Jon Lewis Echidna – Damien Minton Gallery

Jon Lewis Echidna – Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney until 26 May 2012

JON LEWIS: It is the annual Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, and there have been photography exhibitions everywhere.  I love this echidna image by Jon Lewis from his exhibition From the Ranges at Damien Minton Gallery.  He has lovingly and poetically photographed the land around where he lives in country NSW.  His Classic Bondi portraits from the mid 1980s are also on show at the Bondi Pavilion until June 3rd.  Jonny is a well known photographer and conservation activist of long standing. See his website here.

THE INTERVENTION: I wrote about the Intervention in Aboriginal communities last time – you can protest against it here, especially as the Stronger Futures legislation to extend the Intervention is currently being debated in the Senate.

Noel Pearson is an influential Aboriginal leader and the Intervention seemed to emerge from his unexpected relationship with John Howard in his last year as PM.  He has been an articulate critic of indigenous welfare dependency, but the cancellation of Community Development Employment Projects ( a form of subsidised employment)  has left many in remote communities without employment and the ability to make a much needed contribution to the community.  Noel Pearson writes regularly for The Australian – on a wide variety of topics, and I did wonder why academic Marcia Langton, another influential Aboriginal leader, thought it was necessary to recently write  her defensive “Why I continue to be inspired by Pearson” article for the same paper.

The Intervention is very unpopular with few positive results so far.  In some respects it contravenes human rights, and was an opportunistic and clumsily implemented unsuitable one-size-fits-all paradigm.  Aboriginal community leaders who were not initially even consulted, need to be listened to about their particular priorities, ideas and solutions. The challenge is to create an economic basis for these remote communities – and not relocate them off their traditional lands to “growth centres”.

Buyku 2011 - Natural Earth pigments on incised laminate board

Buyku by Gunybi Ganambarr at Annandale Galleries.

I think some of the most exciting Aboriginal art being made today is by the painters on bark from North East Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory.  Among quite a few very talented “young guns” is the innovative Gunybi Ganambarr.  He is true to his traditional values and beliefs but imaginatively uses new conceptual approaches and mediums to express them. For example, Buyky (above) is natural earth pigments but on incised laminate board.  See more dazzling paintings from his exhibition from my mind online at Annandale Galleries, Sydney  and Ganambarr is one of 20 artists in the overdue and just opened UnDisclosed, the second National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra until 22nd July.

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: The case was back in court recently but I can’t quite decipher the result or the next step. It seems it’s at the discretion of the state government whether or not they enforce Tony’s relocation.  It just drags on and on.  Does the local press follow Tony’s case sympathetically – if at all?

ROSS GITTINS: I often read (and quote) Ross Gittins, an economics journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, as he appreciates we live primarily in a society, rather than an economy.  He has just been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney.

Gittins recently wrote about some fundamental differences between European and American approaches to life.  It helped me understand some of the very occasional emails I get about “infringements of my freedoms”, and complaints about “big government” etc.

A sample of Europeans and Americans were asked: “Which was more important – being free to pursue your life’s goals without interference from the state, or for the state to play an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody was in need”.

In the US, 58% favoured individual freedom, and 35% favoured ensuring nobody was in need.  It was the reverse in Europe where in Britain, for example, only 38% favoured individual freedom.

Interestingly, despite the American belief in the opportunities open to all citizens, and President Obama’s example, Americans actually have the lowest degree of social mobility.

Gittins accepts, as I do, “the need for the community to pull together towards common objectives, for us to be led by our elected leaders and for the better-off to be required to assist the less-well-off.  I don’t resent having the taxman redistribute a fair bit of my income to those less fortunate”.  He concludes that overall the ideal attitude to life lies somewhere in the middle. Read the full article here.

SURVEYS & REPORTS: In other recent surveys:  apparently we worry most about our careers; the majority of people think at the end of their lives that they worked too hard and should have spent more time with their families; and at present there is only a “middling” concern in the community for the environment.

There have been recent reports on how the education system is failing to engage with many indigenous and non indigenous teenagers alike, and the judicial system is failing them with high rates of incarceration and recividism.  There is an epidemic of marginalised and quite fearless young people – a danger to themselves, and the community.  Sydney has also had nearly nightly drive-by shootings in the suburbs.

Jenny Kee

Jenny Kee shone at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

JENNY KEE: Unusually for me, I attended Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia to see my friend Jenny Kee’s showing of her famous silk scarves – draped extravagantly around motionless models that we walked around.  It was both reminiscent of the excitement of her fashion parades for Flamingo Park (with Linda Jackson) decades ago, and something new – and a new younger audience who have discovered her. See her scarves here.  I’m not sure if Fashion Week drew many international heavyweights – but bloggers got a lot of attention – especially Bryanboy – who interpreted a tweet from one of our local glamazons as a real death threat.  Checking out their sites, I loved Tommy Ton’ photographs in  The Word on the Street and his pick of the best off-runway fashion statements of 2011.

In New York an exhibition of the work of two Italian fashion iconoclasts Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli (who could not be more dissimilar) has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Typically Miuccia Prada has said she does not like fashion and wishes she had found a job doing something important!   She is a very interesting woman and hopefully her $6.8 billion fortune may one day go towards something she regards as “important”.

