The famous 1966 film Born Free is being shown as a fundraiser by Animal Works, The Feline Foundation and Event Cinemas in Sydney on Saturday 18th April at Event Cinema, George Street, Sydney. I have been asked to introduce the film, as it was through Christian the Lion that I met Joy and George Adamson, and the actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who played them in the film.

See here and here for more information about the event.

As I have said before, I did not read Born Free when it was first published or see the film. However I loved catching up on them later, and what a wonderful and extraordinary animal Elsa the lioness was.  The book and the film made millions of people around the world realise that animals were sentient beings. I’m looking forward very much to seeing Born Free again.

Caged lions in South Africa by photographer Brent Stirton.

Caged lions in South Africa by photographer Brent Stirton.

GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS: Is “canned hunting” in South Africa awaiting these young lions in this photograph by Brent Stirton?  The lions as cubs would have been petted and then walked with tourists. When older, they could then be shot in an enclosed area by “hunters”.

The best news for the Global March for Lions was that there is now a blanket ban on importing into Australia lion body parts and trophies from both “canned” or “legal” hunting. We need to advocate for this to also happen in the USA and Europe as this will be a very effective measure.

Donalea Patman has been indefatigable working with Australian government politicians to bring this ban about and asks us to “keep writing to local members about animal issues. With regards to Australia taking the lead by banning the import of lion trophies and body parts we must be vigilant, as hunters are very angry and are firing up their representatives in Parliament with Senator Bridget McKenzie creating a “friends of the shooters”. With the hunters reaction you would have thought Minister Hunt had banned hunting! This ban is a direct response to the cruel and barbaric practice of canned hunting of Africa’s threatened lions and protecting what’s left, treating lions as if they are on Appendix 1 of CITES. The hunters have threatened both Jason Wood MP and Minister Hunt which required the Federal Police to be present at the 13 March, Global March for Lions event in Melbourne”. See more information (and some beautiful photographs of lions) on Donalea’s website fortheloveofwildlife here.

Yuan Chih and her mother and her cat Mai-Mai

Yuan Chih with her cat Mai-Mai and her mother Isobel

I love this photograph of Yuan Chih, her mother Isobel, her cat Mai-Mai, and a copy of the Chinese edition of our book!  She assures me our book A Lion Called Christian is available in bookshops in China and Taiwan. I asked Yuan Chih how she became involved in animal protection and what she is working on presently. See here for her reply and not surprisingly, she already has an impressive track record in Taiwan and China.

Many people ask me how they can also help to protect animals.  While virtually all organisations in this field need financial assistance, many require volunteers, and it was by volunteering that Yuan Chih began her involvement.

I met Yuan Chih at the MAC3 Conference in Delhi in January, where I also met up with Fionna Prins from Goa. I posted two beautiful photographs last blog of some of the many dogs that share Fionna’s home in Goa.  I haven’t asked Fionna how she became involved – I suspect she and her partner just opened her home to dogs in need! She has posted a special blog on Christian – see Stray Assist and I was particularly interested in her very succinct summary of why she thinks Christian’s story still resonates today.

MAC3: See here the post-Delhi Minding Animals Bulletin No 28 and see here for another view of the Animal Studies conference from the perspective of co-host the Wildlife Trust of India.

There is an Animal Conference in Melbourne at the University of Melbourne July 13-15th 2015 – Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activism.  See here for more details.

PETITION AGAINST WHIPPING RACE HORSES: I discussed the whipping of horses last blog and you may want to sign this petition against the unnecessary and cruel whipping of race horses here.  Australian vet Andrew McLean told me about research by Paul McGreevy that demonstrated that whipping actually makes horses shorten their stride when they should be stretching out in a sprint to the post.  Banning the whip would make it a fair “level playing field” for all horses.

Like most Australians I have rather enjoyed each year trying to pick winners in our famous Melbourne Cup horse race. Many are superb-looking animals and some may even enjoy racing and the arduous training. However, two horses died after the race last year and several jockeys were killed in 2014. I think it is just too dangerous and unfortunately, it is just another example of animals being exploited for our enjoyment – but no longer mine. Steeplechase (jumps) racing should definitely be banned.

Horses that fail, break down or are too old, are, like greyhounds, just put down.       

Photograph by Stahs Pripotnev. Sourced from National Geographic.

Photograph by Stahs Pripotnev. Sourced from National Geographic.

