Christian the Lion, Christmas, World, India, Asiatic Lions, CACH, Australia, ABC, John Key, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cats etc
December 21, 2014
Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings! My thanks to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani for yet again an irresistible Christmas card.
I live on the southern edge of Sydney at Bundeena surrounded by the Royal National Park. The submarine cable across Port Hacking to us was recently damaged, leaving many of us without internet and land-line communication for weeks. I half enjoyed it and succumbed: reading and listening to Radio National. However it has also been frustrating as there is work to do, travel plans to India to finalise and Christmas! Some of you were concerned about my silence – thank you.
WORLD: China is now the biggest economy in the world giving the USA something to think about – and get used to. It will be fascinating to see how the Chinese use their power. Presidents Xi and Obama unexpectedly signed a concrete agreement for greenhouse gas reductions post 2020. This was just one of several recent humiliations for the Australian government for their inaction over climate change.
The Australian government had tried (unsuccessfully) to exclude climate change from the agenda at the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, claiming that it was not an economic issue.
In a speech at a Queensland university Obama dared to express concern (like many other people and experts) over the deterioration of the endangered Great Barrier Reef. With the UN Lima conference and then Paris later next year aiming at binding emission targets, don’t you think there is again a real momentum in the general community for action? It was horrifying how vested interests and climate change deniers so successfully sabotaged efforts last time after the Copenhagen conference, despite the overwhelming scientific data and analysis.
The frequency and intensity of extreme weather and the changes we are all experiencing should be enough to convince most intelligent people that something is wrong.
In the US Warren Buffet is buying solar farms while our government does its best to sabotage the renewable energy industry where there has been a 70% drop in investment.
Most people are shocked but not surprised at the US Senate Report on the CIA Detention Interrogation Program. It seems torture yields very little useful or reliable information. Despite the horrific details, especially of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”, the ever-charming and ever-unrepentant Dick Cheney said “I’d do it again in a moment”.
IS do not seem to have been quite so successful lately but are much better armed and funded than their opposition. Lebanon is being drawn into the conflict. Egypt seems to be getting even more repressive. Malaysia is turning more fundamental, and PM Abe was re-elected in Japan and will no doubt pursue his right wing and nationalistic agenda. Their economy is in recession and there was only a 53% voter turnout.
The low prices for oil and gas could be a defining issue for the world in 2015. The US, Iran and Russia are among many countries to be very affected. On top of already imposed sanctions, the Russians are experiencing a crumbling economy and rouble. Will this make Putin less or more pugnacious?
There was talk of an “anyone but Bibi” coalition of opposition candidates for the elections in Israel early next year. Israel however will probably move even further to the right. While International humanitarian law prohibits the transfer of an occupier’s population to occupied territory, an estimated 515,000 Jewish settlers live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While the Jewish settlements continue to be built relentlessly and are making a Palestinian State almost impossible, a worldwide coalition in favour of Palestinian Statehood is growing.
Ebola is less in the news and I hope this means the disease is not spreading at the same rate and not compassion fatigue. Unfortunately the epidemic has devastated both the population (last statistics I read were 6,388 deaths out of 17,942 cases), and the economies of the affected countries.
INDIA: I loved attending the FIAPO conference in Jaipur in September, and I’m now looking forward to returning to India in January. I’m showing the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at the 3rd Minding Animals Conference (MAC 3) in Delhi running from 13 -20 January 2015. There is an interesting and diverse line up of international and national speakers and participants.
I’m then hoping to visit the last Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park in southern Gujarat. Unfortunately I”ll probably miss the Jaipur Literary Festival (21-25 January 2015) but I will catch the India Art Fair (29 January – 1 February 2015).
Asiatic lions once roamed from Syria to India. Hunting nearly drove them to extinction and in 1870 there were only 12 remaining. The good news is that their number in the Susan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary has grown to about 400 although this apparently is now an over-population. I am quite relaxed about actually sighting any lions and there is plenty of other wildlife, especially birds. I try not to impose, disturb or interfere in their lives unless it… happens sort of naturally. I’m just interested in learning more about them and their future.
CACH: I wonder if these caged African lions in South Africa have been “petted” when cubs, then “walked” with tourists, and faced being shot? The Australian representative of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Donalea Patman has just returned from South Africa. She sent me these articles in the SA press (here and here) about the South African government asking the Australian government to reconsider its potential ban on the importation of lion trophies. This illustrates just how powerful the hunting lobby is, but also how effective a ban could be. The accompanying article reported that “overseas hunters are flocking to kill in SA” and that spending has soared 32% as 8000 bag 44,000 trophies.
AUSTRALIA: I remain mostly appalled by our government and I’m glad to see from the polls that a majority of people agree. The polls are the worst “in living memory” for a government at this stage of the political cycle. Many government backbenchers are very worried and less united. Very surprisingly, Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper has begun criticising their performance, even in editorials, although diehards Greg Sheridan, Chris Kenny and Gerard Henderson are still in denial. Radio shock jocks Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and columnist Andrew Bolt who are usually blind supporters of the government, have also been critical.
When will the government start taking responsibility and stop blaming the previous government? They are rigidly ideological but with no vision, flexibility or strategy. They have demonstrated that they are beholden to some vested interests, and from time to time are mean-spirited, arrogant, out of touch, untrustworthy and inept.
The government’s inequitable May budget is still not fully implemented and a recent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) criticises and questions a number of issues in the budget.
Unemployment has risen to 6.3%. I can’t think of one job creation initiative – just job losses from government cuts, and businesses and manufacturers closing. Consumer confidence is down 13%. With falling commodity prices and less tax revenue, there is now a $40 billion deficit. When we were shamed into reluctantly contributing $200 million to the Green Climate Fund, this came out of the diminishing Foreign Aid budget which has been cut $3.7 billion.
