Xmas Christian

CHRISTIAN: It is this time of the year again and thanks as always to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani.  Do see some of his other marvellous photographs of Christian here – I always enjoy looking at them.

Some of you may be interested in this article from the Good Weekend, Pets on E-Parade, on pet and animal-themed YouTube channels. Christian the lion was not mentioned but I think our reunion with Christian was the first really popular “animal themed” video phenomenon on YouTube – we stopped counting years ago when we topped 100 million views.

Australia’s most popular YouTube channel, Catmantoo has 133,000 subscribers and 40 million views.  Many of these channels are “monetarised” and take months to prepare. In general I don’t like performing or dressed up animals. I can understand why cat videos dominate the internet and I am sent many cat videos – thanks to Mandy lately, and thankyou to Deb especially.

I recently reread a letter I wrote to George Adamson at Kora in Kenya in 1978 about our reunion with Christian in 1971: “and the footage of us returning to see Christian and him running down the hill is pretty amazing footage”. That has turned out to be quite an understatement!

Ai WeiWei at the NGV with bicycles

Ai WeiWei  with Forever Bicycles 2011

ART: For anyone visiting or travelling around Australia in the next few months we have some very interesting exhibitions on at our State Galleries, and they all have extensive gallery collections.

Andy Warhol/Ai Wei Wei  has just opened at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (until April 24th 2016), and is a “conversation” between the artists who did meet in New York years ago.  They share a love of “social media” –  Warhol was a precursor of celebrity and social media with his screen prints, polaroids, diary jottings, Interview magazine and ever present recorder – while WeiWei loves Twitter and Instagram etc.

Ai WeiWei’s passport was taken away for 4 years, and this is one of the few exhibitions where he has actually overseen the installation – the positioning of the artworks, the lighting etc.  More poignantly, it is the first international exhibition of his work he has actually seen for years.

I met Eric Shiner, the Director of the Warhol Museum, in Australia for the exhibition.  I asked him about both artists loving cats and he said the Children’s Education section of the exhibition is all about cats – with Ai Wei Wei drawing cat wallpaper, and the backs of chairs being cat tails!  Warhol had 30 – all but one called Sam.

We were also celebrating the announcement of Tracey Moffatt being selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Venice Biennale.  I  can’t wait to see what she does and I intend to be there!

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal by Grayson Perry, 2012. Jaquard woven tapestry in wool, silk, cotton, acrylic and polyester, With cotton warp.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal by Grayson Perry, 2012. Jaquard woven tapestry in wool, silk, cotton, acrylic and polyester, with cotton warp.

 

In Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art is The Pretty Little Art World of Grayson Perry, the cross dressing art critic from the UK.  He is most amusing, but was in trouble in Australia for saying our Aboriginal art is not “contemporary” art and should be shown in an ethnographic context.  He has apologised but then said that we “mix it in” with contemporary art….

Spearing the kangaroo by Tommy McRae, circa 1880s-circa 1890s

Spearing the kangaroo by Tommy McRae, circa 1880s-circa 1890s

Also in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of NSW there is the rare opportunity to see wonderful paintings in The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland until 14 February 2016.  Another exhibition at the AGNSW includes fascinating C19th drawings by Aboriginal artists Tommy McRae and William Barak.  Murruwaygu (following in the footsteps of our ancestors), are Aboriginal artworks from  south-east Australia and include Roy Kennedy and Harry J Wedge.

Wollongong Art Gallery is showing SHIMMER an exhibition “exploring expanded notions of historical and contemporary shell-working traditions in indigenous Australia”.  This is especially true of Garry Sibosado and I also loved the prints of Darrell Sibosado.  These brothers, from the West Kimberley coast, both reference traditional designs through contemporary art practice.  I love shells and other  well known artists include Esme Timbery, Tess Allas and Julie Gough.

There is more Aboriginal art in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia. TARNANTHI  is an Inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, described as a very ambitious exhibition that showcases the diversity of Aboriginal art.

A major Gilbert & George exhibition is at the privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart, Tasmania.

Haider Ali Jan from Pakistan at APT8

Haider Ali Jan from Pakistan at APT8

APT8, the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial is in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA until 10 April 2016. The APT was a great initiative and is always interesting.  It has focused international attention on the artists of our region. I would especially like to see the contemporary tribal art from India and I have collected  and exhibited Indian tribal and village artists over the years.

