Ace Bourke with Christian, 1972

BIRTHDAY: It is now 50 years since Christian was born in a zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon in the UK on 12 August 1969!!!!
I appreciate so many of you still being interested in Christian’s story, and there seems to be renewed interest in him again at the moment.

I have never been able to accurately articulate or understand exactly why Christian’s story has had such an appeal…for so long. Oprah Winfrey asked me this when we appeared on her program, and I went on and on! There are quite a few factors. He was gorgeous, lovable, charismatic and photogenic. He loved us and demonstrated that a human-animal relationship like this was possible. He had a friendly and outgoing nature, unlike his sister who was with him in Harrods Department Store in London where we first saw him. He drove his own destiny – he charmed his way to the department store and charmed us, and then later Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna and George Adamson of Born Free fame. He was “rescued” from captivity and, miraculously, taken to Kenya where he was set free and lived a natural life, for a few years at the very least. He was “rehabilitated” by the wonderful George Adamson who created a pride around him. His story reminds us of a time when life was a little more natural and unregulated, and adventures like this were possible. Not that I am recommending anyone do it now! We were extremely fortunate.

His continuing popularity is also due to the fact that his life was so well documented: in two initial documentaries; a later one, plus featuring in various others; several books; and Derek Cattani’s photographs. The available footage led to our reunion with him in Africa becoming an internet phenomenon. Watch it again here.

We have actually had very little criticism for our actions, although with the unpleasant practice of Canned Hunting in Africa – the petting, handling and patting of cubs in particular is definitely not to be encouraged. Some say the ease of Christian’s rehabilitation supports the argument – from the hunting lobby – that the catastrophic decline in numbers can be reversed, by “rewilding”, the way Christian was in Africa. But there are several major factors responsible for the decline, especially over-population and diminishing habitats.

NEW BOOK ON CHRISTIAN: If I had had the opportunity, I would have added some of the above comments, and some analytical and reflective depth to the recent book Christian the Lion: The Illustrated Legacy by John Rendall and Christian’s photographer, Derek Cattani. There are some previously unpublished photographs of Christian which gave me the most pleasure.

Having received so many often fascinating and moving emails over the years, I think your own experiences with animals, your endeavours on their behalf, and feelings about Christian, are also part of Christian’s “legacy”. Many of them are recorded in my earlier blogs and on our website alioncalledchristian.com.au, although I must apologise for not keeping it as up to date as I should.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend, her husband Jeremy and hard-working vets and staff run 2 animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. She has been my mentor in the fields of animal welfare, animal rights and conservation. I have often blogged about her – and I am on the Committee of Working For Animals. The shelters primarily cater for dogs and cats, and the programs she has initiated with dogs have eliminated rabies from the communities, although this is ongoing.

Christine is revered for her work in India, and this year she received an Order of Australia Medal for “service to animal welfare”. She of course modestly commented “I’m glad animals have been acknowledged”.

INDIA: I have been invited to speak at many conferences relating to animal rights and welfare, but I especially like going to India. I have met the most wonderful people from all over the world, often academic leaders in their fields. Christian has inspired many of them – some when they were young, so I feel they are also part of Christian’s legacy.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, 2016. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: India provided a highlight I will never forget: seeing tigers close up in the wild at Ranthambore, Rajasthan in 2016. Creating sanctuaries in national parks, making it a crime to kill them, and prosecuting poachers, has seen an increase in tiger numbers from 2226 in 2014, to 2967 in 2018. 80% of the world’s tigers live in India. I felt a little guilty becoming so enamoured of tigers, but I had, however, visited Indian lions in Gir, Gujarat previously, and blogged about them at the time.

We celebrated International Tiger Day on 29 July 2019, and World Lion Day on 10 August 2019.

HARRODS DOCUMENTARY: A few months ago friends alerted me to the fact that Christian was in the advertisements for the documentary Inside Harrods: The World’s Most Famous Department Store. Our story was given considerable time and I had no idea Christian was such an important part of the Harrods history. It is an uncomfortable feeling when you don’t have any say over the use of your shared story or image. Again, however, it was enjoyable to see good footage of Christian, and after watching, I decided that 50 years on, it is probably not a good idea to appear up against footage of oneself when one was young!

Disney’s The Lion King movie

MOVIE: The recently released The Lion King movie (Disney) is proving very successful – mixed reviews not-with-standing, taking $US185 million on the opening weekend in the USA. I have only seen the advertisements and the lions look beautiful. Sony own the rights to Christian’s story but seem to have no intention of ever making a film. Looking at the success of The Lion King, a film about Christian and the many aspects and lessons illustrated in his story, could also have been, and should have been, a part of his legacy.

AUSTRALIA: David Attenborough recently spoke before a British Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change – and singled out Australia and the USA for a lack of action. He said the deterioration of our Great Barrier Reef was a “vivid” example. Our conservative government was unexpectedly re-elected with virtually only one policy, “tax cuts”. We are still arguing if climate change is real and we have no energy policy and consequently unnecessarily high electricity costs. The contested Adani coal mine may still go ahead, and the International Monetary Fund recently estimated that global fossil fuel subsidies have grown to around $US5.2 trillion a year. According to Nature magazine recently, global temperatures rose faster in the final decades of the C20th than at any other time in the past 2000 years. Earlier temperature variations were influenced by volcanic activity, and human-caused climate change was now “overwhelming” natural variability.

ANIMALS: A recent UN Report states that a million species are at risk of extinction. These are rates that are unprecedented in human history and are caused by human expansion and the exploitation of habitats. Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world, and seemingly inadequate recovery plans. We have among the world’s worst deforestation record, and even one of our most iconic animals, the koala, is at risk.

New government legislation is more interested in prosecuting animal activists, than protecting animals or our environment.

I have tried to discuss and blog about these issues for years and despair at the lack of leadership or action. This is why I don’t really want to blog and comment these days, and I strongly object to the fact that scientists and experts are ignored, and creative, imaginative, innovative and progressive ideas are disparaged. The extremely dangerous President of the USA has succeeded with his lies in making it very hard to discern fact from fiction (over 10,000 false or misleading claims while in office so far), while Boris Johnson also has a reputation for lying.

BOOKS: I loved Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, a novel based on his tough childhood in the suburbs of Brisbane. I have now read everything by Helen Garner, one of Australia’s best writers. I was amused by Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

I am reading This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrants Manifesto by Suketu Mehta. This examines how colonial powers ruthlessly exploited the resources of various countries and their people, drew arbitrary boundaries, and particularly at the moment, have an undeserved “fear” of immigrants. When asked “Why are you here?” immigrants can justly respond, “We are here because you were there”.

