The killing fields: Conservation Rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in July 2007. Photo: Brent Stirton.

The killing fields: Conservation Rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in July 2007. Photograph by Brent Stirton, 2007.

Wildlife photographer Brent Stirton has won the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year award for 2014, for the second year in a row.  See here for a selection of Stirton’s work including Living with Lions, a series of photographs addressing the contentious issue of farming lions for Canned Hunting in Africa.  A warning: some of these photographs are very graphic and upsetting.

TONY THE TIGER: See this recent “raw video” of Tony the Tiger in his cage at the increasingly notorious truckstop in Louisiana filmed 22 October 2014.  Tony eats in a desultory way…and then quietly moves to a more shaded (and hopefully more private) part of his cage.  How much longer will he be in this cage?  He deserves a better life and we have to keep fighting for him.

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Day 1 – Willy wagtail with eggs in the nest

WILLY: Again this year some of us have been anxiously following the lives of Willy the wagtail and her chicks in the garden of Sylvia Ross in Sydney.  Luckily Sylvia is an excellent artist and photographer and she is going to publish a small book of  her daily photographs (or post on Facebook) entitled  in Plain Sight – 28 Days.  The mother tries to protect her three chicks from various dangers – from extreme heat to other birds such as currawongs, for 14 days as an egg, and 14 days after hatching.

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AUSTRALIA/ CLIMATE CHANGE: Our PM recently declared to the world that “coal was good for humanity”.  Predictably, the Renewable Energy Target is to be lowered.  A climate change denier (Richard Warburton) was selected to head the review into the RET, and PM Abbott is doing his best to destroy the renewable energy market. This is at a time when there is a new wave of international momentum to act…

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Mother protecting a chick from heat

It is very depressing having a government in denial about climate change and proud of abolishing a carbon tax while many countries in the world are moving in the opposite direction. The government has invented a pretend solution “Direct Action”, where the government PAYS the big polluters to cut emissions if they want to!  This has now passed parliament. I have not read one reputable economist, scientist, expert, or commentator – excluding some journos working for Rupert Murdoch of course – that support this scheme.  There has been no modelling, no costings, no explanations….

During intense and dangerous bushfires last year our PM even disputed the fact that fires and extreme weather conditions were becoming more frequent and intense.

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Mother on guard

ACF: Geoffrey Cousins has just been appointed head of the Australian Conservation Fund, the country’s largest environmental lobby.  He sees the primary purpose of the ACF at the moment is to lead the opposition to the government’s “shameful” lack of action on climate change and environmental issues. Cousins is interesting – a successful conservative advertising/business man who even advised John Howard in office, but  who cares deeply about the environment.  He has shown in the past to be a formidable opponent – he led the successful campaign against a pulp mill on the Derwent River in Tasmania, and against the Woodside gas hub in the Kimberley, West Australia.  He was a young teacher at my school but has erased this from his CV….

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The only survivor

DIVESTMENT: There was a furore when the Australian National University decided to divest their shares in fossil fuel companies from their portfolio. This is growing as a movement – from the Rockefellers to Stanford University. Let’s hope coal becomes a “stranded asset” soon.  Apparently coal still supplies 82% of the world’s energy needs and is regarded as “cheap” – although the infrastructure surrounding it is actually very expensive compared to some other energy sources.

In a recent survey of Australian business company directors, 50% rated the government’s performance as “poor” or “very poor”. This is a very alarming statistic for a government supposedly close to business. The ill-conceived  and very badly received budget is still struggling to get through parliament.

Day 14 - Willy wagtail

About to leave the nest

IPCC: The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change states unequivocally that fossil fuels must be phased out by the end of the century.  I think a majority of people believe urgent action is required. With Obama, the EU, China and many other countries now seriously committed, and UN meetings coming up in Lima then Paris, Australia is very much “on the wrong side of history”.

Despite Australia’s best efforts to exclude it, climate change just made it on to the agenda for the upcoming G20 meeting of world leaders in Brisbane next weekend.  This meeting could be interesting in many ways – from various protests to our PM’s juvenile threat to “shirt- front” Russia’s Putin.

As I lay back on my Ancestral Land, 2013, Courtesy Tracey Moffatt, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, GOMA

From the series ‘As I lay back on my Ancestral Land’, Tracey Moffatt 2013, Digital Print. Courtesy  Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, GOMA.

TRACEY MOFFATT: I recently went to Brisbane for the opening of Tracey Moffatt’s exhibition Spirited at the Gallery of Modern Art.  I follow her career with fascination.  Many of the art works referenced places and memories from Tracey growing up in suburban Brisbane, Queensland, and her family connections to land. She has a new video series Art Calls where she interviews artists or people that interest her by skype. The interviews are very informative and often amusing and will soon be on ABC online.

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CATS & KAKADU:  There are apparently 20 million feral cats in Australia, and it is claimed they kill 75 million mammals each day (that’s 4 mammals per cat).  The new Commissioner for Threatened Species is turning his attention to the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory where the loss of so many animals is attributed to feral cats, foxes and fires.  Apparently fire management is completely out of date, and there are too many weeds contributing to “inappropriate” fires which then leave threatened species exposed and  unprotected.  I can foresee a time when cats are going to be banned or are to be entirely kept  inside – watching cartoons on television!

RICHARD FLANAGAN: Congratulations to Richard Flanagan for winning the Man Booker prize for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In his acceptance speech he said the environmental record and support for the coal industry by our present government made him “ashamed to be Australian”.

Well done champion cyclist Cadel Evans for supporting wind farms in South Australia, a state that is serious about renewable energy.

Also congratulations to that extraordinary young girl Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi from India for sharing the Nobel Peace Prize.  Asylum-seeker/refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC from Melbourne has just won the 2014 Sydney Peace Prize.

EBOLA: Ebola has to be tackled at its source which is the three African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The still inadequate global response has been yet another failure by the international community, and even initially by the World Health Organisation. While the Australian Government was itching to go and drop “humanitarian” weapons in Iraq, it has equivocated over responding to this terrible disease.  The government has finally been shamed into donating a field hospital in Sierra Leone. The government still seems reluctant to send Australian medical personnel although hundreds have volunteered.  It now emerges that we were asked months ago by the USA,UK and some African countries to do more…

Mark Zuckerberg has generously given $27.05 million and Paul Allen (Microsoft) $100 million.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory. Photograph by Mervyn Bishop.

