Jon Lewis Echidna – Damien Minton Gallery

Jon Lewis Echidna – Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney until 26 May 2012

JON LEWIS: It is the annual Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, and there have been photography exhibitions everywhere.  I love this echidna image by Jon Lewis from his exhibition From the Ranges at Damien Minton Gallery.  He has lovingly and poetically photographed the land around where he lives in country NSW.  His Classic Bondi portraits from the mid 1980s are also on show at the Bondi Pavilion until June 3rd.  Jonny is a well known photographer and conservation activist of long standing. See his website here.

THE INTERVENTION: I wrote about the Intervention in Aboriginal communities last time – you can protest against it here, especially as the Stronger Futures legislation to extend the Intervention is currently being debated in the Senate.

Noel Pearson is an influential Aboriginal leader and the Intervention seemed to emerge from his unexpected relationship with John Howard in his last year as PM.  He has been an articulate critic of indigenous welfare dependency, but the cancellation of Community Development Employment Projects ( a form of subsidised employment)  has left many in remote communities without employment and the ability to make a much needed contribution to the community.  Noel Pearson writes regularly for The Australian – on a wide variety of topics, and I did wonder why academic Marcia Langton, another influential Aboriginal leader, thought it was necessary to recently write  her defensive “Why I continue to be inspired by Pearson” article for the same paper.

The Intervention is very unpopular with few positive results so far.  In some respects it contravenes human rights, and was an opportunistic and clumsily implemented unsuitable one-size-fits-all paradigm.  Aboriginal community leaders who were not initially even consulted, need to be listened to about their particular priorities, ideas and solutions. The challenge is to create an economic basis for these remote communities – and not relocate them off their traditional lands to “growth centres”.

Buyku 2011 - Natural Earth pigments on incised laminate board

Buyku by Gunybi Ganambarr at Annandale Galleries.

I think some of the most exciting Aboriginal art being made today is by the painters on bark from North East Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory.  Among quite a few very talented “young guns” is the innovative Gunybi Ganambarr.  He is true to his traditional values and beliefs but imaginatively uses new conceptual approaches and mediums to express them. For example, Buyky (above) is natural earth pigments but on incised laminate board.  See more dazzling paintings from his exhibition from my mind online at Annandale Galleries, Sydney  and Ganambarr is one of 20 artists in the overdue and just opened UnDisclosed, the second National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra until 22nd July.

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: The case was back in court recently but I can’t quite decipher the result or the next step. It seems it’s at the discretion of the state government whether or not they enforce Tony’s relocation.  It just drags on and on.  Does the local press follow Tony’s case sympathetically – if at all?

ROSS GITTINS: I often read (and quote) Ross Gittins, an economics journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, as he appreciates we live primarily in a society, rather than an economy.  He has just been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney.

Gittins recently wrote about some fundamental differences between European and American approaches to life.  It helped me understand some of the very occasional emails I get about “infringements of my freedoms”, and complaints about “big government” etc.

A sample of Europeans and Americans were asked: “Which was more important – being free to pursue your life’s goals without interference from the state, or for the state to play an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody was in need”.

In the US, 58% favoured individual freedom, and 35% favoured ensuring nobody was in need.  It was the reverse in Europe where in Britain, for example, only 38% favoured individual freedom.

Interestingly, despite the American belief in the opportunities open to all citizens, and President Obama’s example, Americans actually have the lowest degree of social mobility.

Gittins accepts, as I do, “the need for the community to pull together towards common objectives, for us to be led by our elected leaders and for the better-off to be required to assist the less-well-off.  I don’t resent having the taxman redistribute a fair bit of my income to those less fortunate”.  He concludes that overall the ideal attitude to life lies somewhere in the middle. Read the full article here.

SURVEYS & REPORTS: In other recent surveys:  apparently we worry most about our careers; the majority of people think at the end of their lives that they worked too hard and should have spent more time with their families; and at present there is only a “middling” concern in the community for the environment.

There have been recent reports on how the education system is failing to engage with many indigenous and non indigenous teenagers alike, and the judicial system is failing them with high rates of incarceration and recividism.  There is an epidemic of marginalised and quite fearless young people – a danger to themselves, and the community.  Sydney has also had nearly nightly drive-by shootings in the suburbs.

