Shattered Diamonds by Emma Rowan-Kelly

I very much enjoyed the recent photographic exhibition innocentarctic in Sydney by Emma Rowan-Kelly, and you can see other marvellous images on  Although her photographs raise issues of climate change with melting glaciers and shrinking animal habitats, they were an antidote to the world’s news.   Like many of you, I have woken each day for months now and immediately and with trepidation listened to or watched the news.  How high did the flood rise?  Did the cyclone do as much damage as they feared?  Have they found any more survivors from the earthquake and tsunami?  How high are the radiation levels?  How many demonstrators in the Middle East have been shot?  Has Dictator X gone?  Is America actually supportive of  these pro-democracy uprisings?

I feel depressed by the unrelenting human (and no doubt animal) losses and dispossession through these natural disasters, and apart from making donations, feel totally impotent.  I am in awe witnessing the courage and sacrifices in the Middle East as these people struggle for freedoms most of us just assume.  And then I feel guilty for feeling down – I’m alive.  Those I love are safe.  I live in a beautiful place.  I’m not wet or cold or hungry or homeless, or being shot at.

JAPAN & LIBYA ETC: Japanese stoicism, bravery and calmness is extraordinary.  Over a quarter of a million people are still homeless.  Men are sacrificing their lives battling with the damaged nuclear reactors in the service of their country.  Their economy has been underperforming for decades – let’s hope the government has the will, innovation and resources to rebuild in a way that stimulates the economy.  The Japanese have done it before.

Wasn’t it nerve-wracking waiting to see if the United Nations would act in time to protect Libyan civilians?  The confusion over the  leadership and what the actual objectives are, is extremely disquieting.  The Arab League evaporated like the mirage they seem to be.  Tony Blair, who has championed Gaddafi’s international rehabilitation, is understandably quiet.  I fear a stalemate and “mission creep”, or worse.  Are we in another war?  Let’s not forget the people in Bahrain and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia sent in troops against the people. These governments are too useful for the US and any pro-democracy actions are not likely to receive any support from them whatsoever.  What happens in Syria seems to be a very influential factor in the US/Israel/Iran political complexities.  After the fiasco of Iraq, if America actually supported these popular uprisings against such repressive regimes, (rather than their hypocritical very calculated responses, like their calls for “stability”), they would have the opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Arab world.  My friend in Cairo is already depressed by what is looking like a continuation of the status quo in Egypt, with as little change as possible and real democratic change a long way off.  He reports that the Muslim Brotherhood are certainly active, but may be splitting into factions due to generational and ideological differences.

SAYONARA NUCLEAR: It will for the time being be much harder to argue in favour of nuclear energy.  I was surprised to read that the 55 Japanese nuclear reactors supply only 20-30% of Japan’s electricity, while oil provides 50%.  There are proposals for two new reactors to be built in the same earthquake zone, on the coast and one is beside an active volcano!  While nuclear is in some respects “cleaner” than coal – radiation leaks notwithstanding,  the issue of nuclear radiation waste is entirely unresolved.  Astoundingly, it has not even been mentioned lately.  Google tells me there are 507 nuclear reactors in the world, and it is estimated nuclear waste is estimated to remain hazardous for 240,000 years!  What an appalling legacy to leave future generations.  I live within 20 kilometres of Australia’s only nuclear reactor, but while nuclear energy is mentioned in the energy debate, neither political party in Australia has proposed building any more reactors at this stage, or dared specify a particular location.  Hypocritically, we are the world’s third biggest exporter of uranium which earns us a billion dollars each year.

 JULIAN ASSANGE: Julian recently tweeted that the article on him by Robert Manne  in The Monthly magazine was “easily the best” – and the site crashed!  Click here to read the article. Robert Manne is a highly respected academic  and he thoroughly examines Julian’s life, influences, philosophical development and ambitions.  Not surprisingly, Assange believes that Western political and economic elites offer “a counterfeit conception of democracy and a soul-destroying consumption culture”.  The state does “what it can get away with” but also “what we let it get away with”.  Manne says that WikiLeaks and the idea of whistleblowers from all countries passing on information (securely) is one of the few original ideas in politics, but Assange hoped for an “engaged analysis from the blogosphere” which hasn’t happened, and instead he thinks “indifferent narcissists” repeat “the views of the mainstream media on the “issues de jour” with an additional flourish along the lines of “their pussy cat predicted it all along”.  This sounds frighteningly like me!

Vanity Fair (the Justin Bieber issue) has an article on the difficult collaboration between Assange and newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times who published some of the leaked cables. These leaks have “changed the way people think about how the world is run” – and it would be fascinating to read some current US cables now!  While he is playing a very dangerous game and his life could be in danger, Assange appears dictatorial, manipulative and secretive – so much for “transparency”!  As this isn’t a gossipy blog, I haven’t confessed before to knowing Assange’s father John Shipton for years.

Poor Private Bradley Manning – in solitary confinement, stripped naked and woken regularly sounds like torture to me.  Wasn’t it more remiss of the authorities to allow a kid such easy access to such sensitive material?  I read there was a protest outside his prison with activists including Daniel Ellsburg arrested, and that a Bradley Manning Support Network has been created.

