George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING: The CACH campaign seems to be growing – and not surprisingly, as so few reasonable people would support the farming of lions to be hunted. I now ring travel agents when I see advertisements for tours to Africa and check they are sending their clients to reputable wildlife sanctuaries. Canned Hunting was also mentioned in a recent 60 Minutes story on Kevin Richardson and his lovely shampooed looking lions in South Africa.  Richardson is on the “reputable” list – but I do think he takes risks with the lions, even though they adore him. I did finally watch the story that was on Dateline SBS in January How Much Would You Pay to Kill a Lion?  I could hardly watch as lions were shot and the hunters gloated over their successful kills.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

In Australia, a Liberal Party MP Jason Wood gave a speech in the House of Representatives about canned hunting and against importing lion and animal parts into Australia.  I very much appreciate his efforts. You can sign his petition here. This is what needs to happen in the USA and Europe. I received a formal (unsigned) response from The White House and Barack Obama to my email about the importation of lion and animals parts into the USA.  He “shared my concern for animal welfare”.  At least someone received it!

 

AVAAZ: They are running a campaign in South Africa against the trade in lion parts. They intend for this campaign to hurt South Africa as a tourist destination so sign their petition here. There is also a petition about the illegal sale of exotic animal parts – and ivory – on eBay – sign the petition here.  Whenever I say “sign here” rather bossily, I know you all make up your own minds, but I know most of you care deeply about many of these issues.

 

TONY THE TIGER:  Shamefully, the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has “quietly” signed a bill allowing the owner of Tony the Tiger to keep him as a roadside attraction.  The ALDF are filing a lawsuit for violating the State Constitution.  This is SO depressing – I do urge any Americans to ring the Governor and express your displeasure. This is completely unacceptable. Read more on the update here.

Angel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for DolphinsAngel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for Dolphins

Angel the dolphin. Image sourced: Australia for Dolphins

ACTION FOR ANGEL: Yet another story of an imprisoned animal for our “entertainment”. Angel, the albino dolphin calf is in a tiny indoor tank at the Taiji Whale Museum. Sign the petition here organised by Australia for Dolphins – and they ask for us to circulate it. The Japanese seem determined to continue hunting whales…and their annual slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. This Sunday 29th June there is a Whale of a Debate at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney (at 2.30pm) discussing historical and contemporary anti-whaling.  Speakers will include members of the Sea Shepherd and conservationist and photographer Jonny Lewis.

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers' Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers’ Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

ALICE WALKER: The Sydney Writers Festival was on recently and while I did not attend, I heard and saw various interviews on radio and television. It did make me think – we have so many intelligent, perceptive, compassionate and ingenious people in the world – why is our country (and the world) run by so many moronic people that just don’t get it? I know I can be slow onto some things, but I am now mad on Alice Walker – she get’s it!  I hung on her every word and will now start reading her intensively. I feel as if I know The Color Purple although I’m not sure if I read the book in the 1980s or saw the movie.

When asked for her advice for Obama Alice said “RUN”!  She hates the use of drones and that he is part of the “war machine”.  “Aren’t we smarter than buying weapons?”  “We have to change the system” – all presidents are hostage to it. The capitalist system is now part of the problem. She supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and thinks women would make more empathetic leaders.

While nature is for her a “balm” that we “abuse”, writing is a “medicine”. She listens to, and “only”works for her ancestors. Fiction has a “freedom”, while poetry is autonomous. It “descends”, you “can’t chase after it”, and the “muse comes at will”.  She named Tolstoy and Dostoevsky first when asked which writers she admires. She saw her mother and grandmother enslaved by their many children so didn’t particularly want to be a mother.  I thought she was amusing about her daughter who has been quite critical of her in the past, although I’m sure this was hurtful. She wants us to” turn to each other” and “talk things through”. Life’s purpose and why she isn’t sitting on her cushion meditating “or scuba diving” is “we exist to help each other”. “The deep joy is to show up for others”.   For her, this included being part of the flotilla that sailed to Gaza in 2010.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

USA: Last month saw yet another senseless mass shooting in the USA. One of the victim’s father Richard Martinez was so articulate asking: “Why did Chris die?  Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians, and the NRA…. What has changed?  Have we learned nothing?  Where the hell is the leadership?…  Life doesn’t have to be like this”. When members of the US Congress rang him offering him condolences he said “I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me.  Get to work and DO something”.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent book No Place to Hide he describes his encounter with Edward Snowden. He had to put his mobile phone in the hotel mini bar – as now anything can be transformed into a listening device!  He says the Snowden cache reveals a regime seeking “the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide”!

Hillary Clinton was very articulate in an interview on our ABC promoting her book Hard Choices. Phillip Adams and his guests were not flattering about her on his radio program. They found the book  mostly tedious and boring.  Adams choked over the $14 million advance!  They acknowledged that she is very hard working and clever, but thought she was a better administrator than a politician. It appears as if she is already campaigning for the Presidency and certainly has a chance, especially as she has such good “name recognition”.  Adams prefers Elizabeth Warren.  Hillary and I are about the same age (and both Scorpios) and I have fantasised, as you do, wondering if I could physically and mentally do a big job like that now.  I don’t think I ever could have!  Americans are less ageist than we are in Australia, and I do think Hillary appeared quite good as Secretary of State, especially compared to John Kerry.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

CLIMATE CHANGE: Well done Obama for acting on climate change with the US cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2020. Our PM Abbott was recently in Canada and wanted to form a conservative climate change deniers club with PM Harper, but the UK and NZ did not want to join. Next day (after dinner with Rupert Murdoch) Abbott was star struck meeting Obama and said he and Obama’s climate change policies were very close, which is just a complete lie. Next day he was praising King Coal in Houston and saying the world would be dependent on coal “for decades”. What does this man actually believe?

Abbott has succeeded – so far – in ensuring climate change is not on the agenda at the November G20 meeting  of world leaders in Australia!

 

GOOD ARTICLES: Paul Krugman has written an excellent article on climate change in the New York Times. Krugman argues that the economic impact of carbon reductions is actually quite modest – despite the scare mongering, and the debate is a “toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism” which is very true of our conservative politicians and businessmen in Australia.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change movement 350.org writes in an article that Abbott and Harper have put nations “on the road to disaster”.  He points out how Harper was a former oil executive and how he has been described as a bully, “intolerant of criticism and dissent”.  The development of the Canadian tar sands and Australia’s coal in the Galilee basin alone could ensure it would be impossible to ever bring the world’s temperatures under control. He notes, however, that their extremism is spawning “widespread resistance”.

