Review: Richard Flanagan’s The Living Sea of Waking Dreams considers griefs big and small

Eddie Coghlan/Unsplash

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, University of Western Australia

Review: Richard Flanagan, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (Penguin Random House, 2020)

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, Richard Flanagan’s eighth novel, is one of a slew of novels one expects to emerge from the shadow of the 2019–2020 bushfire season that darkened the skies of eastern Australia for weeks on end, scorching forests from Byron Bay to Kangaroo Island.

A rolling incineration of large swathes of the continent, the sky itself seemed to have been on fire, from the uncanny pink-disk sun of smoke-choked Sydney in November and December to the apocalyptic scenes at Mallacoota on New Year’s Eve.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams book cover

In Flanagan’s novel the collapse of the planet’s ecosystems happens in the background. The story itself is mainly occupied with something which must be trivial by comparison: the dying of 87-year-old Francie in a Hobart hospital.

Francie’s three children have come together to deal with the demands of the situation. While Anna and Terzo have long left Tasmania behind them (or so they thought) for high-flying careers on the mainland, Tommy has remained. Tommy is a failed artist and speaks with a stutter that appeared when a fourth child, Ronnie, died by suicide following abuse suffered at a Marist boys’ school.

The novel mainly follows Anna. A successful architect living in Sydney, she reluctantly answers Tommy’s call to return to Tasmania when their mother’s health turns for the worse. The novel traces the breaking down of all the things Anna has put up to convince herself she was no longer in that place.

Burnt tree bark reveals health bellow
In the face of a scarred country, Anna must return home and face the scars of her family. Photoholgic/Unsplash

What place? Not Tasmania, but the invisible, traumatic centre of family life — all the failures, evasions, dirty compromises swept under the carpet only to reappear with surprising exactitude each Christmas.

Or, when a parent dies.

Losing a mother; losing a world

In this respect, Flanagan’s novel resembles Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections or HBO’s Succession.

While Succession, with its ageing mogul patriarch Logan Roy, is loosely based on the Murdoch dynasty, it does not really depend on a media empire at stake. Its heart is the tawdry machinations of the infantilised children as they jockey for advantage, trying to win the game of imaginary approval driving sibling rivalry.

In The Living Sea of Waking Dreams it is a matriarch rather than a patriarch slowly, messily and unevenly passing out of the world. Yet, while Logan Roy is a monster and Francie a saint, the effect in the adult children is exactly the same.

The brilliance of Flanagan’s story and the deep power of this novel is in our witnessing of the end of the world. The death of Francie opens up a black hole in the family drawing Anna, Terzo and Tommy into its implacable singularity.

Burnt dead forests hug an abandoned dirt road.
What does it mean to face personal grief when the world is ending? Charles G/Unsplash

At the same time as this family’s little world is collapsing, the world itself is in its own end times. Ash rains down from the sky and one ecological catastrophe after another interrupts Anna’s social media feed. This conjunction presents a new form of what is called the pathetic fallacy, in which we project the world of our inner emotions and moods onto the natural world.

A sullen sky, a bright morning, a funereal forest — some basic animism in us takes the world to be the sounding board of our affects. It is a symptom of the Anthropocene these affinities have become planetary.


Read more: How the term ‘Anthropocene’ jumped from geoscience to hashtags – before most of us knew what it meant


Is Flanagan’s novel an ecological novel? The luxury of choosing has now all but gone.

We no longer have to turn our minds to an ecology forcing itself into our lungs and washing up on our every shore. The novel has a dimension of allegory, but it is no longer clear which direction it is flowing.

Our missing parts

The pathetic fallacy was thought to serve the psychic needs of people by offering them a consoling mirror in the natural world, but what if its true point was to turn our subjective misery into ethical environmental action?

Certainly, the moribund Francie seems an emblem of a dying maternal nature. The ever greater efforts her children expend on keeping her alive evoke the desperate rear-guard actions to prevent this or that catastrophe.

A closeup of an IV in a patient's hand.
The children attempt ever greater efforts to keep their mother with them. National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

But the novel’s most persuasive ploy is not based on the redeployment of sympathy. At regular intervals, Anna realises she is missing a body part. It begins with a missing finger. Later her knee, then a breast, an eye. Others, too, start to lose body parts.

These “vanishings”, as they come to be known, are entirely painless and seem to go almost unnoticed. It is as if, we are told, they have simply been photoshopped away.

The uncanny part is not the loss of the limb, but the fact the phenomenon is going unremarked. This is what extinction feels like. Something is gone that was once there. We are briefly confused, but then we reassemble the picture and push on.


