C

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings! My thanks to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani for yet again an irresistible Christmas card.

I live on the southern edge of Sydney at Bundeena surrounded by the Royal National Park. The submarine cable across Port Hacking to us was recently damaged, leaving many of us without internet and land-line communication for weeks. I half enjoyed it and succumbed: reading and listening to Radio National. However it has also been frustrating as there is work to do, travel plans to India to finalise and Christmas!  Some of you were concerned about my silence – thank you.

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

WORLD: China is now the biggest economy in the world giving the USA something to think about – and get used to. It will be fascinating to see how the Chinese use their power. Presidents Xi and Obama unexpectedly signed a concrete agreement for greenhouse gas reductions post 2020. This was just one of several recent humiliations for the Australian government for their inaction over climate change.

The Australian government had tried (unsuccessfully) to exclude climate change from the agenda at the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, claiming that it was not an economic issue.

In a speech at a Queensland university Obama dared to express concern (like many other people and experts) over the deterioration of the endangered Great Barrier Reef. With the UN Lima conference and then Paris later next year aiming at binding emission targets, don’t you think there is again a real momentum in the general community for action? It was horrifying how vested interests and climate change deniers so successfully sabotaged efforts last time after the Copenhagen conference, despite the overwhelming scientific data and analysis.

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather and the changes we are all experiencing should be enough to convince most intelligent people that something is wrong.

In the US Warren Buffet is buying solar farms while our government does its best to sabotage the renewable energy industry where there has been a 70% drop in investment.

Most people are shocked but not surprised at the US Senate Report on the CIA Detention Interrogation Program.  It seems torture yields very little useful or reliable information.  Despite the horrific details, especially of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”,  the ever-charming and ever-unrepentant Dick Cheney said “I’d do it again in a moment”.

IS do not seem to have been quite so successful lately but are much better armed and funded than their opposition. Lebanon is being drawn into the conflict. Egypt seems to be getting even more repressive. Malaysia is turning more fundamental, and PM Abe was re-elected in Japan and will no doubt pursue his right wing and nationalistic agenda.  Their economy is in recession and there was only a 53% voter turnout.

The low prices for oil and gas could be a defining issue for the world in 2015.  The US, Iran and Russia are among many countries to be very affected.  On top of already imposed sanctions, the Russians are experiencing a crumbling economy and rouble.  Will this make Putin less or more pugnacious?

There was talk of an “anyone but Bibi” coalition of opposition candidates for the elections in Israel early next year.  Israel however will probably move even further to the right.  While International humanitarian law prohibits the transfer of an occupier’s population to occupied territory, an estimated 515,000 Jewish settlers live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While the Jewish settlements continue to be built relentlessly and are making a Palestinian State almost impossible, a worldwide coalition in favour of Palestinian Statehood is growing.

Ebola is less in the news and I hope this means the disease is not spreading at the same rate and not compassion fatigue.  Unfortunately the epidemic has devastated both the population (last statistics I read were 6,388 deaths out of 17,942 cases), and the economies of the affected countries.

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

INDIA: I loved attending the FIAPO conference in Jaipur in September, and I’m now looking forward to returning to India in January. I’m showing the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at the 3rd Minding Animals Conference (MAC 3) in Delhi running from 13 -20 January 2015. There is an interesting and diverse line up of international and national speakers and participants.

I’m then hoping to visit the last Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park in southern Gujarat.  Unfortunately I”ll probably miss the Jaipur Literary Festival (21-25 January 2015) but I will catch the India Art Fair (29 January – 1 February 2015).

Asiatic lion

Asiatic lions

Asiatic lions once roamed from Syria to India.  Hunting nearly drove them to extinction and in 1870 there were only 12 remaining.  The good news is that their number in the Susan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary has grown to about 400 although this apparently is now an over-population.  I am quite relaxed about actually sighting any lions and there is plenty of other wildlife, especially birds. I try not to impose, disturb or interfere in their lives unless it… happens sort of naturally. I’m just interested in learning more about them and their future.

