Christian the Lion, Art, Ai WeiWei, State Gallery Exhibitions, Grayson Perry, Aboriginal Art, Paris Agreement, Renewables, World, Islam, Australia, Animals, Ivory, Wildlife
December 19, 2015
CHRISTIAN: It is this time of the year again and thanks as always to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani. Do see some of his other marvellous photographs of Christian here – I always enjoy looking at them.
Some of you may be interested in this article from the Good Weekend, Pets on E-Parade, on pet and animal-themed YouTube channels. Christian the lion was not mentioned but I think our reunion with Christian was the first really popular “animal themed” video phenomenon on YouTube – we stopped counting years ago when we topped 100 million views.
Australia’s most popular YouTube channel, Catmantoo has 133,000 subscribers and 40 million views. Many of these channels are “monetarised” and take months to prepare. In general I don’t like performing or dressed up animals. I can understand why cat videos dominate the internet and I am sent many cat videos – thanks to Mandy lately, and thankyou to Deb especially.
I recently reread a letter I wrote to George Adamson at Kora in Kenya in 1978 about our reunion with Christian in 1971: “and the footage of us returning to see Christian and him running down the hill is pretty amazing footage”. That has turned out to be quite an understatement!
ART: For anyone visiting or travelling around Australia in the next few months we have some very interesting exhibitions on at our State Galleries, and they all have extensive gallery collections.
Andy Warhol/Ai Wei Wei has just opened at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (until April 24th 2016), and is a “conversation” between the artists who did meet in New York years ago. They share a love of “social media” – Warhol was a precursor of celebrity and social media with his screen prints, polaroids, diary jottings, Interview magazine and ever present recorder – while WeiWei loves Twitter and Instagram etc.
Ai WeiWei’s passport was taken away for 4 years, and this is one of the few exhibitions where he has actually overseen the installation – the positioning of the artworks, the lighting etc. More poignantly, it is the first international exhibition of his work he has actually seen for years.
I met Eric Shiner, the Director of the Warhol Museum, in Australia for the exhibition. I asked him about both artists loving cats and he said the Children’s Education section of the exhibition is all about cats – with Ai Wei Wei drawing cat wallpaper, and the backs of chairs being cat tails! Warhol had 30 – all but one called Sam.
We were also celebrating the announcement of Tracey Moffatt being selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Venice Biennale. I can’t wait to see what she does and I intend to be there!
In Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art is The Pretty Little Art World of Grayson Perry, the cross dressing art critic from the UK. He is most amusing, but was in trouble in Australia for saying our Aboriginal art is not “contemporary” art and should be shown in an ethnographic context. He has apologised but then said that we “mix it in” with contemporary art….
Also in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of NSW there is the rare opportunity to see wonderful paintings in The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland until 14 February 2016. Another exhibition at the AGNSW includes fascinating C19th drawings by Aboriginal artists Tommy McRae and William Barak. Murruwaygu (following in the footsteps of our ancestors), are Aboriginal artworks from south-east Australia and include Roy Kennedy and Harry J Wedge.
Wollongong Art Gallery is showing SHIMMER an exhibition “exploring expanded notions of historical and contemporary shell-working traditions in indigenous Australia”. This is especially true of Garry Sibosado and I also loved the prints of Darrell Sibosado. These brothers, from the West Kimberley coast, both reference traditional designs through contemporary art practice. I love shells and other well known artists include Esme Timbery, Tess Allas and Julie Gough.
There is more Aboriginal art in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia. TARNANTHI is an Inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, described as a very ambitious exhibition that showcases the diversity of Aboriginal art.
A major Gilbert & George exhibition is at the privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart, Tasmania.
APT8, the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial is in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA until 10 April 2016. The APT was a great initiative and is always interesting. It has focused international attention on the artists of our region. I would especially like to see the contemporary tribal art from India and I have collected and exhibited Indian tribal and village artists over the years.
WORLD: A memorable and often scary year comes to the end. It will be remembered for extreme and catastrophic weather events, air crashes, mass migrations and displacement, and “terrorism”. One probably has more chance of dying from a car accident, smoking, or being shot – especially if you live in the USA. 30,000 were killed by guns there over the year – coincidentally about the number killed world-wide by terrorism.
