MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEASONS GREETINGS, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from me to everyone as well. Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s friend and photographer, for his annual Christian Christmas card – it is so sweet!  My special love and thoughts to the Cattani family for 2014.

GEORGE ADAMSON: Understandably, people remain fascinated by George Adamson.  Although where I live is a small “village” on the outskirts of Sydney, I only recently met fellow locals, well known artist Bob Marchant and his wife Inger.  Bob lived in London throughout the 1960s and remembers Christian fondly. I love his painting of George Adamson painted after George’s death in 1989.  He has always been a “great admirer of George Adamson and the work he did protecting wild animals”.  I’ve lent him the excellent biography The Great Safari: The Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House.

You can ‘like’ the George Adamson Wildlife Trust Australia on Facebook set up by Aidan Basnett.

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

Recently Aidan emailed me about his recent trip to Kenya, and visit to Kora.  Aidan lived for a time in Kenya when he was young, and his trip was a nostalgic pilgrimage to key sites in the Joy and George Adamson story.  Consequently I found his video very informative and interesting, although I felt sad seeing some of the graves. It brought back fond and emotional memories of George’s camp at Kora, which looked in good condition.  

Hi Ace,
Just wanted to give you a report on the Adamson Legacy Tour I arranged this year which took in Kampi ya Simba in Kora National Park.  Being the home of the late George Adamson, I found the whole experience very poignant and moving. What hit me was I was at last in the spot where it all happened all those years ago – the history. I could not stop thinking of how we were treading in the footsteps of George and his lions, particularly Christian and Boy. Seeing the actual place (Christian’s Rock) where Christian had come down to greet you and John. The years I had longed to visit the area had arrived!  We sat atop Kora Rock just taking it all in, and could see George’s grave in the distance. Somewhere out there, all those years ago, Christian had created his domain and we could feel his – and George’s – spirit ! Just an amazing experience I had to share with you and I hope you enjoy the photo and video.
Aidan

“Christian’s Rock” Aidan Basnett 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

Christian’s Rock photographed by Aidan Basnett, 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Recently I’ve been especially loving wildlife documentaries.  They are so soothing – as long as they are not entirely about extinction!  I loved David Attenborough’s recently shown documentary on African lions, and the lions and tigers in his Secrets of Wild India documentaries.  Tigers weigh on average 220 kilograms and can be just over 3 meters long.  A male can rule for 3 years, and live up to 8 on average.  Tigers have up to 12 cubs and raise them for 2 years.  They are not social and do not live in prides like lions.  The males come and go, and usually kill any cubs that are not theirs.  Surprisingly, tigers and jaguars are the only cats that like being in water.

The Asiatic lions in the desert region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India look thinner than African lions – but they may just be hungrier in this hostile environment.  Once they ranged from India to the Mediterranean, but their numbers declined to 13 last century.  By banning  hunting, and other conservation efforts, numbers are now over 400 and climbing.

In David’s documentary on African lions he spoke of the importance of the first two years in the lives of cubs – when they “learnt to be lions”,  living in a pride, and acquiring skills for future survival.  I suddenly felt guilty about Christian living with us in London during those crucial formative years!   However, despite five generations out of Africa, and his London upbringing, Christian seemed remarkably well balanced and adaptable.  George thought he had lost none of his natural instincts – he was just inexperienced.  George said he was one of the easiest lions to rehabilitate, and Christian who was both canny and courageous, survived those first most dangerous years.

In the African lion documentary, four lionesses lived together, and three had cubs which they looked after collectively.  They hunted together effectively, although it is still very dangerous for them, especially against buffaloes.  The male came and went, but very aggressively took over a kill a lioness had made, and only reluctantly later shared with his cubs.

I also enjoyed the first episode of a documentary Lions on the Move about South African Kevin Richardson preparing to relocate his 28 lions, 14 hyenas and 2 black leopards to another animal park.  The animals seem to love him – the lions loll all over him which looks like lion heaven, but is risky.  George Adamson would not have been so physical with lions, and he was trying to minimise their human contact to enable their rehabilitation.  We knew Christian so well we could mostly anticipate his behaviour.  We did not encourage too much physical interaction with him as he was so quickly stronger than us, and we did not want him to realise this.   Kevin knows the individual idiosyncrasies of his lions, and he has to trust his own judgement – and them.  Most of the lions looked extremely attractive and shampooed, and several are now 15 years old, which can only be achieved in captivity.  Kevin also understands and communicates well with the hyenas, and I was amused by his  “baby talk” to the animals – everyone else’s animal/baby talk (except one’s own), sounds so ridiculous!

