Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

The world is mourning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with those innocent passengers, and their families and friends – so many people are touched by this event.  In Australia we have lost 37 people.  Unfortunately, conflict in the Middle East is also claiming many innocent civilians and it is hard not to feel extremely depressed at the moment about the human condition.

Migaloo the whale

Migaloo the whale

WHALES: Meanwhile, life for most of us goes on, and the whales, including albino Migaloo, continue their migration north along our eastern coast. One whale beached itself and after the efforts of many people over several days, finally swam off. The “debate” on whaling at the Australian National Maritime Museum was most interesting with a first-hand account by Jon Lewis of protests and lobbying which closed the last whaling station at Albany, West Australia in 1978. We also heard from brave participants on the Sea Shepherd fleet up against the Japanese whalers. I don’t think many Japanese actually eat whale meat and I know much is frozen and stored in warehouses. Apart from whaling, another threat to whales is the increasing acidification of the oceans, and the amount of plastic refuse that forms huge islands in the oceans. On exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 1 February 2015) are the marvellous life-size photographs of whales by Bryant Austin.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Ultra nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been in Australia.  Our PM Abbott referred to the Japanese who invaded Sydney Harbour in submarines in the war in 1942.  He said “we admire the skill and sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did”. Needless to say these remarks were not well received by Australian soldiers (or their descendants) who fought in the war or by countries like China that were invaded by Japan. A Chinese Daily newspaper described our Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop “a complete fool” after some of her recent remarks, and predicted that her government won’t last long. Given that the Abbott government has 37 communications and social media specialists (at a cost of $4.3 million and compared to 7 people in the previous government), can’t someone vet these loose cannons? Abbott also recently offended our indigenous population by describing Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” prior to colonisation. But trade apparently trumps all other considerations, and PM Abe was not even questioned over his intention to continue to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

I could not resist this photograph of visitors and a lion at the Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria. They are actually shielded (from each other) by a glass wall. I am ambiguous about zoos even though they have had to make themselves much more relevant in the areas or research and conservation. I try not to be too cute or kitsch in my choice of photographs…sometimes a very fine line I know..

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Despite Amnesty International, the UN and other international human rights agencies documenting in Sri Lanka instances of torture, disappearances, muzzling of journalists, civilian deaths and threats to human rights advocates, our government has blithely returned a boatload of 41 people to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is “peaceful” according to Abbott. The UN has expressed “profound concern” at the actions of the Australian Government. Another 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers that set out in a boat from India are presently in an undisclosed location somewhere at sea in one of our Customs boats. Thirty children are among these people that have been held for four weeks in windowless cabins, while a High Court challenge to this incident is yet to be resolved. Our Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison hides behind 95 spin doctors to ensure we are told nothing! Meanwhile some children are manifesting mental problems in our detention centres and some mothers are self harming.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

I think well known photographer Rosemary Laing captures so powerfully the isolation and forbidding nature of some of our detention centres.  I am ashamed to say most Australians are in favour of our tough and inhumane policy – which has bi-partisan support.  What is wrong with us? Is this the same in your countries? I think of the thousands fleeing into Europe from North Africa (1500 recently in one day), and the 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants detained in recent months for attempting to cross into the USA from Central America. 51 million people are displaced globally.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

LEOPARD: Asa the leopard is the subject of an important “rewilding” exercise in Nepal. Her story is such a typical example of human/wildlife conflict over shrinking natural habitats and the competition for resources. Thanks to Kate who emailed me (below) about Asa and she will be able to give us a firsthand account after her visit to Nepal in November: The leopard is one of the most persecuted and misunderstood of the big cats. In Nepal, a young leopard cub called Asa (which means hope) is the focus of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a collaboration between Wild Tiger Conservation Research and Development, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project.  Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and came into the care of Jack Kinross from Wild Tiger in February this year. Asa soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations. Asa underwent  months of training in a secure area in the Raniban Forest near Pokhara, including daily jungle sessions, and with minimal contact with humans.  It was decided that Asa would be rehabilitated in an area with a good prey base, and away from human habitation, within the Annapurna Conservation Area. After meetings with local communities, Stage 2 of the rewilding process is being launched this month. The rewilding location ensures that Asa, and future leopards in the LRP, will have minimal human contact and the chance to return to their natural habitat. The aim of the LRP is to address the ongoing and complex issues of increasing human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. Follow Asa’s story and the LRP at wildleopard.net and wildtiger.org.

CHEETAHS: Andrew has sent me these two articles on cheetahs (in Africa and Iran) who, like most other wild animals are also competing for habitats and struggling to survive. There may be 12,000 cheetahs left in Africa where they also face the problems arising from the spread of human populations.  There are programs to re-introduce, rehabilitate and “train” cheetahs to be wild. There may be only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs left and they are the world’s second rarest cats. They are smaller and slighter and favour mountainous regions.  There is a concerted effort to protect them in Iran, with 125 game rangers to guard them.  Read here  and here.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

AUSTRALIA: We have had chaos in the Australian Senate with the motley collection of new senators (some are there on preferences with less than 1% of votes) creating havoc for an inept government. People are beginning to realise what a good negotiator ex PM Julia Gilliard was, with all the legislation she steered (undefeated) through a hung parliament. The maverick billionaire MP Clive Palmer is turning out to be everyone’s worst nightmare and it is still not really clear what any of his policies are beyond attracting attention for himself and creating chaos. Even The Australian seemed to have run out of patience with the Government’s incompetence with an Editorial (July 12-13) which was finally critical of the Abbott government’s performance and lack of judgement, as was Peter Van Onselen the previous week (July 5-6) in his article July 5-6 “Abbott trapped in downward spiral all of his making”. The mostly rabid letters to the editor of The Australian call for a double dissolution but with the polls SO low for the government this is most unlikely. 61% of the electorate find the budget “unfair” while Abbott’s approval is between minus 25 and minus 35.

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo.

In The Rise and Fall of Australia, Nick Bryant describes how he was surprised on arrival in Australia several years ago about the inaccuracies of the stereotypes about Australians. According to writer/reviewer Louis Nowra, Bryant found a “confident country that was able to absorb many of the better aspects of British and American culture”. However Bryant is “aghast” at the low level of political debate (which, in the case of Abbott in opposition, did not transcend a few slogans), and poll driven policies and responses. He repeats Donald Horne’s quote that Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people. Bryant (and Nowra) wonder why when we have many talented and clever people and are reasonably sophisticated, we present ourselves in such a corny way to the world – kangaroos, Paul Hogan, meat pies etc.  For example, Barack Obama was given a football by Julia Gilliard and a surfboard by Tony Abbott.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz has been in Australia and fortunately quite ubiquitous. See this article he wrote in the SMH titled Inequality: Good reasons to shun the US model about how inequality is now widely recognised as being bad for both the economy and society more widely. One in four families in America live “in poverty”. He thinks Australia would be mad to follow the USA education and health care models. Deregulating university would be a “crime”, while co payments for medical services would be “absurd”. He doesn’t think any of the “for-profit” universities in the USA are particularly good and that they just exploit poor people and are only good at lobbying. See the charmless Judith Sloan in The Australian for her predictable response to Stiglitz’s ideas titled Emulating the U.S? Don’t our politicians (and the Institute of Public Affairs) read or research anything? Stiglitz urges us to tax BAD things – like carbon emissions and pollution, and INVEST in people. He also countered the myth that we have a “debt crisis” and this is backed up by 25 of Australia’s leading economists who have rejected the government’s inaccurate claim that we have a “budget emergency”. They agree that it is only a medium-term “problem” rather than a “crisis”. Read this article by Gareth Hutchens titled Economists rubbish talk of debt crisis.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake

CARBON TAX REPEAL: While the world moves forward on action on climate change, we move backwards!  I am ashamed to say the government has repealed the carbon tax, leaving us with no policy. It is the power and influence of the fossil–fuel industry that is preventing us moving to renewable energy in what has been described as a third industrial revolution. A recent ABC Four Corners program on energy called Power to the People was depressing in that it showed how dumb Australia’s leadership is compared to so many countries – the US, South Korea, China, Germany etc. But I actually found it heartening in that renewable energy will win! Australia may be left behind and miss the economic opportunities but renewables are unstoppable. While investment in renewable energy is now at a “standstill” in Australia, China poured $US19.3 billion into renewables in the June quarter.  See the article in the SMH by Ross Gittins Australia risking future as fuel fossil. The US electric car Tesla with no emissions presently costs $100,000 but with mass production will soon come down to $30,000. Apple is to be 100% off the grid and powered by its own solar farm. There now exists a large scale solar farm that could provide 90% of Canberra’s power needs. Storage of wind and solar energy etc for peak times (or night) is now practical and with increasing capacity.

Giraffees

Giraffes

The ever helpful Rupert Murdoch has just said Australia should not be building windmills and “all that rubbish”. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist and was one of the first to warn about global warming. Lord Deben, who was in her cabinet and now heads the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called Abbott’s repeal of the carbon tax “appalling” and that the Australian government was “more concerned with advancing its own short term political interests”.  He said that, in contrast, “66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming”. After the repeal of the carbon tax, the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs sent a congratulatory email to supporters saying “we did it”.

Swan with cygnets

Swan with cygnets

MIDDLE EAST:  The extremist fighters of the Islamic State now control a third of both Iraq and Syria, and Israel has invaded Gaza. I’m not going to list the growing and disproportionate number of civilian deaths. According to an article by Ari Shavit who wrote My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Israelis have been living in a safe and prosperous “iron -dome delusion” over the last few years, and are now vulnerable to “irregular forces of irregular entities” on their borders that will “disrupt Israel’s order”.  He is very sad that in the relative quiet of 2009 – 2013 “New thinking was never introduced and fresh ideas were not implemented”. This “undeclared cease fire” offered the opportunity for the major players to create a “unique dynamic for a two state solution”. In an article in the SMH Randa Abdel-Fattah examined the “unwavering” support for Israel by Australia (like America, Europe etc).  She thinks the “peace process” is a “farce” and that with the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, a two state solution is “dead”. While acknowledging rockets have been fired from Gaza, she says “One has to credit a military juggernaut and a covertly nuclear state for its success in framing itself as victim even as it bombs a largely defenceless population”…living in what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

According to the Pew Research Centre, over the last 12 months, fear about Muslim extremism have been rising in nations with large Muslim populations. The exception is Indonesia where only 4 in 10 voiced concern about extremism. What is good, is that the majority are losing patience with Muslim extremism, and realise it is counter- productive for their futures.

Boy and marmot

Boy and marmot

We have just had an excellent SBS 4 part television series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl which traces the history of the Lebanese community in Australia over the last 30 years. Given the difficulties of migrating to another country, racism, the language barrier and a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, inevitably a small percentage has been into drugs, crime and car rebirthing etc. Unfortunately the whole Lebanese community has been tarnished by this small minority and demonised by every “Muslim” incident around the world. It was alarming to be reminded of the racist Cronulla riots in 2005, which happened just across the water from where I live. Hundreds of white Anglo kids went on a drunken rampage baying for blood – whipped up by the appalling shock jock Alan Jones. Ugly revenge attacks followed. The Shire, as our area is called, does not appreciate difference or diversity. Perhaps one can understand how our great swimming champion Ian Thorpe, who has lived in the Shire, felt so inhibited – or frightened, of coming out as gay, when initially asked as a 16 year old.

IRAQ: In a recent article for The Saturday Paper titled The Iraq War’s coalition of the shilling esteemed academic Robert Manne revisits our participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fraudulent reasons for it. He concludes: “The leaders of the Australian war party – John Howard, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander Downer – and their most influential cheerleaders – Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan – bear some responsibility for the deaths of half a million Iraqis…deaths still to come…the unimaginable suffering endured…And yet so far as I am aware – their supreme self-confidence apparently unaffected by the catastrophe they had helped unleash in Iraq – not one of these warriors of the right has expressed even one word of contrition or remorse”. ISIL has now declared an “Islamic State” and are the world’s richest militant group with assets of least $2 billion.

Raju the elephant

Raju the elephant

ELEPHANTS: Raju the elephant has been freed from possibly 50 years of begging for coins. Alerted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India, the North London charity Wildlife SOS travelled to India to free him, which was resisted by Raju’s current owner. Save the Elephant estimates that 33,000 African elephants have been killed annually between 2010-2012. This is driven by the price of ivory having tripled in the last four years. China is the world’s biggest market and the Japanese also have an appetite for it.  Sales of ivory in Bangkok have also nearly trebled in the past year.

INDIA: I have been asked to speak at the conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in September in Jaipur. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the delegates who are doing great work on behalf of animals in India. I have visited India many times and appreciate the magnitude of their challenges. I’m now on the committee of Working for Animals, who runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I blogged about my visit there in 2010. As you can see,the shelters are in the most beautiful locations and the animals are cared for so sympathetically. I accompanied the staff and vets to an outlying area where people brought in there cats and dogs for examinations and treatments etc.  Strategies such as these have eliminated rabies from the surrounding areas. WFA also contribute to the Human Elephant Learning Projects which offer instruction on more appropriate care of elephants, and the Help in Suffering Animal Shelter.

CONGRATULATIONS: Joko Widodo appears to have won  the presidential election in Indonesia. I fear Prabowa Subianto will be a very bad loser. The more I read about him the worse he sounds. Megawati and her daughter seemed a millstone around Joko’s neck during the election and are rather clueless members of an elite I hope Indonesia has now broken free of… Our new “teenage sensation” Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa at Wimbledon in the quarter finals (mixed feelings), but Djokovic beat Federer in a marvellous 5 set match. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

MISC STATS: one person dies every 6 seconds from smoking; according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report Australia has the highest rate of ecstasy use, is 2nd for opioids, 3rd for methamphetamine’s, 4th for cocaine and 7th for cannabis; Tracey Emin’s famous unmade bed My Bed sold for $4.6 million at auction; 60% of Americans own pets and their pet industry is worth $55 billion annually; the Pope estimates 2% of the Roman Catholic clergy are pedophiles, but others say it is closer to 4%; Rebekah Brooks was paid 11 million pounds by Rupert Murdoch –see the ABC Four Corners report on the News of the World phone hacking scandal  Rupert, Rebekah and Andy – it is chilling.

MAIL: Thanks to Kate, Francois, Deb, Elaine, Andrew, Bob, William, Madeleine, MoonieBlues etc for contributions and drawing my attention to articles and images.

VALE:  I met Judy Cuppaidge sailing to New York on the SS France many years ago and we remained great friends. She was a well known landscape architect, horticulturalist, artist, writer cat lover and much else, and will be sadly missed.

