Giraffes in the Evening Light

Giraffes in the Evening Light. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy: http://www.sourcephotographica.com.au/nickbrandt.html

I can’t wait to see another exhibition of the superb photographs of East African animals and landscapes by Nick Brandt. The exhibition will also include new releases of his iconic images and will be on exhibition in Brisbane 18-29 April 2012 at 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley and 19-27 May, Shapiro Galleries 62 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney.  While the photographs are so beautiful, there is an inherent sadness and poignancy – much of what we see is vanishing.

After a rainy summer we are having a lovely “Indian summer”, although the nights are beginning to get colder. I saw a black snake this week on my afternoon walk however and I am very much looking forward to them hibernating. I envy all of you in the Northern hemisphere now going into spring, especially after what seems to have been a very cold winter.

I am writing this awkwardly with one of my cats on the desk half lying on the key board – a favourite position of his I wouldn’t dream of interfering with. His sister prefers to watch television. I have been answering emails (tardily – post a virus and subsequent new laptop) from many of you through both the blog and the website and I am just amazed at the interest in Christian and the emotion he still generates. Please keep sending me stories about your own animals, or YouTube links of cats (or dogs!), or what Christian means to you. I’m sure we are building an invaluable archive.

Madeline recently emailed me and said Christian’s story had been “life changing” for her, and I’d love her to describe exactly how. It has been for me – twice – once when we met him, and now again with the YouTube phenomenon of the last few years.

Peter O'Doherty - Siamese

Peter O'Doherty, Siamese, in The Animal Show with other leading artists at King Street Gallery on William St, Sydney until 28 April.

For more works included in The Animal Show see here.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffrey Masson and his young family when they were in Sydney. We visited the recently renovated Museum of Contemporary of Art Australia – as have 4600 people a day.  Walking through the museum I talked far too much about artists I know and love – including Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Ildako Kovacs, Jon Lewis and Tim Johnson.  We watched some of  Christian Marclay’s The Clock – 24 hours literally through references to the time in films.  Jeffrey’s young sons couldn’t see the point of it – where was the story?  It was more a labour of love/research exercise/editing triumph – although of course one is amused by some of the clips. Jack Nicholson singing?

TRACEY MOFFATT: I do think Tracey Moffatt has done much more interesting, amusing and moving works with her Found Film montages.  They “go somewhere, and say something”.  In New York there is about to be a Tracey Moffatt Film Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art with a Public Talk by Tracey at 7pm on May 7th.  Her quite rare and clever public appearances are usually “performances” not to be missed!  It has been fascinating watching her career unfold, and she entirely deserves this extraordinary honour, and Australia should be very proud of her.

Over coffee and tea in the new roof-top cafe with stunning harbour views, Jeffrey Masson asked me to recount Christian’s story to his sons.  I would have preferred to hear more from him – he gave me tantalising snippets of new research in the field of animal behaviour, and we will just have to keep reading his blogs and wait for his next publication.

Aboriginal Rock Art. Kangaroos. 1500 - 1910

Aboriginal Rock Art. Kangaroos. 1500 - 1910

Images of ancient Aboriginal rock art can now be seen online with other great galleries of the world through Google’s Art Project and Griffith University.

ABORIGINAL INTERVENTION: Before animal welfare and rights issues again become more prominent in my life, my prime concern had been the inequality of life and social injustice suffered by most Aborigines in Australia. I worked in the field of Aboriginal art as a curator as it began to fascinate the world in the 1980s and 1990s. I met many artists, made many friends, and regularly visited remote Aboriginal communities. While these years have been the most interesting and probably the most important of my career, and Aboriginal art has rightly been recognised as one of the most extraordinary and important art movements in the world in the twentieth century, it is depressing to say, apart from some major achievements, conditions for most Aboriginal people have not improved, indeed may have deteriorated.

While I may complain about the behaviour of other countries (for example Israel and their systematic encroachment house by house of Palestinian land),  my own country Australia has been criticised just as severely in UN reports for human rights abuses on our original inhabitants.

Old Red Crocodiles

Aboriginal Rock Art. Old Red Crocodiles. 4000BC - 2000BC.

