MICHAEL LEUNIG:  I’m hardly going to comment on the state of the world this time (probably a relief for us all) as I think Michael Leunig, one of Australia’s most brilliant cartoonists, says it all.  I encourage you to check out his website as his body of work over many years has been extraordinary – funny, sad, insightful, poignant etc etc. Click here

BLOG: I’ve been blogging now for over a year.  I love it as a medium, although I have to confess, as I spend so much time on the computer anyway, I don’t surf at all, or read as many other blogs as I would like to.  I don’t know how so many billions of people have time for social media like Facebook, but I love the new community, information flow and communication it has built.  It is a great tool for political activism as we have seen recently in the Middle East.

I very much appreciate many of you drawing my attention to relevant and related information.  I do respond more than I appear to although I view this as working together for causes we believe in, rather than developing personal relationships.  Although my much younger agent would like me to comment on a more regular basis…I don’t really want to interrupt or bore you with my day-by-day thoughts or reactions.  After writing what seemed like a very long “exegesis” for my Master of Arts in 2008, I like the amount of words required in the blog on each idea– not too few and not too many, and it ends up a near monthly essay/diary on what has transpired…or how I have been feeling…or what has caught my attention.  Like a lot of people, I have strong opinions on the affairs of the world, and I can recommend a blog as a way of feeling less impotent – feeling that you are actually doing something, articulating a response rather than just complaining and worrying.  While I feel I have a “voice” through a blog – however small, I’m certainly not part of the “new journalism”, but it is interesting what you can learn and read between the lines in some newspapers and magazines if you read widely and attempt to get to the real story.

I especially enjoy looking for striking photographs to post – talking politics and climate change, for example, can be a little dry!

This rare red panda cub was born in December 2010 at Taronga Zoo, Sydney. Photograph by Peter Hardin

Over the last two years we have travelled to many places around the world and given many interviews about Christian, and of course it was a great pleasure to share our experiences with him, and to be given the opportunity to talk about the urgency of animal and wildlife conservation.  Christian’s story has elicited such a positive, loving, life-affirming response from most people, and it has been an antidote to some of the stress inflicted by the Global Financial Crisis, the natural catastrophes, and the unrest throughout the world.  However, we did have Christian over 40 years ago, and I have subsequently had a career and a life which I’ve actually loved, and I have not been asked once what I have done in the intervening years!  (My agent just says “get over it”!).

So the blog has been an opportunity to discuss where appropriate other things that I find important – which includes anything to do with Aboriginal people and their dispossession and subsequent disadvantage, art (especially Aboriginal art), politics, the world – past, present and future.


Monika Laryett-Olson’s website is an example of what has given me particular pleasure with the blog – people sending me their own animal stories. I’ve loved many of them, and a few have been riveting – like this one – very well written, with superb photographs, and a story like Harley the dog’s sixth sense that can make me cry.  I feel these stories are building into a valuable archive that with permission I may publish sometime.  Animals enrich our lives so much – and they seem to give comfort, companionship, love and understanding, and absorb some of the stress we all feel.  So Leo the cat… or Pluto the dog, and all the others, I’ve loved and kept your photographs – thank-you!


TONY THE TIGER:   I think of him every day like many other people and I am determined to help in any way to have him removed from his cage to a better life.  I contacted Virginia McKenna to ask her advice, and she responded that the Born Free Foundation (US) is very aware of him, and the legal complexities surrounding him.  The Animal Legal Defence Fund in America has just filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  For more information and to sign their petition click here, and circulate!  Also a recent email from the tireless Dee De Santis listed another petition to sign through change.org .  So let’s really support this and encourage others to participate.  So many other animals are also condemned unnecessarily to a pointless life for other people’s satisfaction or greed and for me Tony seems to be a symbol of this.

INDIA:  There are apparently only 3000 tigers left in the wild, and according to a recent census, approximately half are in India.  In the 1970s the Indian tiger population dropped to nearly 1000.  A major effort to establish reserves and increase protection has resulted in numbers stabilising and slightly increasing.  But as M.K. Ranjitsinh Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India and well known tiger campaigner said recently, “The human population continues to grow and that means reduction of prey, threats to the isolation of the tiger habitat and increasing danger of direct human-tiger conflict.  We may have won a battle but you have to win the war”.

