George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING: The CACH campaign seems to be growing – and not surprisingly, as so few reasonable people would support the farming of lions to be hunted. I now ring travel agents when I see advertisements for tours to Africa and check they are sending their clients to reputable wildlife sanctuaries. Canned Hunting was also mentioned in a recent 60 Minutes story on Kevin Richardson and his lovely shampooed looking lions in South Africa.  Richardson is on the “reputable” list – but I do think he takes risks with the lions, even though they adore him. I did finally watch the story that was on Dateline SBS in January How Much Would You Pay to Kill a Lion?  I could hardly watch as lions were shot and the hunters gloated over their successful kills.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

In Australia, a Liberal Party MP Jason Wood gave a speech in the House of Representatives about canned hunting and against importing lion and animal parts into Australia.  I very much appreciate his efforts. You can sign his petition here. This is what needs to happen in the USA and Europe. I received a formal (unsigned) response from The White House and Barack Obama to my email about the importation of lion and animals parts into the USA.  He “shared my concern for animal welfare”.  At least someone received it!

 

AVAAZ: They are running a campaign in South Africa against the trade in lion parts. They intend for this campaign to hurt South Africa as a tourist destination so sign their petition here. There is also a petition about the illegal sale of exotic animal parts – and ivory – on eBay – sign the petition here.  Whenever I say “sign here” rather bossily, I know you all make up your own minds, but I know most of you care deeply about many of these issues.

 

TONY THE TIGER:  Shamefully, the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has “quietly” signed a bill allowing the owner of Tony the Tiger to keep him as a roadside attraction.  The ALDF are filing a lawsuit for violating the State Constitution.  This is SO depressing – I do urge any Americans to ring the Governor and express your displeasure. This is completely unacceptable. Read more on the update here.

Angel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for DolphinsAngel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for Dolphins

Angel the dolphin. Image sourced: Australia for Dolphins

ACTION FOR ANGEL: Yet another story of an imprisoned animal for our “entertainment”. Angel, the albino dolphin calf is in a tiny indoor tank at the Taiji Whale Museum. Sign the petition here organised by Australia for Dolphins – and they ask for us to circulate it. The Japanese seem determined to continue hunting whales…and their annual slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. This Sunday 29th June there is a Whale of a Debate at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney (at 2.30pm) discussing historical and contemporary anti-whaling.  Speakers will include members of the Sea Shepherd and conservationist and photographer Jonny Lewis.

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers' Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers’ Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

ALICE WALKER: The Sydney Writers Festival was on recently and while I did not attend, I heard and saw various interviews on radio and television. It did make me think – we have so many intelligent, perceptive, compassionate and ingenious people in the world – why is our country (and the world) run by so many moronic people that just don’t get it? I know I can be slow onto some things, but I am now mad on Alice Walker – she get’s it!  I hung on her every word and will now start reading her intensively. I feel as if I know The Color Purple although I’m not sure if I read the book in the 1980s or saw the movie.

When asked for her advice for Obama Alice said “RUN”!  She hates the use of drones and that he is part of the “war machine”.  “Aren’t we smarter than buying weapons?”  “We have to change the system” – all presidents are hostage to it. The capitalist system is now part of the problem. She supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and thinks women would make more empathetic leaders.

While nature is for her a “balm” that we “abuse”, writing is a “medicine”. She listens to, and “only”works for her ancestors. Fiction has a “freedom”, while poetry is autonomous. It “descends”, you “can’t chase after it”, and the “muse comes at will”.  She named Tolstoy and Dostoevsky first when asked which writers she admires. She saw her mother and grandmother enslaved by their many children so didn’t particularly want to be a mother.  I thought she was amusing about her daughter who has been quite critical of her in the past, although I’m sure this was hurtful. She wants us to” turn to each other” and “talk things through”. Life’s purpose and why she isn’t sitting on her cushion meditating “or scuba diving” is “we exist to help each other”. “The deep joy is to show up for others”.   For her, this included being part of the flotilla that sailed to Gaza in 2010.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

USA: Last month saw yet another senseless mass shooting in the USA. One of the victim’s father Richard Martinez was so articulate asking: “Why did Chris die?  Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians, and the NRA…. What has changed?  Have we learned nothing?  Where the hell is the leadership?…  Life doesn’t have to be like this”. When members of the US Congress rang him offering him condolences he said “I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me.  Get to work and DO something”.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent book No Place to Hide he describes his encounter with Edward Snowden. He had to put his mobile phone in the hotel mini bar – as now anything can be transformed into a listening device!  He says the Snowden cache reveals a regime seeking “the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide”!

Hillary Clinton was very articulate in an interview on our ABC promoting her book Hard Choices. Phillip Adams and his guests were not flattering about her on his radio program. They found the book  mostly tedious and boring.  Adams choked over the $14 million advance!  They acknowledged that she is very hard working and clever, but thought she was a better administrator than a politician. It appears as if she is already campaigning for the Presidency and certainly has a chance, especially as she has such good “name recognition”.  Adams prefers Elizabeth Warren.  Hillary and I are about the same age (and both Scorpios) and I have fantasised, as you do, wondering if I could physically and mentally do a big job like that now.  I don’t think I ever could have!  Americans are less ageist than we are in Australia, and I do think Hillary appeared quite good as Secretary of State, especially compared to John Kerry.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

CLIMATE CHANGE: Well done Obama for acting on climate change with the US cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2020. Our PM Abbott was recently in Canada and wanted to form a conservative climate change deniers club with PM Harper, but the UK and NZ did not want to join. Next day (after dinner with Rupert Murdoch) Abbott was star struck meeting Obama and said he and Obama’s climate change policies were very close, which is just a complete lie. Next day he was praising King Coal in Houston and saying the world would be dependent on coal “for decades”. What does this man actually believe?

Abbott has succeeded – so far – in ensuring climate change is not on the agenda at the November G20 meeting  of world leaders in Australia!

 

GOOD ARTICLES: Paul Krugman has written an excellent article on climate change in the New York Times. Krugman argues that the economic impact of carbon reductions is actually quite modest – despite the scare mongering, and the debate is a “toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism” which is very true of our conservative politicians and businessmen in Australia.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change movement 350.org writes in an article that Abbott and Harper have put nations “on the road to disaster”.  He points out how Harper was a former oil executive and how he has been described as a bully, “intolerant of criticism and dissent”.  The development of the Canadian tar sands and Australia’s coal in the Galilee basin alone could ensure it would be impossible to ever bring the world’s temperatures under control. He notes, however, that their extremism is spawning “widespread resistance”.

There was an excellent summary about action on climate change in the editorial in the SMH June 24th see here.

Ian Dunlop, a former oil, gas and coal industry executive, recently wrote in the SMH that our federal government “is taking anti-science to new heights. Its scorched earth approach discards virtually everything not in line with narrow, free market ideology centred on sustaining Australia’s 20th century dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out economic growth model”.  Dunlop goes on to say that the government’s Direct Action white paper has no scientific and economic grounding…and is “the climate policy you have when you don’t want a policy”.

Uncertainty is affecting – as was intended – investment and confidence in the renewable energy sector.

Encouragingly, the tide may be turning, and just when this government is about to remove our effective carbon tax, 63% of Australians are now increasingly concerned about climate change (again) and now believe we should be taking a “a leadership role in reducing emissions”.

In the most surprising move, our billionaire mining maverick politician Clive Palmer, who through several senators holds the balance of power in the Senate, turned up at a press conference with Al Gore by his side!  No-one is sure yet what this means for action on climate change, and if this was just a stunt and Gore has been played as a sucker. Palmer mines coal and nickel so will love not having to pay a hefty carbon tax.  We could be left without an emissions trading scheme and a plan to do nothing, but Palmer, apparently at Gore’s urging,  seems to now want to retain the Renewable Energy Target and oppose the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority.

forests

CELEBRITIES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: About to air in the USA is a television series, Years of Living Dangerously  which urges action on climate change and has the involvement of industry heavyweights and celebrities like James Cameron, Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently spoke out about the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, which is at risk of being listed as “in danger”.  Leonardo has witnessed the changes for the worse since he first swam there 20 years ago.  This year he has donated $US10 million to ocean conservation, and $4 million to tiger and elephant projects.

