The killing fields: Conservation Rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in July 2007. Photo: Brent Stirton.

The killing fields: Conservation Rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in July 2007. Photograph by Brent Stirton, 2007.

Wildlife photographer Brent Stirton has won the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year award for 2014, for the second year in a row.  See here for a selection of Stirton’s work including Living with Lions, a series of photographs addressing the contentious issue of farming lions for Canned Hunting in Africa.  A warning: some of these photographs are very graphic and upsetting.

TONY THE TIGER: See this recent “raw video” of Tony the Tiger in his cage at the increasingly notorious truckstop in Louisiana filmed 22 October 2014.  Tony eats in a desultory way…and then quietly moves to a more shaded (and hopefully more private) part of his cage.  How much longer will he be in this cage?  He deserves a better life and we have to keep fighting for him.

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Day 1 – Willy wagtail with eggs in the nest

WILLY: Again this year some of us have been anxiously following the lives of Willy the wagtail and her chicks in the garden of Sylvia Ross in Sydney.  Luckily Sylvia is an excellent artist and photographer and she is going to publish a small book of  her daily photographs (or post on Facebook) entitled  in Plain Sight – 28 Days.  The mother tries to protect her three chicks from various dangers – from extreme heat to other birds such as currawongs, for 14 days as an egg, and 14 days after hatching.

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AUSTRALIA/ CLIMATE CHANGE: Our PM recently declared to the world that “coal was good for humanity”.  Predictably, the Renewable Energy Target is to be lowered.  A climate change denier (Richard Warburton) was selected to head the review into the RET, and PM Abbott is doing his best to destroy the renewable energy market. This is at a time when there is a new wave of international momentum to act…

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Mother protecting a chick from heat

It is very depressing having a government in denial about climate change and proud of abolishing a carbon tax while many countries in the world are moving in the opposite direction. The government has invented a pretend solution “Direct Action”, where the government PAYS the big polluters to cut emissions if they want to!  This has now passed parliament. I have not read one reputable economist, scientist, expert, or commentator – excluding some journos working for Rupert Murdoch of course – that support this scheme.  There has been no modelling, no costings, no explanations….

During intense and dangerous bushfires last year our PM even disputed the fact that fires and extreme weather conditions were becoming more frequent and intense.

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Mother on guard

ACF: Geoffrey Cousins has just been appointed head of the Australian Conservation Fund, the country’s largest environmental lobby.  He sees the primary purpose of the ACF at the moment is to lead the opposition to the government’s “shameful” lack of action on climate change and environmental issues. Cousins is interesting – a successful conservative advertising/business man who even advised John Howard in office, but  who cares deeply about the environment.  He has shown in the past to be a formidable opponent – he led the successful campaign against a pulp mill on the Derwent River in Tasmania, and against the Woodside gas hub in the Kimberley, West Australia.  He was a young teacher at my school but has erased this from his CV….

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The only survivor

DIVESTMENT: There was a furore when the Australian National University decided to divest their shares in fossil fuel companies from their portfolio. This is growing as a movement – from the Rockefellers to Stanford University. Let’s hope coal becomes a “stranded asset” soon.  Apparently coal still supplies 82% of the world’s energy needs and is regarded as “cheap” – although the infrastructure surrounding it is actually very expensive compared to some other energy sources.

In a recent survey of Australian business company directors, 50% rated the government’s performance as “poor” or “very poor”. This is a very alarming statistic for a government supposedly close to business. The ill-conceived  and very badly received budget is still struggling to get through parliament.

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About to leave the nest

IPCC: The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change states unequivocally that fossil fuels must be phased out by the end of the century.  I think a majority of people believe urgent action is required. With Obama, the EU, China and many other countries now seriously committed, and UN meetings coming up in Lima then Paris, Australia is very much “on the wrong side of history”.

Despite Australia’s best efforts to exclude it, climate change just made it on to the agenda for the upcoming G20 meeting of world leaders in Brisbane next weekend.  This meeting could be interesting in many ways – from various protests to our PM’s juvenile threat to “shirt- front” Russia’s Putin.

As I lay back on my Ancestral Land, 2013, Courtesy Tracey Moffatt, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, GOMA

From the series ‘As I lay back on my Ancestral Land’, Tracey Moffatt 2013, Digital Print. Courtesy  Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, GOMA.

TRACEY MOFFATT: I recently went to Brisbane for the opening of Tracey Moffatt’s exhibition Spirited at the Gallery of Modern Art.  I follow her career with fascination.  Many of the art works referenced places and memories from Tracey growing up in suburban Brisbane, Queensland, and her family connections to land. She has a new video series Art Calls where she interviews artists or people that interest her by skype. The interviews are very informative and often amusing and will soon be on ABC online.

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CATS & KAKADU:  There are apparently 20 million feral cats in Australia, and it is claimed they kill 75 million mammals each day (that’s 4 mammals per cat).  The new Commissioner for Threatened Species is turning his attention to the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory where the loss of so many animals is attributed to feral cats, foxes and fires.  Apparently fire management is completely out of date, and there are too many weeds contributing to “inappropriate” fires which then leave threatened species exposed and  unprotected.  I can foresee a time when cats are going to be banned or are to be entirely kept  inside – watching cartoons on television!

RICHARD FLANAGAN: Congratulations to Richard Flanagan for winning the Man Booker prize for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In his acceptance speech he said the environmental record and support for the coal industry by our present government made him “ashamed to be Australian”.

