Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

CACH: (Campaign Against Canned Hunting). I really believe in this cause, and I think we all have the chance to make a difference.  The practice of breeding lion cubs to be petted, then shot by “hunters” horrifies all reasonable people.

See this very recent educational presentation video from CACH and we can help by circulating it as widely as possible.

On the video they have a Call to Action on how we can contribute.  I gathered from reading the CACH website that they seem to hold little hope for appropriate action from the South African Government.  But we are still urged to contact the South African Government and their representatives in our countries.  Despite their growing unpopularity (we all heard the boos at the Nelson Mandela service), President Zuma and the ANC were recently re-elected.

This quote from President Zuma is chilling (and untrue): “compassion for animals is “unAfrican””.

Christian's paw by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian’s paw by Ace Bourke 1972

CACH is also very concerned for lions in the wild – and Chris Mercer from CACH has confirmed for me that there may be only approximately 20,000 lions left in the wild in Africa.  Owners of lion farms kill adult wild lions to capture the cubs to prevent in-breeding and replace depressed animals in their lion farms.

There were 2 petitions in circulation (Care2 and Change. Org) to have lions listed as Endangered in the USA, so let’s hope the USA Government acts.  This would act as a disincentive to would-be American hunters.  Apparently many of you signed the petitions and there was an observable lift in numbers – so many thanks!

CACH is by-passing World Lion Day in August and putting considerable energy and global organisation into World Animal Day on Oct 4th.  CACH will soon be listing ethical travel agents on their website. People around the world are contacting travel agents and explaining how cub petting and walking with lions is often synonymous with canned hunting.  I too will be contacting travel agencies about this and explaining how tourists would love to be contributing to the greater good for wildlife – and not, often unwittingly, being part of the problem.  I think it is important to be able to recommend reputable wildlife sanctuaries as an alternative.

VOLUNTEERS: Quite a few people ask me where they could volunteer to help and work with animals. I usually recommend inquiring about helping animals locally – at animal shelters, and to Google animal organisations.  Perhaps ask your local vets. I have tried to list many reputable animal organisations on this blog over the years.

Alison Lee Rubie who I met at the Sydney Global March For Lions has forwarded me a link from Facebook for Volunteers in Africa Beware listing reputable wildlife sanctuaries. If you don’t have Facebook, you can access the list here. Well-intentioned volunteers have also been unwittingly used by the lion farmers.

Tiger and cub

Tiger and cub

CHEETAHS: See this cute cheetah video.  I have a friend Barry who is obsessed with cheetahs, so this is for him especially.

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: Read here and visit here for recent updates. The Animal Legal Defense Fund urgently asked Louisiana residents to contact House Members to vote against the “exemption” bill.

The vote earlier last week was adjourned and is now scheduled for next week May 28th.  Louisiana residents are URGENTLY asked to contact your House Members!

One has to wonder just what sort of influence  Tony the Tiger’s cruel “owner” has?

FAROE ISLANDS:  The Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within Denmark.  These photographs are sickening. Copy and paste the photos and petition into an email and forward to others to show your support against this absolutely appalling annual slaughter of whales, dolphins and porpoises.  It happened in August last year so it will probably happen again at this time. We don’t care if it is a local tradition going back centuries, and what sort of bloody “right of passage” is it for young men?

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

BIRDS: I have to admit I’m getting more and more interested in birds and I know many of you are. We grew up with a Neville Henry Cayley painting, and last year Penny Olsen published Cayley and Son: The Life and Art of Neville Henry Cayley and Neville William Cayley.  This book looks at the lives and work of this father and son and demonstrates the generational changes in attitudes to natural history, conservation, national ornithology, bird art, Australian publishing and commercial art.

Gang-gang cockatoo by Neville William Cayley (1886-1950). Courtesy National Library of Australia

Gang-gang cockatoo by Neville William Cayley (1886-1950). Courtesy National Library of Australia

Neville William Cayley wrote and illustrated the hugely successful 1931 book What Bird Is That?  Unfortunately, and unfairly, both father and son died impecunious.  I am advised by my friend Madeleine that the best Australian bird apps are Michael Morcombe’s Australian Birds which is easy to use, has all the calls, distributions, list making and the text and illustrations from his book.  Pizzey and Knight is a more expensive app but has more options. I love the way that bird sightings and locations are now immediately registered, making estimates of populations etc. much more accurate.

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Penny Olsen has also written the recently published An Eye for Nature: The Life and Art of William. T. Cooper. I heard an interview with Penny and William and apparently David Attenborough has described him as the “best ornithological illustrator alive”.  He grew up near Newcastle, NSW where I too enjoyed growing up surrounded by the bush.  His paintings are excellent, and while his background landscapes are atmospheric, they can be for me, a little florid.  His work certainly puts the birds (and other animals) in context with their habitats and food sources etc.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

EXTINCTION: There is an ongoing debate here – and no doubt in many other parts of the world, about the extinction of so many species.  Some argue about saving “key” species – The Eastern Barred Bandicoot and koalas may be “out” for example, but bees are “in” because of their essential pollination.  Incidentally, 30% of our bees have been wiped out by drought and bushfires, although Australia is still mite-free at this stage.

