Cole Classic. Photograph by Anthony Johnson

30th annual Cole Classic.
Photograph by Anthony Johnson

I love the photographs each year of this Harbour event for intrepid swimmers of all ages.

BLOG: I realise my mix of interests isn’t necessarily yours, and I try not to let my politics and layman attempts to understand world events alienate those of you who are more interested in animals and wildlife issues. That’s why I have my paragraph headings – so you can skip.  However, I don’t think a love and concern for animals, wildlife, and the environment can actually be separated out from the political, social and economic issues that are facing the world.  Is the present rate of economic growth sustainable?  Can there be a balance rather than competition between humans and animals for diminishing resources and habitats?  What sort of society are we becoming and do we care for the less fortunate and for other related social justice issues?  Trying to understand these questions inevitably leads to asking which leaders, or political parties, in one’s own opinion, are best equipped to grapple with these very difficult questions. So to me, all these issues I am concerned about are related, and any solutions have to be holistic.

Tony the Tiger - Courtesy of S. Zaunbrecher

Tony the Tiger. Courtesy of S. Zaunbrecher

TONY THE TIGER: Thanks to Dee de Santis for this very comprehensive update on Tony. Many comments left by people were touching. It was quite a thrill to see new photographs of him, and then heart breaking to think how much more time will he waste in that cage?  Let’s hope for some action after the 19th February court case. There is a petition to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which I urge you to sign and publicise – this is an easy way we can help. I’ve also renewed my membership of the ALDF.

TIGERS: Several of my friends have loved the book  Life of Pi, contrary to my earlier assertion that many did not finish the book.  The film is beautifully made and deserves the Awards it has won.  I am unsettled by both the film and the book but find it hard to describe why – I got a little waterlogged in both.  I’m concerned about the portrayal and role in the human/animal relationship of aggression, domination and training, fear and self –preservation notwithstanding. However, perhaps that is the power of this story/fable to raise questions which I am still thinking about.

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

I loved the tiger not being particularly grateful.  What cat ever says thank you!  I’m always rather annoyed by my cats’ behaviour at dinner time. They love me and rub themselves against my legs in anticipation of dinner, but once fed, they never say thank-you, and groom themselves with their backs to me and make me feel I am completely irrelevant, which for the time being, I am.

TIGER STATS: 3,062 to 3,948 in the wild; 40,000 in captivity; 1,571 to 1,875 in India; 923 killed by poachers in India between 1994 and 2010.

BOURKE: I was appalled recently to see the headline in the SMH: Bourke tops list: more dangerous than any country in the world. This country town in the remote north west of NSW has the highest assault rate in the state, along with break ins and car theft. Most crime is opportunistic and committed by disadvantaged youth. The population of 3000 consists of a large indigenous population made up of 22 different language groups who seem to have  been failed by both Federal and State Governments for many generations. Unfortunately, many country towns face similar problems and challenges.
My ancestor Richard Bourke has given our name to the town and I feel personally ashamed that people in Australia have to try and live under these conditions. When surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell visited the area in 1835, after “tensions” with the local aboriginals, a stockade was built for protection, and as Bourke was Governor of NSW at this time (1831-1837), Fort Bourke was named after him. A fort or stockade was not an auspicious start.

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

John Lindt took these photographs in the Grafton area in the 1870s. Carefully staged studio photographs like this were popular in Europe, and helped to make Lindt’s reputation. The local community has been trying with some difficulty to identify the subjects and unfortunately this shows how successfully Aboriginal people were dispossessed from their land, and their family histories and ties broken.

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Aboriginals make up a disproportionate percentage of our prison populations. Although they are only 2.3% of the population, 45% of male prisoners, 33% of women prisoners and 50% of juvenile detainees are indigenous. Unfortunately for some it is a rite of passage, or a respite from tough home lives. There are very few community based diversionary programs focused on drug or alcohol prevention or rehabilitation.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: While our treatment of Aborigines is an historical, and ongoing national disgrace, our treatment of asylum seekers is a present one. Both parties are competing to be as mean as each other. There have been recent scathing reports and accounts of conditions at the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island (PNG) and Nauru. As of November 2012, 10,000 asylum seekers were held in detention centres or in the community. 591 have been in detention for more than 2 years, and 923 detained for more than 12 months. Many children are included in these statistics, and unsurprisingly, people are developing serious mental problems and self-harming.