WATCHING: On the ABC there is the second series of Art + Soul by curator Hetti Perkins. This series does gives the opportunity to look in some depth at Aboriginal art – the first episode was two artists I especially admire – Daniel Boyd and Jonathan Jones.

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

There was also a poignant story on the ABC about the Big Ears Sanctuary where Jacqui Steele and her partner look after many unwanted animals or pets on 25 acres in Tasmania. For many of us it would be a dream come true with 400 rabbits, cats, donkeys, pigs etc. Unfortunately Jacqui is gravely ill but so far is undeterred although the future is so uncertain.  I think they could use our financial support to continue their excellent work – running costs are $90,000 per year. On 60 Minutes there was a story of the 800 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, Congo. The gorillas have survived nearby civil wars, giant displacements of people, poaching etc and their population has stabilised, even increasing, due to the vigilance of the rangers. However, 150 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. We should all pay tribute to the many devoted rangers in Africa and around the world who literally put their lives on the line for animals. There is a foundation to support them and their families – The Thin Green Line Foundation. Of course the new threat to the gorillas is oil and the UK company SOCO. It is alleged that they have corruptly been given exploration rights over 85% of the park, which would herald the end – for the Park, and for the gorillas.

GORE VIDAL: I attended a screening of Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia with the director Nicholas Wrathall available for questions. It has opened in cinemas in the USA and will be screened shortly on our ABC.  You can view the trailer here. I found it a marvellous documentary and Gore was so intelligent and perceptive.  He was well positioned as the ultimate insider/outsider, with an aristocratic family close to political power, and surrounded by celebrities and famous people.  He was so ahead of his time. He was among the first to warn about many of the issues we are still grappling with: economic inequality (which he spoke of in the 1960s); the almost inescapable power of big corporations; the power of the neo cons; electronic surveillance; American imperialism and how this has inevitably made America a target; and he was scathing about virtually all modern presidents… He was a brilliant writer, was urbane, witty and bitchy – and devastatingly sarcastic about people like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F Buckley. Everything rings so true and is so relevant TODAY!

Sumatran Tiger Cubs at Taronga Zoo.  Photo by Rick Stevens

Sumatran Tiger Cubs at Taronga Zoo. Photo by Rick Stevens

TONY THE TIGER:  Thanks for the immediate responses to the petition for Tony the Tiger.  See the recent update on Tony from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (http://www.aldf.org/tony).  Unfortunately Tony remains in his cage while complicated legal battles over him delay attempts to relocate him to an appropriate sanctuary.  Is this case receiving media attention in the US?

I would like the blog to be primarily a notice board for animal welfare and rights issues and I rely on your contributions.  I think we have put the spotlight on some of the more quiet achievers doing great work for animals or the environment, and the blog is now a Directory of many organisations and people.

Like many of you I support many of the campaigns of the ALDF (http://www.aldf.org/), GetUp! (http://www.getup.org.au/), AVAAZ (http://www.avaaz.org/en/), and http://www.change.org/.  Internet activism is huge and will grow in influence and become more targeted.  I remind myself clicking “sign” on a petition and pressing “send” is pretty easy.  I think trying to be informed is a good start, and donations are always a practical contribution.  I’m sure we all wonder how our efforts could be more effective, and I admire people who volunteer and give their time to organisations like BushCare, and visiting imprisoned asylum seekers.

Birds of America, John James Audubon

Birds of America, John James Audubon

AUDUBON:  Two copies (out of only 200) of the first edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851) sold last month at Sotheby’s for $11.5 million, and $7.5 million at Christie’s.  With beautiful life size colour plates, this classic work contains over 700 North American species.

SUMMER HOLIDAYS:  It has been a relaxing time spent mostly with family and friends.  There has been time to read, and to reflect on 2011, and what 2012 may bring.  While many of you are in freezing temperatures, our weather has been erratic and courtesy of La Niña, quite a lot of rainfall and flooding again in the north east, for some the third flood in three years.  I remember how dry, hot and endless summer holidays used to be, and people now seem to go back to work much earlier.  My vegetable garden is a disgrace and was even overgrown before I saw a black snake.

The Year of the Dragon apparently promises to be unpredictable and exciting.  With the EU and the Middle East, anything could happen.  On a positive note, I think the momentum is swinging back to a majority of people (again) accepting that climate change is real and something has to be done about it.  China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter (8.88 billion tonnes) is to set a price on carbon but a low $1.55 a tonne, to increase gradually.  It must now be hard to argue that the weather is not changing.  In the Maldives, 14 out of the 200 habitable islands are now uninhabitable.  2012 does carry some pretty dire predictions for the Euro Zone by the World Bank, IMF, and George Soros amongst many others, especially with such seemingly inept leadership.  Many are questioning the calls for austerity measures (made by Germany especially), when it seems people should be encouraged to spend and generate growth and jobs.

Roseate Spoon Bill - Birds of America, John James Audubon

Roseate Spoon Bill - Birds of America, John James Audubon

ARAB WINTER:  In Egypt, what accommodation will the military come to with the winners of their election, the Muslim Brotherhood?  What is known about this very influential and well-funded organisation?  Now in parliament the party will not be able to remain as secretive as it has had to be in the past.  See Stepping out of the shadows by Ruth Pollard (SMH News Review Jan 28-29), an article that illustrates just how little is known about them or what the future may hold.  After the recent soccer riots and deaths, questions are being asked about the failure, deliberate or otherwise, of national security.

SYRIA:  A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald helped me understand the situation in Syria much more clearly, and all the regional repercussions.  I realised it is in some ways a proxy war.  In Every Middle East player has a stake in Syria’s sectarian showdown (SMH Feb 6), Jackson Diehl writes that this is “the most complex, volatile and momentous power struggles in the history of the Middle East”.  The invasion of Iraq upset the delicate regional balance between the  Sunnis and Shiites, and Syria “has precipitated a crucial test of strength between Sunnis and Shiites and between Turkey and Iran.  It has also triggered existential crises for Palestinians, Kurds and the Shiite government of Iraq”.  Syrians are being killed daily while the UN and the Arab League appear impotent, and the Russians and Chinese are recalcitrant and entirely self-interested.  While Syrians are crying out for our help and being murdered, we watch helplessly.

Vafa animal shelter Iran (Behrouz Mehri_AFP_Getty Images)

Vafa animal shelter Iran (Behrouz Mehri_AFP_Getty Images)

Thanks to David for sending this beautiful selection of photographs of Iran from The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/01/a-view-inside-iran/100219/.  It is important to see the human face and everyday lives of Iranians many of whom are held hostage by their government.

The sanctions and rhetoric against Iran – with talk of an Israeli attack against Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facilities as early as April must only stiffen Iran’s resolve to defend themselves with nuclear weapons.  Saudi Arabia was reported to be “shopping in Pakistan for a nuke”.

Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Hamish McDonald wrote very interestingly about returning to Israel after 13 years Life in Israel an ultra-orthodox paradox (SMH 21 Jan News Review) http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/life-in-israel-an-ultraorthodox-paradox-20120120-1qa2k.html.  He questioned if a two-state solution was still possible “Or is all this negotiation and capacity-building simply a prelude to living together, somehow – two nations in one land – on better terms than the status quo, miserable humiliation for the occupied, corrosive for the occupier?”  The best of luck to Fatah and Hamas with their recent reconciliation.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE:  Some times last year I felt I lived in a parallel universe:  Israeli government spokesmen saying new settlements were not an impediment to peace; Osama bin Laden located and assassinated after living for years in a suburb in Pakistan; the bizarre and so unlikely propaganda for the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un – described as a “joke” by his brother; the race in Australia to hand over high food producing land to Coal Seam Gas mining or sales to foreign investors; Australia handled the GFC better than any other country, yet the Opposition here say it is the worst government (or PM?) on record.

Iranian Youths during water fights at Water and Fire Park northern Tehran, July 2011. AP Photo/Milad Beheshti

Iranian Youths during water fights at Water and Fire Park northern Tehran, July 2011. AP Photo/Milad Beheshti

SPORT:  Australian cricket has been in crisis, but suddenly there is the emergence of good young fast bowlers, although two have already succumbed to injury.  The visiting Indian team were easily beaten in the Test matches. Tendulkar failed to get his elusive 100th Test century. Several older Australian cricketers (like Ricky Ponting) have had to perform, and have. Records have been broken.  The Australian public has finally warmed to the newish captain Michael Clarke who was Man of the Series and scored 329 not out.

Both tennis and cricket have fast food sponsors.  Their advertisements for their food on TV looked so totally unappetising and unhealthy; hamburgers, and chicken in batter and bacon sizzling in fat.  You are encouraged to relax at home watching sport on TV, eating fattening fast food, drinking Coke (or beer) and we are now urged with frequent interruptions to bet online on every aspect of the unfolding games.

Playing an Inter school tennis match circa 1963 – my style is very old-fashioned!

In Australia in January we have several tennis tournaments building up to the Australian Open in Melbourne.  There were many highlights – like actually being there to see the best players in the world play the semi finals. It was especially thrilling to see Rafa play Federer, and I was surprised at the fanatical support for Federer.  I do have to admit his record is extraordinary, and he is the most graceful player who always makes the game look effortless.  Overall the standard of tennis in the tournament was very high, although too many points were lost by an error, rather than won.  However, as the legend Rod Laver pointed out, returning is so good these days, that shots that would previously have been “winners” are now being returned, in very long rallys.

Any number of girls could have won, and at least six of them have been number one.  Many are attractive and healthy looking and are dressing much better.  Serena Williams made a surprising comment that she “never liked sport or exercising” (knocked out 4th round).  Men dress in a much cooler way these days although the Federer team uniform was a rather naff quasi-military jacket and cap he ( he lost).  Verdasco wore a shocking red and yellow outfit (he lost) and Dolgopolov wore red shorty pyjamas (he lost).

Both lost to Bernard Tomic, Australia’s long awaited new tennis star who has developed into quite an extraordinary player at 19 and has the tennis world fascinated.  One of quite a few players with parent coaches! Murray’s new coach Ivan Lendl seems to have banned Murray’s mother – I couldn’t spot her in the crowd.

Players have a punishing schedule, and many seem to be suffering or recovering from injury.  It is very hot at this time of the year here and most games are played outdoors, and the final was over 5 gruelling hours.  Tennis should not be such an endurance test.  There were several matches where players “found a way to win”.  The mental attitudes and psychological games were fascinating, and players confronting their particular nemesis – Federer failing again against Nadal, and Nadal against Djokovic.

Back home for the final on TV I was very moved to see a parade of the past Australian winners of the Australian Open –including  Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgeman, Rod Laver, and John Newcombe.  We seemed to dominate world tennis back then.  Azerenka thrashed Sharapova, and Djokovic beat Nada in the longest, and possibly the best final ever. Both winners won $2.3 million.

Taronga Zoo elephants.  Photo by Rick Stevens

Taronga Zoo elephants. Photo by Rick Stevens

AUSTRALIA:  It was quiet over Christmas with the politicians on holidays – there always seems to be less news!  But things hotted up quickly.  The PM was dragged to her car by security from a protest by Aboriginals who were nearby marking the anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy erected on the lawns of Government House 40 years ago.  I think Aborigines are remarkably sanguine under the circumstances about their dispossession and the poverty that so many of them still live with. There is a rare bipartisan approach to Aboriginal affairs so nothing is done.  A report on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution has just been presented to the government.

Media driven leadership speculation is running hot.  The deposed PM, Foreign Minister Rudd continues to stalk the PM, pretending he isn’t, and helping to destabilise an already unpopular government.  Too many careless and strategic errors cloud what have been major achievements for the government in a hung parliament, and in many ways a good economic record.

CSG:  The rampant mining of coal seam gas is a great issue facing Australia.  Environmental activists who are protesting over Coal Seam Gas are being spied on by the government!  Too many disturbing stories are surfacing from around the world about the effects of the mining techniques on the water aquifers, and other issues including the leaking of contaminated water.  Ultimately it is not suitable as a low emission “bridging fuel” between coal-fired electricity generators and large scale renewable energy. According to a recent American report the amount of greenhouse gases released by unconventional gas drilling exceeds that of oil and coal.

Some of our best agricultural and food producing areas are at risk, and many other properties are being sold to foreign investors at an alarming rate, with all food produced likely to go off shore.

Other recent reports seem to conclude that wind farms do not cause illness.  What does have to be considered with wind turbines as a clean source of energy however, is all the emissions from coal-fired power plants from producing the steel to build the gigantic turbines, and all the cement for the foundations.

Moir SMH 8 February 2012

Moir SMH 8 February 2012

GINA RINEHART:  Australia’s richest person ($20 billion), and possibly soon to be the richest in the world, Gina Rinehart seems to be increasingly throwing her weight around.  In the past it has been reported that Gina has proposed using cheap Asian labour in her mines, that the state of Western Australia secede, and that nuclear bombs be used for mining purposes and creating harbour facilities.  Not surprisingly, she funds climate-change deniers.

In a bizarre spectacle in 2010 she and sundry other mining billionaires protested on the streets against a proposed Super Profits Tax.  On the back of a flatbed ute, Gina shouted “axe the tax”.  Up against a campaign that cost the miners $23 million, the government watered down the Mineral tax, losing billions of dollars.

Now Gina has begun buying into Australian media – 10% of a television channel, and just recently nearly 14% of Fairfax Media which owns my newspaper of choice, the Sydney Morning Herald.

View this the video you were never supposed to see” and see how Gina’s move is most likely part of a strategy to control and influence aspects of the media.

I’ve complained at length about some examples of bias in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, which in many other regards is a very good newspaper.  Luckily the Fairfax Board in my opinion is known more for its lacklustre performance,and not editorial interference.

BILL GATES:  Leading by great example, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated $US750 million to make up for the shortfall in The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

WHALING:  The anti-whaling vessel the Sea Shepherd and supporters had the first skirmish of the season when 3 men boarded a Japanese vessel in the Southern Ocean.  In a costly exercise they were returned to an Australian vessel, and they did put the whaling issue on the front pages briefly.  All has been quiet since… or for the moment.

Asian Elephants, Taronga Zoo

Asian Elephants, Taronga Zoo

ELEPHANTS:  Recently there was a suggestion that elephants, highly endangered in Africa as we know, be brought to Australia to eat and control the highly flammable introduced gamba grass.  Oddly George Adamson advocated this when we spent time with him in Kenya.  I would imagine there would be problems of immunity to diseases, damage to vegetation and soil, and be scary for an unprepared public, especially if the elephants went feral like the herds of camels and buffaloes.  Other destructive introduced species in Australia include the cane toad, rabbits, foxes, cattle and sheep – and cats.

