Dickie Minyintiri Kanyalakutjina (Euro tracks)

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

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

2011 Telstra Art Award Bobby West Tjupurrula_Untitled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charaxes Australis AMS 193/18 original watercolour by Helena Scott

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

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

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

Chelepteryx Collesi AMS 193/92 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

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

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

Polio Festiva AMS 193/14 original watercolour by Harriet Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dewey by Vicki Myron

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

Marley & Me by John Grogan

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

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

Marley taught them about unconditional love.

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

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

Koko in Red Dog

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

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

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  www.innocentarctic.com.  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