The Middle East/Islam conflict seems as complex and unsoluble as ever and innocent people, mostly Muslim, continue to be killed.
At least a more informed debate about Islam is emerging – with the exception of Donald Trump, our ex PM Abbott, far right groups like the National Front in France, and various unattractive bogans in Australia supposedly fighting for “our values”.
I thought Waleed Aly’s article last blog was very informative – as is this more recent one. He argues “The Reformation is here. Theyr’e looking at it. The Muslim world -and indeed Islamic thought – is in crisis”. New voices have emerged here like Ahmed Kilani who thinks it is time for a new generation of Muslim leaders to speak up, and he was a co-founder of the website Muslim Village here.
Also see this article on Wahhabism to ISIS: How Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism. The article is extremely informative about this very narrow and very influential form of Islam, which only emerged in the C18th. There is a trade-off with the Saudi Royal family, and it was a break-though that some women were allowed to stand for, and vote in, recent municipal elections. Perhaps they may even be allowed to drive one day!
PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: The Paris Climate Agreement is a real achievement and cause for optimism about the human race, even if it is “aspirational” and not legally binding. They are aiming for a less than 2 degree rise in global warming – ideally 1.5. Progress will be tracked every 5 years, and target reductions increased. Of course there will be problems and recalcitrant leaders – thank God Tony Abbott is no longer our PM! Well done to host France, the USA, India and China especially. There will be $100 billion for poorer nations.
Another reason for optimism is that I hope we are seeing the end of the fossil-fuel era. Coal is a “stranded asset”, “carbon capture” seems to remain as elusive as ever, banks are reluctant to finance new mines, and shares in fossil fuels are being divested. Fuel subsidies should be abolished and no new mines should be approved – especially the huge Adani/Carmichael mine in Queensland.
There are those that argue that coal is necessary, for example, to provide power for the 300 million without it in India.
What about subsidised micro grids?
But it is the unstoppable growth and utilisation all over the world of renewables that is displacing coal, and effective battery energy storage is the game changer of the year.
Powerhive, based in the USA, is providing cheap power to poor and remote African villages through roof top solar paid for via ubiquitous cell phones as power is required or can be afforded.
Do you know what the best thing an individual can do to curb carbon emission? Become a vegetarian! Meat is responsible for 15% of emissions. I am very contented as a vegetarian and it doesn’t seem to be too inconvenient for my family and friends. This is not always true of vegans however, and their fundamentalism can be disruptive and even counter-productive.
My cat is now a piscatarian although I don’t think this explains her provocative behaviour with 2 snakes that have unfortunately appeared in my garden. I’m very frightened she may join her brother in “crossing the rainbow bridge”, as some say these days, and I will be completely broken-hearted.
At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra there is the most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled of works by the “legendary” Australian artist Tom Roberts until 28 March.
Also in Canberra at the National Museum of Australia is Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum (until 28 March) which includes items such as an Aboriginal shield collected by Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770, one of many objects (and even body parts) that most Aboriginal people would like repatriated back to Australia.
AUSTRALIA: The gloss is going off our new PM Turnbull pretty quickly – from tensions within his own party, a defection, a Minister under investigation who won’t step aside, and Turnbull is wedged over climate change policies. He is as likely to be undone by the bitter conservative elements in his own party as he is by the Opposition. Our economic conditions continue to decline and the budget deficit is now $37.4 billion. In the absence of any proposed economic strategy or reform so far, he is hoping “innovation” will save us, but that takes time!
There is a recent biography on PM Malcolm Turnbull. His own mother described him as a child as “a bundle of demonic energy”. At school, a deputation went to the headmaster to say “anyone but Malcolm” for head prefect, but they were unsuccessful.
I can be mean as I don’t like many of the government’s unfair policies. But Turnbull is at least intelligent, personable, and has had a very successful law and business career – and he got rid of Tony Abbott. After breaking yet another promise not to “snipe”, the ex PM Abbott has gone feral and seems completely delusional, speaking out inappropriately on Islam, or “defending” his non- existent “legacy”. Some commentators have said we have replaced a “psychopath with a narcissist” – but most leaders probably suffer from one or the other.