ENVIRONMENT: Both major political parties in Australia seem to be intent on “cutting it down, digging it up and shipping it out”. The Federal Government has just given the go ahead for several highly contentious projects. Five thousand hectares of old growth forests in the Leard Forest will be cut down for the Maules Creek mine, threatening koala habitats and much else, and forcing farmers off their land by soil and water damage. The Boggabri mine will be expanded and permission has been given for a massive Coal Seam Gas development for Gloucester. These projects will produce 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – more than some countries produce.

Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, recently said the decisions was further proof that the Labor Party was in the pockets of the big miners. “They have not only sold out the Great Barrier Reef to the mining industry, James Price Point to the gas industry, some of Australia’s best farmland to coal seam gas, but now they have also given over the Tarkine”. The Tarkine is a pristine wilderness area in Tasmania and the Government has just ruled out giving it a natural heritage listing which would offer some protection against exploitation.

Without any fuss and arousing little concern, the “agreement” between the Greens and the ALP has been dissolved.

The NSW Government has been forced by community outcry to create a 2 kilometer buffer between residential zones and mining.  Tensions also seem to be escalating as the date for hunting in some National Parks and reserves draws close.

The highly contentious Mining Tax which the miners spent $22 million opposing, and contributed towards Rudd losing his Prime Ministership, has only raised a paltry $126 million as opposed to the projected $2 billion – but I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of that.  Unfortunately it contributes to making the government look incompetent and combined with bad polls for Julia Gillard, feeds the incessant leadership speculation.  The amount of “look at me” media attention Kevin Rudd generates each day is just appalling and counter productive.  Interestingly, both parties have ex leaders who are much more popular with the public.

George Adamson and Christian c.1972/3.  Courtesy GAWPT

George Adamson and Christian c.1972/3.
Courtesy GAWPT

Joy and George Adamson were among the first to warn of the fragility of the environment and could see from experience how animal numbers were dwindling and the many challenges that lay ahead.  There are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  I think this is one of the last photographs of Christian and shows what a huge lion he was growing into.

I think the conservation movement in Australia is getting stronger and stronger and with a new constituency – conservative land owning people who have never protested in their life but do not want to live with the effects of mining and the contamination of their land – by dust, or destruction of the water aquifers etc.  They also want to farm sustainably and care for their animals humanely. They are finding common ground with the Greens and environmentalists, and overall many people are just no longer prepared to vote for parties that have so little disregard for our long term sustainability or viability.

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS: Nate Silver correctly forecast the results in 50 states in the last American election. He has been in Australia playing poker and based on opinion polls he thinks the Coalition Opposition should win our next election on 14 September 2013.  He did say however, he needs to see polls closer to the election.  I think Julia Gillard has been amazingly resilient and hard working – but she has no vision beyond the cliche “working families”.  The ALP can’t construct a positive narrative for themselves from their successful economic management in troubled times, they make unnecessary mistakes, and are dogged by several unsavoury scandals.  The Opposition leader Tony Abbott has few policies and none seem costed, but somehow he promises to return to a budget surplus. It is becoming very obvious he is avoiding any serious interviews or scrutiny – he specialises in macho sports shots or in a hard hat at various places most days, although lately he has been trying to look “presidential”.  Removing the carbon tax as he has promised already looks problematic and complex, apart from being reactionary.  Although Tony Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar, we just can’t have a PM that says “somethink”!

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo looks in my window

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo looks in my window

If I can find one, I’m going to vote for a party or a politician that has values beyond their own short term interests  (usually getting into parliament, and then hanging on), and obviously with views I agree with. I want to see a genuine concern for the environment and it’s sustainability ( I can live with less if that is what is required); fair access to education for all; reconciliation and compensation to Aboriginals; Australia becoming a republic; leadership on social justice and human rights issues, and genuine care of the less fortunate.

