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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.

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

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.

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

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 lion

Asiatic lions

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.

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

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

Waleed Aly

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?

David Pocock chained to a digger

David Pocock chained to a digger

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”.

Jimson Weed White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe 1932

Jimson Weed  White Flower No 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe 1932

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”.

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

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!

Northern White Rhino

Northern White Rhino

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!

 

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

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

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

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

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

Christian's paw by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian’s paw by Ace Bourke 1972

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger and cub

Tiger and cub

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

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

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

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

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

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

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

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

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

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

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

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

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

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

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

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

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

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat

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

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

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

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

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

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

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

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

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

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

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

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

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

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

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

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

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from www.fatheroflions.com

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

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

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

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

Jumbo at London Zoo. Photograph: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

Eternal Hug 2013 by Jiawei Shen oil on canvas 213 x 167 cms

Eternal Hug 2013 by Jiawei Shen oil on canvas 213 x 167 cms

Artist Jiawei Shen, who as I do lives in Bundeena on the edge of Sydney, has painted this portrait of Christian and me – me as I am now obviously.

Jiawei said he wanted to paint this portrait for several reasons:  Christian is an experience that will always be part of my life; it is a story that the internet has introduced to a new generation; and for what it says about human/animal relationships. Obviously he is a big fan of Christian and the story has touched him.  In Eternal Hug he wanted to capture and express some of the deep and various emotions this image generates.

Jiawei Shen has an international reputation, and has painted “well known” people such as Princess Mary of Denmark (who is from Australia) and he has recently exhibited the first part of a huge and epic painting of 300 historical figures active in China between 1936 and 1937.

When I first saw Christian’s painting reproduced, I thought I looked a little worried.  But when you see the actual painting I do have love in my eyes.  I think he has captured the most amazing likeness of handsome Christian, and as the old saying goes, never compete with animals or children!  Jiawei says he never realised just how individual lions looked until he painstakingly painted Christian’s fur stroke by stroke, and compared him with other lions.

Ace and Jiawei Shen in the studio. Photograph by Lan Wang.

Ace and Jiawei Shen in the studio. Photograph by Lan Wang.

I also love the smaller quick study of me which he painted (above left) and generously gave to me.

Christian was born on the 12 August 1969 – 44 years ago in Ilfracombe Zoo, Devon.  In the wild he may have lived to be 10 or 12 years old, and some lions can live up to 18 years old in a zoo.  Some of you may have seen his good looking parents Butch and Mary in our original documentary, pacing up and down a small concrete cage enclosure. Such was his size, frustration and anger, Butch once or twice smashed his way out, no doubt creating havoc!  We only found out a few years ago that Christian and a sister were hand reared by a staff member which may explain why he seemed to fit so easily into our lives.

Jaiwei Shen’s portrait is based on a 1970 photograph by Derek Cattani, taken when we were living in the country with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna while waiting for permission to go to Kenya.

On the YouTube video entitled Christian The Lion- HUG! you can see the same image as Christian jumps up on me when I enter his specially built compound.

We celebrated Christian’s first birthday there, and Christian’s great friend, Unity Bevis-Jones brought Christian a mince birthday cake with one candle on the train from London.  She was heart-broken when we finally left for Kenya soon after.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Now aged 87, with a new titanium knee and a recently fitted pacemaker, David Attenborough did not miss a beat at his recent appearance in Sydney. He was touring with a Q & A show which reflected on his extraordinary career, illustrated with excerpts from many of the programs he has produced or narrated over so many years, that have changed or illuminated our understanding of the natural world. The audience was a heartening mix – of everyone! I have to say he seemed much warmer than the equally indefatigable and admirable fellow English octogenarian Jane Goodall.

It was only at the conclusion that David spoke about climate change and the world’s present ecological tipping point.  He has seen the effects over years with his own eyes, and the consequent diminishing habitats for wildlife, and the loss of species and biodiversity.

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx, native to parts of southern Europe, is the most endangered cat species in the world. There are estimated to be just 250 left in the wild. They may become extinct within 50 years as there are fewer rabbits, which are their main source of food, and their habitats are shrinking.

Also alarming is that only an estimated 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild.

AUSTRALIA: Sorry to go on about Australia, especially as I have many more readers in the rest of the world.  I do try not to be too parochial, but I would imagine many of you would find parallels in your own countries.