Scott Ludlum of the Greens is the politician I have been most interested in this year, especially after his devastating Tony Abbott Welcome to W.A. speech which became a hit on YouTube. The opposition ALP is just letting the government unravel, and that’s fine by me. Governments lose elections. The ALP will play it safe, and will not undertake any necessary reforms, like loosening the ties with the trade unions. I’m not expecting them to suddenly discover their compassion or conscience.
ABC: Despite a firm promise before the election, the government has cut the budget of our highly respected public broadcaster, the ABC, by 5%. 1 in 10 are losing their jobs (and 1 in 5 at the Commonwealth Science Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). Conservatives view the ABC as biased and left wing. Many of the government’s supporters however live in rural and regional areas and are very dependent on ABC radio and television. I loved many of the diverse and informative issues discussed on Bush Telegraph which has been axed.
I think the ABC effectively interrogates whoever is in power and address the major issues of the day. I find it addictively informative and interesting. Some people call for more conservative commentators and presenters on the ABC but unfortunately most of the candidates are too shamelessly partisan or Tea Party nutty. The Institute of Public Affairs seems to have an endless supply of cocky young propagandists that are used as “balance” on programs such as The Drum.
Waleed Aly is a brilliant and amusing commentator-on-everything and is unfortunately leaving Radio National to co-host The Project on Channel 10. Waleed is very well informed about politics, but his many other enthusiasms include music and sport. This year in Australia we have seen cricketer Phillip Hughes killed while batting and a footballer paralysed by a tackle. Racing saw the death of two female jockeys and then two horses in the Melbourne Cup. Waleed wondered – like many of us – is the cost too great?
Congratulations to champion Rugby Union footballer David Pocock for having the courage to chain himself to machinery to protest against the Maules Creek coal mine in the Leard Forest NSW. He drew attention to the danger the mine posed to the forest, and the impact of coal mining on the local community – and the planet. Pocock said that before this protest “I have never participated in non-violent direct action. I have always hesitated, concerned about the impact it might have on my career”.
I don’t think enough of our celebrities use their position to fight for important issues, and it is rarer for a sportsman.
JOHN KEY: Oliver Hartwich was commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre to write about John Key, the low-key PM of New Zealand. In an article in the SMH Hartwich described how unlike the Abbott government so far, Key has methodically and successfully implemented a conservative centre-right agenda and he has just been re-elected for a third term. “Patience, preparation and pragmatism are the defining characteristics of Key’s government style” according to Hartwich. “Nothing ever hits the electorate by surprise. Changes in direction are flagged well in advance, and legitimacy is sought through elections. It is a strategy that could be described as incremental radicalism”. As a former Merrill Lynch executive, Key does not micro-manage his ministers, but is “ruthlessly efficient”.
Not many Georgia O’Keeffe paintings come on the market, and this painting recently sold at auction for US$44.4 million. It is a record for an artwork by a female artist. (The art auction record is US$142.4 million for Three Studies of Lucien Freud by Francis Bacon). O’Keeffe died in 1986 at the age of 98. This painting was de-accessioned from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and some – like the BBC’s Will Gompertz, think it odd that a museum is “selling an artwork by the artist it was founded to represent”.
CATS: I love the book Cat Lady Chic which I bought as a Christmas present but don’t think I can hand over! It contains wonderful photographs of some of the most glamorous movie stars and people with their cats. Cat ladies include Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Carla Bruni- Sarkozy, Eartha Kitt and Vivien Leigh, although some others just use the cats as props!
Grumpy Cat is now worth $100 million in endorsements!
Apart from all the cats and besotted owners, I loved the information in The Secret Life Of the Cat recently shown on SBS. Cats apparently live on average to 15, but I think some actually die very young and for many around 12 is a vulnerable age. Survivors can go on to 18-20. 50 cats tagged with GPS trackers and collar cams were monitored in an English village which was surrounded by woods. The males ranged for 100 metres and the females 50 metres, although most spent only 20% of their time outside. On average the owners found one kill per cat per week. The “experts” thought cats are evolving away from hunting as there is no need, and they are becoming more domesticated. In the denser urban situations the cats checked their own territory daily, but seemed to “time share” wider contested territory with enemies, in order to avoid each other. Guess where most cats went most regularly? Through the cat flaps of other cats to finish off their meals!
AFRICA ANIMAL STATS: with the death of 44 year old Angalifu there is now only 5 northern white rhinos in the world, down from 2000 in 1960; only 80,000 giraffes, 20,000 lions and 450,000 elephants remain. 100,000 elephants are estimated to have died between 2010-2012, primarily because of the Chinese thirst for ivory. A crocodile, supposedly 140 years old, recently died in South Africa. The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive record of the status of many threatened species.
MISC STATS: there is a conservative estimate of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic (270,000 tonnes) floating in our oceans; Apple is worth $60 billion and Uber $40 billion; Instagram has 300 million monthly active users and Twitter 284 million; 300 million Indians have no power and 1/3rd have no toilets.
We have had our own tragic hostage drama in Sydney and lost two bright young people. The gunman had an appalling and violent track record and should have been in custody or at the very least monitored. He was disowned by the Muslim community. Unfortunately this incident pales in comparison with the 141 slaughtered in Pakistan. One bright aspect of all this is that it has actually brought people of all beliefs together to say “ENOUGH”. I was very heartened by the success of the hashtag #I’llridewithyou campaign to support any Muslim women wearing headscarves who may feel vulnerable in public at the moment.
