Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Christian

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN! Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s photographer, for this gorgeous Birthday Card.  Remember on his birthday last year Derek wrote beautifully about photographing Christian when I asked him which was his favourite photograph.  Many of you do ask about photographs of Christian, so do check out his archive  (and another Birthday Card) as well as the ALCC site.

This month also marks 40 years since we last saw Christian. By 1972 Christian had grown into what George Adamson thought may have been the biggest lion in Kenya – close to 500 pounds, and with more growing to do.  To quote from our book A Lion Called Christian, and my letter to my parents.

“We saw Christian every morning & evening for a walk and a chat.  He is much calmer & much more self assured than last year, and stunning to be with.  Just as silly.  Huge.  Jumped up on me only once as before on his hind legs and he did it extremely gently.  He licked my face as he towered over me”.

Despite his size, the local wild lions were still unrelenting in their opposition, and Christian was spending extended periods away from Kora and George assumed he was looking for somewhere more suitable to live. We realised this may mean we may never see him again…..

See our second and last reunion with Christian in 1972.

MAIL: Thanks to George from Florida for this fantastic photograph of a lion having a paw manicure and story.  George asked “did you ever do this to Christian?”  While he loved us, I’m not sure he would have allowed us, although his friend Unity Bevis- Jones probably could have!

Thanks to Gay for forwarding this beautiful slideshow titled Beaute Sauvage.

From Devi “I do believe our beloved Christian’s Birthday is approaching…HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR MOST CHARMING AND ENIGMATIC LION, CHRISTIAN. May your story continue to be told around the world for future generations. Celebrate in Paradise with your friends my beloved Christian. Will always love you”.

I couldn’t say it better myself.

ALDF: The Animal Legal Defence Fund have had a fund raiser for the various court cases they are fighting, and I know many of you support their efforts for Tony the Tiger especially. I just cannot bear to think of the months and years of his captivity…

In the Aboriginal bark painting section of my exhibition with Jenny Kee who was Guest Speaker at the opening.

In the Aboriginal bark painting section of my exhibition with Jenny Kee who was Guest Speaker at the opening

ACE BOURKE: A COLLECTORS JOURNEY: For personal reasons I am overdue responding to various emails, and I will.  I have also been very busy preparing for my exhibition which opened yesterday at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre in southern Sydney. The exhibition is dedicated to my mother Patricia Macarthur Bourke (11th May 1922 – 23rd July 2012).

In the exhibition I examine the idea of “collecting” and all the material we accumulate in our lives which provides a map or diary of our lives. As an art curator – and traveller, I have collected alot of art, but most of us live surrounded by items of great sentimental significance and interest – which includes for me, memorabilia about Christian. An interview or “conversation” with me about the exhibition has been posted on http://www.youtube.com/hazelhurstgallery

The Tana River, Kora, Kenya

Detail: The Tana River, Kora, Kenya. Courtesy Born Free Foundation.

This is one of my favourite photographs as it sums up the relief in 1970 of finally getting Christian to Kenya after months of delays, and the necessary vigilance over his well being  and everyone’s safety in England. The photograph represents for me the freedom from restrictions, the beginning of Christian’s natural life, and to just…be.  Happy Birthday Christian.

December 2009

March 12, 2010

My head is still spinning from the successful international launch of our revised A Lion Called Christian book, now selling well in, I believe, 8 languages and 14 countries.

In 2008 we were the first e-book for Random House, and it is fascinating to see how quickly people are adopting the kindle or other e-book readers, and the changes this signifies for the publishing industry. With Google planning to digitise millions of books, writers and publishers seem divided over the implications of this. It is exciting new territory which hopefully attracts new readers AND is not at the expense of people who still love holding and having printed books. Where does this leave “coffee table books” – like the handsome and for me irresistible “Trade Edition” (Taschen Publishers) I have just bought by photographer Peter Beard who has spent a lot of time in Africa. (See www.peterbeard.com/publications.htm)    

Peter Beard - writing diary in crocodile

This image of Peter Beard writing his diary is from the book Eyelids of the Morning by Alistair Graham and Peter Beard first published in 1973. Image courtesy of http://www.peterbeard.com.

