooting innocent civilians and two Reuters reporters in Baghdad from the Apache helicopter in 2007. It is appalling in many ways: cold blooded murder; the cynical attitude of the Americans as they shot them and then shot the people that ran to help them; shooting the children in the van; the Pentagon saying the Americans had done “nothing wrong”; and that no-one was charged. On the other hand, people called for Manning’s execution, and he was subsequently locked up and tortured.
I’d also like Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Howard to be finally called to account for their lies, actions and resulting innocent deaths, and the “basket case” that is their legacy in Iraq.
Apparently 55% of Americans view Edward Snowden as a “whistleblower”, while 34% view him as a “traitor”. Both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are ironically being protected by two countries with appalling records on press freedom and human rights.
MIDDLE EAST: Let’s just see how the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations play out….but I can only be cynical. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion – late in the day and reluctantly, that while the Palestinians “have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, Israel has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian State, and the continued building of their illegal settlements on Palestinian land is to ensure that this will soon be an impossibility. They are just playing for time.
I wish the Egyptian General al-Sisi would take off his dark glasses and we can see who Egyptians are actually dealing with. Incompetent as the Muslim Brotherhood were in governing Egypt, one does have to wonder what the reportedly charismatic General’s own ambitions are in the power vacuum he has created. The Egyptians do have a propensity for a strong military leader. Mediation seems to have failed so far, and one fears the imminent removal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters can only result in more bloodshed.
Unfortunately Assad in Syria seems to be regaining territory, but at what a price – whole neighbourhoods and suburbs of cities seem to have been entirely flattened.
MALALA: Shot and badly injured by the Taliban in Pakistan, who will forget the courage and leadership of young Malala Yousafza and her address to the United Nations Youth Assembly about the importance of education?
WATCHING: I loved a recent documentary on David Bowie who was emerging with his Ziggy Stardust persona in the early 1970s as the world moved on from the 1960s “Carnaby Street” and the “Kings Road” era. Isn’t it interesting how some music is the backdrop to our lives at various stages. I do think Bowie was much more innovative and interesting that most of the others.
I did not enjoy watching the film Behind the Candelbra. While I loved the performance of Michael Douglas as Liberace, they were all rather horrible people to have to spend a few hours with. Many years ago with friends I met Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson in Sydney when they were promoting One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest, and they both bought art from my first gallery, Ace’s Art Shop.
CHRIS BROWN: When we appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show several years ago, of my own volition I took tapes of Chris Brown’s Bondi Vet television program. Chris is the son of a family friend. I thought he would be great on the Animal Planet channel which I think Oprah had just acquired an interest in. As an excellent vet with a personable manner and movie star looks, he could be a huge success in the USA, as he is in Australia. Chris is finally about to make his debut on US television on CBS as Dr. Chris: Pet Vet. Starting on September 28th, the program is aimed at teenage audiences.
My godmother loved cats and she presciently gave me this book Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) His Silver Anniversary when I was born and it is my favourite book. Isn’t it interesting how we remain so attached to our childhood books and I still cannot give any away. My mother had a garage sale many years ago when I wasn’t paying attention, or out of the country, and I still have to resist the urge to replace several books that went missing, especially some that had beautiful illustrations.
I think the author Kathleen Hale’s illustrations in the Orlando books are superb and I don’t know why the books have never been re-released, although there are so many excellent children’s books on the market. I quite often look online and consider buying ALL of Orlando’s books!
I just loved Orlando and his family, although I was nervous of their Uncle Truffle (above). I was frightened of the Katnapper because he stole cats, although he said he just could not help himself, and that the cats found him irresistible. I think the fish and prawns in his pockets helped. I think I probably also envied him – his house was cat heaven! I sometimes wonder what effect this story had on my life….
So, Happy Birthday Christian. Many of us will never forget you, could never forget you, and we will continue to be concerned about animal and wildlife issues because of you, and in your name.
Great Barrier Reef, Asylum Seekers, Sharks, USA, Assange, Attenborough, Carbon Pricing, Oceans, Noel Pearson etc
September 2, 2012
OCEANS: A recent book Ocean of Life: How Our Seas are Changing by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) has received good reviews. The oceans are so unexplored and unknown in many respects, but their resources are not inexhaustible and are integral to our lives and survival. The author paints a frightening and comprehensive picture of what has already been lost - coral, ocean megafauna, fish stocks etc., and the future challenges. But Roberts also discusses positive ways to counteract some of the losses – with protected marine areas, bans on many forms of fishing, and global regulatory mechanisms. But despite marine ecosystems being capable of rapid recovery, the world is “living on borrowed time”.
Let’s hope Australia’s newly declared and extensive marine areas are to be adequately protected.
The new CEO for Greenpeace Australia Pacific David Ritter has expressed astonishment – as have many of us – that the Australian Government could be giving the go-ahead for the aptly named Alpha coal mine (co-owned by Gina Rinehart) to build a rail link and one of the world’s largest coal ports ON Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. The many environmental concerns are to be managed by “strict operating conditions”. Sure. After living in Europe, Ritter wonders how Australia could commit to such an old fashioned development involving fossil fuels which is so likely to endanger the Great Barrier Reef?
You can visit the Greenpeace site to protest should you want to.
SHARKS: Apparently there is a new shark app providing ocean observatories through a wave glider robot of mapping technology for Great White Sharks where numbers can be assessed, and one can “interact” with “Chomp, Mr. Burns, Little John” etc! I’m terrified of sharks and will NOT be watching.