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

CACH:  I wonder if these caged African lions in South Africa have been “petted” when cubs, then “walked” with tourists, and faced being shot?  The Australian representative of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Donalea Patman has just returned from South Africa.  She sent me these articles in the SA press (here and here) about the South African government asking the Australian government to reconsider its potential ban on the importation of lion trophies. This illustrates just how powerful the hunting lobby is, but also how effective a ban could be. The accompanying article reported that “overseas hunters are flocking to kill in SA” and that spending has soared 32% as 8000 bag 44,000 trophies.

AUSTRALIA: I remain mostly appalled by our government and I’m glad to see from the polls that a majority of people agree. The polls are the worst “in living memory” for a government at this stage of the political cycle.  Many government backbenchers are very worried and less united.  Very surprisingly, Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper has begun criticising their performance, even in editorials, although diehards Greg Sheridan, Chris Kenny and Gerard Henderson are still in denial. Radio shock jocks Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and columnist Andrew Bolt who are usually blind supporters of the government, have also been critical.

When will the government start taking responsibility and stop blaming the previous government? They are rigidly ideological but with no vision, flexibility or strategy.  They have demonstrated that they are beholden to some vested interests, and from time to time are mean-spirited, arrogant, out of touch, untrustworthy and inept.

The government’s inequitable May budget is still not fully implemented and a recent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) criticises and questions a number of issues in the budget.

Unemployment has risen to 6.3%.  I can’t think of one job creation initiative – just job losses from government cuts, and businesses and manufacturers closing.  Consumer confidence is down 13%.  With falling commodity prices and less tax revenue, there is now a $40 billion deficit. When we were shamed into reluctantly contributing $200 million to the Green Climate Fund, this came out of the diminishing Foreign Aid budget which has been cut $3.7 billion.

Scott Ludlum of the Greens is the politician I have been most interested in this year, especially after his devastating Tony Abbott Welcome to W.A. speech which became a hit on YouTube.  The opposition ALP is just letting the government unravel, and that’s fine by me.  Governments lose elections.  The ALP will play it safe, and will not undertake any necessary reforms, like loosening the ties with the trade unions. I’m not expecting them to suddenly discover their compassion or conscience.

ABC: Despite a firm promise before the election, the government has cut the budget of our highly respected public broadcaster, the ABC, by 5%. 1 in 10 are losing their jobs (and 1 in 5 at the Commonwealth Science Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). Conservatives view the ABC as biased and left wing.  Many of the government’s supporters however live in rural and regional areas and are very dependent on ABC radio and television. I loved many of the diverse and informative issues discussed on Bush Telegraph which has been axed.

I think the ABC effectively interrogates whoever is in power and address the major issues of the day.  I find it addictively informative and interesting.  Some people call for more conservative commentators and presenters on the ABC but unfortunately most of the candidates are too shamelessly partisan or Tea Party nutty.  The Institute of Public Affairs seems to have an endless supply of cocky young propagandists that are used as “balance” on programs such as The Drum.

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly is a brilliant and amusing commentator-on-everything and is unfortunately leaving Radio National to co-host The Project on Channel 10.  Waleed is very well informed about politics, but his many other enthusiasms include music and sport. This year in Australia we have seen cricketer Phillip Hughes killed while batting and a footballer paralysed by a tackle. Racing saw the death of two female jockeys and then two horses in the Melbourne Cup.  Waleed wondered – like many of us – is the cost too great?

David Pocock chained to a digger

David Pocock chained to a digger

Congratulations to champion Rugby Union footballer David Pocock for having the courage to chain himself to machinery to protest against the Maules Creek coal mine in the Leard Forest NSW.  He drew attention to the danger the mine posed to the forest, and the impact of coal mining on the local community – and the planet.  Pocock said that before this protest “I have never participated in non-violent direct action.  I have always hesitated, concerned about the impact it might have on my career”.

I don’t think enough of our celebrities use their position to fight for important issues, and it is rarer for a sportsman.