Angela Merkel seems to be regarded as the leader of the year in 2015 – in a very weak field. While Greece has little chance of recovering economically through the “austerity” measures she supported, I admired her for her initial response to the refugees in Europe.
ANIMALS & WILDLIFE: After attending and speaking at several Animal Studies conferences in India, it is so encouraging to learn that there is such important and diverse research and work in relation to animal welfare and rights, and animal/human relationships. Information now is so easily shared, and petitions and suggested actions etc can be widely circulated.
What is Animal Welfare? Welfare v Rights? Welfare v Conservation? “Conservation” is caring about species (extinction), and “animal welfare” is caring about individual animals (and their suffering). For discussions about these definitions and questions see this site and the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare co-created by John Webster.
John Webster recently launched One Welfare an interactive portal for vets to keep them up-to-date on ethics and animal welfare.
There was an excellent review of the recent book by M.R. O’Connor which I have just bought for my Christmas reading – Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things. I’m hoping it will help me understand some of these complex issues.
I think we are seeing a changing of community attitudes and a growing support for animal welfare. Many of you are part of that. Looking at the last blog – chimpanzees were no longer to be experimented on in the USA, and PHASA was no longer supporting canned hunting of lions in South Africa. In Australia the horse racing industry is to limit the number of times a horse can be whipped (which is counter-productive anyway), and the worst aspects of the greyhound industry and live cattle and sheep exports have been exposed.
While people are also very concerned about a spate of shark attacks on our coast, many people now accept that the sea is the domain of sharks, and “smart” drum lines – and the netting of beaches, kill other marine creatures like turtles. Beaches need guards and aerial surveillance, and swimming in the early morning and late afternoons is regarded as dangerous.
The Japanese are resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean – intending to kill 330 minke whales. This is despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice, and the Japanese pretence of “scientific research”. Over many years only 2 articles have ever been “peer reviewed” and no-one really eats whale meat – if they can avoid it!
IVORY: The Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently been in Africa. The Chinese are the major consumers of ivory and 20,000 – 40,000 elephants are slaughtered each year. In September Xi pledged “to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory”. The Chinese also have to rethink traditional medicines that are driving animals to extinction. The Chinese have protected their giant pandas with numbers stabilising and possibly growing which is very admirable, but now this has to extend to other animals – and the prohibiting of the horrific and cruel practice of “milking” up to 10,000 bears for their bile.
Watch this amazing clip of The Elephants in the Room – a herd of elephants walking through a hotel in Zambia. They are walking on their traditional path – which now includes through a hotel lobby, to a favourite mango tree as it is spring and the fruit is ripe.
SHAME: Cardinal Pell did not come back from the Vatican to face the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Pell lived and worked with some of the most notorious clergy – and says he saw nothing and he certainly did nothing: the ZUMAMUSTGO protest in South Africa indicated the frustration and exasperation with the failure of leadership by the self serving Zuma (although he will probably be as difficult to dislodge as Mugabe in Zimbabwe): Syria’s Assad; and Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak is still refusing to explain the $700 million transferred to his private bank accounts.
Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings – whatever! Hope you have a holiday or a break with family and friends. I am very appreciative of the support I receive for the blog, and the interesting information many of you send me.
I’m going to India and I am hoping to see some more of their marvellous animals and wildlife which I will blog about on my return later in January. So wishing you all a Happy (and more peaceful) New Year.
Born Free, Blood Lions, Canned Hunting, Cecil the Lion, Tony the Tiger, World, Australia, Renewables, Climate Change/Dutch Court Case, Electricity Costs, Coal, Birds, Christine Townend, Asylum Seekers
July 31, 2015
I love this photograph, and many others entered in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Some of the other entries follow below and see here for a wide selection. With so many people with cameras and the plethora of images in our daily lives with social media and Instagram etc, it is great there are now so many competitions giving photographers greater exposure. Countless images of our beautiful natural world and wildlife can only contribute to renewing our efforts for urgent protection.
BORN FREE: After the initial successful fund raiser for Animal Works and The Feline Foundation, I have been asked again to introduce the classic film Born Free on Saturday 8th August at 2pm, at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney. I loved seeing the film again. The story of Elsa the lioness is sensitively told and Africa looks very fresh and beautiful. Please spread the word as Animal Works do support such important causes and projects! You can purchase tickets here.