The overdue rapprochement between the USA and Cuba with the restoring of diplomatic relations is exciting, and let’s hope for more news like this in 2015.
Thanks to all of you that read my blogs, leave comments and communicate with me. Thanks for keeping me informed and sending me photographs, articles etc. My thoughts are with those of you that have lost loved ones this year. The love for animals and the work so many of you do on their behalf is very much appreciated, and in concert, we can make a difference.
Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, and a Happy New Year!
Brent Stirton, Sylvia Ross, Tony the Tiger, Australia, Climate Change, ACF, Divestment, IPCC, Tracey Moffatt, Richard Flanagan, Ebola, Whitlam, Mail, Kakadu, Melbourne Cup
November 8, 2014
Wildlife photographer Brent Stirton has won the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year award for 2014, for the second year in a row. See here for a selection of Stirton’s work including Living with Lions, a series of photographs addressing the contentious issue of farming lions for Canned Hunting in Africa. A warning: some of these photographs are very graphic and upsetting.
TONY THE TIGER: See this recent “raw video” of Tony the Tiger in his cage at the increasingly notorious truckstop in Louisiana filmed 22 October 2014. Tony eats in a desultory way…and then quietly moves to a more shaded (and hopefully more private) part of his cage. How much longer will he be in this cage? He deserves a better life and we have to keep fighting for him.
WILLY: Again this year some of us have been anxiously following the lives of Willy the wagtail and her chicks in the garden of Sylvia Ross in Sydney. Luckily Sylvia is an excellent artist and photographer and she is going to publish a small book of her daily photographs (or post on Facebook) entitled in Plain Sight – 28 Days. The mother tries to protect her three chicks from various dangers – from extreme heat to other birds such as currawongs, for 14 days as an egg, and 14 days after hatching.
AUSTRALIA/ CLIMATE CHANGE: Our PM recently declared to the world that “coal was good for humanity”. Predictably, the Renewable Energy Target is to be lowered. A climate change denier (Richard Warburton) was selected to head the review into the RET, and PM Abbott is doing his best to destroy the renewable energy market. This is at a time when there is a new wave of international momentum to act…
It is very depressing having a government in denial about climate change and proud of abolishing a carbon tax while many countries in the world are moving in the opposite direction. The government has invented a pretend solution “Direct Action”, where the government PAYS the big polluters to cut emissions if they want to! This has now passed parliament. I have not read one reputable economist, scientist, expert, or commentator – excluding some journos working for Rupert Murdoch of course – that support this scheme. There has been no modelling, no costings, no explanations….
During intense and dangerous bushfires last year our PM even disputed the fact that fires and extreme weather conditions were becoming more frequent and intense.
ACF: Geoffrey Cousins has just been appointed head of the Australian Conservation Fund, the country’s largest environmental lobby. He sees the primary purpose of the ACF at the moment is to lead the opposition to the government’s “shameful” lack of action on climate change and environmental issues. Cousins is interesting – a successful conservative advertising/business man who even advised John Howard in office, but who cares deeply about the environment. He has shown in the past to be a formidable opponent – he led the successful campaign against a pulp mill on the Derwent River in Tasmania, and against the Woodside gas hub in the Kimberley, West Australia. He was a young teacher at my school but has erased this from his CV….
DIVESTMENT: There was a furore when the Australian National University decided to divest their shares in fossil fuel companies from their portfolio. This is growing as a movement – from the Rockefellers to Stanford University. Let’s hope coal becomes a “stranded asset” soon. Apparently coal still supplies 82% of the world’s energy needs and is regarded as “cheap” – although the infrastructure surrounding it is actually very expensive compared to some other energy sources.
In a recent survey of Australian business company directors, 50% rated the government’s performance as “poor” or “very poor”. This is a very alarming statistic for a government supposedly close to business. The ill-conceived and very badly received budget is still struggling to get through parliament.
IPCC: The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change states unequivocally that fossil fuels must be phased out by the end of the century. I think a majority of people believe urgent action is required. With Obama, the EU, China and many other countries now seriously committed, and UN meetings coming up in Lima then Paris, Australia is very much “on the wrong side of history”.
Despite Australia’s best efforts to exclude it, climate change just made it on to the agenda for the upcoming G20 meeting of world leaders in Brisbane next weekend. This meeting could be interesting in many ways – from various protests to our PM’s juvenile threat to “shirt- front” Russia’s Putin.
TRACEY MOFFATT: I recently went to Brisbane for the opening of Tracey Moffatt’s exhibition Spirited at the Gallery of Modern Art. I follow her career with fascination. Many of the art works referenced places and memories from Tracey growing up in suburban Brisbane, Queensland, and her family connections to land. She has a new video series Art Calls where she interviews artists or people that interest her by skype. The interviews are very informative and often amusing and will soon be on ABC online.
CATS & KAKADU: There are apparently 20 million feral cats in Australia, and it is claimed they kill 75 million mammals each day (that’s 4 mammals per cat). The new Commissioner for Threatened Species is turning his attention to the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory where the loss of so many animals is attributed to feral cats, foxes and fires. Apparently fire management is completely out of date, and there are too many weeds contributing to “inappropriate” fires which then leave threatened species exposed and unprotected. I can foresee a time when cats are going to be banned or are to be entirely kept inside – watching cartoons on television!
RICHARD FLANAGAN: Congratulations to Richard Flanagan for winning the Man Booker prize for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In his acceptance speech he said the environmental record and support for the coal industry by our present government made him “ashamed to be Australian”.
Well done champion cyclist Cadel Evans for supporting wind farms in South Australia, a state that is serious about renewable energy.
Also congratulations to that extraordinary young girl Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi from India for sharing the Nobel Peace Prize. Asylum-seeker/refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC from Melbourne has just won the 2014 Sydney Peace Prize.
EBOLA: Ebola has to be tackled at its source which is the three African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The still inadequate global response has been yet another failure by the international community, and even initially by the World Health Organisation. While the Australian Government was itching to go and drop “humanitarian” weapons in Iraq, it has equivocated over responding to this terrible disease. The government has finally been shamed into donating a field hospital in Sierra Leone. The government still seems reluctant to send Australian medical personnel although hundreds have volunteered. It now emerges that we were asked months ago by the USA,UK and some African countries to do more…
Mark Zuckerberg has generously given $27.05 million and Paul Allen (Microsoft) $100 million.
WHITLAM: A former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam recently died at 98. He reformed the Labor Party and won power for them in 1972 after 23 years in opposition. He initiated many policies and reforms that we take for granted today. There are too many to list but they include free tertiary education (which transformed many lives), free healthcare, Aboriginal land rights and he was one of the first leaders to visit and recognise China. Whitlam changed Australia.
On his death both sides of parliament spoke graciously about him, and many of them seemed to have been politicised by him – either way! His achievements in a few short years make our current leaders and representatives look timid and mediocre. We have been reminded of what real leadership looked like. Words commonly used to describe him were “brave”, “courageous”, and “visionary”. Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor General in 1975 and this remains highly controversial today. He was replaced by Malcolm Fraser who I did not regard as a good Prime Minister, but who has seemingly become less conservative and been a more effective and engaged elder statesman than Whitlam.
Unfortunately there was a world economic downturn as Whitlam implemented many of his reforms and policies, and while Whitlam is justifiably criticised for his haste and economic management, the next (Fraser) government inherited a zero net government debt.
At the recent memorial service Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson’s spoke very eloquently about what Whitlam initiated and achieved for Aboriginal people. Pearson also noted that Whitlam who had an upper-middle class background was intent on giving everyone more equal opportunities. The actress Kate Blanchett said it was Whitlam’s changes to education that allowed her to discover acting, and that she also benefited from his enlightened attitude to the role of women in society, Australia’s cultural life and our place in the world. The painting Blue Poles is a good example of Whitlam’s contribution to Australia’s cultural life. It was a huge scandal when he permitted the National Gallery of Australia to purchase Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for $1.3 million in 1973. The painting has since become a “destination” at the NGA, and is now valued anywhere between $30 to $100 million dollars.
I love this photograph of Melanie Griffith who grew up with this lion Neil in the 1970s. Neil is so beautiful,and I love all the photographs of course (see here), especially her sleeping with the lion – or the lion tail hanging down from the bed! Her mother Tippi Hedren (who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) founded The Roar Foundation in 1983 to support the Shambala Preserve in California to educate about the “dangers of private ownership of exotic animals”.
MELBOURNE CUP: We have just had the running of the Melbourne Cup, described as “the race that stops a nation”. Horses are so beautiful and magnificent and my sister and I enjoyed riding when we were young. As I watched the races during the day I wondered if the horses liked racing and were naturally competitive. I suspect some do love it. While some horses before and after their races looked around and appeared to enjoy the crowd and the attention, others were more skittish. There are always love stories, like the 2 men who always accompany the 9 year old Red Cadeaux on his world travels and who said he is the nicest, loveliest horse. He came second for the third time!
The German horse Protectionist won very convincingly, but the favourite Admire Rakti from Japan, after a very fast first half of the race carrying the top weight, faded to last place. He returned to his stall, sank to his knees and died. He had had a heart attack. Like many other people I am still very shocked and quite depressed by this. Another horse Araldo was “spooked” after the race by a flag waved in his face and he broke a leg and had to be put down. A horse also died after this race last year.
While some of the horses are loved and pampered, my main criticisms are: many horses never succeed or break down from being raced too young (or in inappropriate races) and are sent to the knackery; the use of the whip is cruel; and “jumps” racing is just too dangerous. Is horse racing just yet another example of us using animals cruelly for our own entertainment?
Racing is also highly dangerous for the jockeys and two female riders have died in Australia in the last few weeks.
On a cheerier note, my sister recently found this photograph of my first cat. I found him in the vacant allotment next door when I was about 10. He was probably “feral” and was quite rough and tough. I loved him and admired his independent spirit. We always had dogs in our family, but my favourite book when very young was Orlando the Marmalade Cat. This cat was my introduction to the wonderful world of cats and I have had at least one cat in my life ever since!
Thanks to Deb, Tim, Francois and Sylvia Ross especially for sending some of the images used on this blog, and to many others for your emails, news and images.
October 4 – World Animal Day, FIAPO (Jaipur Conference), Christian the lion, Minding Animals Conference 3, United Nations, Bengal Tigers etc
October 2, 2014
OCT 4th World Animal Day: According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, half the world’s wild animals have been lost in the last 40 years from habitat destruction,hunting and deforestation. On this World Animal Day let’s work together and combine our efforts to reverse these terrible statistics – their survival is at stake.
SYDNEY: People are meeting beside Sydney Town Hall at 11am on Saturday 4th October. Organisers seem to be a coalition of Lobby For Lions, Animal Works and felinefoundation.org – see their sites for information. The March is for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions primarily…but let’s salute all animals!
MELBOURNE: fortheloveofwildlife is staging a fund raiser, primarily for a documentary exposing the cruelty of farming lions for the canned hunting industry in South Africa. Apart from the entertainment, the evening will feature Ian Michler, a well-known wildlife journalist from South Africa.
Please consider signing this petition to ban lion trophy imports into Australia – this is a very effective way of discouraging hunting.
FIAPO: The Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations staged a very informative and effective conference in Jaipur. A federation can combine all our voices and efforts and be very influential. People were eloquent advocates on behalf of a wide variety of animals and issues. In attendance were esteemed elders, generous patrons, dynamic individuals and groups, and many concerned and enthusiastic young people.
There are strong laws to protect animals in India – it is the implementation that is problematic.
My Opening Address, illustrated with photographs, seemed to be quite well received – they love Christian’s story! As the auditorium was full of animal lovers, this was not surprising. The audience clapped when Christian jumped up on us – and some shed a few tears – it was beautiful!
This is the link to the original and my favourite Youtube clip – as it includes Whitney Houston’s emotive back track I’ll Always Love You.
At the conference there were many dedicated and hard working people (including some interesting foreigners that came to India on holiday and stayed). Many run animal shelters where dogs, donkeys, camels, snakes, birds etc are rescued and cared for. Sessions ranged widely from dealing with the packs of dogs and rabies in communities, bears that have been rescued from a life of “performing” with gypsies, to the huge tracts of land required for elephants that have been “rescued” from miserable lives performing or working.
Listening to many of the speakers made me think deeply about animal rights, and how we use animals selfishly for our own purposes. We farm them cruelly for our food, work them hard, and use them for our “entertainment”.
We can visit animals in the wild and observe them appropriately…we can walk in our national parks full of birds…swim under water in our oceans….visit reputable wildlife sanctuaries, “open air” zoos, and conservancies where vast tracts of land are protected.
Incidentally, behavioural ecologist Justin O’Riain who is currently visiting Australia, has said electrified fencing can reduce the vexed issue of animal/human contact – from the baboons in the suburbs of Cape Town, to deterring lions and elephants from local villages.
We can stay home and watch the most beautifully filmed and educational nature documentaries. We can donate to causes we believe in. Most satisfyingly, on a daily basis we can look after the dogs and cats in our lives – preferably rescued from shelters.”Companion pets” so aptly describes the roles they play in our lives…
Fellow Working for Animals committee member Jeannette and I visited the Camel Rescue Shelter established on the outskirts of Jaipur. Camels and a donkey were recuperating, and a cow was on a drip watched by the anxious owner. It was a reminder of just how tough village life remains for most Indians. While India seems to get easier to visit, and the middle class expands, one can’t forget that for the majority of Indians life remains extremely hard. Many live on the street, or in slums, and life remains precarious. The weather is extreme –hot and cold, monsoonal rains caused flooding in Kashmir (blamed on climate change, deforestation and unsuitable over development), and temperatures I would find unbearable (45!). Overall I love the vitality of Indians and many have a great sense of humour. The new PM Modi seems energetic but it is too early to judge him.
MAC3: I’ve now been asked to show the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at another important conference – the Minding Animals Conference 3 in New Delhi 13th January – 18th January 2015. Minding Animals furthers the development of animal studies internationally and helps to establish legal and moral protections.
After three days of the conference I looked forward to a walk around the attractive City Palace, and dinner at the luxurious Rambagh Palace.
BENGAL TIGERS: I was deeply shocked to find out there were only 1500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild in India. Indians were equally shocked that only 20,000 wild lions remain in Africa. I was asked by people at the conference how to protect tigers – and a starting point was this petition on my last blog (sent to me by Francois) which most Indians were not aware of. 96,300 acres of forest are to be cut down in the state of Maharashtra for bamboo and teak – but it includes vital tiger habitat. Please sign the petition and circulate.
UNITED NATIONS: By abolishing our carbon tax Australia should have been embarrassed at the United Nations summit on Climate Change. 300,000 marched in New York and Obama is certainly talking about climate change with much more urgency. On the other hand our government is in denial and we are now on the wrong side of history.
We have no designated Minister for Science and funding for science and innovation is at a 30 year low.
Our PM sidestepped Climate Change to give a banal speech at the United Nations about joining the Coalition against the Islamic State. Our indecent haste to rush to war has “added to” making Australians more of a target to extreme Muslims. Our politicians (and some Murdoch journalists) are still in denial about the repercussions from the 2003 Iraq invasion and are no doubt in danger of making the same mistakes all over again – such as having no exit policy. War has conveniently taken the attention off the government’s inept handling of the budget and I still can’t think of one major initiative that gives me any confidence in the government. Often I’m shocked at their behaviour: like the recent decision to send our asylum seekers to Cambodia for resettlement. Cambodia is one of the worlds poorest nations with an appalling human rights record.
I liked the break in India from our newspapers…the conservatives in the Murdoch press here are still blaming “ the Left”, the ALP budget deficit, or imaginary “bias” at the ABC.
EBOLA: Isn’t this an emergency the world is inexplicitly slow to respond to?
HONG KONG: The world is admiring the bravery of your citizens as you demonstrate for your democratic rights and we wish you well.
READING: I adored reading Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest memoir and Alice Walker’s unsettling and often funny In Love & Trouble. I find them fascinating individuals but I also enjoyed the more cerebral and interwoven stories in Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell. I’m listening to music by our composer Peter Sculthorpe, who died recently. His collaboration with William Barton on the didgeridoo is hauntingly beautiful.
Looking forward to celebrating WORLD ANIMAL DAY with you all around the world.
Asylum Seekers, Animals, Whales, Lions, Elephants, Cheetahs, Gorillas, Leopards, Energy, Aboriginal Art, Australia, Joseph Stiglitz, Carbon Tax Repeal, Middle East, Israel, India, Mail, Gore Vidal etc
July 21, 2014
The world is mourning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with those innocent passengers, and their families and friends – so many people are touched by this event. In Australia we have lost 37 people. Unfortunately, conflict in the Middle East is also claiming many innocent civilians and it is hard not to feel extremely depressed at the moment about the human condition.
WHALES: Meanwhile, life for most of us goes on, and the whales, including albino Migaloo, continue their migration north along our eastern coast. One whale beached itself and after the efforts of many people over several days, finally swam off. The “debate” on whaling at the Australian National Maritime Museum was most interesting with a first-hand account by Jon Lewis of protests and lobbying which closed the last whaling station at Albany, West Australia in 1978. We also heard from brave participants on the Sea Shepherd fleet up against the Japanese whalers. I don’t think many Japanese actually eat whale meat and I know much is frozen and stored in warehouses. Apart from whaling, another threat to whales is the increasing acidification of the oceans, and the amount of plastic refuse that forms huge islands in the oceans. On exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 1 February 2015) are the marvellous life-size photographs of whales by Bryant Austin.
Ultra nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been in Australia. Our PM Abbott referred to the Japanese who invaded Sydney Harbour in submarines in the war in 1942. He said “we admire the skill and sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did”. Needless to say these remarks were not well received by Australian soldiers (or their descendants) who fought in the war or by countries like China that were invaded by Japan. A Chinese Daily newspaper described our Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop “a complete fool” after some of her recent remarks, and predicted that her government won’t last long. Given that the Abbott government has 37 communications and social media specialists (at a cost of $4.3 million and compared to 7 people in the previous government), can’t someone vet these loose cannons? Abbott also recently offended our indigenous population by describing Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” prior to colonisation. But trade apparently trumps all other considerations, and PM Abe was not even questioned over his intention to continue to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.
I could not resist this photograph of visitors and a lion at the Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria. They are actually shielded (from each other) by a glass wall. I am ambiguous about zoos even though they have had to make themselves much more relevant in the areas or research and conservation. I try not to be too cute or kitsch in my choice of photographs…sometimes a very fine line I know..
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Despite Amnesty International, the UN and other international human rights agencies documenting in Sri Lanka instances of torture, disappearances, muzzling of journalists, civilian deaths and threats to human rights advocates, our government has blithely returned a boatload of 41 people to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is “peaceful” according to Abbott. The UN has expressed “profound concern” at the actions of the Australian Government. Another 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers that set out in a boat from India are presently in an undisclosed location somewhere at sea in one of our Customs boats. Thirty children are among these people that have been held for four weeks in windowless cabins, while a High Court challenge to this incident is yet to be resolved. Our Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison hides behind 95 spin doctors to ensure we are told nothing! Meanwhile some children are manifesting mental problems in our detention centres and some mothers are self harming.
I think well known photographer Rosemary Laing captures so powerfully the isolation and forbidding nature of some of our detention centres. I am ashamed to say most Australians are in favour of our tough and inhumane policy – which has bi-partisan support. What is wrong with us? Is this the same in your countries? I think of the thousands fleeing into Europe from North Africa (1500 recently in one day), and the 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants detained in recent months for attempting to cross into the USA from Central America. 51 million people are displaced globally.
LEOPARD: Asa the leopard is the subject of an important “rewilding” exercise in Nepal. Her story is such a typical example of human/wildlife conflict over shrinking natural habitats and the competition for resources. Thanks to Kate who emailed me (below) about Asa and she will be able to give us a firsthand account after her visit to Nepal in November: The leopard is one of the most persecuted and misunderstood of the big cats. In Nepal, a young leopard cub called Asa (which means hope) is the focus of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a collaboration between Wild Tiger Conservation Research and Development, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and came into the care of Jack Kinross from Wild Tiger in February this year. Asa soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations. Asa underwent months of training in a secure area in the Raniban Forest near Pokhara, including daily jungle sessions, and with minimal contact with humans. It was decided that Asa would be rehabilitated in an area with a good prey base, and away from human habitation, within the Annapurna Conservation Area. After meetings with local communities, Stage 2 of the rewilding process is being launched this month. The rewilding location ensures that Asa, and future leopards in the LRP, will have minimal human contact and the chance to return to their natural habitat. The aim of the LRP is to address the ongoing and complex issues of increasing human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. Follow Asa’s story and the LRP at wildleopard.net and wildtiger.org.
CHEETAHS: Andrew has sent me these two articles on cheetahs (in Africa and Iran) who, like most other wild animals are also competing for habitats and struggling to survive. There may be 12,000 cheetahs left in Africa where they also face the problems arising from the spread of human populations. There are programs to re-introduce, rehabilitate and “train” cheetahs to be wild. There may be only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs left and they are the world’s second rarest cats. They are smaller and slighter and favour mountainous regions. There is a concerted effort to protect them in Iran, with 125 game rangers to guard them. Read here and here.
AUSTRALIA: We have had chaos in the Australian Senate with the motley collection of new senators (some are there on preferences with less than 1% of votes) creating havoc for an inept government. People are beginning to realise what a good negotiator ex PM Julia Gilliard was, with all the legislation she steered (undefeated) through a hung parliament. The maverick billionaire MP Clive Palmer is turning out to be everyone’s worst nightmare and it is still not really clear what any of his policies are beyond attracting attention for himself and creating chaos. Even The Australian seemed to have run out of patience with the Government’s incompetence with an Editorial (July 12-13) which was finally critical of the Abbott government’s performance and lack of judgement, as was Peter Van Onselen the previous week (July 5-6) in his article July 5-6 “Abbott trapped in downward spiral all of his making”. The mostly rabid letters to the editor of The Australian call for a double dissolution but with the polls SO low for the government this is most unlikely. 61% of the electorate find the budget “unfair” while Abbott’s approval is between minus 25 and minus 35.
In The Rise and Fall of Australia, Nick Bryant describes how he was surprised on arrival in Australia several years ago about the inaccuracies of the stereotypes about Australians. According to writer/reviewer Louis Nowra, Bryant found a “confident country that was able to absorb many of the better aspects of British and American culture”. However Bryant is “aghast” at the low level of political debate (which, in the case of Abbott in opposition, did not transcend a few slogans), and poll driven policies and responses. He repeats Donald Horne’s quote that Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people. Bryant (and Nowra) wonder why when we have many talented and clever people and are reasonably sophisticated, we present ourselves in such a corny way to the world – kangaroos, Paul Hogan, meat pies etc. For example, Barack Obama was given a football by Julia Gilliard and a surfboard by Tony Abbott.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz has been in Australia and fortunately quite ubiquitous. See this article he wrote in the SMH titled Inequality: Good reasons to shun the US model about how inequality is now widely recognised as being bad for both the economy and society more widely. One in four families in America live “in poverty”. He thinks Australia would be mad to follow the USA education and health care models. Deregulating university would be a “crime”, while co payments for medical services would be “absurd”. He doesn’t think any of the “for-profit” universities in the USA are particularly good and that they just exploit poor people and are only good at lobbying. See the charmless Judith Sloan in The Australian for her predictable response to Stiglitz’s ideas titled Emulating the U.S? Don’t our politicians (and the Institute of Public Affairs) read or research anything? Stiglitz urges us to tax BAD things – like carbon emissions and pollution, and INVEST in people. He also countered the myth that we have a “debt crisis” and this is backed up by 25 of Australia’s leading economists who have rejected the government’s inaccurate claim that we have a “budget emergency”. They agree that it is only a medium-term “problem” rather than a “crisis”. Read this article by Gareth Hutchens titled Economists rubbish talk of debt crisis.
CARBON TAX REPEAL: While the world moves forward on action on climate change, we move backwards! I am ashamed to say the government has repealed the carbon tax, leaving us with no policy. It is the power and influence of the fossil–fuel industry that is preventing us moving to renewable energy in what has been described as a third industrial revolution. A recent ABC Four Corners program on energy called Power to the People was depressing in that it showed how dumb Australia’s leadership is compared to so many countries – the US, South Korea, China, Germany etc. But I actually found it heartening in that renewable energy will win! Australia may be left behind and miss the economic opportunities but renewables are unstoppable. While investment in renewable energy is now at a “standstill” in Australia, China poured $US19.3 billion into renewables in the June quarter. See the article in the SMH by Ross Gittins Australia risking future as fuel fossil. The US electric car Tesla with no emissions presently costs $100,000 but with mass production will soon come down to $30,000. Apple is to be 100% off the grid and powered by its own solar farm. There now exists a large scale solar farm that could provide 90% of Canberra’s power needs. Storage of wind and solar energy etc for peak times (or night) is now practical and with increasing capacity.
The ever helpful Rupert Murdoch has just said Australia should not be building windmills and “all that rubbish”. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist and was one of the first to warn about global warming. Lord Deben, who was in her cabinet and now heads the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called Abbott’s repeal of the carbon tax “appalling” and that the Australian government was “more concerned with advancing its own short term political interests”. He said that, in contrast, “66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming”. After the repeal of the carbon tax, the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs sent a congratulatory email to supporters saying “we did it”.
MIDDLE EAST: The extremist fighters of the Islamic State now control a third of both Iraq and Syria, and Israel has invaded Gaza. I’m not going to list the growing and disproportionate number of civilian deaths. According to an article by Ari Shavit who wrote My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Israelis have been living in a safe and prosperous “iron -dome delusion” over the last few years, and are now vulnerable to “irregular forces of irregular entities” on their borders that will “disrupt Israel’s order”. He is very sad that in the relative quiet of 2009 – 2013 “New thinking was never introduced and fresh ideas were not implemented”. This “undeclared cease fire” offered the opportunity for the major players to create a “unique dynamic for a two state solution”. In an article in the SMH Randa Abdel-Fattah examined the “unwavering” support for Israel by Australia (like America, Europe etc). She thinks the “peace process” is a “farce” and that with the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, a two state solution is “dead”. While acknowledging rockets have been fired from Gaza, she says “One has to credit a military juggernaut and a covertly nuclear state for its success in framing itself as victim even as it bombs a largely defenceless population”…living in what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.
According to the Pew Research Centre, over the last 12 months, fear about Muslim extremism have been rising in nations with large Muslim populations. The exception is Indonesia where only 4 in 10 voiced concern about extremism. What is good, is that the majority are losing patience with Muslim extremism, and realise it is counter- productive for their futures.
We have just had an excellent SBS 4 part television series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl which traces the history of the Lebanese community in Australia over the last 30 years. Given the difficulties of migrating to another country, racism, the language barrier and a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, inevitably a small percentage has been into drugs, crime and car rebirthing etc. Unfortunately the whole Lebanese community has been tarnished by this small minority and demonised by every “Muslim” incident around the world. It was alarming to be reminded of the racist Cronulla riots in 2005, which happened just across the water from where I live. Hundreds of white Anglo kids went on a drunken rampage baying for blood – whipped up by the appalling shock jock Alan Jones. Ugly revenge attacks followed. The Shire, as our area is called, does not appreciate difference or diversity. Perhaps one can understand how our great swimming champion Ian Thorpe, who has lived in the Shire, felt so inhibited – or frightened, of coming out as gay, when initially asked as a 16 year old.
IRAQ: In a recent article for The Saturday Paper titled The Iraq War’s coalition of the shilling esteemed academic Robert Manne revisits our participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fraudulent reasons for it. He concludes: “The leaders of the Australian war party – John Howard, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander Downer – and their most influential cheerleaders – Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan – bear some responsibility for the deaths of half a million Iraqis…deaths still to come…the unimaginable suffering endured…And yet so far as I am aware – their supreme self-confidence apparently unaffected by the catastrophe they had helped unleash in Iraq – not one of these warriors of the right has expressed even one word of contrition or remorse”. ISIL has now declared an “Islamic State” and are the world’s richest militant group with assets of least $2 billion.
ELEPHANTS: Raju the elephant has been freed from possibly 50 years of begging for coins. Alerted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India, the North London charity Wildlife SOS travelled to India to free him, which was resisted by Raju’s current owner. Save the Elephant estimates that 33,000 African elephants have been killed annually between 2010-2012. This is driven by the price of ivory having tripled in the last four years. China is the world’s biggest market and the Japanese also have an appetite for it. Sales of ivory in Bangkok have also nearly trebled in the past year.
INDIA: I have been asked to speak at the conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in September in Jaipur. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the delegates who are doing great work on behalf of animals in India. I have visited India many times and appreciate the magnitude of their challenges. I’m now on the committee of Working for Animals, who runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I blogged about my visit there in 2010. As you can see,the shelters are in the most beautiful locations and the animals are cared for so sympathetically. I accompanied the staff and vets to an outlying area where people brought in there cats and dogs for examinations and treatments etc. Strategies such as these have eliminated rabies from the surrounding areas. WFA also contribute to the Human Elephant Learning Projects which offer instruction on more appropriate care of elephants, and the Help in Suffering Animal Shelter.
CONGRATULATIONS: Joko Widodo appears to have won the presidential election in Indonesia. I fear Prabowa Subianto will be a very bad loser. The more I read about him the worse he sounds. Megawati and her daughter seemed a millstone around Joko’s neck during the election and are rather clueless members of an elite I hope Indonesia has now broken free of… Our new “teenage sensation” Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa at Wimbledon in the quarter finals (mixed feelings), but Djokovic beat Federer in a marvellous 5 set match. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup.
MISC STATS: one person dies every 6 seconds from smoking; according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report Australia has the highest rate of ecstasy use, is 2nd for opioids, 3rd for methamphetamine’s, 4th for cocaine and 7th for cannabis; Tracey Emin’s famous unmade bed My Bed sold for $4.6 million at auction; 60% of Americans own pets and their pet industry is worth $55 billion annually; the Pope estimates 2% of the Roman Catholic clergy are pedophiles, but others say it is closer to 4%; Rebekah Brooks was paid 11 million pounds by Rupert Murdoch –see the ABC Four Corners report on the News of the World phone hacking scandal Rupert, Rebekah and Andy – it is chilling.
MAIL: Thanks to Kate, Francois, Deb, Elaine, Andrew, Bob, William, Madeleine, MoonieBlues etc for contributions and drawing my attention to articles and images.
VALE: I met Judy Cuppaidge sailing to New York on the SS France many years ago and we remained great friends. She was a well known landscape architect, horticulturalist, artist, writer cat lover and much else, and will be sadly missed.
WATCHING: On the ABC there is the second series of Art + Soul by curator Hetti Perkins. This series does gives the opportunity to look in some depth at Aboriginal art – the first episode was two artists I especially admire – Daniel Boyd and Jonathan Jones.
There was also a poignant story on the ABC about the Big Ears Sanctuary where Jacqui Steele and her partner look after many unwanted animals or pets on 25 acres in Tasmania. For many of us it would be a dream come true with 400 rabbits, cats, donkeys, pigs etc. Unfortunately Jacqui is gravely ill but so far is undeterred although the future is so uncertain. I think they could use our financial support to continue their excellent work – running costs are $90,000 per year. On 60 Minutes there was a story of the 800 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, Congo. The gorillas have survived nearby civil wars, giant displacements of people, poaching etc and their population has stabilised, even increasing, due to the vigilance of the rangers. However, 150 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. We should all pay tribute to the many devoted rangers in Africa and around the world who literally put their lives on the line for animals. There is a foundation to support them and their families – The Thin Green Line Foundation. Of course the new threat to the gorillas is oil and the UK company SOCO. It is alleged that they have corruptly been given exploration rights over 85% of the park, which would herald the end – for the Park, and for the gorillas.
GORE VIDAL: I attended a screening of Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia with the director Nicholas Wrathall available for questions. It has opened in cinemas in the USA and will be screened shortly on our ABC. You can view the trailer here. I found it a marvellous documentary and Gore was so intelligent and perceptive. He was well positioned as the ultimate insider/outsider, with an aristocratic family close to political power, and surrounded by celebrities and famous people. He was so ahead of his time. He was among the first to warn about many of the issues we are still grappling with: economic inequality (which he spoke of in the 1960s); the almost inescapable power of big corporations; the power of the neo cons; electronic surveillance; American imperialism and how this has inevitably made America a target; and he was scathing about virtually all modern presidents… He was a brilliant writer, was urbane, witty and bitchy – and devastatingly sarcastic about people like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F Buckley. Everything rings so true and is so relevant TODAY!
CACH, Tony The Tiger, Birds, Australian Budget, Ross Gittins, Elsa, Art, Daniel Boyd, Faroe Islands, William T Cooper, Neville William Cayley, Christian, Mugie, Jumbo,“Feral” Control, Energy, Climate Change etc
May 25, 2014
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””.
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.
CHEETAHS: See this cute cheetah video. I have a friend Barry who is obsessed with cheetahs, so this is for him especially.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’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.
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!
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.