Powerful Owl (ninox strenua) Photograph by Gary Heery

    

ENDANGERED:  It is the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity, and this arresting image of a Powerful Owl by one of Australia’s best photographers Gary Heery, illustrated a recent article on endangered animals and  birds in the Sydney region. In the 200 years since colonisation we have recorded the biggest biodiversity decline of any continent. A recent report, Into Oblivion: The disappearing native mammals of northern Australia, says populations have dropped by an average of 75%! Causes include different fire patterns post Aboriginal dispossession, feral cats, and the destructive spread of the introduced cane toads.    

CARBON PRICE:  It took everone by surprise when the CEO of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner, unexpectedly warned that Australia should “look beyond coal” and towards other energy sources, and acknowledged the likelihood, and necessity, of a global price on carbon, and that we will be disadvantaged if we don’t act quickly. This coming from the business end of town is a “game changer” as they say. These comments and the “agreement” with the Greens, have galvanised the government to suddenly be more proactive on this issue, after going to the election saying they would not be putting a price on carbon in this term of parliament. This disappointed many people who probably then voted Green. Apparently 32 countries have already made considerable effort towards the setting and reaching of emission targets, and, importantly, even India and China have expressed the intention to act.    

Australia’s energy sector produces just more than half of Australia’s emissions and 90% of carbon emissions from our electricity sector come from coal-fired power stations. It was alarming to read that the World Bank is spending billions of dollars to build new coal-fired power stations. Our new Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd was at the United Nations recently criticising them for not keeping their promises, and urging them to work more effectively. Corruption and inertia are among other charges made against the UN over the years, which really needs brave and imaginative leadership if they are to provide concerted global action on issues such as climate change. 
 
STATISTIC:  73 million sharks are killed each year for shark fin soup, particularly in Asia, making them endangered. My old joke is I haven’t been in the water since I saw Jaws, and although I live near beautiful beaches, I just won’t swim. I don’t want them to be extinct however!
 
TONY THE TIGER: It has been so gratifying that many of you – or at least enough of you, signed the petition for Tony The Tiger for me to receive thanks on our behalf from Dee DeSantis leading this campaign. Tony could go to an accredited big cat sanctuary if the owner allowed him to, and I have asked her how we could keep up the pressure apart from adding more signatures.  
 
You may also want to sign this petition to support banning exotic animal circuses, and see other online petitions. 
Animals Australia—the voice for animals
Ban Exotic Animal Circuses from Ku-Ring-Gai Council

Please sign this petition to help reinstate the ban.   

Ban Exotic Animal Circuses from Ku-Ring-Gai Council   

Other Petitions 

READING: I loved The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. She is a great story teller and the book was a preparation for me visiting Darjeeling next month – although I’m certainly hoping not to encounter any “insurgencies”. I’m looking forward to reading Hugh Mackay’s What Makes Us Tick; The 10 desires that drive us (Hachette). Apparently we long for “peace of mind”, but are energised by change. The busiest person in the world, environmentalist Tim Flannery has also written another book Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope (Text Publishing).  From a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald September 2010, I think he is optimistically suggesting that should we act soon, and in total unison globally, humans could manage the ecological and environmental challenges.   

    

Chanee Brule of 'Good Morning Kalimantan'

    

WILDLIFE MEN: Malcolm Douglas, who was one of the first to make wildlife documentaries in Australia (in the 1970s), died in an accident this week.  Like many others, including George Adamson, he was a hunter turned conservationist.  He was followed in Australia by Les Hiddens, the “Bush Tucker Man” and then Steve Irwin.  I haven’t been following the indomitable Bindi Irwin’s no doubt brilliant career.  But fortunately, except for “Bear” Grylls, there seems to be a new generation emerging of sophisticated animal and wildlife people not throwing themselves at crocodiles especially.  These include television’s ‘Bondi Vet’, handsome Chris Brown, and Chanee Brule in  ‘Good Morning Kalimantan’ on ABC 2.  Personable French born Chanee really loves  animals, especially gibbons, and he saves animals and their threatened habitats.  Many  listeners to his radio program ring him about animals in need of rescue, and he has an island sanctuary upriver for their recovery and rehabilitation, prior to release.  See Chanee’s Kalaweit Project  for further information.  Even the very sophisticated Stephen Fry has made a wildlife documentary Last Chance to See, coming to television here shortly.      