PANDAS: It is very good news that panda numbers are increasing and an official survey in China stated that by the end of 2013 China had 1864 giant pandas alive in the wild which represented a 16.8% increase since 2003 estimates. “Conservation measures” are credited, and while panda habitat has been increased in some instances, habitat- loss still continues and 12% of pandas are classified as “high risk”. China has 375 pandas in captivity, and 42 others are scattered in zoos around the world.

ELEPHANTS: While most of us are now aware of the critical situation facing elephants and are doing our best to highlight it, the recent Africa Elephant Summit in Botswana reinforced that elephants may be extinct within decades. Numbers have fallen from 550,000 in 2006 to 470,000 in 2013.  The importation of ivory and animal body parts, especially to China and Vietnam, must urgently be curtailed.  Importing animal body parts to Asia is a $US40 billion industry.

AUSTRALIA: The looming May Budget will be the next test for the government and the PM.  Their first budget is still unresolved and was almost universally regarded as having been particularly unfair to those most vulnerable in the community. Already there are very mixed and contradictory messages about what the May budget will contain.

Our cricket team won the World Cup by beating NZ convincingly but were regarded by many as poor sportsmen while the New Zealanders earned great respect in comparison. Shane Warne is a natural commentator, but his post-final interviews were more interested in the alcohol to be consumed in celebration.

Another former cricket great Glenn McGrath was shamed recently when photographs surfaced of him hunting in Africa and showing him proudly with a dead elephant, buffalo and hyena.

Richie Benaud, Australia’s much loved and highly respected cricket icon has just died aged 84.  He was an exceptional captain, spin bowler and commentator.  It feels like the end of an era and many people will be very sad.

ACF: Successful businessman Geoffrey Cousins knows his way into the board rooms of Australia, and has proven to be an unexpected and effective conservation advocate in recent years. He is now head of the Australian Conservation Foundation. The ACF has just released a list of Australia’s worst greenhouse gas emitters – with our electricity suppliers AGL, EnergyAustralia and Macquarie Generation topping the list. Many of these companies have sought to halt or slow investment in renewable energy, and have opposed measures  to combat climate change. A new research study from Oxford University says there are 22 coal -fired stations in Australia, and  electricity suppliers AGL, Origin, Stanwell and Delta are responsible for 25% of Australia’s emissions.

Shearing shed, (1886-1891), Charles Bayliss

Shearing shed, (1886-1891), Charles Bayliss. Courtesy AGNSW.

AGNSW: The Photograph and Australia exhibition is showing until 8 June at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and is “the story of the interactions between people and land, and their representations in photography”. Curated by Judy Annear, the exhibition begins with the introduction of photography in the 1840s, through many C19th images, to contemporary photographers. There are many portraits of Australians from different eras, and images illustrating the growth of our towns and cities, and expansion into the outback and rural Australia.

The exhibition contains images by both well known and unknown photographers. I particularly liked the dramatic and wonderful photographs of Antarctica by Frank Hurley (1911-1912), and the many historical photographs of unidentified Aborigines by photographers or studios such as Kerry and Co, and J.W. Lindt.

Spirit of Endurance, (1937), Harold Cazneaux

Spirit of Endurance, (1937), Harold Cazneaux. Courtesy AGNSW.

MIDDLE EAST: Before his re-election PM Nethanyahu finally dispelled the charade so few of us believed when he finally admitted that there would be no Palestinian State on his watch.

President Obama, who still has nearly 2 years to run, seems to have lost patience with Israel.  Apparently he is also moving away from Saudi Arabia (an unsavoury ally with links to terrorist organisations), and is moving closer to Iran and a deal over their nuclear capabilities and the lifting of economic sanctions. Undoubtedly Obama is taking a huge gamble and playing a dangerous game!

IS seems to have been curtailed to an extent in Iraq, but is even stronger in Syria. IS now controls an area the size of the UK and is wealthy from the black market sale of oil. There are estimated to be 25,000 foreign fighters with IS, with an effective leadership, many of them former Iraqi commanders. But as Paul Maley recently wrote in The Australian, IS is over extended, supply lines are threatened and success is mostly due to the weakness of the enemies.

IS is at present terrorising up to 18,000 people in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus – and people are warning of a huge humanitarian disaster.  I can’t imagine what life is like for the people that have remained in Syria, or the millions displaced by the conflicts.