Without going into a detailed account of our tragic settler/Aboriginal history, my bete noire then PM John Howard suddenly over one weekend it seemed, invented THE INTERVENTION into Aboriginal communities, ostensibly over child abuse.  This was the same PM who in 2000 cleverly derailed a fleeting window of opportunity for meaningful reconciliation between black and white Australians when 300,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He also derailed a movement towards Australia becoming a Republic.

This Intervention was a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful vote catcher for red-necks for an upcoming election which I was thrilled he lost – even ignominiously losing his own seat.  Because of the difficult nature of Aboriginal issues, it is one of the few subjects that have bi-partisan support (like our alliance with the US where we obediently follow them into any dumb war going).  The incoming government continued this paternalistic intervention and intends to extend it.

According to an Aboriginal friend in the Northern Territory, the situation in her community has just got worse and  many of their own initiatives and efforts of self determination have been shelved. Consequently I attended the showing of a film “Living the Intervention” followed by a panel discussion with Aboriginal community representatives and John Pilger among others. The Intervention was imposed without ANY consultation with the communities at all. This immediately alienated many of them, and of course they had no opportunity to express what needs and assistance they knew their communities urgently required – from a police presence, to adequate housing, education etc.

The Intervention is a “one size fits all” which is not tailored to the very different circumstances in various communities. One has to admit that some aspects have the support of some people and some communities – which may include alcohol restrictions or income quarantining. But various aspects contravene UN Human Rights, and the Intervention has also been described as yet another land grab with ‘leases’ of 40 or 90 years on land, and I don’t understand how these leases co-exist with the Land Rights Act of 1976.

“We don’t just want solidarity (from white people) – we want action” – Galiwinku elder

Aboriginal Rock Art. Early X-Ray Figure Panel. -2000 - -1

Aboriginal Rock Art. Early X-Ray Figure Panel. 2000BC - 1BC.

John Pilger urged a march on Canberra to bang on doors (which sounded curiously old fashioned) while others spoke about disunity among Aboriginal leaders or that several of them were regarded as apologists.  I’m old enough to have witnessed the effective leadership and charisma of the late Charles Perkins for example, and I’m wondering when some new voices will emerge.

The government is not interested in maintaining  the out-station movement where in the 1970s smaller Aboriginal family/clan groups returned to live on their ancestral land and people were much happier and healthier. The government has specified “growth centres” where Aborigines will  be forced to move to. There is no easy answer and conditions were bad before the Intervention. It is expensive to deliver all the services that as Australian citizens (only since 1967!) Aborigines are entitled to – but there is no economic base and limited employment prospects for many of these communities.

For a good news story and a dramatic turnaround in a troubled remote Aboriginal community called Wadeye, see Nicolas Rothwell’s A township reborn under a spreading tree in The Australian April 7-8 (page 19 Inquirer). I think it can still be viewed if you have a subscription to the The Australian online.  Many factors have contributed: imaginative Aboriginal leadership mindful of traditions; a new style of governance; local employment; intensive public funding; and strict discipline, especially for anyone hoping to play with the Wadeye Magic, now a leading Australian Rules football team. Many other remote communities aren’t so lucky and at the moment there is an appalling epidemic of copy cat youth suicides.

Muckaty nuclear dump photo by Jagath Dheerasekara.

Muckaty Station, NT. Photo by Jagath Dheerasekara.

Muckaty Station, another remote Aboriginal community, risks being the site for Australia’s nuclear waste dump despite opposition from most of the traditional owners in the community. Again with rare bi-partisan support the Federal Parliament recently passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. The decision is being challenged in the Federal Court. Jagath Dheerasekara’s photographic series Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud has been part of FotoFreo in West Australia and will be seen in Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Festival from 1 May.

VALE: Jimmy Little the first Aboriginal to receive mainstream success with his music died recently. The recipient of many awards, Jimmy was a tireless worker for the rights and lives of Aboriginal people. He believed in the “soft sell” rather than taking to the streets in protest – “don’t mistake kindness and gentleness for weakness”.