    

Australia Day, 2010 by Nicholas May - On a hot 35 degree Australia Day, people flocked to Ben Buckler rocks to cool down.

      

SYDNEY LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY PRIZE: With Sandy Edwards (photographer and curator) and Robert McFarlane (photographer, critic, blogger, http://www.ozphotoreview.blogspot.com/),  I judged the Sydney Life Photography Prize.  Months ago, we had the very difficult task of selecting 22 out of 500 entries.  There were many good photographs, and Sydney is so photogenic.  We chose Nicholas May’s Australia Day 2010 as the winner as it was a marvellous photograph, was so Australian, and had very interesting ambiguities and resonances.  The photographs are hung as large banners in Hyde Park, Sydney until 24th October, as part of the City of Sydney’s Art & About festival, and other entries can be viewed at http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/artandabout/.  

    

The Twins by Ian Darling - Alan and John are well known identities of Sydney's streets, and have spent much of their lives living rough together.

 
 
VISIT: OPRAH is to visit Australia  and do a show in the  Sydney Opera House in December. When we appeared on her program last year, we took her presents of Aboriginal art books, and I am very much hoping she connects with Aboriginal people and their art when she is here.
  
DON’T MISS:  The Open Weekend (2,3 & 4 October 2010) at the Art Gallery of NSW, a fascinating program celebrating Aboriginal Art and Culture. See http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/open-weekend/ .
These events are part of art & soul, a 3 part television documentary series on Aboriginal art, an exhibition and a publication, and for an interview with the presenter, curator and writer Hetti Perkins, see the SMH article.

       

Bondi Beach Local by Paris Spellson - Udo takes off in his tinny at North Bondi. He is part of the local fishing club.

           

       

 

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”!   

 
  

Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2010

Last visit to Christian 1972

Christian was born 12th August 1969. This is my favourite photograph of me with Christian, and I don’t think it has ever been seen before. I was not aware of it until a friend gave it to me in London last year. I cried. As it is 1972 it was probably taken by Tony Fitzjohn, now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.  It turned out to be my last visit and we never saw him again.

Sometimes I could read Christian’s eyes and mind and I could feel extremely connected to him, and sometimes I found him totally impenetrable, and I was completely irrelevant. This photograph for me sums up the bridge or link between humans and animals that Christian has now come to represent to many people. It also illustrates other factors that many of you have written to me about – “love” and “trust”, both in relation to Christian, and your own animals.  I’m very grateful for you expressing your emotions so beautifully and sharing them with me.

I’M READING: Christine’s Ark by John Little about an extraordinary Australian woman Christine Townend, a founder of Animal Liberation in Australia (with Peter Singer), and who then ran with her husband an Animal Shelter in Jaipur, India, for over 17 years. I have been lucky enough to meet her lately and I am going to visit their two animal shelters near Darjeeling in India in early November. I will blog much more about their marvellous work, and help if I can. Check them out – www.workingforanimals.org.au.  I think Christine Townend is an example of what the world needs badly – individuals that do not just accept the status quo and do something  personally about it, and make an extraordinary difference.

I have been fascinated by another Australian, Julian Assange, who also decided to act – against government dishonesty and the misrepresentation in the media of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He created WikiLeaks – and recently uploaded many thousands of confidential US Government reports to show the real situation and the number of civilian deaths. Perhaps people, so badly failed by our leaders, are taking action themselves – and much of it through the opportunities the internet provides. In this case I fear his disclosures will have people killed in retaliation, and that he will be killed himself.

A mother Australian Sea Lion sniffs her pup. Photo Benjamin Pitcher SMH

I’M WATCHING: everything on our nerve- wracking if nearly farcical election, and David Attenborough’s new documentary series Life – a welcome antidote. My cat particularly liked the snakes, unlike me. Her brother prefers the computer and the mouse to television.

