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”.

India 2

December 23, 2010


Mount Kanchenjunga (again)

On my first weekend in Calcutta, luxuriating in the Oberoi Grand, I noticed a colour supplement in the newspapers – Indian tribal art had finally become fashionable, with an artist achieving $31,000 at a Sothebys auction in New York.

Indian tribal art finally comes of age

TRIBAL ART:  I had been collecting this artist – Jangarh Singh Shyam from Madhya Pradesh, since the late 1980’s when I visited the Bharat Bhavan, an exciting gallery/museum complex in Bhopal.  It was one of the first to collect contemporary Indian art (which was about to explode) and tribal artists – long marginalised and discriminated against because of their lowly caste status.  On my many subsequent trips to India I continued to look for tribal art -I am after all a curator of Aboriginal art in Australia.  I collected and exhibited paintings from the Warli tribals who live in the foothills of the Sahyadri mountains (north of Mumbai), Madhubani folk/village paintings from northern Bihar, and later, I was one of the first to arrange exhibitions of  Khovar art from southern Bihar.  In 1994, Jenny Kee, a famous London/Sydney fashion icon and artist, her boyfriend the late Danton Hughes, and I went on a “tribal tour” of Orissa to remote villages.  Adventures included nearly being arrested for photographing near naked tribals at a weekly market high up in the mountains, to Jenny being swept up in a tribal wedding party walking along the road.

Jenny Kee in Orissa, 1994

When I organized the Australian/Indian Government artists exchange  and exhibition at the Crafts Museum in New Delhi in 1999, I ensured that Jangarh Singh Shyam participated joining Aboriginal artist Djambawa Marawili.  This was most enjoyable, despite language barriers, and a huge “collaborative” canvas (which had no evidence of any collaboration), is now probably wrapped somewhere in the basement of the Australian High Commission in Delhi!  Extremely unfortunately, Jangarh committed suicide while feeling isolated on an artists’s residency in Japan in 2001.  His son is now getting recognized for his own art, but unfortunately, other tribal artists I saw this time seemed to be imitating Jangarh’s unique visual vocabulary…

Later in January 2011, I am going to exhibit my collection of Indian art at the Cross Arts Projects, Kings Cross – a small exhibition to mostly work out what to do with it, and enjoy!

My mother, Pat Bourke, in Jaipur in 1990

MUM: Another adventure I had was with my mother who adored her trip to India in 1990 and was just ecstatic when she rode an elephant.  She has long been truly fascinated by elephants which I am only now beginning to fully understand and share in her enthusiasm.

INDIA:  I have been asked how different I found India after 10 years – and I didn’t find it very different.  What I had forgotten was just how alive Indians are!  They are just going for it – often against great odds, and mostly with a smile on their faces.  Traffic and queues (and queue jumpers) can of course test one’s patience.  There is apparently a huge increase in the middle class and it is good if more people have better lives and greater educational opportunities.  The GNP is projected to be 9% for the coming year.  Unfortunately, not everyone shares in this wealth, and the gap between rich and poor has widened.  I noticed a lot of zippy little new cars and some new flyovers, and some instant suburbs, but basic infrastructure like roads seemed as run down as ever, and many open drains and worrying loose cables.

This woman slept on the pavement each night opposite my hotel

Many people were fascinated with a recent documentary (Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour) that looked at the slums of Mumbai, where it is expected over 8 million people will live by next year.  There is  85% employment in the slums, and most interestingly, a very strong sense of community that has been lost in wider suburbia, and that architects and city planners would like to replicate.  I noticed two women sleep on the pavement opposite my hotel each night, probably after a day of sorting garbage, and could only imagine what their lives are like.

80 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 don’t go to school.  Over a million schools have no buildings, or one teacher only, or no water or basic amenities.

But again, I can only reiterate my admiration for how well India works…given the challenges and the weight of  the population.

Morning prayers

READING: I very much enjoyed reading Nine Lives by William Dalrymple.  I had previously enjoyed his history of Delhi, The City of Djinns.  He is interested in how modern India is impacting on the past and traditions, and looks at nine extraordinary lives, and their religious and spiritual experiences.  These include a middle class woman who has found fulfillment living in a cremation ground, and a temple dancer who is worshipped as an incarnate deity for 2 months of the year, but is a prison warden for the remainder.  One of the many unique things about India is how, unlike most other cultures, the present is not disconnected from the past. Their mythological stories and epics are renewed, reinterpreted and evolving, with the Ramayan for example, a very popular television serial in the 1980s.