Jenny Kee

Jenny Kee shone at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

JENNY KEE: Unusually for me, I attended Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia to see my friend Jenny Kee’s showing of her famous silk scarves – draped extravagantly around motionless models that we walked around.  It was both reminiscent of the excitement of her fashion parades for Flamingo Park (with Linda Jackson) decades ago, and something new – and a new younger audience who have discovered her. See her scarves here.  I’m not sure if Fashion Week drew many international heavyweights – but bloggers got a lot of attention – especially Bryanboy – who interpreted a tweet from one of our local glamazons as a real death threat.  Checking out their sites, I loved Tommy Ton’ photographs in  The Word on the Street and his pick of the best off-runway fashion statements of 2011.

In New York an exhibition of the work of two Italian fashion iconoclasts Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli (who could not be more dissimilar) has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Typically Miuccia Prada has said she does not like fashion and wishes she had found a job doing something important!   She is a very interesting woman and hopefully her $6.8 billion fortune may one day go towards something she regards as “important”.

AUSTRALIA: We have just had a rather clever sleight of hand (projected) return to surplus budget.  It seemed to compensate people for the upcoming carbon tax and supposedly spread some of the mineral wealth.  A return to surplus was a foolish, inhibiting promise at a time when economies around the world need stimulation for growth – particularly in Europe.  Two tacky sex scandals involving parliamentarians continued to get most of the media attention however, as their votes are crucial in the knife-edge hung parliament.

Despite the endlessly negative (and policy free) commentary from our Opposition, our economy is the envy of the world, especially in comparison to the extremely alarming eurozone crisis, which is already having global repercussions for us all.

I like the cultural diversity (and number of women) in the new cabinet in France, and M. Hollande’s call for more economic stimulation and growth rather than more austerity.

CSG: A recent rally outside Parliament House NSW called for tougher restrictions on the epidemic of coal and coal seam gas mining.  It seems no area, even prime agricultural land, is off limits.  Interesting to see usually conservative country people protesting and seeing, as the new leader of the Greens Christine Milne pointed out, that they have a lot in common with environmentalists.

Koala at Taronga Zoo. Images sourceed from Taronga Zoo.

Koala at Taronga Zoo

KOALAS:  Koalas are now officially “vulnerable” and  “endangered” in various parts of the eastern states of Australia.  I’m not sure just how much environmental protection this will provide, but in twenty years numbers in NSW have fallen from 31,400 to 21,000 in 2010, a decline of 33%.

In NSW, the government is considering allowing minors to hunt feral animals with knives, dogs and high-powered hunting bows in the National Parks – so the government can secure necessary votes from the Shooters Party on other legislation.

BEES: It is of great concern that bee numbers seem to be declining dramatically globally and this would of course be disastrous for the food chain.  65% of our agricultural production in Australia depends on pollination by European honey bees.  AVAAZ recently began a campaign against the use of pesticides by Bayer, and a link has been found between another common agricultural pesticide (containing imidacloprid), and colony collapse disorder in which adult bees abandon hives.

PRINCE WILLIAM: Nice to see a new patron for conservation and in a recent speech Prince William wanted to “sound a rallying call”  that in Africa there are only 600,000 elephants, 25,000 lions (halved from 20 years ago) and 12,000 cheetahs left.

MISC STATS: 7000 languages are now spoken in the world but only 600 are expected to survive until the end of the century; in the UK despite double dip recession and record unemployment the richest 1000 people are $643.5 billion richer; in Australia under 1% of the population are problem gamblers, but they contribute 40% of poker machine revenue; 37% of Australian people with taxable incomes of $1 million or more make no donations at all; 31.96% of us sign up for organ donation however; there are fewer than 200 violins made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, and 650 by Stradivarius – all worth many millions of dollars.

OBAMA: Congratulations for “evolving” into your support for same-sex marriage, the first American President to do so.

Jon Lewis Dooloogool

Jon Lewis Dooloogool


How many times did you both visit Christian in Africa and when was he last seen?

When we were revising and updating A Lion Called Christian in 2009, even we were sometimes confused about some details of particular visits especially 40 years later!  Luckily my mother kept all my letters from that period and that helped us as did subsequently published books.  We returned Christian to Kenya in August 1970. After a few weeks we left him with George Adamson to get him used to us not being there, and went on a two week safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  We returned to Kora where Christian was very happy to see us.  Although the big lion Boy was still not fully accepting Christian, there had been an improvement and we were confident enough to leave him and return to London.

We returned one year later in July 1971 to a marvellous and enthusiastic reception from Christian that has become known as the  “YouTube” reunion and became an internet sensation. We returned again in August 1972 for another visit with Christian. He was now three years old, and was growing more independent and into one of the biggest lions George had ever seen. He had cleverly and courageously survived those early dangerous years. The relentless opposition from the local wild lions at Kora meant George’s male lions increasingly spent extended periods away from the camp.  John returned to Kora again later in 1973, but Christian had not been seen since earlier in the year. George last saw him heading off in the direction of the more hospitable Meru National Park which was a much more conducive area for Christian to establish his own territory and pride.

