Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR: I always look forward to the final selection of photographs in the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, now open at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The competition is open to all nationalities and different age groups and categories.  These photographs are the 2013 finalists and tour internationally.  The exhibition always reminds me what a beautiful but fragile world we live in, and not to take it for granted.

GLOBAL MARCHES FOR LION: Many thousands of people around the world in 62 cities marched in support of lions and against trophy hunting and “canned” lion breeding and hunting in South Africa.

Johannesburg

Protesters in Johannesburg. Photograph by Simon McDonnell

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING (CACH):  The Marches were the idea of South African Christine Jordaan who had been inspired – or stirred into action – by becoming aware of the work of long time conservationists Chris Mercer and Bev Pervan of CACH, the Campaign against Canned Hunting.  Chris was interviewed recently by Phillip Adams on Radio National and you can watch Chris speaking more about the issue here.

With great cruelty, lionesses are forced to have too many litters, and the cubs are taken from them immediately to be hand-raised and to build a trust in humans.  The cubs are then available for cub petting by tourists etc.  When old enough, they are often drugged, and while anticipating food, they are shot instead.  Hunters from the US (55%) and the EU (40%) pay a lot of money for this.  I find it just impossible to imagine what sort of pleasure this gives, or what sort of people they are.

I was heartened to see that so many people turned out in South Africa, but I’m sure that anyone benefiting from this ghastly trade, and breeding the lions, will be formidable opposition.

For a few years I have been saying that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  It’s much worse! According to Chris Mercer there are approximately 20,000 lions left in Africa, and there has been an 80-90% decline over last 15 years.  Like elephants and some other animals, this is an extinction vortex.

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney. Photograph by Aidan Basnett

The Sydney March seemed to be organised by several young women and I applaud their efforts and dedication to the cause. One of the organisers, Alison Lee Rubie, told me she has spent time with Kevin Richardson and his lions in South Africa, and that she really admired the work he was doing and it was an exceptional experience.  You can follow Alison’s updates via her Facebook page Lobby for Lions.

I spoke briefly at the March and I think this is going to be a growing protest that many of us will want to participate in, including many of the organisations concerned about animals, and lions in particular.

I contacted the South African High Commission in Canberra to try and determine the S.A. Government position on canned lion hunting.  I have had no response to date and I did warn them that this could grow into a very large protest – or even a boycott by tourists of South Africa, and that there were other African countries to visit and see wildlife.

I’m sure President Zuma has many pressing problems to address – like the poverty so many people still live in.  However, paying back the $25 million of taxpayer’s money spent on his lavish country estate is not one of them, as “they did this without telling me”.

I am delighted that Botswana intends to ban canned lion hunting and banned both trophy hunting and the export of wildlife (excluding pets) in January this year.  Many people have told me that Botswana is their favourite African destination.

FOR THE DIARY AND PLANNING: WORLD LION DAY on 10 August.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: Congratulations to all of those people who have worked for so many years to see the International Court of Justice stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.  The Court ruled that in this case Japanese whaling is a “commercial” exercise dressed up as a “scientific” exercise.  Unfortunately, Japan can still kill whales in the Northern Pacific, and several other countries will continue to slaughter whales needlessly.

AUSTRALIA FOR DOLPHINS:  The argument that hunting for whales and dolphins is traditional is actually only true for very few people.  The Japanese were encouraged to eat whale meat after the deprivations of the Second World War, and most of the Japanese are not too concerned about this issue.  I very much admire Sarah Lucas and her father and their work for Australia for Dolphins, especially protesting at the gruesome annual slaughter and capture of dolphins in Tajii, Japan. Visit their official website here and watch the 60 Minutes report  on their trip to Tajii.  We can help by donating and by becoming members of AFD.

Twin Hope by Diana Rebman in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

“Twin Hope” by Diana Rebman, in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

JANE GOODALL:  I do know my gorillas from my chimpanzees!  The indefatigible Jane Goodall, now 80, will be touring Australia from May 31 – June 8.  I can still remember her haunting chimpanzee call echoing through the Sydney Opera House on a previous visit.  Her Roots and Shoots program for school children is the most marvellous way of interesting and involving children in projects to care for our environment.

