Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

When we returned again to Kenya to visit Christian and George Adamson in 1972, I took a super 8 video camera.  I’ve finally had my very amateur footage transferred to DVD, and this photograph is a still from it.  The footage is a loving portrait of Christian – I remember thinking I will never remember just how beautiful all his markings were. He was growing into a very big lion, and was increasingly independent.  We didn’t know that we would never see him again. I recently showed this short, unedited footage for the first time, at a fund raising art exhibition for the Animal Welfare League NSW  in Sydney.

Animal Welfare League NSW:  I have visited the two animal shelters in Sydney (Ingleside and Kemps Creek) run by the Animal Welfare League NSW where dogs and cats wait to be “re-homed” to a suitable household.  The shelters are very well administered, in attractive settings, and depend on donations, sponsorship and the loving care of volunteers. Animals are well looked after and are assessed and  monitored by vets and animal behaviourists.  The AWL also campaigns, for example, against puppy farming, and acts on reports of animal cruelty.

Artists who generously participated in the AWL fund raising exhibition included Joanna Braithwaite (below), and Janet Laurence.   I recommend you watch Laurence’s beautiful and meditative series of animal and nature videos here.  Many artists these days are imaginatively examining human/animal and environmental inter-relationships.  They share a great love of animals and generously support causes related to animal welfare and rights.

Lengthy Tales by Joanna Braithwaite Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

Lengthy Tale 2013 by Joanna Braithwaite. Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

MAIL: Thanks for the responses to the last blog, and many of you also seem to enjoy Christian’s birthday. People loved and commented on Jiawei Shen’s portrait. Michele, for example, found the painting “mesmerising”. She also wrote “Christian is born in the month of Leo and has the life path of 9. He was born to be a spiritual gift to the universe – he was the consummate LION. The LION of LIONS!!

Joy Adamson with Elsa

Joy Adamson with Elsa. Source Elsa Conservation Trust.

ELSA: A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Elsa: the lioness who changed the world (you can view some of the clips here). The phenomenal success of Joy Adamson’s 1960 Born Free book (translated into 25 languages), and the subsequent film did help change how people thought about animals – especially “wild” animals. They were now viewed as individual beings, and hopefully this has made us more mindful of their futures. There were interviews with Virginia McKenna, who had played Joy Adamson in the film, and with Tony Fitzjohn who was George Adamson’s assistant at his camp at Kora and is now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

Joy Adamson took the most marvellous photographs of Elsa, who was, like Christian, an exceptional lion. George realised that they should have retained the three cubs, instead of sending two to a European Zoo, as this would have made it easier to rehabilitate Elsa.  Subsequently, he knew to build a pride around Christian.

There was some good footage of Christian, especially with Tony Fitzjohn.  Christian was the first lion Tony had met, and he said they were both like new boys finding their way in the wild.

Lion in Shaft of Light

Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt

NICK BRANDT: Source Photographica in Melbourne is having another exhibition of the majestic photographs of Nick Brandt from 5 -27 October. The exhibition is the final volume in a trilogy which has been presenting a “complex and deep portrait of Africa”, and it has been fascinating to watch Brandt chart this through his powerful and exceptionally beautiful photography.  It is hard not to be depressed that many of the subjects of his photographs are facing extinction, and that there is so little effective action to save them.  80 elephants have just been poisoned in Zimbabwe.  It should be inconceivable that we may see the end of the elephant, for example, in our life time, on our watch.

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg by Nick Brandt

A recent radio interview referred to Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger which she started in India in 1973 when the tiger was on the brink of extinction.  From an estimated 40,000 in the early 20th century, numbers had shrunk to approximately 1800 by 1973.  She introduced the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, and hunting tigers was banned and reserves created. Unfortunately, after the assassinations of her and her son, the Indian government from 1992 up to the present have made bad and late decisions and neglected necessary reforms, and tiger numbers are now down to an estimated 1700.

AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS: OK, my side lost the election and I’m a bad loser! It was inevitable however, and I hope the Labor Party rediscovers some fundamental values. It has been a hung parliament yet despite an adversarial, negative and policy-free Opposition, alot of legislation was passed, and some major reforms of national significance initiated.  But it has not been a pleasant time, and has felt like one long election campaign.  It is sort of a relief that it is finally over, even if it is back to the future.