Our beautiful Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, has been described as a biodiversity “basket case”.  We have lost 90% of our small native animals and about 100 marsupial species are at risk. Various introduced species or “pests” are usually blamed, including cane toads who are continuing their march across northern Australia, and the usual suspect, feral cats.

FERAL CONTROL:  People are now beginning to question the cruelty with which these “feral” “pests” – cats, foxes, rabbits, pigs, dogs etc are controlled or eradicated.  They are often poisoned and die agonising deaths. Dr. Clive A. Marks has written an important article: How much suffering is OK when it comes to pest control  He questions why cruelty to  “feral” animals remains largely sidelined in the clash between conservation and animal welfare over “control” of these animals.

I especially object to the vilification of cats who are always photographed in this context snarling – who would not snarl under the circumstances?  It is hardly their fault if they were introduced to deal with the plague proportions of rats…….

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat

CATS: Meanwhile, some other cats are laughing all the way to the bank!  Maru has had 175 million monetised views and Grumpy Cat will soon be starring in his own feature film and has his own agent.  William Braden’s marvellous French cinema spoof Henri le chat noir has been viewed more than 15 million times and earned more than $US25,000.

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Deb sent me the most wonderful collection of vintage photographs of celebrities and I have reproduced three here. They are mostly not studio or posed photographs, or paparazzi – just celebrities with each other, and often an interesting cross-generational mix of some of the most dazzling or interesting stars.

MEDIA: I have the Sydney Morning Herald delivered each morning, but it is so slim these days and there has recently been even more sackings of at least 30 photographers.  I have to confess that I now buy Murdoch’s The Daily Telegraph and The Australian on my afternoon walk.  Despite their brazenly partisan conservative views, they are undoubtedly meatier.  The Daily Telegraph is a trashier tabloid which can be fun – and is also more likely to have photographs of animals and wildlife exhibitions etc that I can use on my blog.  The Australian remains obsessed with the opposition ALP and long past sins – a pity they did not subject our PM Abbott and his mere 3 slogans to any scrutiny while in opposition.

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

It is fascinating watching the Murdoch journalists now beginning to turn on this unpopular government and actually doing their job examining the policies and broken promises.  It is getting harder to defend the indefensible.

The Letters to the Editor in both Murdoch papers are often shockingly cold hearted and completely lacking in any compassion for…humanity.

I did love the account of the Murdoch divorce in the March Vanity Fair – his mother (yes, she died at 103 and was rather marvellous) warned him about the Wendi Dengs of the world. What an incorrigible opportunist Tony Blair appears to be.

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

ENERGY:  Australian households are being conned over electricity. Not the carbon tax!  It is the power of the fossil fuel industry and “gold plating” (where unnecessary poles and wires are built) that is affecting our electricity costs. Peak demand is actually falling. Many people face “energy poverty” – with 10% of their disposable income spent on energy.  Winter is coming with additional heating costs, but we have actually been having the most lovely warm and sunny weather.
Storage of solar energy in batteries is hopefully going to be developed soon which will de-link people off the grid.
Our Treasurer recently attacked wind farms and he particularly referred to the wind turbines at Lake George (on the way to Canberra) which I have also criticised as a blight on a rather beautiful landscape.  I confess I think wind farms should be located where they don’t ruin a great view….

There has just been a victory for a local community in the Northern Rivers of NSW with the suspension of gas drilling at a well. The company, Metgasco, apparently “misled” the public and “did not consult” with the community. Social media helped build and galvanise an effective if unlikely alliance of landowners, locals, and environmentalists.

The current low price for iron ore and coal (especially low grade coal), will hopefully make it not viable to develop some new mines, and they will become “stranded assets”.  Deutsche Bank have just announced that they will not be funding the expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point,Queensland, ostensibly over the dangers to the Great Barrier Reef from the dredge spoils.

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

CLIMATE CHANGE: I find it fascinating that the climate change deniers have been squealing that they are treated “unfairly” by the media.  They have been amazingly successful in the debate although virtually unable to produce any credible evidence to back up their arguments.  This is what happened with the tobacco industry and their lobbyists (some of the very same people) which caused many many unnecessary deaths by warding off any action against smoking for decades.

We can’t expect the 97% of scientists that agree that global warming is happening to “sell” the proposition – that should be the job of our political and community leaders.

So it is up to us more than ever to keep emphasising the urgency – and as Annie commented on a recent blog – we live in a very polluted planet regardless…and it is a health issue.  In parts of China it is dangerous to breathe the air on certain days and in many other cities around the world.  Even in Sydney more people are dying from pollution- related illnesses.

In Australia, rather than earning $4 billion in needed revenue from polluters with the Carbon Tax, the government wants to abolish it – and reward the polluters with tax payers’ money. Does this make any sense?

My friend Christine recently heard Clive Hamilton discuss his book Earth Masters  which is about climate change.  I do want to alarm you – he said it is already too late for action!