FISH: Protest against the super trawler Margiris (renamed the Abel Tasman!) fishing in Australian waters on a huge scale for small pelagic fish which are critical in our marine ecosystem. There is now widespread opposition to this 142 metre vessel which will probably vacuum up “by-catch” of other sea creatures indiscriminately. The trawler is licensed to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish which is 5% of total stocks from a huge area that stretches from southern Queensland, around Tasmania, and across to Western Australia. Sign the Greenpeace petition here to stop the super trawler.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Many boats with asylum seekers have been making the dangerous journey to Australia. At least 100 drowned last week and there wasn’t even a national outcry, with drownings now seemingly commonplace. Both major political parties have been in a “race to the bottom” over this issue to demonise these people. New laws have stripped away their human rights and these inaccurately described “illegal immigrants” are now likely to be locked away out of sight and processed off-shore on a barren Pacific island (Nauru), or a malaria-infested island (Manus Island in PNG) for unspecified periods. Both these previously used centres are in shocking condition and one wonders why the money could not be invested more wisely in the welfare of these desperate people. This is similar to ex PM John Howard’s Pacific Solution where most people were eventually resettled in Australia, but many with long lasting mental problems. 70-90% of them were found to be genuine refugees. Australians, I am ashamed to say, have not been compassionate or welcoming.
There has been a fascinating television program called Go Back To Where You Come From on SBS where people with diverse views were actually sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu in Somali to witness for themselves the conditions that have made refugees flee. The Australians were terrified for their safety. They met an Hazara in Afghanistan who belongs to a small minority of people who have been hounded there for decades. Over 300 of them who reached Australia were returned to Afghanistan by the Australian Government, and some have subsequently been killed. Unfortunately no easy solutions exist, but hopefully after this documentary series more of the Australian population are now a little better informed and more sympathetic.
The UNHCR estimates there are 42 million refugees worldwide and Australia’s yearly intake is 180,000.
The polls have slightly improved for our embattled Prime Minister – by playing to our prejudices by being tough on asylum seekers, cleverly wedging the Opposition leader on carbon pricing, and talking about important if unfunded policies – a National Disabilities insurance scheme, education reform and dental care.
While the Australian economy has been one of the best performing in the world, there is now talk that our commodities boom is coming to an end, with a fall in prices for iron ore, and a slow down of the Chinese economy. The deposed PM Kevin Rudd has worryingly reappeared lately with a few strategic appearances.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: David was recently in Australia and his live performances sold out in minutes. In an interview he said that about 10 years ago it was apparent from scientific data that global warming/climate change was real, and today I think it must be very hard for any reasonably intelligent person to argue that this is untrue and not want to do something about it. At 86 he has 70 documentaries to his credit, and still looks handsome, although he hobbled a little which he blamed on injuries sustained while climbing Mount Gower on our Lord Howe Island several years ago.
The arctic ice cap has shrunk to the lowest level yet recorded.
WATER: It seems the world will not have the water to feed the expected 9 billion people by 2050. A vegetarian diet may be the solution as animal protein rich food consumes 5-10 times more water. At present 1/3rd of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals!
ELECTRICITY PRICES: For those wanting to blame our high Australian electricity bills on the recent carbon tax, I am again pointing out that there has been an 80% increase between 2007 and 2012 (and a cold winter!)
CARBON PRICING SCHEMES: From 2013, carbon pricing schemes are expected to be operating in at least 33 countries and 18 states and provinces. These schemes will cover about 850 million people, about 30% of the global economy and about 20% of global emissions. This includes US states and Chinese provinces. Very recently, the Australian Government has scrapped the floor price for carbon and will join our emissions scheme to the European Union by 2015. I presume this is a good move and it does blunt the Opposition’s criticism that we are “going it alone” and are economically disadvantaged.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Despite their protestations, the Australia Government has not supported Julian Assange and seemingly lies about what it does or doesn’t know about US intentions. On a television program (Four Corners on the ABC) a few weeks ago it was very apparent the “charges” against Assange in Sweden were non-existent – mere accusations centred around not using a condom. Julian offered to discuss this matter while in Sweden and was allowed to leave the country. He should be very concerned about extradition to the US where Bradley Manning has spent 800+ days in jail without trial.
Julian should not be surprised by the fierce American opposition to himself and WikiLeaks after his exposures which I support, although I hope no identified “informants” were subsequently murdered. However I do not support his relationship with both Russia and Ecuador which are two countries with appalling track records regarding freedom of the press.
PUSSY RIOT: I want to acknowledge these three brave and articulate girls that have been jailed for 2 years for protesting about increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia and his intolerance to any dissent. While their performance in a church was provocative, it was appropriate given the Orthodox Church’s political support for Putin.
BURMA: congratulations on the lifting of press censorship…..
US: Paul Ryan is an interesting choice for Romney’s running mate although he actually gives Obama more of a target – as Maureen Dowd commented “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in”. The poor or disadvantaged have to become “more self-reliant”, while the rich get richer and have 80% of the wealth. Apparently over time this has produced a two-tier society where children of the rich go to the best colleges, and subsequently get the best jobs, leaving most others permanently disadvantaged. While polls are close between Romney and Obama, apparently Australians would choose Obama by a 14 to 1 margin – even 64% of conservative voters.
This is partly a hang-over from the Bush/Howard years and the still lingering negativity towards both of them over the Iraq war which cost $US3 trillion, resulted in many deaths and has ended up with Iraq allied with Iran. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu recently said that Bush and Blair should face the International Criminal Court. Don’t forget John Howard!