I loved the quote in the book from Shah Abdul Lalif a C18th Sufi master (especially as there was a recent hysterical wave of share-buying  in an Indian coal company): “Deal only with things that are good. If you trade coal, you will be covered in soot.  But if you trade musk, you will smell of perfume”.

One of my favourite writers is the grumpy but amusing VS Naipaul who I first read when I went to India.  I loved his writing as a returning  (for the first time) Trinidad-born Indian.  An Area of Darkness (1964) – I love the quote, “To be in Bombay was to be exhausted”, and then India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977).  Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger)  recently wrote that Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990) was “so compassionate, so insightful in it’s vision of India as a land that grows through strife” that Indians forgave Naipaul his criticisms and fully embraced him.

Good news is that Vikram Seth is writing A Suitable Girl to be published in 2013!

HOLIDAY READING: Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild, David Suzuki’s The Legacy (I like his mantra of “clean air, clean water and clean food”) and familiarising myself with the intelligent and very relevant work of  Tim Jackson and Wade Davis, starting with their TED Talks.

COLABA: In Mumbai I rarely leave the beautiful harbour suburb of Colaba, near the now unfortunately infamous Taj Hotel, and the Gateway of India.  Although people still sleep in the street there, or camp beside buildings, I did find it rather odd to see in this suburb with some of the most valuable real estate in the world,  rather beautiful black and white goats tethered to fences.  I then realised that it was Eid-ul-Azha (EID) and they were to be sacrificed.  I was extremely upset.

Kittens at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter on Kukur Tihar

CAMPAIGNS: At the same time I was emailed about Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East, and for EID were also killed cruelly.  You can watch a most disturbing report that was recently screened, and to add your voice of protest email the Australian Government, click here.  We are complicit in this trade…and these “sacrifices”.


Unfortunately, I have just received this email and the permit has been renewed.
“Hi Ace
I want to apologize for not writing to you sooner. Between work being crazy (have been busy at both jobs) and the news about Tony, I got somewhat backed up with getting emails out.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries renewed their permit to Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin on December 14, 2010. While it is very disappointing, I am not discouraged and will continue to do whatever I can to try to help Tony.
Here is the link to the article about the permit renewal:
I am trying to keep people on Tony’s Facebook page interested and supportive, asking them to write to the contacts on this list and voice their objections to the permit renewal:
I don’t want people to forget about Tony.
I want to thank you for caring and supporting Tony, and for giving his story more exposure on your blog. It means so much to me and I hope we can continue corresponding.
I hope your Mom is well. I have a rare day of from work today; just home with my cats trying to update things online and respond to emails.
Please keep in touch – have a great holiday.
Dee DeSantis”
OPRAH: Australia has had Oprah fever and she got an unbelievable reception here.  I’ve been enjoying remembering when we went on her show last year, actually sitting beside her, meeting attractive Gayle King, and fellow guest Facebooks’ Mark Zuckerberg, this year’s TIME Magazine Person of the Year.  I promise I don’t know anyone who goes around shouting Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

I love Derek Cattani's Christmas card

Whatever your beliefs or indulgences, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings etc, I hope you have an enjoyable break with your families and pets.  I’m most appreciative that many of you find the time to read my blog, and respond and comment –  I love your animal stories and photographs!  Can I thank many of you for drawing my attention to interesting stories and issues and relevant campaigns.  Let’s try to make a difference next year, and I especially want Tony the tiger to be freed!  My best wishes for a more peaceful and a more sustainable 2011.

Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2010

Last visit to Christian 1972

Christian was born 12th August 1969. This is my favourite photograph of me with Christian, and I don’t think it has ever been seen before. I was not aware of it until a friend gave it to me in London last year. I cried. As it is 1972 it was probably taken by Tony Fitzjohn, now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.  It turned out to be my last visit and we never saw him again.

Sometimes I could read Christian’s eyes and mind and I could feel extremely connected to him, and sometimes I found him totally impenetrable, and I was completely irrelevant. This photograph for me sums up the bridge or link between humans and animals that Christian has now come to represent to many people. It also illustrates other factors that many of you have written to me about – “love” and “trust”, both in relation to Christian, and your own animals.  I’m very grateful for you expressing your emotions so beautifully and sharing them with me.