Captured: The Animal within Culture

Captured: The Animal within Culture

CAPTURED: I spoke briefly at the launch of CAPTURED The Animal within Culture which includes one of the most extensive interviews I have given.  I was interviewed by the editor, Melissa Boyde, a distinguished academic, and Chairperson of the Australian Animal Studies Group.  Melissa felt that the key themes in Captured are “encapsulated in Christian’s story: the implications of the physical and cultural capture of animals”.  I found the contributions very interesting and thought-provoking, especially:  the Ethiopian giraffe that walked 7000 kilometres from Marseilles to Paris in 1826 as a gift for the King Charles X;  “cultural imagining” associated with albatrosses;  the songs of whales;  the flourishing trade of exotic animals in Victorian England; and the ideas associated with the cultural representation of animals and our connectedness to animals.  I think the extent of the work being done in academic and creative circles on animal studies and human/animal relationships is so encouraging and informative – although Peter Singer did write Animal Liberation in 1975!

Unfortunately the book is quite expensive. It would be great if some of you could buy it, read it, and then possibly donate it to your local library?

COLONIAL ART: There is a superb exhibition in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, entitled Artist Colony: Drawing Sydney’s Nature.  These artworks are primarily painted in the first decade after the 1788 settlement.  Most of the works are drawn from the State Library/Mitchell Library collection, but many were newly acquired in 2011. At this time of exploration, many European collectors were finding the exotic discoveries from our region both “fascinating and disorientating”, and were hungry for specimens and these watercolour images.  Most of the artists – some still unidentified, were very good.

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

AUSTRALIA: Although our concerns in Australia are very minor in comparison to people in Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Ukraine for example, I am in danger of being what P J O’Rourke described as “the perpetually outraged”!  With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating categorically that “everywhere and everything is being impacted by Climate Change”, it is frustrating living under a government that in 2014 does not seem to believe 97% of scientists about climate change, or that urgent action is required NOW.  All our recent and more frequent extreme weather events in Australia are just because we have always been “a land of droughts and flooding rains”, according to our PM.

I was ashamed to hear that the Australian Government, who is hosting the G20 Summit of world leaders here in November, has tried – unsuccessfully, to remove climate change and global warming from the agenda!

Capture

Cartoon by Cathy Wilcox. Sourced from The Sun Herald.

MP Scott Ludlam’s Welcome to West Australia Tony Abbott has gone viral and  sums up how many of us feel about him.  Ludlam polled well in the recent W.A. election and perhaps the Greens, the conscience of the nation (if sometimes naive and a little misguided), are on the way back.  We need them.

I should just let Shawn Micallef’s hilarious show Mad as Hell on the ABC ridicule the government with the ample material they supply.

After promising to be a “transparent” and “no surprises” government, here are some examples:  trying to revoke legislation to remove the requirement for financial advisers to act in a client’s “best interests”;  our professed Christian Minister for Immigration has 66 “spin doctors” to prevent any information emerging about our inhumane detention policies or details of the riot that killed detainee Reza Berati on Manus Island in PNG;  repealing race hate laws, and in the name of free speech, allowing us “to be bigots”;  and back to the future, without even informing his own party and to widespread derision, PM Abbott reverting to granting Imperial Honours after 25 years.

New Holland Crane, 1790s

New Holland Crane, 1790s

G-Gs: Outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce will primarily be remembered by me for her attention-seeking bright outfits, has been made a Dame, and incoming G-G Peter Cosgrove has been knighted.  I’m sure he is a nice enough blokey Australian, but as a Major General I dread any more jingoism, especially with the anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign next year.  With so many young Australian soldiers’ lives sacrificed on the shores of Turkey in 1915 on behalf of the British, I just can’t understand why this is meant to define us as a nation?

