Nick Brandt Ranger with Tusks Amboseli 2011. Courtesy Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt Ranger with Tusks Amboseli 2011. Courtesy Source Photographica

BRANDT: Nick Brandt’s photographic exhibition concludes in Sydney this Sunday (27 th May) at Shapiro Gallery, Queen Street, Woollahra.  Many beautiful images are online but you will miss the thrill of standing in front of these handsome large format photographs –  majestic close up portraits of those extraordinary and beautiful African animals in often vast landscapes and under dramatic skies.  Nick and many of  the animals seem to know one another – and he has observed them over several years and made a unique connection.  They are remarkably accepting of Nick’s proximity – often only several metres.  What is very sad as this photographic trilogy unfolds over several years  – On This Earth, A Shadow Falls... can extinction really be the end game?  This image of the elephant tusks on the cracked earth is both beautiful and haunting, a reminder of the insatiable trade in ivory, and the elephant extinction vortex.  We are witnessing the tipping point – and on our watch. This photograph, and many of the others taken in 2010 and 2011 and recently released, are darker in both tone and mood.

TONY THE TIGER: Thanks to Dee De Santis for forwarding me this link from the Animal Legal Defence Fund appropriately entitled Making Sense of the Current Status of the Tony the Tiger Cases.

 In essence: The ALDF is involved in three separate lawsuits concerning Tony.

The first lawsuit filed by the ALDF successfully got the permit to cage Tony revoked. This decision is now delayed by an appeal by the owner against the judgement.

The ALDF lost the second case which attempted to force the State Department to enforce the wildlife laws. It is still illegal for the owner to possess and exhibit Tony and the Department has publicly stated that they will enforce Louisiana law once the litigation has concluded.

In the third lawsuit, the owner is attempting to overturn the state ban on private possession of big cats.

On the ALDF site you can ask a question or leave a comment.  Some comments thank the ALDF for their work, other lawyers have commented, and there are suggestions where Tony could be relocated to.

Thanks to the ALDF for their efforts for Tony and their work in general. I appreciate the explanation for the delays, but meanwhile,  day after day, Tony sits in his cage…

WHALES: Help Stop the Japanese Whale Hunt and sign a petition to the Japanese Ambassador to Australia, Mr. Shigekazu Sato. Whale hunting by the Japanese – and others,  is anachronistic, unnecessary, and cruel.  It is now more a case of the Japanese saving face.

TEDx: This weekend I’m looking forward to the TEDxSydney talks, which we can all follow online. I’m especially interested in Jeremy Heimans who co-founded the very effective GetUp.org which introduced effective targeted internet activism in Australia.  The Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) talks began as a one-off in 1984. Devoted to “ideas worth sharing”, speakers now have 18 minutes (or less) to give “the talk of their lives”. Many of these talks help keep one optimistic about human ingenuity.

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Jon Lewis Echidna – Damien Minton Gallery

Jon Lewis Echidna – Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney until 26 May 2012

JON LEWIS: It is the annual Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, and there have been photography exhibitions everywhere.  I love this echidna image by Jon Lewis from his exhibition From the Ranges at Damien Minton Gallery.  He has lovingly and poetically photographed the land around where he lives in country NSW.  His Classic Bondi portraits from the mid 1980s are also on show at the Bondi Pavilion until June 3rd.  Jonny is a well known photographer and conservation activist of long standing. See his website here.

THE INTERVENTION: I wrote about the Intervention in Aboriginal communities last time – you can protest against it here, especially as the Stronger Futures legislation to extend the Intervention is currently being debated in the Senate.

Noel Pearson is an influential Aboriginal leader and the Intervention seemed to emerge from his unexpected relationship with John Howard in his last year as PM.  He has been an articulate critic of indigenous welfare dependency, but the cancellation of Community Development Employment Projects ( a form of subsidised employment)  has left many in remote communities without employment and the ability to make a much needed contribution to the community.  Noel Pearson writes regularly for The Australian – on a wide variety of topics, and I did wonder why academic Marcia Langton, another influential Aboriginal leader, thought it was necessary to recently write  her defensive “Why I continue to be inspired by Pearson” article for the same paper.

The Intervention is very unpopular with few positive results so far.  In some respects it contravenes human rights, and was an opportunistic and clumsily implemented unsuitable one-size-fits-all paradigm.  Aboriginal community leaders who were not initially even consulted, need to be listened to about their particular priorities, ideas and solutions. The challenge is to create an economic basis for these remote communities – and not relocate them off their traditional lands to “growth centres”.

