Mitchell Library, David Scott Mitchell, Global Animal, Jane Goodall, Jeffery Moussaieff Masson, Unity Bevis Jones, A Bloody Business, Aung San Suu Kyi, Amazon, Carbon Tax, A Lion Called Christian
July 6, 2011
MITCHELL LIBRARY: These images are from a recent purchase of early Australian natural history illustrations by the Mitchell Library. Six bound volumes and 741 “exquisite” drawings and watercolours were taken to London in 1795 and subsequently purchased by the 13th Earl of Derby. They are believed to be by the convict artist Thomas Watling. Europeans were fascinated by the exotic flora and fauna from the Pacific region.
DAVID SCOTT MITCHELL: The library is named after David Scott Mitchell (1836-1907) who donated what has been described as the world’s largest private collection of a particular region – Australasia and the Pacific, with over 60,000 books, maps, journals, pamphlets, paintings, and a bequest that still financially benefits the library today.
He appreciated the importance of collecting primary sources - “Australia’s DNA”, from which we are still in the process of interpreting our past. Indeed, we are at the moment still debating whether to describe the European arrival in Australia as an “invasion” or “colonisation”.
I am reading the just published Book Life, the life of David Scott Mitchell byEileen Chanin. It is an exhaustively researched biography which paints a picture of the surprisingly sophisticated Mitchell and Scott families, cultural life in the small colony of Sydney, and the international literary context. This book is long overdue as very little is known about Mitchell, and the book reveals much more about a shy man who was not as reclusive as reputed, but who still remains elusive. He was my grandmother’s great uncle and she sometimes stayed with him on her school boarder’s weekends. Unfortunately I was too young to ever ask her what he was like. I only remember her saying he was always reading! Only much later have I appreciated the value of oral histories – and identifying people in photographs!
Family skeleton: D S Mitchell’s father James was an extremely energetic and entrepreneurial doctor and businessman and conveniently, his wife Augusta Maria (Scott) was wealthy. He was one of the first in the colony to mine for coal in the Hunter Valley of NSW, and this wealth from the now contentious coal primarily allowed David Scott Mitchell to indulge his passion for collecting books, and Australia has benefited from it as well.
GLOBAL ANIMAL: Later this week I am on a panel at the Global Animal: an Animal Studies conference at the University of Wollongong (UOW). I am fascinated by the amount of interesting and wide ranging research in this field in academia, especially about human/animal relationships. Click here for UOW details.
You may be interested to click on the Australian Animal Studies Group News eBulletin and see the range of activities, articles and national and international conferences and events. I was asked to contribute to this edition, and I wrote about my visit last year to Kalimpong and Darjeeling in India - where through the efforts of many people (but Christine Townend particularly), management of the community dog population has seen human rabies eliminated from both those areas. The editor insisted on using a grisly photograph of a dog still out cold from the operation – I wanted to use the pretty white kitten dressed for Diwali celebrations. OK – I seem to have lopped off some tail – last photograph it was her ears!
A BLOODY BUSINESS: But does gore sell more effectively? The footage of Australian cattle being slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs has created a very effective public outcry and scandal. Exports of live cattle to Indonesia have been suspended. The Indonesians are offended. Our government has as usual seemed slow to respond constructively, and many cattle owners are left facing huge losses. The industry is worth $550 million (I read various estimates), and some small compensation to producers is presently being offered. Animal welfare is for now at least under overdue scrutiny.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: There has been no equivalent outcry against sending our asylum seekers or refugees to Malaysia, although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received many emails of protest. The shock jocks and irresponsible politicians who have exacerbated and exploited this issue are now being countered by a few serious and informative television programs that are actually putting a human face to the refugees and showing just what many of them have been subjected to. Most of them had to flee their country – they were not just setting off to look for a better life.
POLLUTION TAX: Much better to call it a pollution tax – who wouldn’t want to prevent pollution? I’m pleased Germany is stepping back from nuclear energy, retiring their 17 reactors by 2022. For years now we have been mired in our carbon/pollution tax debate, but the government is about to finally put a price on carbon. Compensation to coal producers has understandably been a sticking point. The Greens now have a balance of power in the Senate, and are working quite well in an “agreement” with the government. It may be a future direction as many disenchanted Labor voters (like myself) are now leaning towards the Greens instead. They won 12% of the primary vote last election. I wouldn’t want the Greens to be running the country on their own, they don’t have the experience for a start – but at times they provide the heart, compassion, integrity and conscience on social justice and environmental issues missing in our political discourse.
Incidentally, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers seem to be doing everything in their power to force out this government by constantly portraying them as negatively as possible and marshalling opposition at every opportunity - for example, oxygen given to climate change deniers and opponents of the carbon tax. His mother however, Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, Rupert’s 102 year old mother was a signatory to a recent letter to a (rival) newspaper calling for action on climate change. A recent Productivity Commission report detailed various actions by many countries, including India and China, and stated that a carbon tax in Australia would not make us uncompetitive internationally. Some critics argue that because of our reliance on coal, comparisons to other economies are difficult. Worryingly, although 95% of scientists accept the scientific statistics on climate change, public support is slipping, with 39% of Australians now not prepared “to pay a cent” to combat global warming. This is indicative of how badly the government has handled this issue, how long it has dragged on, and how effective the shrill opposition to it has been – more rallies and expensive media campaigns are planned. Isn’t this issue so important that there should be bi-partisanship between the major parties?
JANE GOODALL: I recently had lunch at Taronga Zoo where Jane Goodall was the guest of honour. The Taronga conservation society is in partnership with a new chimpanzee rehabilitation centre – the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Point Noire, Congo. Over the fifty years since she began studying chimps their numbers have fallen from about 1 million to 300,000. “The most efficient and cheapest way of slowing down global warming is to protect and restore the tropical rainforests. Saving the chimpanzees natural habitat is extremely important….all these problems are so interconnected”. Last time I heard her speak she explained how local villagers need to have a certain guaranteed standard of living – food, water, education etc before we we can expect them to protect animals or their habitats. Tony Fitzjohn also emphasizes this with the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust – the needs and involvement of the surrounding villagers are imperative.
Jane Goodall said Australia was not doing well – a failure so far on carbon emissions, a failure to protect water supplies, disappearing endemic species, and no overall environmental strategy to link the surviving patches of habitat. She reassured us however, that individual efforts “add up”.
I gave her a copy of A Lion Called Christian but she just said “Oh. Thankyou.”, and I wonder if the book was left in the hotel room!
I admire her work enormously and how hard she works. There are Jane Goodall Institutes all over the world, and I particularly like the very successful Roots and Shoots program for schools where groups plan and implement “service learning projects that promote care and concern for animals, the environment, and the human community”.
Co-incidentally, I heard on a recent radio program that given the intelligence of chimps and their brain size, living in groups of 5 is the norm,and in a “village” of about 50, while for our brain size humans have a close group of 7 people on average, and a “village” of 150.
UNITY BEVIS JONES: I was recently interviewed by BBC4, and I mentioned Christian’s friend Unity Bevis Jones. She came to play with him nearly every day. I was contacted by a friend who said they had recently seen her, and all was fine with her. After the shop Sophistocat where Christian lived on the Kings Road closed, Unity did not know how to keep in touch with us, and was unaware the shop had relocated to Wandsworth Bridge Road where it still is today. I look forward to seeing her when I am next in the U.K.
MISC STATS: We are part of 2 billion users on the internet …. US involvement in Afghanistan costs $120 billion per year… 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometres from the coast…. 50% of the world population now live in cities.
BRAZIL: Now the 5th biggest economy in the world, Brazilians seem to be having their day – and with the Olympics, the World Cup, and the Earth Summit to come etc. Unfortunately their resources/mining boom will test their environmental credentials – and their forest protection laws are being “gutted”. The Amazon provides 20% of the world’s oxygen and 60% of our freshwater, and recently several prominent environmental advocates have been murdered! Click here to sign the AVAAZ petition to protect the Amazon.
OF THE 1%, BY THE 1%, FOR THE 1%: A disturbing article in Vanity Fair (Rob Lowe cover) by Joseph E. Stiglitz discusses the implications of 1% of the population now owning 40% of wealth in the US, a statistic to frighten us all. They haven’t been benevolent in the past, and there is a corresponding under investment in infrastructure, education and research. They are pandered to with low taxation, and this nexus of politics/business/media preserves their privilege. It is hard not to view recent “wars” as business opportunities for arms and weapons manufacturers and companies like Halliburton, and there are spoils like oil to divide. In Australia we see many of our wealthy opposing the mining tax, the carbon tax, and the NBN national broadband network, and resenting and resisting environmental restrictions, and workplace reforms.
WORRIED ABOUT: …the PM Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Iraq is sounding more and more despotic… the despot in Syria is hanging on but the people bravely keep protesting… Greece and European debt…that 193 rhinos have been killed already this year in South Africa, many of them in the Kruger National Park…a rush to mine cold seam gas even in the suburbs of Sydney, with real concerns about environmental damage through “fracking” and damage to the water aquifers… the capabilities of Thaksin’s sister in Thailand…a released but restricted and silenced Ai Wei Wei in China… and if you are concerned for Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma click here to sign an AVAAZ petition.
JEFFREY MASSON: I just adored reading Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats. It is a most authoritative book and extremely well written and readable. As a fellow cat obsessive I luxuriated in it. Much of it reinforced my own feelings and my comparatively amateur observations, but there was a lot of new information and ideas to think about, especially about cat’s play and curiosity. Jeffrey Masson also refers to other obviously excellent books on cats – none of which I’ve read. I realised I didn’t really play with my cats much, and I never improvise or buy them toys, but I AM always talking to them and having fun with them. His cats go for walks with him! I am under no illusions – food is the foundation of my relationship with mine. The book made me analyse what I really like about cats. Briefly, I find them very soothing, very cool and so self contained. I like their diffidence, their quietness and their natural entitlement. Everything has to be their own idea. This behaviour can annoy some people, but I can find it amusing or challenging. The only thing I really don’t like is how totally irrelevant they make me feel after I have fed them!
Jeffrey Masson is presently researching violence in different species, lions especially, and how much killer instinct they have, and who it is directed at. I am hoping Tony Fitzjohn with his long association with George Adamson and his own experience and observations of lions may be able to contribute. I know that the wild lions at Kora waged a full-time war over many years against George Adamson’s introduced lions, and killed several of them, although they also mated with several of the lionesses. They were defending their territory which was inhospitable and had limited resources, against intruders. It was miraculous that Christian survived although he ultimately had to leave the area. On his blog Jeffrey Masson described our YouTube reunion with Christian as demonstrating “pure joy” and that “All in all, it remains the single most astonishing video I have ever viewed”.