WHITLAM: A former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam recently died at 98.  He reformed the Labor Party and won power for them in 1972 after 23 years in opposition.  He initiated many policies and reforms that we take for granted today.  There are too many to list but they include free tertiary education (which transformed many lives), free healthcare, Aboriginal land rights and he was one of the first leaders to visit and recognise China.  Whitlam changed Australia.

On his death both sides of parliament spoke graciously about him, and many of them seemed to have been politicised by him – either way!  His achievements in a few short years make our current leaders and representatives look timid and mediocre. We have been reminded of what real leadership looked like.  Words commonly used to describe him were “brave”, “courageous”, and “visionary”.  Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor General in 1975 and this remains highly controversial today. He was replaced by Malcolm Fraser who I did not regard as a good Prime Minister, but who has seemingly become less conservative and been a more effective and engaged elder statesman than Whitlam.

Unfortunately there was a world economic downturn as Whitlam implemented many of his reforms and policies, and while Whitlam is justifiably criticised for his haste and economic management, the next (Fraser) government inherited a zero net government debt.

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia

At the recent memorial service Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson’s spoke very eloquently about what Whitlam initiated and achieved for Aboriginal people.  Pearson also noted that Whitlam who had an upper-middle class background was intent on giving everyone more equal opportunities.  The actress Kate Blanchett said it was Whitlam’s changes to education that allowed her to discover acting, and that she also benefited from his enlightened attitude to the role of women in society, Australia’s cultural life and our place in the world.  The painting Blue Poles is a good example of Whitlam’s contribution to Australia’s cultural life. It was a huge scandal when he permitted the National Gallery of Australia to purchase Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for $1.3 million in 1973.  The painting has since become a “destination” at the NGA,  and is now valued anywhere between $30 to $100 million dollars.

Melanie Griffith with her pet lion, Neil, in 1970s. Image courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Michael Rougier

Melanie Griffith with her pet lion, Neil, in 1970s. Image courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Michael Rougier

I love this photograph of Melanie Griffith who grew up with this lion Neil in the 1970s.  Neil is so beautiful,and I love all the photographs of course (see here), especially her sleeping with the lion – or the lion tail hanging down from the bed!  Her mother Tippi Hedren (who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) founded The Roar Foundation in 1983 to support the Shambala Preserve in California to educate about the “dangers of private ownership of exotic animals”.

Tippi Hedron with pet lion, Neil

Tippi Hedren with pet lion, Neil

MELBOURNE CUP: We have just had  the running of the Melbourne Cup, described as “the race that stops a nation”. Horses are so beautiful and magnificent and my sister and I enjoyed riding when we were young.  As I watched the races during the day I wondered if the horses liked racing and were naturally competitive.  I suspect some do love it.  While some horses before and after their races looked around and appeared to enjoy the crowd and the attention, others were more skittish.  There are always love stories, like the 2 men who always accompany the 9 year old Red Cadeaux on his world travels and who said he is the nicest, loveliest horse. He came second for the third time!

Admire Rakti

Admire Rakti

The German horse Protectionist won very convincingly, but the favourite Admire Rakti from Japan, after a very fast first half of the race carrying the top weight, faded to last place.  He returned to his stall, sank to his knees and died. He had had a heart attack.  Like many other people I am still very shocked and quite depressed by this.  Another horse Araldo was “spooked” after the race by a flag waved in his face and  he broke a leg and had to be put down. A horse also died after this race last year.

While some of the horses are loved and pampered, my main criticisms are:  many horses never succeed or break down from being raced too young (or in inappropriate races) and are sent to the knackery; the use of the whip is cruel; and “jumps” racing is just too dangerous.  Is horse racing just yet another example of us using animals cruelly for our own entertainment?

Racing is also highly dangerous for the jockeys and  two female riders have died in Australia in the last few weeks.

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On a cheerier note, my sister recently found this photograph of my first cat.  I found him in the vacant allotment next door when I was about 10.  He was probably “feral” and was quite rough and tough. I loved him and admired his independent spirit.  We always had dogs in our family, but my favourite book when very young was Orlando the Marmalade Cat.  This cat was my introduction to the wonderful world of cats and I have had at least one cat in my life ever since!

Thanks to Deb, Tim, Francois and Sylvia Ross especially for sending some of the images used on this blog, and to many others for your emails, news and images.

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Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

The world is mourning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with those innocent passengers, and their families and friends – so many people are touched by this event.  In Australia we have lost 37 people.  Unfortunately, conflict in the Middle East is also claiming many innocent civilians and it is hard not to feel extremely depressed at the moment about the human condition.

Migaloo the whale

Migaloo the whale

WHALES: Meanwhile, life for most of us goes on, and the whales, including albino Migaloo, continue their migration north along our eastern coast. One whale beached itself and after the efforts of many people over several days, finally swam off. The “debate” on whaling at the Australian National Maritime Museum was most interesting with a first-hand account by Jon Lewis of protests and lobbying which closed the last whaling station at Albany, West Australia in 1978. We also heard from brave participants on the Sea Shepherd fleet up against the Japanese whalers. I don’t think many Japanese actually eat whale meat and I know much is frozen and stored in warehouses. Apart from whaling, another threat to whales is the increasing acidification of the oceans, and the amount of plastic refuse that forms huge islands in the oceans. On exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 1 February 2015) are the marvellous life-size photographs of whales by Bryant Austin.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Ultra nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been in Australia.  Our PM Abbott referred to the Japanese who invaded Sydney Harbour in submarines in the war in 1942.  He said “we admire the skill and sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did”. Needless to say these remarks were not well received by Australian soldiers (or their descendants) who fought in the war or by countries like China that were invaded by Japan. A Chinese Daily newspaper described our Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop “a complete fool” after some of her recent remarks, and predicted that her government won’t last long. Given that the Abbott government has 37 communications and social media specialists (at a cost of $4.3 million and compared to 7 people in the previous government), can’t someone vet these loose cannons? Abbott also recently offended our indigenous population by describing Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” prior to colonisation. But trade apparently trumps all other considerations, and PM Abe was not even questioned over his intention to continue to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

I could not resist this photograph of visitors and a lion at the Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria. They are actually shielded (from each other) by a glass wall. I am ambiguous about zoos even though they have had to make themselves much more relevant in the areas or research and conservation. I try not to be too cute or kitsch in my choice of photographs…sometimes a very fine line I know..