Although air strikes against IS have been successful in Iraq, I really fail to see why our PM Abbott couldn’t wait to be back in Iraq again after the disastrous invasion of 2003. He thinks fear and “National Security” are vote winners, and he denies that our unnecessary involvement in the Middle East make us even more of a terrorist target.

James Mann has recently written a biography about George W. Bush. His presidency was disastrous, and the invasion of Iraq is described as “one of the most strategic blunders in history” that was estimated to cost less than $US 100 billion but has ended up costing $US 2 trillion.

I’m sure like many of you I get confused with who is allied to whom in the Middle East, especially in Yemen at the moment where this “proxy” war is potentially very dangerous.

The world is horrified by the shocking slaughter by al-Shabaab of 149 college students at Garissa in Kenya. Unfortunately, it seems there was accurate intelligence that an attack on a college could happen, and the Kenyan government was also extremely slow to respond. al-Shabaab have promised more attacks in Kenya, see article here, and also against Westfield shopping malls worldwide, owned by the Australian Jewish family the Lowys.

Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania, (2005, printed 2009), Ricky Maynard

Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania, (2005, printed 2009), Ricky Maynard. Courtesy AGNSW.

VALE: We lost two senior political figures from our region lately. Lee Kuan Yiew was the PM who transformed Singapore from a swamp to an outstanding economic success.  He brooked no opposition or dissent and usually removed his opponents by suing them for defamation and bankrupting them. He famously said years ago that Australia’s protectionist policies would make us the “poor white trash” of the region.

A very brave and possibly foolish 16 year old Singaporean blogger Amos Yew may face years in jail for blogging that Lee Kuan Yiew was “a horrible person”.

Malcolm Fraser became PM of Australia in 1975 when he replaced Gough Whitlam under very controversial circumstances, also died recently. While not a reforming Prime Minister, he became unexpectedly a respected elder in retirement who spoke out against his own party which he said had moved to the right from “liberal” to “conservative”. He was a long supporter of human rights, with a particular concern for race relations, Aboriginal disadvantage and asylum seekers.

We also lost Betty Churcher who was appointed the first female director of the National Gallery of Australia in 1990 and who had an infectious love of art. Japanese Misao Okawa, the oldest person in the world, died aged 117.

Sunbaker, (1937, printed 1970s), Max Dupain

Sunbaker, (1937, printed 1970s), Max Dupain. WhileCourtesy AGNSW.

As an antidote to worrying too much about the world we live in, I relax by listening to classical music, spending time with family and friends, walking and gardening. I find my cats particularly soothing to be around. I’m loving all the stories, histories and often beautiful and fascinating items on the reruns of Antique Roadshow. I find listening to our ABC radio very life-affirming: while some experts confirm our worst fears, others point to advances and possible solutions, and I am reminded of the potential of human ingenuity, imagination and compassion.

Baby Black Rhino. Photograph by Jodi Cobb. source National Geographic.

Baby Black Rhino. Photograph by Jodi Cobb. Source National Geographic.

OCT 4th World Animal Day: According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, half the world’s wild animals have been lost in the last 40 years from habitat destruction,hunting and deforestation. On this World Animal Day let’s work together and combine our efforts to reverse these terrible statistics – their survival is at stake.

SYDNEY: People are meeting beside Sydney Town Hall at 11am on Saturday 4th October. Organisers seem to be a coalition of Lobby For Lions, Animal Works and felinefoundation.org – see their sites for information. The March is for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions primarily…but let’s salute all animals!

MELBOURNE: fortheloveofwildlife is staging a fund raiser, primarily for a documentary exposing the cruelty of farming lions for the canned hunting industry in South Africa. Apart from the entertainment, the evening will feature Ian Michler, a well-known wildlife journalist from South Africa.

Please consider signing this petition to ban lion trophy imports into Australia – this is a very effective way of discouraging hunting.

Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations Conference

Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations Conference

FIAPO: The Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations staged a very informative and effective conference in Jaipur. A federation can combine all our voices and efforts and be very influential. People were eloquent advocates on behalf of a wide variety of animals and issues.  In attendance were esteemed elders, generous patrons, dynamic individuals and groups, and many concerned and enthusiastic young people.

There are strong laws to protect animals in India – it is the implementation that is problematic.

My Opening Address, illustrated with photographs, seemed to be quite well received – they love Christian’s story!  As the auditorium was full of animal lovers, this was not surprising. The audience clapped when Christian jumped up on us – and some shed a few tears – it was beautiful!

