January 2010

March 12, 2010

The Bayon, Cambodia 2009

The Bayon, Cambodia 2009. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Happy New Year!

I loved my brief visit to the stone temples of Cambodia, especially the magnificent Angkor Wat (built between 1113 and 1150), my favourite The Bayon (late 12th to late 13th centuries), and Ta Prohm (late 12th to 13th centuries), where the jungle seems once again to threaten to strangle and hide again these incredible architectural and artistic achievements. Tourism is undoubtedly an important industry for a country with such a traumatic recent past, but as I climbed and trampled all over these monuments with many other tourists, I worried about the damage we were causing, and the totally overwhelming amount of conservation work required. I thought about issues such as “sustainable” tourism, and “sustainable” development, the pollution and environmental degradation of other countries in the region, and the threats to wildlife and their habitats economic development brings.   

I remained interested and committed to wildlife and environmental issues and causes over the years, but through my work in Aboriginal art I have been more actively involved in social justice issues associated with the inequality and dispossession suffered by Aboriginal people. I am enjoying refocusing in depth on wildlife conservation, and it has been a crash course for me to catch up and realise just how critical the situation is, and that we may have reached “tipping point”.   The problems are also intrinsically linked to climate change.   

Personally I think the Copenhagen Conference illustrated the magnitude of the crisis of climate change and demonstrated a very wide consensus, and it was the politics, and the complexity and vastness of the challenge that created the failure to reach agreement, so I’m not going to get depressed about it at this stage. What is depressing is the way a few inexcusable inaccuracies amongst an enormous amount of very detailed information has given oxygen to the climate change skeptics. In my opinion these are mainly people protecting their vested interests, and embittered conservatives trying to get back into power, after the policies of George Bush, and our own John Howard were finally and deservedly rejected by a majority of people. Their lack of leadership and failure to act lost the world a valuable 10 years. Despite their promise, their successors, Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd in Australia, both popularity junkies (as most politicians have to be), have not had the courage to make the necessary reforms in relation to climate change and our economies. For me and most people I know, the science – always inherently open to debate and conjecture – is in. We have all witnessed for ourselves the weather extremes of heat, drought, and excessive rain, and many have been concerned for a long time about questionable air and water quality and our dependence on oil and coal. I think it is hard to argue against minimising emissions and pollutants in the atmosphere anyway, isn’t it?   

I enjoyed seeing Australian photographer Jon Lewis’ Kirabati photographs  Portraits From The Edge – Putting a Face to Climate Change which in a subtle way highlight the human dimension that rising sea levels have already posed  to many Pacific countries (online at www.jonnylewis.org).  

Jonny Lewis - Portraits From The Edge

Jonny sent me the information below which tells more about what is happening in the Republic of Kiribati.




The small Republic of Kiribati, consisting of 33 atolls and situated in the Equatorial Pacific, is slowly and surely going down. Storm surges, freakish waves, salination of fresh water wells and lands, un-predictable weather and tidal increases, are all contributing to the country’s physical demise.  30-40 years is all they have left.

As yet there is no policy from industrial countries, or the UN, as to our collective responsibilities to people such as the I Kiribati. Where will these environmentally displaced people migrate to, and how many? Who will be their host countries?

The I Kiribati remain now, literally on the very edge, as the most vulnerable of peoples, living with climate change.

What we are looking at here is the eventual extinction of a distinct race of people, through loss of their home lands, and with it their vibrant social system and culture. This is irreversible.

Jonny Lewis


All through last year and on my travels I continue to collect newspaper articles or information about animal and wildlife conservation and related environmental issues, and I will be sharing much of this on my blog. Perhaps I should issue a disclaimer now – unfortunately we all know the inaccuracies and exaggerations in much of the information we are exposed to, so please verify these things for yourself, and apologies for any inadvertent plagiarism!   

I must admit I got overwhelmed by doom and gloom with sometimes 70% of many plant and animal populations, seemingly disappearing, and many endangered or extinct species.Since we were in Africa with Christian for example, forty years ago, there are 70% less lions.   

Malcolm Tait - Going Going Gone?

Malcolm Tait - Going Going Gone? published by Think Books

A new book I have ordered Going, Going, Gone? By Malcolm Tait (published by Think Books) subtitled Animals and Plants on the Brink of Extinction and How You Can Help, according to the reviews, has very practical advice and suggestions for concerned people. There are now many places where travellers can go and see, interact and support wildlife efforts. One can walk with lions at African Impact at the Masuwe River Concession at Victoria Falls, just across the border from Zambia in Zimbabwe where there are breeding programs, but I personally would not visit while Mugabe is still in power. There are now very imaginative organisations to check out – such as Biosphere Expeditions (www.biosphere-expeditions.org) that arrange one or two week nature study expeditions. Elephants, often rescued from appalling existences, can be seen and supported at places such as the Asian Elephant Foundation Camp in the Anantara Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand, or outside of Luang Prabang in Laos. I have not yet visited any of these particular sites to see if I personally endorse their philosophies and practice, but I support what appear to be altruistic intentions.   

Some of the extraordinary and dedicated individuals dedicated to conservation include the late Lucy Wisdom who founded the Sumatran Orangutan Society (www.orangutans-sos.org) whose habitats like many other animals in the Asian region, are endangered by the rapacious clearing of rainforests for palm oil plantations or paper. We should be much more mindful of the source of products we buy and the ramifications of using them. Mary Hutton from Perth started the Free the Bears Fund (www.freethebears.org.au) and has rescued many bears from a miserable life in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Kalimantan and India, and Jason Kimberley, who had an “eco-epiphany” over the declining conditions in Antarctica and set up Cool Australia (www.coolaustralia.org).

One Response to “January 2010”

  1. acebourke Says:

    Funny that we have been to the same places. Loved Cambodia especially too. A quite good documentary on the other night – building on that swamp! Ring sometime – 95237590. I don’t want to sell or deal in Aboriginal art again – not that I have lost interest in general though – still very committed and it has been odd not being able to talk about it – or been asked about it – the last year.The blog is an attempt to draw the strands of my life together. I will happily recommend you should anyone ask me about Aboriginal art – which they don’t very often! I don’t know why you aren’t running something Big! Well done on the 5 years. ACEX

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