JOHN KEY:  Oliver Hartwich was commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre to write about John Key, the low-key PM of New Zealand.  In an article in the SMH Hartwich described how unlike the Abbott government so far, Key has methodically and successfully implemented a conservative centre-right agenda and he has just been re-elected for a third term. “Patience, preparation and pragmatism are the defining characteristics of Key’s government style” according to Hartwich.  “Nothing ever hits the electorate by surprise.  Changes in direction are flagged well in advance, and legitimacy is sought through elections.  It is a strategy that could be described as incremental radicalism”.  As a former Merrill Lynch executive, Key does not micro-manage his ministers, but is “ruthlessly efficient”.

Jimson Weed White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe 1932

Jimson Weed  White Flower No 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe 1932

Not many Georgia O’Keeffe paintings come on the market, and this painting recently sold at auction for US$44.4 million.  It is a record for an artwork by a female artist.  (The art auction record is US$142.4 million for Three Studies of Lucien Freud by Francis Bacon).  O’Keeffe died in 1986 at the age of 98. This painting was de-accessioned from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and some – like the BBC’s Will Gompertz, think it odd that a museum is “selling an artwork by the artist it was founded to represent”.

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

CATS: I love the book Cat Lady Chic which I bought as a Christmas present but don’t think I can hand over! It contains wonderful photographs of some of the most glamorous movie stars and people with their cats.  Cat ladies include Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Carla Bruni- Sarkozy, Eartha Kitt and Vivien Leigh, although some others just use the cats as props!

Grumpy Cat is now worth $100 million in endorsements!

Apart from all the cats and besotted owners, I loved the information in The Secret Life Of the Cat recently shown on SBS. Cats apparently live on average to 15, but I think some actually die very young and for many around 12 is a vulnerable age.  Survivors can go on to 18-20.  50 cats tagged with GPS trackers and collar cams were monitored in an English village which was surrounded by woods.  The males ranged for 100 metres and the females 50 metres, although most spent only 20% of their time outside.  On average the owners found one kill per cat per week.  The “experts” thought cats are evolving away from hunting as there is no need, and they are becoming more domesticated.  In the denser urban situations the cats checked their own territory daily, but seemed to “time share” wider contested territory with enemies, in order to avoid each other.  Guess where most cats went most regularly?  Through the cat flaps of other cats to finish off their meals!

Northern White Rhino

Northern White Rhino

AFRICA ANIMAL STATS: with the death of 44 year old Angalifu there is now only 5 northern white rhinos in the world, down from 2000 in 1960; only 80,000 giraffes, 20,000 lions  and 450,000 elephants remain.  100,000 elephants are estimated to have died between 2010-2012, primarily because of the Chinese thirst for ivory.  A crocodile, supposedly 140 years old, recently died in South Africa. The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive record of the status of many threatened species.

MISC STATS: there is a conservative estimate of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic (270,000 tonnes) floating in our oceans; Apple is worth $60 billion and Uber $40 billion; Instagram has 300 million monthly active users and Twitter 284 million; 300 million Indians have no power and 1/3rd have no toilets.

We have had our own tragic hostage drama in Sydney and lost two bright young people.  The gunman had an appalling and violent track record and should have been in custody or at the very least monitored.  He was disowned by the Muslim community.  Unfortunately this incident pales in comparison with the 141 slaughtered in Pakistan.  One bright aspect of all this is that it has actually brought people of all beliefs together to say “ENOUGH”.  I was very heartened by the success of the hashtag #I’llridewithyou campaign to support any Muslim women wearing headscarves who may feel vulnerable in public at the moment.

The overdue rapprochement between the USA and Cuba with the restoring of diplomatic relations is exciting, and let’s hope for more news like this in 2015.

Thanks to all of you that read my blogs, leave comments and communicate with me.  Thanks for keeping me informed and sending me photographs, articles etc.  My thoughts are with those of you that have lost loved ones this year. The love for animals and the work so many of you do on their behalf is very much appreciated, and in concert, we can make a difference.

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, and a Happy New Year!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEASONS GREETINGS, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from me to everyone as well. Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s friend and photographer, for his annual Christian Christmas card – it is so sweet!  My special love and thoughts to the Cattani family for 2014.