INDO-ASIA-PACIFIC:  It seems Australia may finally be well positioned in the world with the global focus now on the Asian region.  Obama’s decision to pull out from the Middle East and concentrate on the South East Asian region, is recasting international strategic thinking, although everything these days seem to be all about China!  There will be a small US base in northern Australia.  The Indian Ocean is the oil route to the Asian economies, and the navies in the region including the US, China, India, and not forgetting Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, will be keeping an eye on each other and these vital sea routes.

AMERICA:  A while ago I received an irate email after I had made some complimentary remarks about President Obama. She “wanted her country back”.  What did she want back I wondered, remembering the Bush years – a failure of intelligence over 9/11 and an inability to find Bin Laden, 2 expensive, deadly and unnecessary wars, and the GFC on their watch.  That’s a lot of mess to inherit and to clear up.

John Howard, our fellow conservative PM of the time, rushed to join Bush in Iraq, without even advising Parliament, and subsequently and unnecessarily made Australia a terrorist target.  An Australian passport can now be a liability although now we are to host a small American military base.  A recent letter to the SMH editor said “I returned to Australia at the end of the (John) Howard years.  I found Australia a colder, harder and more selfish society”.

My irate emailer also spoke very disparagingly about the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It is a very old-fashioned protest movement, and perhaps some are a little scruffy, but the movement keeps gaining momentum and has certainly entered international consciousness very quickly.  In Ireland, protesters are occupying some of the many empty buildings for community purposes.  In Sydney some protesters got arrested on a rainy night recently allegedly “contravening council notices” in what seems ongoing police harassment.

Income disparity is predicted by some to be the key issue for 2012.

Former venture trader Mitt Romney (worth $250 million) personifies the 1% and that this is an issue in the US election is more evidence of the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  He pays a 14% tax rate and Obama is taxed at 26%.  The concerns of the 99% have been put on the agenda, triggering a sudden feigned concern by politicians for the middle classes. Romney is wooden, insincere and subject to faux pas but the most presentable of a pretty bad lot – and he seems to have been an effective Governor.  I don’t know what he believes in and I suppose it is a relief he is a “moderate”, which seems to be a dirty word in some Republican circles.  Hopefully he will see off Gingrich with his “ethical violations” and a call to an America of the past, not the future, and the “Jesus” candidate Rick Santorum who has just been resurrected.  In Australia most of us seem to accept – reluctantly, that a certain level of taxation is in the national interest, and while the Christian Right is also influential, it is not as powerful as it is in the US.

The tide may be turning for Obama.  There are some encouraging if small signs – like employment figures of the 3 year low of 8.3%.  A trump card could be Hillary Clinton running as Vice-President to Obama, while Joe Biden becomes Secretary of State, as has been suggested.

Birds of America Osprey

Birds of America Osprey

ASSANGE:  Judges have adjourned to consider their judgement about Julian Assange’s extradition to Sweden.  He is soon to be a television host on Russia’s RT network, interviewing “10 key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries… who will be shaping the political agendas of tomorrow”.

MISC STATS:  There are now more urban Chinese than rural;  5 million dogs are put down a year in the US;  $US56.8 billion worldwide sales for McDonald’s from 33,510 restaurants;  US national debt is $15 trillion;  Mexico’s drug trade is worth $38 billion; a 21% increase in drive-by shootings in Sydney’s suburbs.

MAIL:  Susan cheekily asked how my vegetarianism is going.  It was Christmas and the holidays and I’ve eaten everything offered to me!  I haven’t bought any meat except for my cats.  As it has been summer it is lovely eating lots of fruit and salads.  Overall I’ve tried to “graze” rather than eat big meals.  I eat too much bread, drink too much tea, and I don’t have cakes, biscuits or chocolates in the house.

A Lion Called Christian has just shown on Danish television and thanks for the many emails from Denmark – I’m so glad you have enjoyed it. Friends saw the video in their hotel in India last year and emailed “we didn’t know you spoke such good Hindi”!

Family Bush Tucker Dreaming c.1972 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri

Family Bush Tucker Dreaming c.1972 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Courtesy Aboriginal Artists Agency

TJUKURRTJANU Origins of Western Desert Art is a superb exhibition, which I saw just before it finished at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.  These were the first paintings produced in the desert in the early 1970s by Aborigines who brilliantly and effortlessly transferred their traditional designs and creation stories to a new medium of canvas board and acrylic.  Look out for the exhibition in Paris later in the year at the Musee du quai Branly (http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/), running 9 October until 27 January 2013.  Continuing at the NGV until 24th May is Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert, a colourful and comprehensive exhibition which illustrates how many of the desert Aboriginal artists like Ronnie Tjampitjinpa (below) have developed over the decades, in what has been described as one of the great art movements of the last century.

Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2001 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa

Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2001 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Courtesy Aboriginal Artists Agency

Dickie Minyintiri Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks)

Telstra Art Award - Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks) acrylic on canvas by Dickie Minyintiri

ABORIGINAL ART: This painting by 96 year old Dickie Minyintiri has won the 2011 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.  To the initiated clan elders, this painting is a map of their country, especially the waterholes, the tracks of animals, and related ceremonial activities – and much more than we will ever know.  You can view the exhibition online and see the diversity of Aboriginal Art.  It seems Central and Western Desert paintings predominate in this exhibition, but this is often the case.  Isn’t it amazing that such contemporary looking paintings are by people living in remote areas still speaking their own languages and where traditional ceremonies are still strong, although this way of life is under threat.

2011 Telstra Art Award Bobby West Tjupurrula_Untitled

Telstra Art Award - Untitled synthetic polymer paint on linen by Bobby West Tjupurrula

We are going into spring here in Australia and the weather in Sydney has been warm and sunny, but still a little cool at nights.  A magical time of the year.  I feel fine myself, but this is tempered by the bloodshed in the Middle East and the atrocities being uncovered in Libya, and the determination of the Syrian Government to violently repress their people.

UNNERVING:  to discover recently the US and UK government’s cooperation and complicity with Libyan intelligence;  just how cosy Blair was with Gaddafi;  that Blair is a godfather to a child of Rupert Murdoch and worked against further investigation of the phone hacking;  that the Chinese were selling arms to Libya as late as July;  and that Bush’s White House ignored or buried relevant evidence about the connections between the 9/11 hijackers and his Saudi Arabian friends.  As we reflect on the horrific loss of life ten years ago (and the many subsequent military and civilian deaths), let’s try and learn from the inappropriate and failed response of the so called “War on Terror”.

Telstra Art Award - Stone Country natural pigments on bark by Ivan Namirrkki

FOREIGN AID:  At last there seems to be a rethinking of how ineffective some Foreign Aid has been in the past.  Much of it has propped up big man despotic leaders rather than reaching the people who need it.  Of course the Chinese seem to be everywhere and are at least building infrastructure and one hopes the populations will benefit as much as China will.  Obviously droughts cause crops to fail,  but peace and stability is also required to prevent famines.  The colonial carve up in Africa after 1885 is responsible for so many unrealistic and unnatural national borders that many countries have too many disparate tribal groups – a problem facing Libya where three very different rebel groups will now have to work together.  Foreign Aid has also disadvantaged local enterprises in the past.  Now there are initiatives to fund specific projects in villages, overseen by local councils, and for better transparency and accountability, accounts are publicly displayed.

