Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

When we returned again to Kenya to visit Christian and George Adamson in 1972, I took a super 8 video camera.  I’ve finally had my very amateur footage transferred to DVD, and this photograph is a still from it.  The footage is a loving portrait of Christian – I remember thinking I will never remember just how beautiful all his markings were. He was growing into a very big lion, and was increasingly independent.  We didn’t know that we would never see him again. I recently showed this short, unedited footage for the first time, at a fund raising art exhibition for the Animal Welfare League NSW  in Sydney.

Animal Welfare League NSW:  I have visited the two animal shelters in Sydney (Ingleside and Kemps Creek) run by the Animal Welfare League NSW where dogs and cats wait to be “re-homed” to a suitable household.  The shelters are very well administered, in attractive settings, and depend on donations, sponsorship and the loving care of volunteers. Animals are well looked after and are assessed and  monitored by vets and animal behaviourists.  The AWL also campaigns, for example, against puppy farming, and acts on reports of animal cruelty.

Artists who generously participated in the AWL fund raising exhibition included Joanna Braithwaite (below), and Janet Laurence.   I recommend you watch Laurence’s beautiful and meditative series of animal and nature videos here.  Many artists these days are imaginatively examining human/animal and environmental inter-relationships.  They share a great love of animals and generously support causes related to animal welfare and rights.

Lengthy Tales by Joanna Braithwaite Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

Lengthy Tale 2013 by Joanna Braithwaite. Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

MAIL: Thanks for the responses to the last blog, and many of you also seem to enjoy Christian’s birthday. People loved and commented on Jiawei Shen’s portrait. Michele, for example, found the painting “mesmerising”. She also wrote “Christian is born in the month of Leo and has the life path of 9. He was born to be a spiritual gift to the universe – he was the consummate LION. The LION of LIONS!!

Joy Adamson with Elsa

Joy Adamson with Elsa. Source Elsa Conservation Trust.

ELSA: A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Elsa: the lioness who changed the world (you can view some of the clips here). The phenomenal success of Joy Adamson’s 1960 Born Free book (translated into 25 languages), and the subsequent film did help change how people thought about animals – especially “wild” animals. They were now viewed as individual beings, and hopefully this has made us more mindful of their futures. There were interviews with Virginia McKenna, who had played Joy Adamson in the film, and with Tony Fitzjohn who was George Adamson’s assistant at his camp at Kora and is now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

Joy Adamson took the most marvellous photographs of Elsa, who was, like Christian, an exceptional lion. George realised that they should have retained the three cubs, instead of sending two to a European Zoo, as this would have made it easier to rehabilitate Elsa.  Subsequently, he knew to build a pride around Christian.

There was some good footage of Christian, especially with Tony Fitzjohn.  Christian was the first lion Tony had met, and he said they were both like new boys finding their way in the wild.

Lion in Shaft of Light

Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt

NICK BRANDT: Source Photographica in Melbourne is having another exhibition of the majestic photographs of Nick Brandt from 5 -27 October. The exhibition is the final volume in a trilogy which has been presenting a “complex and deep portrait of Africa”, and it has been fascinating to watch Brandt chart this through his powerful and exceptionally beautiful photography.  It is hard not to be depressed that many of the subjects of his photographs are facing extinction, and that there is so little effective action to save them.  80 elephants have just been poisoned in Zimbabwe.  It should be inconceivable that we may see the end of the elephant, for example, in our life time, on our watch.

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg by Nick Brandt

A recent radio interview referred to Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger which she started in India in 1973 when the tiger was on the brink of extinction.  From an estimated 40,000 in the early 20th century, numbers had shrunk to approximately 1800 by 1973.  She introduced the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, and hunting tigers was banned and reserves created. Unfortunately, after the assassinations of her and her son, the Indian government from 1992 up to the present have made bad and late decisions and neglected necessary reforms, and tiger numbers are now down to an estimated 1700.

AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS: OK, my side lost the election and I’m a bad loser! It was inevitable however, and I hope the Labor Party rediscovers some fundamental values. It has been a hung parliament yet despite an adversarial, negative and policy-free Opposition, alot of legislation was passed, and some major reforms of national significance initiated.  But it has not been a pleasant time, and has felt like one long election campaign.  It is sort of a relief that it is finally over, even if it is back to the future.

There is only one woman in Prime Minister Abbott’s 20 person cabinet (described as “pale, male and stale”) and he is dismantling our Emissions Trading Scheme and any institutions associated with climate information or policy. The climate sceptics are showing their hands, and there is not even a Minister for Science. Their replacement scheme Direct Action is not taken seriously, but perhaps will now be under scrutiny. David Suzuki, who has been visiting Sydney, has written and spoken about how Abbott is “dooming future generations”, and that “willful blindness” should be an offence.