Our Federal election has been called for September 7th.  As I have said, I think Australians face an appalling choice for Prime Minister between Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott who has so far mostly reiterated slogans rather than costed policies.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Both Rudd and Abbott are involved in a “race to the bottom” over the treatment of asylum seekers which contravenes our legal and international responsibilities to them.

Many of us are deeply ashamed – of our harsh treatment of them, of our politicians who have demonised them, and of  the majority of Australians who seemingly feel no compassion for them.

We are now dumping these traumatised people on a malaria-infested island in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

ECONOMY: The growth record of the Australian economy post GFC has yet again been recently described as remaining the “envy of the advanced world” and partly due to “sensible macro-economic management”, according to one of the world’s foremost economists Willem Buiter.

The National Australia Bank’s CEO Cameron Clyne also recently said that as an AAA rated country the government should “issue more debt to fund desperately needed infrastructure”, and that debt can be used productively (read the article here). The Opposition, however, has successfully convinced many in the community that the government is economically incompetent.

The government has been unable to construct a positive narrative of their considerable achievements, which has not been helped by some bad political judgments, disunity, and some truly appalling corruption allegations – especially in my home state of NSW.

I have been interested to learn recently that in the last conservative Howard /Costello government (which I found repugnant in many ways), it was their unnecessary granting of tax cuts as vote buying  “middle class welfare” that accounts for a $40 billion revenue shortfall today!!!!

MURDOCH: Rupert is unashamedly backing the conservative Opposition – as he did unsuccessfully in the US with the Republicans.  As he owns 66% of our print media this is very unfair. The Daily Telegraph newspaper began the election with the headline “THROW THIS MOB OUT”!  His supposedly more highbrow The Australian is sometimes so partisan that you just cannot believe that professional journalists and columnists allow themselves to be so manipulated.  Another factor could possibly be that he may view the government’s National Broadband Network as a threat to his own Foxtel cable TV monopoly.

CLIMATE CHANGE: As I have said several times, the Coalition has a pretend policy on climate change. Depressingly and ashamedly, we may be the only country going backwards on this issue, although various countries in financial difficulties are reconsidering various “green” initiatives.  Our Prime Ministerial contender Tony Abbott recently described the carbon price he has promised to abolish as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, while ex PM John Howard now says “there’s more serious questioning of the science”.  This is just untrue.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Unfortunately neither party can be relied on to protect the environment.  For the conservatives “economic factors” seem to be the “principal consideration” in all decisions, overruling everything else.  However the Labor Party has just approved two iron ore mines in the Tarkine region of Tasmania which is a unique wilderness area.  This also poses a threat to the Tasmanian Devil population which is already decimated by a contagious face tumour disease.

BRADLEY MANNING: Whistleblower?  Traitor?  Hero?  Manning still faces up to 90 years in jail, even if he has not “aided the enemy”!  The prosecution had difficulty finding even one example of someone harmed by his “Wikileaks”.

There have been more espionage prosecutions under Obama than all other Presidents combined.  Apparently we should watch to see if the military judge Colonel Denise Lind gets a promotion.

I’ve just looked again at Youtube and viewed the horrific footage that Bradley Manning thought we should see of those Americans shooting innocent civilians and two Reuters reporters in Baghdad from the Apache helicopter in 2007.   It is appalling in many ways: cold blooded murder; the cynical attitude of the Americans as they shot them and then shot the people that ran to help them; shooting the children in the van; the Pentagon saying the Americans had done “nothing wrong”; and that no-one was charged.  On the other hand, people called for Manning’s execution, and he was subsequently locked up and tortured.

I’d also like Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Howard to be finally called to account for their lies, actions and resulting innocent deaths,  and the “basket case” that is their legacy in Iraq.

Apparently 55% of Americans view Edward Snowden as a “whistleblower”, while 34% view him as a “traitor”.  Both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are ironically being protected by two countries with appalling records on press freedom and human rights.

MIDDLE EAST: Let’s just see how the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations play out….but I can only be cynical. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion – late in the day and reluctantly, that while the Palestinians “have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, Israel has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian State, and the continued building of their illegal settlements on Palestinian land is to ensure that this will soon be an impossibility. They are just playing for time.