BLOOD LIONS: This documentary, which took considerable courage to make, addresses the horrific practice of captive lion breeding and canned hunting in South Africa. It has just been shown at the Durban International Film Festival. No doubt it will soon be shown in Australia and internationally, so keep up to date via the Blood Lions website.
CECIL THE LION: the shooting of well known Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist has created a social media “firestorm” and international outcry. The 13 year old lion who was collared and under surveillance, was apparently lured outside his territory by bait. He was initially shot with a bow and arrow and forty hours later was shot with a gun. He was skinned and beheaded. What sort of people take pleasure in this? His cubs will be killed by another lion. Sign this petition and we can only hope Cecil’s death will add to the momentum against canned hunting and a world wide ban on the importation of animal body parts and trophies.
TONY THE TIGER: Please sign this petition for Tony! It is hard not to be very upset and pessimistic as the years go by and Tony remains imprisoned for the fifteenth year! I have been told that our collective signatures are noticed and can make a difference. There are now over 50,000 on this petition for Tony but they are aiming at 75,000.
A new sign on Tony’s cage at the truck stop says “we are proud of our record and it is a great joy to provide this free exhibit to you. Recent attacks by Animal Rights Terrorists and legal organisations against private zoos have resulted in huge legal fees. Donations are greatly appreciated”! This is just outrageous and we must keep the pressure up in any way we can to free Tony, the “free exhibit”.
WORLD: This 1st century statue of the Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria was destroyed earlier in the month by ISIS militants. Other sites in Palmyra are undamaged at this stage, but there has been widespread looting and vandalism across ISIS controlled areas. The unnecessary loss of cultural heritage is shocking – as is the plight of the millions of displaced people in the region.
It is hard not to be pessimistic about the world at the moment. There is new unsettling change, transition and insecurity. The sovereignty of some countries, particularly in the Middle East, is threatened and borders are reconfiguring. There are real fears over the territorial ambitions and influence of Putinism, and of China in the South China Sea. No-one really knows what repercussions there may be from the sluggish global economic growth, the disastrous handling of the Greek debt crisis, and now the Chinese stock market collapse.
However, with the end of his presidency in sight, and no election to face, Barack Obama’s recent activities are giving us some reason to be optimistic and people have a renewed admiration for him. At least he is trying to break a stalemate with Iran with the nuclear deal. Yes, lifting sanctions will make Iran wealthier and even more influential in the region, but their nuclear ambitions can be much more closely monitored. Obama also met with Native Americans which must be rare if it makes the news, as was his visit to a federal prison to meet with prisoners.
AUSTRALIA: There is growing frustration in Australia at the lack of any serious political debate or action on vital issues such as falling revenues, job creation, urgent tax reform and huge health and education budget shortfalls. The government – and opposition, play populist politics, both frightened of reform and of alienating core constituents. We are seemingly always in election mode, and policy reduced to inane slogans.
Respected journalist Laura Tingle recently wrote “we don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we are actually being governed by idiots and fools”.
Interestingly, in frustration, various diverse organisations are coming together to address the issues the government hasn’t: tax reform, an economic and jobs strategy, and the implications of climate change. These groups include the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Council of Social Services.
For an informed appraisal of the government’s performance and the state of the economy see the article Abbott hiding behind scare campaign by Ross Gittins in the SMH earlier this month (read full article here). The PM “ wants to divert us from the hash he is making of the economy”. Our Australian government thinks National Security is a vote winner and is ramping up fear at every opportunity. The PM even repeated that the “ISIS death cult is coming to get us”. As Gittins points out more people in Australia are dying from smoking, alcohol, car accidents and domestic violence than in terrorist attacks.
Our government is legislating to take away citizenship from jihadists and has seized the opportunity to curtail our own rights and freedoms. Denmark now welcomes their jihadists back and attempts to deradicalise them with education and employment opportunities. Their “flow” of fighters has become a “trickle”. By contrast, our government continues to alienate many in our Muslim community by often demonising them.