I was very impressed with The Colonial Fantasy: Why White Australia Can’t Solve Black Problems by Sarah Maddison. It summarises our appalling mistreatment since 1778 of the Aboriginal population who have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years. Again, “their dispossession underwrote the development of the nation” (a quote from the 1992 Mabo Judgement). Some of you kindly ask what I am working on, and this book has partly inspired me to write. The Aborigines have never been asked to advise on their own issues, and there is a current contested debate about Aborigines having an advisory Voice to Parliament. This was part of the Uluru Statement of the Heart by Aboriginal people in 2017 which offered an intelligent, reasonable and modest way forward towards “reconciliation”, although some argue reconciliation is for white people to feel better about themselves. The Statement was summarily dismissed by the government.

As many of you know I have been privileged to be a curator of Aboriginal art and have known or worked with some of the very best artists. I am also descended from several colonial Governors who impacted on Indigenous lives. I’m trying to write about my relationship with all of this, to clarify my feelings and thoughts for myself, and my efforts may be worth publishing one day.

PERSONAL: On a lighter note, my cat is wonderful although I still miss her brother who we lost several years ago, and I am looking forward to my first trip to Morocco. I hope you are having happy and fulfilling lives with your families, friends and animals, and let’s wish for some unexpected new leadership which will make our lives and the world a better and more sustainable place for the future.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

I recently attended the Venice Biennale and then visited other European cities. I saw such interesting and sometimes great contemporary art that I thought I should blog about the highlights.

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the oldest and most prestigious in the world. The 57th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia runs until November 26th 2017.

Australian Pavilion, showing the work Vigil from Tracey Moffatt’s MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings

Australia’s representative this year is Tracey Moffatt and having known her since 1984 and watched her career with fascination, like many others, I wanted to attend the opening.

A magical day began with the hauntingly beautiful voice of Deborah Cheetham singing in an Aboriginal language.  Tracey  Moffatt’s  MY HORIZON  consists of 2 evocative photographic bodies of work Passage and Body Remembers, and two new video works, Vigil and The White Ghosts Sailed In.

 

Passage by Tracey Moffatt from MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings.

According to art critic Holland Cotter for the New York Times the Biennale is “tame” and “does not reflect a drastically changed world, and it fails to cohere”. Tracey Moffatt however, was singled out as one of the few artists to leave a “lasting impression” with her work touching on the tragedy of mass social displacement, past and present.

In the latest Artlink magazine Djon Mundine writes about MY HORIZON and Tracey Moffatt here.

The Biennale offers a very diverse selection of artists – I was lucky to catch a talk by Mark Bradford, the lively US artist, but many others, from all over the world and working in many mediums, were not well known to me. Older women like Romania’s Greta Bratescu and the UK’s Phyllida Barlow were given overdue recognition. (Elizabeth Cummings in Australia aged 80+ is also finally getting the recognition she deserves and her exhibition Elizabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes at the SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney runs until 23 July).

The formal Biennale is in a park called the Giardini.  30 countries have pavilions there, and another 29 are available to other countries.  The artists of some participating countries are also exhibited in other parts of Venice.

But the International Art Exhibition also includes a curated exhibition, in 2017 entitled Viva Arte Viva, and is a selection of many artists from all over the world.  This is situated in the Central Pavilion (in the Giardini), and a short walk away, at the Arsenale, the old shipyard and armory buildings.

The Arsenale provides an intriguing long walk through huge and wonderful buildings with many interesting artists of all ages and working in many mediums, and some collaborations and community projects.  Indigenous artists and African countries are quite well represented.

from Emissaries by Lisa Reihana

The centrepiece of New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s Emissaries is a huge screen panorama of the arrival of Captain Cook in the Pacific.  Lisa’s In Pursuit of Venus was described as the best artwork in Venice by the Sunday Times critic and a “witty mix of live action and cunning special effects” that unfolds “in a riveting animated sequence”.

In the latest Artlink magazine Nicholas Thomas writes here about Lisa Reihana and how her work is an animated digital recreation of a giant French wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Pacifique.  This wallpaper was printed in 1804-6 and was a romanticised imagining of Oceania.

Some critics have been unkind about Damien Hirst’s 50 million pound effort Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable with extraordinary supposed “salvaged” treasures from the monumental to the exquisitely tiny and precious. These are exhibited throughout Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, two superb Venetian buildings owned by François Pinault.  Hirst’s colossal and menacing bronze Demon – 18 metres high and up to the third floor in the forecourt of the Palazzo Grassi, is unforgettable.

Demon by Damien Hirst. Image sourced from Culto.latercera.com.

Other excellent exhibitions are scattered through the city and some people have come to Venice especially to see Philip Guston and The Poet’s exhibition which is at Gallerie dell’ Accademia di Venezia until 3 September 2017.

Lorenzo Quinn - Biennale site - big hands

Lorenzo Quinn, Venice Biennale. Image sourced from The Telegraph.

20 million tourists visit Venice each year and Venetians don’t think they can absorb any more. Opposition to giant cruise liners is growing as they disgorge thousands of daytrippers that do not necessarily contribute to the economy, and the ships damage the lagoon.

Lake Como May 2017, Ace Bourke

I finally visited Lake Como and it was as lovely as I imagined. It was wonderful being in Europe again and spending time in beautiful cities, and leisurely visiting art galleries and museums with friends. I loved reading the newspapers which were full of the French and British elections and then unfortunately the terror attacks. Despite the tensions and political upheavals, people overall seemed to be primarily enjoying summer. With heightened security concerns, long queues at airports were understandable but seemingly interminable.

 

African mask by Romuald Hazoumè

PARIS: This African mask by Romuald Hazoumè was made from discarded biros he found each day.  He is one of many artists in a most exciting exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton: ART/AFRICA The new workshop. It consists of three components: a private collection begun in 1989 by Jean Pigozzi; a curated exhibition of South African artists; and African works from the Louis Vuitton collection.  It is a fascinating exhibition: an imaginative and innovative use of materials; many mediums; a chance to see/share their world view; and a melding of traditional influences and new interpretations and directions.

Writing  recently about this exhibition, The Economist claimed that contemporary African art was “the next big thing” – replacing the interest in Chinese art, and it certainly has a unique imaginative creativity and vitality.

Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton by Ace Bourke

Architect Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Fondation is undoubtedly very beautiful and a signature building.  It took 10 years to build and was apparently technologically challenging. Some buildings can be about the ego of the architect or the client, and can overwhelm the central purpose, and I think in this case some exhibition space for art was sacrificed.  Arken, south of Copenhagen was renovated in 2008, and is both an interesting and utilitarian museum of art.  In London people complained that the extension to the Tate Modern did not achieve a great deal.