Banksy’s recent portrait of Steve Jobs, the son of Syrian immigrants, on the wall at Calais.

Banksy’s recent portrait of Steve Jobs, the son of Syrian immigrants, on the wall at Calais, France

WORLD: A memorable and often scary year comes to the end.  It will be remembered for extreme and catastrophic weather events, air crashes, mass migrations and displacement, and “terrorism”.  One probably has more chance of dying from a car accident, smoking, or being shot – especially if you live in the USA.  30,000 were killed by guns there over the year – coincidentally about the number killed world-wide by terrorism.

The Middle East/Islam conflict seems as complex and unsoluble as ever and innocent people, mostly Muslim, continue to be killed.

At least a more informed debate about Islam is emerging – with the exception of Donald Trump, our ex PM Abbott, far right groups like the National Front in France, and various unattractive bogans in Australia supposedly fighting for “our values”.

Bruce Goold Peace chador, Paris 13/11/15 hand coloured linocut Australian Galleries, Sydney

Bruce Goold Peace chador, Paris 13/11/15 hand coloured linocut Australian Galleries, Sydney

I thought Waleed Aly’s article last blog was very informative – as is this more recent one.  He argues  “The Reformation is here.  Theyr’e looking at it.  The Muslim world -and indeed Islamic thought – is in crisis”. New voices have emerged here like Ahmed Kilani who thinks it is time for a new generation of Muslim leaders to speak up, and he was a co-founder of the website Muslim Village here.

Also see this article on Wahhabism  to ISIS: How Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism.  The article is extremely informative  about this very narrow and very influential form of Islam, which only emerged in the C18th.  There is a trade-off with the Saudi Royal family, and it was a break-though that some women were allowed to stand for, and vote in, recent municipal elections.  Perhaps they may even be allowed to drive one day!

A photograph from The Blood Generation series, a collaboration between artist Taloi Havini and photographer Stuart Miller.

The Blood Generation series, artist Taloi Havini from PNG / photographer Stuart Miller in APT8.

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: The Paris Climate Agreement is a real achievement and cause for optimism about the human race, even if it is “aspirational” and not legally binding.  They are aiming for a less than 2 degree rise in global warming – ideally 1.5.  Progress will be tracked every 5 years, and target reductions increased.  Of course there will be problems and recalcitrant leaders – thank God Tony Abbott is no longer our PM!  Well done to host France, the USA, India and China especially. There will be $100 billion for poorer nations.

Another reason for optimism is that I hope we are seeing the end of the fossil-fuel era.  Coal is a “stranded asset”, “carbon capture” seems to remain as elusive as ever, banks are reluctant to finance new mines, and shares in fossil fuels are being divested.  Fuel subsidies should be abolished and no new mines should be approved – especially the huge Adani/Carmichael mine in Queensland.

There are those that argue that coal is necessary, for example, to provide power for the 300 million without it in India.

What about subsidised micro grids?

But it is the unstoppable growth and utilisation all over the world of renewables that is displacing coal, and effective battery energy storage is the game changer of the year.

Powerhive, based in the USA, is providing cheap power to poor and remote African villages through roof top solar paid for via ubiquitous cell phones as power is required or can be afforded.

Do you know what the best thing an individual can do to curb carbon emission? Become a vegetarian!  Meat is responsible for 15% of emissions. I am very contented as a vegetarian and it doesn’t seem to be too inconvenient for my family and friends.  This is not always true of vegans however, and their fundamentalism can be disruptive and even counter-productive.

My cat is now a piscatarian although I don’t think this explains her provocative behaviour with 2 snakes that have unfortunately appeared in my garden.  I’m very frightened she may join her brother in “crossing the rainbow bridge”, as some say these days, and I will be completely broken-hearted.

Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts, 1890

Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts, 1890

At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra there is the most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled of works by the “legendary” Australian artist Tom Roberts until 28 March.

Also in Canberra at the National Museum of Australia is Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum (until 28 March) which includes items such as an Aboriginal shield collected by Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770, one of many objects (and even body parts) that most Aboriginal people would like repatriated back to Australia.

AUSTRALIA: The gloss is going off our new PM Turnbull pretty quickly – from tensions within his own party, a defection, a Minister under investigation who won’t step aside, and Turnbull is wedged over climate change policies.  He is as likely to be undone by the bitter conservative elements in his own party as he is by the Opposition.  Our economic conditions continue to decline and the budget deficit is now $37.4 billion. In the absence of any proposed economic strategy or reform so far, he is hoping “innovation” will save us, but that takes time!