The recently released latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that there is a 95% certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and the ocean.

In the SMH, RossGittins writes that in the election the public didn’t really like either contender, confirming my own feelings, and that Labor is the eternally dissatisfied party of “reform”, while the Libs are the conservatives, “satisfied with the world as is and trying to stave of disruptive change for as long as possible”.

In contrast to his noise and daily photo ops in opposition, the Abbott government has been almost invisible, and the politicians muzzled.   There were a few spiteful sackings of public servants.  The Minister of Defence wants to keep up a “war momentum” and has his hopes on possibilities in Pakistan.  There was an immediate spat with Indonesia, our closest neighbour, just before Abbott visited.

Rupert Murdoch had a big election win after a blatantly partisan campaign against the government in his newspapers.   Too many of his journalists tarnished their reputations.  A loose cannon self proclaimed billionaire got 3 Senators and possibly himself elected (subject to a recount), and also holding the balance of power are some wild cards with very few votes who got into the Senate on preference deals.

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed by Nick Brandt

READING: I’ve actually been watching so much sport (from Rafa winning the US Open,  to football finals etc), I haven’t been reading books but I’ve heard or read interviews about:

Starting with Max is by Ying Ying who came to Australia from Hong Kong with her family, and who describes how having a dog has changed her life.  After the family cat “decided not to come to Australia and died”, she promised her daughter a dog in Sydney, much against her own wishes.  She of course fell in love with Max the dog and her daily walks in the park “awakened her senses”, and  opened her own eyes to the natural beauty of Australia.  He touched her heart and “made her a better person”.

FERAL, a recent book by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist who I have quoted in the past, is about our need for re-wilding – ‘to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth”.  He imagines forests regrowing, and animals returning – like the brown bears have in parts of Europe.  Wolves were exterminated from the Yellowstone National Park, but since their reintroduction there has been a restoration of plants, trees and soil, as the deer have been forced higher up the mountain.  There is an ongoing debate about deer in Bundeena – a family of deer live at the top of my garden in the Royal National Park.  As an introduced species, their eating habits do create environmental  problems.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Recently the Australian Wildlife Conservancy arranged for 6 artists to visit Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, their 6000 square kilometre conservancy in the Kimberley region of West Australia. The resulting excellent exhibition was opened by scientist/conservationist/writer/academic Tim Flannery – just sacked by the government as the chief climate commissioner!

I think conservancies and the buying up of tracts of land are an excellent future direction that offers the best protection.  In Africa various conservancies are trying to preserve or link uninterrupted corridors of land used as traditional migration routes for animals.

The AWC owns 23 properties in Australia covering 7.4 million acres.  They believe in “practical land management informed by strong science”.  These properties are offering protection to more than 1200 native animal species, and the AWC runs fire management and feral control programs.  It is possible to visit  and stay at some of their properties, observe land management practices, see wildlife and many birds, and fly in helicopters over spectacular scenery.

For visitors to Australia this would be a unique opportunity to visit a remote and beautiful part of Australia, especially with the opportunity to view Aboriginal art in places like Broome.

Needless to say, feral cats are the AWC’s  Enemy Number One!!!!

Devon Rex by Peter O'Dougherty

Devon Rex 2013 by Peter O’Doherty. Courtesy King Street Gallery.

WORLD: Obama was made to look “ham fisted” over Syria, and Putin took the chance to question American exceptionalism – in the New York Times. The chemical weapons issue just gives Assad more time to continue killing and displacing his own population.  The difficulty is  – especially post Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – another American intervention would be another grave mistake.

Sectarian violence is worsening In Iraq.  Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing them underground in Egypt seems extremely provocative – they did actually win the election!  Some commentators are saying the Arab Spring has been replaced by Islamic terrorism, as most recently demonstrated in Nairobi. Oil has begun to flow again in Libya. The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been surprisingly/suspiciously conciliatory to the US after 30 years. Pope Francis is sounding encouragingly human.

ECONOMY:  From my perusal of business reports in the media, some people are unfortunately warning about a new wave of global financial turmoil. Apparently new money from the printing presses of the US, EU and Japan have caused “a sucking of funds from emerging markets” i.e. countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.

Fortunately China remains “reasonably robust”, and, according to the leaked internal memo Document 9, the Chinese leadership seems more worried about the dire threats and dangers posed by discussions of “democracy”, “universal values of human rights” and a “free press”.

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly 1946 by Sidney Nolan. Source Royal Academy of Arts

LONDON: A large exhibition entitled Australia has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are 200 paintings from 200 years with 146 artists, with the broad theme of “landscape”.  While it contains most of our major artists and some iconic paintings, it has been criticised for being too general, and curatorially old fashioned.  One critic described the Aboriginal art as “tourist tat”.  As some of the most widely admired Aboriginal artists are represented, few would agree with him.  Australian art has been overlooked in the UK for a long time, and this now quite controversial exhibition may – or may not – lead to an interest in more focused exhibitions of Australian art.

