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 . 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: 



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 , and for exhibition details contact .  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  

Jonny Lewis - Portraits From The Edge

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




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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 (