Geoffrey Rush spoke up about our government’s attempt to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s forests which has just been rejected by the World Heritage Committee. Our government’s arguments for delisting were described as a “feeble justification”, while many people were shocked that the delisting had been attempted in the first place.

 

boy with fish

IPA:  I am only just beginning to comprehend the undue and insidious influence of the conservative “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Australia. This ideologically conservative group is our Tea Party, but smarter and therefore more dangerous. Abbott addressed them in April last year  and the audience included the unholy alliance of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and Cardinal Pell!!!

Until I read this article I had no idea of the influence of the IPA on the country, and on Abbott who is implementing many of their policies.  I have already discussed the appointment of several of these climate change denying, older businessmen to key positions and reviews:  Tony Shepherd conducting the heartless Commission of Audit; Dick Warburton reviewing the Renewable Energy Target; and Maurice Newman, Chairman of the PM’s Business Advisory Council.

The IPA are skilled propagandists and work through fronts such as the Australian Conservation Foundation which is actually anti-conservation!  They “muddied the waters” recently over the attempt to delist part of the Tasmanian forest.  In what has been described as a “global conspiracy” the IPA have led an active campaign (courtesy Murdoch press) against the plain packaging of cigarettes, trying to make a case it has led to more smoking – which apparently it has not.  The IPA are funded by companies such as Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Esso and Caltex.

Our PM was recently abroad – his school boy French in France was excruciating – worse than mine, and he has a certain gaucheness which could be endearing if he was not our PM.  I liked the letter to The Australian newspaper which stated “I am confused – there appears to be two Tony Abbotts travelling around North America, one as described by the Fairfax and ABC media outlets and another Tony Abbott as reported by The Australian”. (from Michael Burd, Toorak, Victoria).

Australia does seem to be currently divided along these lines.  Murdoch controls over 70% of the print media and unashamedly and uncritically supports the government,  backed up by a few popular and shrill radio shock jocks. Their targets consistently include the Fairfax media and especially the ABC.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks starred in the film Jedda which was a very dramatic and tragic Australian film made by Charles Chauvel in 1955.  Jedda was about race and forbidden love, and was way ahead of its time.  After retreating to a convent, Rosalie emerged to become a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.

Recently on a television program (Q & A on the ABC) a fellow guest who I think was Peter Coleman, suggested that the “Aboriginal problem” could be “fixed” by assimilation into white society.  Rosalie responded with the most brilliant and emphatic declaration of her Aboriginality and who she was.  She was reported (inaccurately) in the press as saying:

“My language is (Arrernte) in spite of the whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem”. See the footage of her full response here.

 

UTOPIA: John Pilger’s documentary Utopia examines the present situation for Aboriginal people.  Rosalie actually comes from Utopia. The documentary is too long but devastating nevertheless.  Pilger has filed several stories over the decades on this subject, and very little seems to have changed.  One wonders if things have actuallyeven got worse in many respects for Aboriginal people: their housing; health; employment opportunities; incarceration rates; suicide epidemics etc. These days the Labor Government and the “left” are criticised with some justification for failing Aboriginal people. Many people like myself have supported Aboriginal “self-determination” and we have also been criticised for caring about digging up and trashing the environment. Apparently we have  held Aboriginal people back from economic development.  I would caution Aborigines from expecting too much from conservative governments and the mining industry…

Alice Walker: “The coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse – I don’t see it – even today”.

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition Strength and Beauty, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

MICHAEL RILEY: Michael Riley was a leading Aboriginal photographer who died in 2004. The National Portrait Gallery recently purchased a selection of his portraits taken between 1984 and 1989 and these photographs are currently on exhibition.  Michael’s subjects at this time were his extraordinary generation of attractive and talented Aboriginals that had emerged and broken the stereotypes in many ways – not least how they were represented.  They included artist Tracey Moffatt, politician Linda Burney and curators Djon Mundine, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins.  I was asked to speak at the NPG as I was a friend and had exhibited Michael Riley.  I am also on the Michael Riley Foundation.  More of Michael’s work can be seen at www.thecommercialgallery.com or www.michaelriley.com.au.

Darrell by Micahel Riley

Darrell by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Animals Category winner in the iPhone Awards, Michael O’Neal of San Francisco said that he came across this friendly fox in the Wyoming wilds. “I sat in the road for 10 minutes with him…no cars, not a soul around, just me and this red fox” he said. Foxes and cats are primarily blamed and demonised  for Australia’s extinction rate of native animals which is “the worst in the world”.  We are losing one mammal every decade and have lost 28 or 29 since colonisation in 1788, with 60 presently endangered.

Fox by Michael O'Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

Fox by Michael O’Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

AG-GAG LAWS: It is going to become an offence to film inhumane conditions for animals in Australia.  In the USA it is already an offence for any “audio or video recording” at a farm facility. Why is it not an offence to have animals cruelly confined in appalling conditions?

 

ISRAEL: The Australian government created yet another unnecessary problem for themselves by arguing that East Jerusalem was “disputed” and not “occupied”.  Israel is the only country in the world to articulate similar views. Our government argued that this was not a change of policy, but they have been changing their position over Israel by stealth, illustrated by several votes, or abstentions, at the UN.  Trade sanctions over our cattle, sheep and wheat exports were subsequently threatened against Australia by Arab and Islamic countries,  and 22 international diplomatic representatives demanded to meet our Foreign Minister in Canberra.

Israel is building 3000 more settlement homes in the Occupied Territories as a punishment for the reconciliation between the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas, who control Gaza.  Many Palestinians are also being punished at the moment  because of  3 missing Israeli teenagers.  While  their disappearance is extremely concerning – what about the 7 Palestinians that have been killed in the search for them?  Israeli forces seem to have rampaged through many Palestinian houses, and harassed and detained hundreds of people.

Alice Walker on Israel: “The land they are taking is not theirs and they have to give it back”.  She actually made her remark that “the coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse” about Israel, but said it applied everywhere – Australia, USA etc.  She also said that with $3 billion a year coming from the US to Israel, “we can’t afford you”.  Her participation in the flotilla to Gaza in 2010 demonstrated her courage and commitment.

 

horse leap

 

MIDDLE EAST: Iraq is disintegrating and in the absence of any solutions it is tempting to just think Iraq and Syria should be left to unravel.   Their borders are an unnatural colonial construct and they should regroup along more natural tribal and sectarian lines. It is the humanitarian catastrophe for so many innocent civilians that is most concerning. Tony Blair is still in denial, blaming the Iraqi PM and inaction over Syria. I loved Boris Johnston saying  “Tony Blair has gone mad”. George Bush Jr and our John Howard have been VERY quiet.  Cheney is as cocky and without remorse as ever, and seems to blame Obama.

Many millions of us marched around the world against the invasion of Iraq, and we were right!  I did mention the threat and ambitions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) several blogs back – how has everyone been taken by surprise?  It is a complete intelligence failure. The thug in the suit, Nouri al-Maliki was an appalling choice as PM by the West and he has made no attempt to include the Sunnis or Kurds.  Even now he is refusing to consider a unity government. One of many disastrous decisions by the USA was to de Baathify Iraq as it left no-one with any experience for administration or the army, and just created many disaffected and resentful enemies. The Sunni-Shiite split goes back to the succession to the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632!  Shiities say Ali, the prophet’s cousin was the rightful successor and was cheated by the Sunnis “Rightfully Guided Caliphs” Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali!!!!!

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

READING, LISTENING & WATCHING: Wimbledon is on and I was thrilled of course that Rafa won recently in Paris. This was his 9th French Open.  It was a great victory and he is now equal second with Pete Sampras on 14 Majors. Elizabeth Wilson has recently written a book LOVE GAME A History of Tennis.   Her book sounds very informative historically and unlike most sports, women participated from the start.  Like many people today, she prefers Federer’s graceful style to Rafa grinding his opponents down in a “python strangle”.