There was an excellent summary about action on climate change in the editorial in the SMH June 24th see here.

Ian Dunlop, a former oil, gas and coal industry executive, recently wrote in the SMH that our federal government “is taking anti-science to new heights. Its scorched earth approach discards virtually everything not in line with narrow, free market ideology centred on sustaining Australia’s 20th century dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out economic growth model”.  Dunlop goes on to say that the government’s Direct Action white paper has no scientific and economic grounding…and is “the climate policy you have when you don’t want a policy”.

Uncertainty is affecting – as was intended – investment and confidence in the renewable energy sector.

Encouragingly, the tide may be turning, and just when this government is about to remove our effective carbon tax, 63% of Australians are now increasingly concerned about climate change (again) and now believe we should be taking a “a leadership role in reducing emissions”.

In the most surprising move, our billionaire mining maverick politician Clive Palmer, who through several senators holds the balance of power in the Senate, turned up at a press conference with Al Gore by his side!  No-one is sure yet what this means for action on climate change, and if this was just a stunt and Gore has been played as a sucker. Palmer mines coal and nickel so will love not having to pay a hefty carbon tax.  We could be left without an emissions trading scheme and a plan to do nothing, but Palmer, apparently at Gore’s urging,  seems to now want to retain the Renewable Energy Target and oppose the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority.

forests

CELEBRITIES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: About to air in the USA is a television series, Years of Living Dangerously  which urges action on climate change and has the involvement of industry heavyweights and celebrities like James Cameron, Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently spoke out about the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, which is at risk of being listed as “in danger”.  Leonardo has witnessed the changes for the worse since he first swam there 20 years ago.  This year he has donated $US10 million to ocean conservation, and $4 million to tiger and elephant projects.

Geoffrey Rush spoke up about our government’s attempt to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s forests which has just been rejected by the World Heritage Committee. Our government’s arguments for delisting were described as a “feeble justification”, while many people were shocked that the delisting had been attempted in the first place.

 

boy with fish

IPA:  I am only just beginning to comprehend the undue and insidious influence of the conservative “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Australia. This ideologically conservative group is our Tea Party, but smarter and therefore more dangerous. Abbott addressed them in April last year  and the audience included the unholy alliance of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and Cardinal Pell!!!

Until I read this article I had no idea of the influence of the IPA on the country, and on Abbott who is implementing many of their policies.  I have already discussed the appointment of several of these climate change denying, older businessmen to key positions and reviews:  Tony Shepherd conducting the heartless Commission of Audit; Dick Warburton reviewing the Renewable Energy Target; and Maurice Newman, Chairman of the PM’s Business Advisory Council.

The IPA are skilled propagandists and work through fronts such as the Australian Conservation Foundation which is actually anti-conservation!  They “muddied the waters” recently over the attempt to delist part of the Tasmanian forest.  In what has been described as a “global conspiracy” the IPA have led an active campaign (courtesy Murdoch press) against the plain packaging of cigarettes, trying to make a case it has led to more smoking – which apparently it has not.  The IPA are funded by companies such as Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Esso and Caltex.

Our PM was recently abroad – his school boy French in France was excruciating – worse than mine, and he has a certain gaucheness which could be endearing if he was not our PM.  I liked the letter to The Australian newspaper which stated “I am confused – there appears to be two Tony Abbotts travelling around North America, one as described by the Fairfax and ABC media outlets and another Tony Abbott as reported by The Australian”. (from Michael Burd, Toorak, Victoria).

Australia does seem to be currently divided along these lines.  Murdoch controls over 70% of the print media and unashamedly and uncritically supports the government,  backed up by a few popular and shrill radio shock jocks. Their targets consistently include the Fairfax media and especially the ABC.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks starred in the film Jedda which was a very dramatic and tragic Australian film made by Charles Chauvel in 1955.  Jedda was about race and forbidden love, and was way ahead of its time.  After retreating to a convent, Rosalie emerged to become a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.

Recently on a television program (Q & A on the ABC) a fellow guest who I think was Peter Coleman, suggested that the “Aboriginal problem” could be “fixed” by assimilation into white society.  Rosalie responded with the most brilliant and emphatic declaration of her Aboriginality and who she was.  She was reported (inaccurately) in the press as saying:

“My language is (Arrernte) in spite of the whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem”. See the footage of her full response here.

 

UTOPIA: John Pilger’s documentary Utopia examines the present situation for Aboriginal people.  Rosalie actually comes from Utopia. The documentary is too long but devastating nevertheless.  Pilger has filed several stories over the decades on this subject, and very little seems to have changed.  One wonders if things have actuallyeven got worse in many respects for Aboriginal people: their housing; health; employment opportunities; incarceration rates; suicide epidemics etc. These days the Labor Government and the “left” are criticised with some justification for failing Aboriginal people. Many people like myself have supported Aboriginal “self-determination” and we have also been criticised for caring about digging up and trashing the environment. Apparently we have  held Aboriginal people back from economic development.  I would caution Aborigines from expecting too much from conservative governments and the mining industry…

Alice Walker: “The coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse – I don’t see it – even today”.

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition Strength and Beauty, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

MICHAEL RILEY: Michael Riley was a leading Aboriginal photographer who died in 2004. The National Portrait Gallery recently purchased a selection of his portraits taken between 1984 and 1989 and these photographs are currently on exhibition.  Michael’s subjects at this time were his extraordinary generation of attractive and talented Aboriginals that had emerged and broken the stereotypes in many ways – not least how they were represented.  They included artist Tracey Moffatt, politician Linda Burney and curators Djon Mundine, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins.  I was asked to speak at the NPG as I was a friend and had exhibited Michael Riley.  I am also on the Michael Riley Foundation.  More of Michael’s work can be seen at www.thecommercialgallery.com or www.michaelriley.com.au.

Darrell by Micahel Riley

Darrell by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Animals Category winner in the iPhone Awards, Michael O’Neal of San Francisco said that he came across this friendly fox in the Wyoming wilds. “I sat in the road for 10 minutes with him…no cars, not a soul around, just me and this red fox” he said. Foxes and cats are primarily blamed and demonised  for Australia’s extinction rate of native animals which is “the worst in the world”.  We are losing one mammal every decade and have lost 28 or 29 since colonisation in 1788, with 60 presently endangered.