I was not impressed with the cloyingly sentimental testimonials at the Republican convention or Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance. Not surprisingly there was no acknowledgement of the economic and foreign affairs mess Obama inherited from Bush, while Paul Ryan has been accused of making “false or distorted” statements. I hope Michelle Obama and the Democrats play it a little cooler…
Growth in the US is only 2% but share prices have risen 20% which is one of various indicators encouraging for Obama’s re-election, although 8.2% unemployment is not. It is anticipated that the US will be energy self-sufficient in a few years from shale gas and oil. No doubt, like in Australia, the short and long term effects of all this mining – on communities, food agricultural land, and water tables, has not been scientifically tested.
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Australia is being left behind in R & D and for the first time the Asian region surpassed the Americas in its investment – $518 billion to $512 billion. China spends 6 times more than Australia does – and our scientists are collaborating on carbon capture technology for power plants, climate change modelling, stem cell medical research, solar voltaic materials and disease transmission from animals to humans.
MIDDLE EAST: In EGYPT the new President seems have asserted himself and one wonders how and when the Generals will fight back….while SYRIA seems to be “exploding” rather than just “imploding” while the world watches impotently. 100,000 Syrians fled last month. The new UN “Peace” envoy to Syria thinks his job is “nearly impossible”. There were a few more Australian soldier deaths in Afghanistan, and with such a brazenly corrupt government, local warlords and the Taliban lurking, the sooner we stop the charade and leave the country the better.
When I woke up the other day, the news was that the Syrian government forces were shooting their own people from helicopters as they queued for bread, more asylum seekers drowned on their way to Australia, and some beheadings in Afghanistan. What sort of world do we live in?
ISRAEL: The historian Tom Segev warns that the Arab and ultra orthodox populations in Israel are growing, and that this is “ the main reason I think we should leave the occupied territories. Those Israelis who built Israel as a Jewish and democratic country are becoming a minority”. He was quoted in an article by John Lyons in The Australian which went on to say that “Children were taught that when Israel was established in 1948 it had been empty – it was a land without people for a people without land. Historians (like Segev) have demolished the myth with documents showing almost half the Arabs who left were forced out, many violently”. This is similar to the myth of ‘terra nullius” in relation to the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the subsequent British colonisation.
We have to remember that many Israelis are also concerned about the military occupation of the Palestinians and realise that the settlements are designed to make peace with the Palestinians impossible. An organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers called Breaking the Silence have compiled a report from soldiers’ testimonies relating to the wounding and killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza. This follows two other reports that detail multiple violations of international law by Israel in its treatment of children.
I did read a worrying article in Vanity Fair about Netanyahu, which despite his comfortable majority in the Knesset is described as “moving forward by standing still” and is now “unrelentingly cautious”. His wife Sara apparently “runs the show”, and the media has been neutralised with the assistance of two American billionaires.
So is Israel preparing to go to war with Iran over their nuclear program -or merely threatening for the benefit of the US where the Presidential elections are another complicating factor? Apparently Israel, unlike the US, do not have the weapons it needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.
The US sold a record $US66.3 billion of arms sales overseas last year.
NOEL PEARSON: In Australia it is hard to work out Noel Pearson, a very intelligent and articulate Aboriginal. He is the architect of the Government’s flawed and controversial Intervention in Aboriginal communities – a one size paradigm NOT fitting all by any means, and imposed originally with no community consultation. The Intervention has rare bi-partisan support which suits both political parties as most policies and vast amounts of money have seen little improvement for Aboriginal people over many years. Recently there has been a glut of information about Pearson in both major papers, and I can’t work out why. Unfortunately he seems to have become autocratic, untouchable, and foul mouthed. His central idea is that the welfare dependency of many Aboriginal people is counter productive, and it is undoubtedly ultimately demoralising. Unfortunately the Intervention has led to the discontinuation of many worthwhile programs Aboriginals themselves initiated in their own communities. Pearson’s chosen communities and projects in Queensland, however, ironically seem particularly awash with government funding. Scrutiny or criticism is treated with contempt, and it is hard to measure any actual achievements as yet. While one must applaud genuine attempts to counter Aboriginal disadvantage, some of his ideas do seem paternalistic and a hangover from the Mission days. I do support various ideas and projects however, including encouragement for people to have their own gardens and grow their own vegetables. Make up your own mind.
MISC STATS: Facebook 955 million users but the share price halved; Apple worth $622 billion; 100 million deaths in the world from smoking each year and Australia has $200 million invested in Big Tobacco in our Future Fund; 80% fewer koalas on the east coast of Australia because of urban development; 1/3rd more tigers killed in India this year.
READERS: As readers, my generation, (and a little older and a little younger), have been “spectators” in a sense and are fast becoming an eccentric minority. Now consumers are more “participants” through Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc. More people are now into this constant flow of information and other stimulation. Are they afraid of silence? When is the “quiet” time, or the time for reflection? Planning? Thinking?
SMH: Over 70 journalists and writers have taken redundancy packages and left my favourite newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald. This can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of the newspaper, although several of you have complained in the past about the sources for news and commentary that I rely on!
JOHN RALSTON SAUL: In an essay Saul asks “When did saving a bank become more important than saving a country?” I particularly liked some of his ideas as I grapple to understand the effects of the “solutions” to the GFC and the future for countries such as Greece, Spain etc. in the European Union. Saul is amazed as “those who have produced the failure press on”. He sees a failure of imagination, and an illiterate leadership. He challenges the policies of austerity and growth, and asks when did austerity ever historically lead to prosperity? He discusses the destructive attitudes to public debt and wonders about the primary obligation to the well being of citizens. He is not surprised by the return of popularism, xenophobia and fear. He says there is a production surplus and the problem is that it is distributed unfairly. We must “move on to ideas of social and economic well being not dependent on growing consumption”. Read the full article from the SMH here.