This is the link to the original and my favourite Youtube clip – as it includes Whitney Houston’s emotive back track I’ll Always Love You. 

At the conference there were many dedicated and hard working people (including some interesting foreigners that came to India on holiday and stayed).  Many run animal shelters where dogs, donkeys, camels, snakes, birds etc are rescued and cared for. Sessions ranged widely from dealing with the packs of dogs and rabies in communities, bears that have been rescued from a life of “performing” with gypsies, to the huge tracts of land required for elephants that have been “rescued” from miserable lives performing or working.

Listening to many of the speakers made me think deeply about animal rights, and how we use animals selfishly for our own purposes. We farm them cruelly for our food, work them hard, and use them for our “entertainment”.

We can visit animals in the wild and observe them appropriately…we can walk in our national parks full of birds…swim under water in our oceans….visit reputable wildlife sanctuaries, “open air” zoos, and conservancies where vast tracts of land are protected.

Incidentally, behavioural ecologist Justin O’Riain who is currently visiting Australia, has said electrified fencing can reduce the vexed issue of animal/human contact – from the baboons in the suburbs of Cape Town, to deterring lions and elephants from local villages.

We can stay home and watch the most beautifully filmed and educational nature documentaries. We can donate to causes we believe in. Most satisfyingly, on a daily basis we can look after the dogs and cats in our lives – preferably rescued from shelters.”Companion pets” so aptly describes the roles they play in our lives…

Camel shelter with Jeannette Lloyd-Jones

Camel shelter with Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Fellow Working for Animals committee member Jeannette and I visited the Camel Rescue Shelter established on the outskirts of Jaipur. Camels and a donkey were recuperating, and a cow was on a drip watched by the anxious owner. It was a reminder of just how tough village life remains for most Indians. While India seems to get easier to visit, and the middle class expands, one can’t forget that for the majority of Indians life remains extremely hard. Many live on the street, or in slums, and life remains precarious. The weather is extreme –hot and cold, monsoonal rains caused flooding in Kashmir (blamed on climate change, deforestation and unsuitable over development), and temperatures I would find unbearable (45!). Overall I love the vitality of Indians and many have a great sense of humour.  The new PM Modi seems energetic but it is too early to judge him.

MAC3: I’ve now been asked to show the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at another important conference – the Minding Animals Conference 3 in New Delhi 13th January – 18th January 2015.  Minding Animals furthers the development of animal studies internationally and helps to establish legal and moral protections.

Hawa Mahal, built 1799, City Palace, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, built 1799, City Palace, Jaipur

After three days of the conference I looked forward to a walk around the attractive City Palace, and dinner at the luxurious Rambagh Palace.

BENGAL TIGERS: I was deeply shocked to find out there were only 1500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild in India. Indians were equally shocked that only 20,000 wild lions remain in Africa. I was asked by people at the conference how to protect tigers – and a starting point was this petition on my last blog (sent to me by Francois) which most Indians were not aware of. 96,300 acres of forest are to be cut down in the state of Maharashtra for bamboo and teak – but it includes vital tiger habitat. Please sign the petition and circulate.

UNITED NATIONS: By abolishing our carbon tax Australia should have been embarrassed at the United Nations summit on Climate Change. 300,000 marched in New York and Obama is certainly talking about climate change with much more urgency. On the other hand our government is in denial and we are now on the wrong side of history.

We have no designated Minister for Science and funding for science and innovation is at a 30 year low.

Our PM sidestepped Climate Change to give a banal speech at the United Nations about joining the Coalition against the Islamic State. Our indecent haste to rush to war has “added to” making Australians more of a target to extreme Muslims. Our politicians (and some Murdoch journalists) are still in denial about the repercussions from the 2003 Iraq invasion and are no doubt in danger of making the same mistakes all over again – such as having no exit policy. War has conveniently taken the attention off the government’s inept handling of the budget and I still can’t think of one major initiative that gives me any confidence in the government.  Often I’m shocked at their behaviour: like the recent decision to send our asylum seekers to Cambodia for resettlement.  Cambodia is one of the worlds poorest nations with an appalling human rights record.

I liked the break in India from our newspapers…the conservatives in the Murdoch press here are still blaming “ the Left”, the ALP budget deficit, or imaginary “bias” at the ABC.