A recent Travel article listed several interesting sounding innovative eco-tours and wildlife lodges in Madhya Pradesh focused around tiger conservation.  They can promise a rewarding experience, if not always spotting a tiger.  I only saw a tiger footprint in Assam last year, but I actually think that is quite healthy – I’d rather they remained safe and out of sight.

BAN:  Wasn’t it emotional seeing Ban the dog rescued from the house of a roof floating out to sea three weeks after the Japanese tsunami, and being reunited with his owner?  The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is asking for donations for the thousands of animals in Japan that need our help, donate.wspa.org.au/japan.

I’ve wanted the blog to work as a notice board for any related issues people want to draw our attention to, and I love the speed and effectiveness of concerted action through internet activism.  I’ve tried to mention as many organisations and individuals as possible whose work I admire or are worthy of support, and it has been a huge learning curve over the last few years for me once again to be actively involved and understand where the conservation debates have (or have not) advanced to.  The conservation movement was extremely influential in the 1970’s, starting with the Adamsons and the popularity of Born Free, and Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, and the work of the World Wildlife Fund remain giants in the field today.

CARBON TAX RALLY:  There is a controversy in Australia over a proposed tax on carbon.  Shock jocks have organised several rallies against it, with some people holding offensive placards about our Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  I attended with many other people a rally in support of the tax at the same time which was organised by the effective internet activists GetUp!  I do think I’ve been more strident and politicised lately, but I think there is an unattractive polarisation happening in the community.  I feel we are confronted by issues that require urgent action and we can’t be too patient or passive.  A few of you have criticised me, and that is fair enough.  Someone thought me mentioning Bush and the neo-cons was living in the past, but we are still living with their legacy.  Someone else asked why I backed “one side” over the other, but realistically I don’t think politics is like a fruit salad where you pick a bit of this and a bit of that.

Usually most people hold a consistent philosophical view.  A Sydney Morning Herald editorial on the environment recently succinctly summed up this difference: the “left” is “admiring of a pristine wilderness in which only man is vile” and the conservatives “see a world to be exploited and enjoyed”.  The editorial mentioned the Shooters and Fishers Party, a small motley collection of people who by an anomaly in our electoral system have ended up with the balance of power (with the Christian Right) in our Upper House of Review after the last State election, and love shooting elephants in Zimbabwe for fun and “conservation”!  They want to shoot in the National Parks which of course I oppose.

In general, I feel that in the current popularist climate I am part of a resented minority for caring for people less fortunate or different to oneself, or for caring for wildlife and the environment ahead of money, consumerism and unsustainable development.  The rally for the carbon tax was pleasantly reassuring that so many others felt just the same.  Unfortunately our political parties seem to be in a “race to the bottom”, encouraging mean-spiritedness and short-sightedness, demonising difference, and instilling fear.

Bara Singha (deer with 12 antlers) by Jangarh Singh Shyam

EXHIBITION: I am currently staging an exhibition of a selection of Indian tribal and village art at The Cross Art Projects in Sydney. I have collected many of the works since I first went to India in the 1980s. These include tribal works by the Warlis, and Madhubani and Khovar art from Bihar. Highlights are paintings and prints by Jangarh Singh Shyam who I first met in the late 1980s, and who also participated in a cultural artist’s exchange I organised with Aboriginal artists at the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi in 1999.  He tragically died in Japan in 2001.

EXHIBITION:  Photography & Place Australian Landscape Photography 1970s Until Now, is a thoughtful and often beautiful exhibition curated by Judy Annear, one of Australia’s leading curators.  It is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 29 May 2011.  It contains works by some of my favourite photographers including Michael Riley (1960-2004), Ricky Maynard, Jon Rhodes and Wesley Stacey, and examines different and changing ideas about landscape and place.

SHAME FILE:  Hillary Clinton for describing Bashar-al-Assad of Syria a “reformer”; Christopher Hitchens for trying to credit the invasion of Iraq (and his surprising support for it) with the popular uprisings in the Middle East; China for the arrest and current disappearance of Ai Weiwei, an internationally well known artist (although he did always surprise me in interviews with just how refreshingly frank about China he was); and the Director of the Berlin Zoo for wanting to proceed with the stuffing of the “just a polar bear” Knut.