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

In general, I don’t like the idea of animals “performing” for our entertainment, and the sensitive question of how animals are handled in films has recently been discussed in The Hollywood Reporter.  Apparently King, one of the tigers used in Life of Pi nearly drowned in a water tank filming a scene.

I haven’t yet seen Blackfish, the documentary that traces the history of orcas (also called killer whales) in captivity. I’m not sure why it is regarded as “controversial” documentary, as the cruelty of their confinement  in such small areas, for human entertainment, should now be generally acknowledged as completely unacceptable.

A tiger “handler’ was injured by a tiger  recently at Australia Zoo.  A BBC crew had been filming them, which had probably been a disruption to a normal routine.

I will not be showing the photograph of American Melissa Bachman with the lion she proudly shot.  I hope she never returns to Africa.

Meanwhile, Tony the Tiger just waits in his cage. You can read an update here from the Animal Legal Defense Fund which had a victory for Tony in court in October, but proceedings just seem to drag on interminably. You can also sign a petition for Tony.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

TARONGA ZOO:  Kibali, an adolescent gorilla has arrived from France, and joins two selected females to hopefully form the nucleus of a new family of gorillas at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  The old silverback has been pensioned off to Mogo Zoo down the south coast. Three elephants have been transferred to the more open Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – including the one involved in an incident which injured a staff member last year.  A baby elephant has been born in Melbourne Zoo, but one born last year died in an accident, playing with a tyre as a toy.

INDONESIA: A recent report on the ABC showed disgraceful conditions in general at Surabaya Zoo in Java. Sumatran tigers are starving and dying at a time when their survival is under threat, with an estimated only 300-400 left in the wild.  A feisty Mayor seems to keep everyone at bay despite the scandalous conditions and a situation that has paralysed the zoo. This zoo compared very unfavourably with Taman Safari Park, Bogor, a few hours south of Jakarta, which seems very well run.  The owner has attempted to help the Surabaya Zoo but has now been rebuffed. See – and possibly support – Cee4life who has been campaigning to save the lives of these tigers.

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

ART:  Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition ‘Falling Back to Earth’, is showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, until 11 May 2014.  See here for information on GOMA and the exhibition which consists of three  huge installations.  Heritage (above), described as a “fable of multiculturalism”,  with incongruous pairings of animals around pristine white sand and water, was inspired by the artist visiting Queensland’s tropical islands. Head On (below) also has 99 animals made from polystyrene, but in this instance, they are all wolves.

AUSTRALIA:  I am finding our new government as bad as many of us feared, and unnecessarily antagonistic, arrogant, secretive and without vision.  Our espionage spat with Indonesia worsened through Tony Abbott’s inability to find the right words or actions.  Not content, the government then picked a fight unnecessarily with our most important trading partner China – protesting to the Chinese about their actions over disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea.

More revelations from Edward Snowden have shown the extent of Australia’s espionage in the region, including spying on China.  Apparently only 1% of a million classified documents have been released so far, and we are “to assume the worst”.  It seems we may all have been spied on as well, with the collection of our megadata – mine would be a disappointment.

Not surprisingly, according to the polls, the government’s so called “honeymoon” is already over.  A very bad look was the government’s clumsy attempt to break a major election pledge (a back flip on a back flip on a back flip) on education reform.

The implementation of a proposed education reform, which had been worked on over 4 years, was an election pledge by both parties.  It was to balance the inequitable funding to schools, which under ex PM John Howard saw already very rich private schools given even more money, while public schools and their students remain disadvantaged, with less access to education.

I find it unimaginable that these days any government would deliberately disadvantage a section of the population, and we will have to wait and see the real intentions of this government.  As discussed on an earlier blog, the opportunities for education in the US are also inequitable, cementing a less-educated under class. In 1974 Labor PM Gough Whitlam abolished university fees, and this emancipated many very clever people who were the first in their families to go to university, and have subsequently had an enormous influence on Australia.

Hard as it is to believe, our government seems to be anti-science, and is thoughtlessly dismantling expert bodies that should be consulted and utilised– especially in relation to climate change.  The government should not be dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corp which has been successfully finding and working in partnership with major national and international banks, for example, to research and develop renewable energy sources.