NSW has finally won the State of Origin rugby league after Queensland won for 8 years straight. I am sort of watching the World Cup but prefer the news reports of the few spectacular goals. This sport is building in Australia, especially as there are serious injuries – especially concussion, in the rugby union and league codes. Soccer officials will have to do something about the blatant corruption, like awarding the World Cup to Qatar.

OK, I confess I have been watching The Voice.  I don’t care too much about the contestants but I love the judges: Ricky Martin is, well, Ricky, Kylie Minogue has been surprisingly engaging, Joel Madden goes down very well in Australia and will.i.am is brilliant!

I haven’t read anything by the serial novelist (4 books a year) Alexander McCall Smith. I heard a repeat of his interview at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2013 and he was hilarious and laughed along with the audience at his own jokes and the madness of life. I’ve just bought his book on his favourite poet What W.H. Auden Can Do For You.

pups

JEFFREY MASSON:  I’ve just read Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s latest book  BEASTS – What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.  I think Jeffrey combines all of his experience, knowledge and intelligence in this book, examining the huge question of violence in humans and animals and the “search for the origins of human violence”.  It is a complex debate, and I found the book very thought provoking as he argues, for example, how agriculture, property ownership and the domestication of animals changed human behaviour.  The book contains fascinating information about many different animals and species, and the effects of human intervention in the natural life of animals.

Christian the lion is mentioned as an illustration of a wild animal expressing friendship and love for another species – especially a predator, and how Christian’s wild lioness friends “indulged” us which we also found astounding.  This made me think about Christian and the other lions in George Adamson’s man-made pride, as they were an “intervention” into the territory of wild lions already established at Kora.  These lions mostly tried to kill most of George’s introduced males and cubs, but mated with the lionesses.  Christian, however, seemed to come to what has been described as an unusual “truce” with them, but he ultimately had to look for his own territory elsewhere.  BEASTS  also made me think very deeply about the behaviour of cats!

 

WORLD: China is being quite confrontational/active/defensive in the South and East China Sea offending Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA. Russia is getting more actively involved in Asia and cooperating much more with China (suppyling natural gas etc). 6 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of survivors are still without homes in the Philippines. Military leaders seem to be on the move and are usually bad for the economy – and for press freedoms and democracy.  In Egypt an Australian journalist Peter Greste working for al-Jazeera has just received a 7 year jail sentence.  He and two other journalists have been caught in the machinations of the Saudi Arabia vs Qatar enmity.  al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and is regarded as the “mouthpiece” of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.  Many of the Brotherhood are still facing imprisonment and even the death penalty in Egypt.  Saudi Arabia is now giving Egypt $12 billion, compared to $650 million in aid from the USA. The military are installed in Thailand and  Frank Bainimarama  is bound to win in Fiji. Ex general Pabowa Subianto, who has a terrible human rights record is gaining momentum for the next presidency in Indonesia, while the running mate of his opponent Joko Widodo also sounds pretty frightening.  Papua New Guinea’s PM Peter O’Neill is fighting corruption charges, and while we are not entirely innocent in Australia, corruption does seem endemic in our nearest neighbours PNG and Indonesia.

 

MAIL: Thanks to Scott, MoonieBlues, Bob, Tim, Aidan, Jeffrey, Sylvia and others for sending me interesting articles and images.  My thoughts are with William who lost his beloved cat O’Malley,  and Ines who takes in cats from shelters and recently lost another one called Bonnie.

To keep up to date with interesting articles and animal related activities all over the world see the latest Minding Animal Bulletin No22 here, especially about a Documentary Festival in New Delhi 13 -20 January 2015, and interesting articles and reviews in Vol 3 Number 1 of the Animal Studies Journal  here.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

VALE: One of Australia’s leading artists Gordon Bennett has died unexpectedly. Many of his works concerned his identity as an Aboriginal person, but his subject matter and styles were wide ranging.  He could out post-modernist the post-modernists!  I was lucky to have known him and curated his work into several of my exhibitions.  He summed up what I wanted said so eloquently about colonisation – the way Daniel Boyd has more recently. He was highly intelligent, attractive and quite shy and private.  His work is currently in the Berlin Biennale.  See Richard Bell’s article on Gordon Bennett in The Guardian here. My condolences to his mother, his wife Leanne and daughter Caitlin.

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Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

CHRISTIAN:  Christian was in the news last month when Harrods announced they were closing down Pet Kingdom which had opened in the London department store in 1917. At the end of this London Evening Standard article, there is a link to lovely footage of Christian and the other lions at Kora in 1971. While Christian received quite a lot of press attention, apparently the most “famous” purchase from Harrods was by the (then) Governor Reagan of California, who in 1967 ordered an elephant, the Republican Party symbol.  I am pleased it has closed even though I am eternally grateful for that day in 1969 when we wandered into the Zoo – as I’m sure it was then called – and met Christian.  Last time I visited Harrods a few years ago I was upset to see it was full of the most expensive and unnecessary pet accessories, and offering pet pedicures and haircuts.

The Endangered Species Act of 1976 in the UK prevented some of the trade in exotic animals.  As I have said before, we did come to realise how we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals by buying  Christian, and we have been criticised for this.  I would not want Christian’s story to ever encourage other private ownership of exotic animals. I am very concerned about the number and inappropriate breeding of so many tigers in private hands in the USA for example.  Some say we saved Christian, but truthfully, we could not resist him. While we vowed to secure him the best future we could, we did not imagine he would miraculously be returned to a natural life in Africa.

George Adamson

George Adamson

The indefatigable Aidan Basnett has added more photographs to the Facebook page which is a feast of George and Joy Adamson and lion-related photographs.

LIONS:  In Africa there are 70% fewer lions than in Christian’s time.  In West Africa, there may be as few as 400 lions left, with only 250 mature age lions, according to the organisation Panthera. Like so many other animals, these leaner-looking lions are facing shrinking habitats from encroaching human use.

STANDING UP: I was glad to see prominent people standing up for animal causes:  Caroline Kennedy objected to the annual horrific capture and slaughter of 250 bottlenose dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and Hillary Clinton spoke up against the trade in ivory – primarily to China, which is forcing elephants towards extinction.  Prince Charles,  William, and Harry have just spoken up against the illegal wildlife trade in a campaign which actually might have an effect.  WILDAID certainly has highly influential (and wealthy) supporters like the princes and David Beckham.  From their website http://www.wildaid.org/ I gather they concentrate primarily on education to change attitudes towards the illegal animal trade, ivory, and the use of traditional medicines.

The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade has discussed the lack of action by the Chinese on the trade in ivory, tiger bones and rhino horns.  However, China has saved the panda, and stabilised populations of Tibetan antelopes and snub-nosed monkeys.  Also, after a media campaign and a new government policy, trade in shark fins has fallen dramatically.

Ivory tusks are stored in boxes at Hong Kong Customs after they were seized from a container from Nigeria. Photograph by REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Ivory tusks are stored in boxes at Hong Kong Customs after they were seized from a container from Nigeria.
Photograph by REUTERS/Bobby Yip

IVORY: A 30 tonne stockpile of seized elephant ivory is to be destroyed in Hong Kong, a major transit point into China. Read the media release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare here. The appetite for ivory (particularly from the expanding Chinese middle class), resulted in an estimated 22,000 elephants illegally killed in Africa in 2012.  Both the US and China (for the first time) have also burned stockpiles of ivory. 

BEARS:  Recently I saw the most horrific footage of bile being extracted from the gall bladders of roped bears.  This seems to happen predominantly in Asia, where it is estimated up to 20,000 bears are caged, with an estimated 3600 in Vietnam. Visit the World Society for the Protection of Animals website for more information.  There is also a flourishing trade in animal body parts for traditional medicines.  Changing attitudes will be difficult, and require sustained and strategic education and public awareness campaigns.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: the annual hunt and slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean by Japan began last month.  It is truly shocking to see footage of the blood and slaughtered whales in this unecessary exercise in stubborn nationalism.  The Sea Shepherd fleet has been shadowing the Japanese, and despite one skirmish, seems to have quite peacefully prevented the slaughter of any more whales.  The Australian Minister  for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb was very blunt, saying said that the government won’t be complaining to Japan as we don’t want to jeopardise a proposed free trade agreement!