Fox by Michael O'Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

Fox by Michael O’Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

AG-GAG LAWS: It is going to become an offence to film inhumane conditions for animals in Australia.  In the USA it is already an offence for any “audio or video recording” at a farm facility. Why is it not an offence to have animals cruelly confined in appalling conditions?

 

ISRAEL: The Australian government created yet another unnecessary problem for themselves by arguing that East Jerusalem was “disputed” and not “occupied”.  Israel is the only country in the world to articulate similar views. Our government argued that this was not a change of policy, but they have been changing their position over Israel by stealth, illustrated by several votes, or abstentions, at the UN.  Trade sanctions over our cattle, sheep and wheat exports were subsequently threatened against Australia by Arab and Islamic countries,  and 22 international diplomatic representatives demanded to meet our Foreign Minister in Canberra.

Israel is building 3000 more settlement homes in the Occupied Territories as a punishment for the reconciliation between the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas, who control Gaza.  Many Palestinians are also being punished at the moment  because of  3 missing Israeli teenagers.  While  their disappearance is extremely concerning – what about the 7 Palestinians that have been killed in the search for them?  Israeli forces seem to have rampaged through many Palestinian houses, and harassed and detained hundreds of people.

Alice Walker on Israel: “The land they are taking is not theirs and they have to give it back”.  She actually made her remark that “the coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse” about Israel, but said it applied everywhere – Australia, USA etc.  She also said that with $3 billion a year coming from the US to Israel, “we can’t afford you”.  Her participation in the flotilla to Gaza in 2010 demonstrated her courage and commitment.

 

horse leap

 

MIDDLE EAST: Iraq is disintegrating and in the absence of any solutions it is tempting to just think Iraq and Syria should be left to unravel.   Their borders are an unnatural colonial construct and they should regroup along more natural tribal and sectarian lines. It is the humanitarian catastrophe for so many innocent civilians that is most concerning. Tony Blair is still in denial, blaming the Iraqi PM and inaction over Syria. I loved Boris Johnston saying  “Tony Blair has gone mad”. George Bush Jr and our John Howard have been VERY quiet.  Cheney is as cocky and without remorse as ever, and seems to blame Obama.

Many millions of us marched around the world against the invasion of Iraq, and we were right!  I did mention the threat and ambitions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) several blogs back – how has everyone been taken by surprise?  It is a complete intelligence failure. The thug in the suit, Nouri al-Maliki was an appalling choice as PM by the West and he has made no attempt to include the Sunnis or Kurds.  Even now he is refusing to consider a unity government. One of many disastrous decisions by the USA was to de Baathify Iraq as it left no-one with any experience for administration or the army, and just created many disaffected and resentful enemies. The Sunni-Shiite split goes back to the succession to the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632!  Shiities say Ali, the prophet’s cousin was the rightful successor and was cheated by the Sunnis “Rightfully Guided Caliphs” Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali!!!!!

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

READING, LISTENING & WATCHING: Wimbledon is on and I was thrilled of course that Rafa won recently in Paris. This was his 9th French Open.  It was a great victory and he is now equal second with Pete Sampras on 14 Majors. Elizabeth Wilson has recently written a book LOVE GAME A History of Tennis.   Her book sounds very informative historically and unlike most sports, women participated from the start.  Like many people today, she prefers Federer’s graceful style to Rafa grinding his opponents down in a “python strangle”.

NSW has finally won the State of Origin rugby league after Queensland won for 8 years straight. I am sort of watching the World Cup but prefer the news reports of the few spectacular goals. This sport is building in Australia, especially as there are serious injuries – especially concussion, in the rugby union and league codes. Soccer officials will have to do something about the blatant corruption, like awarding the World Cup to Qatar.

OK, I confess I have been watching The Voice.  I don’t care too much about the contestants but I love the judges: Ricky Martin is, well, Ricky, Kylie Minogue has been surprisingly engaging, Joel Madden goes down very well in Australia and will.i.am is brilliant!

I haven’t read anything by the serial novelist (4 books a year) Alexander McCall Smith. I heard a repeat of his interview at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2013 and he was hilarious and laughed along with the audience at his own jokes and the madness of life. I’ve just bought his book on his favourite poet What W.H. Auden Can Do For You.

pups

JEFFREY MASSON:  I’ve just read Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s latest book  BEASTS – What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.  I think Jeffrey combines all of his experience, knowledge and intelligence in this book, examining the huge question of violence in humans and animals and the “search for the origins of human violence”.  It is a complex debate, and I found the book very thought provoking as he argues, for example, how agriculture, property ownership and the domestication of animals changed human behaviour.  The book contains fascinating information about many different animals and species, and the effects of human intervention in the natural life of animals.

Christian the lion is mentioned as an illustration of a wild animal expressing friendship and love for another species – especially a predator, and how Christian’s wild lioness friends “indulged” us which we also found astounding.  This made me think about Christian and the other lions in George Adamson’s man-made pride, as they were an “intervention” into the territory of wild lions already established at Kora.  These lions mostly tried to kill most of George’s introduced males and cubs, but mated with the lionesses.  Christian, however, seemed to come to what has been described as an unusual “truce” with them, but he ultimately had to look for his own territory elsewhere.  BEASTS  also made me think very deeply about the behaviour of cats!

 

WORLD: China is being quite confrontational/active/defensive in the South and East China Sea offending Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA. Russia is getting more actively involved in Asia and cooperating much more with China (suppyling natural gas etc). 6 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of survivors are still without homes in the Philippines. Military leaders seem to be on the move and are usually bad for the economy – and for press freedoms and democracy.  In Egypt an Australian journalist Peter Greste working for al-Jazeera has just received a 7 year jail sentence.  He and two other journalists have been caught in the machinations of the Saudi Arabia vs Qatar enmity.  al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and is regarded as the “mouthpiece” of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.  Many of the Brotherhood are still facing imprisonment and even the death penalty in Egypt.  Saudi Arabia is now giving Egypt $12 billion, compared to $650 million in aid from the USA. The military are installed in Thailand and  Frank Bainimarama  is bound to win in Fiji. Ex general Pabowa Subianto, who has a terrible human rights record is gaining momentum for the next presidency in Indonesia, while the running mate of his opponent Joko Widodo also sounds pretty frightening.  Papua New Guinea’s PM Peter O’Neill is fighting corruption charges, and while we are not entirely innocent in Australia, corruption does seem endemic in our nearest neighbours PNG and Indonesia.