AUSTRALIA: We have just had a rather clever sleight of hand (projected) return to surplus budget.  It seemed to compensate people for the upcoming carbon tax and supposedly spread some of the mineral wealth.  A return to surplus was a foolish, inhibiting promise at a time when economies around the world need stimulation for growth – particularly in Europe.  Two tacky sex scandals involving parliamentarians continued to get most of the media attention however, as their votes are crucial in the knife-edge hung parliament.

Despite the endlessly negative (and policy free) commentary from our Opposition, our economy is the envy of the world, especially in comparison to the extremely alarming eurozone crisis, which is already having global repercussions for us all.

I like the cultural diversity (and number of women) in the new cabinet in France, and M. Hollande’s call for more economic stimulation and growth rather than more austerity.

CSG: A recent rally outside Parliament House NSW called for tougher restrictions on the epidemic of coal and coal seam gas mining.  It seems no area, even prime agricultural land, is off limits.  Interesting to see usually conservative country people protesting and seeing, as the new leader of the Greens Christine Milne pointed out, that they have a lot in common with environmentalists.

Koala at Taronga Zoo. Images sourceed from Taronga Zoo.

Koala at Taronga Zoo

KOALAS:  Koalas are now officially “vulnerable” and  “endangered” in various parts of the eastern states of Australia.  I’m not sure just how much environmental protection this will provide, but in twenty years numbers in NSW have fallen from 31,400 to 21,000 in 2010, a decline of 33%.

In NSW, the government is considering allowing minors to hunt feral animals with knives, dogs and high-powered hunting bows in the National Parks – so the government can secure necessary votes from the Shooters Party on other legislation.

BEES: It is of great concern that bee numbers seem to be declining dramatically globally and this would of course be disastrous for the food chain.  65% of our agricultural production in Australia depends on pollination by European honey bees.  AVAAZ recently began a campaign against the use of pesticides by Bayer, and a link has been found between another common agricultural pesticide (containing imidacloprid), and colony collapse disorder in which adult bees abandon hives.

PRINCE WILLIAM: Nice to see a new patron for conservation and in a recent speech Prince William wanted to “sound a rallying call”  that in Africa there are only 600,000 elephants, 25,000 lions (halved from 20 years ago) and 12,000 cheetahs left.

MISC STATS: 7000 languages are now spoken in the world but only 600 are expected to survive until the end of the century; in the UK despite double dip recession and record unemployment the richest 1000 people are $643.5 billion richer; in Australia under 1% of the population are problem gamblers, but they contribute 40% of poker machine revenue; 37% of Australian people with taxable incomes of $1 million or more make no donations at all; 31.96% of us sign up for organ donation however; there are fewer than 200 violins made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, and 650 by Stradivarius – all worth many millions of dollars.

OBAMA: Congratulations for “evolving” into your support for same-sex marriage, the first American President to do so.

Jon Lewis Dooloogool

Jon Lewis Dooloogool


How many times did you both visit Christian in Africa and when was he last seen?

When we were revising and updating A Lion Called Christian in 2009, even we were sometimes confused about some details of particular visits especially 40 years later!  Luckily my mother kept all my letters from that period and that helped us as did subsequently published books.  We returned Christian to Kenya in August 1970. After a few weeks we left him with George Adamson to get him used to us not being there, and went on a two week safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  We returned to Kora where Christian was very happy to see us.  Although the big lion Boy was still not fully accepting Christian, there had been an improvement and we were confident enough to leave him and return to London.

We returned one year later in July 1971 to a marvellous and enthusiastic reception from Christian that has become known as the  “YouTube” reunion and became an internet sensation. We returned again in August 1972 for another visit with Christian. He was now three years old, and was growing more independent and into one of the biggest lions George had ever seen. He had cleverly and courageously survived those early dangerous years. The relentless opposition from the local wild lions at Kora meant George’s male lions increasingly spent extended periods away from the camp.  John returned to Kora again later in 1973, but Christian had not been seen since earlier in the year. George last saw him heading off in the direction of the more hospitable Meru National Park which was a much more conducive area for Christian to establish his own territory and pride.

Presuming this happened, Christian would not have been able to leave his pride unattended and return to Kora to see his friends George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn who he loved. There were never any news or sightings of Christian again. He had grown into such a big and strong lion we hope he may have lived at least another 8 years, and that his progeny may be in Kenya today.

CHRISTIAN: See this recent interview on the BBC – John is interviewed in London in Christian’s garden, and the relocated Sophistocat furniture shop. I loved Virginia McKenna, star of Born Free saying that Christian was “one of the most beautiful young lions I had ever seen. There was just something about him….” I agree!

For a more detailed description of our return visits to Christian – and answers to other frequently asked questions, see our 2009 edition of A Lion Called Christian which can be purchased  here.

Christian is mentioned in the excellent books I know some of you have been reading: My Pride and Joy by George Adamson (Collins Harvill 1986); The Great SafariThe Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House ( Morrow 1993); The Life in My Years by Virginia McKenna (Oberon 2009); and the Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild (Viking 2010).

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.