President Obama is at last speaking up for urgent action. The Republicans are of course  not supportive  as it is a “threat to the economy”.  I thought we lived in a society WITH an economy?  Obama has been briefing weather presenters, hoping people will believe them more than politicians or scientists.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears usually have 2 cubs.  So it was very exciting when people in northern New Hampshire spotted a bear with 5 cubs. A photographer, I presume to be Tom Sears, waited patiently for over six weeks until he managed to photograph them.  He could not believe it the following year when the family emerged after hibernation and he could take such a rare family portrait again.

LION DOCUMENTARIES: Recently the documentary Martin Clunes & A Lion Called Mugie was shown on UK television.  Mugie was the first lion returned to Kora in Kenya after George Adamson’s death in 1989.  As The Guardian commented, Martin Clunes is certainly no David Attenborough and seems to have no natural affinity with animals. It ends very badly – with Mugie tragically killed by hyenas.  It was great however to see some of the footage of Kora, especially some images of Christian. I was reminded just how dangerous Christian’s return to the wild in 1970 was, and I did wonder if George Adamson would have taken a different approach to Mugie’s rehabilitation.  I did think it was discourteous (putting it mildly) that footage of us with Christian in London and the famous reunion in Kenya with him in 1971 was included in the documentary, but we were not even identified!

Also recently shown on Australian television was ELSA, The Lioness That Changed the World made in 2011.  I loved all the old footage used, especially of Elsa.  She did illustrate for the world that, like Christian, an emotional connection was possible with humans, and that every animal is unique. The book Born Free was translated into 25 languages. Again I thought there was a certain amount of rewriting of history or a shift of emphasis.

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from www.fatheroflions.com

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from http://www.fatheroflions.com

Elsa’s documentary seemed to me to imply that George Adamson’s camp at Kora in Kenya was established to rehabilitate Boy, one of the lions used in the filming of Born Free, and who was recovering from injury.  Christian seemed to just turn up from London!  In fact Kora was allotted to George Adamson by the Kenyan Government primarily for Christian’s rehabilitation, and paid for through the success of the two documentaries which starred Christian.  This was thanks to Bill Travers,Virginia McKenna and Morningstar Productions who made the two documentaries.  Despite the huge success of Born Free Joy Adamson did not give George any money towards his projects.  Boy was the adult male lion conveniently available for George Adamson to build a pride around Christian. George in fact described Kora as a monument to Christian – not Boy.

For the record, Christian’s initial introduction to the wild at Kora in 1970 was entirely overseen by George Adamson. Christian was very young and inexperienced.  He had to survive his introduction to Boy who finally accepted him, and negotiate the wild lions in the area. We first met Tony Fitzjohn, now Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, on our final visit to see Christian in 1972, and Tony was of invaluable assistance to George and his lions.

Jumbo at London Zoo, circa 1890. Photograph: Getty Images

Jumbo at London Zoo. Photograph: Getty Images

ELEPHANTS:  Mark Shand, a well known supporter of elephant causes especially through Elephant Family, sadly died recently after an accident.

There is a recent book by John Sutherland called JUMBO The Unauthorised Biography of A Victorian Sensation. Jumbo’s mother was killed in the Sudan and he was taken as a young calf to Europe, ending up as the star attraction in the London Zoo in the 1860s where he and his keeper Matthew Scott became alcoholics!  Jumbo’s story is both disturbing and fascinating.  He was bought by P.T. Barnum for $10,000 to be part of The Greatest Show On Earth in the USA. Jumbo seemed happier in the US as there were 31 other elephants in Barnum’s travelling menagerie. Jumbo was tragically killed in 1885.  He was the template for Walt Disney’s Dumbo, and I still have my Dumbo ornament!

Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd. Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd. Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

DANIEL BOYD:  Congratulations to Daniel Boyd for winning the 2014 prestigious Bulgari Art Award. This painting references a found photograph of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu.  Daniel’s great great grandfather was captured and brought to Australia as a slave to work in the cane fields, like many others.  It is a largely untold and unacknowledged history.  It is a quite mesmerisingly beautiful painting and technically brilliant.

In 2008 I staged an exhibition Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770 which examined the arrival of Captain Cook in Australia in 1770 and then the First Fleet in 1788, through colonial material and primarily contemporary indigenous artists.  Daniel is one of the most talented and interesting commentators on the Eurocentric perspectives of Australian history and his installation and paintings were a major contribution to my exhibition.

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

AUSTRALIA: We have finally had our budget delivered from the new government and they have shown their true colours. They have broken many election promises and hit the most needy the hardest while insulating the wealthiest. The budget was foreshadowed in the Commission of Audit and do read Ross Gittins response to that here. The dystopian view of these extreme economic rationalists is of a “harsher, less caring world, where daily life was more cut throat, where the gap between rich and poor widened more rapidly and where the proportion of households falling below the poverty line increased each year”.

As Gittins, the son of Salvation Army officers also says “The report fits with the wry observation “The rich need more money as an incentive and the poor need less money as an incentive”.

The book Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty is getting worldwide attention – although I’m hardly surprised post the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It illustrates that “progressive inequality is inherent in modern capitalism” with the remedy a return to steep progressive taxation and taxes on capital through inheritance taxes etc.