 

MAIL: Thanks to Scott, MoonieBlues, Bob, Tim, Aidan, Jeffrey, Sylvia and others for sending me interesting articles and images.  My thoughts are with William who lost his beloved cat O’Malley,  and Ines who takes in cats from shelters and recently lost another one called Bonnie.

To keep up to date with interesting articles and animal related activities all over the world see the latest Minding Animal Bulletin No22 here, especially about a Documentary Festival in New Delhi 13 -20 January 2015, and interesting articles and reviews in Vol 3 Number 1 of the Animal Studies Journal  here.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

VALE: One of Australia’s leading artists Gordon Bennett has died unexpectedly. Many of his works concerned his identity as an Aboriginal person, but his subject matter and styles were wide ranging.  He could out post-modernist the post-modernists!  I was lucky to have known him and curated his work into several of my exhibitions.  He summed up what I wanted said so eloquently about colonisation – the way Daniel Boyd has more recently. He was highly intelligent, attractive and quite shy and private.  His work is currently in the Berlin Biennale.  See Richard Bell’s article on Gordon Bennett in The Guardian here. My condolences to his mother, his wife Leanne and daughter Caitlin.

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Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

ART: I was going to try and not do “cute” this blog, although this is often hard in relation to animals.  I was very offended by Rubber Duck (which is 15 metres tall) when it sailed into Darling Harbour as part of the Sydney Festival.  A suitable metaphor for Sydney I thought to myself.  Big and obvious.  Many of us are familiar with the marvellous monumental  installations of the artist Christo (his first major environmental project was wrapping part of our Sydney coastline in 1968/69),  and I thought Rubber Duck made even Jeff Koons and his huge Puppy seem subtle and interesting in comparison. However, the blog is not all about me and when I saw this great photograph in the newspaper, hypocrite that I am, I couldn’t resist using it. The public have loved it – and perhaps it does raise the question – what is art? – or does it matter?

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Also making often monumental sculptural works, Anish Kapoor is at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until April) for his first comprehensive survey exhibition in Australia.  He is super cool – almost too much.  His works have a clinical  perfection, and are made from the most luxurious and expensive materials.  They are emotionally cold and Kapoor will not discuss their meaning – he just leaves it to us to interpret.  I remain an admirer but I was distracted by a surprisingly awkward installation and children running excitedly around the distorting surfaces of his polished mirrors, or staring into the illusionary concave voids.

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

In contrast, Francis Bacon’s work at the AGNSW (until February 24) is very emotionally affecting and engaging.  It is exciting to see the work of a great painter – especially spanning Five Decades. Descriptions of his work range from “depressing”, “joyless” and “haunting” to “beautiful” and “magnetic”!  While I tired of so many paintings given the same “staged” formulaic treatment, his smaller portraits are among the best and most powerful I have seen for a long time, and are poignant and illuminating.  I suppose some people may find the sexual nature of some of the work confronting, but I found the exhibition full of emotional intensity and like life, a mixture of love, anguish and pain.

SUMMER: While many of you in the northern hemisphere are having snowstorms, our summer here in Australia has not been all fun!  Lately, 70% of the country has had temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees. There have been severe bush fires in Tasmania, and many others in other states.  I think there has only been one fatality, although many homes have been lost and there have been thousands of animals killed, especially stock.  Now we have torrential storms and floods in Queensland and northern NSW.

I live surrounded by the Royal National Park and on a particularly hot and scary day recently we had a record 45.8 degrees in Sydney, and because I had to attend to family business out of town, I evacuated my most unwilling cats to my vet.  Although safe and well-looked after, they spent several days in a smallish cage beside yapping dogs, and sulked for quite a while afterwards. I’m only mentioning this as I find care for my cats when I want to go away is a difficult problem that many of us face.  Unfortunately I don’t have cat-loving neighbours.  I  have not liked any of the facilities for looking after animals that I have checked out, but I am grateful that they exist.  No doubt like many of you, I find moving cats at any time quite traumatic for them and me.  When I have moved house in the past I have locked the cats inside for 2 days before introducing them to their new outside world.  A couple in the US lost their cat on a holiday/excursion 320 kilometres away, and miraculously, the cat recently found it’s way home!

'Commander Skyring' Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Commander Skyring Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

USA: It was exciting to see the Obama inauguration. I think we have become blasé about just how historically significant it was that he became President, and then won a second term.  They are such an attractive family, and Obama is capable of stirring oratory – when did we last hear any from our leaders?  It was a real surprise to hear the words “gay rights” or “gender equality” or “climate change” coming from an American President!!!  This was described as “goofy leftism” by a reactionary Republican, and rather than addressing the problem of their shrinking support base, which was apparent in  the election, Republicans will no doubt be as intransigent as ever over many of the very important issues facing the nation.  Let’s hope Obama can deliver.  He inherited a difficult legacy – the GFC, unnecessary wars etc., but he is not beyond criticism.  I am especially horrified by the obviously illegal killing of people by unmanned drones.

GUNS:  It is fascinating, if depressing to witness the power of  the National Rifle Association, with actually very few members. They cleverly monitor, target and threaten politicians to ensure their support against gun controls. Contact your politicians and express your views and encourage them to make a stand!  Statistics indicate clearly that lives are lost – not saved – by having so many guns in the community, or in homes.  I think it is pretty safe to say that the right to bear arms is not God-given!  In Australia we had an Amnesty over guns after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but apparently there are now just as many illegal guns in circulation. Lately, there have been shootings everyday in Sydney, and whereas before quite minor differences or disputes could result in a punch up – now they shoot each other dead!

'Seissa' Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Seissa Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

NSW: As I have mentioned before, to secure a vote for some particular legislation, the NSW Government is allowing hunting in some National Parks, which will be overseen by the Game Council.  This is the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse.  It seems some members of the Game Council are now to be charged with cruelty to animals, hunting without a licence and trespassing.  There is growing opposition to the decision to permit hunting, and to the way the government makes decisions and does business in general, and many people now feel it will be too dangerous from March 1 to go into National Parks.

The 2012 State of the Environment report for NSW shows that Sydneysiders are breathing cleaner air, saving electricity, using more public transport and recycling.  While this is encouraging, overall in NSW there has been a steady deterioration of many native forests and wetlands, and biodiversity is declining with more species threatened than ever before.