USA: I have to mention even more mass shootings in the US recently.  As the mother of a victim said about Congress “Who else has to die before you get it?”.  I think in Australia we find it hard to imagine how the National Gun Lobby is so powerful and even seem to be extending its influence.

Apparently in The Right Nation, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue that the “centre of gravity of America opinion is much further to the right” than in other rich countries.  The Republican Party can seem very heartless, especially at present with the current threats to defund Obamacare, and to “shut down” the government.

The sophisticated American Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, is returning to America.  When asked how similar Americans and Australians are, he said we are 80% the same and 20% different.  In Australia “there is a great levelling of all people and a great appreciation that no one should think too much of ourselves” and that successful Australians “wear their celebrity and their accomplishments very lightly”.

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

William Abbey, who grew up in England and lives in Florida, has shared interests in some of the subjects I write about and like many of you, emails me about them.  I appreciate this, especially any information concerning animals and how we can help them.  William loves panthers and polar bears especially. Click here and here for two articles he has recently sent about the rehabilitation of the Florida panther, and organisations working for the protection of polar bears and their habitat.

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

I recently enjoyed the exhibition Talk Show where artists responded to the “televisual landscape of this genre of syndicated entertainment”.  I bought a painting of Oprah Winfrey from artist Anney Bounpraseuth’s Wailing Wall series. Part Two, Talk Show (after the break) opens at Kudos Gallery, Paddington, Sydney on 15th October. I spoke to co-curator JD Reforma about appearing on Oprah and The View etc, and the exhibition did make me reflect on the “notion of celebrity”, and the “socioeconomic construction of failure and success”.  It was never one of my dreams to go on Oprah. It was a big audience to fail in front of!  While it was brilliant for Christian’s story of course, I personally found the whole experience rather nerve wracking!

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Giraffes in the Evening Light

Giraffes in the Evening Light. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy:

I can’t wait to see another exhibition of the superb photographs of East African animals and landscapes by Nick Brandt. The exhibition will also include new releases of his iconic images and will be on exhibition in Brisbane 18-29 April 2012 at 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley and 19-27 May, Shapiro Galleries 62 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney.  While the photographs are so beautiful, there is an inherent sadness and poignancy – much of what we see is vanishing.

After a rainy summer we are having a lovely “Indian summer”, although the nights are beginning to get colder. I saw a black snake this week on my afternoon walk however and I am very much looking forward to them hibernating. I envy all of you in the Northern hemisphere now going into spring, especially after what seems to have been a very cold winter.

I am writing this awkwardly with one of my cats on the desk half lying on the key board – a favourite position of his I wouldn’t dream of interfering with. His sister prefers to watch television. I have been answering emails (tardily – post a virus and subsequent new laptop) from many of you through both the blog and the website and I am just amazed at the interest in Christian and the emotion he still generates. Please keep sending me stories about your own animals, or YouTube links of cats (or dogs!), or what Christian means to you. I’m sure we are building an invaluable archive.

Madeline recently emailed me and said Christian’s story had been “life changing” for her, and I’d love her to describe exactly how. It has been for me – twice – once when we met him, and now again with the YouTube phenomenon of the last few years.

Peter O'Doherty - Siamese

Peter O'Doherty, Siamese, in The Animal Show with other leading artists at King Street Gallery on William St, Sydney until 28 April.

For more works included in The Animal Show see here.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffrey Masson and his young family when they were in Sydney. We visited the recently renovated Museum of Contemporary of Art Australia – as have 4600 people a day.  Walking through the museum I talked far too much about artists I know and love – including Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Ildako Kovacs, Jon Lewis and Tim Johnson.  We watched some of  Christian Marclay’s The Clock – 24 hours literally through references to the time in films.  Jeffrey’s young sons couldn’t see the point of it – where was the story?  It was more a labour of love/research exercise/editing triumph – although of course one is amused by some of the clips. Jack Nicholson singing?

TRACEY MOFFATT: I do think Tracey Moffatt has done much more interesting, amusing and moving works with her Found Film montages.  They “go somewhere, and say something”.  In New York there is about to be a Tracey Moffatt Film Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art with a Public Talk by Tracey at 7pm on May 7th.  Her quite rare and clever public appearances are usually “performances” not to be missed!  It has been fascinating watching her career unfold, and she entirely deserves this extraordinary honour, and Australia should be very proud of her.