There is a recent biography on PM Malcolm Turnbull.  His own mother described him as a child as “a bundle of demonic energy”.  At school, a deputation went to the headmaster to say “anyone but Malcolm” for head prefect, but they were unsuccessful.

I can be mean as I don’t like many of the government’s unfair policies. But Turnbull is at least intelligent, personable, and has had a very successful law and business career – and he got rid of Tony Abbott.  After breaking yet another promise not to “snipe”, the ex PM Abbott has gone feral and seems completely delusional, speaking out inappropriately on Islam, or “defending” his non- existent “legacy”. Some commentators have said we have replaced a “psychopath with a narcissist” – but most leaders probably suffer from one or the other.

Angela Merkel seems to be regarded as the leader of the year in 2015 – in a very weak field.  While Greece has little chance of recovering economically through  the “austerity” measures she supported, I admired her for her initial response to the refugees in Europe.

Western Ground Parrot

Western Ground Parrot

ANIMALS & WILDLIFE:  After attending and speaking at several Animal Studies conferences in India, it is so encouraging to learn that there is such important and diverse research and work in relation to animal welfare and rights, and animal/human relationships.  Information now is so easily shared, and petitions and suggested actions etc can be widely circulated.

What is Animal Welfare? Welfare v Rights?  Welfare v Conservation? “Conservation” is caring about species (extinction),  and “animal welfare” is caring about individual animals (and their suffering).  For discussions about these definitions and questions see this site and the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare co-created by John Webster.

John Webster recently launched One Welfare an interactive portal for vets to keep them up-to-date on ethics and animal welfare.

There was an excellent review of the recent book by M.R. O’Connor which I have just bought for my Christmas reading – Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things.  I’m hoping it will help me understand some of these complex issues.

I think we are seeing a changing of community attitudes and a growing support for animal welfare. Many of you are part of that.  Looking at the last blog – chimpanzees were no longer to be experimented on in the USA, and PHASA was no longer supporting canned hunting of lions in South Africa. In Australia the horse racing industry is to limit the number of times a horse can be whipped (which is counter-productive anyway), and the worst aspects of the greyhound industry and live cattle and sheep exports have been exposed.

While people are also very concerned about a spate of shark attacks on our coast, many people now accept that the sea is the domain of sharks, and “smart” drum lines – and the netting of beaches, kill other marine creatures like turtles.  Beaches need guards and aerial surveillance, and swimming in the early morning and late afternoons is regarded as dangerous.

The Japanese are resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean – intending to kill 330 minke whales.  This is despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice, and the Japanese pretence of “scientific research”. Over many years only 2 articles have ever been “peer reviewed” and no-one really eats whale meat – if they can avoid it!

Gilbert’s Potoroo are endangered in Australia especially after losing 90% of its habitats in recent fires. Photograph from Gilbert's Potoroo Action Group.

Gilbert’s Potoroo are endangered in Australia especially after losing 90% of its habitats in recent fires. Photograph from Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group.

IVORY: The Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently been in Africa.  The Chinese are the major consumers of ivory and 20,000 – 40,000 elephants are slaughtered each year.  In September Xi pledged “to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory”.  The Chinese also have to rethink traditional medicines that are driving animals to extinction. The Chinese have protected their giant pandas with numbers stabilising  and possibly growing which is very admirable, but now this has to extend to other animals  – and the prohibiting of the horrific and cruel practice of “milking” up to 10,000 bears for their bile.

Watch this amazing clip of The Elephants in the Room – a herd of elephants walking through a hotel in Zambia. They are walking on their traditional path – which now includes through a hotel lobby, to a favourite mango tree as it is spring and the fruit is ripe.

SHAME: Cardinal Pell did not come back from the Vatican to face the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  Pell lived and worked with some of the most notorious clergy – and says he saw nothing and he certainly did nothing: the  ZUMAMUSTGO protest in South Africa indicated the frustration and exasperation with the failure of leadership by the self serving Zuma (although he will probably be as difficult to dislodge as Mugabe in Zimbabwe): Syria’s Assad; and Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak is still refusing to explain the $700 million transferred to his private bank accounts.