Peter Beard has been a subliminal artistic influence on me since I first saw his books on Africa in the 1970s  which combined his own photography, diaries, collages and a unique mix of historical, contemporary, glamorous and grotesque material. He also visited George Adamson at Kora while Christian was around, and commented on how truly happy George was there, and that presumably unlike Joy, he was “refreshingly uncommitted to the sentimentalism of the whole Elsa story”. I have also very much admired the photographs in Mirella Ricciardi’s classic Vanishing Africa. Another beautiful photography book is Nick Brandt’s recent book As The Sun Sets, unfortunately documenting a disappearing Africa. Nick’s beautiful images can be seen on his website www.nickbrandt.com.

While getting to No 2 on the New York Times best seller list, No 1 on the Sunday Telegraph in London,  No 1 in Australia and No 2 in New Zealand, and appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, was of course amazing, humbling and sometimes nerve wracking, what I really enjoyed when we travelled around the USA, UK, Australia and later in the year, China, was meeting so many very nice, interested and like-minded people, who loved Christian’s story. Many are making, or wanting to make, valuable contributions to wildlife conservation, and what could we all achieve if we work in concert?  

In the 1970s we were lucky to meet some of the influential people who founded the modern conservation movement, like Joy Adamson. She was one of the first to draw attention to the vulnerability of the environmental balance, and she and George Adamson became committed conservationists as they witnessed declining numbers in animal species. David Attenborough began publishing his books then and now at 80 is still making his incredibly popular nature documentaries. Jane Goodall published her book In the Shadow of Man, about her research with chimpanzees. Last year I heard her speak in Sydney, and she described so succinctly the interrelationship of everything, the competition for resources between people and animals – for food, habitats and water, and that people have to have better lives before we can expect them to conserve the surrounding wildlife. Her Roots and Shoots program for schools imaginatively encouraging the participation of children is especially important (www.janegoodall.org.au). Particularly heartening is Jane Goodall’s recent book with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson Hope for Animals and Their World which documents formerly endangered species whose populations are now recovering. Some good news!   

 I returned to Australia in 1973 after our adventure with Christian, and have had a career as an art curator in Australia and been primarily interested in Aboriginal art. This has been one of the major art movements in the world in the latter 20th century. It has been a privilege to witness and work with so many varied and extraordinary artists, and Aboriginal culture is the face Australia now presents to the world. This is of course ironic given the lingering, sometimes even overt racism that still exists! More recently I have been researching and staging exhibitions about Australia’s foundational narratives through my own colonial family history and the interweaving of Aboriginal perspectives.   

 It has been an odd disconnect speaking about events that happened more than 40 years ago, with no reference at all to my actual intervening career work which is so important to me. “Get over it!” my agent says. I finally worked out how to link both. With our growing alienation from nature, and the parlous condition of the physical world, we need to look to, respect and involve indigenous people. They are undoubtedly still much more connected to nature (indeed many believe they are part of or emerged from the landscape), and they can advise us how to heal the damage to the environment, and co-exist more sustainably with the natural world.   

My busy 2009 included graduating with a Masters of Arts for my thesis Family Footprints; Tracing the Past in the Present through Curatorial Autobiographical Practice. (Yes I know an academic mouthful! It is online should anyone be interested and if you can follow all the links – at www.library.uow.edu.au). Also online are photographs of colonial and contemporary artworks and material from the exhibition component, Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770, which look primarily at the first contact between Aboriginal people and the new arrivals starting with Captain Cook and Joseph Banks followed by the First Fleet in 1788. You can see the photos of the exhibition on the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery Facebook page.   

Also this year I was Exhibition Coordinator for Martin Sharp Sydney Artist at the Museum of Sydney. Martin was very much a part of the creative world of “Swinging London” in the 1960s and apart from many other artworks, created album covers or posters for Eric Clapton, Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Again, should you be interested read John McDonald’s review in Spectrum, online.   

Many people have been so responsive, supportive and helpful this year, but I’d like to particularly thank Katie Turner, Cheryl Bath, Heulwen Renshaw for trying to trace Christian’s best friend Unity Bevis-Jones, and Joanne Hamilton.   

I’m travelling to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat for the first time. This year I also saw the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City so I feel very fortunate.   

Merry Christmas!