We must not forget the millions suffering with the famine in Africa and I hope given the millions of people effected, donations and aid are getting through as effectively and quickly as possible.  In Haiti for example, of the US$21.1 billion raised for the 2010 earthquake victims only $286 million has been obligated, and many thousands are still living in tents.

You can donate to the UNHCR’s East Africa Famine Appeal at www.unrefugees.org.au.

Charaxes Australis AMS 193/18 original watercolour by Helena Scott

SCOTT SISTERS: Two Australian sisters Helena and Harriet Scott painted between the 1840s and 1860s. Their exhibition Beauty from Nature is at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The artworks have been drawn from the 100 preliminary botanical drawings and watercolours purchased in 1884.  These sisters were cousins of David Scott Mitchell that I have blogged about previously, and I am proud to say I am also a relation.

SPECIES: Apparently there are an estimated 8.7 million species on earth – 6.5 million distinct forms of life on land, and 2.2 million in the oceans, with 85% yet to be discovered.  Some species of course may vanish before we even know of their existence.  In Australia more than 100 plants and animals have disappeared in the last two centuries, with many critically endangered.  The International Union of Conservation of Nature predicts that 30% of the world’s wildlife will disappear by 2050.  Creating some controversy is the proposal by some scientists to use economics and mathematics to develop analyses of which animals should be saved and which ones should not, and are already prioritising recovery programs.  Read the article Survival of the Cheapest SMH, 11 August 2011.

What can we do, apart from donating?  According to the Sydney Sun Herald:  take rubbish, especially plastic from the beaches;  stop pets hunting wildlife;  grow native plants as a haven for wildlife;  buy furniture timber from sustainable sources;  and eat sustainable seafood.

Chelepteryx Collesi AMS 193/92 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

Unfortunately in our Asian region there is a vast wildlife trade in poaching, smuggling and dealing in protected species and their body parts, much of it for traditional medicines.  Lately there have been reports of tigers being “farmed” in China, like the horrific farming of bears for their bile elsewhere in Asia.  The Global Financial Integrity group using information provided by conservation groups Traffic and the World Wildlife Fund have estimated recently that the illegal trade in wildlife generates up to $US10 billion.

Australia’s live cattle exports have resumed to Indonesia seemingly without any new and effective enforceable safe guards, and questions have been raised about Australian sheep exports to Turkey. Interestingly, after the huge public outcry over the TV footage of the treatment of cattle in the abattoirs in Indonesia, public sentiment then swung to the cattle producers, and the government was then pilloried for the economic damage to the industry caused by the suspension of trade.

Polio Festiva AMS 193/14 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

THE COVE: I finally saw The Cove and it is a devastating documentary.  September marks the beginning of the slaughter of up to 23,000 dolphins and porpoises in Japan.  “Traditional custom” is no longer an excuse.  Apparently many younger Japanese are questioning the harvesting of dolphins and porpoises for captivity and food (which often contains dangerously high mercury levels), and their whaling activities in the Antarctic, and the Japanese media are finally asking questions.  We should all actively oppose and protest.  I hope you will sign this petition.

FAROE ISLANDS: I have once again been sent an email petition to oppose the slaughter of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands.  The images and blood in the water was almost unwatchable.  Unfortunately this petition is now closed, but investigate other opportunities to protest.

TARONGA ZOO CAMPAIGN: There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world primarily because their forests are being cleared for unsustainable farming and forestry, including palm oil plantations. Taronga Zoo supports sustainable palm oil production that does not destroy vital animal habitats.  Zoos are working together to petition for the mandatory labelling of all food products containing palm oil.  You may also want to sign this Don’t Palm Us Off  petition.

Nick Brandt - Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt - Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica.

AGONY AND IVORY: In the August issue of Vanity Fair there is a quite terrifying article charting what could be the extinction of the African elephant.  The demand for ivory, especially from the older “suddenly wealthy” Chinese in the main ivory carving and trading district of Guangzhou is seeing possibly tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year, and a “vortex of extinction” is feared.  Half the poaching in Kenya is happening within 20 miles of one of the five massive Chinese road-building projects.  But ivory is also funding warring rebel groups in Africa, and in Zimbabwe many elephants are being shot by trophy hunting tourists, as well as being killed to provide food for a hungry population.

There are people in China also deeply concerned about the ivory trade and the diminishing elephant numbers, and as we discovered when we visited China, the Chinese Government is much more committed to conservation than I had imagined.

These are most of the people who are mentioned in the VF article that are fighting to save the African elephant:  Amboseli Elephant Research Project;  Kenyan Wildlife Service;  Save the Elephant;  Traffic;  IFAW;  WildAid;  MIKE;  Johnny Rodrigues;  Andrea Turkalo;  and Iain Douglas-Hamilton.  We must help in any way we can and especially stop people buying ivory.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The www.skepticalscience.com website clearly explains the peer-reviewed scientific evidence that rebuts misinformation disseminated by so-called skeptics of climate change.

Robert Manne in an article in the Quarterly Essay, Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation analyses The Australian newspaper’s total coverage of climate change including news items and opinion columns, and by a ratio of about four to one, they have opposed action on climate change or “acting alone”.  (Apparently 90 countries are committed to some action).  Their blatantly biased reporting against the Government would be of similar proportions.  It looks like it is about to get very difficult for James Murdoch in the UK very soon.

Coal seam gas exploration in Australia, with tens of thousands of gas wells planned or approved,  is at last being questioned in relation to the damage to the water table and the effect of the chemicals used in the process.  The cost effectiveness of wind farms is also being questioned or reviewed.

MISC STATS: Apple have $76 billion in ready cash (more than the US Government);  in Australia 1% own 20% of the nation’s wealth and in the US it is 1% owning 40%;  BHP Billiton announced a profit of $22.5 billion – and they opposed a mining tax;  deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon increased by 15% in the past 12 months; the Pope’s World Youth Day event in Spain cost €60 million.

Telstra Art Award - Mayilimiriw natural pigments on bark by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

BUFFET: It was interesting when Warren Buffet recently wrote “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.”  With America seemingly on the edge of a double dip recession, with unemployment at 9.1%, 14 million people out of work and zero jobs growth, this just seems incomprehensible.  The wealthy refuse to pay enough tax necessary to maintain infrastructure or support the impoverished, and consequently nearly one in a hundred Americans are imprisoned.  The sophisticated US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich has recently said that without the tax breaks, the top 1% in America could be contributing $500 billion in the first year alone.  One does have to ask, is there any concept of “national interest”?  Are the conservatives prepared to wreck the country just to reclaim political power which they see as their entitlement?  Exactly the same thing has been happening here in Australia, where a shrill and negative but effective Opposition, aided by shock jocks, has convinced a large section of the population that our current Government – the envy of the world economically, is a catastrophe.  They are contributing to undermining consumer confidence in a time of global financial uncertainty and obstructing necessary reforms like a carbon tax.  I really despair.

DEWEY AND MARLEY: Over the last year or so I’ve looked rather enviously at two books that are always prominently displayed in airport bookshops.  So I thought it was time to read DEWEY The Small Town Cat Who Touched the World (by Vicki Myron), and Marley & Me: life and love with the world’s worst dog (John Grogan).