FELINE FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently over 10,000 people attended this recent outdoor event in Minneapolis to view 79 selected entries. Apparently 10 million cat videos are on the internet! The winner of the Golden Kitty award was Will Braden’s existential Henri 2: Paw de Deux and it is just marvellous! He certainly understands cats.
Carbon Price, GFC, Assange, Rio, The World, Middle East, Asylum Seekers, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Census etc
July 1, 2012
CARBON PRICE: Congratulations to Australia for the July Ist implementation of the Carbon and Mineral taxes. Both issues have cost the careers and credibility of several political leaders in Australia already, and (unfairly) damaged the reputation of the PM. The Opposition, temporarily silenced by our extraordinary annual growth rate of 4.3%, has been campaigning against it and frightening people for years now. It is actually a carbon price, not a tax, and will transition to an Emissions Trading Scheme in 3 years. It only applies to our top 300 emitters, and has inbuilt and quite generous compensations. The Opposition have promised to rescind both taxes if elected to office next year (which unfortunately seems likely), but hopefully this will be very difficult. They have an alternative “Direct Action” policy on carbon which no-one seems to take seriously. It is admittedly a very complex subject to fully understand and is an example of an issue that requires real leadership and education. It should have bi-partisan support as in the UK and New Zealand. Even if one does not believe in climate change, who can deny that our water and air are unacceptably polluted and that we have to look for alternatives to our 95% dependence on fossil fuels.
Apparently 85% of the businesses likely to be most effected by the new carbon tax have already acted to decrease their emissions, so it is already having an effect, and they accept that the carbon tax is here to stay. Unfortunately the Opposition’s threat to unwind the tax is creating investment uncertainty. The carbon price is $23 per tonne – which is in the middle compared to a lower price in Europe, and higher in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. A reasonably high price is needed to encourage the transition from coal to renewables.
The Opposition (and miners) have said that these taxes will force businesses to invest elsewhere. The Shell company however, still thinks Australia is a “good place to invest” and will spend $30 billion dollars here over the next five years. The company advocates a price for carbon based on market mechanism, and have costed in a price of $40 per tonne.
Electricity prices have risen 55% in my State over the last 3 years, apparently because of the cost of building “lines and poles” that I understand the government reimburses the energy companies for. The network seems very expensively structured just to be able to handle the few and obvious peak consumer demands. While the new tax and the government will be blamed for our already high electricity prices which are anticipated to rise 9%, the most vulnerable people in the community will be compensated. Already households are becoming much more energy conscious, and the demand is already lower.
Energy accounts for 70% of greenhouse gases and a great deal more money needs to be spent on research into alternatives and renewable energies – while “carbon capture” at this stage remains a remote dream. Australia is exporting $44 billion dollars worth of coal this year!
JAMES LOVELOCK: Interestingly, James Lovelock, the 92 year old scientist, futurist, and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis (that the Earth is a self-regulating, single organism), has surprised environmentalists by his long support for the use of nuclear energy and hatred of wind power. He has now come out in favour of fracking for extracting natural gas as it produces much less CO2 than burning coal. He thinks most renewable energy schemes are hopelessly “inefficient and unpleasant”, and that sustainable development is “meaningless drivel”. He envisages a future where we live in megacities. He gives Singapore (one of my least favourite cities) as an example of a very successful city which was built in a humid and inhospitable climate on a swamp. “It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world”.
It is hard to support nuclear energy in the shadow of Fukushima. Apparently the supports for the pool containing the spent fuel rods in Nuclear Reactor 4 are very badly damaged, and is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. Radiation levels in fish have been picked up as far away as the US coast, destroying marine life – and livelihoods, for decades to come. TEPCO have deceived the Japanese public from the start and are to be sued for many billions of dollars in compensation. I feel hypocritical however as Australia supplies 16% of the world’s uranium.
RIO+20: One wonders if summits or events like this and the failure rate, only build public cynicism. Only 4 of 70 “targets” from the last Rio Summit 20 years ago were met. Meetings on the sidelines were probably more useful and people are recommending abandoning attempts to get governments to agree, and to take different approaches such as persuading financial institutions to change how they invest money, like the UN- backed Principles for Responsible Investment.
MARINE PARKS: Australia has proposed a giant network of marine parks –the world’s largest marine protection area, which still leaves 2/3rds of our oceans for fishing, recreation etc. Oceans are the life-support system of the planet. Naturally this proposal is contentious and illuminates a philosophical difference between the political Left and Right (a divide that seems to be widening rapidly). The conservatives seem to see the environment as a resource for them to utilise, consume and yes, enjoy, while the Left lean more towards treading lightly on the earth, and derive pleasure in long-term conservation and protection.
SHOOTERS: The newish conservative NSW State government has done a shady deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow shooting in 79 National Parks and reserves. This is supposedly an important “conservation” initiative against feral animals, although experts say this is ridiculous, indeed counterproductive. One of the MPs from this party Robert Borsak goes hunting in Zimbabwe to proudly shoot elephants, also as part of a “conservation” program. His fellow MP Robert Brown, in a debate over this issue in Parliament, said to a Green MP it was a pity he couldn’t take him outside and “beat him to death”.