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Despite Amnesty International, the UN and other international human rights agencies documenting in Sri Lanka instances of torture, disappearances, muzzling of journalists, civilian deaths and threats to human rights advocates, our government has blithely returned a boatload of 41 people to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is “peaceful” according to Abbott. The UN has expressed “profound concern” at the actions of the Australian Government. Another 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers that set out in a boat from India are presently in an undisclosed location somewhere at sea in one of our Customs boats. Thirty children are among these people that have been held for four weeks in windowless cabins, while a High Court challenge to this incident is yet to be resolved. Our Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison hides behind 95 spin doctors to ensure we are told nothing! Meanwhile some children are manifesting mental problems in our detention centres and some mothers are self harming.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

I think well known photographer Rosemary Laing captures so powerfully the isolation and forbidding nature of some of our detention centres.  I am ashamed to say most Australians are in favour of our tough and inhumane policy – which has bi-partisan support.  What is wrong with us? Is this the same in your countries? I think of the thousands fleeing into Europe from North Africa (1500 recently in one day), and the 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants detained in recent months for attempting to cross into the USA from Central America. 51 million people are displaced globally.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

LEOPARD: Asa the leopard is the subject of an important “rewilding” exercise in Nepal. Her story is such a typical example of human/wildlife conflict over shrinking natural habitats and the competition for resources. Thanks to Kate who emailed me (below) about Asa and she will be able to give us a firsthand account after her visit to Nepal in November: The leopard is one of the most persecuted and misunderstood of the big cats. In Nepal, a young leopard cub called Asa (which means hope) is the focus of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a collaboration between Wild Tiger Conservation Research and Development, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project.  Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and came into the care of Jack Kinross from Wild Tiger in February this year. Asa soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations. Asa underwent  months of training in a secure area in the Raniban Forest near Pokhara, including daily jungle sessions, and with minimal contact with humans.  It was decided that Asa would be rehabilitated in an area with a good prey base, and away from human habitation, within the Annapurna Conservation Area. After meetings with local communities, Stage 2 of the rewilding process is being launched this month. The rewilding location ensures that Asa, and future leopards in the LRP, will have minimal human contact and the chance to return to their natural habitat. The aim of the LRP is to address the ongoing and complex issues of increasing human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. Follow Asa’s story and the LRP at wildleopard.net and wildtiger.org.

CHEETAHS: Andrew has sent me these two articles on cheetahs (in Africa and Iran) who, like most other wild animals are also competing for habitats and struggling to survive. There may be 12,000 cheetahs left in Africa where they also face the problems arising from the spread of human populations.  There are programs to re-introduce, rehabilitate and “train” cheetahs to be wild. There may be only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs left and they are the world’s second rarest cats. They are smaller and slighter and favour mountainous regions.  There is a concerted effort to protect them in Iran, with 125 game rangers to guard them.  Read here  and here.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

AUSTRALIA: We have had chaos in the Australian Senate with the motley collection of new senators (some are there on preferences with less than 1% of votes) creating havoc for an inept government. People are beginning to realise what a good negotiator ex PM Julia Gilliard was, with all the legislation she steered (undefeated) through a hung parliament. The maverick billionaire MP Clive Palmer is turning out to be everyone’s worst nightmare and it is still not really clear what any of his policies are beyond attracting attention for himself and creating chaos. Even The Australian seemed to have run out of patience with the Government’s incompetence with an Editorial (July 12-13) which was finally critical of the Abbott government’s performance and lack of judgement, as was Peter Van Onselen the previous week (July 5-6) in his article July 5-6 “Abbott trapped in downward spiral all of his making”. The mostly rabid letters to the editor of The Australian call for a double dissolution but with the polls SO low for the government this is most unlikely. 61% of the electorate find the budget “unfair” while Abbott’s approval is between minus 25 and minus 35.

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo.

In The Rise and Fall of Australia, Nick Bryant describes how he was surprised on arrival in Australia several years ago about the inaccuracies of the stereotypes about Australians. According to writer/reviewer Louis Nowra, Bryant found a “confident country that was able to absorb many of the better aspects of British and American culture”. However Bryant is “aghast” at the low level of political debate (which, in the case of Abbott in opposition, did not transcend a few slogans), and poll driven policies and responses. He repeats Donald Horne’s quote that Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people. Bryant (and Nowra) wonder why when we have many talented and clever people and are reasonably sophisticated, we present ourselves in such a corny way to the world – kangaroos, Paul Hogan, meat pies etc.  For example, Barack Obama was given a football by Julia Gilliard and a surfboard by Tony Abbott.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz has been in Australia and fortunately quite ubiquitous. See this article he wrote in the SMH titled Inequality: Good reasons to shun the US model about how inequality is now widely recognised as being bad for both the economy and society more widely. One in four families in America live “in poverty”. He thinks Australia would be mad to follow the USA education and health care models. Deregulating university would be a “crime”, while co payments for medical services would be “absurd”. He doesn’t think any of the “for-profit” universities in the USA are particularly good and that they just exploit poor people and are only good at lobbying. See the charmless Judith Sloan in The Australian for her predictable response to Stiglitz’s ideas titled Emulating the U.S? Don’t our politicians (and the Institute of Public Affairs) read or research anything? Stiglitz urges us to tax BAD things – like carbon emissions and pollution, and INVEST in people. He also countered the myth that we have a “debt crisis” and this is backed up by 25 of Australia’s leading economists who have rejected the government’s inaccurate claim that we have a “budget emergency”. They agree that it is only a medium-term “problem” rather than a “crisis”. Read this article by Gareth Hutchens titled Economists rubbish talk of debt crisis.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake

CARBON TAX REPEAL: While the world moves forward on action on climate change, we move backwards!  I am ashamed to say the government has repealed the carbon tax, leaving us with no policy. It is the power and influence of the fossil–fuel industry that is preventing us moving to renewable energy in what has been described as a third industrial revolution. A recent ABC Four Corners program on energy called Power to the People was depressing in that it showed how dumb Australia’s leadership is compared to so many countries – the US, South Korea, China, Germany etc. But I actually found it heartening in that renewable energy will win! Australia may be left behind and miss the economic opportunities but renewables are unstoppable. While investment in renewable energy is now at a “standstill” in Australia, China poured $US19.3 billion into renewables in the June quarter.  See the article in the SMH by Ross Gittins Australia risking future as fuel fossil. The US electric car Tesla with no emissions presently costs $100,000 but with mass production will soon come down to $30,000. Apple is to be 100% off the grid and powered by its own solar farm. There now exists a large scale solar farm that could provide 90% of Canberra’s power needs. Storage of wind and solar energy etc for peak times (or night) is now practical and with increasing capacity.