Ranthambore Tigers photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Tigers in Ranthambore, Rajasthan 2009 photographed by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings – whatever!  Hope you have a holiday or a break with family and friends. I am very appreciative of the support I receive for the blog, and the interesting information many of you send me.

I’m going to India and I am hoping to see some more of their marvellous animals and wildlife which I will blog about on my return later in January. So wishing you all a Happy (and more peaceful) New Year.

Advertisements
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

Dickie Minyintiri Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks)

Telstra Art Award - Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks) acrylic on canvas by Dickie Minyintiri

ABORIGINAL ART: This painting by 96 year old Dickie Minyintiri has won the 2011 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.  To the initiated clan elders, this painting is a map of their country, especially the waterholes, the tracks of animals, and related ceremonial activities – and much more than we will ever know.  You can view the exhibition online and see the diversity of Aboriginal Art.  It seems Central and Western Desert paintings predominate in this exhibition, but this is often the case.  Isn’t it amazing that such contemporary looking paintings are by people living in remote areas still speaking their own languages and where traditional ceremonies are still strong, although this way of life is under threat.

2011 Telstra Art Award Bobby West Tjupurrula_Untitled

Telstra Art Award - Untitled synthetic polymer paint on linen by Bobby West Tjupurrula

We are going into spring here in Australia and the weather in Sydney has been warm and sunny, but still a little cool at nights.  A magical time of the year.  I feel fine myself, but this is tempered by the bloodshed in the Middle East and the atrocities being uncovered in Libya, and the determination of the Syrian Government to violently repress their people.

UNNERVING:  to discover recently the US and UK government’s cooperation and complicity with Libyan intelligence;  just how cosy Blair was with Gaddafi;  that Blair is a godfather to a child of Rupert Murdoch and worked against further investigation of the phone hacking;  that the Chinese were selling arms to Libya as late as July;  and that Bush’s White House ignored or buried relevant evidence about the connections between the 9/11 hijackers and his Saudi Arabian friends.  As we reflect on the horrific loss of life ten years ago (and the many subsequent military and civilian deaths), let’s try and learn from the inappropriate and failed response of the so called “War on Terror”.

Telstra Art Award - Stone Country natural pigments on bark by Ivan Namirrkki

FOREIGN AID:  At last there seems to be a rethinking of how ineffective some Foreign Aid has been in the past.  Much of it has propped up big man despotic leaders rather than reaching the people who need it.  Of course the Chinese seem to be everywhere and are at least building infrastructure and one hopes the populations will benefit as much as China will.  Obviously droughts cause crops to fail,  but peace and stability is also required to prevent famines.  The colonial carve up in Africa after 1885 is responsible for so many unrealistic and unnatural national borders that many countries have too many disparate tribal groups – a problem facing Libya where three very different rebel groups will now have to work together.  Foreign Aid has also disadvantaged local enterprises in the past.  Now there are initiatives to fund specific projects in villages, overseen by local councils, and for better transparency and accountability, accounts are publicly displayed.

We must not forget the millions suffering with the famine in Africa and I hope given the millions of people effected, donations and aid are getting through as effectively and quickly as possible.  In Haiti for example, of the US$21.1 billion raised for the 2010 earthquake victims only $286 million has been obligated, and many thousands are still living in tents.

You can donate to the UNHCR’s East Africa Famine Appeal at www.unrefugees.org.au.

Charaxes Australis AMS 193/18 original watercolour by Helena Scott

SCOTT SISTERS: Two Australian sisters Helena and Harriet Scott painted between the 1840s and 1860s. Their exhibition Beauty from Nature is at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The artworks have been drawn from the 100 preliminary botanical drawings and watercolours purchased in 1884.  These sisters were cousins of David Scott Mitchell that I have blogged about previously, and I am proud to say I am also a relation.

SPECIES: Apparently there are an estimated 8.7 million species on earth – 6.5 million distinct forms of life on land, and 2.2 million in the oceans, with 85% yet to be discovered.  Some species of course may vanish before we even know of their existence.  In Australia more than 100 plants and animals have disappeared in the last two centuries, with many critically endangered.  The International Union of Conservation of Nature predicts that 30% of the world’s wildlife will disappear by 2050.  Creating some controversy is the proposal by some scientists to use economics and mathematics to develop analyses of which animals should be saved and which ones should not, and are already prioritising recovery programs.  Read the article Survival of the Cheapest SMH, 11 August 2011.