THE WORLD: The ongoing Global Financial Crisis seems to deepen and some commentators are saying it is the end- game of an economic and financial model, and the end of an era that began with the free market forces espoused by Thatcher and Reagan. It seems to be now finally recognised that “growth”, not just “austerity” has to be a crucial element in any recovery. In the absence so far of any new or innovative approaches to this grave crisis potentially engulfing us all, I did read of a proposal for a Global Rescue “Marshall” Plan (American assistance to Europe after WW2) that everyone would contribute to. There also now seems to be acceptance that the banks have to evolve as soon as possible towards a single European banking supervision system.
While the US is carrying huge debt, good news is that there is some positive movement in the housing sector, and that the economy is “gaining some momentum”. Congratulations to Mr. Obama for the health-care win in the Supreme Court, and that this result will spread coverage to 30 million Americans presently without insurance.
MIDDLE EAST: It is now called a civil war in SYRIA, and defections from the Syrian army seem to be increasing. Violence is escalating and 16,000 Syrians have died in the last 15 months. Given the Russian and Chinese intransigence there is now talk of Assad leaving the country under immunity, or “political transition”. Others are questioning the present“veto” option of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and think a “majority vote” would be preferable. We should not forget how the UN was just ignored (and weakened) by the US and UK in their enthusiasm to invade Iraq so disastrously. In LIBYA, while the oil is flowing, groups of heavily-armed militias have a sense of entitlement and are taking control from authorities, and there is very little existing social or political infrastructure to build on post-Gaddafi. Congratulations to EGYPT for their first democratically elected President, although no-one seems to know just what powers the Generals will allow him – and no outcry from the Americans over this or the dissolving of the elected parliament. The Israelis are nervous about the threat to revisit the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, and the Americans will no doubt use their continued annual funding of $1.5 billion to secretly bargain in their own interests.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Yet another boat has sunk en route to Australia with at least 92 drowned, with other boats still arriving. Both the major parties have played politics on this – one determined to cling to office, the other determined to throw them out, and unfortunately both are pandering to Australian racial prejudices and lack of compassion. Some appalled back-benchers of both parties initiated meetings with each other, but Parliament has concluded for the winter recess without a solution. The Greens are opposed to off-shore processing, and this does raise an interesting and very difficult question. Should one stick to one’s principles or be prepared to compromise in the short term – in this instance to save lives? Again it should be an issue for good leadership and bi-partisanship. Australia actually receives a very small percentage of asylum seekers. We take 3%, while the US take 17%, France 12%, Germany 10%, and Canada 6%. The number one country of origin at the moment is Afghanistan and these people are demonised when they try to reach Australia, although we are fighting the same “enemy” in Afghanistan.
THE INTERVENTION: While we were all diverted by the asylum seeker crisis, or watching Wimbledon, the Senate in the dead of night shamefully passed a 10 year extension to the highly-criticised Intervention in Aboriginal communities. Of course THIS issue has bi-partisan support, and the government did not even allow a Parliamentary Committee to subject the laws to a human rights test. The Labor Party do test my patience and support to the absolute limit, but the alternatives, in my opinion, are much worse!
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: As you have probably gathered the SMH is my favourite paper and I am often quoting from it. It is under threat. They have lost their fabled “rivers of gold” classified advertisements which have mostly moved online and earn much less. One has to suspect that Rupert Murdoch’s splitting of News Corp into Print and Entertainment companies may be a protection against the repercussions of the UK phone hacking scandal. In Australia he owns 70% of the print media, so many of us rely on the mostly good and objective reporting of the Sydney Morning Herald, or The Age in Melbourne. However, Gina Rinehart now nearly the richest person in the world has bought 18.7% of the Fairfax company that owns the SMH and has no compunction in throwing her considerable weight around. The company has not been well run, but Gina has far Right political views and a determination to defeat the elected government, a view that seems to be shared by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. The issue has raised very interesting questions about editorial influence, media controls, and the life expectancy of printed papers versus online readership where already 75% of SMH readers have moved. My 90 year old mother is furious and not sure she can make the transition to Apps and iPads – not that I have!
50% of people now get their news through social media and I fear news will be reduced to tweets!
CENSUS: Australia’s 2011 census figures have been released. There are now 21.5 million Australians with 548,370 identifying as Aboriginal. Our average age expectancy is for men 76 (Aboriginal men 67.2), and women 84 (Aboriginal women 72.9). Mandarin has now replacing Italian as the second most used language at home. While Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, “No religion” replaces Protestantism as the second “religion”, behind Catholicism, although their numbers are dropping. This is hardly surprising with the appalling scandals emanating from the Vatican with accusations of drug money laundering, death threats and their failure to address child abuse by clergy.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m not sure how he envisaged getting from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and to the airport without arrest for breaking his parole conditions, even if Ecuador offer him asylum. He is ignoring the recent “Surrender Notice”. I would agree that the US Grand Jury most probably has a sealed indictment against him. Apparently poor Bradley Manning has been trying not to implicate Julian over the information he provided to WikiLeaks, and he has virtually sacrificed his life, possibly naively, in the interests of freedom of information. Bradley has been psychologically tortured in solitary confinement, and the US are most likely hoping to make a deal with him to then move on Julian. Apparently the US cannot attempt to extradite him from the UK because the Swedish case takes precedent, as may a “bid for asylum” over “extradition”. See Julian Assange’s interview with President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa here.
The Australian Government seems to be just going through the motions of pretending to care for Assange. He says he has not seen any Australian consular staff since December 2010 – and just gets the occasional text message: “can we do anything for Mr. Assange?” A friend, a little miffed on behalf of the people that have lost their bail surety asks “what exactly is Julian expecting the Australian consular staff to do?”