The Fondazione Prada in Milan is also a strong architectural statement but I found it dark, austere and unwelcoming.  Milan was yet another historic and attractive Italian city, but with some new and exciting architecture.

Milan by Ace Bourke

I finally made it to Musée du quai Branly in Paris to see the museum where in 2013 Australian Aboriginal art had been incorporated architecturally into spaces in the building, including the cloud series by Michael Riley.  Also at this museum I saw an eclectic exhibition Picasso Primitif  (until 3 July) with paintings by him and objects that he had owned or had influenced him.  There was also a very precious exhibition La Pierre sacrée des Māori of jade objects sacred and sometimes magical to New Zealand Maoris (until 1st October).

The museum’s collection of traditional and indigenous cultural objects from all over the world is superb. Unfortunately, Australian Aboriginal art is exhibited rather badly, especially a group of bark paintings.  For decades now in Australia Aboriginal art has not been exhibited ethnographically, but as contemporary art in art galleries and museums.

In Paris I also visited art dealer Hervé Perdriolle who I initially met through a shared admiration for the work of the late Indian artist Jangargh Singh Shyam. He gave me a copy of his handsome and comprehensive book Indian Contemporary Art which concentrates on tribal artists.

The Pompidou Centre, Paris by Ace Bourke

The Pompidou Centre is 40 years old, and although a little tired looking is still a very striking building that invigorated the whole area. Until 14 August there is a very impressive exhibition covering the long career of photographer Walker Evans (USA 1905 – 1967).  Well known for his portraits of ordinary people, he was a very versatile and wide ranging photographer. There was also an exhibition of the black and white photographs of Czech Joseph Koudelka who Michael Riley often said had particularly influenced him.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave

LONDON: HOKUSAI: Beyond the Great Wave at the British Museum (until 13 August) is a very comprehensive exhibition of the work of the Japanese artist Hokusai. Life presented him with many challenges over his long but always productive career.  The commission in 1830 and success of the Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji woodblock prints was a very welcome respite from financial hardship and family pressures for Hokusai.

The NGV in Melbourne is also showing Hokusai  (21 July – 15 October) which also includes The Great Wave, probably the most famous Japanese work of art. This exhibition also spans his entire life with 150 works including woodblock prints, rare paintings on silk, and hand painted manga.

In 1996 I saw a definitive Alberto Giacometti  1901 – 1966 exhibition in London at the Royal Academy of Arts. GIACOMETTI at the Tate Modern until 10 September 2017 is a smaller but intelligently curated and selected exhibition of sculptures and drawings. You can read The Sunday Times review of the exhibition here.

Battle of Britain by Grayson Perry

I was fortunate to just catch DAVID HOCKNEY: 60 YEARS at the Tate Britain, but I missed Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! which is now on at the Serpentine until 10 September. Read his amusing and informative article about popularity in the art world in The Guardian here.

Henning Larsen’s Opera House, Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN: Copenhagen was another lovely city with beautiful old architecture and the addition of exciting new buildings. I was extremely lucky to see South African artist William Kentridge’s extensive multi media exhibition THICK TIME at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen before it closed. It may have been the best and most absorbing exhibition I saw in Europe, and he is one of the world’s greatest living artists.

The museum is situated in beautiful gardens looking out to sea across to Sweden with strategically placed sculpture by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore etc.  Lunch in the restaurant was delicious  – I found it surprisingly hard as a vegetarian in Europe.  The museum shop was full of an extensive range of superb world renowned Scandinavian design. Denmark has recently topped the Social Progress Index – a survey of the best places to live. I asked a friend “what underpins the Danish economy?”.  “Know-how”.

William Kentridge, THICK TIME

LIONS: With World Lion Day coming up on August 10th and Christian’s birthday on the 12th August I will blog about how enjoyable it was to recently catch up in London with friends very involved with Christian the lion.

Xmas Christian

CHRISTIAN: It is this time of the year again and thanks as always to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani.  Do see some of his other marvellous photographs of Christian here – I always enjoy looking at them.

Some of you may be interested in this article from the Good Weekend, Pets on E-Parade, on pet and animal-themed YouTube channels. Christian the lion was not mentioned but I think our reunion with Christian was the first really popular “animal themed” video phenomenon on YouTube – we stopped counting years ago when we topped 100 million views.

Australia’s most popular YouTube channel, Catmantoo has 133,000 subscribers and 40 million views.  Many of these channels are “monetarised” and take months to prepare. In general I don’t like performing or dressed up animals. I can understand why cat videos dominate the internet and I am sent many cat videos – thanks to Mandy lately, and thankyou to Deb especially.

I recently reread a letter I wrote to George Adamson at Kora in Kenya in 1978 about our reunion with Christian in 1971: “and the footage of us returning to see Christian and him running down the hill is pretty amazing footage”. That has turned out to be quite an understatement!

Ai WeiWei at the NGV with bicycles

Ai WeiWei  with Forever Bicycles 2011

ART: For anyone visiting or travelling around Australia in the next few months we have some very interesting exhibitions on at our State Galleries, and they all have extensive gallery collections.

Andy Warhol/Ai Wei Wei  has just opened at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (until April 24th 2016), and is a “conversation” between the artists who did meet in New York years ago.  They share a love of “social media” –  Warhol was a precursor of celebrity and social media with his screen prints, polaroids, diary jottings, Interview magazine and ever present recorder – while WeiWei loves Twitter and Instagram etc.

Ai WeiWei’s passport was taken away for 4 years, and this is one of the few exhibitions where he has actually overseen the installation – the positioning of the artworks, the lighting etc.  More poignantly, it is the first international exhibition of his work he has actually seen for years.

I met Eric Shiner, the Director of the Warhol Museum, in Australia for the exhibition.  I asked him about both artists loving cats and he said the Children’s Education section of the exhibition is all about cats – with Ai Wei Wei drawing cat wallpaper, and the backs of chairs being cat tails!  Warhol had 30 – all but one called Sam.

We were also celebrating the announcement of Tracey Moffatt being selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Venice Biennale.  I  can’t wait to see what she does and I intend to be there!

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal by Grayson Perry, 2012. Jaquard woven tapestry in wool, silk, cotton, acrylic and polyester, With cotton warp.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal by Grayson Perry, 2012. Jaquard woven tapestry in wool, silk, cotton, acrylic and polyester, with cotton warp.