RENEWABLES: While windpower in Denmark recently produced 140% of power requirements, in Australia the government continues to attack renewable energy with a third attempt to disband the successful Clean Energy Fund Corporation. Unlike most of the rest of the world, the government are particularly targeting wind power and even small scale solar possibly because it is proving so popular. The opposition Labor Party have finally said something: they have announced a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 although there are no details or costings. Although the issue of climate change has had high profile political casualties, it will be a major factor in the next election. I think our present government will be shown to be on the wrong side of history. A majority in the community now believe urgent action is necessary, as do forward planning business leaders.
ELECTRICITY COSTS: The central question is just how much will a transition from fossil fuels to renewables cost? The Murdoch press, shock jock Alan Jones and the PM all predictably responded with wilful misinformation. For those interested in this vital and complicated question – see this article The true cost of green energy by Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper (25/26 July) where he comprehensively quotes the actual likely costs. “The arguments against renewable energy are not just without scientific basis, they lack economic credibility”.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance compares the costs of new wind farms, large scale photovoltaic projects, coal fired power stations, and gas base load stations. They conclude “both wind and solar are already cheaper than coal” and “the cost advantage of non- polluting energy is rapidly increasing”.
Mike Seccombe also quotes the Climate Works Australia CEO Anna Skarbek who says “Australia could completely decarbonise its economy while maintaining current rates of economic growth and do it – mostly – using existing technology”. In the article she describes four basic steps to achieve this.
CLIMATE CHANGE / DUTCH COURT CASE: do see this article where 886 concerned Dutch citizens successfully sued the Dutch Government over climate change inaction. The government “inaction” is illegal, and an abrogation of their “duty of care”. Citizens in other countries intend to follow suit, although unfortunately in Australia it would be more difficult.
COAL: It is likely permission will be granted for a Chinese coal mine (Shenhua Watermark) to proceed on the Liverpool Plains in north/west NSW. The threat to water is the main concern, not only for agriculture, but the area is a major catchment for the Murray-Darling Water Basin. This is Australia’s richest food producing land and I think this proposed mine will be the line in the sand that unites conservative land owners, conservationists and the majority of the public.
I haven’t visited the once extremely picturesque Hunter Valley for many years, but apparently mining has trashed it. Mining has threatened communities, tourism, vineyards and horse breeding and much else. The Indian Adani company seems unlikely to proceed with their vast coal mining plans in the Galilee Basin, Queensland, which also involved expanding port facilities and further endangering the Great Barrier Reef.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: The opposition Labor Party have now backed the government’s brutal policy to turn back refugee boats to Indonesia. I’m sure our inhumane response to the relatively few refugees (compared to Europe) breaks International Refugee Conventions. The boats to Australia have apparently stopped although the government releases no information, have payed off the people smugglers themselves, and annoyed the Indonesian government. People can go and drown or fight to survive somewhere else it seems, and I am sad to say, the majority of Australians agree. We have inhumane off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. 2 people have died on Manus Island, and not one person has been processed or resettled in 2 years.
Waleed Ali has commented that Australians are tolerant (or not racist) as long as “minorities know their place”. One of our best Aboriginal footballers Adam Goodes is currently being booed during games in a form of mob hysteria that has an undeniable racist undercurrent. He is a highly respected leader of his people who is unafraid to speak up, and he was Australian of the Year last year. During a match two years ago he objected to someone in the crowd calling him an “ape”. As the person turned out to be a young girl, Goodes has been vilified ever since as a bully!
CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine Townend’s poetry collection, Walking with Elephants (published by Island Press) was launched on 13th July, by Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel, a lecturer in Human Rights (USyd). The launch took place at the recent three day conference, Animal Publics, Emotions, Empathy, Activism, held at the University of Melbourne. Read one of her poems, Walking with Elephants. Her poems effortlessly express her love, concern and understanding of animals – and India. See this excellent review.
The animals at the Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong KAS) in India just adore her – I’ve seen it!
BIRDS: Birdlife Australia reports an alarming drop in the number of birds including kookaburras, willy wag-tails and magpies which are seemingly plentiful where I live. The Australian Bird Index is a citizens project carrying out rigorous and systematic surveys of our bird numbers. There are superb bird photographs on the website – and more photographic competitions.
Zoe Tweedale has named her current exhibition at Robin Gibson after Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and contains a painting of the star Tippi Hedren. The artist finds birds both extremely beautiful and exotic, but sometimes sinister and unsettling.