MISC STATS: There is now LESS social mobility in the UK, and LESS economic mobility in the US where 2 million people are in jail; the Indian economy is slowing; 5 million children smoke in Indonesia; in Australia, 58% think Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy (the Queen looked as if she nearly enjoyed her Jubilee – I’ve got nothing against her personally); 3% of our top ASX 200 companies have female executives and there is only a 14% female representation on boards; there is an obesity epidemic (Nauru 1st, USA 9th, Australia 21st), and we are fast catching up. All our well known billionaires are huge – Rhinehart, Packer, Palmer, Forrest, and Tinkler – is this indicative of their rapacious appetites and attitude to life and our environment?
While 1 billion people live in poverty, the world produces twice as much food as we need.
MAIL: Thanks to Elaine for these photographs (above) and to the photographers concerned, and Jade my Ecuadorian correspondent. Thanks to Deb for the amazing images she sends me too. Several people commented on Ricky Gervais saying in the lead into the BBC interview about Christian (May blog), that animals were not there for our amusement. He was in the studio to promote his latest program Life’s Too Short - and I don’t think dwarves are there for our amusement either. For the record, I have never found him funny.
BIENNALE: The 18th of Biennale of Sydney has opened (above) and is spread around the city in various venues with artists from all over the world – until September 16th.
Tracey Moffatt, Nick Brandt, Aboriginal Intervention, Middle East, Politics, Bob Brown, George Soros, Energy, Africa, Animal Works, Reading, Watching, Listening etc
April 23, 2012
I can’t wait to see another exhibition of the superb photographs of East African animals and landscapes by Nick Brandt. The exhibition will also include new releases of his iconic images and will be on exhibition in Brisbane 18-29 April 2012 at 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley and 19-27 May, Shapiro Galleries 62 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney. While the photographs are so beautiful, there is an inherent sadness and poignancy – much of what we see is vanishing.
After a rainy summer we are having a lovely “Indian summer”, although the nights are beginning to get colder. I saw a black snake this week on my afternoon walk however and I am very much looking forward to them hibernating. I envy all of you in the Northern hemisphere now going into spring, especially after what seems to have been a very cold winter.
I am writing this awkwardly with one of my cats on the desk half lying on the key board – a favourite position of his I wouldn’t dream of interfering with. His sister prefers to watch television. I have been answering emails (tardily – post a virus and subsequent new laptop) from many of you through both the blog and the website and I am just amazed at the interest in Christian and the emotion he still generates. Please keep sending me stories about your own animals, or YouTube links of cats (or dogs!), or what Christian means to you. I’m sure we are building an invaluable archive.
Madeline recently emailed me and said Christian’s story had been “life changing” for her, and I’d love her to describe exactly how. It has been for me – twice – once when we met him, and now again with the YouTube phenomenon of the last few years.
For more works included in The Animal Show see here.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffrey Masson and his young family when they were in Sydney. We visited the recently renovated Museum of Contemporary of Art Australia – as have 4600 people a day. Walking through the museum I talked far too much about artists I know and love – including Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Ildako Kovacs, Jon Lewis and Tim Johnson. We watched some of Christian Marclay’s The Clock – 24 hours literally through references to the time in films. Jeffrey’s young sons couldn’t see the point of it – where was the story? It was more a labour of love/research exercise/editing triumph – although of course one is amused by some of the clips. Jack Nicholson singing?
TRACEY MOFFATT: I do think Tracey Moffatt has done much more interesting, amusing and moving works with her Found Film montages. They “go somewhere, and say something”. In New York there is about to be a Tracey Moffatt Film Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art with a Public Talk by Tracey at 7pm on May 7th. Her quite rare and clever public appearances are usually “performances” not to be missed! It has been fascinating watching her career unfold, and she entirely deserves this extraordinary honour, and Australia should be very proud of her.
Over coffee and tea in the new roof-top cafe with stunning harbour views, Jeffrey Masson asked me to recount Christian’s story to his sons. I would have preferred to hear more from him – he gave me tantalising snippets of new research in the field of animal behaviour, and we will just have to keep reading his blogs and wait for his next publication.
Images of ancient Aboriginal rock art can now be seen online with other great galleries of the world through Google’s Art Project and Griffith University.
ABORIGINAL INTERVENTION: Before animal welfare and rights issues again become more prominent in my life, my prime concern had been the inequality of life and social injustice suffered by most Aborigines in Australia. I worked in the field of Aboriginal art as a curator as it began to fascinate the world in the 1980s and 1990s. I met many artists, made many friends, and regularly visited remote Aboriginal communities. While these years have been the most interesting and probably the most important of my career, and Aboriginal art has rightly been recognised as one of the most extraordinary and important art movements in the world in the twentieth century, it is depressing to say, apart from some major achievements, conditions for most Aboriginal people have not improved, indeed may have deteriorated.
While I may complain about the behaviour of other countries (for example Israel and their systematic encroachment house by house of Palestinian land), my own country Australia has been criticised just as severely in UN reports for human rights abuses on our original inhabitants.
Without going into a detailed account of our tragic settler/Aboriginal history, my bete noire then PM John Howard suddenly over one weekend it seemed, invented THE INTERVENTION into Aboriginal communities, ostensibly over child abuse. This was the same PM who in 2000 cleverly derailed a fleeting window of opportunity for meaningful reconciliation between black and white Australians when 300,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He also derailed a movement towards Australia becoming a Republic.
This Intervention was a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful vote catcher for red-necks for an upcoming election which I was thrilled he lost – even ignominiously losing his own seat. Because of the difficult nature of Aboriginal issues, it is one of the few subjects that have bi-partisan support (like our alliance with the US where we obediently follow them into any dumb war going). The incoming government continued this paternalistic intervention and intends to extend it.
