Aboriginal Art, Scott Sisters, Dolphins, Ivory, A Lion Called Christian, Buffet, Dewey, Marley, Red Dog
September 10, 2011
ABORIGINAL ART: This painting by 96 year old Dickie Minyintiri has won the 2011 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. To the initiated clan elders, this painting is a map of their country, especially the waterholes, the tracks of animals, and related ceremonial activities – and much more than we will ever know. You can view the exhibition online and see the diversity of Aboriginal Art. It seems Central and Western Desert paintings predominate in this exhibition, but this is often the case. Isn’t it amazing that such contemporary looking paintings are by people living in remote areas still speaking their own languages and where traditional ceremonies are still strong, although this way of life is under threat.
We are going into spring here in Australia and the weather in Sydney has been warm and sunny, but still a little cool at nights. A magical time of the year. I feel fine myself, but this is tempered by the bloodshed in the Middle East and the atrocities being uncovered in Libya, and the determination of the Syrian Government to violently repress their people.
UNNERVING: to discover recently the US and UK government’s cooperation and complicity with Libyan intelligence; just how cosy Blair was with Gaddafi; that Blair is a godfather to a child of Rupert Murdoch and worked against further investigation of the phone hacking; that the Chinese were selling arms to Libya as late as July; and that Bush’s White House ignored or buried relevant evidence about the connections between the 9/11 hijackers and his Saudi Arabian friends. As we reflect on the horrific loss of life ten years ago (and the many subsequent military and civilian deaths), let’s try and learn from the inappropriate and failed response of the so called “War on Terror”.
FOREIGN AID: At last there seems to be a rethinking of how ineffective some Foreign Aid has been in the past. Much of it has propped up big man despotic leaders rather than reaching the people who need it. Of course the Chinese seem to be everywhere and are at least building infrastructure and one hopes the populations will benefit as much as China will. Obviously droughts cause crops to fail, but peace and stability is also required to prevent famines. The colonial carve up in Africa after 1885 is responsible for so many unrealistic and unnatural national borders that many countries have too many disparate tribal groups – a problem facing Libya where three very different rebel groups will now have to work together. Foreign Aid has also disadvantaged local enterprises in the past. Now there are initiatives to fund specific projects in villages, overseen by local councils, and for better transparency and accountability, accounts are publicly displayed.
We must not forget the millions suffering with the famine in Africa and I hope given the millions of people effected, donations and aid are getting through as effectively and quickly as possible. In Haiti for example, of the US$21.1 billion raised for the 2010 earthquake victims only $286 million has been obligated, and many thousands are still living in tents.
You can donate to the UNHCR’s East Africa Famine Appeal at www.unrefugees.org.au.
SCOTT SISTERS: Two Australian sisters Helena and Harriet Scott painted between the 1840s and 1860s. Their exhibition Beauty from Nature is at the Australian Museum, Sydney. The artworks have been drawn from the 100 preliminary botanical drawings and watercolours purchased in 1884. These sisters were cousins of David Scott Mitchell that I have blogged about previously, and I am proud to say I am also a relation.
SPECIES: Apparently there are an estimated 8.7 million species on earth – 6.5 million distinct forms of life on land, and 2.2 million in the oceans, with 85% yet to be discovered. Some species of course may vanish before we even know of their existence. In Australia more than 100 plants and animals have disappeared in the last two centuries, with many critically endangered. The International Union of Conservation of Nature predicts that 30% of the world’s wildlife will disappear by 2050. Creating some controversy is the proposal by some scientists to use economics and mathematics to develop analyses of which animals should be saved and which ones should not, and are already prioritising recovery programs. Read the article Survival of the Cheapest SMH, 11 August 2011.
What can we do, apart from donating? According to the Sydney Sun Herald: take rubbish, especially plastic from the beaches; stop pets hunting wildlife; grow native plants as a haven for wildlife; buy furniture timber from sustainable sources; and eat sustainable seafood.
Unfortunately in our Asian region there is a vast wildlife trade in poaching, smuggling and dealing in protected species and their body parts, much of it for traditional medicines. Lately there have been reports of tigers being “farmed” in China, like the horrific farming of bears for their bile elsewhere in Asia. The Global Financial Integrity group using information provided by conservation groups Traffic and the World Wildlife Fund have estimated recently that the illegal trade in wildlife generates up to $US10 billion.