Wildlife photographer of the year finalist.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

ENVIRONMENT:  There was a succinct article by Nick Feik in the new thesaturdaypaper.com who wrote that “from a new government that at times appeared otherwise unable even to tie its own shoelaces”…”the brute efficiency of its program to damage environmental interests has been breathtaking”.  Casualties include:  the Climate Commission; funding to the Environmental Defenders Office;  the Australian Renewable Energy Agency;  the Biodiversity Fund;  the Climate Change Authority; and an attempt to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Environmental approvals have been “streamlined” and as I have discussed previously,  the Great Barrier Reef and areas of the Tasmanian forests are at risk.  Apparently too much of our National Parks are “tied up”, and “commercial opportunities” are being considered, while timber workers are “the ultimate conservationists”. Most cynically, a climate sceptic has been appointed to review the Renewable Energy Target. Unfortunately many of these actions will be irreversible, and immune to legal challenges.

According to a Canadian Dr. Kevin Taft who recently visited Australia, this behaviour is similar to what happened with the conservative government in Canada who has also stripped away as many environmental protections as possible.  Taft reminded us how completely we are hostage to the fossil fuel industry, and in Canada they even created their own political party The Wildrose Party – cute?

Douglas Seifert / wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Douglas Seifert / Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

MINING: It is hard to assess or predict just how central coal and other fossil fuels will be to our energy needs in the future. According to BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie, 70% of the world’s energy will still be supplied by them until 2030 – but he would say that wouldn’t he!

Other people, with less of a vested interest, give coal another 10 years when it will become a “stranded asset”.  Japan is reopening their nuclear reactors, even though the Fukushima disaster has contaminated workers, food, and the surrounding land and ocean. China, with shocking pollution levels creating social unease, will apparently start to go easier on the use of coal – and use nuclear reactors, hydro and a variety of renewable energies.

 

Warkworth mine pit aerial. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Warkworth mine pit. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Isn’t this the most horrifying photograph?  Is this the face of the future?  This coal mine is in the Hunter Valley which is one of the most fertile and beautiful parts of NSW, and used to be a most attractive place to live and visit.   Communities and people who grow our food and have horse studs, vineyards etc are being driven out by these mines and coal seam gas sites. Rio Tinto has just lost a court battle to extend this already huge Warkworth open-cut mine, but undeterred, has resubmitted its application!  People in the nearby township of Bulga are fighting for their survival.

82 people have recently been arrested for protesting against the construction of another coal mine and the clearing of part of the Leard State Forest in north-western NSW.  “Activist journalist” Margo Kingston was also arrested – see her No Fibs website here, and the protesters have been accused of using social media to intimidate police!

What is good is that we ordinary citizens are fighting back: the community of Bulga;  the Lock the Gate Alliance of landowners and others who are especially concerned about the destruction and poisoning of water aquifers in prime food producing areas;  the most prominent people in racing are protesting against the Drayton South mine proposal; and court actions have been instigated, for example, against the criminal dumping of sludge into the Great Barrier Reef.

Hugh Jackman and other celebrities supported Yoko Ono’s protest against shale gas fracking in the US, and I’m hoping to see Hugh standing up for similar environmental causes here.

Do sign this Australians for Climate Action Petition to the government over their inaction on climate change.

wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

RENEWABLE ENERGY: I listened to a very interesting discussion (Science Show on Radio National) about renewable energies. Australia has “internationally competitive” Research – but “bugger all” Development.  Much of the discussion was too scientific for me to fully understand but I’ve always been cynical about  sequestration and carbon capture and storage, and there are no real breakthroughs yet.  But there is apparently deserved optimism about renewable energy from sources that include solar cells, voltaic cells, algae, human waste, and nuclear fusion.

VOICELESS: I participated in a very effective initiative against farmed food – a Meat Free Week supported by voiceless. I know I have discussed vegetarianism before, with some of you mischievously asking me how I was going….  The week without any “meat” was quite easy and I realised my diet is quite vegetarian.  I’m notoriously inept in the kitchen, but it made me think more creatively (and intelligently) about food, and I think I found the week quite liberating rather than limiting.  With advice from friends and my naturapath I ate a greater variety of food.  Once the week was over I decided it was a pity to not continue. It has been hypocritical of me to try to save and assist some animals, and eat others!  So I’m now officially a lacto-ovo vegetarian (which excludes meat and fish, but includes eggs and dairy products).