Dolphin

Dolphin

The annual slaughter and capture of the dolphins at Taiji, Japan, unfortunately proceeded despite world condemnation.

SHARKS: 6 people have been taken by sharks off the West Australian coast in the last 2 years. The recently introduced W.A. Government’s shark culling program is using baited drum lines.  There were 16 Australia-wide protests by people against the culling.  Swimmers are philosophical about the danger, and conservationists say the baits will just attract more sharks and the culling will be ineffective.

Sofala, NSW

Sofala, NSW

HOLIDAY:  January used to be the long traditional annual summer holiday. I certainly relaxed, and watched lots of sport.  Without my laptop and often out of mobile range, I loved a few short trips travelling around parts of NSW visiting family and friends: the Goulburn district; through attractive Braidwood to Batemans Bay; up the spectacular south coast back to Sydney; and around Bathurst, including the picturesque old mining towns of Sofala and Carcoar. Much of the state is in drought, but it is a very beautiful country. I saw towns that were thriving, but many – like Bourke, are losing people to the cities with the subsequent loss of services and transport which only exacerbate their problems.  A convoy of 18 semi trailers with 500 tonnes of hay has just driven to Bourke – a gesture of support from farmers in the south for farmers in the drought stricken north-west of the state.  Queensland is 70% in drought.

Sofala, NSW

Sofala, NSW

I think there is a growing movement to at least discuss the idea of repopulating some of these dying country towns and local businesses with asylum seekers and refugees.  Both political parties have demonised them.  Perhaps we should regard them as “opportunities”, beneficial for the community, and we would also be fulfilling our international obligations.

Wind farm, NSW

Wind farm, NSW

I think wind turbines are very beautiful in their way, especially up close.  They have elegant lines and are monumentally tall.  However, they are an imposition, indeed a visual pollution on our marvellous landscape.  I hope wind farms generate enough power to justify themselves, as apparently they are in South Australia, and countries like Denmark and Germany.

CLIMATE: All of us around the world are continuing to experience unnatural weather – from the violent storms and continuing floods in Europe, to freezing conditions again in the USA.  Australia has had the hottest year and temperatures since recorded observations began in 1859.  In Sydney we  had the driest January.  I believe the 95% of scientists that say data demonstrates human induced global warming from carbon emissions is taking place, and contributing to the more frequent and more extreme weather. Unfortunately Australia’s government is defiantly going in a retrograde direction by proposing to cut the carbon tax/price which looked as if it would be effective in cutting emissions.  Since the carbon tax was introduced, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are down 7.6%.

The government’s proposed replacement Direct Action is unexamined, untested and unexplained.  Unlike the carbon tax, there is no incentive for polluters to change their behaviour and reduce their emissions.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has just embarrassed the government by asking it not to abandon Australia’s role as a “pioneer” in the debate on climate change.

See here for a video on climate change, with beautiful images of the earth from space.

Great Barrier Reef. Image sourced from National Geographic

Great Barrier Reef. Image sourced from National Geographic

ENVIRONMENT:  As many feared, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has authorised the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from the coal port expansion at Abbot Point into the World Heritage Area Reef waters. Given some of the appointments to the Authority, this unfortunately was not unexpected.  This is environmental vandalism in an already endangered area and GetUp! is asking for funding to mount a legal challenge to this. You can contribute funds here or sign the petition here.

A historic Forestry Agreement in Tasmania in 2012 ended 20 years of fighting between the forestry industry, unions and conservationists which had divided the community.  The Federal Government is now winding back the protection against logging offered by World Heritage Status, by delisting 74,000 hectares, which includes rain forests and old growth forests.  This will jeopardise the new Agreement which seems to be working. This decision is related to local politics and the upcoming state election, and is unhelpful to the state Labor Government who are in difficulties already over the parlous economy.

GetUp! has a petition to the Minister of the Environment opposing this Tasmanian Forest delisting.

Port Hacking, Bundeena 2014

Port Hacking, Bundeena 2014

MIDDLE EAST:  The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 divided the collapsing Ottoman Empire between the British and the French interests in the Middle East.  As Anthony Loyd wrote in The Australian, these few “hastily drawn lines” were an “imperial clumsiness that ignored the nuances of tribes and restive minorities” which was “shrouded by subsequent dictators”.  With many of them now overthrown, the colonial constructs are unravelling.  The proposed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant which would include parts of Iraq and Syria, is an example of this.

Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, chief executive of the bitcoin funded Australian WikiLeaks Party, intends to return soon to SYRIA with medicines.  He was part of a rather bizarre delegation a few months ago who had a cup of tea with Assad in Damascus.  But as one of them said “is it better to talk with Assad or talk of assassinating him?”, as our ex-Foreign Minister Carr had suggested.  I think Assad is indefensible, and just continuing his father’s contempt for Syrian lives.

One can only be pessimistic about the outcome of current talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict, or easing the conditions for millions of entrapped or displaced people.  It is very difficult to understand all the competing  groups that constitute the “Syrian Opposition”.  It is unlikely they would ever be united, and some groups are very extreme.

Photographic evidence of 11,000 bodies tortured and executed by the Syrian regime recently surfaced.   There has just been a “humanitarian  evacuation” for some starving people from Homs, but apparently some young men among them have consequently been detained.  One commented “I decided I’d rather be shot in the head than continue to starve to death”.

ISRAEL: Actress Scarlett Johansson became enmeshed in the debate over the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  She stood down as ambassador for Oxfam, unable to reconcile Oxfam’s opposition to all trade from Israeli settlements, with her role as spokeswoman for a company called SodaStream.

A recent Four Corners program on the ABC investigated allegations about young Palestinian children being arrested by the Israeli security forces, for intelligence gathering.  These children have mostly been accused of throwing stones and have been arrested in night time raids, followed by intimidating interrogations, and even allegations of torture. An average 700 Palestinian children are arrested, some further detained, each year.  UNICEF has found that the ill treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention  system  was “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

Just as alarming was to see a map of Israeli settlements scattered throughout the West Bank.  An extreme Israeli settler, Daniella Weiss, claimed that since the 1970s land was deliberately occupied to block the creation of a Palestinian state.  Seeing the hundreds of strategically placed settlements, I can’t envisage where a Palestinian state could be located.  Until Palestinians have better lives and futures, Israelis will not have the safety and security they too deserve.

Bundeena, NSW 2014

Bundeena, NSW 2014

SPORT:  I watched all five tests in the cricket Ashes series against England, unexpectedly won well by Australia, and we are now playing the South Africans.  January is always a big tennis month, with several lead up tournaments to the Australian Open.  The dangerous heat in Melbourne was the initial dominating story – 52.3 degrees on the outside courts.  Top seeds were defeated, talented juniors emerged (Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Bourchard, Pironkova, Muguruza), while Dimitrov, Nishikori, and particularly winner Warwrinka stepped up.  Li Na was third time lucky – and sees her racket (x 8) as a friend. “If you look after her, she will look after you”. I think Jim Courier is a good commentator, as is Leyton Hewitt who has a disarmingly sweet laugh/giggle. It was a feast of previous stars – Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Yvonne Goolagong Cawley etc.  Several are now coaches – some looking better than others: Edberg, Lendl, Chang, Becker, and Ivanisevic.  Rafa made it through to the final but was injured early, making it painful to watch in all respects.  He graciously said “Yes it was tough today. But many people in the world have a very tough day every day”.

All our sporting events have saturation alcohol advertising, and alcohol is usually involved in the celebrations – and we wonder why we have an alcohol-fuelled violence epidemic?

INTERVIEWS:  I have been listening to classical music much more again (encouraged by William from Florida), but I have also heard many fascinating radio interviews, some repeats.  Broadcaster Phillip Adams is one of our few public intellectuals and has had a fascinating and very important career.  He seems to have just worked on through his recent ill health. His interviews on Radio National are always very informative, and he and all of us were dazzled by the intelligence, humour and fascinating life story of Aboriginal Opera singer DEBORAH CHEETHAM.  Deborah sang at the opening of my colonial family exhibition Flesh & Blood at the Museum of Sydney in 1998.  To me, it was an electrifying, beautiful, haunting cry from the heart for the Aboriginal people dispossessed by families such as my own.