ETS

In the election we have the choice between an Opposition leader who is on record as saying “climate change is crap” with a pretend policy, and a dithering Government who did try and get the ETS legislation through parliament (blocked by the Opposition and the Greens can you believe), and now want to create “community consensus” through a Citizens Assembly! This was greeted with the derision it deserves. In fact 62% of the community WANT action and ex PM Rudd’s credibility crumbled on his shelving of this legislation.

Delay just means everything will be much harder and more expensive to turn around in the future. Other countries like Germany and China are seizing the new economic opportunities that are presenting themselves and a price on carbon is essential to stop uncertainty and to encourage investment in alternate and renewable energies.

I did secretly wonder, given the precarious global financial and economic situation, was it a good or bad time to introduce an ETS? A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (4/8/10) did quote the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying while he was pessimistic about the prospects for the global economy, strong policies to curb carbon emissions and a high carbon price could also help restore growth, and provide certainty for investment.

Bushfires in Russian, floods in Pakistan… and the recent State of the Climate 2009 Report illustrates how we have just had our hottest year in 2009 here in my State, and Australia’s second warmest year since 2005. It was good to see the exoneration of the scientists crucified by the climate skeptics who successfully stalled the global momentum for action over a few careless inaccuracies in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

GOOD NEWS: the BP oil well seems capped in the Gulf of Mexico, although the damage will remain for decades, and remember the threat to the Ozone layer and the hole above Antarctica? With the banning of CFCs, there is now optimism about slow long term recovery.

DON’T MISS:  We have been very fortunate to have  a unique exhibition of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz  from the Lake George years at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Described as “America’s greatest photographer” these beautiful photographs from the 1910s-1930s rarely travel, and include of course photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, and fascinating photographs of exhibitions at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery including the first exhibitions in America of Picasso, Braque and Brancusi. The exhibition closes 5th September.

ANIMAL RIGHTS

The visit to Australia by American lawyer Joyce Tischler has focused attention on the huge growth and interest in Animal Rights. There seems to be a growing concern especially about the conditions pigs and chickens endure in relation to food production, and a determination to end some very cruel practices.

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/this-little-piggy-went-to-market-20100806-11oi8.html

STATISTICS: 3000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild (and a new baby at Taronga Zoo), and the most exhaustive stocktake of life in the world’s oceans so far, the Census of Marine Life, found more than 230,000 species lived in 25 marine regions around the world, and Australia contains more than 33,000 known species of which 58 are threatened.

GARMA

One year I must attend the Garma Festival in northern Australia, where this year there is a stated commitment to education for indigenous people. The festival is a good reminder of just how strong traditional Aboriginal culture remains in central and northern Australia, and the difficulties inherent in biculturalism and living in two often competing worlds. How do you fully participate in mainstream Australia as entitled when you live in very remote small communities with a strong traditional culture and few economic opportunities? Fortunately, many Australian Aborigines are  extremely good artists and this has provided livelihoods, and their best ones, like the late Emily Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas, have been fascinating the global art world for several decades.

Aboriginal dancers at the Garma Festival last year

Nick Brandt Elephant drinking Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica

GOING GOING,

Nick Brandt’s handsome exhibition of African photographs from his book A Shadow Falls, closes Wednesday 7 July at Shapiro Gallery Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney. He does not use a telephoto lens and enjoys waiting for days, even weeks watching the extraordinary African panorama unfold closely before him. Unfortunately he has also witnessed over the years the declining numbers and the battle for resources like water. The closeness to his subjects exhibits patience and mutual trust that result in extraordinarily intimate, dignified and exquisite photographs that on a large scale, can be breathtakingly majestic. He is exclusively represented in the Pacific region by Source Photographica.