I was very amused when I was in a book shop thinking of buying Marley’s book and I asked “what is it like?” and the response was “I much preferred the one about the lion – A Lion Called Christian”!  Our book is about an extraordinary animal, indeed an exotic one, but most people can probably relate more easily to stories about an ordinary cat and dog, albeit with strong attractive personalities.  Their books take in the span of their animal’s natural lives, and are autobiographies of the authors.  Our book covers just a few years in our lives, and was written when we were in our early twenties.

Dewey by Vicki Myron

Dewey the cat had great confidence, a certain charisma, and yes, he was very cute.  The book paints a picture of a small rural town in Iowa struggling to remain economically viable.  I’m not sure Dewey turned the town around as implied, but his national and international fame has put it on the map.   “We didn’t want him to be anything more than the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa. And that’s all he wanted too.”  In trying to analyse Dewey’s attraction Myron writes “He found his place.  His passion, his purpose was to make that place, no matter how small and out of the way it may have seemed, a better place for everyone.”  Each day he “never left anyone out or took anyone for granted… and he made everyone feel special.”

Marley & Me by John Grogan

Marley’s book is a little more sophisticated, indeed the author is a writer.  The idea for the book must have come from the response to an article he wrote (with some hesitation) after Marley’s death which unleashed a deluge of over 800 emails and communications from people.  He commented “Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and hearts as big as a cloudless sky.” And I recently read we are apparently 30% less likely to have a stroke.

Marley was, let’s face it, quite mental and very destructive, but apparently he had intuition and empathy, gentleness and a pure heart.  He was completely entwined with his family who just adored him and felt his loss very deeply.  Grogan writes “Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart.  He taught me to appreciate the simple things… about optimism in the face of adversity… friendship and selflessness… unwavering loyalty.”

Marley taught them about unconditional love.

Both writers felt that their animals had the simple qualities that really matter, that many humans have lost sight of.  They were just authentically themselves.  I loved their stories and understand why they have captured so many hearts.  I had a good cry when they died.

Incidentally, I have been told by vets that 12 or 13 are dangerous years in the health of cats and dogs, and if they survive this period can live up to 20. Marley died at 13 and Dewey died at 17.  Lately in Australia there have been some horrific dog attacks on people.  Certain breeds have been targeted and there are suggestions that they be banned. However, this would be circumvented by cross breeding, and experts say it is the socialization of the dog that is important, often requiring work (and vigilance) by the owners.

Koko in Red Dog

RED DOG: See Koko’s superb screen test to play Red Dog!  The film has been doing very well and although I haven’t seen it yet, I know it is a legendary story.

While reading about Marley, Dewey, the elephants, the responses to Christian’s birthday blog, or watching the dolphins in The Cove, someone in every story, no matter which animal, said “They are trying to communicate with us.”  Are we listening?  What do you think they are saying?

TELSTRA NATIONAL ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER ART AWARD 2010

Mr Donegan, Papa Tjukurpa and Pukara, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 180 x 200cm. Image courtesy of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

 

ABORIGINAL ART: Last blog I referred to Aboriginal art and how the international art world has been so interested. Recently Mr. Donegan, as he likes to be referred to, won the annual Telstra Award, now showing in Darwin, N.T. The winning painting is dazzling – I love the colour, composition and energy – not bad for a virtually unknown 70 year old. Aboriginal art constantly surprises, and I feel so privileged to have had an association with many of the artists over the years, and made many friends. Many Aboriginal paintings from the desert are actual maps of the artist’s country, and tell ancestral and creation stories – in this case, “the painting is about dingo dreaming (Papa Tjukurpa), a rockhole and a father and a son”. View 27th NATSIAA online gallery. 

  

I love these original lithographs by John Gould. The Antique Print Room (in Sydney) has an exhibition of over100 works from the The Birds and Mammals of Australia, published 1848-69.  They can be viewed on www.antiqueprintroom.com . Where I live on the outskirts of Sydney there are many kookaburras (pictured). 

  

  

  POLITICS: I am sorry to be parochial talking about our Australian election, but I think there are probably international parallels.  After an abysmal and depressing election campaign, aimed at bribing and not frightening swinging voters in marginal seats many of whom are uninterested in politics, and are economic illiterates (like me), our “hung” parliament has finally been resolved, with the government only just returned. This is with the support of a few Independents who may be crucified by their rather conservative electorates. It is extraordinary that perhaps the only government in the Western world that did not go into recession with the GFC, could not sell this achievement – perhaps we survived it so well, the public did not really understand the dangers that we avoided. Interestingly, with the negotiations and trading required to form a minority government, many issues not raised in the election got aired (and may be debated when parliament resumes)– including neglect of rural areas, indigenous employment, the status of same-sex relationships, tax reform, reform of parliament, Afghanistan etc. The election result was really more about people NOT voting for either side – many people are so sick of their spin, fear mongering, lack of leadership and vision,  the influence of focus groups and polls, the intervention of the media, and the adversarial nature of a two-party system. The Greens benefited from the dissatisfaction, and will next year hold the balance of power in the Senate, and the Government has had to form an agreement with them. The Government was too frightened to have bold policies on climate change (and the Opposition are virtually in denial), and we may now, ironically, see a much more positive attitude to actually formulating a much overdue strategy. It is fascinating how the issue of climate change has undone several of our leaders. Unfortunately, there are now quite a few new divas and loose cannons that are in a position to make stable government extremely difficult. Luckily our PM, Julia Gillard, is a very good negotiator, but it could all easily end in tears! 

  

Lake George by Joseph Lycett 1825

  

CONFESSION:  Yes I collect colonial prints, and especially love Joseph Lycett.  I recently went to Canberra and have always looked forward to driving along side Lake George, which has always mysteriously filled and emptied. I confess Iwas horrified to see wind farm turbines on the horizon, and was equally surprised by my reaction, as I am of course an ardent supporter of alternative energies. The “visual pollution” of this particularly scenic view made me think of the compromises ahead, and at what price sustainability? I was going to Canberra for the opening of the most magnificent exhibition LIFE, DEATH & MAGIC , 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art.  Drawn from major collections around the world by the National Gallery of Australia ,  these items will probably never be assembled together again. 

  

Botany Bay 2010 by Micky Allan and Steenus von Steensen

   

BOTANY BAY: In 2008 I curated an exhibition Lines in the Sand, Botany Bay Stories from 1770 and 1788, which examined our foundational narratives and the first European/Aboriginal encounters from Captain Cook’s visit, and the First Fleet. The exhibition contained both colonial material and contemporary art works, and I emphasised the overlooked Aboriginal perspective on these events. Recently I co-curated Shifting Sands, Botany Bay Today, also at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery  in south Sydney and currently on show, and a group of very interesting and diverse artists were asked to respond to the social, cultural and environmental history and development of Botany Bay. It reminded me of the important role of artists – as interpreters and visionaries. For more information about the exhibition and the viewing the online catalogue ( and my Introduction) visit Shifting Sands, Botany Bay Today

 

Free Tony the Tiger!