Over coffee and tea in the new roof-top cafe with stunning harbour views, Jeffrey Masson asked me to recount Christian’s story to his sons.  I would have preferred to hear more from him – he gave me tantalising snippets of new research in the field of animal behaviour, and we will just have to keep reading his blogs and wait for his next publication.

Aboriginal Rock Art. Kangaroos. 1500 - 1910

Aboriginal Rock Art. Kangaroos. 1500 - 1910

Images of ancient Aboriginal rock art can now be seen online with other great galleries of the world through Google’s Art Project and Griffith University.

ABORIGINAL INTERVENTION: Before animal welfare and rights issues again become more prominent in my life, my prime concern had been the inequality of life and social injustice suffered by most Aborigines in Australia. I worked in the field of Aboriginal art as a curator as it began to fascinate the world in the 1980s and 1990s. I met many artists, made many friends, and regularly visited remote Aboriginal communities. While these years have been the most interesting and probably the most important of my career, and Aboriginal art has rightly been recognised as one of the most extraordinary and important art movements in the world in the twentieth century, it is depressing to say, apart from some major achievements, conditions for most Aboriginal people have not improved, indeed may have deteriorated.

While I may complain about the behaviour of other countries (for example Israel and their systematic encroachment house by house of Palestinian land),  my own country Australia has been criticised just as severely in UN reports for human rights abuses on our original inhabitants.

Old Red Crocodiles

Aboriginal Rock Art. Old Red Crocodiles. 4000BC - 2000BC.

Without going into a detailed account of our tragic settler/Aboriginal history, my bete noire then PM John Howard suddenly over one weekend it seemed, invented THE INTERVENTION into Aboriginal communities, ostensibly over child abuse.  This was the same PM who in 2000 cleverly derailed a fleeting window of opportunity for meaningful reconciliation between black and white Australians when 300,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He also derailed a movement towards Australia becoming a Republic.

This Intervention was a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful vote catcher for red-necks for an upcoming election which I was thrilled he lost – even ignominiously losing his own seat.  Because of the difficult nature of Aboriginal issues, it is one of the few subjects that have bi-partisan support (like our alliance with the US where we obediently follow them into any dumb war going).  The incoming government continued this paternalistic intervention and intends to extend it.

According to an Aboriginal friend in the Northern Territory, the situation in her community has just got worse and  many of their own initiatives and efforts of self determination have been shelved. Consequently I attended the showing of a film “Living the Intervention” followed by a panel discussion with Aboriginal community representatives and John Pilger among others. The Intervention was imposed without ANY consultation with the communities at all. This immediately alienated many of them, and of course they had no opportunity to express what needs and assistance they knew their communities urgently required – from a police presence, to adequate housing, education etc.

The Intervention is a “one size fits all” which is not tailored to the very different circumstances in various communities. One has to admit that some aspects have the support of some people and some communities – which may include alcohol restrictions or income quarantining. But various aspects contravene UN Human Rights, and the Intervention has also been described as yet another land grab with ‘leases’ of 40 or 90 years on land, and I don’t understand how these leases co-exist with the Land Rights Act of 1976.

“We don’t just want solidarity (from white people) – we want action” – Galiwinku elder

Aboriginal Rock Art. Early X-Ray Figure Panel. -2000 - -1

Aboriginal Rock Art. Early X-Ray Figure Panel. 2000BC - 1BC.

John Pilger urged a march on Canberra to bang on doors (which sounded curiously old fashioned) while others spoke about disunity among Aboriginal leaders or that several of them were regarded as apologists.  I’m old enough to have witnessed the effective leadership and charisma of the late Charles Perkins for example, and I’m wondering when some new voices will emerge.

The government is not interested in maintaining  the out-station movement where in the 1970s smaller Aboriginal family/clan groups returned to live on their ancestral land and people were much happier and healthier. The government has specified “growth centres” where Aborigines will  be forced to move to. There is no easy answer and conditions were bad before the Intervention. It is expensive to deliver all the services that as Australian citizens (only since 1967!) Aborigines are entitled to – but there is no economic base and limited employment prospects for many of these communities.

For a good news story and a dramatic turnaround in a troubled remote Aboriginal community called Wadeye, see Nicolas Rothwell’s A township reborn under a spreading tree in The Australian April 7-8 (page 19 Inquirer). I think it can still be viewed if you have a subscription to the The Australian online.  Many factors have contributed: imaginative Aboriginal leadership mindful of traditions; a new style of governance; local employment; intensive public funding; and strict discipline, especially for anyone hoping to play with the Wadeye Magic, now a leading Australian Rules football team. Many other remote communities aren’t so lucky and at the moment there is an appalling epidemic of copy cat youth suicides.

Muckaty nuclear dump photo by Jagath Dheerasekara.

Muckaty Station, NT. Photo by Jagath Dheerasekara.