The Australian Government is arguing that it inherited a budget “debt and deficit” “crisis” or “emergency”.  Most agree this is largely confected, although there are undoubtedly middle to long term budgetry problems and sustainability to be addressed.

However FOR THE RECORD, with the ALP (the previous government), Australia survived the GFC better than virtually every other country and did not go into recession. This incoming government inherited an economy with a triple AAA credit rating, record low interest rates and inflation, the third lowest debt in the world, and low unemployment.

The previous government did think big and spend on a National Broadband Network, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and attempted to reform the scandalously inequitable education funding.  I agree that much of this was not properly costed.

The downturn in the resources boom is a major factor in our present budget situation and the “middle class welfare” the previous conservative Howard Government used to buy votes, spending with “epic profligacy”.  Unfortunately this was matched by the incoming ALP Rudd Government.

See more of my Australia rave and some back up statistics here.

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

A disturbing article in The Monthly The Abbott Club May 2014 details how Tony Abbott has surrounded himself with rich, older businessman.  He depends on them for advice, and several are tasked with conducting key reviews. These people have no idea about the lives of ordinary citizens and represent only the business big end of town. Several of them are avowed climate change deniers – Dick Warburton for example has been given the job of reviewing the Renewable Energy Target!

So the budget was predictably mean, unfair, narrow and littered with broken promises. See Ross Gittins for his very fair summary of the budget which gives credit – and criticism where due… “the truth is most of us have been left unscathed…only those right at the bottom of the ladder have been hit hard”. Low-income families on benefits will lose as much as 10% of their incomes, an Australian earning three times the average wage will lose 0.9%, while a childless couple on $360,000 will lose nothing!

See this follow up article by Ross Gittins on the budget which seems to be getting even more criticism as the details are closely examined.  In addition the Prime Minister and Treasurer are selling it to a cynical public very badly.

I am particularly worried about what will happen to some young people who are already facing high unemployment levels and will have NO benefits whatsoever – a recipe for homelessness and a crime wave. The States were swindled unexpectedly and without warning  and have to find $80 billion to fund Health and Education. The government intends building more roads rather than public transport, and supports the fossil fuel industry, particularly the coal-fuelled power sector, at the expense of renewable energy.

Unforgivably, climate change action has effectively been halted with big cuts to research and renewable energy which will make further investment difficult, and will set us back decades.

The Prime Minister, never popular in the polls, is even more unpopular, and it is one of the worst received budgets ever.  Students, who have been docile for decades are protesting nearly daily at changes that will make tertiary education at least twice as expensive, and similar to the inequitable “”two tier” system in the USA.

My sister and I – with up to 10,000 others, attended the March in May in Sydney which was full of mostly young, bright, angry people who despise this government, but also don’t trust the ALP or the mainstream media.  The Daily Telegraph described us as “ferals” and “delinquents”!

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

MAIL: Thanks to Deb, Maura, Sylvia, Melissa, Madeleine, Lindy and others for sending images and information.  I love the emails that keep coming thankyou…about Christian, about your animals (especially cats), families and lives etc. Hi to Tiger aged 7 making her own Christian-based iMovie.  Yui in Japan thought he didn’t like animals until he read Christian’s story and now wants a pet.  Also from Japan, Rei tells me he is very against whaling – and the Japanese have resumed whaling already.

I haven’t forgotten about the world at large: both sides now seem as bad each other in Syria; the worrying future of Ukraine; missing school girls in Nigeria; the loss of many miners in Turkey; catastophic floods in the Balkans with a huge displacement of people, the risk of disease, and all the unexploded landmines from the 1990s; a coup in Thailand – the 22nd since 1932; dissidents disappearing in China with the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square coming up; and the corrupt Congress Party thrown out decisively in India.

Crown, Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI, second quarter of the 1st century CE, gold imitation turquoise, 45 × 13 cm, National Museum of Afghanistan. Photo: Thierry Ollivier

Crown, Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI, second quarter of the 1st century CE, gold imitation turquoise, 45 × 13 cm, National Museum of Afghanistan. Photo: Thierry Ollivier

ART GALLERY OF NSW: The exhibition Afghanistan Hidden Treasures from the National Museum in Kabul is currently in Sydney at the AGNSW until 15th June. It is full of absolutely exquisite items and a reminder of another side of Afghanistan and their rich cultural history that we have perhaps forgotten or overlooked in the last few years.

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 Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

This is another still from my footage of our 1972 visit to Christian in Kenya, which was the last time we saw him.  Some of you have inquired about my short, unedited home movie.  In The Final Farewell on YouTube you can see equivalent (and more professional) footage from the same visit, while mine is just a little more close up and loving.

This, surprisingly, was the last time I was in Africa and I’d love to go back soon.  I later discovered India and visited many times, including staging exhibitions and cultural exchanges in India on behalf of the Australian Government.

