Kevin Richardson

                                   Kevin Richardson

I am very much looking forward to meeting “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson when he comes to Australia next month. See here for details of when he is appearing at fund raisers in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney (17th June) for Painted Dog Conservation Incorporated. I want to ask Kevin about the risks he seems to take with lions that I never would, and if he shampoos them – they look so fluffy and gorgeous.  He is an active campaigner against the “canned hunting” of lions.

I have heard two interesting interviews relating to animals on our ABC Radio National lately. Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, a primatologist and Senior Advisor at Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia described “forest school” where orangutans are taught and prepared to be returned to the wild. 170 have been rehabilitated successfully to natural habitats and are forming viable populations.

The other interview was with Australian Damien Mander who brings his experience as an ex-soldier to the Anti-Poaching Foundation primarily working in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He seems mainly concerned with the prevention of the poaching of rhinos, especially that rhino horn can now command up to $75,000 a kilo!

Christine Townend sent me this link to Psychology Today.  There are many articles which illustrate the fantastic range of contemporary thinking about animals.  Through a wide variety of animals and experts, there are many discussions and views on subjects as diverse as sentience, rewilding, compassionate conservation, and interspecies friendships.

In NSW we are celebrating that Mark Pearson won a seat for the Animal Justice Party in the NSW Parliament Upper House.

BORN FREE: I loved seeing Born Free again and it was a successful fundraiser for The Feline Foundation and Animal Works. The film was not dated and Africa looked so beautiful and fresh. Virginia McKenna, although more English rose than the volatile Austrian Joy Adamson, is an excellent actress. The lions were wonderful and Elsa was an amazing animal. The film portrayed Joy Adamson as the one keenest to keep the cubs, but it was George who relented at the last moment and did not send Elsa with the others to a zoo in Holland. George Adamson later said they should have kept the three cubs as this would have made Elsa’s lonely and precarious rehabilitation easier. This was why he created a pride around our Christian the lion, with Boy as the adult male.  George gambled that Boy would not kill the younger Christian who was nearly old enough to be perceived as a threat.  Only 3 out of 15 lions used in the filming of Born Free were rehabilitated, which angered Joy and George and Virginia and Bill Travers.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.
Photography by City of Sydney Paul Patterson.

WAR: Tony Albert is a highly regarded Aboriginal artist and his striking memorial to the previously overlooked contribution of Indigenous soldiers to our armed forces was recently unveiled in Hyde Park, Sydney. Last month was the anniversary of 100 years since Australians and New Zealanders landed at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. 8709 Australians and 2701 New Zealanders were sent to their deaths by incompetent British commanders. Those precious lives – great losses on both sides – should serve as a lesson against war, but they haven’t.

The $325 million spent on this anniversary could instead help many still struggling Vietnam Vets, or families of servicemen.

I think Australians were probably good soldiers: they were fit and brave, supported their “mates”, had a healthy suspicion of authority, were perhaps a little “crazy” brave and exhibited “careless behaviour”.  Arthur Conan Doyle described them as “rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true”.

Australians seem to be sent to war by conservative governments or at the request of our allies who we hope will come to our defense sometime in the future. Conservative PM Menzies sent troops to Vietnam in 1965, but at least that war was in our region. Conservative PM Howard sent us into Iraq in 2003, and present PM Abbott has just sent another 300+ back to Iraq. On the day this “mission creep” was announced, our Minister for Defence could not name the commander of Islamic State although there is a $US10 million price tag on his head.  Mind you, I couldn’t either.  His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is now rumoured to be injured.  He apparently planned his IS Caliphate while imprisoned in the notorious Iraqi Abu-Ghraib prison.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

I’m thrilled that friend and fellow Bundeena resident Ildiko Kovacs has won the prestigious Bulgari Art Award. The painting has been acquired by the AGNSW, and includes a residency for the artist in Italy. Ex Bundeena resident George Gittoes has just won the Sydney Peace Prize 2015. He has set up a Yellow House (à la Vincent Van Gogh and Martin Sharp) in Jahalabad, Afghanistan, which he describes as “Taliban Central”. He is a very interesting and intrepid artist who has documented many wars and their aftermath, and believes that art is more effective than weapons.

AUSTRALIA: As Donald Horne said in his 1964 book A Lucky Country “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise”.

Unfortunately this remains quite true so many years later. I just can’t see any constructive strategy from the government for addressing our problems and changing economic circumstances. The looming May Budget  next week will be a huge test.