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

ROSS GITTINS: Ross Gittins has the respect of many people. He is an economist but writes more widely. In this heartfelt article, written as a letter to his (future) grandchildren, he expresses his disbelief that Australians have just elected a government “that wasn’t genuine in its commitment to combating the effects of climate change, and that even abolished the main instrument economists invented for that purpose”.

Ross was recently asked to speak at the government’s annual conference on resources and energy and decided to “tell the miners a few home truths”, also published here.

ROSS GARNAUT: In this article about his new book Dog Days: Australia After The Boom Ross Garnaut discusses what economic and policy reforms will be required in this post resource boom era. Neither party seems to have the courage or long term vision for necessary reforms, but “more of the same” is just not sustainable any longer, and will apparently lead to higher unemployment and recession.

ENVIRONMENT:  As predicted, the Federal Government has already shown a cavalier attitude to the environment.  It has created a “one-stop shop” process with State Governments for faster environmental approvals. Permission has just been granted to expand a coal port (to become the largest in the world), near the already threatened Great Barrier Reef.  3 million cubic metres of seabed – dredging sludge – is to be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may yet refuse to grant a permit.

Tasmanians have been bitterly divided for decades over the logging or conservation of their forests, although an historic Forestry Agreement from 2012  seems to be working and have support.  This agreement is apparently also under review/threat from the Federal Government – presumably to now allow logging in heritage listed forests.

There has been a leak of 1 million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry from the uranium Ranger Mine beside Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.  Unfortunately, this is not the first  accident at the mine.

After several fatal shark attacks in Australia in the last year, there is renewed debate about culling sharks, and making our beaches “safer”.  I choose not to swim in the sea as I view it as their territory, not mine.

The Japanese whaling fleet has set out for their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, and each year anti-whale activists protest in dangerous confrontations.  Sea Shepherd consists of three vessels this year, and will again try to prevent this unnecessary slaughter of whales.  Australia took a case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling practices to the International Court of Justice, but a decision is still to be made.

MEDIA:  In this article Richard Ackland writes in the SMH how journalism has changed, and how some journalists just advocate for the government of their choice “… ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment”.  I do read Murdoch’s The Australian on Saturdays and on my way through to often good articles, I glance at what Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan are saying – and often laugh out loud at their partisanship. (Update:  it was Dennis Shanahan in The Australian Dec 21/22 who got the loudest laugh from me with “Abbott: model of a cool, calm and collected PM”.  He says there is “an unfair focus on its mistakes”.  In this Murdoch parallel universe PM Abbott and his wooden and silenced Cabinet is performing wonderfully, unlike the Opposition, who is still being blamed for everything.  Peter Harcher however, was more accurate in the SMH when he said over Indonesia, Abbott’s  “toughness is exposed to be phoney, his judgement shown to be wrong, and the damage is not stemmed early but protracted”.

I don’t often read Murdoch’s The Telegraph which campaigned so unfairly and effectively against the Labor Party in the last election.  It is a real tabloid, with the usual right wing ranters, but is also fun and a little tacky with many photographs, unlike the rather dull if worthy tabloid- in-size only Sydney Morning Herald.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

Advertised in the paper was the National Geographic Photo Contest, just as entries closed. I know many of you are very interested in photography – and wildlife, and may want to enter in 2014.  There are many entries to view at http://www.ngphotocontest.com.  There are the categories of “people, places and nature”, and “real” images which “accurately reflect a moment in time”.  The photo above is of a Little Owl (right) defending its feeding position from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) with both birds showing  their full colours with dramatic full wing extensions.

Sony World Photography Awards 2014 is currently accepting entries until 6 January 2014.

ABC: Supported by an avalanche of critical articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the Murdoch press, quite a few members of the government are talking about privatising the ABC – the government funded but independent public media body.  Every new conservative government tries to dismantle the ABC (and the trade unions), and allegations of left-wing bias are usually found to be unsubstantiated.  I hope it hasn’t got so bad here that we have to again defend the ABC, and that intelligent and informative discussion should be curtailed or shut down.  I am addicted to Radio National!

Downtown Bourke

Downtown Bourke

BOURKE: I loved visiting Bourke.  It is an attractive town, with some handsome historical buildings, wide streets and trees and parks.  It was hard to find a hotel room – there were some tourists, but regional conferences for National Parks, Health etc were being held.  I stayed in “North Bourke”, a few kilometres out of town, and over the river.  Historically, the town has been  a major regional trading centre and transport hub, initially based on the beautiful, if faintly murky Darling River.