Read more: Australian writer Richard Flanagan wins the Man Booker prize


Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Professor, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Buildings kill millions of birds. Here's how to reduce the toll

These birds were killed by flying into a set of surveyed buildings in Washington DC in 2013. USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab/Flickr

Norman Day, Swinburne University of Technology

As high-rise cities grow upwards and outwards, increasing numbers of birds die by crashing into glass buildings each year. And of course many others break beaks, wings and legs or suffer other physical harm. But we can help eradicate the danger by good design.

Most research into building-related bird deaths has been done in the United States and Canada, where cities such as Toronto and New York City are located on bird migration paths. In New York City alone, the death toll from flying into buildings is about 200,000 birds a year.

Across the US and Canada, bird populations have shrunk by about 3 billion since 1970. The causes include loss of habitat and urbanisation, pesticides and the effects of global warming, which reduces food sources.

An estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds die each year from “unnatural” causes like building collisions in the US. The greatest bird killer in the US remains the estimated 60-100 million free-range cats that kill up to 4 billion birds a year. Australia is thought to have up to 6 million feral cats.


Read more: For whom the bell tolls: cats kill more than a million Australian birds every day


But rampant global urbanisation is putting the reliance on glass buildings front-of-stage as an “unnatural” cause of bird deaths, and the problem is growing exponentially.

In the line of flight

Most birds fly at around 30-50km/h, with falcons capable of up to 200km/h. When migrating, birds generally spend five to six hours flying at a height of 150 metres, sometimes much higher.

And that’s where the problems start with high-rise buildings. Most of them are much taller than the height at which birds fly. In Melbourne, for example, Australia 108 is 316 metres, Eureka 300 metres, Aurora 270 metres and Rialto 251 metres. The list is growing as the city expands vertically.

The paradigm of high-rise gothams, New York City, has hundreds of skyscrapers, most with fully glass, reflective walls. One World Trade is 541 metres high, the 1931 Empire State is 381 metres (although not all glass) and even the city’s 100th-highest building, 712 Fifth Avenue, is 198 metres.

To add to the problems of this forest of glass the city requires buildings to provide rooftop green places. These attract roosting birds, which then launch off inside the canyons of reflective glass walls – often mistaking these for open sky or trees reflected from behind.

Reflections of trees and sky lure birds into flying straight into buildings. Frank L Junior/Shutterstock

A problem of lighting and reflections

Most cities today contain predominantly glass buildings – about 60% of the external wall surface. These buildings do not rely on visible frames, as in the past, and have very limited or no openable windows (for human safety reasons). They are fully air-conditioned, of course.


Read more: Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly that could have been avoided


Birds cannot recognise daylight reflections and glass does not appear to them to be solid. If it is clear they see it as the image beyond the glass. They can also be caught in building cul-de-sac courtyards – open spaces with closed ends are traps.

At night, the problem is light from buildings, which may disorientate birds. Birds are drawn to lights at night. Glass walls then simply act as targets.

Some species send out flight calls that may lure other birds to their death.

White-throated Sparrows collected in a University of Michigan-led study of birds killed by flying into buildings lit up at night in Chicago and Cleveland. Roger Hart, University of Michigan/Futurity, CC BY

Read more: Want to save millions of migratory birds? Turn off your outdoor lights in spring and fall


We can make buildings safer for birds

Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning.

Birds see ultraviolet light, which humans cannot. Some manufacturers are now developing glass with patterns using a mixed UV wavelength range that alerts birds but has no effect on human sight.

New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.

The search is on for various other ways of warning birds of the dangers of glass walls and windows.

Combinations of methods are being used to scare or warn away birds from flying into glass walls. These range from dummy hawks (a natural enemy) and actual falcons and hawks, which scare birds, to balloons (like those used during the London Blitz in the second world war), scary noises and gas cannons … even other dead birds.

Researchers are using lasers to produce light ray disturbance in cities especially at night and on dark days.

Noise can be effective, although birds do acclimatise if the noises are produced full-time. However, noise used as a “sonic net” can effectively drown out bird chatter and that interference forces them to move on looking for quietness. The technology has been used at airports, for example.

A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.

These zen curtains can also be used to make windows on a house safer for birds. However, such a device would take some doing for the huge structures of a metropolis.

More common, and best adopted at the design phase of a building, is to mark window glass so birds can see it. Just as we etch images on glass doors to alert people, we can apply a label or decal to a window as a warning to birds. Even using interior blinds semi-open will deter birds.

Birds make cities friendlier as part of the shared environment. We have a responsibility to provide safe flying and security from the effects of human habitation and construction, and we know how to achieve that.