I wish the Egyptian General al-Sisi would take off his dark glasses and we can see who Egyptians are actually dealing with. Incompetent as the Muslim Brotherhood were in governing Egypt, one does have to wonder what the reportedly charismatic General’s own ambitions are in the power vacuum he has created.  The Egyptians do have a propensity for a strong military leader.  Mediation seems to have failed so far, and one fears the imminent removal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters can only result in more bloodshed.

Unfortunately Assad in Syria seems to be regaining territory, but at what a price – whole neighbourhoods and suburbs of cities seem to have  been entirely flattened.

MALALA: Shot and badly injured by the Taliban in Pakistan, who will forget the courage and leadership of young Malala Yousafza and her address to the United Nations Youth Assembly about the importance of education?

David Bowie

David Bowie

WATCHING: I loved a recent documentary on David Bowie who was emerging with his Ziggy Stardust persona in the early 1970s as the world moved on from the 1960s “Carnaby Street” and the “Kings Road” era.  Isn’t it interesting how some music is the backdrop to our lives at various stages.  I do think Bowie was much more innovative and interesting that most of the others.

I did not enjoy watching the film Behind the Candelbra.  While I loved the performance of Michael Douglas as Liberace, they were all rather horrible people to have to spend a few hours with.  Many years ago with friends I met Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson in Sydney when they were promoting One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest, and they both bought art from my first gallery, Ace’s Art Shop.

Dr Chris Brown

Dr Chris Brown

CHRIS BROWN: When we appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show several years ago, of my own volition I took tapes of Chris Brown’s Bondi Vet television program.  Chris is the son of a family friend.  I thought he would be great on the Animal Planet channel which I think Oprah had just acquired an interest in.  As an excellent vet with a personable manner and movie star looks, he could be a huge success in the USA, as he is in Australia.  Chris is finally about to make his debut on US television on CBS as Dr. Chris: Pet Vet.  Starting on September 28th, the program is aimed at teenage audiences.

The Marmalade Cat

Orlando The Marmalade Cat

My godmother loved cats and she presciently gave me this book Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) His Silver Anniversary when I was born and it is my favourite book.  Isn’t it interesting how we remain so attached to our childhood books and I still cannot give any away. My mother had a garage sale many years ago when I wasn’t paying attention, or out of the country, and I still have to resist the urge to replace several books that went missing, especially some that had beautiful illustrations.

UncleTruffl

I think the author Kathleen Hale’s illustrations in the Orlando books are superb and I don’t know why the books have never been re-released, although there are so many excellent children’s books on the market. I quite often look online and consider buying ALL of Orlando’s books!

I just loved Orlando and his family, although I was nervous of their Uncle Truffle (above).  I was frightened of the Katnapper because he stole cats, although he said he just could not help himself, and that the cats found him irresistible.  I think the fish and prawns in his pockets helped.  I think I probably also envied him – his house was cat heaven!  I sometimes wonder what effect this story had on my life….

The Katnapper

The Katnapper

So, Happy Birthday Christian.  Many of us will never forget you, could never forget you, and we will continue to be concerned about animal and wildlife issues because of you, and in your name.

I have been thinking a lot about this blog, but not rushing to publish.  With the social media facilitated revolution unfolding on a daily basis in the Middle East, the world seems to have shifted.  It has been fascinating, exciting, scary and unexpected.  This is against the new context created by WikiLeaks: seemingly endless revelations that have confirmed our suspicions, and sometimes our worst fears.  We have lost even more confidence in our governments to govern us effectively, ethically, or with transparency.  And the world has literally shifted, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and the survivors of the earthquake around Christchurch, New Zealand.  Is the natural world trying to tell us something?
 
I wonder how the victims of the Queensland floods and cyclone are managing – it is alarming how quickly and easily they have dropped out of the news.  I have been meaning to comment on the still appalling situation for many people in Haiti a year on, after what seemed such well organised promises of aid and assistance.
 