What can we do, apart from donating?  According to the Sydney Sun Herald:  take rubbish, especially plastic from the beaches;  stop pets hunting wildlife;  grow native plants as a haven for wildlife;  buy furniture timber from sustainable sources;  and eat sustainable seafood.

Chelepteryx Collesi AMS 193/92 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

Unfortunately in our Asian region there is a vast wildlife trade in poaching, smuggling and dealing in protected species and their body parts, much of it for traditional medicines.  Lately there have been reports of tigers being “farmed” in China, like the horrific farming of bears for their bile elsewhere in Asia.  The Global Financial Integrity group using information provided by conservation groups Traffic and the World Wildlife Fund have estimated recently that the illegal trade in wildlife generates up to $US10 billion.

Australia’s live cattle exports have resumed to Indonesia seemingly without any new and effective enforceable safe guards, and questions have been raised about Australian sheep exports to Turkey. Interestingly, after the huge public outcry over the TV footage of the treatment of cattle in the abattoirs in Indonesia, public sentiment then swung to the cattle producers, and the government was then pilloried for the economic damage to the industry caused by the suspension of trade.

Polio Festiva AMS 193/14 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

THE COVE: I finally saw The Cove and it is a devastating documentary.  September marks the beginning of the slaughter of up to 23,000 dolphins and porpoises in Japan.  “Traditional custom” is no longer an excuse.  Apparently many younger Japanese are questioning the harvesting of dolphins and porpoises for captivity and food (which often contains dangerously high mercury levels), and their whaling activities in the Antarctic, and the Japanese media are finally asking questions.  We should all actively oppose and protest.  I hope you will sign this petition.

FAROE ISLANDS: I have once again been sent an email petition to oppose the slaughter of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands.  The images and blood in the water was almost unwatchable.  Unfortunately this petition is now closed, but investigate other opportunities to protest.

TARONGA ZOO CAMPAIGN: There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world primarily because their forests are being cleared for unsustainable farming and forestry, including palm oil plantations. Taronga Zoo supports sustainable palm oil production that does not destroy vital animal habitats.  Zoos are working together to petition for the mandatory labelling of all food products containing palm oil.  You may also want to sign this Don’t Palm Us Off  petition.

Nick Brandt - Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt - Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica.

AGONY AND IVORY: In the August issue of Vanity Fair there is a quite terrifying article charting what could be the extinction of the African elephant.  The demand for ivory, especially from the older “suddenly wealthy” Chinese in the main ivory carving and trading district of Guangzhou is seeing possibly tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year, and a “vortex of extinction” is feared.  Half the poaching in Kenya is happening within 20 miles of one of the five massive Chinese road-building projects.  But ivory is also funding warring rebel groups in Africa, and in Zimbabwe many elephants are being shot by trophy hunting tourists, as well as being killed to provide food for a hungry population.

There are people in China also deeply concerned about the ivory trade and the diminishing elephant numbers, and as we discovered when we visited China, the Chinese Government is much more committed to conservation than I had imagined.

These are most of the people who are mentioned in the VF article that are fighting to save the African elephant:  Amboseli Elephant Research Project;  Kenyan Wildlife Service;  Save the Elephant;  Traffic;  IFAW;  WildAid;  MIKE;  Johnny Rodrigues;  Andrea Turkalo;  and Iain Douglas-Hamilton.  We must help in any way we can and especially stop people buying ivory.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The www.skepticalscience.com website clearly explains the peer-reviewed scientific evidence that rebuts misinformation disseminated by so-called skeptics of climate change.

Robert Manne in an article in the Quarterly Essay, Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation analyses The Australian newspaper’s total coverage of climate change including news items and opinion columns, and by a ratio of about four to one, they have opposed action on climate change or “acting alone”.  (Apparently 90 countries are committed to some action).  Their blatantly biased reporting against the Government would be of similar proportions.  It looks like it is about to get very difficult for James Murdoch in the UK very soon.

Coal seam gas exploration in Australia, with tens of thousands of gas wells planned or approved,  is at last being questioned in relation to the damage to the water table and the effect of the chemicals used in the process.  The cost effectiveness of wind farms is also being questioned or reviewed.