Darling River at Port of Bourke

Darling River at Port of Bourke

A local joke in Bourke – or rural NSW, is that “NSW” stands for the coastal cities of Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong. There are no longer any rail or air links to Bourke.  The area is in drought, and summer temperatures hit 40 degrees. The population of around 2000, is forty percent  indigenous, who speak up to 24 different languages.  A complaint is that although there is access to various services, there is duplication, and it is not targeted.  People I met loved living there and were optimistic about the future.  Community leaders are working hard to deal with some of the problems. Most country towns are experiencing high levels of youth unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, unfortunately leading to high crime statistics. See this recent feature article on Bourke The Lost Town.  

I travelled to Bourke with a friend Jon Lewis a well known Australian photographer.  We both want to go back.  He took some great photographs of people in the community.  I think his photograph of me makes me look a bit haughty. See other photographs of Bourke by Jon Lewis at www.jonnylewis.org – go to Blog and Older Blogs (especially postings for November 15-19).

Ace Bourke in Bourke

Ace Bourke in Bourke by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Jonny and I visited an ancient rock art site in the Gundabooka National Park, and Fort Bourke, with several traditional owners and Aboriginal community leaders. Talking frankly with them was a moving and emotional experience.  Governor Bourke is, understandably to them, a symbol of colonial dispossession. No governor handled indigenous-settler issues successfully or with honour, and Aboriginal disadvantage from their dispossession continues to this day.

We visited the Back O’Bourke  Exhibition Centre and the region has a fascinating history with often larger than life characters.  At the Centre it was simply stated that the town was named after Bourke as he was Governor at the time. I imagine people are unaware and uninterested in who Governor Bourke actually was, and I realised that although I live in Sydney, I don’t know much about Lord Sydney either.  However, it turned out many were fans of Christian, and I was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Western Herald.

P1010694 (2)

When the surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was in this area on an expedition in 1835,  “tensions” with the the local Aboriginal people led to Mitchell building a simple (and small) wooden stockade for protection.  A replica exists today.  As Richard Bourke was Governor, Mitchell named it Fort Bourke – always a good way to curry favour for the future.   Bourke appreciated the beauty of  the  Australian landscape which was so different to Europe, and travelled on horseback extensively around the colony, although he never visited Bourke.

Leaving the rock art site

Leaving the rock art site

WORLD:  Over 2 million Syrian refugees are now facing freezing winter conditions, while many of those remaining in Syria are besieged or starving – Syria has become the most dangerous humanitarian crisis for decades;  Lebanon, like other neighbours, is drawn further into the conflict with all the refugees, and people transiting through the country to join both sides of the conflict (including hundreds of Australians);  Netanyahu is apoplectic at the thought of any Iran-US detente;  Australia “abstains” in the UN for an order to stop “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” without informing  the Australian public of the change of policy;  dozens have been killed across Iraq, with December the bloodiest month for 5 years;  very violent and dangerous conditions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan;  the Philippines still in dire need of help, with 4 million people displaced;  anti-government unrest in Bangkok and the Ukraine;  wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi visits Australia;  ex PMs Rudd and Berlusconi are hopefully gone for good;  A.C.T. same-sex marriage legislation is overturned in an Australian court, but the decision clears the way for Federal Parliament to legislate;  India (re)criminalises homosexuality;  China lands on the moon;  Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, while Edward Snowden came second.

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: People love birds as I found out with the response to the last blog.  Thanks to the indefatigible Sylvia Ross for her photographs of this birds nest 2 meters from her front door.  Over weeks we have followed the drama in the life of the Willie Wagtail – the nest, the attack by a Currawong, a surviving chick (above) appears, and later, 2 more appear! I loved her recent exhibition Feral which was photographs she has taken of pigeons in many countries. They are a beautiful and varied family, and these photographs are used as metaphors for “cultural prioritisation and question the concept of feral”.

I really appreciate the variety of emails, comments, stories and images I receive from many of you, so thank you very much.  Several of you unfortunately lost adored companion pets this year and I hope you are managing.  I know I am sometimes a little late – or careless, in my responses.  Indeed, if I have other things to attend to, my blog can read more like a summary of past events…..

I would like to thank my sister Lindy,  and Hayley from HMMG, for their invaluable assistance.