Hélène from Canada sent me this poignant and upsetting video about caged hens released from their imprisonment – made by Animals Australia.  Watch it and you may never eat chicken or eggs again!  I am only going to eat eggs when I can be assured of their origins – either “organic” or ideally, when I see the conditions for myself.

Ironically I still have to buy meat for my cats as I dread to think what additives are contained in tinned pet food.

Arriving at MONA

Arriving at MONA, Hobart, Tasmania

AUSTRALIAN ART WORLD:  We have had two very regrettable scandals in the Australian art world lately.  Transfield Holdings, founding sponsors of the Biennale of Sydney (but now only providing 6.1% of the budget), has an interest in Transfield Services which was recently contracted by the government to run several off-shore detention centres.  Unfortunately for them, this was highlighted by a violent  recent riot on Manus Island, PNG, that resulted in the death of  Iranian detainee Reza Berati.  Consequently, several invited artists decided to boycott the Biennale.

To my disbelief, such is the influence of big business on our lives, there was an almost universal public outcry against these artists, even initially by the Biennale Board and others in the art world. While philanthropy is to be encouraged, I think we are entitled to know the source of the money.  Many patrons do have a real love of art and make very generous contributions, but in return, the art world provides them with business opportunities, respectability, and a social cachet some would never normally have.  Led by social media, more support did come for the artists’ justifiable right to make a stand, and I hope people were made to think about our inhumane asylum seeker policies.

For the record: the sponsor with the interest in detention centres (Transfield’s Luca Belgiorno-Nettis) resigned from the Biennale Board, and called the artists “morally reprehensible”!  Malcolm Turnbull, an MP rapidly losing any political capital he may have had, said the artists had shown “vicious ingratitude”, while Leo Schofield said arts funding is “not the artists’ business” and they were “exhibiting self importance that they haven’t earned”.

While the arts in general undoubtedly enrich our lives and often provide pure pleasure,  many artists over time have also sought to illuminate, educate, lead, and question.  Alain de Botton recently said “Most great artists have had a mission”.  Some Aboriginal artists I have either worked with or observed over the years have been able to compete internationally as superb artists, and the art of many Aboriginal artists often seems to have what I can only describe as the “weight” of  thousands of years of traditions and beliefs, a deep understanding and attachment to land, or strongly felt political convictions.  In comparison, I can find some contemporary non-indigenous art rather vacuous or too contrived. It is concerning that SMH art critic John McDonald can say about the current Biennale that “very few gems emerge from this quagmire of mediocrity”.

I can remember when artists were usually rather hopeless at promoting themselves, but now many of the successful ones have become assiduous networkers and self-promoters.  This is also true of supposedly introspective and reclusive writers who now seem to have to spend half the year talking at literary festivals.

MONA

Museum of Old and New Art

A more concerning scandal is that it has emerged that the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia (and other international institutions) have spent millions of dollars buying stolen Indian antiquities from the now disgraced Indian dealer Subhash Kapoor.  The failure by the relevant directors and curators to diligently check the provenance of these items has tarnished their reputations.  Both these institutions have even been tardy withdrawing the items from view, or promising to return them to India.  We have been reminded that these are fundamentally sacred objects that are worshipped and greatly missed in their places of origin,  not just art exhibits for our enjoyment.

Anselm Kieffer at MONA

Anselm Kiefer at MONA

MONA: On a brighter note, an individual  has given us the most wonderful gift with the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. David Walsh has a brilliant mind and has made a fortune as a professional gambler!  MONA has been carved into a cliff face above the Derwent River.  The current exhibition curated from Walsh’s extensive collection is The Red Queen, and includes  an eclectic combination from Egyptian hieroglyphics to Anselm Keifer, Tracey Moffatt and Fiona Hall.  Many objects, sculptures and artworks are exhibited in this antithesis of the white cube – an exciting building that is quite maze-like and where the exhibits are theatrically lit and shown. It has become a “travel destination” – and Hobart, and Tasmania are lovely to visit.