Buyku 2011 - Natural Earth pigments on incised laminate board

Buyku by Gunybi Ganambarr at Annandale Galleries.

I think some of the most exciting Aboriginal art being made today is by the painters on bark from North East Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory.  Among quite a few very talented “young guns” is the innovative Gunybi Ganambarr.  He is true to his traditional values and beliefs but imaginatively uses new conceptual approaches and mediums to express them. For example, Buyky (above) is natural earth pigments but on incised laminate board.  See more dazzling paintings from his exhibition from my mind online at Annandale Galleries, Sydney  and Ganambarr is one of 20 artists in the overdue and just opened UnDisclosed, the second National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra until 22nd July.

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: The case was back in court recently but I can’t quite decipher the result or the next step. It seems it’s at the discretion of the state government whether or not they enforce Tony’s relocation.  It just drags on and on.  Does the local press follow Tony’s case sympathetically – if at all?

ROSS GITTINS: I often read (and quote) Ross Gittins, an economics journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, as he appreciates we live primarily in a society, rather than an economy.  He has just been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney.

Gittins recently wrote about some fundamental differences between European and American approaches to life.  It helped me understand some of the very occasional emails I get about “infringements of my freedoms”, and complaints about “big government” etc.

A sample of Europeans and Americans were asked: “Which was more important – being free to pursue your life’s goals without interference from the state, or for the state to play an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody was in need”.

In the US, 58% favoured individual freedom, and 35% favoured ensuring nobody was in need.  It was the reverse in Europe where in Britain, for example, only 38% favoured individual freedom.

Interestingly, despite the American belief in the opportunities open to all citizens, and President Obama’s example, Americans actually have the lowest degree of social mobility.

Gittins accepts, as I do, “the need for the community to pull together towards common objectives, for us to be led by our elected leaders and for the better-off to be required to assist the less-well-off.  I don’t resent having the taxman redistribute a fair bit of my income to those less fortunate”.  He concludes that overall the ideal attitude to life lies somewhere in the middle. Read the full article here.

SURVEYS & REPORTS: In other recent surveys:  apparently we worry most about our careers; the majority of people think at the end of their lives that they worked too hard and should have spent more time with their families; and at present there is only a “middling” concern in the community for the environment.

There have been recent reports on how the education system is failing to engage with many indigenous and non indigenous teenagers alike, and the judicial system is failing them with high rates of incarceration and recividism.  There is an epidemic of marginalised and quite fearless young people – a danger to themselves, and the community.  Sydney has also had nearly nightly drive-by shootings in the suburbs.

Jenny Kee

Jenny Kee shone at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

JENNY KEE: Unusually for me, I attended Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia to see my friend Jenny Kee’s showing of her famous silk scarves – draped extravagantly around motionless models that we walked around.  It was both reminiscent of the excitement of her fashion parades for Flamingo Park (with Linda Jackson) decades ago, and something new – and a new younger audience who have discovered her. See her scarves here.  I’m not sure if Fashion Week drew many international heavyweights – but bloggers got a lot of attention – especially Bryanboy – who interpreted a tweet from one of our local glamazons as a real death threat.  Checking out their sites, I loved Tommy Ton’ photographs in  The Word on the Street and his pick of the best off-runway fashion statements of 2011.

In New York an exhibition of the work of two Italian fashion iconoclasts Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli (who could not be more dissimilar) has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Typically Miuccia Prada has said she does not like fashion and wishes she had found a job doing something important!   She is a very interesting woman and hopefully her $6.8 billion fortune may one day go towards something she regards as “important”.

AUSTRALIA: We have just had a rather clever sleight of hand (projected) return to surplus budget.  It seemed to compensate people for the upcoming carbon tax and supposedly spread some of the mineral wealth.  A return to surplus was a foolish, inhibiting promise at a time when economies around the world need stimulation for growth – particularly in Europe.  Two tacky sex scandals involving parliamentarians continued to get most of the media attention however, as their votes are crucial in the knife-edge hung parliament.

Despite the endlessly negative (and policy free) commentary from our Opposition, our economy is the envy of the world, especially in comparison to the extremely alarming eurozone crisis, which is already having global repercussions for us all.

I like the cultural diversity (and number of women) in the new cabinet in France, and M. Hollande’s call for more economic stimulation and growth rather than more austerity.