EBOLA: Isn’t this an emergency the world is inexplicitly slow to respond to?

HONG KONG: The world is admiring the bravery of your citizens as you demonstrate for your democratic rights and  we wish you well.

READING: I adored reading Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest memoir and Alice Walker’s unsettling and often funny In Love & Trouble. I find them fascinating individuals but I also enjoyed the more cerebral and interwoven stories in Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell. I’m listening to music by our composer Peter Sculthorpe, who died recently. His collaboration with William Barton on the didgeridoo is hauntingly beautiful.

Looking forward to celebrating WORLD ANIMAL DAY with you all around the world.

Photograph by Prince Eleazer. Source National Geographic.

Photograph by Prince Eleazer. Source National Geographic.

Giraffes in the Evening Light

Giraffes in the Evening Light. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy: http://www.sourcephotographica.com.au/nickbrandt.html

I can’t wait to see another exhibition of the superb photographs of East African animals and landscapes by Nick Brandt. The exhibition will also include new releases of his iconic images and will be on exhibition in Brisbane 18-29 April 2012 at 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley and 19-27 May, Shapiro Galleries 62 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney.  While the photographs are so beautiful, there is an inherent sadness and poignancy – much of what we see is vanishing.

After a rainy summer we are having a lovely “Indian summer”, although the nights are beginning to get colder. I saw a black snake this week on my afternoon walk however and I am very much looking forward to them hibernating. I envy all of you in the Northern hemisphere now going into spring, especially after what seems to have been a very cold winter.

I am writing this awkwardly with one of my cats on the desk half lying on the key board – a favourite position of his I wouldn’t dream of interfering with. His sister prefers to watch television. I have been answering emails (tardily – post a virus and subsequent new laptop) from many of you through both the blog and the website and I am just amazed at the interest in Christian and the emotion he still generates. Please keep sending me stories about your own animals, or YouTube links of cats (or dogs!), or what Christian means to you. I’m sure we are building an invaluable archive.

Madeline recently emailed me and said Christian’s story had been “life changing” for her, and I’d love her to describe exactly how. It has been for me – twice – once when we met him, and now again with the YouTube phenomenon of the last few years.

Peter O'Doherty - Siamese

Peter O'Doherty, Siamese, in The Animal Show with other leading artists at King Street Gallery on William St, Sydney until 28 April.

For more works included in The Animal Show see here.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffrey Masson and his young family when they were in Sydney. We visited the recently renovated Museum of Contemporary of Art Australia – as have 4600 people a day.  Walking through the museum I talked far too much about artists I know and love – including Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Ildako Kovacs, Jon Lewis and Tim Johnson.  We watched some of  Christian Marclay’s The Clock – 24 hours literally through references to the time in films.  Jeffrey’s young sons couldn’t see the point of it – where was the story?  It was more a labour of love/research exercise/editing triumph – although of course one is amused by some of the clips. Jack Nicholson singing?

TRACEY MOFFATT: I do think Tracey Moffatt has done much more interesting, amusing and moving works with her Found Film montages.  They “go somewhere, and say something”.  In New York there is about to be a Tracey Moffatt Film Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art with a Public Talk by Tracey at 7pm on May 7th.  Her quite rare and clever public appearances are usually “performances” not to be missed!  It has been fascinating watching her career unfold, and she entirely deserves this extraordinary honour, and Australia should be very proud of her.

Over coffee and tea in the new roof-top cafe with stunning harbour views, Jeffrey Masson asked me to recount Christian’s story to his sons.  I would have preferred to hear more from him – he gave me tantalising snippets of new research in the field of animal behaviour, and we will just have to keep reading his blogs and wait for his next publication.

Aboriginal Rock Art. Kangaroos. 1500 - 1910

Aboriginal Rock Art. Kangaroos. 1500 - 1910

Images of ancient Aboriginal rock art can now be seen online with other great galleries of the world through Google’s Art Project and Griffith University.

ABORIGINAL INTERVENTION: Before animal welfare and rights issues again become more prominent in my life, my prime concern had been the inequality of life and social injustice suffered by most Aborigines in Australia. I worked in the field of Aboriginal art as a curator as it began to fascinate the world in the 1980s and 1990s. I met many artists, made many friends, and regularly visited remote Aboriginal communities. While these years have been the most interesting and probably the most important of my career, and Aboriginal art has rightly been recognised as one of the most extraordinary and important art movements in the world in the twentieth century, it is depressing to say, apart from some major achievements, conditions for most Aboriginal people have not improved, indeed may have deteriorated.