The White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney is another example of generous philanthropy, where the Neilson family exhibit their huge collection of contemporary Chinese art.

MAIL: Many of you were very supportive of the GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS, so thank you for getting the word out and let’s keep the momentum up.  I’ll keep you informed and please keep me informed.

Meanwhile of course, Tony the Tiger remains imprisoned in his cage in America, which makes me feel depressed and that I have failed him personally.  Is there any news?

I do read everything sent to me and view your profiles, even if I don’t always respond.  Many of you are interested in such fascinating subjects, and your sites contain so many good images.  It is very heartening that many of  us share such a love of our animals and our fellow humans, and a concern for the world we live in…..

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

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MITCHELL LIBRARY:  These images are from a recent purchase of early Australian natural history illustrations by the Mitchell Library.  Six bound volumes and 741 “exquisite” drawings and watercolours were taken to London in 1795 and subsequently purchased by the 13th Earl of Derby.  They are believed to be by the convict artist Thomas Watling.   Europeans were fascinated by the exotic flora and fauna from the Pacific region.

 

 

 

DAVID SCOTT MITCHELL:  The library is named after David Scott Mitchell (1836-1907) who donated what has been described as the world’s largest private collection of a particular region – Australasia and the Pacific, with over 60,000 books, maps, journals, pamphlets, paintings, and a bequest that still financially benefits the library today.

He appreciated the importance of collecting primary sources – “Australia’s DNA”, from which we are still in the process of interpreting our past.  Indeed, we are at the moment still debating  whether to describe the  European arrival in Australia as an “invasion” or “colonisation”.

I am reading the just published Book Life, the life of David Scott Mitchell byEileen Chanin.  It is an exhaustively researched biography which paints a picture of the surprisingly sophisticated Mitchell and Scott families, cultural life in the small colony of Sydney, and the international literary context.  This book is long overdue as very little is known about Mitchell, and the book reveals much more about a shy man who was not as reclusive as reputed, but who still remains elusive.  He was my grandmother’s great uncle and she sometimes stayed with him on her school boarder’s weekends.  Unfortunately I was too young to ever ask her what he was  like.  I only remember her saying he was always reading!  Only much later have I appreciated the value of oral histories – and identifying people in photographs!

Family skeleton: D S Mitchell’s father James was an extremely energetic and entrepreneurial doctor and businessman and conveniently, his wife Augusta Maria (Scott) was wealthy. He was one of the first in the colony to mine for coal in the Hunter Valley of NSW, and this wealth from the now contentious coal primarily allowed David Scott Mitchell to indulge his passion for collecting books, and Australia has benefited from it as well. 

 

 

GLOBAL ANIMAL: Later this week I am on a panel at the Global Animal: an Animal Studies conference at the University of Wollongong (UOW).  I am fascinated by the amount of interesting and wide ranging research in this field in academia, especially about human/animal relationships.  Click here for UOW details.

You may be interested to click on the Australian Animal Studies Group News eBulletin and see the range of activities, articles and national and international conferences and events.  I was asked to contribute to this edition, and I wrote about my visit last year to Kalimpong and Darjeeling in India – where through the efforts of many people (but Christine Townend particularly), management of the community dog population has seen human rabies eliminated from both those areas.  The editor insisted on using a grisly photograph of a dog still out cold from the operation – I wanted to use the pretty white kitten dressed for Diwali celebrations. OK – I seem to have lopped off some tail – last photograph it was her ears!

 

Darjeeling Animal Shelter

 

A BLOODY BUSINESS:  But does gore sell more effectively?  The footage of Australian cattle being slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs has created a very effective  public outcry and scandal.  Exports of live cattle to Indonesia have been suspended.  The Indonesians are offended.  Our government has as usual seemed slow to respond constructively,  and many cattle owners are left facing huge losses.   The industry is worth $550 million (I read various estimates), and some small compensation to producers is presently being offered.  Animal welfare is for now at least under overdue scrutiny.