There is only one woman in Prime Minister Abbott’s 20 person cabinet (described as “pale, male and stale”) and he is dismantling our Emissions Trading Scheme and any institutions associated with climate information or policy. The climate sceptics are showing their hands, and there is not even a Minister for Science. Their replacement scheme Direct Action is not taken seriously, but perhaps will now be under scrutiny. David Suzuki, who has been visiting Sydney, has written and spoken about how Abbott is “dooming future generations”, and that “willful blindness” should be an offence.

The recently released latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that there is a 95% certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and the ocean.

In the SMH, RossGittins writes that in the election the public didn’t really like either contender, confirming my own feelings, and that Labor is the eternally dissatisfied party of “reform”, while the Libs are the conservatives, “satisfied with the world as is and trying to stave of disruptive change for as long as possible”.

In contrast to his noise and daily photo ops in opposition, the Abbott government has been almost invisible, and the politicians muzzled.   There were a few spiteful sackings of public servants.  The Minister of Defence wants to keep up a “war momentum” and has his hopes on possibilities in Pakistan.  There was an immediate spat with Indonesia, our closest neighbour, just before Abbott visited.

Rupert Murdoch had a big election win after a blatantly partisan campaign against the government in his newspapers.   Too many of his journalists tarnished their reputations.  A loose cannon self proclaimed billionaire got 3 Senators and possibly himself elected (subject to a recount), and also holding the balance of power are some wild cards with very few votes who got into the Senate on preference deals.

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed by Nick Brandt

READING: I’ve actually been watching so much sport (from Rafa winning the US Open,  to football finals etc), I haven’t been reading books but I’ve heard or read interviews about:

Starting with Max is by Ying Ying who came to Australia from Hong Kong with her family, and who describes how having a dog has changed her life.  After the family cat “decided not to come to Australia and died”, she promised her daughter a dog in Sydney, much against her own wishes.  She of course fell in love with Max the dog and her daily walks in the park “awakened her senses”, and  opened her own eyes to the natural beauty of Australia.  He touched her heart and “made her a better person”.

FERAL, a recent book by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist who I have quoted in the past, is about our need for re-wilding – ‘to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth”.  He imagines forests regrowing, and animals returning – like the brown bears have in parts of Europe.  Wolves were exterminated from the Yellowstone National Park, but since their reintroduction there has been a restoration of plants, trees and soil, as the deer have been forced higher up the mountain.  There is an ongoing debate about deer in Bundeena – a family of deer live at the top of my garden in the Royal National Park.  As an introduced species, their eating habits do create environmental  problems.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Recently the Australian Wildlife Conservancy arranged for 6 artists to visit Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, their 6000 square kilometre conservancy in the Kimberley region of West Australia. The resulting excellent exhibition was opened by scientist/conservationist/writer/academic Tim Flannery – just sacked by the government as the chief climate commissioner!

I think conservancies and the buying up of tracts of land are an excellent future direction that offers the best protection.  In Africa various conservancies are trying to preserve or link uninterrupted corridors of land used as traditional migration routes for animals.

The AWC owns 23 properties in Australia covering 7.4 million acres.  They believe in “practical land management informed by strong science”.  These properties are offering protection to more than 1200 native animal species, and the AWC runs fire management and feral control programs.  It is possible to visit  and stay at some of their properties, observe land management practices, see wildlife and many birds, and fly in helicopters over spectacular scenery.

For visitors to Australia this would be a unique opportunity to visit a remote and beautiful part of Australia, especially with the opportunity to view Aboriginal art in places like Broome.

Needless to say, feral cats are the AWC’s  Enemy Number One!!!!

Devon Rex by Peter O'Dougherty

Devon Rex 2013 by Peter O’Doherty. Courtesy King Street Gallery.

WORLD: Obama was made to look “ham fisted” over Syria, and Putin took the chance to question American exceptionalism – in the New York Times. The chemical weapons issue just gives Assad more time to continue killing and displacing his own population.  The difficulty is  – especially post Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – another American intervention would be another grave mistake.

Sectarian violence is worsening In Iraq.  Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing them underground in Egypt seems extremely provocative – they did actually win the election!  Some commentators are saying the Arab Spring has been replaced by Islamic terrorism, as most recently demonstrated in Nairobi. Oil has begun to flow again in Libya. The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been surprisingly/suspiciously conciliatory to the US after 30 years. Pope Francis is sounding encouragingly human.