While I may complain about the behaviour of other countries (for example Israel and their systematic encroachment house by house of Palestinian land),  my own country Australia has been criticised just as severely in UN reports for human rights abuses on our original inhabitants.

Old Red Crocodiles

Aboriginal Rock Art. Old Red Crocodiles. 4000BC - 2000BC.

Without going into a detailed account of our tragic settler/Aboriginal history, my bete noire then PM John Howard suddenly over one weekend it seemed, invented THE INTERVENTION into Aboriginal communities, ostensibly over child abuse.  This was the same PM who in 2000 cleverly derailed a fleeting window of opportunity for meaningful reconciliation between black and white Australians when 300,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He also derailed a movement towards Australia becoming a Republic.

This Intervention was a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful vote catcher for red-necks for an upcoming election which I was thrilled he lost – even ignominiously losing his own seat.  Because of the difficult nature of Aboriginal issues, it is one of the few subjects that have bi-partisan support (like our alliance with the US where we obediently follow them into any dumb war going).  The incoming government continued this paternalistic intervention and intends to extend it.

According to an Aboriginal friend in the Northern Territory, the situation in her community has just got worse and  many of their own initiatives and efforts of self determination have been shelved. Consequently I attended the showing of a film “Living the Intervention” followed by a panel discussion with Aboriginal community representatives and John Pilger among others. The Intervention was imposed without ANY consultation with the communities at all. This immediately alienated many of them, and of course they had no opportunity to express what needs and assistance they knew their communities urgently required – from a police presence, to adequate housing, education etc.

The Intervention is a “one size fits all” which is not tailored to the very different circumstances in various communities. One has to admit that some aspects have the support of some people and some communities – which may include alcohol restrictions or income quarantining. But various aspects contravene UN Human Rights, and the Intervention has also been described as yet another land grab with ‘leases’ of 40 or 90 years on land, and I don’t understand how these leases co-exist with the Land Rights Act of 1976.

“We don’t just want solidarity (from white people) – we want action” – Galiwinku elder

Aboriginal Rock Art. Early X-Ray Figure Panel. -2000 - -1

Aboriginal Rock Art. Early X-Ray Figure Panel. 2000BC - 1BC.

John Pilger urged a march on Canberra to bang on doors (which sounded curiously old fashioned) while others spoke about disunity among Aboriginal leaders or that several of them were regarded as apologists.  I’m old enough to have witnessed the effective leadership and charisma of the late Charles Perkins for example, and I’m wondering when some new voices will emerge.

The government is not interested in maintaining  the out-station movement where in the 1970s smaller Aboriginal family/clan groups returned to live on their ancestral land and people were much happier and healthier. The government has specified “growth centres” where Aborigines will  be forced to move to. There is no easy answer and conditions were bad before the Intervention. It is expensive to deliver all the services that as Australian citizens (only since 1967!) Aborigines are entitled to – but there is no economic base and limited employment prospects for many of these communities.

For a good news story and a dramatic turnaround in a troubled remote Aboriginal community called Wadeye, see Nicolas Rothwell’s A township reborn under a spreading tree in The Australian April 7-8 (page 19 Inquirer). I think it can still be viewed if you have a subscription to the The Australian online.  Many factors have contributed: imaginative Aboriginal leadership mindful of traditions; a new style of governance; local employment; intensive public funding; and strict discipline, especially for anyone hoping to play with the Wadeye Magic, now a leading Australian Rules football team. Many other remote communities aren’t so lucky and at the moment there is an appalling epidemic of copy cat youth suicides.

Muckaty nuclear dump photo by Jagath Dheerasekara.

Muckaty Station, NT. Photo by Jagath Dheerasekara.

Muckaty Station, another remote Aboriginal community, risks being the site for Australia’s nuclear waste dump despite opposition from most of the traditional owners in the community. Again with rare bi-partisan support the Federal Parliament recently passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. The decision is being challenged in the Federal Court. Jagath Dheerasekara’s photographic series Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud has been part of FotoFreo in West Australia and will be seen in Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Festival from 1 May.

VALE: Jimmy Little the first Aboriginal to receive mainstream success with his music died recently. The recipient of many awards, Jimmy was a tireless worker for the rights and lives of Aboriginal people. He believed in the “soft sell” rather than taking to the streets in protest – “don’t mistake kindness and gentleness for weakness”.