MISC STATS: Apple have $76 billion in ready cash (more than the US Government);  in Australia 1% own 20% of the nation’s wealth and in the US it is 1% owning 40%;  BHP Billiton announced a profit of $22.5 billion – and they opposed a mining tax;  deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon increased by 15% in the past 12 months; the Pope’s World Youth Day event in Spain cost €60 million.

Telstra Art Award - Mayilimiriw natural pigments on bark by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

BUFFET: It was interesting when Warren Buffet recently wrote “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.”  With America seemingly on the edge of a double dip recession, with unemployment at 9.1%, 14 million people out of work and zero jobs growth, this just seems incomprehensible.  The wealthy refuse to pay enough tax necessary to maintain infrastructure or support the impoverished, and consequently nearly one in a hundred Americans are imprisoned.  The sophisticated US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich has recently said that without the tax breaks, the top 1% in America could be contributing $500 billion in the first year alone.  One does have to ask, is there any concept of “national interest”?  Are the conservatives prepared to wreck the country just to reclaim political power which they see as their entitlement?  Exactly the same thing has been happening here in Australia, where a shrill and negative but effective Opposition, aided by shock jocks, has convinced a large section of the population that our current Government – the envy of the world economically, is a catastrophe.  They are contributing to undermining consumer confidence in a time of global financial uncertainty and obstructing necessary reforms like a carbon tax.  I really despair.

DEWEY AND MARLEY: Over the last year or so I’ve looked rather enviously at two books that are always prominently displayed in airport bookshops.  So I thought it was time to read DEWEY The Small Town Cat Who Touched the World (by Vicki Myron), and Marley & Me: life and love with the world’s worst dog (John Grogan).

I was very amused when I was in a book shop thinking of buying Marley’s book and I asked “what is it like?” and the response was “I much preferred the one about the lion – A Lion Called Christian”!  Our book is about an extraordinary animal, indeed an exotic one, but most people can probably relate more easily to stories about an ordinary cat and dog, albeit with strong attractive personalities.  Their books take in the span of their animal’s natural lives, and are autobiographies of the authors.  Our book covers just a few years in our lives, and was written when we were in our early twenties.

Dewey by Vicki Myron

Dewey the cat had great confidence, a certain charisma, and yes, he was very cute.  The book paints a picture of a small rural town in Iowa struggling to remain economically viable.  I’m not sure Dewey turned the town around as implied, but his national and international fame has put it on the map.   “We didn’t want him to be anything more than the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa. And that’s all he wanted too.”  In trying to analyse Dewey’s attraction Myron writes “He found his place.  His passion, his purpose was to make that place, no matter how small and out of the way it may have seemed, a better place for everyone.”  Each day he “never left anyone out or took anyone for granted… and he made everyone feel special.”

Marley & Me by John Grogan

Marley’s book is a little more sophisticated, indeed the author is a writer.  The idea for the book must have come from the response to an article he wrote (with some hesitation) after Marley’s death which unleashed a deluge of over 800 emails and communications from people.  He commented “Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and hearts as big as a cloudless sky.” And I recently read we are apparently 30% less likely to have a stroke.

Marley was, let’s face it, quite mental and very destructive, but apparently he had intuition and empathy, gentleness and a pure heart.  He was completely entwined with his family who just adored him and felt his loss very deeply.  Grogan writes “Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart.  He taught me to appreciate the simple things… about optimism in the face of adversity… friendship and selflessness… unwavering loyalty.”

Marley taught them about unconditional love.

Both writers felt that their animals had the simple qualities that really matter, that many humans have lost sight of.  They were just authentically themselves.  I loved their stories and understand why they have captured so many hearts.  I had a good cry when they died.

Incidentally, I have been told by vets that 12 or 13 are dangerous years in the health of cats and dogs, and if they survive this period can live up to 20. Marley died at 13 and Dewey died at 17.  Lately in Australia there have been some horrific dog attacks on people.  Certain breeds have been targeted and there are suggestions that they be banned. However, this would be circumvented by cross breeding, and experts say it is the socialization of the dog that is important, often requiring work (and vigilance) by the owners.

Koko in Red Dog

RED DOG: See Koko’s superb screen test to play Red Dog!  The film has been doing very well and although I haven’t seen it yet, I know it is a legendary story.

While reading about Marley, Dewey, the elephants, the responses to Christian’s birthday blog, or watching the dolphins in The Cove, someone in every story, no matter which animal, said “They are trying to communicate with us.”  Are we listening?  What do you think they are saying?