 

In Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art is The Pretty Little Art World of Grayson Perry, the cross dressing art critic from the UK.  He is most amusing, but was in trouble in Australia for saying our Aboriginal art is not “contemporary” art and should be shown in an ethnographic context.  He has apologised but then said that we “mix it in” with contemporary art….

Spearing the kangaroo by Tommy McRae, circa 1880s-circa 1890s

Spearing the kangaroo by Tommy McRae, circa 1880s-circa 1890s

Also in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of NSW there is the rare opportunity to see wonderful paintings in The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland until 14 February 2016.  Another exhibition at the AGNSW includes fascinating C19th drawings by Aboriginal artists Tommy McRae and William Barak.  Murruwaygu (following in the footsteps of our ancestors), are Aboriginal artworks from  south-east Australia and include Roy Kennedy and Harry J Wedge.

Wollongong Art Gallery is showing SHIMMER an exhibition “exploring expanded notions of historical and contemporary shell-working traditions in indigenous Australia”.  This is especially true of Garry Sibosado and I also loved the prints of Darrell Sibosado.  These brothers, from the West Kimberley coast, both reference traditional designs through contemporary art practice.  I love shells and other  well known artists include Esme Timbery, Tess Allas and Julie Gough.

There is more Aboriginal art in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia. TARNANTHI  is an Inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, described as a very ambitious exhibition that showcases the diversity of Aboriginal art.

A major Gilbert & George exhibition is at the privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart, Tasmania.

Haider Ali Jan from Pakistan at APT8

Haider Ali Jan from Pakistan at APT8

APT8, the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial is in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA until 10 April 2016. The APT was a great initiative and is always interesting.  It has focused international attention on the artists of our region. I would especially like to see the contemporary tribal art from India and I have collected  and exhibited Indian tribal and village artists over the years.

Banksy’s recent portrait of Steve Jobs, the son of Syrian immigrants, on the wall at Calais.

Banksy’s recent portrait of Steve Jobs, the son of Syrian immigrants, on the wall at Calais, France

WORLD: A memorable and often scary year comes to the end.  It will be remembered for extreme and catastrophic weather events, air crashes, mass migrations and displacement, and “terrorism”.  One probably has more chance of dying from a car accident, smoking, or being shot – especially if you live in the USA.  30,000 were killed by guns there over the year – coincidentally about the number killed world-wide by terrorism.

The Middle East/Islam conflict seems as complex and unsoluble as ever and innocent people, mostly Muslim, continue to be killed.

At least a more informed debate about Islam is emerging – with the exception of Donald Trump, our ex PM Abbott, far right groups like the National Front in France, and various unattractive bogans in Australia supposedly fighting for “our values”.

Bruce Goold Peace chador, Paris 13/11/15 hand coloured linocut Australian Galleries, Sydney

Bruce Goold Peace chador, Paris 13/11/15 hand coloured linocut Australian Galleries, Sydney

I thought Waleed Aly’s article last blog was very informative – as is this more recent one.  He argues  “The Reformation is here.  Theyr’e looking at it.  The Muslim world -and indeed Islamic thought – is in crisis”. New voices have emerged here like Ahmed Kilani who thinks it is time for a new generation of Muslim leaders to speak up, and he was a co-founder of the website Muslim Village here.

Also see this article on Wahhabism  to ISIS: How Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism.  The article is extremely informative  about this very narrow and very influential form of Islam, which only emerged in the C18th.  There is a trade-off with the Saudi Royal family, and it was a break-though that some women were allowed to stand for, and vote in, recent municipal elections.  Perhaps they may even be allowed to drive one day!

A photograph from The Blood Generation series, a collaboration between artist Taloi Havini and photographer Stuart Miller.

The Blood Generation series, artist Taloi Havini from PNG / photographer Stuart Miller in APT8.

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: The Paris Climate Agreement is a real achievement and cause for optimism about the human race, even if it is “aspirational” and not legally binding.  They are aiming for a less than 2 degree rise in global warming – ideally 1.5.  Progress will be tracked every 5 years, and target reductions increased.  Of course there will be problems and recalcitrant leaders – thank God Tony Abbott is no longer our PM!  Well done to host France, the USA, India and China especially. There will be $100 billion for poorer nations.

Another reason for optimism is that I hope we are seeing the end of the fossil-fuel era.  Coal is a “stranded asset”, “carbon capture” seems to remain as elusive as ever, banks are reluctant to finance new mines, and shares in fossil fuels are being divested.  Fuel subsidies should be abolished and no new mines should be approved – especially the huge Adani/Carmichael mine in Queensland.

There are those that argue that coal is necessary, for example, to provide power for the 300 million without it in India.

What about subsidised micro grids?

But it is the unstoppable growth and utilisation all over the world of renewables that is displacing coal, and effective battery energy storage is the game changer of the year.

Powerhive, based in the USA, is providing cheap power to poor and remote African villages through roof top solar paid for via ubiquitous cell phones as power is required or can be afforded.

Do you know what the best thing an individual can do to curb carbon emission? Become a vegetarian!  Meat is responsible for 15% of emissions. I am very contented as a vegetarian and it doesn’t seem to be too inconvenient for my family and friends.  This is not always true of vegans however, and their fundamentalism can be disruptive and even counter-productive.

My cat is now a piscatarian although I don’t think this explains her provocative behaviour with 2 snakes that have unfortunately appeared in my garden.  I’m very frightened she may join her brother in “crossing the rainbow bridge”, as some say these days, and I will be completely broken-hearted.

Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts, 1890

Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts, 1890

At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra there is the most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled of works by the “legendary” Australian artist Tom Roberts until 28 March.

Also in Canberra at the National Museum of Australia is Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum (until 28 March) which includes items such as an Aboriginal shield collected by Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770, one of many objects (and even body parts) that most Aboriginal people would like repatriated back to Australia.

AUSTRALIA: The gloss is going off our new PM Turnbull pretty quickly – from tensions within his own party, a defection, a Minister under investigation who won’t step aside, and Turnbull is wedged over climate change policies.  He is as likely to be undone by the bitter conservative elements in his own party as he is by the Opposition.  Our economic conditions continue to decline and the budget deficit is now $37.4 billion. In the absence of any proposed economic strategy or reform so far, he is hoping “innovation” will save us, but that takes time!

There is a recent biography on PM Malcolm Turnbull.  His own mother described him as a child as “a bundle of demonic energy”.  At school, a deputation went to the headmaster to say “anyone but Malcolm” for head prefect, but they were unsuccessful.