Adams also interviewed GENE ROBINSON.  His ordination as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 nearly split the Anglican Church because he is an openly gay man, married to his partner.  He is very intelligent, understanding, honest and courageous.  He reminded us that change does happen.  Up until 1967 interracial marriage was illegal in the US. That same-sex marriages are taking place, and that the majority of the population in many countries are not against it, would have been unimaginable not many years ago.

Colorado has become the first state in the US to begin the legal and regulated growth, processing and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Support for legalisation has grown from 16% in 1987 to 55% today.  So community attitudes can change over time….

I also heard Australian philosopher PETER SINGER interviewed. The three most important subjects to him are: poverty; animal liberation; and climate change. He was talking about his recent book The Life You Can Save, which is a growing movement.  According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, with 1900 children dying a day.  In this annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they argue there is less poverty in the world today and that by 2035 there will be almost no poor countries.  There is a “new class of middle-income nations”.  Bill and Melinda also write that they believe foreign aid has been much more effective  than is sometimes claimed.

Peter Singer wrote the book  Animal Liberation in 1975, and you can read his very interesting essay on The Animal Liberation Movement here.

Christine Townend at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter 2010 Photograph by Ace

Christine Townend at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter 2010          Photograph by Ace

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend convened the first meeting of Animal Liberation Australia in 1976. She had been profoundly affected by Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. In 1980 they established Animals Australia. In 2010 I visited the animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India, overseen since their inception by Christine and Jeremy Townend.  I was very impressed with the care of animals by both shelters, located in  the spectacular foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.  I could see that animals just adored Christine, and that she adored them. Their Working for Animals newsletter is now online and you can read the January edition here. Vaccinations, birth control measures and many animal treatments have controlled the spread of rabies, and saved the lives of thousands of animals.

PETS: I heard a very interesting program about grieving for our companion pets.  An animal shelter and hospital in Melbourne even has a Pastor specifically for grieving.  According to some of those interviewed, the hardest thing is that many people around you, family, friends and work mates, just do not understand  how devastating the loss of a pet can be.  Of course, animals experience their own grief and loss.

Jeffrey Masson’s seminal book When Elephants Weep about the emotional life of animals was praised and referenced in the interview about grieving.  On his latest blog Jeffrey discusses the horrific recent “murder” of the young giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo.  Children (and adults) were especially assembled to watch the dissection.  I’m very much looking forward to Jeffrey Masson’s next book  BEASTS What animals can teach us about the origins of good and evil, due out in March.

I have only read reviews of Peter Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense.  It is a bold promise to “reveal the feline enigma”!  Bradshaw is a biologist who previously wrote In Defence of Dogs.  We are very aware cats are a law unto themselves,  are far less domesticated than dogs, and are much less dependent.  Most cat lovers like this.  Cats were worshipped by the Egyptians, and historically they actually DID something – they were used to catch rats and mice in houses.  Now they have taken up residence and are waited on!  Bradshaw does not think that domestic cats are habitual predators of birds and native wildlife.  While feral cats are no doubt very destructive, domestic cats are so well fed with balanced diets that there is no real need to hunt, and many spend a lot of time indoors.

Pelican by Sylvia Ross

Pelican by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: thanks to Sara, Deb, MoonieBlues, Michelle, Elaine, Helene, Heulwen, Jonny, Sylvia, and others for sending me great images, messages and information.  I am still to respond to some of you and I apologise.  I keep being told Christian’s story is big on Facebook again.

MISC STATS: The world’s 85 richest people are worth US$1.7 trillion (Oxfam); Mark Zuckerburg is worth $US19 billion but gave away nearly $US1 billion; Tiger Woods earned $78 million last year; Sochi Games cost $51 billion.

Kookaburra by Sylvia Ross

Kookaburra by Sylvia Ross

AUSTRALIA:  Australia is quite polarised politically at the moment and the level of our discourse is unfortunately not very sophisticated.  I am extremely disappointed by the new Abbott government so far.  I could list many examples:  clumsy diplomacy, especially worsening relations with our prickly neighbour Indonesia; climate change denial; threats against the ABC; broken promises; inappropriate appointments; excessive secrecy, and none of the promised transparency or accountability.  We are yet to see any economic blueprint other than some slogans like “open for business” or “infrastructure”, and their industry-assistance policy appears ad hoc and inconsistent.  The Government was caught embarrassingly off guard and literally speechless at the announcement that Toyota would cease manufacturing in Australia.

I find it hard to understand how it could be perceived that Abbott is doing a good job. Even one of his chief cheer leaders at The Australian, Dennis Shanahan has finally admitted that “the post-election politics were ragged, rusty and understandably clunky for the Coalition”, and that even Coalition MPs are worrying that they are appearing “hard-hearted”.

Australia could be such a modern, clever, even cool country, and play a major role in the world.  Many of the present cabinet  served in the previous conservative government, and I don’t want a return to the depressingly reactionary HOWARD years:  the sabotage of aboriginal reconciliation opportunities and the attempted discrediting of the “black armband” historians;  jingoism;  holding Australia back from becoming a Republic;  and taking Australia unnecessarily into 2 disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, John Howard delivered a surplus, but he has been criticised for not taking greater advantage of the now ending mining boom, and for buying votes with “middle class welfare”.

I’ll let Sally McManus (and others) keep adding to this growing list of BROKEN PROMISES by the government, who in opposition hounded Julia Gillard from office over one supposed “lie”.  I was particularly horrified by their early attempt to break their election pledge for  fairer and more equitable education funding.

Predictably, the government has rushed to set up an expensive Royal Commission into allegations of corruption and intimidation in the  TRADE UNION movement.  It is the perfect issue to wedge the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, a former trade union official.  Previous commissions have led to exposing corrupt links between unions, builders, developers and businesses. I admire what the trade unions have achieved historically for workers, and I think workers often need protection and representation in negotiations with employers, who are in positions of power.  However, in 1992 40% of the workforce was unionised, but by 2012 it had dropped to 18.8%. The unions undoubtedly have an inordinate influence on the Labor Party, and although this should be curtailed, it is very unlikely to happen.  I hope the ALP will be an effective Opposition, have the strength to undertake necessary reforms, and do some soul-searching.

I’m now off to Hobart, Tasmania, to visit MONA, the now famous privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art.

Heading for MONA, Derwent River, Hobart TAS

Heading for MONA, Derwent River, Hobart TAS

 Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

This is another still from my footage of our 1972 visit to Christian in Kenya, which was the last time we saw him.  Some of you have inquired about my short, unedited home movie.  In The Final Farewell on YouTube you can see equivalent (and more professional) footage from the same visit, while mine is just a little more close up and loving.

This, surprisingly, was the last time I was in Africa and I’d love to go back soon.  I later discovered India and visited many times, including staging exhibitions and cultural exchanges in India on behalf of the Australian Government.

LIONS: You can sign the AVAAZ petition here to ask President Zuma in South Africa to protect lions by banning the trade in lion bones.  There is of course no evidence these these “potions” have any efficacy.  This trade, like ivory, especially to Asia, just has to be stopped and urgently.  Depressingly, a subspecies of black rhinos, the Western Black rhino has recently been declared “officially extinct”.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

NSW FIRES:  Thanks to many of you who were concerned about the bushfires around Sydney. They are terrifying and to date, it is unbelievable that no-one has died. The fire fighters – many of them volunteers, are heroic. Some fires are still burning and new ones have broken out, but seem “contained” for now.  I have a National Park at the top of my garden, and many many people will be on alert all of this summer.  Apparently people are better prepared about evacuating their pets than they are about themselves.  Horses are a logistical nightmare to evacuate quickly, and they can smell the fires well ahead of humans. Organisations like WIRES do an amazing job of treating and caring for injured wild animals.

Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Negotiator, stated that extreme weather and the frequency and intensity of bush fires are a result of human induced global warming, and our PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”.  The most common causes of fires are fallen power lines, and arsonists.  New suburbs have always been spreading into bushland, but hopefully tighter regulations and more fire resistant houses will offer more protection in the future.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Apparently the extreme weather is, once again, making Australians more concerned about climate change, and the government will appear more and more out of step – with the world.  Our thoughts and sympathies for the many people in the Philippines and region who have died or lost everything because of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst typhoons on record.  The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, with at least up to 9 million people effected.

With Rupert Murdoch owning 65% of our media, and the media exposure of climate deniers like the ubiquitous Andrew Bolt, it is hard to move the discourse beyond “is climate change real?”, to “what do we do about it?”. There is a very good article News Goes Feral by Robert Manne on Rupert Murdoch and his insidious influence in The Monthly.  An analysis of articles and reports about climate change in the Murdoch media indicates very clearly scandalously unbalanced reporting.   Ex PM John Howard has been in England addressing a group of climate sceptics. Howard obviously lied to us when he pretended to support action on climate change, when he was trying to win the election in 2007.  Now, rather than believe scientists,  and after reading only one widely discredited book (by Nigella Lawson’s father!), he says he would prefer to rely on his instinct, which told him predictions of doom were exaggerated!

The first budget cuts by the government were bodies concerned with climate change and science, no specific Minister of Science was appointed, and 1/4 of the scientists at the pre-eminent CSIRO science and research institution have been among the first of many expected job losses.

Although in danger of being “wedged” by the government over climate change, and held responsible for high electricity charges, the Labor Party has affirmed support for a carbon trading emissions scheme. The government never seems to be able to produce a reputable scientist or economist to endorse their alternative Direct Action plan where we tax payers pay the polluters to pollute, and presumably, to encourage them to stop.  This scheme will now hopefully be examined for its likely effectiveness – or as widely suspected, will be found to be completely inadequate, which is probably the original intention.

Our current bi-partisan target of a 5% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 is widely regarded as inadequate, which should apparently be around 15 -25%.  Although we are a small economy and population, we are the 3rd highest polluter per capita in the world, and we dig up and export so much coal.

I think Australia is now embarrassingly on the wrong side of history over climate change, and the government is not even bothering to send a Minister to the international climate change negotiations in Warsaw.  Our Minister of the Environment, who seems to consult Wikepedia for advice rather than scientists, cannot attend as he is so busy “repealing the carbon tax”!!!!  It is very Monty Pythonesque and would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

GET UP!  The SYDNEY DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION  is on Sunday 17th November in Prince Albert Park, Sydney at 11am – see full details here.  This protest is Australia wide, and I hope many people attend to demonstrate our concern and dissatisfaction with a government that does not listen to the conclusions based on research and examination of empirical data, by impartial scientists.

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

POLITICS (AUS):  Our PM recently invited several leading Murdoch journalists to dinner – reputedly as a “thank you” for their efforts helping him get elected, and Abbott recently dined with Alan Jones – one of the worst shock jocks. Apparently Murdoch also wants his “pound of flesh”, and would like the government to make it easier for him to acquire Channel Ten.

Even Coalition supporters are surprised by the new government’s secrecy, lack of transparency, and disregard for accountability.  Abbott, who has only spoken in slogans for the last three years, seems to be having difficulty stringing whole sentences together.  While hungry for publicity in Opposition on a daily basis, the government is refusing to give information on nearly anything!  In comparison, the now Opposition have three very formidable, reasonable and professional spokespeople in Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.

For a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott and why many people are very worried about him, see Victoria Rollison’s  Open Letter to Laurie Oakes.   Oakes is one of several journalists complicit in the Labor Party election loss, and Coalition win.

The media is getting restless and angry with the government for starving them of material, and with parliament resuming this week, it will not be so easy to hide.  Wealthy Clive Palmer finally won his seat in Parliament, and through a few senators in his newly formed party will have a balance of power. He is a rogue conservative who makes outlandish accusations, and should prove to be a headache for the government.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

After the hottest summer, winter and decade on record, this year many plants have flowered at least four weeks early. Complex and fragile natural cycles are consequently getting interrupted.  I love the grevilleas especially, and at this time of the year all over Sydney one can see colourful patches of the mauve/violet Jacaranda trees.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

GREAT BARRIER REEF: There will be an early test for the government in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO has listed as already “in danger”.  The Federal and State conservative governments seem to regard environmental regulations and protections as just an obstacle to business.  Decisions are expected from these governments in relation to 5 new or expanded coal ports along the Queensland coast. The subsequent dredging (and dumping) will put the Reef at even greater risk. The nearby Galilee Basin holds so much coal that if it is mined, it alone could push global temperatures up past 2 degrees.  This is also true of the Tar Sands in Canada where the transportation to the Alaskan coast (en route to China) also puts this area in great danger.

There are many factors threatening the health and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, including the destructive crown of thorns star fish, and it is inconceivable that we let it be destroyed. A recent book The Reef by Iain McCalman, is a “passionate history” which includes the dangers the reef posed to early navigators such as Captain Cook, the formation of the coral, and the future the reef faces.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

USA: It was almost a relief to know that Obama was spying on world leaders like Angela Merkel, and not just us ordinary citizens. Hacking into Google and Yaho0! has angered many people. There seems to be no end to Edward Snowden’s fascinating revelations. Australia is part of a US-led global espionage network, and we are spying on our neighbours. While this should not surprise anyone, countries in the region have expressed appropriate indignation.  The Abbott Government’s relationship with Indonesia is particularly uneasy at the moment, and their initial attempts at diplomacy described as “inept”.

Congratulations to the extraordinary Serena Williams who had a 78-4 win-loss record in 2013, won 11 titles, and earned $US12,385,572. Unfortunately up to 50% of Americans are not so lucky and are living with “financial insecurity”. One in five children live in poverty. In Australia we are staggered by America’s low minimum wages.  The esteemed Joseph E Stiglitz has said America is a “rich country with poor people”  He wrote an excellent article in the New York Times earlier in the year titled Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery.

The $20 billion cost of the Tea Party-led shut down of the US Government was an inexcusable waste of money, and trashed their own reputation.  Perhaps the Republicans should have put the media spotlight on the many inexcusable teething problems over the introduction of Obamacare, rather than themselves.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

WEALTH: 35% of Russian wealth is in the hands of 110 billionaires, which is the highest level of inequality in the world.  Putin was recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful man – through the power of the office he holds I gather and the largesse he can distribute.  Some are predicting however that Russia’s economy is faltering and this will change everything.

The median wealth of adult Australians is the world’s highest at $233,504 (US$219,500), although the Swiss beat us when measured by average wealth.  In Australia the richest 10% have gained almost 50% of the growth in income over the past three decades. In America the richest 1% gained almost half the growth in individual income over the same period.

The New York Times recently had an article with the headline: Rich People Just Care Less.  Apparently research has found the wealthy to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous, and less compassionate.  It is an interesting and thought-provoking article, especially about what this social and economic inequality means for the future.  Americans however, do have a great tradition of philanthropy, which is, sadly, not very evident in Australia.

Magpie

Magpie

MIDDLE EAST:  Poor Secretary of State John Kerry zig zagging around the Middle East with such volatile issues to negotiate: Syrian chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear future, Mursi’s trial in Egypt and much else no doubt. Israel’s decision to build 1500 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem is extremely unhelpful to the “peace” negotiations with the Palestinians.  I/3 of Syrians have left their country and we won’t forget those images of Syrians finally escaping from their neighbourhoods where they had been imprisoned.  Some had resorted to eating cats, dogs and grass.  Australian soldiers are finally leaving Afghanistan which has cost us $7.5 billion, the deaths of 40 Australians and many injured, and an unknown number of civilian deaths.

Fairy Wren

Fairy Wren

BIRDS: In a recent poll the Fairy Wren was voted Australia’s favourite bird.  Magpies and Kookaburras (see images above) were the runners up.  I particularly like Kookaburras – they have lots of attitude.