I’M READING: Christine’s Ark by John Little about an extraordinary Australian woman Christine Townend, a founder of Animal Liberation in Australia (with Peter Singer), and who then ran with her husband an Animal Shelter in Jaipur, India, for over 17 years. I have been lucky enough to meet her lately and I am going to visit their two animal shelters near Darjeeling in India in early November. I will blog much more about their marvellous work, and help if I can. Check them out –  I think Christine Townend is an example of what the world needs badly – individuals that do not just accept the status quo and do something  personally about it, and make an extraordinary difference.

I have been fascinated by another Australian, Julian Assange, who also decided to act – against government dishonesty and the misrepresentation in the media of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He created WikiLeaks – and recently uploaded many thousands of confidential US Government reports to show the real situation and the number of civilian deaths. Perhaps people, so badly failed by our leaders, are taking action themselves – and much of it through the opportunities the internet provides. In this case I fear his disclosures will have people killed in retaliation, and that he will be killed himself.

A mother Australian Sea Lion sniffs her pup. Photo Benjamin Pitcher SMH

I’M WATCHING: everything on our nerve- wracking if nearly farcical election, and David Attenborough’s new documentary series Life – a welcome antidote. My cat particularly liked the snakes, unlike me. Her brother prefers the computer and the mouse to television.


In the election we have the choice between an Opposition leader who is on record as saying “climate change is crap” with a pretend policy, and a dithering Government who did try and get the ETS legislation through parliament (blocked by the Opposition and the Greens can you believe), and now want to create “community consensus” through a Citizens Assembly! This was greeted with the derision it deserves. In fact 62% of the community WANT action and ex PM Rudd’s credibility crumbled on his shelving of this legislation.

Delay just means everything will be much harder and more expensive to turn around in the future. Other countries like Germany and China are seizing the new economic opportunities that are presenting themselves and a price on carbon is essential to stop uncertainty and to encourage investment in alternate and renewable energies.

I did secretly wonder, given the precarious global financial and economic situation, was it a good or bad time to introduce an ETS? A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (4/8/10) did quote the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying while he was pessimistic about the prospects for the global economy, strong policies to curb carbon emissions and a high carbon price could also help restore growth, and provide certainty for investment.

Bushfires in Russian, floods in Pakistan… and the recent State of the Climate 2009 Report illustrates how we have just had our hottest year in 2009 here in my State, and Australia’s second warmest year since 2005. It was good to see the exoneration of the scientists crucified by the climate skeptics who successfully stalled the global momentum for action over a few careless inaccuracies in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

GOOD NEWS: the BP oil well seems capped in the Gulf of Mexico, although the damage will remain for decades, and remember the threat to the Ozone layer and the hole above Antarctica? With the banning of CFCs, there is now optimism about slow long term recovery.

DON’T MISS:  We have been very fortunate to have  a unique exhibition of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz  from the Lake George years at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Described as “America’s greatest photographer” these beautiful photographs from the 1910s-1930s rarely travel, and include of course photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, and fascinating photographs of exhibitions at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery including the first exhibitions in America of Picasso, Braque and Brancusi. The exhibition closes 5th September.


The visit to Australia by American lawyer Joyce Tischler has focused attention on the huge growth and interest in Animal Rights. There seems to be a growing concern especially about the conditions pigs and chickens endure in relation to food production, and a determination to end some very cruel practices.

STATISTICS: 3000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild (and a new baby at Taronga Zoo), and the most exhaustive stocktake of life in the world’s oceans so far, the Census of Marine Life, found more than 230,000 species lived in 25 marine regions around the world, and Australia contains more than 33,000 known species of which 58 are threatened.


One year I must attend the Garma Festival in northern Australia, where this year there is a stated commitment to education for indigenous people. The festival is a good reminder of just how strong traditional Aboriginal culture remains in central and northern Australia, and the difficulties inherent in biculturalism and living in two often competing worlds. How do you fully participate in mainstream Australia as entitled when you live in very remote small communities with a strong traditional culture and few economic opportunities? Fortunately, many Australian Aborigines are  extremely good artists and this has provided livelihoods, and their best ones, like the late Emily Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas, have been fascinating the global art world for several decades.

Aboriginal dancers at the Garma Festival last year