 

Bundeena, Sydney NSW

  

BUNDEENA:  I have been living in Bundeena, a small community on the southern edge of Sydney for several years.  It has beautiful beaches, coastal walks and drives, and is surrounded by the Royal National Park.  There are many varieties of birds (my favourites are the kookaburras), possums, and the occasional wallaby, snake or goanna.  I am aware of the environmental damage cats can cause, and I promise I attempt to bring my very well fed cats in every night.  Bundeena is just over an hour from the city, so I am close – and far, enough.  Originally a fishing village, the community of a few thousand is seeing an increasing gentrification– and Vanity Fair is now for sale in the newsagent.  People like myself are viewed as “city blow ins”.  Bundeena is however low-key, and it is possible to be pleasantly reclusive with no social pressures.  Quite a few artists live here (there is an Art Trail to many artists’ studios on the first Sunday of each month), and some are very well-known.  It has been hot (often in the mid 30s), but it has been very relaxing here over summer, reading, gardening, working on some upcoming projects and exhibitions, seeing family and friends, and of course, just being with the cats.  There has been time to reflect on the world, and try to digest the momentous events of the last few weeks and months. 

  

Grand Pacific Drive towards Wollongong, NSW

 

EGYPT:  Congratulations to the Egyptian people.  Their revolution was more organized than it appeared – by an internet savvy group, and was secular and largely non-violent.  We had not questioned or even thought about their decades of repression and it suited our governments to turn a blind eye for a useful ally.  The USA funded the regime with an annual US$2billion.  The revolution is not complete: the military is not going to relinquish their influence easily. Nor will the US!  No-one can really predict the outcome and the wider implications for the Middle East – least of all me.

The Egyptian revolution appeared to be led by a youthful, educated middle class, supported by a down-trodden and repressed general population.  Leaders are emerging in the vacuum.  Islamic fundamentalists seem a small minority voice at this stage.  I have had a friend visiting Egypt who said Facebook was finally useful.  I urged him to take care and wondered – how would I have responded if I lived there – and would I have had the courage to be in Tahrir Square?  Good luck to the Libyans – Gaddafi will go down with guns blazing (or chemical weapons) on his own population it seems.  The West watches impotently – and the Libyans ask legitimately: “why isn’t anybody helping us?”

LEADERSHIP:  Poor Mr. Obama.  No wonder he is going grey: inherited problems of the GFC, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Republican obstruction of his legislation and attempted reforms.  Now their repressive allies in the Middle East are all vulnerable in a shifting landscape.  The US are trying to juggle their support for their long-term  alliances, AND  be seen to be supporting emerging democratic movements and human rights in the region. Democracy is fine – as long as it doesn’t threaten their strategic interests it seems. Hard for them not to appear hypocritical.  For the record: US annual funding – Egypt $2 billion, Israel $3 billion, Pakistan $7.5 billion.

The SMH Chief Correspondent, Paul McGeough, has been writing comprehensively, and I think insightfully, about the Middle East.  For example, see his article SMH February 21 2011: “Lip service is all US pays in the drive for democracy”.  The US veto of a UN Security Council resolution to examine the legality of Israeli settlement buildings in occupied Palestine would not have gone down well on the “Arab street”, especially at the moment, and is a good example of the USA’s conflicting interests.  However, the unrest has not been particularly aimed at the USA – except in Pakistan at the moment over the presumed CIA operative that has been arrested.  Australia has also just been paying cautious “lip service” in support of these historic changes as well, despite the usual flurry of hyperactivity by our Foreign Minister – the ex PM Kevin Rudd.

I would like to see a very representative and uncorrupted United Nations type body with very strong international powers!  I think many of us have realised our leaders are, well, only human like us after all, but it should make us all the more determined to effect change through our own personal, often local, efforts. 

McGeough has written scathingly about Tony Blair who he likens to a “drowning sailor”.  Blair’s quotes in defence of Mubarek did not look good – or the re-release of those photographs of him helping to ease Gaddafi back into international acceptance in 2004.  Still in denial about Iraq – how has Blair got any credibility left in relation to the Middle East as “special representative” of the Middle East Quartet (UN,US,EU and Russia)?  I would think some of his reported “consultancies” and relationships would normally constitute a conflict of interest.  He is soon to visit Australia to earn even more money on the speaking circuit. Equally shameless it seems, the British PM David Cameron is visiting the Middle East with British arms dealers, looking for sales.