Australia’s live cattle exports have resumed to Indonesia seemingly without any new and effective enforceable safe guards, and questions have been raised about Australian sheep exports to Turkey. Interestingly, after the huge public outcry over the TV footage of the treatment of cattle in the abattoirs in Indonesia, public sentiment then swung to the cattle producers, and the government was then pilloried for the economic damage to the industry caused by the suspension of trade.
THE COVE: I finally saw The Cove and it is a devastating documentary. September marks the beginning of the slaughter of up to 23,000 dolphins and porpoises in Japan. “Traditional custom” is no longer an excuse. Apparently many younger Japanese are questioning the harvesting of dolphins and porpoises for captivity and food (which often contains dangerously high mercury levels), and their whaling activities in the Antarctic, and the Japanese media are finally asking questions. We should all actively oppose and protest. I hope you will sign this petition.
FAROE ISLANDS: I have once again been sent an email petition to oppose the slaughter of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands. The images and blood in the water was almost unwatchable. Unfortunately this petition is now closed, but investigate other opportunities to protest.
TARONGA ZOO CAMPAIGN: There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world primarily because their forests are being cleared for unsustainable farming and forestry, including palm oil plantations. Taronga Zoo supports sustainable palm oil production that does not destroy vital animal habitats. Zoos are working together to petition for the mandatory labelling of all food products containing palm oil. You may also want to sign this Don’t Palm Us Off petition.
AGONY AND IVORY: In the August issue of Vanity Fair there is a quite terrifying article charting what could be the extinction of the African elephant. The demand for ivory, especially from the older “suddenly wealthy” Chinese in the main ivory carving and trading district of Guangzhou is seeing possibly tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year, and a “vortex of extinction” is feared. Half the poaching in Kenya is happening within 20 miles of one of the five massive Chinese road-building projects. But ivory is also funding warring rebel groups in Africa, and in Zimbabwe many elephants are being shot by trophy hunting tourists, as well as being killed to provide food for a hungry population.
There are people in China also deeply concerned about the ivory trade and the diminishing elephant numbers, and as we discovered when we visited China, the Chinese Government is much more committed to conservation than I had imagined.
These are most of the people who are mentioned in the VF article that are fighting to save the African elephant: Amboseli Elephant Research Project; Kenyan Wildlife Service; Save the Elephant; Traffic; IFAW; WildAid; MIKE; Johnny Rodrigues; Andrea Turkalo; and Iain Douglas-Hamilton. We must help in any way we can and especially stop people buying ivory.
CLIMATE CHANGE: The www.skepticalscience.com website clearly explains the peer-reviewed scientific evidence that rebuts misinformation disseminated by so-called skeptics of climate change.
Robert Manne in an article in the Quarterly Essay, Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation analyses The Australian newspaper’s total coverage of climate change including news items and opinion columns, and by a ratio of about four to one, they have opposed action on climate change or “acting alone”. (Apparently 90 countries are committed to some action). Their blatantly biased reporting against the Government would be of similar proportions. It looks like it is about to get very difficult for James Murdoch in the UK very soon.
Coal seam gas exploration in Australia, with tens of thousands of gas wells planned or approved, is at last being questioned in relation to the damage to the water table and the effect of the chemicals used in the process. The cost effectiveness of wind farms is also being questioned or reviewed.
MISC STATS: Apple have $76 billion in ready cash (more than the US Government); in Australia 1% own 20% of the nation’s wealth and in the US it is 1% owning 40%; BHP Billiton announced a profit of $22.5 billion – and they opposed a mining tax; deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon increased by 15% in the past 12 months; the Pope’s World Youth Day event in Spain cost €60 million.