I can be mean as I don’t like many of the government’s unfair policies. But Turnbull is at least intelligent, personable, and has had a very successful law and business career – and he got rid of Tony Abbott.  After breaking yet another promise not to “snipe”, the ex PM Abbott has gone feral and seems completely delusional, speaking out inappropriately on Islam, or “defending” his non- existent “legacy”. Some commentators have said we have replaced a “psychopath with a narcissist” – but most leaders probably suffer from one or the other.

Angela Merkel seems to be regarded as the leader of the year in 2015 – in a very weak field.  While Greece has little chance of recovering economically through  the “austerity” measures she supported, I admired her for her initial response to the refugees in Europe.

Western Ground Parrot

Western Ground Parrot

ANIMALS & WILDLIFE:  After attending and speaking at several Animal Studies conferences in India, it is so encouraging to learn that there is such important and diverse research and work in relation to animal welfare and rights, and animal/human relationships.  Information now is so easily shared, and petitions and suggested actions etc can be widely circulated.

What is Animal Welfare? Welfare v Rights?  Welfare v Conservation? “Conservation” is caring about species (extinction),  and “animal welfare” is caring about individual animals (and their suffering).  For discussions about these definitions and questions see this site and the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare co-created by John Webster.

John Webster recently launched One Welfare an interactive portal for vets to keep them up-to-date on ethics and animal welfare.

There was an excellent review of the recent book by M.R. O’Connor which I have just bought for my Christmas reading – Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things.  I’m hoping it will help me understand some of these complex issues.

I think we are seeing a changing of community attitudes and a growing support for animal welfare. Many of you are part of that.  Looking at the last blog – chimpanzees were no longer to be experimented on in the USA, and PHASA was no longer supporting canned hunting of lions in South Africa. In Australia the horse racing industry is to limit the number of times a horse can be whipped (which is counter-productive anyway), and the worst aspects of the greyhound industry and live cattle and sheep exports have been exposed.

While people are also very concerned about a spate of shark attacks on our coast, many people now accept that the sea is the domain of sharks, and “smart” drum lines – and the netting of beaches, kill other marine creatures like turtles.  Beaches need guards and aerial surveillance, and swimming in the early morning and late afternoons is regarded as dangerous.

The Japanese are resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean – intending to kill 330 minke whales.  This is despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice, and the Japanese pretence of “scientific research”. Over many years only 2 articles have ever been “peer reviewed” and no-one really eats whale meat – if they can avoid it!

Gilbert’s Potoroo are endangered in Australia especially after losing 90% of its habitats in recent fires. Photograph from Gilbert's Potoroo Action Group.

Gilbert’s Potoroo are endangered in Australia especially after losing 90% of its habitats in recent fires. Photograph from Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group.

IVORY: The Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently been in Africa.  The Chinese are the major consumers of ivory and 20,000 – 40,000 elephants are slaughtered each year.  In September Xi pledged “to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory”.  The Chinese also have to rethink traditional medicines that are driving animals to extinction. The Chinese have protected their giant pandas with numbers stabilising  and possibly growing which is very admirable, but now this has to extend to other animals  – and the prohibiting of the horrific and cruel practice of “milking” up to 10,000 bears for their bile.

Watch this amazing clip of The Elephants in the Room – a herd of elephants walking through a hotel in Zambia. They are walking on their traditional path – which now includes through a hotel lobby, to a favourite mango tree as it is spring and the fruit is ripe.

SHAME: Cardinal Pell did not come back from the Vatican to face the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  Pell lived and worked with some of the most notorious clergy – and says he saw nothing and he certainly did nothing: the  ZUMAMUSTGO protest in South Africa indicated the frustration and exasperation with the failure of leadership by the self serving Zuma (although he will probably be as difficult to dislodge as Mugabe in Zimbabwe): Syria’s Assad; and Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak is still refusing to explain the $700 million transferred to his private bank accounts.

Ranthambore Tigers photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Tigers in Ranthambore, Rajasthan 2009 photographed by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings – whatever!  Hope you have a holiday or a break with family and friends. I am very appreciative of the support I receive for the blog, and the interesting information many of you send me.

I’m going to India and I am hoping to see some more of their marvellous animals and wildlife which I will blog about on my return later in January. So wishing you all a Happy (and more peaceful) New Year.

Kevin Richardson

Kevin Richardson

KEVIN RICHARDSON:  I very much enjoyed the successful fund raising event in Sydney with guest speaker Kevin Richardson visiting from South Africa.  There were many people keen to meet him and buy his book Part of the Pride so I didn’t really have time to ask my trite question “do you shampoo and blow dry your lions as they look SO gorgeous?”  He answered most of my more serious questions when he delivered his talk – including the dangers he inadvertently faces even though the lions obviously adore him. Of course George Adamson is a hero of his.

Only approximately 20,000 lions are  left in the wild.  Kevin is a leading campaigner against canned hunting, and he explained how, despite the assertions of the South African government and others, canned hunting is NOT a contributor to wildlife management or conservation. Do beware of visiting or volunteering at wildlife parks that are ethically compromised and are actually part of canned hunting.
I was also very impressed with the work of our hosts Painted Dog Conservation Inc and their work and fund raising efforts to protect African Painted Dogs and other animals.  They also support and work closely with local communities.

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke  Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

PETITIONS: An American recently paid US$440,000 to shoot a black rhino in Namibia “to help protect the endangered species”!  Apparently only 5 Northern White rhinos are left. Please sign this petition against the “catastrophic” levels of Rhino poaching here.
One of Australia’s leading campaigners against canned hunting, Donalea Patman, has asked us to sign two petitions.  The first is for the Australian Government to maintain the recent ban on the importation of lion trophies and body parts.  There is a rear-guard action to overturn this.  The other petition is to ask Qantas to stop the shipping of hunting trophies and follow the admirable example of Emirates, Singapore Airlines and British Airlines . Sign them here and here.

Ace Bourke and Christian 1972

Ace Bourke and Christian 1972

MARK PEARSON: The animal rights movement is changing and coming from the fringe into the mainstream. This was very apparent to me at the Animal Studies conference in Delhi this January.  It is also heartening to see so many young advocates and activists, especially girls it seems. See this interview with Mark Pearson, the first Animal Justice Party member of a parliament in Australia.  Mark has done his fair share of courageous direct action which he has found to be effective.  He now feels he is a little too old to be entering a piggery or battery hen farm or cattle feedlot at night and chaining himself to a cage. Like my friend Christine Townend (and many others), Mark was initially influenced by the work of Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher and animal rights advocate.