Giraffees

Giraffes

The ever helpful Rupert Murdoch has just said Australia should not be building windmills and “all that rubbish”. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist and was one of the first to warn about global warming. Lord Deben, who was in her cabinet and now heads the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called Abbott’s repeal of the carbon tax “appalling” and that the Australian government was “more concerned with advancing its own short term political interests”.  He said that, in contrast, “66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming”. After the repeal of the carbon tax, the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs sent a congratulatory email to supporters saying “we did it”.

Swan with cygnets

Swan with cygnets

MIDDLE EAST:  The extremist fighters of the Islamic State now control a third of both Iraq and Syria, and Israel has invaded Gaza. I’m not going to list the growing and disproportionate number of civilian deaths. According to an article by Ari Shavit who wrote My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Israelis have been living in a safe and prosperous “iron -dome delusion” over the last few years, and are now vulnerable to “irregular forces of irregular entities” on their borders that will “disrupt Israel’s order”.  He is very sad that in the relative quiet of 2009 – 2013 “New thinking was never introduced and fresh ideas were not implemented”. This “undeclared cease fire” offered the opportunity for the major players to create a “unique dynamic for a two state solution”. In an article in the SMH Randa Abdel-Fattah examined the “unwavering” support for Israel by Australia (like America, Europe etc).  She thinks the “peace process” is a “farce” and that with the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, a two state solution is “dead”. While acknowledging rockets have been fired from Gaza, she says “One has to credit a military juggernaut and a covertly nuclear state for its success in framing itself as victim even as it bombs a largely defenceless population”…living in what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

According to the Pew Research Centre, over the last 12 months, fear about Muslim extremism have been rising in nations with large Muslim populations. The exception is Indonesia where only 4 in 10 voiced concern about extremism. What is good, is that the majority are losing patience with Muslim extremism, and realise it is counter- productive for their futures.

Boy and marmot

Boy and marmot

We have just had an excellent SBS 4 part television series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl which traces the history of the Lebanese community in Australia over the last 30 years. Given the difficulties of migrating to another country, racism, the language barrier and a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, inevitably a small percentage has been into drugs, crime and car rebirthing etc. Unfortunately the whole Lebanese community has been tarnished by this small minority and demonised by every “Muslim” incident around the world. It was alarming to be reminded of the racist Cronulla riots in 2005, which happened just across the water from where I live. Hundreds of white Anglo kids went on a drunken rampage baying for blood – whipped up by the appalling shock jock Alan Jones. Ugly revenge attacks followed. The Shire, as our area is called, does not appreciate difference or diversity. Perhaps one can understand how our great swimming champion Ian Thorpe, who has lived in the Shire, felt so inhibited – or frightened, of coming out as gay, when initially asked as a 16 year old.

IRAQ: In a recent article for The Saturday Paper titled The Iraq War’s coalition of the shilling esteemed academic Robert Manne revisits our participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fraudulent reasons for it. He concludes: “The leaders of the Australian war party – John Howard, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander Downer – and their most influential cheerleaders – Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan – bear some responsibility for the deaths of half a million Iraqis…deaths still to come…the unimaginable suffering endured…And yet so far as I am aware – their supreme self-confidence apparently unaffected by the catastrophe they had helped unleash in Iraq – not one of these warriors of the right has expressed even one word of contrition or remorse”. ISIL has now declared an “Islamic State” and are the world’s richest militant group with assets of least $2 billion.

Raju the elephant

Raju the elephant

ELEPHANTS: Raju the elephant has been freed from possibly 50 years of begging for coins. Alerted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India, the North London charity Wildlife SOS travelled to India to free him, which was resisted by Raju’s current owner. Save the Elephant estimates that 33,000 African elephants have been killed annually between 2010-2012. This is driven by the price of ivory having tripled in the last four years. China is the world’s biggest market and the Japanese also have an appetite for it.  Sales of ivory in Bangkok have also nearly trebled in the past year.

INDIA: I have been asked to speak at the conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in September in Jaipur. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the delegates who are doing great work on behalf of animals in India. I have visited India many times and appreciate the magnitude of their challenges. I’m now on the committee of Working for Animals, who runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I blogged about my visit there in 2010. As you can see,the shelters are in the most beautiful locations and the animals are cared for so sympathetically. I accompanied the staff and vets to an outlying area where people brought in there cats and dogs for examinations and treatments etc.  Strategies such as these have eliminated rabies from the surrounding areas. WFA also contribute to the Human Elephant Learning Projects which offer instruction on more appropriate care of elephants, and the Help in Suffering Animal Shelter.

CONGRATULATIONS: Joko Widodo appears to have won  the presidential election in Indonesia. I fear Prabowa Subianto will be a very bad loser. The more I read about him the worse he sounds. Megawati and her daughter seemed a millstone around Joko’s neck during the election and are rather clueless members of an elite I hope Indonesia has now broken free of… Our new “teenage sensation” Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa at Wimbledon in the quarter finals (mixed feelings), but Djokovic beat Federer in a marvellous 5 set match. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

MISC STATS: one person dies every 6 seconds from smoking; according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report Australia has the highest rate of ecstasy use, is 2nd for opioids, 3rd for methamphetamine’s, 4th for cocaine and 7th for cannabis; Tracey Emin’s famous unmade bed My Bed sold for $4.6 million at auction; 60% of Americans own pets and their pet industry is worth $55 billion annually; the Pope estimates 2% of the Roman Catholic clergy are pedophiles, but others say it is closer to 4%; Rebekah Brooks was paid 11 million pounds by Rupert Murdoch –see the ABC Four Corners report on the News of the World phone hacking scandal  Rupert, Rebekah and Andy – it is chilling.

MAIL: Thanks to Kate, Francois, Deb, Elaine, Andrew, Bob, William, Madeleine, MoonieBlues etc for contributions and drawing my attention to articles and images.