MIDDLE EAST: The charade of the UN truce in Syria is just buying Assad time unfortunately with no cease fire or withdrawal of troops.  I don’t think the approximate 27,000 refugees that have fled to Turkey will be returning home soon.  300,000 people have been displaced, and a million people urgently need humanitarian aid.  Suburbs of Homs look obliterated. As discussed before, I’ll never understand all the complexities and proxies in relation to Syria – like the relationship between Turkey and Iran, but the Syrian regime seems to be protected by its strategic significance. Apparently the best chance is for a revolt from within the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt went to Washington in suits and with Powerpoint Presentations to try and secure ongoing funding, and to reassure the US of their democratic rather than Islamic intentions. One wonders – does the military, with their own agendas,  actually act as a useful buffer against extreme Islamification in situations like this? What happened in Turkey?  I realise how little I know about the region historically. How did those religious minorities gain iron control over majority populations – for example, Iraq, Yemen and Syria to name just a few. Was this part of a colonial carve up or a divide and rule strategy?

POLITICS: A comment was recently left on the blog saying the Republican Presidential candidates were concerned about environmental issues  which I doubt very much and have seen no reports about. Even our conservative politician Malcolm Turnbull described them as influenced by “climate change denialists”.  Who is interested in debating issues like abortion or contraception that one thought were dealt with in the 1960s?  The only other US Republican issues reported in our press were God and guns, and “moderate” used as a derogatory word.

A recent national poll in Australia reported that we crave  ” a leader with a clear vision”.

BOB BROWN: An extraordinary politician Bob Brown resigned unexpectedly this week. He is 67 and has been in the Senate for 16 years. He is a fascinating man: an environmental and anti-war activist also concerned with our treatment of asylum seekers; a doctor who lives with his gay partner; and he has been the rarest of politicians – honest!  On many issues he has been the sole conscience of Australia.  He has been both naive and wily as a politician.  He has taken the Greens Party to a position of unprecedented power in the present hung parliament and with a balance of power in the Senate.  However he blocked the original Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010 – missing a unique opportunity when the public were fleetingly in favour of it, and this led to the downfall and replacement of several political leaders.

His “carbon tax” deal with Julia Gillard to form government may ultimately cost her government as it is perceived as her broken election promise.  Get over it I say – circumstances change. Two sex scandals and a disgruntled Independent are currently also threatening her slim majority.

Bob’s replacement is an articulate woman called Christine Milne who has been described as hard as “poured concrete” which I’m sure is not a compliment.   She seems to have a grasp of economics – and she talks about the sustainable “new” economy.  On the unexpected sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year (announced on the day after The Taliban attacked Kabul), she said that we should bring our troops home immediately, and the war “had been a failure on all levels”.

GEORGE SOROS: As the SMH said “The eurozone has just ploughed on with the same old set of failed policies” with attention switching from Greece to Spain.  Commenting on the European Central Bank George Soros said “the fundamental problems have not been resolved, the gap between creditor and debtor countries continues to widen. The crisis has entered what may be a less volatile but more  lethal stage”.

Fiona Hall 21st Century Man 2011 Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9

Fiona Hall 21st Century Man 2011. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9

GOLDMAN SACHS: boss Lloyd Blankfein has taken a 35% pay cut – to $US12 million.

ENERGY: The near coast to coast conservative State governments including NSW, Queensland and Victoria are all rushing to embrace mining and coal and gas exploration and “streamline” environmental protections.  It’s like a gold rush – and I believe sand will be the next valuable commodity!  With big business, these States are challenging and cancelling many schemes supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency.  This must discourage investment at a time when other countries are investing heavily.

Interestingly, traditionally conservative land holders are mobilising against the loss of valuable agricultural land, and the untested effects on water tables and resulting contamination from coal seam gas mining.

Conversely, a country like Denmark is aiming at a 100% renewable energy target and I’m trying to understand the differences between “flexible” and “inflexible” power sources, technological advances in thermal power storage for solar and wind, and Smart Grids.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed limits on emissions from new coal power plants, encouraging the shift to gas.  There is a new boom in energy production in the US and Canada (“the new Middle East”) after recent successful oil and gas exploration, but this also makes it difficult for the development and investment in alternatives such as solar and wind power.

It is forecast that by 2020 the US will not need to import any more foreign oil!