ASYLUM SEEKERS:  There has been no equivalent outcry against sending our asylum seekers or refugees to Malaysia, although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received many emails of protest.  The shock jocks and irresponsible politicians who have exacerbated and exploited this issue are now being countered by a few serious and informative television programs that are actually putting a human  face to the refugees and showing just what many of them have been subjected to.  Most of them  had to flee their country – they were not just setting off to look for a better life.   

 

 

POLLUTION TAX:  Much better to call it a pollution tax – who wouldn’t want to prevent pollution?  I’m pleased Germany is stepping back from nuclear energy,  retiring their 17 reactors by 2022.  For years now we have been mired in our carbon/pollution tax debate, but the government is about to finally put a price on carbon. Compensation to coal producers has understandably been a sticking point.   The Greens now have a balance of power in the Senate, and are working quite well in an “agreement” with the government.  It may be a future direction as many disenchanted Labor voters (like myself) are now leaning towards the Greens instead. They won 12% of the primary vote last election.  I wouldn’t want the Greens to be running the country on their own, they don’t have the experience for a start – but at times they provide the heart, compassion, integrity and conscience on social justice and environmental issues missing in our political discourse.

Incidentally, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers seem to be doing everything in their power to force out this government by constantly portraying them as negatively as possible and marshalling opposition at every opportunity – for example, oxygen given to climate change deniers and opponents of the carbon tax.  His mother however, Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, Rupert’s 102 year old mother was a signatory to a recent letter to a (rival) newspaper calling for action on climate change.  A recent Productivity Commission report detailed various actions by many countries, including India and China, and stated that a carbon tax in Australia would not make us uncompetitive internationally. Some critics argue that because of our reliance on coal, comparisons to other economies are difficult.  Worryingly,  although 95% of scientists accept the scientific statistics on climate change, public support is slipping, with 39% of Australians now not prepared “to pay a cent” to combat global warming.  This is indicative of how badly the government has handled this issue, how long it has dragged on, and how effective the shrill opposition to it has been – more rallies and expensive media campaigns are planned.  Isn’t this issue so important that there should be bi-partisanship between the major parties?  

 

Jane Goodall’s Lunch at Taronga Zoo

 

JANE GOODALL:  I recently had lunch at Taronga Zoo where Jane Goodall was the guest of honour.  The Taronga conservation society is in partnership with a new chimpanzee rehabilitation centre – the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Point Noire, Congo.  Over the fifty years since she began studying chimps their numbers have fallen from about 1 million to 300,000.  “The most efficient and cheapest way of slowing down global warming is to protect and restore the tropical rainforests.  Saving the chimpanzees natural habitat is extremely important….all these problems are so interconnected”.  Last time I heard her speak she explained how local villagers need to have a certain guaranteed standard of living – food, water, education etc before we we can expect them to protect animals or their habitats.  Tony Fitzjohn also emphasizes this with the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust – the needs and involvement of the surrounding villagers are imperative.

Jane Goodall said Australia was not doing well – a failure so far on carbon emissions, a failure to protect water supplies, disappearing endemic species, and no overall environmental strategy to link the surviving patches of habitat.  She reassured us however, that individual efforts “add up”.

I gave her a copy of A Lion Called Christian but she just said “Oh. Thankyou.”, and I wonder if the book was left in the hotel room! 

I admire her work enormously and how hard she works.  There are Jane Goodall Institutes all over the world, and I particularly like the very successful Roots and Shoots program for schools where groups plan and implement “service learning projects that promote care and concern for animals, the environment, and the human community”.

Co-incidentally, I heard on a recent radio program that given the intelligence of chimps and their brain size,  living in groups of 5 is the norm,and in a “village” of about 50, while for our brain size humans have a close group of 7 people on average, and a “village” of 150.