ECONOMY:  From my perusal of business reports in the media, some people are unfortunately warning about a new wave of global financial turmoil. Apparently new money from the printing presses of the US, EU and Japan have caused “a sucking of funds from emerging markets” i.e. countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.

Fortunately China remains “reasonably robust”, and, according to the leaked internal memo Document 9, the Chinese leadership seems more worried about the dire threats and dangers posed by discussions of “democracy”, “universal values of human rights” and a “free press”.

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly 1946 by Sidney Nolan. Source Royal Academy of Arts

LONDON: A large exhibition entitled Australia has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are 200 paintings from 200 years with 146 artists, with the broad theme of “landscape”.  While it contains most of our major artists and some iconic paintings, it has been criticised for being too general, and curatorially old fashioned.  One critic described the Aboriginal art as “tourist tat”.  As some of the most widely admired Aboriginal artists are represented, few would agree with him.  Australian art has been overlooked in the UK for a long time, and this now quite controversial exhibition may – or may not – lead to an interest in more focused exhibitions of Australian art.

USA: I have to mention even more mass shootings in the US recently.  As the mother of a victim said about Congress “Who else has to die before you get it?”.  I think in Australia we find it hard to imagine how the National Gun Lobby is so powerful and even seem to be extending its influence.

Apparently in The Right Nation, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue that the “centre of gravity of America opinion is much further to the right” than in other rich countries.  The Republican Party can seem very heartless, especially at present with the current threats to defund Obamacare, and to “shut down” the government.

The sophisticated American Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, is returning to America.  When asked how similar Americans and Australians are, he said we are 80% the same and 20% different.  In Australia “there is a great levelling of all people and a great appreciation that no one should think too much of ourselves” and that successful Australians “wear their celebrity and their accomplishments very lightly”.

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

William Abbey, who grew up in England and lives in Florida, has shared interests in some of the subjects I write about and like many of you, emails me about them.  I appreciate this, especially any information concerning animals and how we can help them.  William loves panthers and polar bears especially. Click here and here for two articles he has recently sent about the rehabilitation of the Florida panther, and organisations working for the protection of polar bears and their habitat.

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

I recently enjoyed the exhibition Talk Show where artists responded to the “televisual landscape of this genre of syndicated entertainment”.  I bought a painting of Oprah Winfrey from artist Anney Bounpraseuth’s Wailing Wall series. Part Two, Talk Show (after the break) opens at Kudos Gallery, Paddington, Sydney on 15th October. I spoke to co-curator JD Reforma about appearing on Oprah and The View etc, and the exhibition did make me reflect on the “notion of celebrity”, and the “socioeconomic construction of failure and success”.  It was never one of my dreams to go on Oprah. It was a big audience to fail in front of!  While it was brilliant for Christian’s story of course, I personally found the whole experience rather nerve wracking!

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

TELSTRA NATIONAL ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER ART AWARD 2010

Mr Donegan, Papa Tjukurpa and Pukara, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 180 x 200cm. Image courtesy of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

 

ABORIGINAL ART: Last blog I referred to Aboriginal art and how the international art world has been so interested. Recently Mr. Donegan, as he likes to be referred to, won the annual Telstra Award, now showing in Darwin, N.T. The winning painting is dazzling – I love the colour, composition and energy – not bad for a virtually unknown 70 year old. Aboriginal art constantly surprises, and I feel so privileged to have had an association with many of the artists over the years, and made many friends. Many Aboriginal paintings from the desert are actual maps of the artist’s country, and tell ancestral and creation stories – in this case, “the painting is about dingo dreaming (Papa Tjukurpa), a rockhole and a father and a son”. View 27th NATSIAA online gallery. 

  

I love these original lithographs by John Gould. The Antique Print Room (in Sydney) has an exhibition of over100 works from the The Birds and Mammals of Australia, published 1848-69.  They can be viewed on www.antiqueprintroom.com . Where I live on the outskirts of Sydney there are many kookaburras (pictured). 