Eastern Bongo

A recent birth at Taronga Park of an Eastern bongo (forest antelope) - fewer than 80 remain in their natural habitat in Kenya. Photo by Dallas Kilponen

AFRICA: Huge coal deposits and two massive gas fields in Mozambique are indicative of changing scenarios and fortunes in Africa where there are 6 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in the past decade.  The World Bank predicts economic growth of 5.3%.  Africa still has many of the the world’s poorest countries but there are huge infrastructure projects, an expanding middle class and foreign equity scrambling for opportunities in telecom’s, financial services and products. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, the Chinese have a strong presence (and an unfortunate hunger for ivory). Can we hope for an equitable distribution of wealth or will the “resource curse” (and tribal and “big man” politics) again leave most people worse off than ever.

ANIMAL WORKS: I recently spoke (with other authors) at a fund raiser to support the work of Animal Works primarily in this instance to fight the poaching of rhinos in Zimbabwe. It has been tough for the human population there for an extended period – imagine how the animals have fared. I applaud the efforts of Animal Works –see their website and blog.  The dinner was fun and everyone loved Africa so much and shared a concern for it’s wildlife. Botswana was a favourite country to visit. The highlight for me was when I was signing a copy of our book and I asked a girl what name should I write in it – and she said “My name is Katania. My Dad just loved Christian’s story and named me Katania”

So, unexpectedly, I told the story of how the  little lioness Katania really was the go between Boy and Christian and contributed to their ultimate friendship. Katania was small enough to go from one compound to another when both bigger lions were at first in separate compounds. When Boy and Christian were finally to meet for the first time, Katania broke the ice after an extended and very tense wait, by going over to Christian and provoking their terrifying introductory fight.  Luckily, despite the ferocious roars and paws flaying, this was more show than a deadly contest.  Both Christian and Boy adored Katania and George Adamson thought they were both devastated by her disappearance, when she was possibly taken by a crocodile. I also talked about George Adamson and how lucky we were to meet him and observe him, and to experience briefly that extraordinary space he created where the world’s two top predators coexisted harmoniously and communicated deeply with one another.

Can you believe the King of Spain went elephant hunting in Africa?

A Lion Called Christian

MAIL: Several of you have asked where the DVD of the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian is available for purchase. Disappointingly I’ve never seen it for sale or rent anywhere in the world, but it is available through amazon.co.uk.  People also ask me about the photogrphs of Christian.  Images can be purchased directly from photographer Derek Cattani (see his gallery on  alioncalledchristian.com.au), and the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust holds most of the African photographs.  The Born Free Foundation owns the original documentary footage in England and Africa.

READING: I just finished a magnificent book on the founding of Sydney – The Colony, by Grace Karskens.  Karskens has retrieved alot of information about the daily lives in early Sydney of convicts, women and Aborigines – and the “middle ground” they all inhabited to a considerable degree with each other. It is comprehensive and fascinating.  I also love the ground-breaking work on Aborigines by Keith Vincent Smith, and Inga Clendinnen’s marvellous Dancing with Strangers.

WATCHING:  I loved seeing John Waters interviewed recently. He is so funny and insightful. To his surprise he is now regarded as an “insider”, and growing up middle class with “good taste” he knew what was “bad taste”. Andy Warhol’s soup can image killed abstract expressionism, and the Beatles killed Motown. It was Tennessee Williams that showed him that there was a place for people like him – and I too remember being very excited by Night of the Iguana when I was at school – there was a different life out there beyond the stereotypical life on offer. Not that I’ve lived it!

I was rather depressed watching “The Thriller in Manilla” and it has been described as a “hatchet job” on Muhammed Ali.  Joe Frazier supported Ali when he had taken a stand against the Vietnam War and couldn’t fight or earn money, but Ali subsequently used effective psychological warfare against him with very ugly racial overtones.  Joe still resents this, and he takes pleasure in attributing Ali’s subsequent physical deterioration to this their third fight when either of them could have died. It is an ugly sport.

LISTENING: I just love Adele’s Rolling in the Deep – no wonder she got that extended ovation weeks ago at the Grammys, and I am enjoying other extraordinary voices auditioning for The Voice on television.

Elephant Group on Bare Earth

Elephant Group on Bare Earth. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy: http://www.sourcephotographica.com.au/nickbrandt.html