LIONS: You can sign the AVAAZ petition here to ask President Zuma in South Africa to protect lions by banning the trade in lion bones.  There is of course no evidence these these “potions” have any efficacy.  This trade, like ivory, especially to Asia, just has to be stopped and urgently.  Depressingly, a subspecies of black rhinos, the Western Black rhino has recently been declared “officially extinct”.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

NSW FIRES:  Thanks to many of you who were concerned about the bushfires around Sydney. They are terrifying and to date, it is unbelievable that no-one has died. The fire fighters – many of them volunteers, are heroic. Some fires are still burning and new ones have broken out, but seem “contained” for now.  I have a National Park at the top of my garden, and many many people will be on alert all of this summer.  Apparently people are better prepared about evacuating their pets than they are about themselves.  Horses are a logistical nightmare to evacuate quickly, and they can smell the fires well ahead of humans. Organisations like WIRES do an amazing job of treating and caring for injured wild animals.

Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Negotiator, stated that extreme weather and the frequency and intensity of bush fires are a result of human induced global warming, and our PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”.  The most common causes of fires are fallen power lines, and arsonists.  New suburbs have always been spreading into bushland, but hopefully tighter regulations and more fire resistant houses will offer more protection in the future.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Apparently the extreme weather is, once again, making Australians more concerned about climate change, and the government will appear more and more out of step – with the world.  Our thoughts and sympathies for the many people in the Philippines and region who have died or lost everything because of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst typhoons on record.  The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, with at least up to 9 million people effected.

With Rupert Murdoch owning 65% of our media, and the media exposure of climate deniers like the ubiquitous Andrew Bolt, it is hard to move the discourse beyond “is climate change real?”, to “what do we do about it?”. There is a very good article News Goes Feral by Robert Manne on Rupert Murdoch and his insidious influence in The Monthly.  An analysis of articles and reports about climate change in the Murdoch media indicates very clearly scandalously unbalanced reporting.   Ex PM John Howard has been in England addressing a group of climate sceptics. Howard obviously lied to us when he pretended to support action on climate change, when he was trying to win the election in 2007.  Now, rather than believe scientists,  and after reading only one widely discredited book (by Nigella Lawson’s father!), he says he would prefer to rely on his instinct, which told him predictions of doom were exaggerated!

The first budget cuts by the government were bodies concerned with climate change and science, no specific Minister of Science was appointed, and 1/4 of the scientists at the pre-eminent CSIRO science and research institution have been among the first of many expected job losses.

Although in danger of being “wedged” by the government over climate change, and held responsible for high electricity charges, the Labor Party has affirmed support for a carbon trading emissions scheme. The government never seems to be able to produce a reputable scientist or economist to endorse their alternative Direct Action plan where we tax payers pay the polluters to pollute, and presumably, to encourage them to stop.  This scheme will now hopefully be examined for its likely effectiveness – or as widely suspected, will be found to be completely inadequate, which is probably the original intention.

Our current bi-partisan target of a 5% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 is widely regarded as inadequate, which should apparently be around 15 -25%.  Although we are a small economy and population, we are the 3rd highest polluter per capita in the world, and we dig up and export so much coal.

I think Australia is now embarrassingly on the wrong side of history over climate change, and the government is not even bothering to send a Minister to the international climate change negotiations in Warsaw.  Our Minister of the Environment, who seems to consult Wikepedia for advice rather than scientists, cannot attend as he is so busy “repealing the carbon tax”!!!!  It is very Monty Pythonesque and would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

GET UP!  The SYDNEY DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION  is on Sunday 17th November in Prince Albert Park, Sydney at 11am – see full details here.  This protest is Australia wide, and I hope many people attend to demonstrate our concern and dissatisfaction with a government that does not listen to the conclusions based on research and examination of empirical data, by impartial scientists.

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

POLITICS (AUS):  Our PM recently invited several leading Murdoch journalists to dinner – reputedly as a “thank you” for their efforts helping him get elected, and Abbott recently dined with Alan Jones – one of the worst shock jocks. Apparently Murdoch also wants his “pound of flesh”, and would like the government to make it easier for him to acquire Channel Ten.

Even Coalition supporters are surprised by the new government’s secrecy, lack of transparency, and disregard for accountability.  Abbott, who has only spoken in slogans for the last three years, seems to be having difficulty stringing whole sentences together.  While hungry for publicity in Opposition on a daily basis, the government is refusing to give information on nearly anything!  In comparison, the now Opposition have three very formidable, reasonable and professional spokespeople in Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.

For a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott and why many people are very worried about him, see Victoria Rollison’s  Open Letter to Laurie Oakes.   Oakes is one of several journalists complicit in the Labor Party election loss, and Coalition win.

The media is getting restless and angry with the government for starving them of material, and with parliament resuming this week, it will not be so easy to hide.  Wealthy Clive Palmer finally won his seat in Parliament, and through a few senators in his newly formed party will have a balance of power. He is a rogue conservative who makes outlandish accusations, and should prove to be a headache for the government.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

After the hottest summer, winter and decade on record, this year many plants have flowered at least four weeks early. Complex and fragile natural cycles are consequently getting interrupted.  I love the grevilleas especially, and at this time of the year all over Sydney one can see colourful patches of the mauve/violet Jacaranda trees.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

GREAT BARRIER REEF: There will be an early test for the government in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO has listed as already “in danger”.  The Federal and State conservative governments seem to regard environmental regulations and protections as just an obstacle to business.  Decisions are expected from these governments in relation to 5 new or expanded coal ports along the Queensland coast. The subsequent dredging (and dumping) will put the Reef at even greater risk. The nearby Galilee Basin holds so much coal that if it is mined, it alone could push global temperatures up past 2 degrees.  This is also true of the Tar Sands in Canada where the transportation to the Alaskan coast (en route to China) also puts this area in great danger.