WATCHING & READING:  At the moment I’m adoring Andre Agassi’s fascinating autobiography OPEN.   He seems to have hated tennis from the start and it was his father’s dream, not his, to be Number 1 in the world.  Dad was yet another demanding and scary tennis parent.  He expresses the pyschological torment he suffered very well, and envies his main rival Pete Sampras for being “dull” – and more focused.  He repeats bitchy remarks directed towards him from McEnroe, Connors, Becker, Lendl etc., which actually reveals more about them.  He discovers that famous people, and I presume this includes his ex-wife Brooke Shields, are as mundane as everyone else.

I’m enjoying the Australia-English cricket Ashes Test series.  In a form reversal, Australia have now actually won the Ashes, although there are two more matches in the series to play.

VOICELESS: Voiceless is a non-profit organisation which is part of the animal protection movement in Australia, and is especially concerned with raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming and the kangaroo industry. Recently I attended the 10th annual Voiceless Awards and I am constantly surprised and pleased by the very important work many people are doing on behalf of animals. Voiceless is to be congratulated for their impressive track record of advocacy, and generosity through Grants, Prizes and other support.  The next day I met several of the dedicated staff, and was delighted to see three of them had their  dogs at work.  

The Animal Studies Group’s latest online edition of the Animal Studies Journal, has interesting articles reflecting current research in human-animal studies – from living with crocodiles – or owning dogs in Thailand, to animal grief.

MARTIN SHARP:  Martin Sharp (1942-2013), another of Australia’s most influential artists, has died.  His great friend Richard Neville, wrote a very comprehensive obituary in the SMH.  A very clever and creative group of Australians had arrived in London a few years before me, and they were major contributors to the so called 1960s “Counter Culture”: from Oz Magazine to Germaine Greer.  Martin Sharp made cartoons, collages, posters, psychedelic pop paintings, and album covers for Hendrix, Cream etc. When he returned to Sydney, Martin lived in his grandparent’s mansion in Sydney, with rooms devoted to his obsessions  which included Tiny Tim, Mickey Mouse, Luna Park and amusement park memorabilia.  Martin had a huge influence on many of us. He encouraged me to open my first gallery.  In 2009, Louise Ferrier and I co-ordinated a survey exhibition at the Museum of Sydney: Martin Sharp Sydney Artist.

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

NELSON MANDELA:  It is the end of an era with the death of Nelson Mandela. I can’t add to the deserved accolades for his extraordinary achievements, especially managing the transition from apartheid to democracy and reconciliation.  It has made us all think about leadership – and the absence in most of our lives of visionary – or even practical, leadership.  Mandela was a mystical combination of intelligence, resilience, charm, firmness etc, and it has been fascinating reading and learning more about him – the power he exerted from a prison cell!

It has also been a reminder of the many problems still facing South Africa, and many people obviously feel President Zuma has failed to improve their lives.

I was very interested in this quote from Mandela on leadership: “A leader is like a shepherd.  He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind”.

In his oration at Mandela’s memorial service, Obama said that leaders needed to be filled with “the spirit of Ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word meaning “the oneness of humanity”.  Let’s all strive for this in 2014…..

Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2010

Last visit to Christian 1972

Christian was born 12th August 1969. This is my favourite photograph of me with Christian, and I don’t think it has ever been seen before. I was not aware of it until a friend gave it to me in London last year. I cried. As it is 1972 it was probably taken by Tony Fitzjohn, now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.  It turned out to be my last visit and we never saw him again.

Sometimes I could read Christian’s eyes and mind and I could feel extremely connected to him, and sometimes I found him totally impenetrable, and I was completely irrelevant. This photograph for me sums up the bridge or link between humans and animals that Christian has now come to represent to many people. It also illustrates other factors that many of you have written to me about – “love” and “trust”, both in relation to Christian, and your own animals.  I’m very grateful for you expressing your emotions so beautifully and sharing them with me.

I’M READING: Christine’s Ark by John Little about an extraordinary Australian woman Christine Townend, a founder of Animal Liberation in Australia (with Peter Singer), and who then ran with her husband an Animal Shelter in Jaipur, India, for over 17 years. I have been lucky enough to meet her lately and I am going to visit their two animal shelters near Darjeeling in India in early November. I will blog much more about their marvellous work, and help if I can. Check them out – www.workingforanimals.org.au.  I think Christine Townend is an example of what the world needs badly – individuals that do not just accept the status quo and do something  personally about it, and make an extraordinary difference.