VALE:  I met Judy Cuppaidge sailing to New York on the SS France many years ago and we remained great friends. She was a well known landscape architect, horticulturalist, artist, writer cat lover and much else, and will be sadly missed.

WATCHING: On the ABC there is the second series of Art + Soul by curator Hetti Perkins. This series does gives the opportunity to look in some depth at Aboriginal art – the first episode was two artists I especially admire – Daniel Boyd and Jonathan Jones.

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

There was also a poignant story on the ABC about the Big Ears Sanctuary where Jacqui Steele and her partner look after many unwanted animals or pets on 25 acres in Tasmania. For many of us it would be a dream come true with 400 rabbits, cats, donkeys, pigs etc. Unfortunately Jacqui is gravely ill but so far is undeterred although the future is so uncertain.  I think they could use our financial support to continue their excellent work – running costs are $90,000 per year. On 60 Minutes there was a story of the 800 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, Congo. The gorillas have survived nearby civil wars, giant displacements of people, poaching etc and their population has stabilised, even increasing, due to the vigilance of the rangers. However, 150 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. We should all pay tribute to the many devoted rangers in Africa and around the world who literally put their lives on the line for animals. There is a foundation to support them and their families – The Thin Green Line Foundation. Of course the new threat to the gorillas is oil and the UK company SOCO. It is alleged that they have corruptly been given exploration rights over 85% of the park, which would herald the end – for the Park, and for the gorillas.

GORE VIDAL: I attended a screening of Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia with the director Nicholas Wrathall available for questions. It has opened in cinemas in the USA and will be screened shortly on our ABC.  You can view the trailer here. I found it a marvellous documentary and Gore was so intelligent and perceptive.  He was well positioned as the ultimate insider/outsider, with an aristocratic family close to political power, and surrounded by celebrities and famous people.  He was so ahead of his time. He was among the first to warn about many of the issues we are still grappling with: economic inequality (which he spoke of in the 1960s); the almost inescapable power of big corporations; the power of the neo cons; electronic surveillance; American imperialism and how this has inevitably made America a target; and he was scathing about virtually all modern presidents… He was a brilliant writer, was urbane, witty and bitchy – and devastatingly sarcastic about people like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F Buckley. Everything rings so true and is so relevant TODAY!

 Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

This is another still from my footage of our 1972 visit to Christian in Kenya, which was the last time we saw him.  Some of you have inquired about my short, unedited home movie.  In The Final Farewell on YouTube you can see equivalent (and more professional) footage from the same visit, while mine is just a little more close up and loving.

This, surprisingly, was the last time I was in Africa and I’d love to go back soon.  I later discovered India and visited many times, including staging exhibitions and cultural exchanges in India on behalf of the Australian Government.

LIONS: You can sign the AVAAZ petition here to ask President Zuma in South Africa to protect lions by banning the trade in lion bones.  There is of course no evidence these these “potions” have any efficacy.  This trade, like ivory, especially to Asia, just has to be stopped and urgently.  Depressingly, a subspecies of black rhinos, the Western Black rhino has recently been declared “officially extinct”.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

NSW FIRES:  Thanks to many of you who were concerned about the bushfires around Sydney. They are terrifying and to date, it is unbelievable that no-one has died. The fire fighters – many of them volunteers, are heroic. Some fires are still burning and new ones have broken out, but seem “contained” for now.  I have a National Park at the top of my garden, and many many people will be on alert all of this summer.  Apparently people are better prepared about evacuating their pets than they are about themselves.  Horses are a logistical nightmare to evacuate quickly, and they can smell the fires well ahead of humans. Organisations like WIRES do an amazing job of treating and caring for injured wild animals.

Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Negotiator, stated that extreme weather and the frequency and intensity of bush fires are a result of human induced global warming, and our PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”.  The most common causes of fires are fallen power lines, and arsonists.  New suburbs have always been spreading into bushland, but hopefully tighter regulations and more fire resistant houses will offer more protection in the future.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Apparently the extreme weather is, once again, making Australians more concerned about climate change, and the government will appear more and more out of step – with the world.  Our thoughts and sympathies for the many people in the Philippines and region who have died or lost everything because of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst typhoons on record.  The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, with at least up to 9 million people effected.

With Rupert Murdoch owning 65% of our media, and the media exposure of climate deniers like the ubiquitous Andrew Bolt, it is hard to move the discourse beyond “is climate change real?”, to “what do we do about it?”. There is a very good article News Goes Feral by Robert Manne on Rupert Murdoch and his insidious influence in The Monthly.  An analysis of articles and reports about climate change in the Murdoch media indicates very clearly scandalously unbalanced reporting.   Ex PM John Howard has been in England addressing a group of climate sceptics. Howard obviously lied to us when he pretended to support action on climate change, when he was trying to win the election in 2007.  Now, rather than believe scientists,  and after reading only one widely discredited book (by Nigella Lawson’s father!), he says he would prefer to rely on his instinct, which told him predictions of doom were exaggerated!

The first budget cuts by the government were bodies concerned with climate change and science, no specific Minister of Science was appointed, and 1/4 of the scientists at the pre-eminent CSIRO science and research institution have been among the first of many expected job losses.

Although in danger of being “wedged” by the government over climate change, and held responsible for high electricity charges, the Labor Party has affirmed support for a carbon trading emissions scheme. The government never seems to be able to produce a reputable scientist or economist to endorse their alternative Direct Action plan where we tax payers pay the polluters to pollute, and presumably, to encourage them to stop.  This scheme will now hopefully be examined for its likely effectiveness – or as widely suspected, will be found to be completely inadequate, which is probably the original intention.

Our current bi-partisan target of a 5% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 is widely regarded as inadequate, which should apparently be around 15 -25%.  Although we are a small economy and population, we are the 3rd highest polluter per capita in the world, and we dig up and export so much coal.

I think Australia is now embarrassingly on the wrong side of history over climate change, and the government is not even bothering to send a Minister to the international climate change negotiations in Warsaw.  Our Minister of the Environment, who seems to consult Wikepedia for advice rather than scientists, cannot attend as he is so busy “repealing the carbon tax”!!!!  It is very Monty Pythonesque and would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

GET UP!  The SYDNEY DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION  is on Sunday 17th November in Prince Albert Park, Sydney at 11am – see full details here.  This protest is Australia wide, and I hope many people attend to demonstrate our concern and dissatisfaction with a government that does not listen to the conclusions based on research and examination of empirical data, by impartial scientists.