There are many factors threatening the health and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, including the destructive crown of thorns star fish, and it is inconceivable that we let it be destroyed. A recent book The Reef by Iain McCalman, is a “passionate history” which includes the dangers the reef posed to early navigators such as Captain Cook, the formation of the coral, and the future the reef faces.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

USA: It was almost a relief to know that Obama was spying on world leaders like Angela Merkel, and not just us ordinary citizens. Hacking into Google and Yaho0! has angered many people. There seems to be no end to Edward Snowden’s fascinating revelations. Australia is part of a US-led global espionage network, and we are spying on our neighbours. While this should not surprise anyone, countries in the region have expressed appropriate indignation.  The Abbott Government’s relationship with Indonesia is particularly uneasy at the moment, and their initial attempts at diplomacy described as “inept”.

Congratulations to the extraordinary Serena Williams who had a 78-4 win-loss record in 2013, won 11 titles, and earned $US12,385,572. Unfortunately up to 50% of Americans are not so lucky and are living with “financial insecurity”. One in five children live in poverty. In Australia we are staggered by America’s low minimum wages.  The esteemed Joseph E Stiglitz has said America is a “rich country with poor people”  He wrote an excellent article in the New York Times earlier in the year titled Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery.

The $20 billion cost of the Tea Party-led shut down of the US Government was an inexcusable waste of money, and trashed their own reputation.  Perhaps the Republicans should have put the media spotlight on the many inexcusable teething problems over the introduction of Obamacare, rather than themselves.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

WEALTH: 35% of Russian wealth is in the hands of 110 billionaires, which is the highest level of inequality in the world.  Putin was recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful man – through the power of the office he holds I gather and the largesse he can distribute.  Some are predicting however that Russia’s economy is faltering and this will change everything.

The median wealth of adult Australians is the world’s highest at $233,504 (US$219,500), although the Swiss beat us when measured by average wealth.  In Australia the richest 10% have gained almost 50% of the growth in income over the past three decades. In America the richest 1% gained almost half the growth in individual income over the same period.

The New York Times recently had an article with the headline: Rich People Just Care Less.  Apparently research has found the wealthy to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous, and less compassionate.  It is an interesting and thought-provoking article, especially about what this social and economic inequality means for the future.  Americans however, do have a great tradition of philanthropy, which is, sadly, not very evident in Australia.

Magpie

Magpie

MIDDLE EAST:  Poor Secretary of State John Kerry zig zagging around the Middle East with such volatile issues to negotiate: Syrian chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear future, Mursi’s trial in Egypt and much else no doubt. Israel’s decision to build 1500 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem is extremely unhelpful to the “peace” negotiations with the Palestinians.  I/3 of Syrians have left their country and we won’t forget those images of Syrians finally escaping from their neighbourhoods where they had been imprisoned.  Some had resorted to eating cats, dogs and grass.  Australian soldiers are finally leaving Afghanistan which has cost us $7.5 billion, the deaths of 40 Australians and many injured, and an unknown number of civilian deaths.

Fairy Wren

Fairy Wren

BIRDS: In a recent poll the Fairy Wren was voted Australia’s favourite bird.  Magpies and Kookaburras (see images above) were the runners up.  I particularly like Kookaburras – they have lots of attitude.

MISC STATS:  In Australia: 65% of Queenslanders are overweight or obese; many of our trainee apprentices are illiterate and enumerate – as are a truly alarming % of Tasmanians; 25% of jockeys, and 40% of apprentice riders are now women; 30% of women in their 20s have tattoos.

SHADOWS:  We are all appalled by the level of corruption by some Labor politicians in NSW over the last decades which has been exposed at recent inquires, and  should result in criminal prosecutions. Also extremely depressing are inquires here into child abuse in institutions, with the Roman Catholic clergy the principal, but not the only, offenders. The reputation of the church is being fiercely protected ahead of concerns for victims. There are estimates that 50% of Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) enjoy active consensual sex.  So much for celibacy.  In Ireland ¼ of Irish women have been abused as children, and 1/3 of men.

from FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

From FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

This image from the exhibition FERAL by Sylvia Ross (co-exhibiting with Emanuel Raft) shows the beauty of a pigeon, widely considered a pest in Australia.  Sylvia Ross is an artist, long time Head of the School of Art (COFA UNSW), social activist and dedicated animal lover.

Sylvia sent me these dog photographs which are amusing.

dogs1 dogs2 dogs3 dogs4 dogs5 dogs6 dogs7 dogs8 dogs9 dogs10 dogs11 dogs12

MAIL: I have been asked lately where to buy the A Lion Called Christian DVD and the best source is via Amazon or Blink Films, and via Amazon for the book. I am encouraging  anyone to write and post their animal stories, or their feeling about Christian, on www.alioncalledchristian.com.au.  It is my fault that it is not as up to date as it should be and I’m checking back for stories I have overlooked.  It will be a marvellous archive of your touching and interesting animal stories.