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman, made famous by his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was asked in 2011 to contribute a drawing of an extinct bird – and 110 works later, has produced a book Extinct Boids.  Most are real birds that did exist, but some he made up like the “needless smut”, “the lesser-blotted bitwing”, and the “blackened thront”.  Steadman was very alarmed to discover just how many species have been lost, and blames sailors, rats and cats for their extinction.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has some tricky problems to manage in the next few weeks. He will have to decide if he will overrule the NSW Government’s permission to expand Idemitsu’s Boggabri coalmine, and Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine.  There is quite a backstory here I won’t go into, but there is determined opposition from  the local community concerned about coal dust, contamination of the aquifers, the loss of thousands of hectares of critically endangered forest, and the threat to excellent agricultural land and animals.

The Minister will also be presented with a petition from GetUp! about government inaction over damage to the Great Barrier Reef from the construction of coal seam gas processing facilities, and proposals for massive new coal ports along the coast.

The government usually manage to wriggle out of actually confronting Japan over whaling in the southern ocean – hiding behind ” taking Japan to the International Court of Justice later in the year”.  Our Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who trades off his supposed environmental credentials, did not even raise the issue with a Japanese government minister who visited recently.

After boasting last week in an interview about Australia’s action on climate change and emissions, Bob Carr was forced to acknowledge that the forecast expansion of Australian coal mining and exports, will make us, after China, the second largest contributor in the world to new carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

While I have a well-known fear of sharks since seeing Jaws now many years ago, I know they have their role to play and must be protected. This photograph of drying shark fins was absolutely shocking – the scale, the inherent cruelty, and the threat to the species – for soup?

ENERGY: I’m glad I don’t live in western Sydney where up to 66 coal seam gas wells may even be mined under houses!  I have not seen any evidence so far that this is a safe practice, or that the chemicals used will not be polluting the environment, and that water aquifers will not be adversely affected.  It was good to see that Yoko Ono was protesting against fracking in the US.  As previously discussed, bodies and organisations in NSW that do offer the community some advice and assistance against rampant unchecked development (like the Environmental Defenders Office) have had their funding cut after lobbying by the  mining industry.  This is part of a scheme to eliminate any legal challenges to new mining ventures, although it has been described by the government as “greater access to justice for the disadvantaged”! It would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling.

FACT CHECKING  FILE:  We have an election due by the end of the year so I am dreading how wound up I will get.  As we have compulsory voting, our politicians will be pitching to the lowest common denominator in marginal seats in the outer suburbs.

One of the best suggestions of the last few weeks was from Malcolm Turnbull (Coalition/Opposition) who suggested a fact checking website where information could be definitively presented and verified, and people held accountable for inaccurate or misleading statements.  An example could be: is human induced global warming happening?  (Turnbull knows this to be true, yet this was a factor in him losing his position as Leader of the Opposition).  So rather than arguing about is climate change real, we could all see the analysis and conclusions drawn from the scientific data, and actually move on to addressing it – ideally with bi-partisan support.

Another debate in Australia is the ALP Government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis.  From my reading (comments from the IMF, World Bank, a variety of experts and economists etc.)  the government’s quick reaction, and actions, were appropriate.  In the necessary haste, errors were made (and a few inexcusable deaths in the installation of insulation into houses).  Subsequently we have been one of the best performing economies in the world – indeed the “envy” of the world, although the Opposition have effectively scared many of the population into believing we are about to be bankrupt!  True or false?  While aspects of these questions are open to debate, surely at some point there is an objective analysis that can be made?

Another debate is over the carbon tax, although complaints against it have apparently dwindled, which may stop this issue being such a factor in the election. The Opposition have vowed to rescind this tax, with no details of course on what this would cost, or the disruption to the economy, and it has created uncertainty in the business community.  Carbon trading  is “sliding down the corporate agenda”  both here and overseas which apparently should be a “lure” for Australian companies liable to pay for carbon dioxide emissions.  Blackrock, one of the world’s biggest fund managers has recently said that the carbon and mining taxes have had “at most” a “marginal” impact on perceptions of country risk, and our public debt position is very strong.

I was fascinated to see the previous Howard government described by the IMF as one of the most profligate in our history. The profits from the mining boom were not used wisely,  middle class “welfare” was used to buy votes, and infrastructure was allowed to run down.  The much boasted about $20 billion surplus was more likely to have been achieved by selling Telstra (our telco) and Sydney Airport.  I do think the Whitlam Government was very lucky not to be mentioned.  Unfortunately the ALP seems to be unable to construct or sell a narrative of their legitimate economic achievements, and are also dogged by some unattractive scandals.

GETUP!: I was interested to see the make-up of the membership of our effective internet activist organisation.  4 in 10 members are over 56, and fewer than 7% are younger than 25.  GetUp! currently has a survey about what we think they should be doing which you can access here.  I’m going to suggest a Fact Checking File and GetUp! should have sufficient profile for people to have to respond and back up their claims with peer reviewed facts and data. 

LEFT & RIGHT: We are having a debate of sorts here about bias – especially in the Australian Broadcasting Service. I don’t agree that there is bias myself – I see reasonable, well-educated and informed people that give all politicians equally tough questioning, and address the issues of the day. The ABC is tax payer funded so it is legitimate to raise the question of bias, but there are plenty of other opportunities in Murdoch newspapers or on various radio stations for  Right leaning people like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Divine etc, who are as objective as Sara Palin or Fox News in the US.

In 2009 we appeared on the same American television program as the precocious Jonathan Krohn.  The year before (aged 13) he had written a book entitled Defining Conservatism. He was astoundingly articulate and of course I couldn’t resist arguing with him (and his father) in the waiting room.  I was thrilled to recently read that in 2011 he openly declared he no longer held conservative views, although, of course, the conservatives turned on him.  He is much brighter than most of us and can no doubt defend himself and will probably have a fascinating career.

 

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

MONICA & HARLEY:  Harley is a most amazing dog and  I love following his exploits.  He even became friends and swam with a swan called James and was heart broken when he was found dead last year. Fortunately Monika Laryett-Olson takes great photographs.  She makes me feel like my love for my cats is…well, normal, as opposed to obsessive!  See a Harley story here, Harley – my Dog, my Hero.  I also loved the photographs of her visit to the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. See her album of favourite photographs for 2012  here.

OPRAH: Oprah, too, loves her dogs, and I did watch some of her interview with Lance Armstrong.  I thought Oprah looked great and her make-up was just fabulous. Before we went on her show in 2009  her make-up girls sprayed us with  something that I jokingly called spray botox as my face was sort of flatteringly bronzed and frozen into a smile.  Her program has been described as “confessional”, but we were there to talk about Christian of course, not confess!  Mark Zuckerberg was also on the same program as us, and Oprah asked him rather wistfully is she should be on Facebook and meet some people!