Mbeli with her baby gorilla Mjukuu at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Mbeli with her baby gorilla Mjukuu at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

LYN WHITE: Do read this interview in the SMH with Lyn White of Animals Australia.  She has been prominent in the media over the last few years primarily exposing the cruelty in our live cattle industry – in Indonesia for example, and more recently in Vietnam and Israel.  Animals Australia also exposed the use of live baits to blood greyhounds. It is the unnecessary suffering of animals that drives her. The undercover footage she obtains of the extreme cruelty to animals especially in abbatoirs, and the thoroughness of her investigations, makes her both feared – and respected, by our government.

KANGAROOS: I urge you to email the Minister responsible for the unnecessary culling (killing) of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Shane Rattenbury, Minister for Territory and Municipal Service – rattenbury@act.gov.au. Read more information here and here.

DONKEYS: I know some of you think I ignore the plight of donkeys around the world.  In recent flooding in NSW, the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary at Clarence Town in the Hunter Valley was badly damaged.  Any donations to support these previously unwanted or neglected donkeys would be most appreciated – see donkeyrescue.org.au  I am encouraged that so many people and organisations I have never previously heard of are doing such good work on behalf of animals.

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

WILLIAM T COOPER: the artist who David Attenborough described as “possibly the best artist of birds in the world”, died recently. As I live surrounded by bush I have slowly become more knowledgeable about the many birds I live amongst (cats notwithstanding), and understand why so many of you are very interested in birds!  I’m also noticing many contemporary artists are painting birds…

William was undoubtedly a very good artist and he often placed the birds in context in relation to habitats and food sources etc – assisted by his botanist wife.  Their work is an extremely valuable resource. I can sometimes find his paintings a little florid, or busy, and prefer, for example, the more understated work of Neville Henry Cayley (1854-1903) and his son Neville William Cayley (1886-1978) who published the definitive What Bird Is That? in 1931.

Great Blue Turaco by William T Cooper

Great Blue Turaco by William T Cooper

CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY: It was important that the G7 Group of Seven biggest developed nations recently declared that the world needed to phase out fossil fuel emissions by the end of the century. Australia has yet again been described as an international laggard for our inaction, and hopefully our government will just be dragged (or shamed) reluctantly along with the growing momentum.  Encouragingly, a majority of Australians again want action on climate change, after support dropped off owing to a lack of resolution at the Copenhagen conference years ago, and no subsequent leadership on the issue.

Congratulations to Pope Francis for accepting the science on global warming and man-made climate change, and for speaking up in his encyclical.  He gave quite a devastating critique of capitalism, our greed and consumerism, and the destruction and exploitation of our environment.  Unfortunately he did not mention contraception and another major contributor to our plight – overpopulation.

The PM’s proposed “consensus centre” at the University of West Australia that was to be headed by Bjorn Lomberg, has been rejected by the UWA after the predicted outcry.  Lomberg is the climate-change expert you use when you don’t want any action, or want to do as little as you can get away with.  Read this story about him in the SMH if you are interested.  I think he has received quite enough publicity myself.

See this interesting article “Progressives failing to tell the Big Story” by Alex Frankel from The Saturday Paper about how after decades of conservative political ascendancy, progressives “are yet to offer a simple counter narrative that critiques neoliberal values” or articulates “their vision of society”.  Conservatives, complicit with big business and media controlled by people like Rupert Murdoch, are masters of controlling the Big Story.  Progressives mistakenly think persuasion operates through reason, but “most things are shaped through stories rather than facts”.

Extreme weather - Angela Miall's Bondi Beach, winner of Clique’s May Challenge

Extreme weather – Angela Miall’s photograph of Bondi Beach, winner of Clique’s May Challenge

Alex Frankel cites climate change as an example of how debates can be “managed”.  Despite the evidence of 95% of scientists (and the extreme weather we are all experiencing), fossil fuel interests will delay any action for as long as possible, by “contesting the narrative”.

PM Abbott has been very successful in this debate, especially when in Opposition. The “Clean Energy Act” was renamed as the “carbon tax” which he then linked to increasing the “cost of living”, especially electricity prices.

Frankel quotes Frank Luntz who pointed out that “because the very expression “climate change” was scientifically focused, ambiguous and had no obvious story or villain, it could be manipulated by polluters”.  The current debate is “normalising climate change” as “just part of life” which is exactly what the polluters want.

Frankel says it is “better to talk about industrial change than climate change, and to frame the conversation in terms of a big polluting villain and a clean energy solution”.

PM Abbott recently was brazen or stupid enough to claim “coal is good for humanity”.  I suppose he meant that developing countries – especially India and China, will depend on coal for a long time.  See the recent The End of Coal from ABC’s Four Corners which I think is a fair summation. Tesla energy storage will be the game changer!

Two thirds of our electricity in Australia still comes from coal, and the government’s antipathy to renewable energy was illustrated lately when PM Abbott said he found wind farms “ugly” and that they are probably health risks. Is there anything uglier – or more unhealthy, than an open-cut coal mine?

Norway, with the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has decided to divest itself of stocks with assets that are dominated by coal miners and coal burners, as have the Rockefellers. Valerie Rockefeller of the Rockefeller Foundation asked why Australia is “so stuck in the past and not looking to the future?”.

Jumping-Bottlenose-Dolphin

DOLPHINS: It is great news that Japan’s peak zoo association has announced that aquarium members will stop purchasing dolphins captured during the horrific annual Taiji hunt.  Congratulations to Australia for Dolphins and CEO Sarah Lucas for their legal action that led to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums threatening to suspend Japan.  Sarah Lucas says “This significant decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan”.  Read more here.

AUSTRALIA: A recent poll by the Lowy Institute showed that many Australians are feeling bleak and gloomy about the future.  There is declining optimism about our economic prospects.  There is a greater sense of insecurity, with only 1/4 feeling “safe”, and terrorism a chief concern.  Rather than making us feel safe, the government has really just succeeded in making us more fearful with Abbott recently saying to us “Daish are coming to get you”!!!  His government has already proven to be incompetent when a letter the Sydney siege gunman had previously written to the Attorney General was “overlooked”!!!

Many people are depressed by the performance of both our major political parties and their adversarial and divisive conduct.  We seem to be in permanent election mode and hostage to the 24 hour media cycle and polls, and policy reduced to 3 word slogans.  Neither side has the courage to tackle any necessary reforms or have a strategy for increasing revenue (or employment) now that our resources boom is ending.

The Greens unexpectedly got a new leader, Richard Di Natale.  He is more pragmatic than his predecessor and wants to turn the Greens into a progressive mainstream party.

Temple of Ba’al, Palmyra. Photograph by David Forman.

Temple of Ba’al, Palmyra. Photograph by David Forman.