This article has been updated to correct the figure for the estimated number of birds killed by the cats in the US to “up to 4 billion”, not 4 million.

Norman Day, Lecturer in Architecture, Practice and Design, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: 5 ways to manage your news consumption in times of crisis

Victoria Heath/Unsplash

Mark Pearson, Griffith University

Thousands of employees internationally are already working from home in COVID-19 self-isolation because of their recent travel, related symptoms or immune system vulnerability.

But to do so while habitually checking the news on devices – and allowing 24/7 news channels to play non-stop in the background – might erode your productivity and increase stress and anxiety.

A foundational element of media literacy in the digital era is striking an appropriate balance between news consumption and other activities. Even before the current crises, Australian research demonstrated news avoidance had risen among news consumers from 57% in 2017 to 62% in 2019, driven by a sense of news fatigue.

Self-help expert Rolf Dobelli implores us to stop reading the news. While he advocates going cold turkey and abandoning all packaged news consumption, Dobelli makes exceptions for long-form journalism and documentaries.

So too does philosopher Alain de Botton in The News – A User’s Manual, while proposing more positive news and journalism’s examination of life’s deeper issues, emotions and aesthetics.

In journalism education there has been a move towards “peace journalism”, “mindful journalism”, “constructive journalism” and “solutions journalism”, where the news should not merely report what is wrong but suggest ways to fix it.


Read more: How peace journalism can help the media cover elections in Africa


Of course, it would be a mistake to abstain from all news during the COVID-19 pandemic and its unpredictable economic and social consequences.

Often it is best to navigate a middle path, so here are five suggestions on how you can stay in the loop at home while you get your work done – and help maintain your mental health.

1. Switch off

Avoid the 24/7 news channels and feeds unless it is your business to do so, or unless the information is likely to impact you directly.

Try to develop a routine of checking in on the main headlines once, twice or three times a day so you stay informed about the most important events without being sucked into the vortex of click bait and news of incremental changes in the number of coronavirus cases or the ups and downs of the stock markets.

2. Dive deep

Look for long-form journalism and in-depth commentary on the topics that most interest you. Articles by experts (Editor’s note: like those in The Conversation!) include the most important facts you need to know, and are likely to have a constructive angle presenting incisive analysis and a pathway to a solution or best practice.

Spend your time engaging with well-researched and accurate stories. Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

On radio and television, look for big picture current affairs programs like the ABC’s AM and 7.30 – or on a lighter and more positive note Ten’s The Project – so you don’t have to be assaulted by a disturbing litany of petrol station hold-ups, motorway chases and celebrity gossip in the packaged morning and evening news.

3. Connect

Use social media wisely – for communicating with family and friends when you might be physically isolated and by following authoritative sources if something in the news is affecting your life directly, such as emergency services during cyclones, fires and floods.

But avoid the suggested and sponsored news feeds with dubious and unfiltered information (often shared as spam by social media illiterates).

Keep your social media commentary civil, empathetic and supportive – mindful of everyone’s mental health during a crisis.

4. Interrogate

Ask the key question: “What is the best source of the information I absolutely need to know?”

Go to primary sources where possible. Subscribe to official and authoritative information feeds – for example, daily summaries from the World Health Organisation) and the Commonwealth Department of Health on COVID-19 and your preferred bank’s summary reports on the sharemarket and economic indicators.

5. Be mindful

Bear in mind the well being of any children in your household with the timing and selection of your hard/live news consumption. International research has shown more constructive news stories have fewer negative mental health impacts on children, particularly when combined with the opportunity to discuss the contents with their peers.

It’s important to think about where your children get their news, too. Shutterstock.com

Finally, you might also use these crises to build your own media literacy – by pausing to reflect carefully upon what news you really need in your family’s life. This might vary markedly according to your work, interests and passions.

For many of us it will mean a much more critical diet of what we call “traditional hard news” – allowing us the time to read and view material that better contributes to the quality of our own lives and to our varied roles as informed citizens.

Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can we live without our phones? Some are taking a digital detox regularly

January 28 2020

Love them or loathe them, mobile phones have become an indispensible part of our lives. With potentially all who we are online and on a handheld device, how do we get some privacy or turn down our addiction? I put these questions to some very thoughtful people.

Can we live without our phone?

Feature artist: Dog portraits by Judith Johnson

January 18 2020

Johnson paints portraits of dogs, but she began as a human portrait artist. One day, she added a cocker spaniel to a painting, and that started a new direction in her art.  Friends asked her to paint their dogs, and she’s been painting portraits of them eversince. She hasn’t looked back.