GONE
In Australia we have just had a coup d’etat, putsch, take over, dumping, or political assassination of our Prime Minister, with the formidable Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard replacing Kevin Rudd. Up until a few months ago he was polling very highly, then his public support just evaporated and he had made no Labor Party faction, allies or friends. His popularity decline started with what appeared to be his “backflip” over the Emissions Trading Scheme. He had described climate change as the “greatest moral challenge” we faced, and despite his zeal, never really explained to the public the complexities of the issues. Faced with the disappointment of Copenhagen, blocked ETS legislation in the Senate, and waning community support, he was leant on by Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and other powerbrokers in the party, to shelve the legislation.

Julia Gillard becomes Australia’s first female Prime Minister which she is not making a fuss about, and has taken over seamlessly, overnight! She seemed to have a new wardrobe at the ready. I think she will be a very successful politician as she has already exhibited, pragmatic rather than visionary, will win the coming election, and be in power for many years. We are indebted to Kevin Rudd, especially for removing John Howard, and he seems to be effective internationally, and would be very useful at forums such as the United Nations. Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna Everage once said “in Australia if you stumble, they trample you to death”.

It has demonstrated who has power and influence with government – big business, millionaire miners, trade unions, party factions, polls, and the media.

Jessica Rudd, the ex PM’s daughter has written a book, Campaign Ruby, due out in August. It has been described in The Australian (26 June) as “a freakily prescient script for the way events actually unfolded… an incumbent prime minister rolled by his deputy… a woman, and the execution is a “swift and seamless move”.

We have witnessed not only the spectacular – and avoidable – unravelling of a prime minister, but a self inflicted spontaneous combustion. I have found it riveting, and the commentary in the papers excellent. New snippets of information are still emerging. I especially liked the articles by Peter Van Onsolen and Noel Pearson in The Australian (26-27 June). Noel advised the formerly, supposedly, left-leaning Julia “Many of the social ends you require liberal means, and what you want for the country will not transpire unless you harness the power of liberal answers to the social questions you hold dear”. Every politicians conundrum, as they battle for the centre/middle ground.

ETS

Julia has moved quickly to resolve a fight Rudd had picked with the mining industry over a new tax and now will have to articulate her policy on asylum seekers and the ETS. Many have been disappointed to learn she was in favour of shelving the ETS legislation – and she will have to explain herself! She believes in a price on carbon, but wants “community consensus” (she loves expressions like this), before she proceeds. Tim Flannery has endorsed the government’s model as effective (SMH 3-4 July), and there seems to be a momentum building again by people who do want to see some immediate action. Email your local MPs! This issue also cost Malcolm Turnbull the job as Leader of the Opposition.

Nick Brandt Cheetah and cubs Maasai Mara 2003

WHALES

The machinations and some of the accusations at the International Whaling Conference in Morocco were extraordinary, especially the behavior of the Japanese. Advaaz successfully assembled 1.2 million signatures on a petition to help fight lifting the ban on commercial whaling. Another example of successful internet activism.

ENERGY

A recent report states that by 2020 60% of Australia’s energy could come from 12 proposed solar-thermal plants, with the other 40% from wind energy from 23 sites (SMH 22 June Solar, wind power may meet 2020 energy use). Another report examines how industry especially could use energy much more efficiently, slashing emissions (SMH 24 June Companies told to get smart on power). There are alternatives to coal and uranium!

NEWS ETC

The Cove documentary is finally being shown in a few Japanese cinemas despite small but noisy and targeted opposition. The “mother of animal law”  U.S. lawyer Joyce Tischler is visiting Australia in August (Voiceless)… Jan Cameron the wealthy founder of Katmandu clothing empire has set up the Animal Justice Fund especially aimed at the inherent cruelty of battery hen farms and piggeries. Two recent SMH “Lunch With” interviews have been heartening:  young Simon Sheikh CEO of GetUp! with 350,000 enthusiastic members (SMH 26-27 June), and Linda Selvey, the recently appointed CEO of Greenpeace (SMH 3-4 July). Both are intelligent and effective advocates and leaders of campaigns for issues that concern many of us, such as the treatment of asylum seekers and climate change. Our leadership has been failing us.

All images courtesy of Nick Brandt and Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt Elephant train Amboselli 2008