Lance Armstrong carefully stage-managed the interview, (like everything it else it seems), to hopefully clear the way for him to return to competition some time.  The interview seems to have raised even more questions however, and no real remorse was shown.

Our own great champion swimmer Ian Thorpe is also hoping for another comeback after his failure to even gain selection for the London Olympics. Please!  Both he and the openly gay Matthew Mitcham (a gold medal for diving in China) have recently written books apparently discussing the highs and lows of their careers and their depression.  I’d say Thorpe’s second comeback attempt is a recipe for more disappointment.  He actively supports very good causes – just get on with it!

TENNIS: There are tennis tournaments throughout January in Australia in the lead up to the Australian Open. The heat has been nearly unbearable and unacceptable for the players, and some  have even ended up on a drip.  There have been some amazing games and surprises – our young Bernard Tomic beat Novak Djokovic in a warm up tournament. Others, like Sam Stosur, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Finally we seem to have some promising younger Australian players coming through.  I played tennis with former Wimbledon champion John Newcombe at school and have watched the dominance of Australia and America be replaced by waves of Swedes, Spaniards, Russians, Serbians and Croatians, and probably now the Chinese as Li Na makes tennis popular in China.  Our 31 year old Lleyton Hewitt is a good commentator with a surprising sense of humour, and Jim Courier is very insightful. My favourite players over the years have been Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, and now Rafael Nadal.  I usually got bored if anyone dominated for too long.  We have been incredibly lucky to witness the truly exceptional tennis over the last few years between Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.  For a variety of reasons I’ve also loved Yvonne Cawley (Goolagong), Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Goran Ivanisevic, and I the fabulous Williams sisters.  Serena’s career earnings are now over $41,797,909 while Maria Sharapova is the top female earner followed by Li Na.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

ROSS GITTINS: I felt naive after reading this article by Gittins in the SMH about the 4 “complexes” that run the world.  The article mostly quotes Jeffrey Sach’s  book The Price of Civilization.  It helps to explain why: wars are fought; how the GFC occurred and vital reforms are not implemented, and the “corporatocracy”, unlike many of us, bounced back quickly;  why Obamacare is described and demonised as “socialism”; how climate change is kept off the agenda and why we are seeing a fall in value of the world’s renewable energy companies.  These complexes are obvious but it is good to be reminded of them and see how they all feed into each other, with corporate power translating into political power.  They are: the military- industrial complex; the Wall Street- Washington complex; the Big Oil – transport – military complex; and the huge healthcare industry.

WEALTH: The 1% have got even richer and the top 100 are now worth a combined $US1.9 trillion.  Our poor Gina Rinehart dropped $US1.6 billion (because of softer iron prices, and poor investments in media she hopes to influence) and now has only $US 18.6 billion.  Gina actively campaigned against a mining tax, and last year was insensitive enough to say that African workers are “happy” earning $2 a day.

Think what could be achieved globally with this wealth if many of them followed the generous examples of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett?

See this George Monbiot article where he explains that contrary to what we are told, the idea that “the less government tax the rich, defend workers and redistribute wealth, the more prosperous everyone will be” has been a total failure.    Monbiot says this “trickle-down effect” as I think it is called, has only led to increased inequality, more unemployment, with consequently less demand, and more debt.  In general, he does not believe that perpetual economic growth is either sustainable or desirable.

ISRAEL: As I said last blog I was waiting to see Obama’s pay-back to Netanyahu for his blatant and miscalculated support of Romney in the US election. It did not take long – Obama’s appointment of former Republican Chuck Hagel as Defence Secretary, who, it seems, dares to treat Israel in an even-handed way, and has said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here”.

Although cost of living concerns are understandable as a key election issue in Israel, it was very depressing that in their recent election peace (“shalom”) was not even mentioned, and some extreme Right politicians even said they wanted to expand the settlements to ensure there could not be a Palestinian state.

But congratulations to the Israelis for not voting for the Far Right as expected, which resulted in Netanyahu’s “plummet to victory” with fewer seats.  The emergence of Yair Lapid the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party, with the next highest number of seats, is encouraging, and he wants to work with Netanyahu in a coalition rather than oppose him.  He wants to reopen peace negotiations with the Palestinians and said “we are facing a world that is liable to ostracise us because of the deadlock in the peace process”.  This changed landscape in Israel and America, and hopefully a more constrained Netanyahu, gives me some slight optimism.

Meanwhile in the region, people continue to die in Syria, and huge numbers of refugees are swamping neighbouring countries.  Assad’s own mother has left Syria, as have quite a few Russians and their families.  The down-side of the Arab Spring is emerging with the instability in north Africa and the well-armed Islamist terrorist organisations.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

CHINA: While the Chinese Government struggle to control their propaganda and censor the internet, another juggling act is with social media where the Chinese people can now complain effectively, as they did recently with the totally unacceptable pollution in the air in Beijing.  There have also been several mass “airport rage” incidences over cancelled flights. The improved Chinese economic growth of 7.9%  in the last quarter will help to keep many people happy for now, and this has also helped our economic outlook in Australia.

Advising Australia not to be drawn into China’s simmering territorial regional disputes, a Colonel Liu Mingfu recently described Japan as a “wolf”,  America as a “tiger” and he said that Australia should be a “kind-hearted lamb” that should not behave like a “jackal”.

Tourism from China to Australia is growing and up from the 542,000 Chinese that visited in 2011.

R.I.P Pluto

R.I.P Pluto

MAIL: I was upset to be informed by Christian in Italy that his beloved dog Pluto had died at 15.  He was a great companion as we can imagine, and my sympathy is with Christian, and with anyone else experiencing a similar loss.

Thanks to those that emailed me with concern about the fires.  Thanks to Joyce for her comment last blog about where she finds news that is fair, in-depth and free – including Livestation Al Jazeera, France 24, SkyNews, South African, RTI (Russian News) and the BBC.

I am behind in my emails again – both on the blog and the website, and I apologise.  Unfortunately I lost a few emails that  came through mistakenly as Spam and then disappeared into the ether. I am very appreciative of anyone that does email and I intend to respond soon.  I’ve just had a quick look at the emails I haven’t answered yet, and many are from people that have just discovered Christian the lion’s story.  Frankly, I am overwhelmed – by the number, the lovely sentiments expressed, and that  Christian still means so much to so many people.