 

Water from the Queensland floods flowing into Lake Eyre, photograph by Kelly Barnes

 
  
POLITICS:  Yes, obviously I’m pretty passionate, which can be very boring for people who aren’t!  Obviously politicians play such a comprehensive role in our lives and futures we can’t just ignore them.  We have to rely on them, for example, to respond to Climate Change, and the formulation and implementation of environmental and animal and wildlife conservation policies.  They are susceptible to complaints from their electorates so I try to keep up the questions and pressure, especially by email.  I try to read as widely as possible and it is often hard to get to the truth or a deep understanding of a subject.  I view myself as a “trying to be informed” average citizen.  I do wonder why some of my more conservative friends and acquaintances don’t read anything much about subjects they have strong opinions about, or care about context. Why is there seemingly much more informed commentary from the Left rather than the Right, and why are “shock-jocks” on radio always from the Right ?  I know I must appear biased, but I promise I try and keep an open mind!  

LOCAL AUSTRALIAN ISSUES: (but with global echoes)

NBN:  National Broadband Network.  This is an example of a subject I find difficult to understand (like GM crops), especially given my own technical ignorance.  I believe in essential national infrastructure, but is fibre the right option – especially as the US has opted for wireless?  From recent articles it seems that a mixture is the answer.  With wireless subject to range limitations, and slowdowns with too many subscribers, fibre should be “the work horse of the data downloads”.

SURPLUS vs DEFICIT:  The Opposition here in Australia has got the government very defensive about financial management – “waste”, “big new taxes” etc.,  but unfortunately their criticism does not extend beyond these few effective but clichéd slogans.  They fail to acknowledge that Australia was the only developed nation that did not go into recession during the GFC, unemployment is at 5%, but they endlessly squeal about the deficit.  The government – already on a knife-edge with numbers, is hamstrung to actually govern and make some tough economic decisions – rather like Obama.  I don’t know why the conservatives are claiming the ascendancy on economic management here or in the US – the GFC developed on their watch, and in Australia the Liberal Party politicians haven’t yet explained the $7 – $11 billion hole in their last election budget.  In an article by the excellent economist Ross Gittins in the SMH February 14 2011: “Fiscal heaven is pollies worrying about deficits”, he traces this relatively new obsession with surpluses.  Our mining boom (and being the world’s largest coal exporter), will take care of the deficit.  But the Liberal Party were good hoarders, even though it was at the expense of infrastructure which was allowed to run down.  Shouldn’t an Opposition be offering constructive criticisms, and  alternative policies?  We are constantly in election mode and a 24 hour media cycle, and the government is too defensive to make any hard if necessary decisions.

“BIG NEW TAX”:  Last year we had people power Australia style when a group of mining millionaires and billionaires actually took to the streets with placards in a demonstration! It was surreal.  They backed this up with a $22 million advertising campaign against a proposed mining super profits tax on our non-renewable resources.  The tax was going to “ruin Australia” – investment would go elsewhere etc.  These people have been made to look ridiculous with the recent publication of their company profits or personal wealth.  Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart $9 billion, Andrew Forrest $6.9 billion, BHP $10.5 billion half-yearly profits, and huge profits for Rio Tinto and Xstrata.  The tax, which was watered down, will probably now be passed.

“STOP THE BOATS”:  Our scandalously inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees by both sides of parliament has been in the news lately.  This “race to the bottom” as it has been described, has been fuelled and possibly led by the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, and his electorate was the scene of the Cronulla race riots several years ago. He seems to think Muslim demonisation is a vote winner, and it has been reported that he recently suggested his party capitalise on public unease about Muslim immigration.  His party has also recently recommended cutting Australian aid to Indonesian schools  – a highly successful counter terrorism scheme started by his own party when in office.  I used to send him critical emails – he has a long and unattractive track record in my opinion, but lately he has been generating enough negative attention of his own.

CARBON PRICE:  I have been trying to chart on this blog the mixed fortunes of the Climate Change debate.  From the heady, optimistic days of Copenhagen and a consensus by a majority of people for urgent action, to leaders being deposed, flaky climate change deniers effectively slowing the momentum, and policies subsequently dumped. Both parties have lost credibility on this issue, and this contributed to the Greens doing unexpectedly well at the last election.  Despite promising not to introduce a carbon tax at the election, with the increased influence of the Greens, the Government has put Climate Change unexpectedly back on the agenda. They are going to set a price on carbon by July next year, which will lead on to an emissions trading scheme in due course.  Many in the Opposition are climate change deniers, and their party has a pretend policy, but this issue which should have bi-partisan support, is going to be, again, a very ugly and divisive debate.  This will test our PM’s considerable negotiating (and compromising) skills.  The Greens want much more ambitious cuts to our emissions, and no compensation as previously canvassed for the worst polluters (power, energy and transport industries).  Those mining zillionaires will be back on the streets protesting!