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

POLITICS (AUS):  Our PM recently invited several leading Murdoch journalists to dinner – reputedly as a “thank you” for their efforts helping him get elected, and Abbott recently dined with Alan Jones – one of the worst shock jocks. Apparently Murdoch also wants his “pound of flesh”, and would like the government to make it easier for him to acquire Channel Ten.

Even Coalition supporters are surprised by the new government’s secrecy, lack of transparency, and disregard for accountability.  Abbott, who has only spoken in slogans for the last three years, seems to be having difficulty stringing whole sentences together.  While hungry for publicity in Opposition on a daily basis, the government is refusing to give information on nearly anything!  In comparison, the now Opposition have three very formidable, reasonable and professional spokespeople in Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.

For a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott and why many people are very worried about him, see Victoria Rollison’s  Open Letter to Laurie Oakes.   Oakes is one of several journalists complicit in the Labor Party election loss, and Coalition win.

The media is getting restless and angry with the government for starving them of material, and with parliament resuming this week, it will not be so easy to hide.  Wealthy Clive Palmer finally won his seat in Parliament, and through a few senators in his newly formed party will have a balance of power. He is a rogue conservative who makes outlandish accusations, and should prove to be a headache for the government.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

After the hottest summer, winter and decade on record, this year many plants have flowered at least four weeks early. Complex and fragile natural cycles are consequently getting interrupted.  I love the grevilleas especially, and at this time of the year all over Sydney one can see colourful patches of the mauve/violet Jacaranda trees.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

GREAT BARRIER REEF: There will be an early test for the government in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO has listed as already “in danger”.  The Federal and State conservative governments seem to regard environmental regulations and protections as just an obstacle to business.  Decisions are expected from these governments in relation to 5 new or expanded coal ports along the Queensland coast. The subsequent dredging (and dumping) will put the Reef at even greater risk. The nearby Galilee Basin holds so much coal that if it is mined, it alone could push global temperatures up past 2 degrees.  This is also true of the Tar Sands in Canada where the transportation to the Alaskan coast (en route to China) also puts this area in great danger.

There are many factors threatening the health and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, including the destructive crown of thorns star fish, and it is inconceivable that we let it be destroyed. A recent book The Reef by Iain McCalman, is a “passionate history” which includes the dangers the reef posed to early navigators such as Captain Cook, the formation of the coral, and the future the reef faces.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

USA: It was almost a relief to know that Obama was spying on world leaders like Angela Merkel, and not just us ordinary citizens. Hacking into Google and Yaho0! has angered many people. There seems to be no end to Edward Snowden’s fascinating revelations. Australia is part of a US-led global espionage network, and we are spying on our neighbours. While this should not surprise anyone, countries in the region have expressed appropriate indignation.  The Abbott Government’s relationship with Indonesia is particularly uneasy at the moment, and their initial attempts at diplomacy described as “inept”.

Congratulations to the extraordinary Serena Williams who had a 78-4 win-loss record in 2013, won 11 titles, and earned $US12,385,572. Unfortunately up to 50% of Americans are not so lucky and are living with “financial insecurity”. One in five children live in poverty. In Australia we are staggered by America’s low minimum wages.  The esteemed Joseph E Stiglitz has said America is a “rich country with poor people”  He wrote an excellent article in the New York Times earlier in the year titled Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery.

The $20 billion cost of the Tea Party-led shut down of the US Government was an inexcusable waste of money, and trashed their own reputation.  Perhaps the Republicans should have put the media spotlight on the many inexcusable teething problems over the introduction of Obamacare, rather than themselves.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

WEALTH: 35% of Russian wealth is in the hands of 110 billionaires, which is the highest level of inequality in the world.  Putin was recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful man – through the power of the office he holds I gather and the largesse he can distribute.  Some are predicting however that Russia’s economy is faltering and this will change everything.

The median wealth of adult Australians is the world’s highest at $233,504 (US$219,500), although the Swiss beat us when measured by average wealth.  In Australia the richest 10% have gained almost 50% of the growth in income over the past three decades. In America the richest 1% gained almost half the growth in individual income over the same period.

The New York Times recently had an article with the headline: Rich People Just Care Less.  Apparently research has found the wealthy to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous, and less compassionate.  It is an interesting and thought-provoking article, especially about what this social and economic inequality means for the future.  Americans however, do have a great tradition of philanthropy, which is, sadly, not very evident in Australia.

Magpie

Magpie

MIDDLE EAST:  Poor Secretary of State John Kerry zig zagging around the Middle East with such volatile issues to negotiate: Syrian chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear future, Mursi’s trial in Egypt and much else no doubt. Israel’s decision to build 1500 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem is extremely unhelpful to the “peace” negotiations with the Palestinians.  I/3 of Syrians have left their country and we won’t forget those images of Syrians finally escaping from their neighbourhoods where they had been imprisoned.  Some had resorted to eating cats, dogs and grass.  Australian soldiers are finally leaving Afghanistan which has cost us $7.5 billion, the deaths of 40 Australians and many injured, and an unknown number of civilian deaths.

Fairy Wren

Fairy Wren

BIRDS: In a recent poll the Fairy Wren was voted Australia’s favourite bird.  Magpies and Kookaburras (see images above) were the runners up.  I particularly like Kookaburras – they have lots of attitude.

MISC STATS:  In Australia: 65% of Queenslanders are overweight or obese; many of our trainee apprentices are illiterate and enumerate – as are a truly alarming % of Tasmanians; 25% of jockeys, and 40% of apprentice riders are now women; 30% of women in their 20s have tattoos.

SHADOWS:  We are all appalled by the level of corruption by some Labor politicians in NSW over the last decades which has been exposed at recent inquires, and  should result in criminal prosecutions. Also extremely depressing are inquires here into child abuse in institutions, with the Roman Catholic clergy the principal, but not the only, offenders. The reputation of the church is being fiercely protected ahead of concerns for victims. There are estimates that 50% of Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) enjoy active consensual sex.  So much for celibacy.  In Ireland ¼ of Irish women have been abused as children, and 1/3 of men.

from FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

From FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

This image from the exhibition FERAL by Sylvia Ross (co-exhibiting with Emanuel Raft) shows the beauty of a pigeon, widely considered a pest in Australia.  Sylvia Ross is an artist, long time Head of the School of Art (COFA UNSW), social activist and dedicated animal lover.