It is the Australia Day Weekend, celebrating when the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788.  Understandably Aboriginals call it Invasion Day, and while a holiday is always nice, I’ll feel much more comfortable when there has been some genuine reconciliation, and compensation for their dispossession.  I’d also like Australia to grow up and finally become a republic.

Giraffes in the Evening Light

Giraffes in the Evening Light. Photo by Nick Brandt. Courtesy: http://www.sourcephotographica.com.au/nickbrandt.html

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 amazon.co.uk.  People also ask me about the photogrphs of Christian.  Images can be purchased directly from photographer Derek Cattani (see his gallery on  alioncalledchristian.com.au), 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: http://www.sourcephotographica.com.au/nickbrandt.html


I have been thinking a lot about this blog, but not rushing to publish.  With the social media facilitated revolution unfolding on a daily basis in the Middle East, the world seems to have shifted.  It has been fascinating, exciting, scary and unexpected.  This is against the new context created by WikiLeaks: seemingly endless revelations that have confirmed our suspicions, and sometimes our worst fears.  We have lost even more confidence in our governments to govern us effectively, ethically, or with transparency.  And the world has literally shifted, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and the survivors of the earthquake around Christchurch, New Zealand.  Is the natural world trying to tell us something?
 
I wonder how the victims of the Queensland floods and cyclone are managing – it is alarming how quickly and easily they have dropped out of the news.  I have been meaning to comment on the still appalling situation for many people in Haiti a year on, after what seemed such well organised promises of aid and assistance.
 
 

Bundeena, Sydney NSW

  

BUNDEENA:  I have been living in Bundeena, a small community on the southern edge of Sydney for several years.  It has beautiful beaches, coastal walks and drives, and is surrounded by the Royal National Park.  There are many varieties of birds (my favourites are the kookaburras), possums, and the occasional wallaby, snake or goanna.  I am aware of the environmental damage cats can cause, and I promise I attempt to bring my very well fed cats in every night.  Bundeena is just over an hour from the city, so I am close – and far, enough.  Originally a fishing village, the community of a few thousand is seeing an increasing gentrification– and Vanity Fair is now for sale in the newsagent.  People like myself are viewed as “city blow ins”.  Bundeena is however low-key, and it is possible to be pleasantly reclusive with no social pressures.  Quite a few artists live here (there is an Art Trail to many artists’ studios on the first Sunday of each month), and some are very well-known.  It has been hot (often in the mid 30s), but it has been very relaxing here over summer, reading, gardening, working on some upcoming projects and exhibitions, seeing family and friends, and of course, just being with the cats.  There has been time to reflect on the world, and try to digest the momentous events of the last few weeks and months. 

  

Grand Pacific Drive towards Wollongong, NSW

 

EGYPT:  Congratulations to the Egyptian people.  Their revolution was more organized than it appeared – by an internet savvy group, and was secular and largely non-violent.  We had not questioned or even thought about their decades of repression and it suited our governments to turn a blind eye for a useful ally.  The USA funded the regime with an annual US$2billion.  The revolution is not complete: the military is not going to relinquish their influence easily. Nor will the US!  No-one can really predict the outcome and the wider implications for the Middle East – least of all me.

The Egyptian revolution appeared to be led by a youthful, educated middle class, supported by a down-trodden and repressed general population.  Leaders are emerging in the vacuum.  Islamic fundamentalists seem a small minority voice at this stage.  I have had a friend visiting Egypt who said Facebook was finally useful.  I urged him to take care and wondered – how would I have responded if I lived there – and would I have had the courage to be in Tahrir Square?  Good luck to the Libyans – Gaddafi will go down with guns blazing (or chemical weapons) on his own population it seems.  The West watches impotently – and the Libyans ask legitimately: “why isn’t anybody helping us?”

LEADERSHIP:  Poor Mr. Obama.  No wonder he is going grey: inherited problems of the GFC, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Republican obstruction of his legislation and attempted reforms.  Now their repressive allies in the Middle East are all vulnerable in a shifting landscape.  The US are trying to juggle their support for their long-term  alliances, AND  be seen to be supporting emerging democratic movements and human rights in the region. Democracy is fine – as long as it doesn’t threaten their strategic interests it seems. Hard for them not to appear hypocritical.  For the record: US annual funding – Egypt $2 billion, Israel $3 billion, Pakistan $7.5 billion.

The SMH Chief Correspondent, Paul McGeough, has been writing comprehensively, and I think insightfully, about the Middle East.  For example, see his article SMH February 21 2011: “Lip service is all US pays in the drive for democracy”.  The US veto of a UN Security Council resolution to examine the legality of Israeli settlement buildings in occupied Palestine would not have gone down well on the “Arab street”, especially at the moment, and is a good example of the USA’s conflicting interests.  However, the unrest has not been particularly aimed at the USA – except in Pakistan at the moment over the presumed CIA operative that has been arrested.  Australia has also just been paying cautious “lip service” in support of these historic changes as well, despite the usual flurry of hyperactivity by our Foreign Minister – the ex PM Kevin Rudd.

I would like to see a very representative and uncorrupted United Nations type body with very strong international powers!  I think many of us have realised our leaders are, well, only human like us after all, but it should make us all the more determined to effect change through our own personal, often local, efforts. 

McGeough has written scathingly about Tony Blair who he likens to a “drowning sailor”.  Blair’s quotes in defence of Mubarek did not look good – or the re-release of those photographs of him helping to ease Gaddafi back into international acceptance in 2004.  Still in denial about Iraq – how has Blair got any credibility left in relation to the Middle East as “special representative” of the Middle East Quartet (UN,US,EU and Russia)?  I would think some of his reported “consultancies” and relationships would normally constitute a conflict of interest.  He is soon to visit Australia to earn even more money on the speaking circuit. Equally shameless it seems, the British PM David Cameron is visiting the Middle East with British arms dealers, looking for sales.

 

Water from the Queensland floods flowing into Lake Eyre, photograph by Kelly Barnes

 
  
POLITICS:  Yes, obviously I’m pretty passionate, which can be very boring for people who aren’t!  Obviously politicians play such a comprehensive role in our lives and futures we can’t just ignore them.  We have to rely on them, for example, to respond to Climate Change, and the formulation and implementation of environmental and animal and wildlife conservation policies.  They are susceptible to complaints from their electorates so I try to keep up the questions and pressure, especially by email.  I try to read as widely as possible and it is often hard to get to the truth or a deep understanding of a subject.  I view myself as a “trying to be informed” average citizen.  I do wonder why some of my more conservative friends and acquaintances don’t read anything much about subjects they have strong opinions about, or care about context. Why is there seemingly much more informed commentary from the Left rather than the Right, and why are “shock-jocks” on radio always from the Right ?  I know I must appear biased, but I promise I try and keep an open mind!  