According to an Aboriginal friend in the Northern Territory, the situation in her community has just got worse and many of their own initiatives and efforts of self determination have been shelved. Consequently I attended the showing of a film “Living the Intervention” followed by a panel discussion with Aboriginal community representatives and John Pilger among others. The Intervention was imposed without ANY consultation with the communities at all. This immediately alienated many of them, and of course they had no opportunity to express what needs and assistance they knew their communities urgently required – from a police presence, to adequate housing, education etc.
The Intervention is a “one size fits all” which is not tailored to the very different circumstances in various communities. One has to admit that some aspects have the support of some people and some communities – which may include alcohol restrictions or income quarantining. But various aspects contravene UN Human Rights, and the Intervention has also been described as yet another land grab with ‘leases’ of 40 or 90 years on land, and I don’t understand how these leases co-exist with the Land Rights Act of 1976.
“We don’t just want solidarity (from white people) – we want action” – Galiwinku elder
John Pilger urged a march on Canberra to bang on doors (which sounded curiously old fashioned) while others spoke about disunity among Aboriginal leaders or that several of them were regarded as apologists. I’m old enough to have witnessed the effective leadership and charisma of the late Charles Perkins for example, and I’m wondering when some new voices will emerge.
The government is not interested in maintaining the out-station movement where in the 1970s smaller Aboriginal family/clan groups returned to live on their ancestral land and people were much happier and healthier. The government has specified “growth centres” where Aborigines will be forced to move to. There is no easy answer and conditions were bad before the Intervention. It is expensive to deliver all the services that as Australian citizens (only since 1967!) Aborigines are entitled to – but there is no economic base and limited employment prospects for many of these communities.
For a good news story and a dramatic turnaround in a troubled remote Aboriginal community called Wadeye, see Nicolas Rothwell’s A township reborn under a spreading tree in The Australian April 7-8 (page 19 Inquirer). I think it can still be viewed if you have a subscription to the The Australian online. Many factors have contributed: imaginative Aboriginal leadership mindful of traditions; a new style of governance; local employment; intensive public funding; and strict discipline, especially for anyone hoping to play with the Wadeye Magic, now a leading Australian Rules football team. Many other remote communities aren’t so lucky and at the moment there is an appalling epidemic of copy cat youth suicides.
Muckaty Station, another remote Aboriginal community, risks being the site for Australia’s nuclear waste dump despite opposition from most of the traditional owners in the community. Again with rare bi-partisan support the Federal Parliament recently passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. The decision is being challenged in the Federal Court. Jagath Dheerasekara’s photographic series Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud has been part of FotoFreo in West Australia and will be seen in Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Festival from 1 May.
VALE: Jimmy Little the first Aboriginal to receive mainstream success with his music died recently. The recipient of many awards, Jimmy was a tireless worker for the rights and lives of Aboriginal people. He believed in the “soft sell” rather than taking to the streets in protest – “don’t mistake kindness and gentleness for weakness”.
MIDDLE EAST: The charade of the UN truce in Syria is just buying Assad time unfortunately with no cease fire or withdrawal of troops. I don’t think the approximate 27,000 refugees that have fled to Turkey will be returning home soon. 300,000 people have been displaced, and a million people urgently need humanitarian aid. Suburbs of Homs look obliterated. As discussed before, I’ll never understand all the complexities and proxies in relation to Syria – like the relationship between Turkey and Iran, but the Syrian regime seems to be protected by its strategic significance. Apparently the best chance is for a revolt from within the military.
The Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt went to Washington in suits and with Powerpoint Presentations to try and secure ongoing funding, and to reassure the US of their democratic rather than Islamic intentions. One wonders – does the military, with their own agendas, actually act as a useful buffer against extreme Islamification in situations like this? What happened in Turkey? I realise how little I know about the region historically. How did those religious minorities gain iron control over majority populations – for example, Iraq, Yemen and Syria to name just a few. Was this part of a colonial carve up or a divide and rule strategy?
POLITICS: A comment was recently left on the blog saying the Republican Presidential candidates were concerned about environmental issues which I doubt very much and have seen no reports about. Even our conservative politician Malcolm Turnbull described them as influenced by “climate change denialists”. Who is interested in debating issues like abortion or contraception that one thought were dealt with in the 1960s? The only other US Republican issues reported in our press were God and guns, and “moderate” used as a derogatory word.
A recent national poll in Australia reported that we crave ” a leader with a clear vision”.
BOB BROWN: An extraordinary politician Bob Brown resigned unexpectedly this week. He is 67 and has been in the Senate for 16 years. He is a fascinating man: an environmental and anti-war activist also concerned with our treatment of asylum seekers; a doctor who lives with his gay partner; and he has been the rarest of politicians – honest! On many issues he has been the sole conscience of Australia. He has been both naive and wily as a politician. He has taken the Greens Party to a position of unprecedented power in the present hung parliament and with a balance of power in the Senate. However he blocked the original Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010 – missing a unique opportunity when the public were fleetingly in favour of it, and this led to the downfall and replacement of several political leaders.
His “carbon tax” deal with Julia Gillard to form government may ultimately cost her government as it is perceived as her broken election promise. Get over it I say – circumstances change. Two sex scandals and a disgruntled Independent are currently also threatening her slim majority.