GEORGE ADAMSON: Understandably, people remain fascinated by George Adamson.  Although where I live is a small “village” on the outskirts of Sydney, I only recently met fellow locals, well known artist Bob Marchant and his wife Inger.  Bob lived in London throughout the 1960s and remembers Christian fondly. I love his painting of George Adamson painted after George’s death in 1989.  He has always been a “great admirer of George Adamson and the work he did protecting wild animals”.  I’ve lent him the excellent biography The Great Safari: The Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House.

You can ‘like’ the George Adamson Wildlife Trust Australia on Facebook set up by Aidan Basnett.

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

Recently Aidan emailed me about his recent trip to Kenya, and visit to Kora.  Aidan lived for a time in Kenya when he was young, and his trip was a nostalgic pilgrimage to key sites in the Joy and George Adamson story.  Consequently I found his video very informative and interesting, although I felt sad seeing some of the graves. It brought back fond and emotional memories of George’s camp at Kora, which looked in good condition.  

Hi Ace,
Just wanted to give you a report on the Adamson Legacy Tour I arranged this year which took in Kampi ya Simba in Kora National Park.  Being the home of the late George Adamson, I found the whole experience very poignant and moving. What hit me was I was at last in the spot where it all happened all those years ago – the history. I could not stop thinking of how we were treading in the footsteps of George and his lions, particularly Christian and Boy. Seeing the actual place (Christian’s Rock) where Christian had come down to greet you and John. The years I had longed to visit the area had arrived!  We sat atop Kora Rock just taking it all in, and could see George’s grave in the distance. Somewhere out there, all those years ago, Christian had created his domain and we could feel his – and George’s – spirit ! Just an amazing experience I had to share with you and I hope you enjoy the photo and video.
Aidan

“Christian’s Rock” Aidan Basnett 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

Christian’s Rock photographed by Aidan Basnett, 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Recently I’ve been especially loving wildlife documentaries.  They are so soothing – as long as they are not entirely about extinction!  I loved David Attenborough’s recently shown documentary on African lions, and the lions and tigers in his Secrets of Wild India documentaries.  Tigers weigh on average 220 kilograms and can be just over 3 meters long.  A male can rule for 3 years, and live up to 8 on average.  Tigers have up to 12 cubs and raise them for 2 years.  They are not social and do not live in prides like lions.  The males come and go, and usually kill any cubs that are not theirs.  Surprisingly, tigers and jaguars are the only cats that like being in water.

The Asiatic lions in the desert region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India look thinner than African lions – but they may just be hungrier in this hostile environment.  Once they ranged from India to the Mediterranean, but their numbers declined to 13 last century.  By banning  hunting, and other conservation efforts, numbers are now over 400 and climbing.

In David’s documentary on African lions he spoke of the importance of the first two years in the lives of cubs – when they “learnt to be lions”,  living in a pride, and acquiring skills for future survival.  I suddenly felt guilty about Christian living with us in London during those crucial formative years!   However, despite five generations out of Africa, and his London upbringing, Christian seemed remarkably well balanced and adaptable.  George thought he had lost none of his natural instincts – he was just inexperienced.  George said he was one of the easiest lions to rehabilitate, and Christian who was both canny and courageous, survived those first most dangerous years.

In the African lion documentary, four lionesses lived together, and three had cubs which they looked after collectively.  They hunted together effectively, although it is still very dangerous for them, especially against buffaloes.  The male came and went, but very aggressively took over a kill a lioness had made, and only reluctantly later shared with his cubs.

I also enjoyed the first episode of a documentary Lions on the Move about South African Kevin Richardson preparing to relocate his 28 lions, 14 hyenas and 2 black leopards to another animal park.  The animals seem to love him – the lions loll all over him which looks like lion heaven, but is risky.  George Adamson would not have been so physical with lions, and he was trying to minimise their human contact to enable their rehabilitation.  We knew Christian so well we could mostly anticipate his behaviour.  We did not encourage too much physical interaction with him as he was so quickly stronger than us, and we did not want him to realise this.   Kevin knows the individual idiosyncrasies of his lions, and he has to trust his own judgement – and them.  Most of the lions looked extremely attractive and shampooed, and several are now 15 years old, which can only be achieved in captivity.  Kevin also understands and communicates well with the hyenas, and I was amused by his  “baby talk” to the animals – everyone else’s animal/baby talk (except one’s own), sounds so ridiculous!