CONGRATULATIONS:  The United Nations finally seeming more pro-active – in the Ivory Coast.

STATS: There is a 40% increase in the hole in the atmosphere above the Arctic; 50,000 coal fired power stations in the world are supplying 41% of the world’s electricity; China is building one new power station a month, although they are supposedly going to be more highly efficient and lower polluting.

CHRISTIAN VIDEO:  There is a new video clip post with more images of Christian taken from the original documentary, click here.

India 2

December 23, 2010


Mount Kanchenjunga (again)

On my first weekend in Calcutta, luxuriating in the Oberoi Grand, I noticed a colour supplement in the newspapers – Indian tribal art had finally become fashionable, with an artist achieving $31,000 at a Sothebys auction in New York.

Indian tribal art finally comes of age

TRIBAL ART:  I had been collecting this artist – Jangarh Singh Shyam from Madhya Pradesh, since the late 1980’s when I visited the Bharat Bhavan, an exciting gallery/museum complex in Bhopal.  It was one of the first to collect contemporary Indian art (which was about to explode) and tribal artists – long marginalised and discriminated against because of their lowly caste status.  On my many subsequent trips to India I continued to look for tribal art -I am after all a curator of Aboriginal art in Australia.  I collected and exhibited paintings from the Warli tribals who live in the foothills of the Sahyadri mountains (north of Mumbai), Madhubani folk/village paintings from northern Bihar, and later, I was one of the first to arrange exhibitions of  Khovar art from southern Bihar.  In 1994, Jenny Kee, a famous London/Sydney fashion icon and artist, her boyfriend the late Danton Hughes, and I went on a “tribal tour” of Orissa to remote villages.  Adventures included nearly being arrested for photographing near naked tribals at a weekly market high up in the mountains, to Jenny being swept up in a tribal wedding party walking along the road.

Jenny Kee in Orissa, 1994

When I organized the Australian/Indian Government artists exchange  and exhibition at the Crafts Museum in New Delhi in 1999, I ensured that Jangarh Singh Shyam participated joining Aboriginal artist Djambawa Marawili.  This was most enjoyable, despite language barriers, and a huge “collaborative” canvas (which had no evidence of any collaboration), is now probably wrapped somewhere in the basement of the Australian High Commission in Delhi!  Extremely unfortunately, Jangarh committed suicide while feeling isolated on an artists’s residency in Japan in 2001.  His son is now getting recognized for his own art, but unfortunately, other tribal artists I saw this time seemed to be imitating Jangarh’s unique visual vocabulary…

Later in January 2011, I am going to exhibit my collection of Indian art at the Cross Arts Projects, Kings Cross – a small exhibition to mostly work out what to do with it, and enjoy!

My mother, Pat Bourke, in Jaipur in 1990

MUM: Another adventure I had was with my mother who adored her trip to India in 1990 and was just ecstatic when she rode an elephant.  She has long been truly fascinated by elephants which I am only now beginning to fully understand and share in her enthusiasm.

INDIA:  I have been asked how different I found India after 10 years – and I didn’t find it very different.  What I had forgotten was just how alive Indians are!  They are just going for it – often against great odds, and mostly with a smile on their faces.  Traffic and queues (and queue jumpers) can of course test one’s patience.  There is apparently a huge increase in the middle class and it is good if more people have better lives and greater educational opportunities.  The GNP is projected to be 9% for the coming year.  Unfortunately, not everyone shares in this wealth, and the gap between rich and poor has widened.  I noticed a lot of zippy little new cars and some new flyovers, and some instant suburbs, but basic infrastructure like roads seemed as run down as ever, and many open drains and worrying loose cables.

This woman slept on the pavement each night opposite my hotel

Many people were fascinated with a recent documentary (Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour) that looked at the slums of Mumbai, where it is expected over 8 million people will live by next year.  There is  85% employment in the slums, and most interestingly, a very strong sense of community that has been lost in wider suburbia, and that architects and city planners would like to replicate.  I noticed two women sleep on the pavement opposite my hotel each night, probably after a day of sorting garbage, and could only imagine what their lives are like.

80 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 don’t go to school.  Over a million schools have no buildings, or one teacher only, or no water or basic amenities.