Muckaty Station, another remote Aboriginal community, risks being the site for Australia’s nuclear waste dump despite opposition from most of the traditional owners in the community. Again with rare bi-partisan support the Federal Parliament recently passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. The decision is being challenged in the Federal Court. Jagath Dheerasekara’s photographic series Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud has been part of FotoFreo in West Australia and will be seen in Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Festival from 1 May.

VALE: Jimmy Little the first Aboriginal to receive mainstream success with his music died recently. The recipient of many awards, Jimmy was a tireless worker for the rights and lives of Aboriginal people. He believed in the “soft sell” rather than taking to the streets in protest – “don’t mistake kindness and gentleness for weakness”.

MIDDLE EAST: The charade of the UN truce in Syria is just buying Assad time unfortunately with no cease fire or withdrawal of troops.  I don’t think the approximate 27,000 refugees that have fled to Turkey will be returning home soon.  300,000 people have been displaced, and a million people urgently need humanitarian aid.  Suburbs of Homs look obliterated. As discussed before, I’ll never understand all the complexities and proxies in relation to Syria – like the relationship between Turkey and Iran, but the Syrian regime seems to be protected by its strategic significance. Apparently the best chance is for a revolt from within the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt went to Washington in suits and with Powerpoint Presentations to try and secure ongoing funding, and to reassure the US of their democratic rather than Islamic intentions. One wonders – does the military, with their own agendas,  actually act as a useful buffer against extreme Islamification in situations like this? What happened in Turkey?  I realise how little I know about the region historically. How did those religious minorities gain iron control over majority populations – for example, Iraq, Yemen and Syria to name just a few. Was this part of a colonial carve up or a divide and rule strategy?

POLITICS: A comment was recently left on the blog saying the Republican Presidential candidates were concerned about environmental issues  which I doubt very much and have seen no reports about. Even our conservative politician Malcolm Turnbull described them as influenced by “climate change denialists”.  Who is interested in debating issues like abortion or contraception that one thought were dealt with in the 1960s?  The only other US Republican issues reported in our press were God and guns, and “moderate” used as a derogatory word.

A recent national poll in Australia reported that we crave  ” a leader with a clear vision”.

BOB BROWN: An extraordinary politician Bob Brown resigned unexpectedly this week. He is 67 and has been in the Senate for 16 years. He is a fascinating man: an environmental and anti-war activist also concerned with our treatment of asylum seekers; a doctor who lives with his gay partner; and he has been the rarest of politicians – honest!  On many issues he has been the sole conscience of Australia.  He has been both naive and wily as a politician.  He has taken the Greens Party to a position of unprecedented power in the present hung parliament and with a balance of power in the Senate.  However he blocked the original Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010 – missing a unique opportunity when the public were fleetingly in favour of it, and this led to the downfall and replacement of several political leaders.

His “carbon tax” deal with Julia Gillard to form government may ultimately cost her government as it is perceived as her broken election promise.  Get over it I say – circumstances change. Two sex scandals and a disgruntled Independent are currently also threatening her slim majority.

Bob’s replacement is an articulate woman called Christine Milne who has been described as hard as “poured concrete” which I’m sure is not a compliment.   She seems to have a grasp of economics – and she talks about the sustainable “new” economy.  On the unexpected sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year (announced on the day after The Taliban attacked Kabul), she said that we should bring our troops home immediately, and the war “had been a failure on all levels”.

GEORGE SOROS: As the SMH said “The eurozone has just ploughed on with the same old set of failed policies” with attention switching from Greece to Spain.  Commenting on the European Central Bank George Soros said “the fundamental problems have not been resolved, the gap between creditor and debtor countries continues to widen. The crisis has entered what may be a less volatile but more  lethal stage”.

Fiona Hall 21st Century Man 2011 Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9

Fiona Hall 21st Century Man 2011. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9

GOLDMAN SACHS: boss Lloyd Blankfein has taken a 35% pay cut – to $US12 million.

ENERGY: The near coast to coast conservative State governments including NSW, Queensland and Victoria are all rushing to embrace mining and coal and gas exploration and “streamline” environmental protections.  It’s like a gold rush – and I believe sand will be the next valuable commodity!  With big business, these States are challenging and cancelling many schemes supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency.  This must discourage investment at a time when other countries are investing heavily.

Interestingly, traditionally conservative land holders are mobilising against the loss of valuable agricultural land, and the untested effects on water tables and resulting contamination from coal seam gas mining.

Conversely, a country like Denmark is aiming at a 100% renewable energy target and I’m trying to understand the differences between “flexible” and “inflexible” power sources, technological advances in thermal power storage for solar and wind, and Smart Grids.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed limits on emissions from new coal power plants, encouraging the shift to gas.  There is a new boom in energy production in the US and Canada (“the new Middle East”) after recent successful oil and gas exploration, but this also makes it difficult for the development and investment in alternatives such as solar and wind power.