READING: Ashamed by my confession of my lack of reading last blog, I threw myself into the biggest book I could find – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Often named by people as their favourite book, it was extremely readable, and it provided a very thorough context for what was to happen in Russia in the early 20th century. Anna was a fascinating character beautifully created by Tolstoy, although I could not quite conjure a mental picture of how she looked or her age.  I became a little exhausted by the spell of her beauty and her melodramatic life, and I was always quite relieved to read about the duller Levin in the country, thinking about seemingly lost love, farming, labour, the landscape and the seasons. He thought he had “lived well but thought badly”.

WATCHING:  The series REDFERN NOW  is the best contemporary Australian television I have seen for ages, and I loved watching again David Bowie – Five Years In the Making of an Icon .

QUOTE: Winston Churchill apparently said “A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down at you, but a pig looks at you as an equal”.

Horse's skull with pink rose by Georgia O'Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

Horse’s skull with pink rose by Georgia O’Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation.  I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised.  America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially.  I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.

Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia  which has just been aired.  It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.

VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists:  Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart.  They were much admired and dearly loved.

BOURKE:  I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis.  Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback.  There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here.  I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces.  Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it.  It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!

MICHAEL LEUNIG:  I’m hardly going to comment on the state of the world this time (probably a relief for us all) as I think Michael Leunig, one of Australia’s most brilliant cartoonists, says it all.  I encourage you to check out his website as his body of work over many years has been extraordinary – funny, sad, insightful, poignant etc etc. Click here

BLOG: I’ve been blogging now for over a year.  I love it as a medium, although I have to confess, as I spend so much time on the computer anyway, I don’t surf at all, or read as many other blogs as I would like to.  I don’t know how so many billions of people have time for social media like Facebook, but I love the new community, information flow and communication it has built.  It is a great tool for political activism as we have seen recently in the Middle East.

I very much appreciate many of you drawing my attention to relevant and related information.  I do respond more than I appear to although I view this as working together for causes we believe in, rather than developing personal relationships.  Although my much younger agent would like me to comment on a more regular basis…I don’t really want to interrupt or bore you with my day-by-day thoughts or reactions.  After writing what seemed like a very long “exegesis” for my Master of Arts in 2008, I like the amount of words required in the blog on each idea– not too few and not too many, and it ends up a near monthly essay/diary on what has transpired…or how I have been feeling…or what has caught my attention.  Like a lot of people, I have strong opinions on the affairs of the world, and I can recommend a blog as a way of feeling less impotent – feeling that you are actually doing something, articulating a response rather than just complaining and worrying.  While I feel I have a “voice” through a blog – however small, I’m certainly not part of the “new journalism”, but it is interesting what you can learn and read between the lines in some newspapers and magazines if you read widely and attempt to get to the real story.

I especially enjoy looking for striking photographs to post – talking politics and climate change, for example, can be a little dry!

This rare red panda cub was born in December 2010 at Taronga Zoo, Sydney. Photograph by Peter Hardin

Over the last two years we have travelled to many places around the world and given many interviews about Christian, and of course it was a great pleasure to share our experiences with him, and to be given the opportunity to talk about the urgency of animal and wildlife conservation.  Christian’s story has elicited such a positive, loving, life-affirming response from most people, and it has been an antidote to some of the stress inflicted by the Global Financial Crisis, the natural catastrophes, and the unrest throughout the world.  However, we did have Christian over 40 years ago, and I have subsequently had a career and a life which I’ve actually loved, and I have not been asked once what I have done in the intervening years!  (My agent just says “get over it”!).

So the blog has been an opportunity to discuss where appropriate other things that I find important – which includes anything to do with Aboriginal people and their dispossession and subsequent disadvantage, art (especially Aboriginal art), politics, the world – past, present and future.

Harley

Monika Laryett-Olson’s website is an example of what has given me particular pleasure with the blog – people sending me their own animal stories. I’ve loved many of them, and a few have been riveting – like this one – very well written, with superb photographs, and a story like Harley the dog’s sixth sense that can make me cry.  I feel these stories are building into a valuable archive that with permission I may publish sometime.  Animals enrich our lives so much – and they seem to give comfort, companionship, love and understanding, and absorb some of the stress we all feel.  So Leo the cat… or Pluto the dog, and all the others, I’ve loved and kept your photographs – thank-you!

Tony

TONY THE TIGER:   I think of him every day like many other people and I am determined to help in any way to have him removed from his cage to a better life.  I contacted Virginia McKenna to ask her advice, and she responded that the Born Free Foundation (US) is very aware of him, and the legal complexities surrounding him.  The Animal Legal Defence Fund in America has just filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  For more information and to sign their petition click here, and circulate!  Also a recent email from the tireless Dee De Santis listed another petition to sign through change.org .  So let’s really support this and encourage others to participate.  So many other animals are also condemned unnecessarily to a pointless life for other people’s satisfaction or greed and for me Tony seems to be a symbol of this.