“Suddenly I realised that dogs and their owners were so much easier and more enjoyable to paint because they [the dogs] don’t have any attitude as to what they look like,”she said.

Below is a gallery of her sensitive, masterful and beautiful renderings of dogs, and their prfound conection to us.

Dogs and why they change us

Nadyat El Gawley,

January 3 2020

Dogs are considered now to be members of our families, and for some of us that’s a welcome change.   But why do we connect with them so deeply? And does the dog benefit at all? Some Sydneysiders reflect on why.

Short haired dog digging. Creative Commons

If you’re older than 30, then you probably remember a time when our obsession with dogs didn’t exist. People adopted dogs, but the relationships we had with them weren’t as intense.

And so it was back then, in the decade of greed–the 80s–that I was taken by surprise when a friend told me her dog had saved her life.   It was a force I didn’t understand at all, and not because I didn’t have dogs. As an adult, canines have always been in my life and I was in awe of them.  But the intensity my friend talked about was an emotional threshold I’d neither considered nor crossed.   

Claude

I’ve had my dog Claude now for fifteen years, and he fills a space in my life no one else can. He kept me sane through the bewildering grief of losing my mother over a decade ago.   He was my constant companion, and the antidote to the darkness I was falling into. When it got too much and the weeping wouldn’t stop, I would be comforted by this beautiful creature who offered no judgment–just patience, trust and comfort.

All he asked was to be walked, fed, and treated with respect. And he wanted to play, distracting me from myself–from the constant urge to shut the world out, to hide, and sink into the enticing deep depression I was succumbing to.

It took me a long time to see him. The grief was blinding, and it was many months before I could fully appreciate the privilege of having a dog.

Claude saved my life.  And so I want to know what it is  about dogs that make us bond so closely.

Claude is a rescue dog , and his rescuers told me they took him when they saw how scared he looked in the pound they were visiting.

It’s complicated

There are many reasons, but one is empathy–both human and canine. And as Daisy Yuhas writes in Scientific American, the possibility of an inborn attraction. 

“Researchers led by Kristof Koch at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle,” writes Yuhas , “…have found neurons in the amygdala, an area [in the brain] involved in emotions, are involved in human [feelings] that respond preferentially to animal images.”

So on one level, you could argue that we’re bound together almost naturally. Witness the way many children delight in dogs, and run toward them to pat and interact with them.  I remember a little girl – perhaps just six or seven years old– running over to Claude, wanting to pat him.  She spent a few minutes doing that, before telling me that she was “obsessed” with dogs, but her mum wouldn’t let her have one just yet.

Adults too. This would not be news to any dog owner as the world is indeed different with our furry friend. People stop and talk to the dog, smile and say kind words before going on their way. The dog changes that moment for both humans. The owner gets to meet people, and the people get comfort and joy from interacting with the dog.

But why and how we connect with dogs isn’t a straight answer for Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the university of Colorado, Marc Bekoff.  He says not all humans bond with. or even like dogs, And those who do, need to be aware of the demands we place on them.

“A lot of homed dogs are very highly stressed because we ask them to adapt to our life,” he says.  “You know, when they play, when they can eat, when they can sleep [and] when they can hang out with their friends.”

However, he observes that “when people realise their dogs need more than they’re getting, they make those changes.”

 “I think the people who do like dogs, bond with them because of shared emotions. They can empathise with the dog, they can feel for the dog, and they also want the dog to have the best life possible.”

Dog portraits

Inner Sydney based visual artist Judith Johnson credits her grandmother with her love of dogs.  Ms Johnson who grew up on a farm, says both she and her father in particular, inherited her grandmother’s love for the dog.

Sitting in her studio, with her cocker spaniel Minnie by her side, Ms Johnson tells me that her father taught her much about “caring for animals, and [how to] treat them with dignity.”

Judith with Minnie . Photo: N. El Gawley

Johnson paints portraits of dogs, but she began as a human portrait artist. One day, she added a cocker spaniel to a painting, and “that started the whole thing,” she said.   Friends asked her to paint their dogs, and so began a new direction in her art.

“Suddenly I realised that dogs and their owners were so much easier and more enjoyable to paint because they [the dogs] don’t have any attitude as to what they look like.”

“Dog owners, dog lovers, animal people, are very laid back, relaxed, happy normal people and it’s just nice to the story of the dog.”

‘Quick’…a special needs companion dog for a lonely little boy with Cerebral Palsy.
  The halo is his job, and the boy is the heart inside the lead. Photo: Judith Johnson

Ms Johnson has developed a technique for her paintings – she interviews each dog before she starts a portrait.  And while it might amuse some owners, Johnson says it’s crucial to developing empathy and to producing something that is more than a photograph.