LOCAL AUSTRALIAN ISSUES: (but with global echoes)

NBN:  National Broadband Network.  This is an example of a subject I find difficult to understand (like GM crops), especially given my own technical ignorance.  I believe in essential national infrastructure, but is fibre the right option – especially as the US has opted for wireless?  From recent articles it seems that a mixture is the answer.  With wireless subject to range limitations, and slowdowns with too many subscribers, fibre should be “the work horse of the data downloads”.

SURPLUS vs DEFICIT:  The Opposition here in Australia has got the government very defensive about financial management – “waste”, “big new taxes” etc.,  but unfortunately their criticism does not extend beyond these few effective but clichéd slogans.  They fail to acknowledge that Australia was the only developed nation that did not go into recession during the GFC, unemployment is at 5%, but they endlessly squeal about the deficit.  The government – already on a knife-edge with numbers, is hamstrung to actually govern and make some tough economic decisions – rather like Obama.  I don’t know why the conservatives are claiming the ascendancy on economic management here or in the US – the GFC developed on their watch, and in Australia the Liberal Party politicians haven’t yet explained the $7 – $11 billion hole in their last election budget.  In an article by the excellent economist Ross Gittins in the SMH February 14 2011: “Fiscal heaven is pollies worrying about deficits”, he traces this relatively new obsession with surpluses.  Our mining boom (and being the world’s largest coal exporter), will take care of the deficit.  But the Liberal Party were good hoarders, even though it was at the expense of infrastructure which was allowed to run down.  Shouldn’t an Opposition be offering constructive criticisms, and  alternative policies?  We are constantly in election mode and a 24 hour media cycle, and the government is too defensive to make any hard if necessary decisions.

“BIG NEW TAX”:  Last year we had people power Australia style when a group of mining millionaires and billionaires actually took to the streets with placards in a demonstration! It was surreal.  They backed this up with a $22 million advertising campaign against a proposed mining super profits tax on our non-renewable resources.  The tax was going to “ruin Australia” – investment would go elsewhere etc.  These people have been made to look ridiculous with the recent publication of their company profits or personal wealth.  Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart $9 billion, Andrew Forrest $6.9 billion, BHP $10.5 billion half-yearly profits, and huge profits for Rio Tinto and Xstrata.  The tax, which was watered down, will probably now be passed.

“STOP THE BOATS”:  Our scandalously inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees by both sides of parliament has been in the news lately.  This “race to the bottom” as it has been described, has been fuelled and possibly led by the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, and his electorate was the scene of the Cronulla race riots several years ago. He seems to think Muslim demonisation is a vote winner, and it has been reported that he recently suggested his party capitalise on public unease about Muslim immigration.  His party has also recently recommended cutting Australian aid to Indonesian schools  – a highly successful counter terrorism scheme started by his own party when in office.  I used to send him critical emails – he has a long and unattractive track record in my opinion, but lately he has been generating enough negative attention of his own.

CARBON PRICE:  I have been trying to chart on this blog the mixed fortunes of the Climate Change debate.  From the heady, optimistic days of Copenhagen and a consensus by a majority of people for urgent action, to leaders being deposed, flaky climate change deniers effectively slowing the momentum, and policies subsequently dumped. Both parties have lost credibility on this issue, and this contributed to the Greens doing unexpectedly well at the last election.  Despite promising not to introduce a carbon tax at the election, with the increased influence of the Greens, the Government has put Climate Change unexpectedly back on the agenda. They are going to set a price on carbon by July next year, which will lead on to an emissions trading scheme in due course.  Many in the Opposition are climate change deniers, and their party has a pretend policy, but this issue which should have bi-partisan support, is going to be, again, a very ugly and divisive debate.  This will test our PM’s considerable negotiating (and compromising) skills.  The Greens want much more ambitious cuts to our emissions, and no compensation as previously canvassed for the worst polluters (power, energy and transport industries).  Those mining zillionaires will be back on the streets protesting!

 

From Penny Tweedie's book "Spirit of Arnhem Land"

Tom Noytuna, photograph by Penny Tweedie

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
 
PENNY TWEEDIE:  Penny Tweedie (1940 -2011), an internationally admired  photographer died recently.  I am mostly familiar with her often extremely beautiful and intimate photography in Arnhem Land where she first visited in 1975.  I staged an exhibition of her photographs in Sydney in the mid 1990s.  For the invitation I used the photograph of Tom Noytuna decorated for a traditional ceremony on the telephone (above).  Google her, or look out for her books This My Country (1985) and Aboriginal Australians: Spirit of Arnhem Land (1998).  The Australian photographer, writer and blogger Robert McFarlane has a tribute to her on his very informative photography blog  www.ozphotoreview.com.

MY PHOTOS:  When I was angling for a compliment about some of my own photographs taken in India on my new Lumix DMC-LX5 which I adore, a friend replied: “you can’t miss with a mountain view like that”, “with digital anyone can take a good photograph these days” and “pity you cut the cat’s ear off”. 

  

From Penny Tweedie's book "Spirit of Arnhem Land"

 
  
WHALES:  Congratulations to the Sea Shepherd for terminating the Japanese whaling season in the Antarctic.  Let’s hope the Japanese are losing their taste for whale, and their pretend “scientific” expeditions.
 
WATCHING:  The indefatigable David Attenborough’s First Life documentary series about the origins of life, is starting on television here.
 
CAT NEWS:  I love it when cats or dogs are named and in the news in their own right.  Many others surreptitiously slip into photographs with their owners.  Larry a tomcat has moved into Number 10 Downing Street in London, from Battersea Pound.  The WikiLeaks leaker Daniel Domscheit-Berg, recently wrote that when Assange was staying with him in Germany “Julian was constantly battling for dominance, even with my tomcat….(He) would constantly attack the animal”.
 
CHRISTIAN:   The French edition of A Lion Called Christian, Un lion nommé Christian in paperback has just been released.  I was recently interviewed for French television, and as I had been told previously that our story had been co-opted in defence of performing animals in circuses in France, I was of course anxious to refute this.  I can’t wait to see the footage of the very unexpected cameo of my shyest cat emerging from under the sofa!