 

 

UNITY BEVIS JONES:  I was recently interviewed by BBC4, and I mentioned Christian’s friend Unity Bevis Jones.  She came to play with him nearly every day.  I was contacted by a friend who said they had recently seen her, and all was fine with her.  After the shop Sophistocat where Christian lived on the Kings Road closed, Unity did not know how to keep in touch with us, and was unaware the shop had relocated to Wandsworth Bridge Road where it still is today.  I look forward to seeing her when I am next in the U.K.

MISC STATS:  We are part of 2 billion users on the internet …. US involvement  in Afghanistan costs $120 billion per year… 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometres from the coast…. 50% of the world population now live in cities.

BRAZIL:  Now the 5th biggest economy in the world, Brazilians seem to be having their day – and with the Olympics, the World Cup, and the Earth Summit to come etc.  Unfortunately their resources/mining boom will  test their environmental credentials   – and their forest protection laws are being “gutted”.  The Amazon provides 20% of the world’s oxygen and 60% of our freshwater, and recently several prominent environmental advocates have been murdered!   Click here to sign the AVAAZ petition to protect the Amazon.

OF THE 1%, BY THE 1%, FOR THE 1%:  A disturbing article in Vanity Fair (Rob Lowe cover) by Joseph E. Stiglitz discusses the implications of 1% of the  population now owning 40% of wealth in the US, a statistic to frighten us all. They haven’t been benevolent in the past, and there is a corresponding under investment in infrastructure, education and research. They are pandered to with low taxation, and this nexus of politics/business/media preserves their privilege. It is hard not to view recent “wars” as business opportunities for arms and weapons manufacturers and companies like Halliburton, and there are spoils like oil to divide.  In Australia we see many of our wealthy opposing the mining tax, the carbon tax, and the NBN national broadband network, and resenting and resisting environmental restrictions, and workplace reforms.

WORRIED ABOUT: …the PM Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Iraq is sounding more and more despotic… the despot in Syria is hanging on but the people bravely keep protesting… Greece and European debt…that 193 rhinos have been killed already this year in South Africa, many of them in the Kruger National Park…a rush to mine cold seam gas even in the suburbs of Sydney, with real concerns about environmental damage through “fracking” and damage to the water aquifers… the capabilities of Thaksin’s sister in Thailand…a released but restricted and silenced Ai Wei Wei in China… and if you are concerned for Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma click here to sign an AVAAZ petition. 

 

 

JEFFREY MASSON:  I just adored reading Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats.  It is a most authoritative book and extremely well written and readable.  As a fellow cat obsessive I luxuriated in it.  Much of it reinforced my own feelings and my comparatively amateur observations, but there was a lot of new information and ideas to think about, especially about cat’s play and curiosity.  Jeffrey Masson also refers to other obviously excellent books on cats – none of which I’ve read.  I realised I didn’t really play with my cats much, and I never improvise  or buy them toys, but I AM always talking to them and having fun with them.  His cats go for walks with him!  I am under no illusions – food is the foundation of my relationship with mine.  The book made me analyse what I really like about cats.  Briefly, I find them very soothing, very cool and so self contained.  I like their diffidence, their quietness and their natural entitlement.  Everything has to be their own idea.  This behaviour can annoy some people, but I can find it amusing or challenging.  The only thing I really don’t like is how totally irrelevant they make me feel after I have fed them!

Jeffrey Masson is presently researching violence in different species, lions especially, and how much killer instinct they have, and who it is directed at.  I am hoping Tony Fitzjohn with his long association with George Adamson and his own experience and observations of lions may be able to contribute.  I know that the wild lions at Kora waged a full-time war over many years against George Adamson’s introduced lions, and killed several of them, although they also mated with several of the lionesses. They were defending their territory which was inhospitable and had limited resources, against intruders.  It was miraculous that Christian survived although he ultimately had to leave the area.  On his blog Jeffrey Masson described our YouTube reunion with Christian as demonstrating “pure joy” and that “All in all, it remains the single most astonishing video I have ever viewed”.

 

Watercolours courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

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