MIDDLE EAST: The charade of the UN truce in Syria is just buying Assad time unfortunately with no cease fire or withdrawal of troops.  I don’t think the approximate 27,000 refugees that have fled to Turkey will be returning home soon.  300,000 people have been displaced, and a million people urgently need humanitarian aid.  Suburbs of Homs look obliterated. As discussed before, I’ll never understand all the complexities and proxies in relation to Syria – like the relationship between Turkey and Iran, but the Syrian regime seems to be protected by its strategic significance. Apparently the best chance is for a revolt from within the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt went to Washington in suits and with Powerpoint Presentations to try and secure ongoing funding, and to reassure the US of their democratic rather than Islamic intentions. One wonders – does the military, with their own agendas,  actually act as a useful buffer against extreme Islamification in situations like this? What happened in Turkey?  I realise how little I know about the region historically. How did those religious minorities gain iron control over majority populations – for example, Iraq, Yemen and Syria to name just a few. Was this part of a colonial carve up or a divide and rule strategy?

POLITICS: A comment was recently left on the blog saying the Republican Presidential candidates were concerned about environmental issues  which I doubt very much and have seen no reports about. Even our conservative politician Malcolm Turnbull described them as influenced by “climate change denialists”.  Who is interested in debating issues like abortion or contraception that one thought were dealt with in the 1960s?  The only other US Republican issues reported in our press were God and guns, and “moderate” used as a derogatory word.

A recent national poll in Australia reported that we crave  ” a leader with a clear vision”.

BOB BROWN: An extraordinary politician Bob Brown resigned unexpectedly this week. He is 67 and has been in the Senate for 16 years. He is a fascinating man: an environmental and anti-war activist also concerned with our treatment of asylum seekers; a doctor who lives with his gay partner; and he has been the rarest of politicians – honest!  On many issues he has been the sole conscience of Australia.  He has been both naive and wily as a politician.  He has taken the Greens Party to a position of unprecedented power in the present hung parliament and with a balance of power in the Senate.  However he blocked the original Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010 – missing a unique opportunity when the public were fleetingly in favour of it, and this led to the downfall and replacement of several political leaders.

His “carbon tax” deal with Julia Gillard to form government may ultimately cost her government as it is perceived as her broken election promise.  Get over it I say – circumstances change. Two sex scandals and a disgruntled Independent are currently also threatening her slim majority.

Bob’s replacement is an articulate woman called Christine Milne who has been described as hard as “poured concrete” which I’m sure is not a compliment.   She seems to have a grasp of economics – and she talks about the sustainable “new” economy.  On the unexpected sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year (announced on the day after The Taliban attacked Kabul), she said that we should bring our troops home immediately, and the war “had been a failure on all levels”.

GEORGE SOROS: As the SMH said “The eurozone has just ploughed on with the same old set of failed policies” with attention switching from Greece to Spain.  Commenting on the European Central Bank George Soros said “the fundamental problems have not been resolved, the gap between creditor and debtor countries continues to widen. The crisis has entered what may be a less volatile but more  lethal stage”.

Fiona Hall 21st Century Man 2011 Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9

Fiona Hall 21st Century Man 2011. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9

GOLDMAN SACHS: boss Lloyd Blankfein has taken a 35% pay cut – to $US12 million.

ENERGY: The near coast to coast conservative State governments including NSW, Queensland and Victoria are all rushing to embrace mining and coal and gas exploration and “streamline” environmental protections.  It’s like a gold rush – and I believe sand will be the next valuable commodity!  With big business, these States are challenging and cancelling many schemes supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency.  This must discourage investment at a time when other countries are investing heavily.

Interestingly, traditionally conservative land holders are mobilising against the loss of valuable agricultural land, and the untested effects on water tables and resulting contamination from coal seam gas mining.

Conversely, a country like Denmark is aiming at a 100% renewable energy target and I’m trying to understand the differences between “flexible” and “inflexible” power sources, technological advances in thermal power storage for solar and wind, and Smart Grids.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed limits on emissions from new coal power plants, encouraging the shift to gas.  There is a new boom in energy production in the US and Canada (“the new Middle East”) after recent successful oil and gas exploration, but this also makes it difficult for the development and investment in alternatives such as solar and wind power.