MISC STATS:  In Australia: 65% of Queenslanders are overweight or obese; many of our trainee apprentices are illiterate and enumerate – as are a truly alarming % of Tasmanians; 25% of jockeys, and 40% of apprentice riders are now women; 30% of women in their 20s have tattoos.

SHADOWS:  We are all appalled by the level of corruption by some Labor politicians in NSW over the last decades which has been exposed at recent inquires, and  should result in criminal prosecutions. Also extremely depressing are inquires here into child abuse in institutions, with the Roman Catholic clergy the principal, but not the only, offenders. The reputation of the church is being fiercely protected ahead of concerns for victims. There are estimates that 50% of Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) enjoy active consensual sex.  So much for celibacy.  In Ireland ¼ of Irish women have been abused as children, and 1/3 of men.

from FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

From FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

This image from the exhibition FERAL by Sylvia Ross (co-exhibiting with Emanuel Raft) shows the beauty of a pigeon, widely considered a pest in Australia.  Sylvia Ross is an artist, long time Head of the School of Art (COFA UNSW), social activist and dedicated animal lover.

Sylvia sent me these dog photographs which are amusing.

dogs1 dogs2 dogs3 dogs4 dogs5 dogs6 dogs7 dogs8 dogs9 dogs10 dogs11 dogs12

MAIL: I have been asked lately where to buy the A Lion Called Christian DVD and the best source is via Amazon or Blink Films, and via Amazon for the book. I am encouraging  anyone to write and post their animal stories, or their feeling about Christian, on www.alioncalledchristian.com.au.  It is my fault that it is not as up to date as it should be and I’m checking back for stories I have overlooked.  It will be a marvellous archive of your touching and interesting animal stories.

READING: Ashamed by my confession of my lack of reading last blog, I threw myself into the biggest book I could find – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Often named by people as their favourite book, it was extremely readable, and it provided a very thorough context for what was to happen in Russia in the early 20th century. Anna was a fascinating character beautifully created by Tolstoy, although I could not quite conjure a mental picture of how she looked or her age.  I became a little exhausted by the spell of her beauty and her melodramatic life, and I was always quite relieved to read about the duller Levin in the country, thinking about seemingly lost love, farming, labour, the landscape and the seasons. He thought he had “lived well but thought badly”.

WATCHING:  The series REDFERN NOW  is the best contemporary Australian television I have seen for ages, and I loved watching again David Bowie – Five Years In the Making of an Icon .

QUOTE: Winston Churchill apparently said “A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down at you, but a pig looks at you as an equal”.

Horse's skull with pink rose by Georgia O'Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

Horse’s skull with pink rose by Georgia O’Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation.  I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised.  America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially.  I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.

Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia  which has just been aired.  It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.

VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists:  Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart.  They were much admired and dearly loved.

BOURKE:  I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis.  Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback.  There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here.  I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces.  Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it.  It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collector's Journey

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

OCEANS:  A recent book Ocean of Life: How Our Seas are Changing by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) has received good reviews.  The oceans are so unexplored and unknown in many respects, but their resources are not inexhaustible and are integral to our lives and survival.  The author paints a frightening and comprehensive picture of what has already been lost  – coral, ocean megafauna, fish stocks etc., and the future challenges.  But Roberts also discusses positive ways to counteract some of the losses – with protected marine areas, bans on many forms of fishing, and global regulatory mechanisms. But despite marine ecosystems being capable of rapid recovery, the world is “living on borrowed time”.

Let’s hope Australia’s newly declared and extensive marine areas are to be adequately protected.

The new CEO for Greenpeace Australia Pacific David Ritter has expressed astonishment – as have many of us – that the Australian Government could be giving the go-ahead for the aptly named Alpha coal mine (co-owned by Gina Rinehart) to build a rail link and one of the world’s largest coal ports ON Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.  The many environmental concerns are to be managed by “strict operating conditions”.  Sure.  After living in Europe, Ritter wonders how Australia could commit to such an old fashioned development involving fossil fuels which is so likely to endanger the Great Barrier Reef?

You can visit the Greenpeace site to protest should you want to.

SHARKS: Apparently there is a new shark app providing ocean observatories through a wave glider robot of mapping technology for Great White Sharks where numbers can be assessed, and one can “interact” with “Chomp, Mr. Burns, Little John” etc!  I’m terrified of sharks and will NOT be watching.

Grey Nurse Sharks. Photograph by Justin Gilligan.

Grey Nurse Sharks by Justin Gilligan, courtesy The South Australian Museum ANZANG nature photography competition

FISH: Protest against the super trawler Margiris (renamed the Abel Tasman!) fishing in Australian waters on a huge scale for small pelagic fish which are critical in our marine ecosystem.  There is now widespread opposition to this 142 metre vessel which will probably vacuum up “by-catch” of other sea creatures indiscriminately.  The trawler is licensed to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish which is 5% of total stocks from a huge area that stretches from southern Queensland, around Tasmania, and across to Western Australia.  Sign the Greenpeace petition here to stop the super trawler.

ASYLUM SEEKERS:  Many boats with asylum seekers have been making the dangerous journey to Australia.  At least 100 drowned last week and there wasn’t even a national outcry, with drownings now seemingly commonplace.  Both major political parties have been in a “race to the bottom” over this issue to demonise these people.  New laws have stripped away their human rights and these inaccurately described “illegal immigrants” are now likely to be locked away out of sight and processed off-shore on a barren Pacific island (Nauru), or a malaria-infested island (Manus Island in PNG) for unspecified periods. Both these previously used centres are in shocking condition and one wonders why the money could not be invested more wisely in the welfare of these desperate people.  This is similar to ex PM John Howard’s Pacific Solution where most people were eventually resettled in Australia, but many with long lasting mental problems. 70-90% of them were found to be genuine refugees.  Australians, I am ashamed to say, have not been compassionate or welcoming.

There has been a fascinating television program called Go Back To Where You Come From on SBS where people with diverse views were actually sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu in Somali to witness for themselves the conditions that have made refugees flee. The Australians were terrified for their safety. They met an Hazara in Afghanistan who belongs to a small minority of people who have been hounded there for decades. Over 300 of them who reached Australia were returned to Afghanistan by the Australian Government, and some have subsequently been killed.  Unfortunately no easy solutions exist, but hopefully after this documentary series more of the Australian population are  now a little better informed and more sympathetic.

The UNHCR estimates there are 42 million refugees worldwide and Australia’s yearly intake is 180,000.

The polls have slightly improved for our embattled Prime Minister – by playing to our prejudices by being tough on asylum seekers, cleverly wedging the Opposition leader on carbon pricing, and talking about important if unfunded policies – a National Disabilities insurance scheme, education reform and dental care.

While the Australian economy has been one of the best performing in the world, there is now talk that our commodities boom is coming to an end, with a fall in prices for iron ore, and a slow down of the Chinese economy.  The deposed PM Kevin Rudd has worryingly reappeared lately with a few strategic appearances.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: David was recently in Australia and his live performances sold out in minutes. In an interview he said that about 10 years ago it was apparent from scientific data that global warming/climate change was real, and today I think it must be very hard for any reasonably intelligent person to argue that this is untrue and not want to do something about it. At 86 he has 70 documentaries to his credit, and still looks handsome, although he hobbled a little which he blamed on injuries sustained while climbing Mount Gower on our Lord Howe Island several years ago.

The arctic ice cap has shrunk to the lowest level yet recorded.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

WATER: It seems the world will not have the water to feed the expected 9 billion people by 2050. A vegetarian diet may be the solution as animal protein rich food consumes 5-10 times more water.  At present 1/3rd of  the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals!

ELECTRICITY PRICES: For those wanting to blame our high Australian electricity bills on the recent carbon tax, I am again pointing out that there has been an 80% increase between 2007 and 2012 (and a cold winter!)

CARBON PRICING SCHEMES: From 2013, carbon pricing schemes are expected to be operating in at least 33 countries and 18 states and provinces. These schemes will cover about 850 million people, about 30% of the global economy and about 20% of global emissions. This includes US states and Chinese provinces. Very recently, the Australian Government has scrapped the floor price for carbon and will join our emissions scheme to the European Union by 2015.  I presume this is a good move and it does blunt the Opposition’s criticism that we are “going it alone” and are economically disadvantaged.