Sylvia sent me these dog photographs which are amusing.

dogs1 dogs2 dogs3 dogs4 dogs5 dogs6 dogs7 dogs8 dogs9 dogs10 dogs11 dogs12

MAIL: I have been asked lately where to buy the A Lion Called Christian DVD and the best source is via Amazon or Blink Films, and via Amazon for the book. I am encouraging  anyone to write and post their animal stories, or their feeling about Christian, on www.alioncalledchristian.com.au.  It is my fault that it is not as up to date as it should be and I’m checking back for stories I have overlooked.  It will be a marvellous archive of your touching and interesting animal stories.

READING: Ashamed by my confession of my lack of reading last blog, I threw myself into the biggest book I could find – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Often named by people as their favourite book, it was extremely readable, and it provided a very thorough context for what was to happen in Russia in the early 20th century. Anna was a fascinating character beautifully created by Tolstoy, although I could not quite conjure a mental picture of how she looked or her age.  I became a little exhausted by the spell of her beauty and her melodramatic life, and I was always quite relieved to read about the duller Levin in the country, thinking about seemingly lost love, farming, labour, the landscape and the seasons. He thought he had “lived well but thought badly”.

WATCHING:  The series REDFERN NOW  is the best contemporary Australian television I have seen for ages, and I loved watching again David Bowie – Five Years In the Making of an Icon .

QUOTE: Winston Churchill apparently said “A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down at you, but a pig looks at you as an equal”.

Horse's skull with pink rose by Georgia O'Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

Horse’s skull with pink rose by Georgia O’Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation.  I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised.  America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially.  I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.

Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia  which has just been aired.  It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.

VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists:  Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart.  They were much admired and dearly loved.

BOURKE:  I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis.  Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback.  There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here.  I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces.  Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it.  It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!

Cheetahs

3 Cheetahs, South Africa, courtesy National Geographic

I’ve just been in Melbourne where I gave a talk about Christian to a most receptive audience at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.  I am constantly surprised at the “magic” of Christian’s story.  It has had such an effect on so many people – and seems to bring out the best in everyone.  I hope we can harness all this goodwill into making a difference for wildlife and our environment. It does mystify me on an existential level – what is Christian’s message for us, if there is one?  I was once asked in an interview about this and as I hadn’t really solved it myself I blurted out “I think it is a cry for Africa”.  Many people would probably say it is about loving one another.

In a recent report on TV it was stated that there may be less than 30,000 lions left in the wild, and that lions, like elephants (and much else), may be in an extinction vortex. We have been saying now for several years that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time forty years ago. Lions are being shot, poisoned and speared at an alarming rate primarily because they are in competition with local villagers for diminishing resources and habitats. Apart from us loving them, apart from them being an essential link – like everything in our ecosystem, they are Africa’s number 1 tourist attraction.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

MIDDLE EAST:  Libya is not unexpectedly floundering – with competing regions, personalities and militias, and an understandably inexperienced leadership of the National Transitional Council that is paralysed by the rivalries.  There are reports of militia violence, looting and torture.  It has been described as “it is everyone against everyone else”.  Syria seems to be descending into civil war, while the world stands by.  It is a humanitarian catastrophe.There have been reports of widespread systematic torture, and the threat of being tried for crimes against humanity does not seem to have inhibited the government. The opposition to the regime is unfortunately divided, and as commented on before, there are so many agendas driving the conflict, both within and outside the country.

Despite the uncertain outcomes of the Arab Spring, and so many lives sacrificed, it is inspiring to see a critical mass of courageous people speaking up.

It makes me wonder – how would I respond in their situation?

JULIAN ASSANGE:  It is ironic that the latest release of confidential emails by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor indicates that the US Department of Justice has issued a secret sealed indictment against Julian Assange.  The case against him in Sweden has recently been described as very slight, and mostly grandstanding by Swedish prosecutors.  Some of the threats made to him have been appalling – and very frightening.  With the example of Bradley Manning who has been held without trial in the US for over 600 days (and his trial finally scheduled for August), Julian has many reasons to fear extradition to the US.  I’d also be worried about those drones that the US seem to be increasingly using to murder people, with the push of a button from the safety of an office, presumably in Washington. The publication of classified material of foreign powers is apparently not a crime under Australian law, but the Australian Government has not, and probably will not, assist our Australian citizen.

It has been pointed out that “award-winning journalist” Assange’s new TV show The World Tomorrow will air on a state-owned  network in Russia, a country where 40 journalists have been murdered in the past decade.  Raffi Khatchadourian commented on Julian’s contradictory nature in The New Yorker (repeated in the SMH): “He is a charismatic figure precisely because of the way his contradictions – manifest in WikiLeaks from the start – magically seem to hold together: his self absorption tempered by his more abstract but genuinely felt, pursuit of justice…his utopianism hemmed in by a do-what-it-takes view of combat; his search for hidden truths shrouded by his own secrecy and willingness to equivocate, if not lie.”

GREECE: Greece was faced with one of two unattractive options – a European fiscal strait jacket that will please bankers and Germany especially, or leaving the EU, whatever the scary ramifications of that would be. Sadly, neither option seems to address the challenge of growing the Greek economy, and the majority of people face years of real hardship.

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

AUSTRALIA: We have had the most extraordinarily bitter leadership battle that would have been fascinating if it didn’t threaten to damage the government so badly.  The deposed but still ambitious ex PM  Kevin Rudd is more popular in the polls than the PM Julia Gillard which would not be hard.  It seems Rudd has constantly been undermining her, and subsequently the government, in the process. He seems totally addicted to media cycles, polling, his own importance and people in shopping centres.  David Marr in the SMH wrote that another former Labor leader Mark Latham “once told Rudd to his face that his rise… was due solely to his popularity with people who have never actually met him”. I think the psychological analysis by Michael Duffy in the SMH Feb 27 best sums up how I also feel about Kevin Rudd.  He reduced government to a reality TV program, and one wonders what he actually believes in.  Moir captured in his cartoon (above) the nightmare Rudd has become for his own political party.  After being convincingly beaten in a leadership ballot, Rudd promised his “unconditional support”. Sure.  In fairness I must say that he is extremely intelligent, was a very energetic Foreign Minister, and cleverly outmanoeuvred John Howard in the 2007 election. I also believe he reacted quickly and effectively to the GFC.