INDIA:  There are apparently only 3000 tigers left in the wild, and according to a recent census, approximately half are in India.  In the 1970s the Indian tiger population dropped to nearly 1000.  A major effort to establish reserves and increase protection has resulted in numbers stabilising and slightly increasing.  But as M.K. Ranjitsinh Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India and well known tiger campaigner said recently, “The human population continues to grow and that means reduction of prey, threats to the isolation of the tiger habitat and increasing danger of direct human-tiger conflict.  We may have won a battle but you have to win the war”.

A recent Travel article listed several interesting sounding innovative eco-tours and wildlife lodges in Madhya Pradesh focused around tiger conservation.  They can promise a rewarding experience, if not always spotting a tiger.  I only saw a tiger footprint in Assam last year, but I actually think that is quite healthy – I’d rather they remained safe and out of sight.

BAN:  Wasn’t it emotional seeing Ban the dog rescued from the house of a roof floating out to sea three weeks after the Japanese tsunami, and being reunited with his owner?  The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is asking for donations for the thousands of animals in Japan that need our help, donate.wspa.org.au/japan.

I’ve wanted the blog to work as a notice board for any related issues people want to draw our attention to, and I love the speed and effectiveness of concerted action through internet activism.  I’ve tried to mention as many organisations and individuals as possible whose work I admire or are worthy of support, and it has been a huge learning curve over the last few years for me once again to be actively involved and understand where the conservation debates have (or have not) advanced to.  The conservation movement was extremely influential in the 1970’s, starting with the Adamsons and the popularity of Born Free, and Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, and the work of the World Wildlife Fund remain giants in the field today.

CARBON TAX RALLY:  There is a controversy in Australia over a proposed tax on carbon.  Shock jocks have organised several rallies against it, with some people holding offensive placards about our Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  I attended with many other people a rally in support of the tax at the same time which was organised by the effective internet activists GetUp!  I do think I’ve been more strident and politicised lately, but I think there is an unattractive polarisation happening in the community.  I feel we are confronted by issues that require urgent action and we can’t be too patient or passive.  A few of you have criticised me, and that is fair enough.  Someone thought me mentioning Bush and the neo-cons was living in the past, but we are still living with their legacy.  Someone else asked why I backed “one side” over the other, but realistically I don’t think politics is like a fruit salad where you pick a bit of this and a bit of that.

Usually most people hold a consistent philosophical view.  A Sydney Morning Herald editorial on the environment recently succinctly summed up this difference: the “left” is “admiring of a pristine wilderness in which only man is vile” and the conservatives “see a world to be exploited and enjoyed”.  The editorial mentioned the Shooters and Fishers Party, a small motley collection of people who by an anomaly in our electoral system have ended up with the balance of power (with the Christian Right) in our Upper House of Review after the last State election, and love shooting elephants in Zimbabwe for fun and “conservation”!  They want to shoot in the National Parks which of course I oppose.

In general, I feel that in the current popularist climate I am part of a resented minority for caring for people less fortunate or different to oneself, or for caring for wildlife and the environment ahead of money, consumerism and unsustainable development.  The rally for the carbon tax was pleasantly reassuring that so many others felt just the same.  Unfortunately our political parties seem to be in a “race to the bottom”, encouraging mean-spiritedness and short-sightedness, demonising difference, and instilling fear.

Bara Singha (deer with 12 antlers) by Jangarh Singh Shyam

EXHIBITION: I am currently staging an exhibition of a selection of Indian tribal and village art at The Cross Art Projects in Sydney. I have collected many of the works since I first went to India in the 1980s. These include tribal works by the Warlis, and Madhubani and Khovar art from Bihar. Highlights are paintings and prints by Jangarh Singh Shyam who I first met in the late 1980s, and who also participated in a cultural artist’s exchange I organised with Aboriginal artists at the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi in 1999.  He tragically died in Japan in 2001.

EXHIBITION:  Photography & Place Australian Landscape Photography 1970s Until Now, is a thoughtful and often beautiful exhibition curated by Judy Annear, one of Australia’s leading curators.  It is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 29 May 2011.  It contains works by some of my favourite photographers including Michael Riley (1960-2004), Ricky Maynard, Jon Rhodes and Wesley Stacey, and examines different and changing ideas about landscape and place.

SHAME FILE:  Hillary Clinton for describing Bashar-al-Assad of Syria a “reformer”; Christopher Hitchens for trying to credit the invasion of Iraq (and his surprising support for it) with the popular uprisings in the Middle East; China for the arrest and current disappearance of Ai Weiwei, an internationally well known artist (although he did always surprise me in interviews with just how refreshingly frank about China he was); and the Director of the Berlin Zoo for wanting to proceed with the stuffing of the “just a polar bear” Knut.

CONGRATULATIONS:  The United Nations finally seeming more pro-active – in the Ivory Coast.

STATS: There is a 40% increase in the hole in the atmosphere above the Arctic; 50,000 coal fired power stations in the world are supplying 41% of the world’s electricity; China is building one new power station a month, although they are supposedly going to be more highly efficient and lower polluting.

CHRISTIAN VIDEO:  There is a new video clip post with more images of Christian taken from the original documentary, click here.