Presuming this happened, Christian would not have been able to leave his pride unattended and return to Kora to see his friends George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn who he loved. There were never any news or sightings of Christian again. He had grown into such a big and strong lion we hope he may have lived at least another 8 years, and that his progeny may be in Kenya today.

CHRISTIAN: See this recent interview on the BBC – John is interviewed in London in Christian’s garden, and the relocated Sophistocat furniture shop. I loved Virginia McKenna, star of Born Free saying that Christian was “one of the most beautiful young lions I had ever seen. There was just something about him….” I agree!

For a more detailed description of our return visits to Christian – and answers to other frequently asked questions, see our 2009 edition of A Lion Called Christian which can be purchased  here.

Christian is mentioned in the excellent books I know some of you have been reading: My Pride and Joy by George Adamson (Collins Harvill 1986); The Great SafariThe Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House ( Morrow 1993); The Life in My Years by Virginia McKenna (Oberon 2009); and the Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild (Viking 2010).

New Year 2011

January 22, 2011

Southern swell by Australian Kah Kit Yoong, Runner Up "Wild Places" category / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2010: This seems an appropriate photograph to lead with this year, with the power of water very much on all our minds with disastrous flooding in three states in Australia, and in several other countries.  Currently showing at the Australian Museum, Sydney I did not find this exhibition as breath-takingly good as last year – but it is still quite inspirational.  I love the wide participation and interest generated from many nationalities and from all age groups, and the spotlight on the often ravishing beauty of our increasingly endangered nature and wildlife.  You can take your camera and practise your photography on selected museum specimens.

FLOODS: Much of Australia has had drought conditions for many years, and there have been debates about water use, the condition of river systems, irrigation and desalination plants.  But many people have been fighting for their lives or losing everything in recent floods in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. There have also been floods in other countries including South Africa, Sri Lanka, The Philippines and landslides in Brazil where many lives have been lost.  However, extraordinary qualities have been demonstrated – courage and heroism, stoic acceptance, outstanding leadership and great community spirit.  Over 100,000 volunteers turned up at the weekend to clean up Brisbane!

Little owls on top by Ilia Shalamae, Highly Commended "Behaviour of Birds" category / Wildlife Photographer of The Year 2010

PETS: Animals have of course been as much at risk as the humans and their stories here have been equally poignant and heart breaking.  At first, evacuation centres refused to take animals but that was swiftly overturned.  Trapped horses “screamed”.  Some cows knew to head to higher ground before people sensed the imminent danger.  Dogs have turned up days later. The veterinarian clinic at the University of Queensland became a “Noah’s Ark”.  In Brazil there was that very upsetting photograph of a dog sitting for several days on the grave of the owner.

On another note, in Spain they have just celebrated the annual Luminarias religious festival held on the eve of St Anthony’s Day which commemorates the patron saint of animals, but the photograph showed a man riding his horse through flames which seemed entirely inappropriate!  Anthony is my Christian name, and I’d forgotten St Anthony was the patron saint of animals.

Swamp heaven by Mac Stone, Highly Commended "Animals in their Environment" category / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

LEADERSHIP: The Premier of Queensland has earned wide admiration for her leadership during the crisis, managing to strike the right note and appearing “real”, while our PM sounded awkward.  Our government has become so enslaved to focus groups, polling and media cycles, like many governments in the world. They seem cowered and cautious, with most responses and actions seeming so scripted and careful at a time in our history requiring strong and intelligent leadership.  Barack Obama also seems to have struck the right note talking about the shooting in America in Tucson when he said we must “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together”.

The uprising in Tunisia, which has many other neighbouring despots feeling justifiably insecure, was partly provoked by information disclosed by WikiLeaks. This is why in principle I support WikiLeaks, which I hope will lead to more transparency, not less.