 

From Penny Tweedie's book "Spirit of Arnhem Land"

Tom Noytuna, photograph by Penny Tweedie

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
 
PENNY TWEEDIE:  Penny Tweedie (1940 -2011), an internationally admired  photographer died recently.  I am mostly familiar with her often extremely beautiful and intimate photography in Arnhem Land where she first visited in 1975.  I staged an exhibition of her photographs in Sydney in the mid 1990s.  For the invitation I used the photograph of Tom Noytuna decorated for a traditional ceremony on the telephone (above).  Google her, or look out for her books This My Country (1985) and Aboriginal Australians: Spirit of Arnhem Land (1998).  The Australian photographer, writer and blogger Robert McFarlane has a tribute to her on his very informative photography blog  www.ozphotoreview.com.

MY PHOTOS:  When I was angling for a compliment about some of my own photographs taken in India on my new Lumix DMC-LX5 which I adore, a friend replied: “you can’t miss with a mountain view like that”, “with digital anyone can take a good photograph these days” and “pity you cut the cat’s ear off”. 

  

From Penny Tweedie's book "Spirit of Arnhem Land"

 
  
WHALES:  Congratulations to the Sea Shepherd for terminating the Japanese whaling season in the Antarctic.  Let’s hope the Japanese are losing their taste for whale, and their pretend “scientific” expeditions.
 
WATCHING:  The indefatigable David Attenborough’s First Life documentary series about the origins of life, is starting on television here.
 
CAT NEWS:  I love it when cats or dogs are named and in the news in their own right.  Many others surreptitiously slip into photographs with their owners.  Larry a tomcat has moved into Number 10 Downing Street in London, from Battersea Pound.  The WikiLeaks leaker Daniel Domscheit-Berg, recently wrote that when Assange was staying with him in Germany “Julian was constantly battling for dominance, even with my tomcat….(He) would constantly attack the animal”.
 
CHRISTIAN:   The French edition of A Lion Called Christian, Un lion nommé Christian in paperback has just been released.  I was recently interviewed for French television, and as I had been told previously that our story had been co-opted in defence of performing animals in circuses in France, I was of course anxious to refute this.  I can’t wait to see the footage of the very unexpected cameo of my shyest cat emerging from under the sofa!

Late February 2010

March 12, 2010

I admit to being obsessed with my two cats – and in our busy and stressed lives we are seeking an emotional closeness with them, and probably building up an unhealthy reliance on them! That’s why I got two – a brother and sister, so I could spread the intensity of my feelings for them over two, and they are company for each other. No doubt one of the factors our reunion clip with Christian was so popular was people identifying with their own pets. Our love of animals, gardening, and bush walking, are all symptomatic of our increased alienation over several centuries from nature, which is having severe psychological effects.

One of the books I have recently read which I found fascinating (it was published in 1995!) was Ecopyschology Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner (Sierra Club Books), which in a series of essays discusses our alienation from nature and the effects, and how replacement past times – like consumerism and materialism, is proving empty and unsatisfying. What will be the effect on the young generation of all their sedentary time on the internet, being constantly plugged in, and their incessant communicating? They could act and communicate globally very effectively on causes they believe in – whatever they may be. The recent death of the trainer at Sea World, Orlando by the killer whale, is also a reminder of the dangers of unnatural situations and encounters. We are understandably fascinated by nature, but it is not there for our entertainment. The woman who was attacked last year in the USA by her friend’s chimpanzee was also an unfortunate reminder about the dangers of owning exotic pets, and we were very anxious not to encourage this practice. We came to realise we had unwittingly participated in the trafficking of exotic animals by buying Christian, and welcomed the Endangered Preservation Act in 1973. I know it sounds hypocritical, after we had had such an experience with Christian!