FAR RIGHT: In the same issue of VF, there is an article on the Far Right, called That’s Political Entertainment.  “The old punditocracy, grounded in facts, credentials, and rational debate, has been overpowered by a new breed of political entertainer, who deals in raw emotion”.  These people “aren’t trying to change the way people think… they don’t want their audiences to think at all”.  In France, Sarkozy has forced  the deportation of Romas, and Le Pen’s clever and more polished daughter Marine is probably more dangerous than her father.  Multiculturalism has now been declared a failure in other European countries including Germany, but fortunately,  a majority of Australians realise multiculturalism has been highly successful and beneficial here.  The US has the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and Fox News amongst others.  In Australia, the shock jocks are getting noticeably shriller, encouraged rather than restrained by some conservative politicians.  Recently a small but vocal motley collection of people brandishing  and shouting ugly slogans were bussed to Canberra to protest ostensibly against a carbon tax. 

The Climate Change “debate” is very much back on the agenda here but it is extremely frustrating.  A few years ago a majority of people in Australia believed in human-induced global warming, and like many other countries, including China, we should now be discussing and implementing urgent changes and reforms, not arguing if climate change exists.

We have just had a NSW State election where the conservative party has had a historic landslide win after 16 years. They say governments lose elections rather than oppositions win them, and this government became blind to the effect on the electorate of their years of factional wars, cronyism, scandals and incompetence.  It has been government by spin, the 24 hour media cycle and focus groups, replacing real leadership, long-term vision, planning and the  maintenance of infrastructure. 

My grandfather Ulick Bourke with his Irish wolfhounds Biddy and Mick

 THE DOG WHISPERER:  This series has recently been shown on Australian television and I loved it. Cesar Millan certainly seems effective in identifying and curing psychological problems in dogs, but I would love to go back and see how the dogs and owners are faring after a few weeks or months.  I now have a better understanding of dogs, and the program raised many interesting questions.  Is it our stressed, busy urban lives creating these psychologically damaged dogs and are we looking after them properly?   Is the dog being treated inadvertently as the master of the house, or the baby, and is this appropriate?  Some dogs require much more exercise than others, while others want to be given a “job”.  Are we sometimes unwittingly rewarding bad or neurotic behaviour?  As a cat owner, other rules apply of course, but I certainly spoil mine.  Cesar got bitten several episodes in a row, and dog teeth are frightening.  I was badly bitten on my hands in 2009 when a Staffordshire got her leg caught in a fence, and I should have known not to attempt to rescue a dog on my own, despite the circumstances.

There is a boom in puppy farming in Australia – apparently 500,000 each year, often bred under very unnatural circumstances, yet 250,000 dogs and cats, most of which would make lovely family pets, are euthanized each year.  It is a metaphor for our lives unfortunately. 

Pure White by Emma Rowan-Kelly


 VALE: Knut, Berlin’s world-famous polar bear who was rejected by his mother and reared by hand has recently died, aged 4.  He was enormously popular, generating millions of dollars for the zoo, but the constant attention and the unnatural life in a zoo caused abnormal behaviour and probably premature death.  I think the zoo failed badly in their duty to care for him properly as he was constantly tormented in his enclosure by 3 older female bears, including his mother.  The suggestion of having him stuffed is so indecent I can hardly bear to mention it.

VALE:  Elizabeth Taylor was one of the great movie stars of the Twentieth Century.  I particularly remember Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Suddenly Last Summer, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  She was one of the earliest AIDS activists.  A friend sent me this link to a marvellous article by Camille Paglia who likened Taylor to “a luscious, opulent, ripe fruit”, and she very amusingly compares her to other stars past and present. Click here





CHRISTIAN THE LION YouTube: Click on the image for Christian’s Reunion.

I recently read many of the comments posted on this site.  We are grateful to Lisa Williams for originally posting the reunion footage on YouTube, and TadManly2 for reposting (twice) and adding the Whitney Houston back track which especially helped it go viral.  YouTube deleted his original account “because I’d posted a few of my favourite film clips” and we too regretted the 20 million plus hits and 20,000 comments that vanished!  Most of the comments were very touching, and in general so positive and life affirming.  A few people claimed the footage is faked, but I think the footage exists as one continuous take. I can assure everyone it is true – I was there!

I’m glad people enjoyed viewing Christian’s documentary again recently in Australia, and Danni Minogue tweeted it was being shown and was “one of my all time fave documentaries”.

LIONS: American hunters are emerging as a strong and growing threat to the survival of lions, killing them for sport and trophies.  One hundred years ago there were approximately 200,000 lions in Africa, and now estimates are between 23,000  to 40, 000.  There are 70% fewer lions since Christian 40 years ago.  Shrinking habitats and conflicts with local villagers are also factors, but between 1999 and 2008 64% of the 5663 lions killed for sport went to the US.

EARTH HOUR:  I think turning off the lights for an hour around the world is an admirable global initiative, and the chance to think about some of the implications of our increasingly unsustainable lifestyles.  I walked around Bundeena for an hour and I must say far too many lights were on!  With less electricity we would obviously watch less television, and spend less time on the computer.  We should insulate our houses more effectively, install solar panels and water tanks, grow our own fruit and vegetables, and use public transport.  I think we would have more time, and talk more to each other, and possibly be closer and more effective communities.  Lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and reducing our carbon emissions will be extremely difficult.  Why is there seemingly so little investment in research and development for alternative energy technologies?  Isn’t it time to really demonstrate our human ingenuity?  

Serrated Reflection by Emma Rowan-Kelly