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

In general, I don’t like the idea of animals “performing” for our entertainment, and the sensitive question of how animals are handled in films has recently been discussed in The Hollywood Reporter.  Apparently King, one of the tigers used in Life of Pi nearly drowned in a water tank filming a scene.

I haven’t yet seen Blackfish, the documentary that traces the history of orcas (also called killer whales) in captivity. I’m not sure why it is regarded as “controversial” documentary, as the cruelty of their confinement  in such small areas, for human entertainment, should now be generally acknowledged as completely unacceptable.

A tiger “handler’ was injured by a tiger  recently at Australia Zoo.  A BBC crew had been filming them, which had probably been a disruption to a normal routine.

I will not be showing the photograph of American Melissa Bachman with the lion she proudly shot.  I hope she never returns to Africa.

Meanwhile, Tony the Tiger just waits in his cage. You can read an update here from the Animal Legal Defense Fund which had a victory for Tony in court in October, but proceedings just seem to drag on interminably. You can also sign a petition for Tony.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

TARONGA ZOO:  Kibali, an adolescent gorilla has arrived from France, and joins two selected females to hopefully form the nucleus of a new family of gorillas at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  The old silverback has been pensioned off to Mogo Zoo down the south coast. Three elephants have been transferred to the more open Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – including the one involved in an incident which injured a staff member last year.  A baby elephant has been born in Melbourne Zoo, but one born last year died in an accident, playing with a tyre as a toy.

INDONESIA: A recent report on the ABC showed disgraceful conditions in general at Surabaya Zoo in Java. Sumatran tigers are starving and dying at a time when their survival is under threat, with an estimated only 300-400 left in the wild.  A feisty Mayor seems to keep everyone at bay despite the scandalous conditions and a situation that has paralysed the zoo. This zoo compared very unfavourably with Taman Safari Park, Bogor, a few hours south of Jakarta, which seems very well run.  The owner has attempted to help the Surabaya Zoo but has now been rebuffed. See – and possibly support – Cee4life who has been campaigning to save the lives of these tigers.

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

ART:  Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition ‘Falling Back to Earth’, is showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, until 11 May 2014.  See here for information on GOMA and the exhibition which consists of three  huge installations.  Heritage (above), described as a “fable of multiculturalism”,  with incongruous pairings of animals around pristine white sand and water, was inspired by the artist visiting Queensland’s tropical islands. Head On (below) also has 99 animals made from polystyrene, but in this instance, they are all wolves.

AUSTRALIA:  I am finding our new government as bad as many of us feared, and unnecessarily antagonistic, arrogant, secretive and without vision.  Our espionage spat with Indonesia worsened through Tony Abbott’s inability to find the right words or actions.  Not content, the government then picked a fight unnecessarily with our most important trading partner China – protesting to the Chinese about their actions over disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea.

More revelations from Edward Snowden have shown the extent of Australia’s espionage in the region, including spying on China.  Apparently only 1% of a million classified documents have been released so far, and we are “to assume the worst”.  It seems we may all have been spied on as well, with the collection of our megadata – mine would be a disappointment.

Not surprisingly, according to the polls, the government’s so called “honeymoon” is already over.  A very bad look was the government’s clumsy attempt to break a major election pledge (a back flip on a back flip on a back flip) on education reform.

The implementation of a proposed education reform, which had been worked on over 4 years, was an election pledge by both parties.  It was to balance the inequitable funding to schools, which under ex PM John Howard saw already very rich private schools given even more money, while public schools and their students remain disadvantaged, with less access to education.

I find it unimaginable that these days any government would deliberately disadvantage a section of the population, and we will have to wait and see the real intentions of this government.  As discussed on an earlier blog, the opportunities for education in the US are also inequitable, cementing a less-educated under class. In 1974 Labor PM Gough Whitlam abolished university fees, and this emancipated many very clever people who were the first in their families to go to university, and have subsequently had an enormous influence on Australia.