People can adopt and look after animals that need a good home from local animal pounds and shelters. These cats and dogs provide the same unconditional love (alright, there is an element of “cupboard love”!), without the attendant attention or danger. Apparently these places are very overcrowded, and March and April are particularly bad months when people tire of the responsibilities of owning a pet – possibly a Christmas present, or the novelty has worn off. Many of these animals are “put down” which is heart breaking. Rescue one now!

Last year we returned for an interview to Harrod’s department store where we bought Christian. It was a relief that there were actually very few animals for sale, but it is now the most pretentious pet “boutique” and I was appalled by all the very expensive pet accessories – bejeweled collars, toys etc, and I felt the money could be much better spent on supporting animal causes or better food. Best of all is just spending time with your pets, and not treating them like an accessory. 

The most gruesome video I have been sent was the slaughter of Pilot whales in the Faroe Islands off Denmark, a traditional annual blood bath condoned by the community (see “Faroe Islands slaughter” on YouTube), and similar to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji in Japan, as seen in the Oscar winning film The Cove. There is a campaign against this – http://www.savejapandolphins.org/. While we should join this campaign, it would be hypocritical of Australians as there is more activism in Europe against the slaughter of our kangaroos than there is here in Australia, and each year we transport about 4 million sheep to the Middle East under the most unsatisfactory and cruel conditions.In Australia there is currently a debate about biodiversity, with the Federal Government planning to change focus to protecting “eco-systems” rather than funding individual projects for endangered animals. People such as Professor Tim Flannery are appalled and argue that as we are in an acute “biodiversity crisis” and the protection of single species is essential to prevent entire eco-systems collapsing. Everything has its role to play. Recently, some Yellow Spotted Bell Frogs, presumed extinct, have been located. Up to seven frog species appeared to disappear after a fungus from South Africa entered Australia in the 1970s. 

Last year I spoke at a very interesting and comprehensive conference called Minding Animals 2009 where many very dedicated academics, researchers and experts (including Peter Singer) addressed many fascinating aspects of animals, and their welfare and rights. Many of you may be interested to read some of the papers and planned publications, and follow future events on http://www.mindinganimals.com/.

Terrence and George, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Terence and George, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tony Fitzjohn with lions, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tony Fitzjohn with lions, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tana River, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine.

Tana River, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine.

I recently was in contact with Tony Fitzjohn, Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (“GAWPT”). He has just completed writing a book which I look forward to reading, as he is yet another larger than life personality deeply involved in wildlife conservation. The plans to “rehabilitate” George’s camp at Kora are progressing. The old camp is now again operational, but roads have to be cleared etc. Projects with the nearest villages continue with an emphasis on clean pumped water, health and education. Reading between the lines, I think he would appreciate any financial help any of us can give him. Check his website to see the extent of all of the work GAWPT do at http://www.wildlifenow.com/. Interestingly, I recently met Dr. Margaret Bassendine who visited George Adamson’s camp at Kora in 1977, and a selection of her photographs can be seen on www.stephenoxenbury.com/Maggie/.

We were fortunate last year to meet Lisa Williams who first put the clip on YouTube of our reunion in Africa in 1971. She is an arts student in Los Angeles. Interested in animation, she first saw our footage on one of the many sites for Kimba the white lion, a 1965 animated film which obviously has a huge cult following see www.kimbawlion.com/christian.  

Kimba the White Lion

Kimba the White Lion

Our footage was edited alongside Kimba’s story – the parallels (and even images) were extraordinary – returning to the wild, a bridge between the human and the animal worlds etc. Lisa posted it on YouTube because she thought our footage was unique, but it wasn’t until a few months later that someone else added as a back track Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, and the song added perfectly to the emotion of the moment, and the hits really began gathering momentum, especially after being shown on the Ellen DeGeneres show. We stopped counting at about 60 million hits because at this point the sites with Whitney’s song were then pulled off YouTube – possibly because of copyright issues, and it has been impossible to establish the total number of hits. I joke we resuscitated her career, although her recent performances in Australia have had very bad reviews!  As all this was even before we were to travel to launch and promote the release of the book in the US, the UK and China, appearing on many television shows including Oprah, I think it is safe to say, as a magazine recently stated, the reunion footage has been seen by at least 100 million people.