I have been fascinated by another Australian, Julian Assange, who also decided to act – against government dishonesty and the misrepresentation in the media of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He created WikiLeaks – and recently uploaded many thousands of confidential US Government reports to show the real situation and the number of civilian deaths. Perhaps people, so badly failed by our leaders, are taking action themselves – and much of it through the opportunities the internet provides. In this case I fear his disclosures will have people killed in retaliation, and that he will be killed himself.

A mother Australian Sea Lion sniffs her pup. Photo Benjamin Pitcher SMH

I’M WATCHING: everything on our nerve- wracking if nearly farcical election, and David Attenborough’s new documentary series Life – a welcome antidote. My cat particularly liked the snakes, unlike me. Her brother prefers the computer and the mouse to television.

ETS

In the election we have the choice between an Opposition leader who is on record as saying “climate change is crap” with a pretend policy, and a dithering Government who did try and get the ETS legislation through parliament (blocked by the Opposition and the Greens can you believe), and now want to create “community consensus” through a Citizens Assembly! This was greeted with the derision it deserves. In fact 62% of the community WANT action and ex PM Rudd’s credibility crumbled on his shelving of this legislation.

Delay just means everything will be much harder and more expensive to turn around in the future. Other countries like Germany and China are seizing the new economic opportunities that are presenting themselves and a price on carbon is essential to stop uncertainty and to encourage investment in alternate and renewable energies.

I did secretly wonder, given the precarious global financial and economic situation, was it a good or bad time to introduce an ETS? A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (4/8/10) did quote the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying while he was pessimistic about the prospects for the global economy, strong policies to curb carbon emissions and a high carbon price could also help restore growth, and provide certainty for investment.

Bushfires in Russian, floods in Pakistan… and the recent State of the Climate 2009 Report illustrates how we have just had our hottest year in 2009 here in my State, and Australia’s second warmest year since 2005. It was good to see the exoneration of the scientists crucified by the climate skeptics who successfully stalled the global momentum for action over a few careless inaccuracies in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

GOOD NEWS: the BP oil well seems capped in the Gulf of Mexico, although the damage will remain for decades, and remember the threat to the Ozone layer and the hole above Antarctica? With the banning of CFCs, there is now optimism about slow long term recovery.

DON’T MISS:  We have been very fortunate to have  a unique exhibition of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz  from the Lake George years at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Described as “America’s greatest photographer” these beautiful photographs from the 1910s-1930s rarely travel, and include of course photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, and fascinating photographs of exhibitions at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery including the first exhibitions in America of Picasso, Braque and Brancusi. The exhibition closes 5th September.

ANIMAL RIGHTS

The visit to Australia by American lawyer Joyce Tischler has focused attention on the huge growth and interest in Animal Rights. There seems to be a growing concern especially about the conditions pigs and chickens endure in relation to food production, and a determination to end some very cruel practices.

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/this-little-piggy-went-to-market-20100806-11oi8.html

STATISTICS: 3000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild (and a new baby at Taronga Zoo), and the most exhaustive stocktake of life in the world’s oceans so far, the Census of Marine Life, found more than 230,000 species lived in 25 marine regions around the world, and Australia contains more than 33,000 known species of which 58 are threatened.

GARMA

One year I must attend the Garma Festival in northern Australia, where this year there is a stated commitment to education for indigenous people. The festival is a good reminder of just how strong traditional Aboriginal culture remains in central and northern Australia, and the difficulties inherent in biculturalism and living in two often competing worlds. How do you fully participate in mainstream Australia as entitled when you live in very remote small communities with a strong traditional culture and few economic opportunities? Fortunately, many Australian Aborigines are  extremely good artists and this has provided livelihoods, and their best ones, like the late Emily Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas, have been fascinating the global art world for several decades.

Aboriginal dancers at the Garma Festival last year

Los Angeles

April 1, 2010

Tim Street Porter - Los Angeles cover

Tim Street Porter

 

I had lunch with friends Tim Street Porter and Annie Kelly in their very Hollywood house, once owned by Adrian who dressed big stars such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. Tim must be one of the best architectural photographers in the world and you can read a recent story on him in American Photography here. Separately and together they have worked on many projects, such as Rooms to Inspire in the City  

    

Tim Street Porter - Rooms to Inspire in the City   

More on Annie Kelly’s work can be found here.  

Another guest at lunch, Michael Duncan, a highly regarded curator and writer for the magazine Art in America, is now NOT coming to the Biennale of Sydney (opening next month) over some ridiculous mix up.   