Hard as it is to believe, our government seems to be anti-science, and is thoughtlessly dismantling expert bodies that should be consulted and utilised– especially in relation to climate change.  The government should not be dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corp which has been successfully finding and working in partnership with major national and international banks, for example, to research and develop renewable energy sources.

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

ROSS GITTINS: Ross Gittins has the respect of many people. He is an economist but writes more widely. In this heartfelt article, written as a letter to his (future) grandchildren, he expresses his disbelief that Australians have just elected a government “that wasn’t genuine in its commitment to combating the effects of climate change, and that even abolished the main instrument economists invented for that purpose”.

Ross was recently asked to speak at the government’s annual conference on resources and energy and decided to “tell the miners a few home truths”, also published here.

ROSS GARNAUT: In this article about his new book Dog Days: Australia After The Boom Ross Garnaut discusses what economic and policy reforms will be required in this post resource boom era. Neither party seems to have the courage or long term vision for necessary reforms, but “more of the same” is just not sustainable any longer, and will apparently lead to higher unemployment and recession.

ENVIRONMENT:  As predicted, the Federal Government has already shown a cavalier attitude to the environment.  It has created a “one-stop shop” process with State Governments for faster environmental approvals. Permission has just been granted to expand a coal port (to become the largest in the world), near the already threatened Great Barrier Reef.  3 million cubic metres of seabed – dredging sludge – is to be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may yet refuse to grant a permit.

Tasmanians have been bitterly divided for decades over the logging or conservation of their forests, although an historic Forestry Agreement from 2012  seems to be working and have support.  This agreement is apparently also under review/threat from the Federal Government – presumably to now allow logging in heritage listed forests.

There has been a leak of 1 million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry from the uranium Ranger Mine beside Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.  Unfortunately, this is not the first  accident at the mine.

After several fatal shark attacks in Australia in the last year, there is renewed debate about culling sharks, and making our beaches “safer”.  I choose not to swim in the sea as I view it as their territory, not mine.

The Japanese whaling fleet has set out for their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, and each year anti-whale activists protest in dangerous confrontations.  Sea Shepherd consists of three vessels this year, and will again try to prevent this unnecessary slaughter of whales.  Australia took a case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling practices to the International Court of Justice, but a decision is still to be made.

MEDIA:  In this article Richard Ackland writes in the SMH how journalism has changed, and how some journalists just advocate for the government of their choice “… ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment”.  I do read Murdoch’s The Australian on Saturdays and on my way through to often good articles, I glance at what Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan are saying – and often laugh out loud at their partisanship. (Update:  it was Dennis Shanahan in The Australian Dec 21/22 who got the loudest laugh from me with “Abbott: model of a cool, calm and collected PM”.  He says there is “an unfair focus on its mistakes”.  In this Murdoch parallel universe PM Abbott and his wooden and silenced Cabinet is performing wonderfully, unlike the Opposition, who is still being blamed for everything.  Peter Harcher however, was more accurate in the SMH when he said over Indonesia, Abbott’s  “toughness is exposed to be phoney, his judgement shown to be wrong, and the damage is not stemmed early but protracted”.

I don’t often read Murdoch’s The Telegraph which campaigned so unfairly and effectively against the Labor Party in the last election.  It is a real tabloid, with the usual right wing ranters, but is also fun and a little tacky with many photographs, unlike the rather dull if worthy tabloid- in-size only Sydney Morning Herald.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

Advertised in the paper was the National Geographic Photo Contest, just as entries closed. I know many of you are very interested in photography – and wildlife, and may want to enter in 2014.  There are many entries to view at http://www.ngphotocontest.com.  There are the categories of “people, places and nature”, and “real” images which “accurately reflect a moment in time”.  The photo above is of a Little Owl (right) defending its feeding position from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) with both birds showing  their full colours with dramatic full wing extensions.

Sony World Photography Awards 2014 is currently accepting entries until 6 January 2014.