BUFFET: It was interesting when Warren Buffet recently wrote “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.” With America seemingly on the edge of a double dip recession, with unemployment at 9.1%, 14 million people out of work and zero jobs growth, this just seems incomprehensible. The wealthy refuse to pay enough tax necessary to maintain infrastructure or support the impoverished, and consequently nearly one in a hundred Americans are imprisoned. The sophisticated US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich has recently said that without the tax breaks, the top 1% in America could be contributing $500 billion in the first year alone. One does have to ask, is there any concept of “national interest”? Are the conservatives prepared to wreck the country just to reclaim political power which they see as their entitlement? Exactly the same thing has been happening here in Australia, where a shrill and negative but effective Opposition, aided by shock jocks, has convinced a large section of the population that our current Government – the envy of the world economically, is a catastrophe. They are contributing to undermining consumer confidence in a time of global financial uncertainty and obstructing necessary reforms like a carbon tax. I really despair.
DEWEY AND MARLEY: Over the last year or so I’ve looked rather enviously at two books that are always prominently displayed in airport bookshops. So I thought it was time to read DEWEY The Small Town Cat Who Touched the World (by Vicki Myron), and Marley & Me: life and love with the world’s worst dog (John Grogan).
I was very amused when I was in a book shop thinking of buying Marley’s book and I asked “what is it like?” and the response was “I much preferred the one about the lion – A Lion Called Christian”! Our book is about an extraordinary animal, indeed an exotic one, but most people can probably relate more easily to stories about an ordinary cat and dog, albeit with strong attractive personalities. Their books take in the span of their animal’s natural lives, and are autobiographies of the authors. Our book covers just a few years in our lives, and was written when we were in our early twenties.
Dewey the cat had great confidence, a certain charisma, and yes, he was very cute. The book paints a picture of a small rural town in Iowa struggling to remain economically viable. I’m not sure Dewey turned the town around as implied, but his national and international fame has put it on the map. “We didn’t want him to be anything more than the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa. And that’s all he wanted too.” In trying to analyse Dewey’s attraction Myron writes “He found his place. His passion, his purpose was to make that place, no matter how small and out of the way it may have seemed, a better place for everyone.” Each day he “never left anyone out or took anyone for granted… and he made everyone feel special.”
Marley’s book is a little more sophisticated, indeed the author is a writer. The idea for the book must have come from the response to an article he wrote (with some hesitation) after Marley’s death which unleashed a deluge of over 800 emails and communications from people. He commented “Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and hearts as big as a cloudless sky.” And I recently read we are apparently 30% less likely to have a stroke.
Marley was, let’s face it, quite mental and very destructive, but apparently he had intuition and empathy, gentleness and a pure heart. He was completely entwined with his family who just adored him and felt his loss very deeply. Grogan writes “Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things… about optimism in the face of adversity… friendship and selflessness… unwavering loyalty.”
Marley taught them about unconditional love.
Both writers felt that their animals had the simple qualities that really matter, that many humans have lost sight of. They were just authentically themselves. I loved their stories and understand why they have captured so many hearts. I had a good cry when they died.
Incidentally, I have been told by vets that 12 or 13 are dangerous years in the health of cats and dogs, and if they survive this period can live up to 20. Marley died at 13 and Dewey died at 17. Lately in Australia there have been some horrific dog attacks on people. Certain breeds have been targeted and there are suggestions that they be banned. However, this would be circumvented by cross breeding, and experts say it is the socialization of the dog that is important, often requiring work (and vigilance) by the owners.
RED DOG: See Koko’s superb screen test to play Red Dog! The film has been doing very well and although I haven’t seen it yet, I know it is a legendary story.
While reading about Marley, Dewey, the elephants, the responses to Christian’s birthday blog, or watching the dolphins in The Cove, someone in every story, no matter which animal, said “They are trying to communicate with us.” Are we listening? What do you think they are saying?
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Tags: A Lion Called Christian, Aboriginal art, African elephant, Bobby West Tjupurrula, climate change, Coal Seam Gas, Dewey, Dickie Minyintiri, Dolphins, Faroe Islands, foreign aid, Harriet Scott, Helena Scott, Ivan Namairrkki, Ivory, ivory carving, Ivory Wars, Libya, Marley & Me, palm oil, palm oil plantations, Red Dog, Scott Sisters, Telstra Art Award, The Cove, Vanity Fair, wildlife trade, World Wildlife Fund