I did love Tony Abbott’s frank answer to Angela Merkel who asked him what drove our relationship with China: “greed and fear”, although, unfortunately our resources boom and exports to China now seem to be dwindling.

I also loved this tweet from cricketer Shane Warne who I also criticised for talking about alcohol after the Australian World Cup victory: “Do gooders get stuffed. Straya (Australia) is the best place in the world, not politically correct, keep it real. Aussies celebrate properly!#thirsty

Jonathan Jones 'Luminous'. Image sourced from Museum of Contemporary Art.

Jonathan Jones’ celestial fluorescent wall in Luminous  at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

CLIMATE CHANGE: Australia has been criticised recently for inaction on climate change as 193 countries get ready for the conference in Paris later in the year.  We are the highest per capita emitters in the world and we are not transitioning – or diversifying, out of our reliance on coal.  Environment Minister Hunt has been hailing his Direct Action policy a great success.  The government abolished the carbon tax as unfair on tax payers, (and emissions have consequently risen), yet this policy pays polluters (with our money) to stop!  Already most of the money allocated for these projects has been spent, yet we are still well short of our targets.

While the government has scandalously slashed funding to science, climate change bodies and education, they have found $4 million for Danish Bjorn Lomborg to establish an “Australian Consensus Center” at the University of West Australia. Lomborg acknowledges the human factor in climate warming, but is a “sceptical environmentalist” and does not seem to actually want to do anything about it in case it affects the economy!  He seems to have low academic qualifications (in political science!) and I think the outcry against him and the university will only grow.

This is unfortunately yet another example of the government’s shameless ideological bias. Other recent examples are  a government “White Paper” on Energy which mentioned climate change ONCE, and a decade-long Intergenerational Report which also overlooked climate change.  This report was described by respected economist Ross Gittins as a “blatant piece of political propaganda”.  Is this the objectivity one should expect from our government as they supposedly plan our future?

Despite our considerable sun and wind resource base in Australia, the government has made investing in renewables as unattractive as possible. They are on “the wrong side of history” and recent advances like the Tesla Powerwall and Tesla Powerpack will revolutionise the potential for storage of electricity generated from solar panels, and will be cheap enough to solve the reliability of intermittent solar and wind.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

There is an exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne entitled Nature/Revelation. It is a key component of the “Art+Climate=change festival” and seeks to “celebrate the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues”.

ECOMODERNIST MANIFESTO: A conservative group of international scientists has issued this manifesto and believe that “the next generation of solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilisation and radical decoupling of humans from nature”.

An ANU Report states that Australia’s abundance of renewable energy resources should make exiting fossil fuels possible by 2050, at a manageable cost to the economy. AGL – listed last blog as one of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, is to exit coal-fired power plants by 2050, and not build new ones. I am cynical of this attempt to appear “green” as the announcement follows a recent stocking-up spending spree.

The Salt of the Earth poster

The Salt of the Earth poster

I’m looking forward to seeing The Salt of the Earth, the documentary about the great  Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado made by his son and Wim Wenders. Salgado’s often beautiful and powerful images have been criticised for ennobling or romanticising the poverty or working conditions of some of his subjects, but they equally also garner necessary attention. See a review of the film here.

WORLD: In Australia we were recently shocked by the recent execution in Indonesia of 8 convicted drug smugglers, including two Australians.  Capital punishment is appalling and has been proven not to be a deterrent.  It was all handled in a very chaotic and cruel way, and unfortunately President Joko Widodo appeared weak. He was recently humiliated (again) by his Party chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, herself a failed president.

Up to 10,000 people may have died in the recent earthquake in Nepal. The country is one of the poorest in the world and the devastation so comprehensive that they urgently need extensive international aid.  Co-ordination of relief efforts and rebuilding does seem beyond the capacity of this government.  Apart from all the lives and livelihoods lost, many historical and culturally important buildings have been destroyed.  Animal victims are receiving emergency aid from the Humane Society International’s Vet Team.

Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

                    Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

I read reports that Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces along the Libyan border in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya from IS occupation.  I suppose more will flee to Europe with 1500 lost at sea already this year, including the 750 people that drowned recently. 5800 were rescued last weekend!  Apparently Assad’s grip on power in Syria is finally weakening.

I am glad Pope Francis, among many others, has spoken up on the centenary of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Turks, and it is time Turkey faced up to this historical reality.