ABC: Supported by an avalanche of critical articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the Murdoch press, quite a few members of the government are talking about privatising the ABC – the government funded but independent public media body.  Every new conservative government tries to dismantle the ABC (and the trade unions), and allegations of left-wing bias are usually found to be unsubstantiated.  I hope it hasn’t got so bad here that we have to again defend the ABC, and that intelligent and informative discussion should be curtailed or shut down.  I am addicted to Radio National!

Downtown Bourke

Downtown Bourke

BOURKE: I loved visiting Bourke.  It is an attractive town, with some handsome historical buildings, wide streets and trees and parks.  It was hard to find a hotel room – there were some tourists, but regional conferences for National Parks, Health etc were being held.  I stayed in “North Bourke”, a few kilometres out of town, and over the river.  Historically, the town has been  a major regional trading centre and transport hub, initially based on the beautiful, if faintly murky Darling River.

Darling River at Port of Bourke

Darling River at Port of Bourke

A local joke in Bourke – or rural NSW, is that “NSW” stands for the coastal cities of Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong. There are no longer any rail or air links to Bourke.  The area is in drought, and summer temperatures hit 40 degrees. The population of around 2000, is forty percent  indigenous, who speak up to 24 different languages.  A complaint is that although there is access to various services, there is duplication, and it is not targeted.  People I met loved living there and were optimistic about the future.  Community leaders are working hard to deal with some of the problems. Most country towns are experiencing high levels of youth unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, unfortunately leading to high crime statistics. See this recent feature article on Bourke The Lost Town.  

I travelled to Bourke with a friend Jon Lewis a well known Australian photographer.  We both want to go back.  He took some great photographs of people in the community.  I think his photograph of me makes me look a bit haughty. See other photographs of Bourke by Jon Lewis at www.jonnylewis.org – go to Blog and Older Blogs (especially postings for November 15-19).

Ace Bourke in Bourke

Ace Bourke in Bourke by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Jonny and I visited an ancient rock art site in the Gundabooka National Park, and Fort Bourke, with several traditional owners and Aboriginal community leaders. Talking frankly with them was a moving and emotional experience.  Governor Bourke is, understandably to them, a symbol of colonial dispossession. No governor handled indigenous-settler issues successfully or with honour, and Aboriginal disadvantage from their dispossession continues to this day.

We visited the Back O’Bourke  Exhibition Centre and the region has a fascinating history with often larger than life characters.  At the Centre it was simply stated that the town was named after Bourke as he was Governor at the time. I imagine people are unaware and uninterested in who Governor Bourke actually was, and I realised that although I live in Sydney, I don’t know much about Lord Sydney either.  However, it turned out many were fans of Christian, and I was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Western Herald.

P1010694 (2)

When the surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was in this area on an expedition in 1835,  “tensions” with the the local Aboriginal people led to Mitchell building a simple (and small) wooden stockade for protection.  A replica exists today.  As Richard Bourke was Governor, Mitchell named it Fort Bourke – always a good way to curry favour for the future.   Bourke appreciated the beauty of  the  Australian landscape which was so different to Europe, and travelled on horseback extensively around the colony, although he never visited Bourke.

Leaving the rock art site

Leaving the rock art site

WORLD:  Over 2 million Syrian refugees are now facing freezing winter conditions, while many of those remaining in Syria are besieged or starving – Syria has become the most dangerous humanitarian crisis for decades;  Lebanon, like other neighbours, is drawn further into the conflict with all the refugees, and people transiting through the country to join both sides of the conflict (including hundreds of Australians);  Netanyahu is apoplectic at the thought of any Iran-US detente;  Australia “abstains” in the UN for an order to stop “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” without informing  the Australian public of the change of policy;  dozens have been killed across Iraq, with December the bloodiest month for 5 years;  very violent and dangerous conditions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan;  the Philippines still in dire need of help, with 4 million people displaced;  anti-government unrest in Bangkok and the Ukraine;  wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi visits Australia;  ex PMs Rudd and Berlusconi are hopefully gone for good;  A.C.T. same-sex marriage legislation is overturned in an Australian court, but the decision clears the way for Federal Parliament to legislate;  India (re)criminalises homosexuality;  China lands on the moon;  Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, while Edward Snowden came second.