It is forecast that by 2020 the US will not need to import any more foreign oil!

Eastern Bongo

A recent birth at Taronga Park of an Eastern bongo (forest antelope) - fewer than 80 remain in their natural habitat in Kenya. Photo by Dallas Kilponen

AFRICA: Huge coal deposits and two massive gas fields in Mozambique are indicative of changing scenarios and fortunes in Africa where there are 6 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in the past decade.  The World Bank predicts economic growth of 5.3%.  Africa still has many of the the world’s poorest countries but there are huge infrastructure projects, an expanding middle class and foreign equity scrambling for opportunities in telecom’s, financial services and products. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, the Chinese have a strong presence (and an unfortunate hunger for ivory). Can we hope for an equitable distribution of wealth or will the “resource curse” (and tribal and “big man” politics) again leave most people worse off than ever.

ANIMAL WORKS: I recently spoke (with other authors) at a fund raiser to support the work of Animal Works primarily in this instance to fight the poaching of rhinos in Zimbabwe. It has been tough for the human population there for an extended period – imagine how the animals have fared. I applaud the efforts of Animal Works –see their website and blog.  The dinner was fun and everyone loved Africa so much and shared a concern for it’s wildlife. Botswana was a favourite country to visit. The highlight for me was when I was signing a copy of our book and I asked a girl what name should I write in it – and she said “My name is Katania. My Dad just loved Christian’s story and named me Katania”

So, unexpectedly, I told the story of how the  little lioness Katania really was the go between Boy and Christian and contributed to their ultimate friendship. Katania was small enough to go from one compound to another when both bigger lions were at first in separate compounds. When Boy and Christian were finally to meet for the first time, Katania broke the ice after an extended and very tense wait, by going over to Christian and provoking their terrifying introductory fight.  Luckily, despite the ferocious roars and paws flaying, this was more show than a deadly contest.  Both Christian and Boy adored Katania and George Adamson thought they were both devastated by her disappearance, when she was possibly taken by a crocodile. I also talked about George Adamson and how lucky we were to meet him and observe him, and to experience briefly that extraordinary space he created where the world’s two top predators coexisted harmoniously and communicated deeply with one another.

Can you believe the King of Spain went elephant hunting in Africa?

A Lion Called Christian

MAIL: Several of you have asked where the DVD of the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian is available for purchase. Disappointingly I’ve never seen it for sale or rent anywhere in the world, but it is available through  People also ask me about the photogrphs of Christian.  Images can be purchased directly from photographer Derek Cattani (see his gallery on, and the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust holds most of the African photographs.  The Born Free Foundation owns the original documentary footage in England and Africa.

READING: I just finished a magnificent book on the founding of Sydney – The Colony, by Grace Karskens.  Karskens has retrieved alot of information about the daily lives in early Sydney of convicts, women and Aborigines – and the “middle ground” they all inhabited to a considerable degree with each other. It is comprehensive and fascinating.  I also love the ground-breaking work on Aborigines by Keith Vincent Smith, and Inga Clendinnen’s marvellous Dancing with Strangers.

WATCHING:  I loved seeing John Waters interviewed recently. He is so funny and insightful. To his surprise he is now regarded as an “insider”, and growing up middle class with “good taste” he knew what was “bad taste”. Andy Warhol’s soup can image killed abstract expressionism, and the Beatles killed Motown. It was Tennessee Williams that showed him that there was a place for people like him – and I too remember being very excited by Night of the Iguana when I was at school – there was a different life out there beyond the stereotypical life on offer. Not that I’ve lived it!

I was rather depressed watching “The Thriller in Manilla” and it has been described as a “hatchet job” on Muhammed Ali.  Joe Frazier supported Ali when he had taken a stand against the Vietnam War and couldn’t fight or earn money, but Ali subsequently used effective psychological warfare against him with very ugly racial overtones.  Joe still resents this, and he takes pleasure in attributing Ali’s subsequent physical deterioration to this their third fight when either of them could have died. It is an ugly sport.

LISTENING: I just love Adele’s Rolling in the Deep – no wonder she got that extended ovation weeks ago at the Grammys, and I am enjoying other extraordinary voices auditioning for The Voice on television.

Elephant Group on Bare Earth

Elephant Group on Bare Earth. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy:

Nick Brandt Elephant drinking Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica


Nick Brandt’s handsome exhibition of African photographs from his book A Shadow Falls, closes Wednesday 7 July at Shapiro Gallery Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney. He does not use a telephoto lens and enjoys waiting for days, even weeks watching the extraordinary African panorama unfold closely before him. Unfortunately he has also witnessed over the years the declining numbers and the battle for resources like water. The closeness to his subjects exhibits patience and mutual trust that result in extraordinarily intimate, dignified and exquisite photographs that on a large scale, can be breathtakingly majestic. He is exclusively represented in the Pacific region by Source Photographica.