GITTINS: Ross Gittins is always interesting as an economist who appreciates all the other factors which contribute to our lives and well being. He wrote a perceptive article about how people’s perceptions about the government’s management of the economy comes down to their own political alignment and acceptance of the “party line”, even if it doesn’t really reflect their own experience or independent observation. The Opposition have successfully frightened Australians into believing we are on the verge of bankruptcy, while most countries in the world would kill for our triple AAA credit rating. We the general public also have trouble distinguishing between cyclical and structural factors in the economy. Another factor is the media who of course love bad news stories. In another article Gittins says he had a big reaction to his discussion of Jeffrey Sach’s book The Price of Civilization on the take-over of political power by the “corporatocracy” that I mentioned last blog. Gittins discusses a new report in Australia which argues that “big business exerts influence through campaign contributions, influence over university funding, sponsorship of think tanks and in other ways”.  The four most disproportionally influential industries in Australia, are apparently superannuation, banking, mining and gambling.

STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality examines the complex issues of income and wealth inequality. His thesis, which influenced the Occupy Wall Street movement is

“The simple story of America is this: the rich are getting richer, the richest of the rich are getting still richer, the poor are becoming poorer and more numerous, and the middle class is being hollowed out”. Read a review in Murdoch’s The Australian by Frank Carrigan here.

SPORT: We are having our own Lance Armstrong moment with reports of widespread use of performance enhancing drugs amongst our sportmen, a huge growth in betting on all stages of games as they are played, reports of match fixing, and links with organised crime.

Lightning strikes the Vatican

Lightning strikes the Vatican

POPE: It is most unusual for a Pope to retire – none have in the last 600 years and I wonder what the real reason is. It isn’t meant to be a job you can just retire from! Like our Cardinal Pell here in Australia, Benedict XVI certainly put the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of any real action on behalf of those victims sexually abused by their own clergy.  If I was a Catholic I would be very embarrassed by issues that seem to be in the secret dossier on the Vatican – sex and financial scandals, in-fighting and an atmosphere very unconducive I would think to God’s work. My main objection is their opposition to contraception which may have cost many millions of lives from AIDS.

I did like two things about the Pope; unlike our Cardinal Pell, he has the intelligence to acknowledge that climate change is real and that it needs addressing, and he loves cats!

God protect Italy from that buffoon Silvio Berlusconi.

CHINA: Happy Chinese New Year. I am trying to work out what the Year of the Snake may bring – from “steady progress and attention to detail” to “shedding a skin” to “I shall arise the same though changed”.

China’s decade long boom in coal driven industry is apparently about to end and energy conservation is being prioritised by the government. China installed more than a third of the world’s new wind turbines last year.  China is estimated to have burnt 3.9 billion tonnes last year which is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. This government directive is good news for global warming – and the pollution in Chinese cities. This has economic implications in Australia as the world’s biggest exporter of coal and iron ore, and the Australian coal industry doubts that China will be able to cap its coal use given their commitment to economic growth.

China is now the world’s largest trading nation. Last year total trade was $US 3.87 trillion, compared to the USA’s $US 3.82 trillion.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that Unit 61398 in Shanghai seems to be the base of comprehensive and covert cyber-hacking networks into the computers of governments and commercial organisations that China feels are a “threat to their prosperity”.

China’s labour market of former farm workers will face a deficit or 140 million by 2030. The working age population will  go into a “precipitous decline” within 7 years. With people living much longer most countries are not addressing this issue – Australia’s spoiled and demanding baby boomer generation are retiring, and Japan’s new government is grappling with how to afford their aging and long living population.

Serengeti Lion by Peter Beard. Gelatin silver print with blood and ink

Serengeti Lion 1976/2006 by Peter Beard.
Gelatin silver print with blood and ink

ISRAEL: Louis Theroux visited Israel in one of his TV programs called The Ultra Zionists. It was terrifying and fascinating to actually see the settlements and the shocking conditions and tension some people live under. The hatred between the Palestinians and Israelis in some disputed areas was appalling. It is impossible to imagine what it is like to live like that day by day.  For example, some Jewish settlers have moved into Arab areas in Jerusalem as a means of gradually taking them over, but have to live with security guards. Louis – in a bullet proof vest, understandably jumped at every stone thrown at their vehicle by Palestinian youths.