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: People love birds as I found out with the response to the last blog.  Thanks to the indefatigible Sylvia Ross for her photographs of this birds nest 2 meters from her front door.  Over weeks we have followed the drama in the life of the Willie Wagtail – the nest, the attack by a Currawong, a surviving chick (above) appears, and later, 2 more appear! I loved her recent exhibition Feral which was photographs she has taken of pigeons in many countries. They are a beautiful and varied family, and these photographs are used as metaphors for “cultural prioritisation and question the concept of feral”.

I really appreciate the variety of emails, comments, stories and images I receive from many of you, so thank you very much.  Several of you unfortunately lost adored companion pets this year and I hope you are managing.  I know I am sometimes a little late – or careless, in my responses.  Indeed, if I have other things to attend to, my blog can read more like a summary of past events…..

I would like to thank my sister Lindy,  and Hayley from HMMG, for their invaluable assistance.

WATCHING & READING:  At the moment I’m adoring Andre Agassi’s fascinating autobiography OPEN.   He seems to have hated tennis from the start and it was his father’s dream, not his, to be Number 1 in the world.  Dad was yet another demanding and scary tennis parent.  He expresses the pyschological torment he suffered very well, and envies his main rival Pete Sampras for being “dull” – and more focused.  He repeats bitchy remarks directed towards him from McEnroe, Connors, Becker, Lendl etc., which actually reveals more about them.  He discovers that famous people, and I presume this includes his ex-wife Brooke Shields, are as mundane as everyone else.

I’m enjoying the Australia-English cricket Ashes Test series.  In a form reversal, Australia have now actually won the Ashes, although there are two more matches in the series to play.

VOICELESS: Voiceless is a non-profit organisation which is part of the animal protection movement in Australia, and is especially concerned with raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming and the kangaroo industry. Recently I attended the 10th annual Voiceless Awards and I am constantly surprised and pleased by the very important work many people are doing on behalf of animals. Voiceless is to be congratulated for their impressive track record of advocacy, and generosity through Grants, Prizes and other support.  The next day I met several of the dedicated staff, and was delighted to see three of them had their  dogs at work.  

The Animal Studies Group’s latest online edition of the Animal Studies Journal, has interesting articles reflecting current research in human-animal studies – from living with crocodiles – or owning dogs in Thailand, to animal grief.

MARTIN SHARP:  Martin Sharp (1942-2013), another of Australia’s most influential artists, has died.  His great friend Richard Neville, wrote a very comprehensive obituary in the SMH.  A very clever and creative group of Australians had arrived in London a few years before me, and they were major contributors to the so called 1960s “Counter Culture”: from Oz Magazine to Germaine Greer.  Martin Sharp made cartoons, collages, posters, psychedelic pop paintings, and album covers for Hendrix, Cream etc. When he returned to Sydney, Martin lived in his grandparent’s mansion in Sydney, with rooms devoted to his obsessions  which included Tiny Tim, Mickey Mouse, Luna Park and amusement park memorabilia.  Martin had a huge influence on many of us. He encouraged me to open my first gallery.  In 2009, Louise Ferrier and I co-ordinated a survey exhibition at the Museum of Sydney: Martin Sharp Sydney Artist.

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

NELSON MANDELA:  It is the end of an era with the death of Nelson Mandela. I can’t add to the deserved accolades for his extraordinary achievements, especially managing the transition from apartheid to democracy and reconciliation.  It has made us all think about leadership – and the absence in most of our lives of visionary – or even practical, leadership.  Mandela was a mystical combination of intelligence, resilience, charm, firmness etc, and it has been fascinating reading and learning more about him – the power he exerted from a prison cell!

It has also been a reminder of the many problems still facing South Africa, and many people obviously feel President Zuma has failed to improve their lives.

I was very interested in this quote from Mandela on leadership: “A leader is like a shepherd.  He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind”.

In his oration at Mandela’s memorial service, Obama said that leaders needed to be filled with “the spirit of Ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word meaning “the oneness of humanity”.  Let’s all strive for this in 2014…..