Bob’s replacement is an articulate woman called Christine Milne who has been described as hard as “poured concrete” which I’m sure is not a compliment. She seems to have a grasp of economics – and she talks about the sustainable “new” economy. On the unexpected sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year (announced on the day after The Taliban attacked Kabul), she said that we should bring our troops home immediately, and the war “had been a failure on all levels”.
GEORGE SOROS: As the SMH said “The eurozone has just ploughed on with the same old set of failed policies” with attention switching from Greece to Spain. Commenting on the European Central Bank George Soros said “the fundamental problems have not been resolved, the gap between creditor and debtor countries continues to widen. The crisis has entered what may be a less volatile but more lethal stage”.
GOLDMAN SACHS: boss Lloyd Blankfein has taken a 35% pay cut – to $US12 million.
ENERGY: The near coast to coast conservative State governments including NSW, Queensland and Victoria are all rushing to embrace mining and coal and gas exploration and “streamline” environmental protections. It’s like a gold rush – and I believe sand will be the next valuable commodity! With big business, these States are challenging and cancelling many schemes supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency. This must discourage investment at a time when other countries are investing heavily.
Interestingly, traditionally conservative land holders are mobilising against the loss of valuable agricultural land, and the untested effects on water tables and resulting contamination from coal seam gas mining.
Conversely, a country like Denmark is aiming at a 100% renewable energy target and I’m trying to understand the differences between “flexible” and “inflexible” power sources, technological advances in thermal power storage for solar and wind, and Smart Grids.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed limits on emissions from new coal power plants, encouraging the shift to gas. There is a new boom in energy production in the US and Canada (“the new Middle East”) after recent successful oil and gas exploration, but this also makes it difficult for the development and investment in alternatives such as solar and wind power.
It is forecast that by 2020 the US will not need to import any more foreign oil!
AFRICA: Huge coal deposits and two massive gas fields in Mozambique are indicative of changing scenarios and fortunes in Africa where there are 6 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in the past decade. The World Bank predicts economic growth of 5.3%. Africa still has many of the the world’s poorest countries but there are huge infrastructure projects, an expanding middle class and foreign equity scrambling for opportunities in telecom’s, financial services and products. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, the Chinese have a strong presence (and an unfortunate hunger for ivory). Can we hope for an equitable distribution of wealth or will the “resource curse” (and tribal and “big man” politics) again leave most people worse off than ever.
ANIMAL WORKS: I recently spoke (with other authors) at a fund raiser to support the work of Animal Works primarily in this instance to fight the poaching of rhinos in Zimbabwe. It has been tough for the human population there for an extended period – imagine how the animals have fared. I applaud the efforts of Animal Works –see their website and blog. The dinner was fun and everyone loved Africa so much and shared a concern for it’s wildlife. Botswana was a favourite country to visit. The highlight for me was when I was signing a copy of our book and I asked a girl what name should I write in it – and she said “My name is Katania. My Dad just loved Christian’s story and named me Katania”
So, unexpectedly, I told the story of how the little lioness Katania really was the go between Boy and Christian and contributed to their ultimate friendship. Katania was small enough to go from one compound to another when both bigger lions were at first in separate compounds. When Boy and Christian were finally to meet for the first time, Katania broke the ice after an extended and very tense wait, by going over to Christian and provoking their terrifying introductory fight. Luckily, despite the ferocious roars and paws flaying, this was more show than a deadly contest. Both Christian and Boy adored Katania and George Adamson thought they were both devastated by her disappearance, when she was possibly taken by a crocodile. I also talked about George Adamson and how lucky we were to meet him and observe him, and to experience briefly that extraordinary space he created where the world’s two top predators coexisted harmoniously and communicated deeply with one another.
Can you believe the King of Spain went elephant hunting in Africa?
MAIL: Several of you have asked where the DVD of the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian is available for purchase. Disappointingly I’ve never seen it for sale or rent anywhere in the world, but it is available through amazon.co.uk. People also ask me about the photogrphs of Christian. Images can be purchased directly from photographer Derek Cattani (see his gallery on alioncalledchristian.com.au), and the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust holds most of the African photographs. The Born Free Foundation owns the original documentary footage in England and Africa.
READING: I just finished a magnificent book on the founding of Sydney – The Colony, by Grace Karskens. Karskens has retrieved alot of information about the daily lives in early Sydney of convicts, women and Aborigines – and the “middle ground” they all inhabited to a considerable degree with each other. It is comprehensive and fascinating. I also love the ground-breaking work on Aborigines by Keith Vincent Smith, and Inga Clendinnen’s marvellous Dancing with Strangers.
WATCHING: I loved seeing John Waters interviewed recently. He is so funny and insightful. To his surprise he is now regarded as an “insider”, and growing up middle class with “good taste” he knew what was “bad taste”. Andy Warhol’s soup can image killed abstract expressionism, and the Beatles killed Motown. It was Tennessee Williams that showed him that there was a place for people like him – and I too remember being very excited by Night of the Iguana when I was at school – there was a different life out there beyond the stereotypical life on offer. Not that I’ve lived it!
I was rather depressed watching “The Thriller in Manilla” and it has been described as a “hatchet job” on Muhammed Ali. Joe Frazier supported Ali when he had taken a stand against the Vietnam War and couldn’t fight or earn money, but Ali subsequently used effective psychological warfare against him with very ugly racial overtones. Joe still resents this, and he takes pleasure in attributing Ali’s subsequent physical deterioration to this their third fight when either of them could have died. It is an ugly sport.
LISTENING: I just love Adele’s Rolling in the Deep – no wonder she got that extended ovation weeks ago at the Grammys, and I am enjoying other extraordinary voices auditioning for The Voice on television.