In Australia we have just had a coup d’etat, putsch, take over, dumping, or political assassination of our Prime Minister, with the formidable Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard replacing Kevin Rudd. Up until a few months ago he was polling very highly, then his public support just evaporated and he had made no Labor Party faction, allies or friends. His popularity decline started with what appeared to be his “backflip” over the Emissions Trading Scheme. He had described climate change as the “greatest moral challenge” we faced, and despite his zeal, never really explained to the public the complexities of the issues. Faced with the disappointment of Copenhagen, blocked ETS legislation in the Senate, and waning community support, he was leant on by Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and other powerbrokers in the party, to shelve the legislation.

Julia Gillard becomes Australia’s first female Prime Minister which she is not making a fuss about, and has taken over seamlessly, overnight! She seemed to have a new wardrobe at the ready. I think she will be a very successful politician as she has already exhibited, pragmatic rather than visionary, will win the coming election, and be in power for many years. We are indebted to Kevin Rudd, especially for removing John Howard, and he seems to be effective internationally, and would be very useful at forums such as the United Nations. Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna Everage once said “in Australia if you stumble, they trample you to death”.

It has demonstrated who has power and influence with government – big business, millionaire miners, trade unions, party factions, polls, and the media.

Jessica Rudd, the ex PM’s daughter has written a book, Campaign Ruby, due out in August. It has been described in The Australian (26 June) as “a freakily prescient script for the way events actually unfolded… an incumbent prime minister rolled by his deputy… a woman, and the execution is a “swift and seamless move”.

We have witnessed not only the spectacular – and avoidable – unravelling of a prime minister, but a self inflicted spontaneous combustion. I have found it riveting, and the commentary in the papers excellent. New snippets of information are still emerging. I especially liked the articles by Peter Van Onsolen and Noel Pearson in The Australian (26-27 June). Noel advised the formerly, supposedly, left-leaning Julia “Many of the social ends you require liberal means, and what you want for the country will not transpire unless you harness the power of liberal answers to the social questions you hold dear”. Every politicians conundrum, as they battle for the centre/middle ground.


Julia has moved quickly to resolve a fight Rudd had picked with the mining industry over a new tax and now will have to articulate her policy on asylum seekers and the ETS. Many have been disappointed to learn she was in favour of shelving the ETS legislation – and she will have to explain herself! She believes in a price on carbon, but wants “community consensus” (she loves expressions like this), before she proceeds. Tim Flannery has endorsed the government’s model as effective (SMH 3-4 July), and there seems to be a momentum building again by people who do want to see some immediate action. Email your local MPs! This issue also cost Malcolm Turnbull the job as Leader of the Opposition.

Nick Brandt Cheetah and cubs Maasai Mara 2003


The machinations and some of the accusations at the International Whaling Conference in Morocco were extraordinary, especially the behavior of the Japanese. Advaaz successfully assembled 1.2 million signatures on a petition to help fight lifting the ban on commercial whaling. Another example of successful internet activism.


A recent report states that by 2020 60% of Australia’s energy could come from 12 proposed solar-thermal plants, with the other 40% from wind energy from 23 sites (SMH 22 June Solar, wind power may meet 2020 energy use). Another report examines how industry especially could use energy much more efficiently, slashing emissions (SMH 24 June Companies told to get smart on power). There are alternatives to coal and uranium!


The Cove documentary is finally being shown in a few Japanese cinemas despite small but noisy and targeted opposition. The “mother of animal law”  U.S. lawyer Joyce Tischler is visiting Australia in August (Voiceless)… Jan Cameron the wealthy founder of Katmandu clothing empire has set up the Animal Justice Fund especially aimed at the inherent cruelty of battery hen farms and piggeries. Two recent SMH “Lunch With” interviews have been heartening:  young Simon Sheikh CEO of GetUp! with 350,000 enthusiastic members (SMH 26-27 June), and Linda Selvey, the recently appointed CEO of Greenpeace (SMH 3-4 July). Both are intelligent and effective advocates and leaders of campaigns for issues that concern many of us, such as the treatment of asylum seekers and climate change. Our leadership has been failing us.

All images courtesy of Nick Brandt and Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt Elephant train Amboselli 2008


December 2009

March 12, 2010

My head is still spinning from the successful international launch of our revised A Lion Called Christian book, now selling well in, I believe, 8 languages and 14 countries.