WORLD: No, Palmyra in Syria has not been destroyed yet, but imagine if this 3rd century BC site was? Palmyra was a major trading intersection for China, the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Rome. With ISIS already having destroyed Hatra and Nimrud in Iraq, and the recent earthquakes in Nepal, we are losing so much of our priceless cultural heritage.  It is hard not to feel worried about the world at the moment including the inept response of the West to ISIS and the territorial gains of the “caliphate” across swathes of Iraq and Syria.  All eyes are nervously on Greece and the repercussions if they do default on their multi-billion dollar debts.

Even sport has been depressing with FIFA and Sep Blatter in utter disgrace, but I am looking forward very much to Wimbledon!

Australia is likely to be involved in any dispute over China’s claim and development of the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea which is creating tension in the region. Looking at a map the islands do look much closer to The Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. The USA is establishing a base in Darwin, in our Northern Territory, and is apparently to host American B1 fighter jets, although we only found this out accidentally when an American official “misspoke”.

At least Tony Blair is no longer the Middle East envoy.  He seemed oblivious to conflicts of interest or the appropriateness of his associations with dictators, and is now very rich.  As apparently documented in the book Clinton’s Cash, it was stupid of Hillary to allow donations to Bill’s Clinton Foundation during her time as Secretary of State.

The only positive from the recent race-hate shooting in the USA is the extraordinary forgiveness some have shown, while so many of us in the world wonder what is it about Americans and their guns?

ASYLUM SEEKERS: This of course is one of the most pressing concerns for the world with apparently 50 million people displaced. The ABC Four Corners has just shown a horrific report Journey into Hell on the fate of the Rohingas as the government of Myanmar attempts to expel them. The situation has created an asylum seeker crisis in our region. Our eloquent PM Tony Abbott said “nope, nope, nope” to any assistance, while our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop demonised them by describing them as mostly “economic migrants”. San Suu Kyi’s silence has been glaringly obvious as she has her eye on the next election, and the behaviour of the Buddhist monks has been appalling.

It seems to our government the “end justifies the means”.  We are prepared to stop any asylum seeker trying to reach Australia even “by hook or by crook”.  It appears Australia paid “people smugglers” US$30,000 to turn a boat at sea packed with refugees back to Indonesia. I’m not sure how this is meant to “destroy the business model” for people smugglers…and the Indonesian Government is yet again angry with us.

How The Tribes Got Their Name by Balu Ladkya Dumada, 2014.

                     How The Tribes Got Their Name by Balu Ladkya Dumada, 2014.

WARLIS: I am opening an exhibition of Warlis tribal art from India in Sydney on 27th June at Coo-ee Gallery – see here for the details. I have collected Indian tribal art over many trips to India and the Warlis painters were the first I collected and exhibited in Australia. Tribal people in India share their forests and habitats with wild animals (often part of their religion and mythology), and all are equally threatened by “development” and competition for resources. In January, while looking for lions in Gir National Park in Gujarat, I saw several tribal villages. Some had been moved to safer locations, and others had augmented their defences against lions and other animals.  People in India, as they are in other countries, are working in a more enlightened way towards a more effective co-existence between animals and humans.

Kevin Richardson

                                   Kevin Richardson

I am very much looking forward to meeting “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson when he comes to Australia next month. See here for details of when he is appearing at fund raisers in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney (17th June) for Painted Dog Conservation Incorporated. I want to ask Kevin about the risks he seems to take with lions that I never would, and if he shampoos them – they look so fluffy and gorgeous.  He is an active campaigner against the “canned hunting” of lions.

I have heard two interesting interviews relating to animals on our ABC Radio National lately. Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, a primatologist and Senior Advisor at Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia described “forest school” where orangutans are taught and prepared to be returned to the wild. 170 have been rehabilitated successfully to natural habitats and are forming viable populations.

The other interview was with Australian Damien Mander who brings his experience as an ex-soldier to the Anti-Poaching Foundation primarily working in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He seems mainly concerned with the prevention of the poaching of rhinos, especially that rhino horn can now command up to $75,000 a kilo!

Christine Townend sent me this link to Psychology Today.  There are many articles which illustrate the fantastic range of contemporary thinking about animals.  Through a wide variety of animals and experts, there are many discussions and views on subjects as diverse as sentience, rewilding, compassionate conservation, and interspecies friendships.

In NSW we are celebrating that Mark Pearson won a seat for the Animal Justice Party in the NSW Parliament Upper House.

BORN FREE: I loved seeing Born Free again and it was a successful fundraiser for The Feline Foundation and Animal Works. The film was not dated and Africa looked so beautiful and fresh. Virginia McKenna, although more English rose than the volatile Austrian Joy Adamson, is an excellent actress. The lions were wonderful and Elsa was an amazing animal. The film portrayed Joy Adamson as the one keenest to keep the cubs, but it was George who relented at the last moment and did not send Elsa with the others to a zoo in Holland. George Adamson later said they should have kept the three cubs as this would have made Elsa’s lonely and precarious rehabilitation easier. This was why he created a pride around our Christian the lion, with Boy as the adult male.  George gambled that Boy would not kill the younger Christian who was nearly old enough to be perceived as a threat.  Only 3 out of 15 lions used in the filming of Born Free were rehabilitated, which angered Joy and George and Virginia and Bill Travers.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.
Photography by City of Sydney Paul Patterson.

WAR: Tony Albert is a highly regarded Aboriginal artist and his striking memorial to the previously overlooked contribution of Indigenous soldiers to our armed forces was recently unveiled in Hyde Park, Sydney. Last month was the anniversary of 100 years since Australians and New Zealanders landed at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. 8709 Australians and 2701 New Zealanders were sent to their deaths by incompetent British commanders. Those precious lives – great losses on both sides – should serve as a lesson against war, but they haven’t.

The $325 million spent on this anniversary could instead help many still struggling Vietnam Vets, or families of servicemen.

I think Australians were probably good soldiers: they were fit and brave, supported their “mates”, had a healthy suspicion of authority, were perhaps a little “crazy” brave and exhibited “careless behaviour”.  Arthur Conan Doyle described them as “rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true”.

Australians seem to be sent to war by conservative governments or at the request of our allies who we hope will come to our defense sometime in the future. Conservative PM Menzies sent troops to Vietnam in 1965, but at least that war was in our region. Conservative PM Howard sent us into Iraq in 2003, and present PM Abbott has just sent another 300+ back to Iraq. On the day this “mission creep” was announced, our Minister for Defence could not name the commander of Islamic State although there is a $US10 million price tag on his head.  Mind you, I couldn’t either.  His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is now rumoured to be injured.  He apparently planned his IS Caliphate while imprisoned in the notorious Iraqi Abu-Ghraib prison.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

I’m thrilled that friend and fellow Bundeena resident Ildiko Kovacs has won the prestigious Bulgari Art Award. The painting has been acquired by the AGNSW, and includes a residency for the artist in Italy. Ex Bundeena resident George Gittoes has just won the Sydney Peace Prize 2015. He has set up a Yellow House (à la Vincent Van Gogh and Martin Sharp) in Jahalabad, Afghanistan, which he describes as “Taliban Central”. He is a very interesting and intrepid artist who has documented many wars and their aftermath, and believes that art is more effective than weapons.

AUSTRALIA: As Donald Horne said in his 1964 book A Lucky Country “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise”.

Unfortunately this remains quite true so many years later. I just can’t see any constructive strategy from the government for addressing our problems and changing economic circumstances. The looming May Budget  next week will be a huge test.

I did love Tony Abbott’s frank answer to Angela Merkel who asked him what drove our relationship with China: “greed and fear”, although, unfortunately our resources boom and exports to China now seem to be dwindling.

I also loved this tweet from cricketer Shane Warne who I also criticised for talking about alcohol after the Australian World Cup victory: “Do gooders get stuffed. Straya (Australia) is the best place in the world, not politically correct, keep it real. Aussies celebrate properly!#thirsty

Jonathan Jones 'Luminous'. Image sourced from Museum of Contemporary Art.

Jonathan Jones’ celestial fluorescent wall in Luminous  at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

CLIMATE CHANGE: Australia has been criticised recently for inaction on climate change as 193 countries get ready for the conference in Paris later in the year.  We are the highest per capita emitters in the world and we are not transitioning – or diversifying, out of our reliance on coal.  Environment Minister Hunt has been hailing his Direct Action policy a great success.  The government abolished the carbon tax as unfair on tax payers, (and emissions have consequently risen), yet this policy pays polluters (with our money) to stop!  Already most of the money allocated for these projects has been spent, yet we are still well short of our targets.

While the government has scandalously slashed funding to science, climate change bodies and education, they have found $4 million for Danish Bjorn Lomborg to establish an “Australian Consensus Center” at the University of West Australia. Lomborg acknowledges the human factor in climate warming, but is a “sceptical environmentalist” and does not seem to actually want to do anything about it in case it affects the economy!  He seems to have low academic qualifications (in political science!) and I think the outcry against him and the university will only grow.

This is unfortunately yet another example of the government’s shameless ideological bias. Other recent examples are  a government “White Paper” on Energy which mentioned climate change ONCE, and a decade-long Intergenerational Report which also overlooked climate change.  This report was described by respected economist Ross Gittins as a “blatant piece of political propaganda”.  Is this the objectivity one should expect from our government as they supposedly plan our future?

Despite our considerable sun and wind resource base in Australia, the government has made investing in renewables as unattractive as possible. They are on “the wrong side of history” and recent advances like the Tesla Powerwall and Tesla Powerpack will revolutionise the potential for storage of electricity generated from solar panels, and will be cheap enough to solve the reliability of intermittent solar and wind.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

There is an exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne entitled Nature/Revelation. It is a key component of the “Art+Climate=change festival” and seeks to “celebrate the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues”.

ECOMODERNIST MANIFESTO: A conservative group of international scientists has issued this manifesto and believe that “the next generation of solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilisation and radical decoupling of humans from nature”.

An ANU Report states that Australia’s abundance of renewable energy resources should make exiting fossil fuels possible by 2050, at a manageable cost to the economy. AGL – listed last blog as one of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, is to exit coal-fired power plants by 2050, and not build new ones. I am cynical of this attempt to appear “green” as the announcement follows a recent stocking-up spending spree.

The Salt of the Earth poster

The Salt of the Earth poster

I’m looking forward to seeing The Salt of the Earth, the documentary about the great  Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado made by his son and Wim Wenders. Salgado’s often beautiful and powerful images have been criticised for ennobling or romanticising the poverty or working conditions of some of his subjects, but they equally also garner necessary attention. See a review of the film here.

WORLD: In Australia we were recently shocked by the recent execution in Indonesia of 8 convicted drug smugglers, including two Australians.  Capital punishment is appalling and has been proven not to be a deterrent.  It was all handled in a very chaotic and cruel way, and unfortunately President Joko Widodo appeared weak. He was recently humiliated (again) by his Party chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, herself a failed president.

Up to 10,000 people may have died in the recent earthquake in Nepal. The country is one of the poorest in the world and the devastation so comprehensive that they urgently need extensive international aid.  Co-ordination of relief efforts and rebuilding does seem beyond the capacity of this government.  Apart from all the lives and livelihoods lost, many historical and culturally important buildings have been destroyed.  Animal victims are receiving emergency aid from the Humane Society International’s Vet Team.

Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

                    Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

I read reports that Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces along the Libyan border in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya from IS occupation.  I suppose more will flee to Europe with 1500 lost at sea already this year, including the 750 people that drowned recently. 5800 were rescued last weekend!  Apparently Assad’s grip on power in Syria is finally weakening.

I am glad Pope Francis, among many others, has spoken up on the centenary of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Turks, and it is time Turkey faced up to this historical reality.

The UK election seemed to be very close with no party likely to win a majority in their own right, but exit polls today are however pointing to a Tory victory.  While there has been some growth in the British economy, especially compared with most other countries, the general population do not feel they are sharing any benefit. Apparently Rupert Murdoch continued to interfere in the democratic process with his biased newspapers, while in Australia, his papers just blatantly back the government.

I suppose I hope Hillary Clinton wins the next US presidential election. She does carry a lot of “Clinton” baggage, but I thought she was a competent state secretary. All the Republicans seem too closely allied to that loony right wing Tea Party  – and who could bear another Bush as president? Hillary has a $US 2.5 billion war-chest for her campaign.

The rioting and destruction in Baltimore followed yet another death of a black American at the hands of the police or while in custody.  It is a breaking point in race relations, and long standing social problems and disadvantage remain unaddressed.

The stalling of growth in the American economy is concerning for us all.

The exhibition Indigenous Australia – Enduring Civilisation has just opened at the British Museum, UK. It includes Aboriginal objects, weapons, art etc. collected early in the white settlement of Australia, and includes a wooden shield and spears collected by Captain Cook’s crew in Botany Bay in 1770.

The annual exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Australian Museum, Sydney and runs until 5th October.  It isn’t too late to enter the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015  – the competition closes on June 30th!

Photograph by Matty Smith, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Finalist, see at Australian Museum

Photograph by Matty Smith, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

See more marvellous ocean and wildlife images by Matty Smith here.