A Lion Called Christian - US paperback 2010

A Lion Called Christian - US paperback 2010

 

I think this is my favourite cover – out of about 8! Although I just love the Scrapbook, and it is my favourite present to anyone regardless of age and they aren’t expected to read it out of duty.We had an extensive radio tour this time, compared to the television tour last year, and I wanted to be in Los Angeles for mine – one day I did 11 straight interviews. People are still very interested in Christian’s story. I visited bookshops and signed copies. I am always surprised and grateful that people ask such positive questions and don’t ever admonish us for the risks we took.  

I was staying at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood where many people in the music industry stay and I loved it. It was the first days of spring and sunshine, and all the girls looked SO slim – and the men pumped up and fresh from the gym. Many had miniature dogs in harnesses that were taken everywhere, or walking with the owners who were usually on the phone. There seemed to be pet boutiques every block.  

 This contrasted with more empty buildings and more homeless on the streets of LA than last year and apparently there are 33% more homeless this year in New York. I’d finally read The Road on the flight over, and with the GFC and a mild earthquake while I was there, as I skirted various people on the pavement I thought chillingly “there but for the grace of God go I” and how unresourceful I’d be in a disaster or an emergency.  

Apparently many families are finding it hard to feed their pets, and if it is a choice between animals or food on the table, pets are the first casualty. Organisations have evolved which are actually providing food to animals in homes to prevent them going to shelters.  

Barack Obama was wrestling with the Health Bill which is now signed, and even if flawed and compromised, it is a truly historic event that he will always be remembered for. Thirty million Americans have been unprotected by a ‘safety net’. I was surprised so many Americans resent so strongly helping the less well off, or sharing the benefits of a wealthy society, and Obama out-manoeuvred them brilliantly. 

 

I felt very fortunate with our national health scheme in Australia.  

Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move is challenging grocery manufacturers to rethink their products and how they are marketed to children, and encouraging healthy eating. Products in general need to be much more accurately labelled, especially in relation to products that contain palm oil as their plantations are eliminating animal habitats.  

Similar to Australia, two thirds of adults and one third of children are obese or overweight. And most 8 to 18 year olds spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day multitasking in front of TVs, videogames or computers. Unfortunately many live in neighbourhoods where it is unsafe to run around outside and exercise.  

I always love visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I enjoyed the exhibition American Stories – everyday life in paintings up to 1915. I wondered what images one would use to tell an Australian story? There were marvelous new acquisitions of Pacific art. There is not very much Australian Aboriginal art in public American institutions although the 3 largest private collectors of Aboriginal art have been American – Kelton, Kluge and Kahn. There were extraordinary examples of South East Asian sculptures and carvings, and I was immediately drawn to an exquisite female Hindu deity, with the most simple and elegant shape. I read it had come from Angkor Wat where I had been just a few months ago, and it suddenly seemed stolen, and poignantly a long way from home. There was also a comprehensive exhibition by Joseph Beuys, and not to forget the Picassos, Giocomettis and Brancusis.  

I finally visited the Getty Centre on top of the hill. It is fabulous site with spectacular views of LA. Of course it is the wealthiest art institution in the world, and impossible to compete with at auction. I was reminded that the collection was originally a personal collection and I imagined J. Paul Getty buying originally for his palatial Sutton Place mansion in the UK – the sort of paintings (like Gainsborough), decorative furniture and objects and stunning 17th century tapestries one would like to live grandly with if one was nouveaux riche (exceptionally). I was too dazzled by the opulent Louis 14th gold but loved especially the extraordinary medieval texts.  

The architecture by Richard Meier was a series of not large pavilions which again for me reinforced the idea of a personal collection rather than a public gallery collection. I was reading Nicolas Rothwell’s The Red Highway, primarily about the extraordinary people that have been attracted by the Australian deserts, and where the first chapter deals with one of the first major collectors of Aboriginal art. The bark paintings Karel Kupka collected from the Northern Territory in the late 1940s and 1950s are now hanging in the Musee Quai Branly in Paris. Rothwell said “He was also in the grip of an urge that gained a stronger hold on him with every day: it was the collector’s disease, that unsleeping impulse to acquire, to classify, to create a microcosm where order and pattern can be shored up against the world”.  

Frederick H Evans - Ancient crypt cellars in Provins, France 1910

Frederick H Evans - Ancient crypt cellars in Provins, France 1910

 

The Getty also has a huge photography collection and on exhibition were photographs from the 1890s by Frederick H. Evans. He was well known for his serene and beautifully composed photographs of cloisters and cathedrals, and portraits of friends such as Aubrey Beardsley and GB Shaw. He also photographed the 15th century house of William Morris.   