CSG: A recent rally outside Parliament House NSW called for tougher restrictions on the epidemic of coal and coal seam gas mining.  It seems no area, even prime agricultural land, is off limits.  Interesting to see usually conservative country people protesting and seeing, as the new leader of the Greens Christine Milne pointed out, that they have a lot in common with environmentalists.

Koala at Taronga Zoo. Images sourceed from Taronga Zoo.

Koala at Taronga Zoo

KOALAS:  Koalas are now officially “vulnerable” and  “endangered” in various parts of the eastern states of Australia.  I’m not sure just how much environmental protection this will provide, but in twenty years numbers in NSW have fallen from 31,400 to 21,000 in 2010, a decline of 33%.

In NSW, the government is considering allowing minors to hunt feral animals with knives, dogs and high-powered hunting bows in the National Parks – so the government can secure necessary votes from the Shooters Party on other legislation.

BEES: It is of great concern that bee numbers seem to be declining dramatically globally and this would of course be disastrous for the food chain.  65% of our agricultural production in Australia depends on pollination by European honey bees.  AVAAZ recently began a campaign against the use of pesticides by Bayer, and a link has been found between another common agricultural pesticide (containing imidacloprid), and colony collapse disorder in which adult bees abandon hives.

PRINCE WILLIAM: Nice to see a new patron for conservation and in a recent speech Prince William wanted to “sound a rallying call”  that in Africa there are only 600,000 elephants, 25,000 lions (halved from 20 years ago) and 12,000 cheetahs left.

MISC STATS: 7000 languages are now spoken in the world but only 600 are expected to survive until the end of the century; in the UK despite double dip recession and record unemployment the richest 1000 people are $643.5 billion richer; in Australia under 1% of the population are problem gamblers, but they contribute 40% of poker machine revenue; 37% of Australian people with taxable incomes of $1 million or more make no donations at all; 31.96% of us sign up for organ donation however; there are fewer than 200 violins made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, and 650 by Stradivarius – all worth many millions of dollars.

OBAMA: Congratulations for “evolving” into your support for same-sex marriage, the first American President to do so.

Jon Lewis Dooloogool

Jon Lewis Dooloogool

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHRISTIAN:

How many times did you both visit Christian in Africa and when was he last seen?

When we were revising and updating A Lion Called Christian in 2009, even we were sometimes confused about some details of particular visits especially 40 years later!  Luckily my mother kept all my letters from that period and that helped us as did subsequently published books.  We returned Christian to Kenya in August 1970. After a few weeks we left him with George Adamson to get him used to us not being there, and went on a two week safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  We returned to Kora where Christian was very happy to see us.  Although the big lion Boy was still not fully accepting Christian, there had been an improvement and we were confident enough to leave him and return to London.

We returned one year later in July 1971 to a marvellous and enthusiastic reception from Christian that has become known as the  “YouTube” reunion and became an internet sensation. We returned again in August 1972 for another visit with Christian. He was now three years old, and was growing more independent and into one of the biggest lions George had ever seen. He had cleverly and courageously survived those early dangerous years. The relentless opposition from the local wild lions at Kora meant George’s male lions increasingly spent extended periods away from the camp.  John returned to Kora again later in 1973, but Christian had not been seen since earlier in the year. George last saw him heading off in the direction of the more hospitable Meru National Park which was a much more conducive area for Christian to establish his own territory and pride.

Presuming this happened, Christian would not have been able to leave his pride unattended and return to Kora to see his friends George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn who he loved. There were never any news or sightings of Christian again. He had grown into such a big and strong lion we hope he may have lived at least another 8 years, and that his progeny may be in Kenya today.

CHRISTIAN: See this recent interview on the BBC – John is interviewed in London in Christian’s garden, and the relocated Sophistocat furniture shop. I loved Virginia McKenna, star of Born Free saying that Christian was “one of the most beautiful young lions I had ever seen. There was just something about him….” I agree!

For a more detailed description of our return visits to Christian – and answers to other frequently asked questions, see our 2009 edition of A Lion Called Christian which can be purchased  here.

Christian is mentioned in the excellent books I know some of you have been reading: My Pride and Joy by George Adamson (Collins Harvill 1986); The Great SafariThe Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House ( Morrow 1993); The Life in My Years by Virginia McKenna (Oberon 2009); and the Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild (Viking 2010).