   

SAVE TONY THE TIGER: I was emailed by John Martin who has drawn my attention to the campaign to release Tony the Tiger in Louisiana, who has been kept in a cage at the Tiger Truck Stop as a gimmick for all his life (9 years). Despite repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the inherent cruelty, there has been no action by the authorities, and I think we should all sign the petition – and spread the word – to ensure the permit to allow Tony to remain imprisoned is not renewed again by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  I think we should also directly contact the Department, but of course you will make up your own mind, see: Petition.  

Other Relevant Sites: 

http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/ 

http://freetonythetiger.weebly.com/ 

http://www.bigcatrescue.org/press-room/301-rescue-tony-the-tiger- 

 

 

BRISBANE WRITERS FESTIVAL:  Last week I attended this Festival, now in its 51st year. Apart from sessions on my own, I was part of a Call of the Wild panel with 3 very intrepid Australian women writers who had had adventures in Africa and life changing experiences with animals. Annette Henderson (Wild spirit published by William Heinemann), Sally Henderson (Ivory Moon published by Pan Macmillan) and Tammie Matson (Elephant Dance published by Pan Macmillan) are all committed conservationists and Dr. Matson, for example, has been studying elephant/human conflict in Africa and Assam. With their shrinking and contested habitats, wild elephants are causing problems for villagers. She is staging a fundraising exhibition in Sydney in early October of beautiful elephant drawings – see http://animalworks.com.au/drawings-slideshow , and for exhibition details contact nafisa.naomi@mac.com .  I haven’t been to Africa for nearly 40 years and their books and presentations made me even more enthusiastic to go back. I very much enjoyed attending the festival , and I was asked some very interesting questions, particularly from enthusiastic children. For example, “would you have done anything differently with Christian?” An unkind friend later commented “you could have worn different clothes”!   

 
  

January 2010

March 12, 2010

The Bayon, Cambodia 2009

The Bayon, Cambodia 2009. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Happy New Year!

I loved my brief visit to the stone temples of Cambodia, especially the magnificent Angkor Wat (built between 1113 and 1150), my favourite The Bayon (late 12th to late 13th centuries), and Ta Prohm (late 12th to 13th centuries), where the jungle seems once again to threaten to strangle and hide again these incredible architectural and artistic achievements. Tourism is undoubtedly an important industry for a country with such a traumatic recent past, but as I climbed and trampled all over these monuments with many other tourists, I worried about the damage we were causing, and the totally overwhelming amount of conservation work required. I thought about issues such as “sustainable” tourism, and “sustainable” development, the pollution and environmental degradation of other countries in the region, and the threats to wildlife and their habitats economic development brings.   

I remained interested and committed to wildlife and environmental issues and causes over the years, but through my work in Aboriginal art I have been more actively involved in social justice issues associated with the inequality and dispossession suffered by Aboriginal people. I am enjoying refocusing in depth on wildlife conservation, and it has been a crash course for me to catch up and realise just how critical the situation is, and that we may have reached “tipping point”.   The problems are also intrinsically linked to climate change.   

Personally I think the Copenhagen Conference illustrated the magnitude of the crisis of climate change and demonstrated a very wide consensus, and it was the politics, and the complexity and vastness of the challenge that created the failure to reach agreement, so I’m not going to get depressed about it at this stage. What is depressing is the way a few inexcusable inaccuracies amongst an enormous amount of very detailed information has given oxygen to the climate change skeptics. In my opinion these are mainly people protecting their vested interests, and embittered conservatives trying to get back into power, after the policies of George Bush, and our own John Howard were finally and deservedly rejected by a majority of people. Their lack of leadership and failure to act lost the world a valuable 10 years. Despite their promise, their successors, Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd in Australia, both popularity junkies (as most politicians have to be), have not had the courage to make the necessary reforms in relation to climate change and our economies. For me and most people I know, the science – always inherently open to debate and conjecture – is in. We have all witnessed for ourselves the weather extremes of heat, drought, and excessive rain, and many have been concerned for a long time about questionable air and water quality and our dependence on oil and coal. I think it is hard to argue against minimising emissions and pollutants in the atmosphere anyway, isn’t it?   

I enjoyed seeing Australian photographer Jon Lewis’ Kirabati photographs  Portraits From The Edge – Putting a Face to Climate Change which in a subtle way highlight the human dimension that rising sea levels have already posed  to many Pacific countries (online at www.jonnylewis.org).  

Jonny Lewis - Portraits From The Edge

Jonny sent me the information below which tells more about what is happening in the Republic of Kiribati.

PORTRAITS FROM THE EDGE

KIRIBATI

PUTTING A FACE TO CLIMATE CHANGE

The small Republic of Kiribati, consisting of 33 atolls and situated in the Equatorial Pacific, is slowly and surely going down. Storm surges, freakish waves, salination of fresh water wells and lands, un-predictable weather and tidal increases, are all contributing to the country’s physical demise.  30-40 years is all they have left.

As yet there is no policy from industrial countries, or the UN, as to our collective responsibilities to people such as the I Kiribati. Where will these environmentally displaced people migrate to, and how many? Who will be their host countries?

The I Kiribati remain now, literally on the very edge, as the most vulnerable of peoples, living with climate change.

What we are looking at here is the eventual extinction of a distinct race of people, through loss of their home lands, and with it their vibrant social system and culture. This is irreversible.

Jonny Lewis

 

All through last year and on my travels I continue to collect newspaper articles or information about animal and wildlife conservation and related environmental issues, and I will be sharing much of this on my blog. Perhaps I should issue a disclaimer now – unfortunately we all know the inaccuracies and exaggerations in much of the information we are exposed to, so please verify these things for yourself, and apologies for any inadvertent plagiarism!   

I must admit I got overwhelmed by doom and gloom with sometimes 70% of many plant and animal populations, seemingly disappearing, and many endangered or extinct species.Since we were in Africa with Christian for example, forty years ago, there are 70% less lions.   

Malcolm Tait - Going Going Gone?

Malcolm Tait - Going Going Gone? published by Think Books

A new book I have ordered Going, Going, Gone? By Malcolm Tait (published by Think Books) subtitled Animals and Plants on the Brink of Extinction and How You Can Help, according to the reviews, has very practical advice and suggestions for concerned people. There are now many places where travellers can go and see, interact and support wildlife efforts. One can walk with lions at African Impact at the Masuwe River Concession at Victoria Falls, just across the border from Zambia in Zimbabwe where there are breeding programs, but I personally would not visit while Mugabe is still in power. There are now very imaginative organisations to check out – such as Biosphere Expeditions (www.biosphere-expeditions.org) that arrange one or two week nature study expeditions. Elephants, often rescued from appalling existences, can be seen and supported at places such as the Asian Elephant Foundation Camp in the Anantara Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand, or outside of Luang Prabang in Laos. I have not yet visited any of these particular sites to see if I personally endorse their philosophies and practice, but I support what appear to be altruistic intentions.   

Some of the extraordinary and dedicated individuals dedicated to conservation include the late Lucy Wisdom who founded the Sumatran Orangutan Society (www.orangutans-sos.org) whose habitats like many other animals in the Asian region, are endangered by the rapacious clearing of rainforests for palm oil plantations or paper. We should be much more mindful of the source of products we buy and the ramifications of using them. Mary Hutton from Perth started the Free the Bears Fund (www.freethebears.org.au) and has rescued many bears from a miserable life in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Kalimantan and India, and Jason Kimberley, who had an “eco-epiphany” over the declining conditions in Antarctica and set up Cool Australia (www.coolaustralia.org).