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack at Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

JULIAN ASSANGE: Despite their protestations, the Australia Government has not supported Julian Assange and seemingly lies about what it does or doesn’t know about US intentions. On a television program (Four Corners on the ABC) a few weeks ago it was very apparent the “charges” against Assange in Sweden were non-existent – mere accusations centred around not using a condom.  Julian offered to discuss this matter while in Sweden and was allowed to leave the country. He should be very concerned about extradition to the US where Bradley Manning has spent 800+ days in jail without trial.

Julian should not be surprised by the fierce American opposition to himself and WikiLeaks after his exposures which I support, although I hope no identified “informants” were subsequently murdered.  However I do not support his relationship with both Russia and Ecuador which are two countries with appalling track records regarding freedom of the press.

PUSSY RIOT:  I want to acknowledge these three brave and articulate girls that have been jailed for 2 years for protesting about increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia and his intolerance to any dissent.  While their performance in a church was provocative, it was appropriate given the Orthodox Church’s political support for Putin.

BURMA: congratulations on the lifting of press censorship…..

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

US: Paul Ryan is an interesting choice for Romney’s running mate although he actually gives Obama more of a target – as Maureen Dowd commented “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in”.  The poor or disadvantaged have to become “more self-reliant”, while the rich get richer and have 80% of the wealth.  Apparently over time this has produced a two-tier society where children of the rich go to the best colleges, and subsequently get the best jobs, leaving most others permanently disadvantaged. While polls are close between Romney and Obama, apparently Australians would choose Obama by a 14 to 1 margin – even 64% of conservative voters.

This is partly a hang-over from the Bush/Howard years and the still lingering negativity towards both of them over the Iraq war which cost $US3 trillion, resulted in many deaths and has ended up with Iraq allied with Iran. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu recently said that Bush and Blair should face the International Criminal Court. Don’t forget John Howard!

I was not impressed with the cloyingly sentimental testimonials at the Republican convention or Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance.  Not surprisingly there was no acknowledgement of the economic and foreign affairs mess Obama inherited from Bush, while Paul Ryan has been accused of making “false or distorted” statements.  I hope Michelle Obama and the Democrats play it a little cooler…

Growth in the US is only 2% but share prices have risen 20% which is one of various indicators encouraging for Obama’s re-election, although 8.2% unemployment is not.  It is anticipated that the US will be energy self-sufficient in a few years from shale gas and oil. No doubt, like in Australia, the short and long term effects of all this mining – on communities, food agricultural land, and water tables, has not been scientifically tested.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Australia is being left behind in R & D and for the first time the Asian region surpassed the Americas in its investment – $518 billion to $512 billion. China spends 6 times more than Australia does – and our scientists are collaborating on carbon capture technology for power plants, climate change modelling, stem cell medical research, solar voltaic materials and disease transmission from animals to humans.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

MIDDLE EAST: In EGYPT the new President seems have asserted himself and one wonders how and when the Generals will fight back….while SYRIA seems to be “exploding” rather than just “imploding” while the world watches impotently. 100,000 Syrians fled last month. The new UN “Peace” envoy to Syria thinks his job is “nearly impossible”.  There were a few more Australian soldier deaths in Afghanistan, and with such a brazenly corrupt government, local warlords and the Taliban lurking, the sooner we stop the charade and leave the country the better.

When I woke up the other day, the news was that the Syrian government forces were shooting  their own people from helicopters as they queued for bread, more asylum seekers drowned on their way to Australia, and some beheadings in Afghanistan. What sort of world do we live in?

ISRAEL: The historian Tom Segev warns that the Arab and ultra orthodox populations in Israel are growing, and that this is “ the main reason I think we should leave the occupied territories. Those Israelis who built Israel as a Jewish and democratic country are becoming a minority”.  He was quoted in an article by John Lyons in The Australian which went on to say that “Children were taught that when Israel was established in 1948 it had been empty – it was a land without people for a people without land. Historians (like Segev) have demolished the myth with documents showing almost half the Arabs who left were forced out, many violently”. This is similar to the myth of ‘terra nullius” in relation to the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the subsequent British colonisation.

We have to remember that many Israelis are also concerned about the military occupation of the Palestinians and realise that the settlements are designed to make peace with the Palestinians impossible. An organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers called Breaking the Silence have compiled a report from soldiers’ testimonies relating to the wounding and killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza. This follows two other reports that detail multiple violations of international law by Israel in its treatment of children.

I did read a worrying article in Vanity Fair about Netanyahu, which despite his comfortable majority in the Knesset is described as “moving forward by standing still” and is now “unrelentingly cautious”.  His wife Sara apparently “runs the show”, and the media has been neutralised with the assistance of two American billionaires.

So is Israel preparing to go to war with Iran over their nuclear program -or merely threatening for the benefit of the US where the Presidential elections are another complicating factor? Apparently Israel, unlike the US, do not have the weapons it needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

The US sold a record $US66.3 billion of arms sales overseas last year.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

NOEL PEARSON: In Australia it is hard to work out Noel Pearson, a very intelligent and articulate Aboriginal.  He is the architect of the Government’s flawed and controversial Intervention in Aboriginal communities – a one size paradigm NOT fitting all by any means, and imposed originally with no community consultation.  The Intervention has rare bi-partisan support which suits both political parties as most policies and vast amounts of money have seen little improvement for Aboriginal people over many years.  Recently there has been a glut of information about Pearson in both major papers, and I can’t work out why.  Unfortunately he seems to have become autocratic, untouchable, and foul mouthed.  His central idea is that the welfare dependency of many Aboriginal people is counter productive, and it is undoubtedly ultimately demoralising.  Unfortunately the Intervention has led to the discontinuation of many worthwhile programs Aboriginals themselves initiated in their own communities.  Pearson’s chosen communities and projects in Queensland, however, ironically seem particularly awash with government funding.  Scrutiny or criticism is treated with contempt, and it is hard to measure any actual achievements as yet.  While one must applaud genuine attempts to counter Aboriginal disadvantage, some of his ideas do seem paternalistic and a hangover from the Mission days. I do support various ideas and projects however, including encouragement for people to have their own gardens and grow their own vegetables. Make up your own mind.

MISC STATS: Facebook 955 million users but the share price halved; Apple worth $622 billion; 100 million deaths in the world from smoking each year and Australia has $200 million invested in Big Tobacco in our Future Fund; 80% fewer koalas on the east coast of Australia because of urban development; 1/3rd more tigers killed in India this year.

READERS:  As readers, my generation, (and a little older and a little younger), have been “spectators” in a sense and are fast becoming an eccentric minority. Now consumers are more “participants” through Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.  More people are now into this constant flow of information and other stimulation. Are they afraid of silence? When is the “quiet” time, or the time for reflection?  Planning?  Thinking?

SMH: Over 70 journalists and writers have taken redundancy packages and left my favourite newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald.  This can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of the newspaper, although several of you have complained in the past about the sources for news and commentary that I rely on!

 JOHN RALSTON SAUL: In an essay Saul asks “When did saving a bank become more important than saving a country?” I particularly liked some of his ideas as I grapple to understand the effects of the “solutions” to the GFC and the future for countries such as Greece, Spain etc. in the European Union.  Saul is amazed as “those who have produced the failure press on”.  He sees a failure of imagination, and an illiterate leadership.  He challenges the policies of austerity and growth, and asks when did austerity ever historically lead to prosperity?  He discusses the destructive attitudes to public debt and wonders about the primary obligation to the well being of citizens.  He is not surprised by the return of popularism, xenophobia and fear.  He says there is a production surplus and the problem is that it is distributed unfairly. We must “move on to ideas of social and economic well being not dependent on growing consumption”. Read the full article from the SMH here.

FELINE FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently over 10,000 people attended this recent outdoor event in Minneapolis to view 79 selected entries.  Apparently 10 million cat videos are on the internet!  The winner of the Golden Kitty award was Will Braden’s existential Henri 2: Paw de Deux and it is just marvellous!  He certainly understands cats.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey