Michael Leunig, Blogging, Harley the Dog, Tony the Tiger, India, Carbon Tax Rally, Christian the Lion, Jangarh Singh Shyam, Australian Landscape Photography

April 16, 2011

MICHAEL LEUNIG:  I’m hardly going to comment on the state of the world this time (probably a relief for us all) as I think Michael Leunig, one of Australia’s most brilliant cartoonists, says it all.  I encourage you to check out his website as his body of work over many years has been extraordinary – funny, sad, insightful, poignant etc etc. Click here

BLOG: I’ve been blogging now for over a year.  I love it as a medium, although I have to confess, as I spend so much time on the computer anyway, I don’t surf at all, or read as many other blogs as I would like to.  I don’t know how so many billions of people have time for social media like Facebook, but I love the new community, information flow and communication it has built.  It is a great tool for political activism as we have seen recently in the Middle East.

I very much appreciate many of you drawing my attention to relevant and related information.  I do respond more than I appear to although I view this as working together for causes we believe in, rather than developing personal relationships.  Although my much younger agent would like me to comment on a more regular basis…I don’t really want to interrupt or bore you with my day-by-day thoughts or reactions.  After writing what seemed like a very long “exegesis” for my Master of Arts in 2008, I like the amount of words required in the blog on each idea– not too few and not too many, and it ends up a near monthly essay/diary on what has transpired…or how I have been feeling…or what has caught my attention.  Like a lot of people, I have strong opinions on the affairs of the world, and I can recommend a blog as a way of feeling less impotent – feeling that you are actually doing something, articulating a response rather than just complaining and worrying.  While I feel I have a “voice” through a blog – however small, I’m certainly not part of the “new journalism”, but it is interesting what you can learn and read between the lines in some newspapers and magazines if you read widely and attempt to get to the real story.

I especially enjoy looking for striking photographs to post – talking politics and climate change, for example, can be a little dry!

This rare red panda cub was born in December 2010 at Taronga Zoo, Sydney. Photograph by Peter Hardin

Over the last two years we have travelled to many places around the world and given many interviews about Christian, and of course it was a great pleasure to share our experiences with him, and to be given the opportunity to talk about the urgency of animal and wildlife conservation.  Christian’s story has elicited such a positive, loving, life-affirming response from most people, and it has been an antidote to some of the stress inflicted by the Global Financial Crisis, the natural catastrophes, and the unrest throughout the world.  However, we did have Christian over 40 years ago, and I have subsequently had a career and a life which I’ve actually loved, and I have not been asked once what I have done in the intervening years!  (My agent just says “get over it”!).

So the blog has been an opportunity to discuss where appropriate other things that I find important – which includes anything to do with Aboriginal people and their dispossession and subsequent disadvantage, art (especially Aboriginal art), politics, the world – past, present and future.


Monika Laryett-Olson’s website is an example of what has given me particular pleasure with the blog – people sending me their own animal stories. I’ve loved many of them, and a few have been riveting – like this one – very well written, with superb photographs, and a story like Harley the dog’s sixth sense that can make me cry.  I feel these stories are building into a valuable archive that with permission I may publish sometime.  Animals enrich our lives so much – and they seem to give comfort, companionship, love and understanding, and absorb some of the stress we all feel.  So Leo the cat… or Pluto the dog, and all the others, I’ve loved and kept your photographs – thank-you!


TONY THE TIGER:   I think of him every day like many other people and I am determined to help in any way to have him removed from his cage to a better life.  I contacted Virginia McKenna to ask her advice, and she responded that the Born Free Foundation (US) is very aware of him, and the legal complexities surrounding him.  The Animal Legal Defence Fund in America has just filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  For more information and to sign their petition click here, and circulate!  Also a recent email from the tireless Dee De Santis listed another petition to sign through change.org .  So let’s really support this and encourage others to participate.  So many other animals are also condemned unnecessarily to a pointless life for other people’s satisfaction or greed and for me Tony seems to be a symbol of this.

INDIA:  There are apparently only 3000 tigers left in the wild, and according to a recent census, approximately half are in India.  In the 1970s the Indian tiger population dropped to nearly 1000.  A major effort to establish reserves and increase protection has resulted in numbers stabilising and slightly increasing.  But as M.K. Ranjitsinh Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India and well known tiger campaigner said recently, “The human population continues to grow and that means reduction of prey, threats to the isolation of the tiger habitat and increasing danger of direct human-tiger conflict.  We may have won a battle but you have to win the war”.

A recent Travel article listed several interesting sounding innovative eco-tours and wildlife lodges in Madhya Pradesh focused around tiger conservation.  They can promise a rewarding experience, if not always spotting a tiger.  I only saw a tiger footprint in Assam last year, but I actually think that is quite healthy – I’d rather they remained safe and out of sight.

BAN:  Wasn’t it emotional seeing Ban the dog rescued from the house of a roof floating out to sea three weeks after the Japanese tsunami, and being reunited with his owner?  The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is asking for donations for the thousands of animals in Japan that need our help, donate.wspa.org.au/japan.

I’ve wanted the blog to work as a notice board for any related issues people want to draw our attention to, and I love the speed and effectiveness of concerted action through internet activism.  I’ve tried to mention as many organisations and individuals as possible whose work I admire or are worthy of support, and it has been a huge learning curve over the last few years for me once again to be actively involved and understand where the conservation debates have (or have not) advanced to.  The conservation movement was extremely influential in the 1970’s, starting with the Adamsons and the popularity of Born Free, and Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, and the work of the World Wildlife Fund remain giants in the field today.

CARBON TAX RALLY:  There is a controversy in Australia over a proposed tax on carbon.  Shock jocks have organised several rallies against it, with some people holding offensive placards about our Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  I attended with many other people a rally in support of the tax at the same time which was organised by the effective internet activists GetUp!  I do think I’ve been more strident and politicised lately, but I think there is an unattractive polarisation happening in the community.  I feel we are confronted by issues that require urgent action and we can’t be too patient or passive.  A few of you have criticised me, and that is fair enough.  Someone thought me mentioning Bush and the neo-cons was living in the past, but we are still living with their legacy.  Someone else asked why I backed “one side” over the other, but realistically I don’t think politics is like a fruit salad where you pick a bit of this and a bit of that.

Usually most people hold a consistent philosophical view.  A Sydney Morning Herald editorial on the environment recently succinctly summed up this difference: the “left” is “admiring of a pristine wilderness in which only man is vile” and the conservatives “see a world to be exploited and enjoyed”.  The editorial mentioned the Shooters and Fishers Party, a small motley collection of people who by an anomaly in our electoral system have ended up with the balance of power (with the Christian Right) in our Upper House of Review after the last State election, and love shooting elephants in Zimbabwe for fun and “conservation”!  They want to shoot in the National Parks which of course I oppose.

In general, I feel that in the current popularist climate I am part of a resented minority for caring for people less fortunate or different to oneself, or for caring for wildlife and the environment ahead of money, consumerism and unsustainable development.  The rally for the carbon tax was pleasantly reassuring that so many others felt just the same.  Unfortunately our political parties seem to be in a “race to the bottom”, encouraging mean-spiritedness and short-sightedness, demonising difference, and instilling fear.

Bara Singha (deer with 12 antlers) by Jangarh Singh Shyam

EXHIBITION: I am currently staging an exhibition of a selection of Indian tribal and village art at The Cross Art Projects in Sydney. I have collected many of the works since I first went to India in the 1980s. These include tribal works by the Warlis, and Madhubani and Khovar art from Bihar. Highlights are paintings and prints by Jangarh Singh Shyam who I first met in the late 1980s, and who also participated in a cultural artist’s exchange I organised with Aboriginal artists at the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi in 1999.  He tragically died in Japan in 2001.

EXHIBITION:  Photography & Place Australian Landscape Photography 1970s Until Now, is a thoughtful and often beautiful exhibition curated by Judy Annear, one of Australia’s leading curators.  It is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 29 May 2011.  It contains works by some of my favourite photographers including Michael Riley (1960-2004), Ricky Maynard, Jon Rhodes and Wesley Stacey, and examines different and changing ideas about landscape and place.

SHAME FILE:  Hillary Clinton for describing Bashar-al-Assad of Syria a “reformer”; Christopher Hitchens for trying to credit the invasion of Iraq (and his surprising support for it) with the popular uprisings in the Middle East; China for the arrest and current disappearance of Ai Weiwei, an internationally well known artist (although he did always surprise me in interviews with just how refreshingly frank about China he was); and the Director of the Berlin Zoo for wanting to proceed with the stuffing of the “just a polar bear” Knut.

CONGRATULATIONS:  The United Nations finally seeming more pro-active – in the Ivory Coast.

STATS: There is a 40% increase in the hole in the atmosphere above the Arctic; 50,000 coal fired power stations in the world are supplying 41% of the world’s electricity; China is building one new power station a month, although they are supposedly going to be more highly efficient and lower polluting.

CHRISTIAN VIDEO:  There is a new video clip post with more images of Christian taken from the original documentary, click here.

15 Responses to “Michael Leunig, Blogging, Harley the Dog, Tony the Tiger, India, Carbon Tax Rally, Christian the Lion, Jangarh Singh Shyam, Australian Landscape Photography”

  1. BW Says:

    So what have you done in the intervening years? : ) I like reading your blog (though I typically don’t take the same viewpoints as you do on the issues) and seeing the lovely & interesting photos you post, especially of exhibits to which I cannot go, as I do not live in Oz.

    When I first found out about Christian and saw the video, I did a search on the net for info about you and your friend John. I read a few things about you, one of which is in an on-line Google book and shows you seated at a table in a gallery (I think).

    For some reason, before reading much about you and John, I sensed that you and he were creative types. Reading about your work as a curator confirmed this. I did wonder why you returned to Australia (not knowing of your family history, about which I also found out a bit from an interview on the book you wrote about them) and how you became interested in aboriginal art, so much so that it became an exclusive focus for you. It would make a nice story to read on the development of this interest and your career after Christian.

    • acebourke Says:

      You seem to have got the gist of the intervening years. It just seemed odd that I was never asked about them in interviews when those years have actually been my career, and art and Aboriginal issues have been very important to me. Thanks for taking the time to comment – what work are you mainly concerned with? best wishes ACE

  2. Hélène Says:

    I visited The Cross Arts Projects web site and I appreciated very much that exhibition.
    Very Beautiful !

  3. Judy Says:

    thank you for your kind words Ace, Ill get to see oyur show soon. My back collapsed saturday so taking it easy!

  4. Tara Davison Says:

    Hi Ace

    Like you I think of Tony everyday – I try to visualize him lying in the Grass away from human eyes. I send him good thoughts and just pray he does not feel the grief those of us who campaign to free him feel for him.

    If we can not free Tony from an inhuman concrete cage – if we can not free Tony from exploitation in the richest country in the world-we are truly lost!

    I pray each day Free Tony The Tiger

  5. […] of “A Lion Called Christian” for including Tony and the new ALDF petition links in his recent blog post. An excerpt from Ace’s […]

  6. jay swanson Says:

    Hello Ace!
    You may all ready know about this~
    wanted to share it with you just in case you don’t…there is an animal sanctuary in Kingsburg, Colorado.
    Recently a pride of “Circus” lions were moved there from Bolivia. It may not be Africa~but undoubtedly heaven in comparison to the steel cage they were once confined to as a side show.
    Love your blog and all the work you do for wild animals and also in the art world<3 You're an inspiration to all!
    Many thanks~

  7. Michael Says:

    Hi Ace,
    You should visit our blog http://www.mgnsw.org.au and read Steve Miller’s update on preparations for the first NSW Aboriginal Cultural Centre Summit currently being organized for presentation in September at Carriageworks. Your thought would be appreciated.

  8. Jeanette Webb Says:

    Thank you for caring about Tony. You sum it up so well – ‘So many animals are condemned unnecessarily to a pointless life for other people’s satisfaction or greed and for me Tony seems to be a symbol of this.’
    We all know that Tony has been exploited for all of his sad little life. Hopefully that will soon change and he will be freed to go and live somewhere he will be properly cared for and will have a better quality of life.
    After Tony hopefully the fight will continue – saving the world , one Tiger at a time.

  9. Thank you again Mr. Bourke for including Tony and his petition links in your blog. Your support is truly appreciated. Tony has supporters all over the world, and while we advocate for him, hopefully we are also raising awareness to the estimated 5,000 tigers privately owned in the United States whose numbers exceed tigers left in the wild. These captive U.S. tigers suffer in backyards as “pets,” in roadside zoos and circuses, are bred for profit, tiger cubs are exploited in photo ops and exhibitions, and others are condemned to canned hunts and sold on the black market. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n80OuEA2f3w With the life span of properly cared for captive tigers 15 to 20 years, it is imperative for Tony, who has been subjected to the detrimental environment of a truck stop for all of his 10 years, to be relocated to a proper home.

    • acebourke Says:

      5000 privately owned tigers is an alarming statistic! Thanks for your good work – many people do support endeavours such as yours and some determined individuals have to lead, while we others want to help in any way we can. The pressure needs to be maintained. best wishes ACE

  10. Julia Says:

    The link for Christian’s footage doesn’t work

  11. Julia Says:

    The link for Christian’s documentary footage doesn’t work. Can you fix it? Thanks!

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