In 2008 we were the first e-book for Random House, and it is fascinating to see how quickly people are adopting the kindle or other e-book readers, and the changes this signifies for the publishing industry. With Google planning to digitise millions of books, writers and publishers seem divided over the implications of this. It is exciting new territory which hopefully attracts new readers AND is not at the expense of people who still love holding and having printed books. Where does this leave “coffee table books” – like the handsome and for me irresistible “Trade Edition” (Taschen Publishers) I have just bought by photographer Peter Beard who has spent a lot of time in Africa. (See    

Peter Beard - writing diary in crocodile

This image of Peter Beard writing his diary is from the book Eyelids of the Morning by Alistair Graham and Peter Beard first published in 1973. Image courtesy of

Peter Beard has been a subliminal artistic influence on me since I first saw his books on Africa in the 1970s  which combined his own photography, diaries, collages and a unique mix of historical, contemporary, glamorous and grotesque material. He also visited George Adamson at Kora while Christian was around, and commented on how truly happy George was there, and that presumably unlike Joy, he was “refreshingly uncommitted to the sentimentalism of the whole Elsa story”. I have also very much admired the photographs in Mirella Ricciardi’s classic Vanishing Africa. Another beautiful photography book is Nick Brandt’s recent book As The Sun Sets, unfortunately documenting a disappearing Africa. Nick’s beautiful images can be seen on his website

While getting to No 2 on the New York Times best seller list, No 1 on the Sunday Telegraph in London,  No 1 in Australia and No 2 in New Zealand, and appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, was of course amazing, humbling and sometimes nerve wracking, what I really enjoyed when we travelled around the USA, UK, Australia and later in the year, China, was meeting so many very nice, interested and like-minded people, who loved Christian’s story. Many are making, or wanting to make, valuable contributions to wildlife conservation, and what could we all achieve if we work in concert?  

In the 1970s we were lucky to meet some of the influential people who founded the modern conservation movement, like Joy Adamson. She was one of the first to draw attention to the vulnerability of the environmental balance, and she and George Adamson became committed conservationists as they witnessed declining numbers in animal species. David Attenborough began publishing his books then and now at 80 is still making his incredibly popular nature documentaries. Jane Goodall published her book In the Shadow of Man, about her research with chimpanzees. Last year I heard her speak in Sydney, and she described so succinctly the interrelationship of everything, the competition for resources between people and animals – for food, habitats and water, and that people have to have better lives before we can expect them to conserve the surrounding wildlife. Her Roots and Shoots program for schools imaginatively encouraging the participation of children is especially important ( Particularly heartening is Jane Goodall’s recent book with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson Hope for Animals and Their World which documents formerly endangered species whose populations are now recovering. Some good news!   

 I returned to Australia in 1973 after our adventure with Christian, and have had a career as an art curator in Australia and been primarily interested in Aboriginal art. This has been one of the major art movements in the world in the latter 20th century. It has been a privilege to witness and work with so many varied and extraordinary artists, and Aboriginal culture is the face Australia now presents to the world. This is of course ironic given the lingering, sometimes even overt racism that still exists! More recently I have been researching and staging exhibitions about Australia’s foundational narratives through my own colonial family history and the interweaving of Aboriginal perspectives.   

 It has been an odd disconnect speaking about events that happened more than 40 years ago, with no reference at all to my actual intervening career work which is so important to me. “Get over it!” my agent says. I finally worked out how to link both. With our growing alienation from nature, and the parlous condition of the physical world, we need to look to, respect and involve indigenous people. They are undoubtedly still much more connected to nature (indeed many believe they are part of or emerged from the landscape), and they can advise us how to heal the damage to the environment, and co-exist more sustainably with the natural world.   

My busy 2009 included graduating with a Masters of Arts for my thesis Family Footprints; Tracing the Past in the Present through Curatorial Autobiographical Practice. (Yes I know an academic mouthful! It is online should anyone be interested and if you can follow all the links – at Also online are photographs of colonial and contemporary artworks and material from the exhibition component, Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770, which look primarily at the first contact between Aboriginal people and the new arrivals starting with Captain Cook and Joseph Banks followed by the First Fleet in 1788. You can see the photos of the exhibition on the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery Facebook page.   

Also this year I was Exhibition Coordinator for Martin Sharp Sydney Artist at the Museum of Sydney. Martin was very much a part of the creative world of “Swinging London” in the 1960s and apart from many other artworks, created album covers or posters for Eric Clapton, Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Again, should you be interested read John McDonald’s review in Spectrum, online.   

Many people have been so responsive, supportive and helpful this year, but I’d like to particularly thank Katie Turner, Cheryl Bath, Heulwen Renshaw for trying to trace Christian’s best friend Unity Bevis-Jones, and Joanne Hamilton.   

I’m travelling to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat for the first time. This year I also saw the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City so I feel very fortunate.   

Merry Christmas!