It is forecast that by 2020 the US will not need to import any more foreign oil!

Eastern Bongo

A recent birth at Taronga Park of an Eastern bongo (forest antelope) - fewer than 80 remain in their natural habitat in Kenya. Photo by Dallas Kilponen

AFRICA: Huge coal deposits and two massive gas fields in Mozambique are indicative of changing scenarios and fortunes in Africa where there are 6 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in the past decade.  The World Bank predicts economic growth of 5.3%.  Africa still has many of the the world’s poorest countries but there are huge infrastructure projects, an expanding middle class and foreign equity scrambling for opportunities in telecom’s, financial services and products. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, the Chinese have a strong presence (and an unfortunate hunger for ivory). Can we hope for an equitable distribution of wealth or will the “resource curse” (and tribal and “big man” politics) again leave most people worse off than ever.

ANIMAL WORKS: I recently spoke (with other authors) at a fund raiser to support the work of Animal Works primarily in this instance to fight the poaching of rhinos in Zimbabwe. It has been tough for the human population there for an extended period – imagine how the animals have fared. I applaud the efforts of Animal Works –see their website and blog.  The dinner was fun and everyone loved Africa so much and shared a concern for it’s wildlife. Botswana was a favourite country to visit. The highlight for me was when I was signing a copy of our book and I asked a girl what name should I write in it – and she said “My name is Katania. My Dad just loved Christian’s story and named me Katania”

So, unexpectedly, I told the story of how the  little lioness Katania really was the go between Boy and Christian and contributed to their ultimate friendship. Katania was small enough to go from one compound to another when both bigger lions were at first in separate compounds. When Boy and Christian were finally to meet for the first time, Katania broke the ice after an extended and very tense wait, by going over to Christian and provoking their terrifying introductory fight.  Luckily, despite the ferocious roars and paws flaying, this was more show than a deadly contest.  Both Christian and Boy adored Katania and George Adamson thought they were both devastated by her disappearance, when she was possibly taken by a crocodile. I also talked about George Adamson and how lucky we were to meet him and observe him, and to experience briefly that extraordinary space he created where the world’s two top predators coexisted harmoniously and communicated deeply with one another.

Can you believe the King of Spain went elephant hunting in Africa?

A Lion Called Christian

MAIL: Several of you have asked where the DVD of the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian is available for purchase. Disappointingly I’ve never seen it for sale or rent anywhere in the world, but it is available through amazon.co.uk.  People also ask me about the photogrphs of Christian.  Images can be purchased directly from photographer Derek Cattani (see his gallery on  alioncalledchristian.com.au), and the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust holds most of the African photographs.  The Born Free Foundation owns the original documentary footage in England and Africa.

READING: I just finished a magnificent book on the founding of Sydney – The Colony, by Grace Karskens.  Karskens has retrieved alot of information about the daily lives in early Sydney of convicts, women and Aborigines – and the “middle ground” they all inhabited to a considerable degree with each other. It is comprehensive and fascinating.  I also love the ground-breaking work on Aborigines by Keith Vincent Smith, and Inga Clendinnen’s marvellous Dancing with Strangers.

WATCHING:  I loved seeing John Waters interviewed recently. He is so funny and insightful. To his surprise he is now regarded as an “insider”, and growing up middle class with “good taste” he knew what was “bad taste”. Andy Warhol’s soup can image killed abstract expressionism, and the Beatles killed Motown. It was Tennessee Williams that showed him that there was a place for people like him – and I too remember being very excited by Night of the Iguana when I was at school – there was a different life out there beyond the stereotypical life on offer. Not that I’ve lived it!

I was rather depressed watching “The Thriller in Manilla” and it has been described as a “hatchet job” on Muhammed Ali.  Joe Frazier supported Ali when he had taken a stand against the Vietnam War and couldn’t fight or earn money, but Ali subsequently used effective psychological warfare against him with very ugly racial overtones.  Joe still resents this, and he takes pleasure in attributing Ali’s subsequent physical deterioration to this their third fight when either of them could have died. It is an ugly sport.

LISTENING: I just love Adele’s Rolling in the Deep – no wonder she got that extended ovation weeks ago at the Grammys, and I am enjoying other extraordinary voices auditioning for The Voice on television.

Elephant Group on Bare Earth

Elephant Group on Bare Earth. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy: http://www.sourcephotographica.com.au/nickbrandt.html