But again, I can only reiterate my admiration for how well India works…given the challenges and the weight of  the population.

Morning prayers

READING: I very much enjoyed reading Nine Lives by William Dalrymple.  I had previously enjoyed his history of Delhi, The City of Djinns.  He is interested in how modern India is impacting on the past and traditions, and looks at nine extraordinary lives, and their religious and spiritual experiences.  These include a middle class woman who has found fulfillment living in a cremation ground, and a temple dancer who is worshipped as an incarnate deity for 2 months of the year, but is a prison warden for the remainder.  One of the many unique things about India is how, unlike most other cultures, the present is not disconnected from the past. Their mythological stories and epics are renewed, reinterpreted and evolving, with the Ramayan for example, a very popular television serial in the 1980s.

I loved the quote in the book from Shah Abdul Lalif a C18th Sufi master (especially as there was a recent hysterical wave of share-buying  in an Indian coal company): “Deal only with things that are good. If you trade coal, you will be covered in soot.  But if you trade musk, you will smell of perfume”.

One of my favourite writers is the grumpy but amusing VS Naipaul who I first read when I went to India.  I loved his writing as a returning  (for the first time) Trinidad-born Indian.  An Area of Darkness (1964) – I love the quote, “To be in Bombay was to be exhausted”, and then India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977).  Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger)  recently wrote that Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990) was “so compassionate, so insightful in it’s vision of India as a land that grows through strife” that Indians forgave Naipaul his criticisms and fully embraced him.

Good news is that Vikram Seth is writing A Suitable Girl to be published in 2013!

HOLIDAY READING: Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild, David Suzuki’s The Legacy (I like his mantra of “clean air, clean water and clean food”) and familiarising myself with the intelligent and very relevant work of  Tim Jackson and Wade Davis, starting with their TED Talks.

COLABA: In Mumbai I rarely leave the beautiful harbour suburb of Colaba, near the now unfortunately infamous Taj Hotel, and the Gateway of India.  Although people still sleep in the street there, or camp beside buildings, I did find it rather odd to see in this suburb with some of the most valuable real estate in the world,  rather beautiful black and white goats tethered to fences.  I then realised that it was Eid-ul-Azha (EID) and they were to be sacrificed.  I was extremely upset.

Kittens at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter on Kukur Tihar

CAMPAIGNS: At the same time I was emailed about Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East, and for EID were also killed cruelly.  You can watch a most disturbing report that was recently screened, and to add your voice of protest email the Australian Government, click here.  We are complicit in this trade…and these “sacrifices”.


Unfortunately, I have just received this email and the permit has been renewed.
“Hi Ace
I want to apologize for not writing to you sooner. Between work being crazy (have been busy at both jobs) and the news about Tony, I got somewhat backed up with getting emails out.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries renewed their permit to Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin on December 14, 2010. While it is very disappointing, I am not discouraged and will continue to do whatever I can to try to help Tony.
Here is the link to the article about the permit renewal:
I am trying to keep people on Tony’s Facebook page interested and supportive, asking them to write to the contacts on this list and voice their objections to the permit renewal:
I don’t want people to forget about Tony.
I want to thank you for caring and supporting Tony, and for giving his story more exposure on your blog. It means so much to me and I hope we can continue corresponding.
I hope your Mom is well. I have a rare day of from work today; just home with my cats trying to update things online and respond to emails.
Please keep in touch – have a great holiday.
Dee DeSantis”
OPRAH: Australia has had Oprah fever and she got an unbelievable reception here.  I’ve been enjoying remembering when we went on her show last year, actually sitting beside her, meeting attractive Gayle King, and fellow guest Facebooks’ Mark Zuckerberg, this year’s TIME Magazine Person of the Year.  I promise I don’t know anyone who goes around shouting Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

I love Derek Cattani's Christmas card

Whatever your beliefs or indulgences, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings etc, I hope you have an enjoyable break with your families and pets.  I’m most appreciative that many of you find the time to read my blog, and respond and comment –  I love your animal stories and photographs!  Can I thank many of you for drawing my attention to interesting stories and issues and relevant campaigns.  Let’s try to make a difference next year, and I especially want Tony the tiger to be freed!  My best wishes for a more peaceful and a more sustainable 2011.