Well done champion cyclist Cadel Evans for supporting wind farms in South Australia, a state that is serious about renewable energy.

Also congratulations to that extraordinary young girl Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi from India for sharing the Nobel Peace Prize.  Asylum-seeker/refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC from Melbourne has just won the 2014 Sydney Peace Prize.

EBOLA: Ebola has to be tackled at its source which is the three African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The still inadequate global response has been yet another failure by the international community, and even initially by the World Health Organisation. While the Australian Government was itching to go and drop “humanitarian” weapons in Iraq, it has equivocated over responding to this terrible disease.  The government has finally been shamed into donating a field hospital in Sierra Leone. The government still seems reluctant to send Australian medical personnel although hundreds have volunteered.  It now emerges that we were asked months ago by the USA,UK and some African countries to do more…

Mark Zuckerberg has generously given $27.05 million and Paul Allen (Microsoft) $100 million.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory. Photograph by Mervyn Bishop.

WHITLAM: A former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam recently died at 98.  He reformed the Labor Party and won power for them in 1972 after 23 years in opposition.  He initiated many policies and reforms that we take for granted today.  There are too many to list but they include free tertiary education (which transformed many lives), free healthcare, Aboriginal land rights and he was one of the first leaders to visit and recognise China.  Whitlam changed Australia.

On his death both sides of parliament spoke graciously about him, and many of them seemed to have been politicised by him – either way!  His achievements in a few short years make our current leaders and representatives look timid and mediocre. We have been reminded of what real leadership looked like.  Words commonly used to describe him were “brave”, “courageous”, and “visionary”.  Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor General in 1975 and this remains highly controversial today. He was replaced by Malcolm Fraser who I did not regard as a good Prime Minister, but who has seemingly become less conservative and been a more effective and engaged elder statesman than Whitlam.

Unfortunately there was a world economic downturn as Whitlam implemented many of his reforms and policies, and while Whitlam is justifiably criticised for his haste and economic management, the next (Fraser) government inherited a zero net government debt.

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia

At the recent memorial service Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson’s spoke very eloquently about what Whitlam initiated and achieved for Aboriginal people.  Pearson also noted that Whitlam who had an upper-middle class background was intent on giving everyone more equal opportunities.  The actress Kate Blanchett said it was Whitlam’s changes to education that allowed her to discover acting, and that she also benefited from his enlightened attitude to the role of women in society, Australia’s cultural life and our place in the world.  The painting Blue Poles is a good example of Whitlam’s contribution to Australia’s cultural life. It was a huge scandal when he permitted the National Gallery of Australia to purchase Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for $1.3 million in 1973.  The painting has since become a “destination” at the NGA,  and is now valued anywhere between $30 to $100 million dollars.

Melanie Griffith with her pet lion, Neil, in 1970s. Image courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Michael Rougier

Melanie Griffith with her pet lion, Neil, in 1970s. Image courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Michael Rougier

I love this photograph of Melanie Griffith who grew up with this lion Neil in the 1970s.  Neil is so beautiful,and I love all the photographs of course (see here), especially her sleeping with the lion – or the lion tail hanging down from the bed!  Her mother Tippi Hedren (who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) founded The Roar Foundation in 1983 to support the Shambala Preserve in California to educate about the “dangers of private ownership of exotic animals”.

Tippi Hedron with pet lion, Neil

Tippi Hedren with pet lion, Neil

MELBOURNE CUP: We have just had  the running of the Melbourne Cup, described as “the race that stops a nation”. Horses are so beautiful and magnificent and my sister and I enjoyed riding when we were young.  As I watched the races during the day I wondered if the horses liked racing and were naturally competitive.  I suspect some do love it.  While some horses before and after their races looked around and appeared to enjoy the crowd and the attention, others were more skittish.  There are always love stories, like the 2 men who always accompany the 9 year old Red Cadeaux on his world travels and who said he is the nicest, loveliest horse. He came second for the third time!

Admire Rakti

Admire Rakti

The German horse Protectionist won very convincingly, but the favourite Admire Rakti from Japan, after a very fast first half of the race carrying the top weight, faded to last place.  He returned to his stall, sank to his knees and died. He had had a heart attack.  Like many other people I am still very shocked and quite depressed by this.  Another horse Araldo was “spooked” after the race by a flag waved in his face and  he broke a leg and had to be put down. A horse also died after this race last year.

While some of the horses are loved and pampered, my main criticisms are:  many horses never succeed or break down from being raced too young (or in inappropriate races) and are sent to the knackery; the use of the whip is cruel; and “jumps” racing is just too dangerous.  Is horse racing just yet another example of us using animals cruelly for our own entertainment?

Racing is also highly dangerous for the jockeys and  two female riders have died in Australia in the last few weeks.

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On a cheerier note, my sister recently found this photograph of my first cat.  I found him in the vacant allotment next door when I was about 10.  He was probably “feral” and was quite rough and tough. I loved him and admired his independent spirit.  We always had dogs in our family, but my favourite book when very young was Orlando the Marmalade Cat.  This cat was my introduction to the wonderful world of cats and I have had at least one cat in my life ever since!

Thanks to Deb, Tim, Francois and Sylvia Ross especially for sending some of the images used on this blog, and to many others for your emails, news and images.

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