The UK election seemed to be very close with no party likely to win a majority in their own right, but exit polls today are however pointing to a Tory victory.  While there has been some growth in the British economy, especially compared with most other countries, the general population do not feel they are sharing any benefit. Apparently Rupert Murdoch continued to interfere in the democratic process with his biased newspapers, while in Australia, his papers just blatantly back the government.

I suppose I hope Hillary Clinton wins the next US presidential election. She does carry a lot of “Clinton” baggage, but I thought she was a competent state secretary. All the Republicans seem too closely allied to that loony right wing Tea Party  – and who could bear another Bush as president? Hillary has a $US 2.5 billion war-chest for her campaign.

The rioting and destruction in Baltimore followed yet another death of a black American at the hands of the police or while in custody.  It is a breaking point in race relations, and long standing social problems and disadvantage remain unaddressed.

The stalling of growth in the American economy is concerning for us all.

The exhibition Indigenous Australia – Enduring Civilisation has just opened at the British Museum, UK. It includes Aboriginal objects, weapons, art etc. collected early in the white settlement of Australia, and includes a wooden shield and spears collected by Captain Cook’s crew in Botany Bay in 1770.

The annual exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Australian Museum, Sydney and runs until 5th October.  It isn’t too late to enter the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015  – the competition closes on June 30th!

Photograph by Matty Smith, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Finalist, see at Australian Museum

Photograph by Matty Smith, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

See more marvellous ocean and wildlife images by Matty Smith here.

Drygalski Fjord" photographer Peter Eastway

 
PHOTOGRAPHY:  There are many wonderful art and photography exhibitions on at the moment in Sydney.  I love these photographs taken on a journey to Antartica by Peter Eastway, who “tweaks” his photographs to convey “how I felt, what it was like, the awe”.  Click here to view more images.  Other great photographs and photographers follow – all doing something different and imaginative with the medium of photography.

"Port Chariot Iceberg" photographer Peter Eastway

Peter Eastway has been inspired by the famous Australian photographer and Antarctic explorer Frank Hurley (1885-1962).

The 'Endurance' frozen in the Weddell Sea, photographer Frank Hurley

AUSTRALIA:  I call this paragraph “Australia” so people can skip it if our news bores you.  I try not to be too local or parochial – and try to only talk about issues many of you must face in your own countries.  Following on from the last blog and the “lucky country” tag, The Economist (UK) criticizes our unimpressive leaders, and both sides of politics are  ‘indolent’ and “captured by opinion poll-driven “short-termism””.  The conservative opposition party “seems to have no philosophical principles at all” and both leaders pander to “xenophobic fears about asylum seekers”.  We have not made enough of the China boom, and I have just read elsewhere that China now views us as “discriminatory” and a “political risk”, and we have slipped to fifth position for the value of their foreign investments.

VISIT:  During the visit here of the  High Commissioner for Refugees we were reminded that mandatory detention of asylum seekers/refugees breaks international law, and she stated that we are demonizing asylum seekers.  We are now hoping to dump them on Malaysia who already have 90,000 refugees, and are not even a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  This will include unaccompanied children.

SHAME: AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE FUND – this Government investment fund holds a $135.4 million investment in nuclear weapons manufacturers, and had to be shamed into dumping investments in cluster bombs!  Some future!  It’s like living in a parallel universe….

The French documentary "Oceans"

FILM:  I am looking forward to seeing Oceans which has been described as one of the best wildlife documentaries.  Stylistically it is apparently more Jacques Cousteau/French than David Attenborough/British.  Click here for a review.

MORE SHAME:  The recent television report “A Bloody Business” has created a scandal as we were shown how our live cattle exports to Indonesia are cruelly treated and slaughtered.  It was impossible to watch it all as it was so gruesome – but I can still hear their bellows of fear and agony.  The Australian Government has known about these conditions in the Indonesian abattoirs for 10 years, and indeed this trade has been overseen by Meat and Livestock Australia – funded by the tax payer.  Congratulations to Lyn White and Animals Australia for bringing this to our attention – they have previously put the spot light on our live cattle exports to the Middle East, especially Egypt.  Some cattle had to wait their turn and were able to watch the slaughter ahead of them– the last one in the queue was a quivering wreck.  Click here for the Four Corners ABC Report.  Click here for GetUp Action for Australia to sign petitions to Julia Gillard and local MPs.

