December 2009

March 12, 2010

My head is still spinning from the successful international launch of our revised A Lion Called Christian book, now selling well in, I believe, 8 languages and 14 countries.

In 2008 we were the first e-book for Random House, and it is fascinating to see how quickly people are adopting the kindle or other e-book readers, and the changes this signifies for the publishing industry. With Google planning to digitise millions of books, writers and publishers seem divided over the implications of this. It is exciting new territory which hopefully attracts new readers AND is not at the expense of people who still love holding and having printed books. Where does this leave “coffee table books” – like the handsome and for me irresistible “Trade Edition” (Taschen Publishers) I have just bought by photographer Peter Beard who has spent a lot of time in Africa. (See    

Peter Beard - writing diary in crocodile

This image of Peter Beard writing his diary is from the book Eyelids of the Morning by Alistair Graham and Peter Beard first published in 1973. Image courtesy of

Peter Beard has been a subliminal artistic influence on me since I first saw his books on Africa in the 1970s  which combined his own photography, diaries, collages and a unique mix of historical, contemporary, glamorous and grotesque material. He also visited George Adamson at Kora while Christian was around, and commented on how truly happy George was there, and that presumably unlike Joy, he was “refreshingly uncommitted to the sentimentalism of the whole Elsa story”. I have also very much admired the photographs in Mirella Ricciardi’s classic Vanishing Africa. Another beautiful photography book is Nick Brandt’s recent book As The Sun Sets, unfortunately documenting a disappearing Africa. Nick’s beautiful images can be seen on his website

While getting to No 2 on the New York Times best seller list, No 1 on the Sunday Telegraph in London,  No 1 in Australia and No 2 in New Zealand, and appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, was of course amazing, humbling and sometimes nerve wracking, what I really enjoyed when we travelled around the USA, UK, Australia and later in the year, China, was meeting so many very nice, interested and like-minded people, who loved Christian’s story. Many are making, or wanting to make, valuable contributions to wildlife conservation, and what could we all achieve if we work in concert?  

In the 1970s we were lucky to meet some of the influential people who founded the modern conservation movement, like Joy Adamson. She was one of the first to draw attention to the vulnerability of the environmental balance, and she and George Adamson became committed conservationists as they witnessed declining numbers in animal species. David Attenborough began publishing his books then and now at 80 is still making his incredibly popular nature documentaries. Jane Goodall published her book In the Shadow of Man, about her research with chimpanzees. Last year I heard her speak in Sydney, and she described so succinctly the interrelationship of everything, the competition for resources between people and animals – for food, habitats and water, and that people have to have better lives before we can expect them to conserve the surrounding wildlife. Her Roots and Shoots program for schools imaginatively encouraging the participation of children is especially important ( Particularly heartening is Jane Goodall’s recent book with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson Hope for Animals and Their World which documents formerly endangered species whose populations are now recovering. Some good news!   

 I returned to Australia in 1973 after our adventure with Christian, and have had a career as an art curator in Australia and been primarily interested in Aboriginal art. This has been one of the major art movements in the world in the latter 20th century. It has been a privilege to witness and work with so many varied and extraordinary artists, and Aboriginal culture is the face Australia now presents to the world. This is of course ironic given the lingering, sometimes even overt racism that still exists! More recently I have been researching and staging exhibitions about Australia’s foundational narratives through my own colonial family history and the interweaving of Aboriginal perspectives.   

 It has been an odd disconnect speaking about events that happened more than 40 years ago, with no reference at all to my actual intervening career work which is so important to me. “Get over it!” my agent says. I finally worked out how to link both. With our growing alienation from nature, and the parlous condition of the physical world, we need to look to, respect and involve indigenous people. They are undoubtedly still much more connected to nature (indeed many believe they are part of or emerged from the landscape), and they can advise us how to heal the damage to the environment, and co-exist more sustainably with the natural world.   

My busy 2009 included graduating with a Masters of Arts for my thesis Family Footprints; Tracing the Past in the Present through Curatorial Autobiographical Practice. (Yes I know an academic mouthful! It is online should anyone be interested and if you can follow all the links – at Also online are photographs of colonial and contemporary artworks and material from the exhibition component, Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770, which look primarily at the first contact between Aboriginal people and the new arrivals starting with Captain Cook and Joseph Banks followed by the First Fleet in 1788. You can see the photos of the exhibition on the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery Facebook page.   

Also this year I was Exhibition Coordinator for Martin Sharp Sydney Artist at the Museum of Sydney. Martin was very much a part of the creative world of “Swinging London” in the 1960s and apart from many other artworks, created album covers or posters for Eric Clapton, Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Again, should you be interested read John McDonald’s review in Spectrum, online.   

Many people have been so responsive, supportive and helpful this year, but I’d like to particularly thank Katie Turner, Cheryl Bath, Heulwen Renshaw for trying to trace Christian’s best friend Unity Bevis-Jones, and Joanne Hamilton.   

I’m travelling to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat for the first time. This year I also saw the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City so I feel very fortunate.   

Merry Christmas!

10 Responses to “December 2009”

  1. Frans Wessels Says:

    Hi Ace,

    I have just finished your book … could not put it down after I started reading it!
    I live in Africa, and am very privileged to have the beauty and splendour of the African bush on my doorstep.
    Through the years my family and I have had exposure to lions on several occasions – these magnificent beasts never fail to amaze me with their intelligence and power.
    I hope your book helps to raise awareness of the plight of lions (and other wild animals, for that matter!) that are bred and kept in captivity. It is not just unfair on the poor animals, but cruel and totally unnecessary – lets ensure animals are left where they belong … in the wild.

    Here’s to all the other Christians out there … we love and admire you.

    Frans Wessels
    South Africa

  2. Susan Says:

    As of this writing, May 2011, if Unity has not been located or come forward herself then perhaps she has passed on and left no dependents to identify her?

  3. Martin Says:

    Did you manager to track down Unity Bevis-Jones?

    I know her as a teenager when we both lived in Southampton on the English south coast. I met her again briefly when I moved to London in 1960, then we went our separate ways. I do recall reading an article about her and a lion cub in one of my mother’s Women’s magazines.Still have a letter sho wrote to me, would love to know where she is now.

    • acebourke Says:

      I think there has been enough about Christian the last few years for Unity to reveal herself if she was going to. I would like to pay tribute to a fantastic human being and Christian’s best friend. Words do not really express just how good Unity was with him…and the level of her communication with him. She visited him nearly every day and she shared a great sense of humour and fun with us all.

  4. Judy Says:

    Dear Ace

    you need to advertise this blog – JJ told me about it. I hope LA is brilliant and fun. Keep looking after cats. See you when you get back

  5. Kitty Says:

    This is such an incredibly uplifting story. You gave Christian the ultimate love, you set him free.

  6. Lori Says:

    I purchased the book for my first grade students. They have really enjoyed reading about Christian. I have enjoyed their responses about the book. Thank you for your passion.

  7. pharlap Says:

    Had to just drop a note to tell you and John “thank you” for sharing this remarkable story. Also having the courage
    setting Christian free.
    God bless and take care. -)

  8. Randi Daeger Says:

    Thank you for still reaching out to the animals! The sotry of Christian grabbed my heart and would not let go, as you may rememebr from my previous emails to you.
    If the utube video does nothing else than wake us all up to the joys of animals it would be enough….but it is doing so much more!
    God bless you, John, George’s memory and all of y ou who not only care but JUST DO IT

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