The goal of Greater Israel for these Ultra Zionists ensures they will allow nothing to stand in their way – from Palestinians who have lived there for many generations, their own government, moderate Jews or world opinion. Their zeal was both quite beautiful – pure really, in their belief in what they think is God’s plan – and completely scary.

I am always particularly upset when the settlers cut down Palestinian olive trees. It seems so symbolic of a destruction of lives and livelihoods.

A UN human rights investigation is examining the construction of Israeli settlements and their “creeping annexation” which is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Complaints may be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague which may lead to Israel’s accountability – or prosecution, for “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of International humanitarian law”.

The Israelis recently bombed Syria when they moved surface to air missiles and now that weapons can reach all parts of Israel, they will have to be extremely vigilant 24/7 – or build radically different relationships with their neighbours.

A recent program in Australia exposed the mysterious detention and suicide of a dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier in Israel called Prisoner X. There had been a total censorship of the case in Israel, then suddenly this week a sanitised statement by the Israeli Government, while the Australian Government has so far “revised” their version of event and what they knews three times.  Zygier’s multiple identities and passports probably indicate he had been involved in travelling on his Australian passport to countries where it would be dangerous for Israeli citizens, and Australian passports have been used in previous espionage exercises and assassinations.

This goanna appeared on a very hot day

This goanna appeared on a very hot day

JULIAN ASSANGE: The Australian Government seems to have cared as much about Prisoner X as they do about Julian Assange, who has announced he definitely intends standing for the Australian Senate at the next election.

OBAMA: Many of us in Australia are surprised by the hostility towards Obama in the US – some people just don’t seem to accept a majority of Americans voted for him in the election.  In Australia he is popular even with more conservative voters. I am however horrified by the drones and the 1500 targeted assassinations no doubt with civilian collateral damage. I am also horrified by the huge numbers of Americans still facing homelessness and poverty. In his State of the Union address Obama seemed to make a concern for them a priority, and he did again talk about action on climate change and gun control.  The relationship between the Republicans and Democrats is so toxic at a time when some level of responsible cooperation is necessary to address and try and solve the urgent fiscal and economic problems facing Americans today.

I watched a program on mining for gas in the USA called Gasland. The country seemed pock marked by these ubiquitous mines – with many people  and their stock suffering mysterious illnesses. Their tap water was actually flammable!  Dear old Dick Cheney apparently ensured previously protected areas were opened up to mining, and ensured environmental protections were removed.  Not surprisingly, “fracking” for coal seam gas was actually invented by his old company Halliburton.  The situation is similar in Australia where the Coal Seam Gas industry seemed to arrive by stealth a few years ago and was operational on a large scale before many people were even aware of it.  There has as yet been no definitive examination in Australia of the various side effects of this mining, and possible long term damage, especially to the water aquifers.  Environmental safeguards have been loosened rather than strengthened, and it is only determined community opposition (and the Greens) putting pressure on the government.  Community protests work!

Lot 57 Emily Kam Kngawarray Untitled 1989

Lot 57 Emily Kam Kngawarray Untitled 1989

LAVERTY COLLECTION: Colin and Liz Laverty assembled one of the finest and most comprehensive private collections of contemporary Australian and Aboriginal art. Unfortunately Colin died recently.  A selection of works from their collection is being offered for auction, through Bonham’s on the 24th March at the MCA, Sydney. Above is a painting by Aboriginal artist Emily Kngawarray (c.1916-1996), an exceptional and famous artist who only began painting in old age, and below, a painting by Ildiko Kovacs one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists.

Lot 44 Ildiko Kovacs Travelling Pink Line, 1995

Lot 44 Ildiko Kovacs Travelling Pink Line, 1995