Haile Selassie I with lion

Haile Selassie I with lion

 

Talking to an Ethiopian staff member at my hotel, as lions were on my mind, into my head popped Emporer Haile Selassie and I said, “What do you know about the Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah?” He said “Well, he was my great uncle”!!!   

Naturally I was totally fascinated, and Solomon Selassie told me up to 20 lions lived in the Palace and the gardens and foreign dignitaries were often met at the airport by a lion greeting them on the tarmac and no doubt were often terrified.   

Imagine having a family lineage that traditionally goes back 3000 years to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? After tumultuous events in the 1970s, including a coup d’etat, family members lost their lives while others scattered around the world, although Solomon’s father still lives in Ethiopia.   

Reading the LA Times one day was depressing: there has been a surge in brutal poaching in Zimbabwe and South Africa (which makes the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust breeding program with rhinos even more important); a sign of things to come where tanker owners in Karachi, Pakistan were siphoning off as much as 41% of the water supply and selling it off at a profit; and a top official of the UN Wildlife Agency at a 175 nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species said tigers were on the verge of extinction and where 20 years ago 100,000 tigers were in Asia, now only 3,200 remain in the wild. Also at this convention a ban on the export of Atlantic blue fin tuna fishing (stocks are down 70%) was voted down, and I am ashamed to say, it was not supported by Australia.   

As my shocking clothes from the late 1960s and early 1970s have been seen and laughed at internationally, I can’t decide if I should – or should not, talk about clothes! In my defense, we were encouraged and instructed to look very “Kings Road” and not to cut our hair for the two documentaries made about Christian. That look, especially “Carnaby Street”, was thankfully coming to an end and by then I was coveting the extremely smart menswear that YSL designed at the time. Having grown up in straight suburban Australia, it had been a relief to break out, although I still cringe at what I wore at university – yes, shorts and long white socks. Although I am an art curator, supposedly with “a good eye”, I have obviously no clothes sense. Over the years I have settled for a black and white “uniform” – jackets over a white T-shirt or shirt and often with jeans. But I love shopping in America and in LA I quite quickly found myself at Barneys New York as the clothes from all the major designers are there. I think if it is by a good designer I stand a better chance of buying something that suits me… although I envy friends who are naturally stylish and can go to St Vincent de Paul or opportunity shops and buy something great for practically nothing!   

Prada is always interesting and expensive. Yoji Yamamoto was just sensational and so imaginative again, but too chicly attention getting for me. Neil Barratt always surprises me with how good he is, and I wonder ‘who is he?’ and why isn’t he better known – or is he? Last year I was fascinated by the delicacy and fineness of Balenciaga and I didn’t even know he made men’s clothes – but you would have to be young, thin, pretty and either rich or kept! Armani had the best for someone like me (60+)… but the suits and handsome jackets were expensive enough for me to resist. I didn’t even go into BOSS – a bit of an addiction that was noticed by my companions last year in the States, but I did run into GAP at The Grove to stock up on T-shirts etc. 

Before flying home I went to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico for the weekend and it was most attractive.  When I was still at school I loved the film Night of the Iguana with Ava Gardner and Richard Burton and others. It was my first introduction to the transgressive world of Tennessee Williams. I was going to make a pilgrimage to the site as it was made nearby – you can’t visit the house, and I didn’t bother – I just relaxed – the water, beaches and surrounding hills are beautiful. Development, locals and foreigners seemingly mix well. Some Americans were so old, escaping the cold winter… it was inspiring. I found the place more Suddenly Last Summer… 

  

Houdini the cat - Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson's Houdini. Photograph by Tim Gadd

 

I’ve been enjoying reading the comments and suggestions and hope to respond appropriately in time. I’d love this blog to be more dialogue than monologue! I especially appreciated Craig Anderson’s response to the Late February post about Christian and Kimba the White Lion. Christian is indeed an “ambassador” between humans and animals, and we all do have “the capacity to be an agent for greater awareness and thus change for the better”. I loved Craig’s cat Houdini’s story (Early March) and what a good example of the joy an animal can give – and that he rescued him from a shelter. I do think Craig could have introduced him to the already resident cat Lucky a little more tactfully! I cried over his friend the squirrel’s farewell, and losing him.

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.