GETUP!: GetUp! asked their members in a survey what are the 10 major issues we would like them to campaign for on our behalf in 2012.  The top four concerns were: investment in renewable energy, followed by protecting Australia’s native forests,  stopping harmful coal seam gas mining practices, and the fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

FACTORY FARMING:  There is an obvious momentum of public opposition to factory farmed animals and chickens.  The organisation Voiceless has done much to bring this issue to public attention in Australia. The live cattle export debate has also brought more support for animal welfare and rights issues – and recently more examples of inhumane treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs have emerged which has reignited the debate.  There are calls to ban live cattle exports, or for mandatory pre-slaughter stunning on all animals exported. Interestingly, or depressingly, in the first edition of A Lion Called Christian in 1970 we talked about the inhumane treatment of Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East!  There is a petition for banning live cattle exports on change.org, and in the US the ALDF has a petition to US legislators who are being pressured by the corporate agriculture lobby to make documenting and distributing damaging footage of factory farm practices illegal.

Donkey

DONKEYS: I have two friends Jonathan and David who are very concerned about donkeys and other working animals and think I don’t pay them enough attention! The Brooke is a highly respected international welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules.  A recent campaign has been teaching basic animal welfare and care for Ethiopia’s grain market donkeys.  William from Florida informs me the organisation was started in 1930 in Cairo by the wife of a British Army officer in response to the condition of many horses left behind in Egypt after the First World War.  (I imagine many of you would have seen Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse).  The organisations Pegasus and WSPA have been working for better conditions and more effective laws to protect working horses and donkeys in Israel that are also often cruelly overworked, overladen and neglected.

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE:  Recently our attention has been drawn to the increasingly precarious situation of some of our unique wildlife.  Our koalas are under threat, and it is estimated that as few as 100,000 may remain in the wild, their coastal habitats destroyed by the vast number of Australians that now live along the beautiful eastern coast.  Our Tasmanian Devils have very contagious facial tumours and there is a battle to save the few healthy ones remaining in the wild, and ironically they are safer in zoos at this stage. The Australian Marine Conservation Society works hard to protect our ocean wildlife, and a recent campaign has highlighted how up to 100,000 sharks around the Great Barrier Reef can be legally killed annually for shark fin soup, or fish and chips.

Orangutang

Courtesy of wallpaperweb.org

ORANGUTANGS:  I have friends who have recently visited or drawn my attention to various centres in our region that do great work protecting orangutangs.  These include the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan Borneo and the Camp Leakey Orphan Orangutang Care Centre in Kalimantan.  Apparently the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yuddhoyono was recently seen in a Jakarta IMAX watching a documentary on the orangutangs of Kalimantan.  Let’s hope he was sufficiently moved to do more to protect the habitats of many animals that are being destroyed, especially by palm oil plantations.

ENERGY:  Despite all the cries of “we’ll be ruined by the impending carbon tax” by our conservative opposition party, and some millionaires and billionaires, there has been surging investment in coal exploration.  Apparently there has been a break-through (after many years) in carbon capture and storage. Let’s hope so, but I remain sceptical.  The newish (conservative) leader of my state of NSW, has lifted a ban on uranium mining. Waste disposal is of course a still very unresolved and contentious issue, with a remote Aboriginal community, Muckaty in northern Australia, being targeted as a nuclear waste dump. Despite the catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the US the government has approved the building of two nuclear reactors. There are also more worrying reports about mining for gas: double the anticipated green house gases leaking in the US, and in Australia, the release of contaminated water into the environment. On the subject of water, each day each person in an industrialised nation personally consumes about 1,000 gallons (3,785 litres) embedded in the food we eat. Pumping, conveying and treating water is extremely energy intensive, and the energy industry is the largest single water user.

Whitney Houston

WHITNEY HOUSTON: It was when her song I Will Always Love You was added to the YouTube footage of our reunion with Christian that it went viral, so we are very grateful to her – and to Dolly Parton who wrote it.  Many of you have said how much you love the song too, and are saddened by her death.  The footage is unique, but the song beautifully heightens the emotional impact. Mind you, I was reprimanded in a conference for liking it by someone who thought the music interfered with the pure response to an extraordinary animal/human experience.  With Whitney, while every life is sacred, one wonders how someone so precious and talented can be allowed to slip through our fingers. I immediately went to listen to her on Christian’s ALCC website but the clip had been blocked, presumably for copyright reasons.  After much searching however I was very pleased to find one “reunion” video with her song on The View, even if I was called Ace Berg!

Cat on Dog

MAIL: I’m very much appreciating the images and information I am being sent and can share.  Thanks to Dee for the sweet photograph (above), and click here to see more Some Photos Just Don’t Need a Caption.  Thanks also to Heulwen for the beautiful photograph of the three cheetahs in South Africa.

Thankyou to Deva Delanoe who sent me some important links.  Click here to see a report on the number of tigers in private hands in the US – possibly more than twice the number left in the wild. Issues of great concern include inappropriate breeding and declawing. People like the Hollywood star Tippi Hedren are campaigning against private ownership, and I very much hope to visit her at The Shambala Preserve, her big cat sanctuary north of Los Angeles. Some experts have complained that the tigers are losing their “tigerness”.  Christian was a 7th generation “European” lion, and in his case George Adamson was fascinated to see that ultimately Christian’s natural instincts were not impaired. Another link highlights the work for animal welfare in Afghanistan by NOWZAD. It is tough for most people there, so these endeavours on behalf of animals are to be applauded and supported. Deva also sent a link to the Soi Dog Foundation who are trying to prevent the very cruel illegal dog export meat trade in Thailand.  Warning: the photographs on this site are particularly upsetting.

I haven’t personally researched or checked the credentials and records of many of the animal welfare organisations I have blogged about, so we should all take normal precautions before we donate or assist their work.  I am sure however that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, and many are run by quite extraordinary selfless people, deserving of our support and gratitude.

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

NORFOLK ISLAND:  I’m about to leave for Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia for the celebration of Foundation Day on March 6th. My ancestor Philip Gidley King sailed from the new colony of Sydney in early February 1788 to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, and I am researching some family history.  I’m also hoping to avoid the incessant rains that have caused flooding throughout much of NSW, but have filled most of our dams after many years.