In a recent article “Time to turn traditional enemies into allies” (SMH 15-16th January 2011), Stephen Kinzer (author of Reset:Middle East), argues that there has to be a new paradigm for the Middle East as America’s allies are failing them very badly.  Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have proven to be too duplicitous.  Kinzer argues that the West has much more commonality with countries like Turkey, the world’s most democratic Muslim country. The US-Iran relationship he describes as the “most dysfunctional in today’s world”.  Many people in Iran are well educated and would like democratic reform, and are against the radical Sunni groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They could  actually help to stabilise Iraq and Afghanistan. Kinzer writes that the wisest policy would be to “try drawing Iran and Israel out of their isolation, and ultimately make them feel safe enough so they can make the security concessions the world needs them to make”.  I remember Obama early in his presidency spoke initially in a conciliatory way about Iran, and was derided for it.  I recently saw Annie Leibovitz’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and her photograph of Bush, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc was the most chilling photograph I have seen for along time, and the world is still paying the price for what they inflicted on us.

MISC. STATS: 30,000 deaths from guns in the US each year – and gun sales have recently escalated; 800 million Indians live on under $2 per day, and the legislated minimum wage is about $3 per day; according to the FAO, there were 100 million less undernourished people in the world last year, but still leaving 925 million, although this represents 1 in 7 as opposed to 1 in 4 40 years ago; the average life span has risen from 59 to 70 years, and people are healthier, wealthier and better educated. In Australia apparently we have less violent crime, and are smoking less and taking fewer drugs.

LAST BLOG: I have remembered a few other things I wanted to say about India: although I was in the tea estates of Darjeeling and Assam, I didn’t have one cup of tea I enjoyed and loved getting back to my Dilmah!  In my hotel in Mumbai the staff surprised me by singing  Happy Birthday and producing a birthday cake which I found very touching, if embarrassing; and the exhibition of my Indian tribal art collection (Cross Art Projects, Sydney) is now in April.

Frozen moment by Fergus Gill, Winner of the 15-17 years category / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

CHANEE / KALAWAIT: Click here for Chanee’s latest news. He is seeking partners for a kloss gibbon conservation project.

SAVE THE BEES: Click here for AVAAZ’s petition to ban toxic pesticides that seem to be responsible for billions of bees dying which is endangering our food chain.

Moon Bear - Mr Sunshine

FREE THE BEARS: Mary Hutton, founder of Free the Bears Fund Inc. sent this photograph to a friend of mine who made a donation.  Mr Sunshine and his sister, freed from a cage, now live in an enclosure where they can roam and forage.  Click here to view the Free the Bears website.

TARONGA FIELD CONSERVATION GRANTS PROGRAM: Click here for information about Partnerships for Conservation.  They are partnering in projects that protect endangered species, save and regenerate natural habitats, and work with local communities. See information on the grants available in 2011.

WATCHING: I’ve been enjoying the cricket even if we were humiliated by our colonial masters the English, and tennis, which I especially like.  I am about to go to Melbourne for the Australian Open.

PLAYS: I’ve been lucky enough to recently see Cate Blanchett in Uncle Vanya, although I did not enjoy the performance or play as much as A Streetcar Named Desire last year when she was unforgettable as Blanche. I’ve just seen Geoffrey Rush in The Diary of a Madman and his performance was also a “tour de force”. I saw him having a fag at the stage door on the way in…

TONY FITZJOHN: I have adored reading Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild. He had begun working for George Adamson between our 1971 and 1972 visits. Christian was the first lion he met and they became great friends and he says they learnt and grew up together. It was one of his life’s “most valuable relationships”.  Whenever volatile Joy Adamson came to camp, he and Christian went and stayed down by the river, which I find particularly sweet. It was a miracle that Tony materialised, and with his personality and many practical skills he helped George maintain his lion rehabilitation program, and the camp at Kora, for many years up until George’s murder.  He describes the deteriorating situation and great dangers in the 1980s at Kora – indeed Kenya.  In addition to photographs I hadn’t seen before, I particularly liked more information about Christian and I cried, or sobbed, quite a few times. Tony felt that as he was the same age as us, he was a sort of substitute for us in Christians’s mind.  I didn’t realise Christian had had such a hard time from the local wild lions. He luckily grew very big and somehow negotiated a “truce”  with some of them, and was actually seen sitting with Scruffy, a particularly tough lion. Ultimately however, he had to find somewhere else to live. Tony writes very well about some of the unique qualities George had; “There was a quality of peace and stillness about him that clearly put the lions at ease. Everything he did, he did competently, deliberately and calmly”. With his knowledge gained over many years, George could accurately anticipate most animal behaviour. The book also details information about the leopard program Tony initiated (a leopard fell in love with him), and everything he has achieved subsequently at Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania.  He continues George’s work as Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, and he describes the recent rehabilitation and plans for Kora. Christian was last seen heading for Meru National Park in 1973, an indication of his successful rehabilitation. I can only agree with Tony when he said: “We were proud of him but, God, I missed him”.