Ironically, Australians probably care more about these animals than asylum seekers, although many of them have had to flee for their lives and have had to take huge risks.  These people are never identified in the media, as a “human face” may evoke sympathy.  Frederika Steen asks in the SMH letters “When did public outrage at animal cruelty overtake our commitment to comply with human rights?”

VEGETARIANISM:  Thanks for the emails about this, and the book The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has just arrived in the post.  I certainly haven’t eaten meat since “A Bloody Business” was shown.

JULIAN ASSANGE:  Julian in fact won the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, and this week the Martha Gelhorn Prize for Journalism which rewards work that “challenges secrecy and mendacity in public affairs”.  The Sydney Peace Prize has just been awarded to Noam Chomsky.

MIDDLE EAST:  The “spring” seems to have gone out of the Arab Spring for now.  Libya seems a stale-mate, Egypt is still oppressive, the child Hamza Al-Khatib was tortured and murdered in Syria, and everyone in Afghanistan, except perhaps the Taliban, seem sick of the hopelessness and the civilian and military deaths.  We lost our 29th soldier this week and the majority of our population are asking “why”?  The Israel and Palestine conflict also seems to urgently need new leaders and a new paradigm…

EIKOH HOSOE:  There are four seminal series by this marvellous Japanese photographer at the  Art Gallery of New South Wales.  Hosoe has been inspired by Butoh for many years and has worked with many of the actors.  With his arresting photographs, Hosoe, like several of the other photographers mentioned in this blog, wants to convey more than straight photographic documentation, in this case, his feelings for a place where he spent some years of his childhood.  He wants to return to Australia and photograph some of our trees, particularly the Moreton Bay Figs.

BIG TOBACCO:  It has been fascinating watching the pressure the tobacco industry has been exerting against legislation here for plain packaging on cigarettes which already carry the direst and most grisly images of what smoking can do to you.  Our Opposition party however, receives donations from them, and the Opposition leader, although a former Health Minister and show-off fitness fanatic, had to be shamed into supporting the legislation.

GAMBLING:  Australians are the worst gamblers in the world – on average US$1300 each year each person.  There is an attempt to limit problem gamblers on pokie machines – of course a huge source of revenue for governments.  Football players wear jumpers with Centrebet on their back, on playing fields emblazoned with beer commercials, and you can bet online on tabsportbet as the game unfolds!

From the Up in the sky series by Tracey Moffatt

TRACEY MOFFATT:  Possibly our most famous Australian artist Tracey Moffatt is exhibiting  Up in the sky at the Art Gallery of NSW.  Click here to view all the photographs in the series, and Google her!

STYLISH:  Barack and Michelle Obama in Ireland and UK.  How stylish and charming they are.  The Queen actually looked pleased for a change!

Daniel Cunningham, Ildiko Kovacs, Liz Nowell photograph by Stephen Oxenbury

ILDIKO KOVACS:  I love Ildiko’s paintings so it is marvellous to see a comprehensive survey of her work currently at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre until July 3rd 2011.  The exhibition is curated by Daniel Cunningham and is accompanied by a superb publication.  Ildiko received an excellent review by SMH art critic John MacDonald, click here to read article.

Serpentine 1999, was a gift to the Museum of Contemporary Art by the late Ann Lewis, a very generous art benefactor.

Serpentine 1999 by Ildiko Kovacs

BOOKS:  I know I’m very out of date with my reading – with my MA I just read Australian history for years – but I’ve finally read We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  Brilliant, dark, funny, a mother/son hate/love story – I adored it but not for all.

MISC STATS:  More eBooks are now sold than paperbacks (A Lion Called Christian was Random House’s first eBook)…. 10 million dogs are eaten in China each year – but now the wealthier Chinese are having them as pets…..50% of Chinese are now described as “urban” and in India it is 30%…humans consume 272 billion kilograms of plastic per year….

JANE GOODALL:  The indefatigable and international treasure Jane Goodall is in Australia again – Click here to view her Australian tour schedule.

Rescued from the tornado

ANIMAL VIDEOS:  Mark Lewis’s Cane Toads: The Conquest  has just been released.  Some see this sequel as an allegory for our Australian xenophobia; Therasa sent in a link to very cute cats – Click here ; Dale Swanton sent the most touching photographs of dogs collected and huddling with each other after the destruction of the recent tornadoes in the U.S, and joining them on the back seat was a cat!

VOICELESS:  Click here to view  the Voiceless Grants Program.

PS: Happy World Environment Day June 5th 2011!

The wreck of the Lady Elizabeth in the Falkland Islands, photographer Peter Eastway