  

  

  POLITICS: I am sorry to be parochial talking about our Australian election, but I think there are probably international parallels.  After an abysmal and depressing election campaign, aimed at bribing and not frightening swinging voters in marginal seats many of whom are uninterested in politics, and are economic illiterates (like me), our “hung” parliament has finally been resolved, with the government only just returned. This is with the support of a few Independents who may be crucified by their rather conservative electorates. It is extraordinary that perhaps the only government in the Western world that did not go into recession with the GFC, could not sell this achievement – perhaps we survived it so well, the public did not really understand the dangers that we avoided. Interestingly, with the negotiations and trading required to form a minority government, many issues not raised in the election got aired (and may be debated when parliament resumes)– including neglect of rural areas, indigenous employment, the status of same-sex relationships, tax reform, reform of parliament, Afghanistan etc. The election result was really more about people NOT voting for either side – many people are so sick of their spin, fear mongering, lack of leadership and vision,  the influence of focus groups and polls, the intervention of the media, and the adversarial nature of a two-party system. The Greens benefited from the dissatisfaction, and will next year hold the balance of power in the Senate, and the Government has had to form an agreement with them. The Government was too frightened to have bold policies on climate change (and the Opposition are virtually in denial), and we may now, ironically, see a much more positive attitude to actually formulating a much overdue strategy. It is fascinating how the issue of climate change has undone several of our leaders. Unfortunately, there are now quite a few new divas and loose cannons that are in a position to make stable government extremely difficult. Luckily our PM, Julia Gillard, is a very good negotiator, but it could all easily end in tears! 

  

Lake George by Joseph Lycett 1825

  

CONFESSION:  Yes I collect colonial prints, and especially love Joseph Lycett.  I recently went to Canberra and have always looked forward to driving along side Lake George, which has always mysteriously filled and emptied. I confess Iwas horrified to see wind farm turbines on the horizon, and was equally surprised by my reaction, as I am of course an ardent supporter of alternative energies. The “visual pollution” of this particularly scenic view made me think of the compromises ahead, and at what price sustainability? I was going to Canberra for the opening of the most magnificent exhibition LIFE, DEATH & MAGIC , 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art.  Drawn from major collections around the world by the National Gallery of Australia ,  these items will probably never be assembled together again. 

  

Botany Bay 2010 by Micky Allan and Steenus von Steensen

   

BOTANY BAY: In 2008 I curated an exhibition Lines in the Sand, Botany Bay Stories from 1770 and 1788, which examined our foundational narratives and the first European/Aboriginal encounters from Captain Cook’s visit, and the First Fleet. The exhibition contained both colonial material and contemporary art works, and I emphasised the overlooked Aboriginal perspective on these events. Recently I co-curated Shifting Sands, Botany Bay Today, also at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery  in south Sydney and currently on show, and a group of very interesting and diverse artists were asked to respond to the social, cultural and environmental history and development of Botany Bay. It reminded me of the important role of artists – as interpreters and visionaries. For more information about the exhibition and the viewing the online catalogue ( and my Introduction) visit Shifting Sands, Botany Bay Today

 

Free Tony the Tiger!

   

SAVE TONY THE TIGER: I was emailed by John Martin who has drawn my attention to the campaign to release Tony the Tiger in Louisiana, who has been kept in a cage at the Tiger Truck Stop as a gimmick for all his life (9 years). Despite repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the inherent cruelty, there has been no action by the authorities, and I think we should all sign the petition – and spread the word – to ensure the permit to allow Tony to remain imprisoned is not renewed again by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  I think we should also directly contact the Department, but of course you will make up your own mind, see: Petition.  

Other Relevant Sites: 

http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/ 

http://freetonythetiger.weebly.com/ 

http://www.bigcatrescue.org/press-room/301-rescue-tony-the-tiger- 

 

 

BRISBANE WRITERS FESTIVAL:  Last week I attended this Festival, now in its 51st year. Apart from sessions on my own, I was part of a Call of the Wild panel with 3 very intrepid Australian women writers who had had adventures in Africa and life changing experiences with animals. Annette Henderson (Wild spirit published by William Heinemann), Sally Henderson (Ivory Moon published by Pan Macmillan) and Tammie Matson (Elephant Dance published by Pan Macmillan) are all committed conservationists and Dr. Matson, for example, has been studying elephant/human conflict in Africa and Assam. With their shrinking and contested habitats, wild elephants are causing problems for villagers. She is staging a fundraising exhibition in Sydney in early October of beautiful elephant drawings – see http://animalworks.com.au/drawings-slideshow , and for exhibition details contact nafisa.naomi@mac.com .  I haven’t been to Africa for nearly 40 years and their books and presentations made me even more enthusiastic to go back. I very much enjoyed attending the festival , and I was asked some very interesting questions, particularly from enthusiastic children. For example, “would you have done anything differently with Christian?” An unkind friend later commented “you could have worn different clothes”!