“ I have to meet the dog, understand the dog, connect to the dog and also I want to hear the stories of the dog in your life. That’s really my intention.”

The Sydneysider has spent time learning about the story of the dog and says because they are pack animals, those we take into our homes “see humans as the pack or the tribe”.  And that connection is what comes through her work.

“That’s what I find when I’m doing a painting… through the eyes, through the expression, the dog has a love for us which is unconditional and I try to put that in.  I mean it’s hard, but it’s a lovely thing to put that into the painting.”

Nelson’   on guard against motorbikes. Photo: Judith Johnson

Just have to have a dog

Australians are dog lovers no doubt about it.  Animal Medicines Australia estimates in its 2016 Pet Ownership Report, that  38 percent of households have at least one dog with an average of 1.3 dogs each household. Together, Australians share approximately 4.5 million companion dogs with gen Y and women being the biggest groups with  non human animal companions.

While it’s not always clear why we have dogs, some experts say it’s about qualities in us such as being extroverted and seeing the dog as part of the family. 

At a busy inner west café, I meet with Julie Mathers, her dog Tilly and her friend, my neighbour, Isabella for a morning coffee.    For Ms Mathers, who recently got Tilly, having a dog was about purpose.

She  says the caboodle has “changed her life”.  The high school teacher had led a busy life as an adult and hasn’t had a dog since she was about 17.  She’s now in her fifties.

Julie’s priorities changed when she got Tilly.

“Well I was too selfish to have a dog in my life and I was doing too many things,” she says.  “[I] was living overseas, and then I ended up being on my own for quite a long time, living on my own. “

Ms Mathers is attentive to Tilly, has packed some kibble for her and has a water bowl ready.  It’s a hot day, and Tilly sits on her lap for part of the time.

“Before it was only me and I didn’t worry about anyone else too much, Now I make sure that I’m there for her,” she said. “My life now has become [centred around] what’s good for her and not really what’s good for me. It’s like , I stay home or I say I can’t really go there because it’s going to be too long, and I want to be home to look after her.”

Over skype from Colorado,  Professor Marc Bekoff says the best bonds form  when humans respect  dogs as sentient, feeling beings and understand “they’re going to have to make trade offs in their lives.

 “I write a lot for Psychology Today and I recently wrote an essay that apparently a lot of people liked: Are you really sure you want to share your life with a dog? “That’s getting back to first base if you will, in the sense that before you get a dog,  you better be  sure that you want to share your house and your heart with a dog.

 “I am a fan of asking pointed questions and to make people think about the decision they’re making when they decide to bring a dog into their house.”

Why and how we connect with dogs is a complicated question.  But one answer could be empathy in both dogs an humans.
Why and how we connect with dogs is a complicated question. But one answer could be empathy in both dogs and humans. Image: Creative Commons

Times are a changing

Both Johnson and Mathers grew up at a time when the dog had a different life and lived in the backyard. We understood little of their inner world, or their emotional complexity, and it shaped our relationship with them. Today, professor Bekoff says “we know enough now to put the word out about best explanations for what dogs want and need.”

Johnson is in her late seventies, and says the biggest change over the last 50 years has been that the dog has gone from being the “outsider to the insider.”

“They slept outside, in a kennel and they were very very subjugated, but they had  role, a position as a watch dog, as a companion– but not as a bed companion. And so now over time the dog has become like a baby, allowed to sleep on the bed with the owners which I don’t agree with at all.”

“It was more of a disconnected connection,” says Mathers who grew up with labradors and Germen shepherds.   “When I felt like patting the dog, I would pat the dog or I’d take the dog for a walk.  The dog was there, but it was never an emotional attachment.”

Our ideas have changed she says. “The dog was not allowed in the bedroom, was not allowed on the carpet… not allowed to be sitting at the table like I’m doing now.

“Tilly comes with me everywhere I go. She’s in the car, sits in cafes with me. But we didn’t seem to do that so much 20 years ago…you kinda went out and left your dog at home.”

Other, perhaps noteworthy changes include strata laws in NSW which allow a more pet friendly approach to living in units. Before these laws came into effect in 2016, Sydney based Jamison Strata Management noted on their website that “many pet owners were being forced to choose between keeping their pet and living in a strata building.”  With 20.7 percent of the population in NSW living in units, these changes could not have come soon enough for many.  In its Pet Ownership report, Animal Medicines Australia reported there was “a strong desire for pets among those living in apartments or units.”

It’s something that Ms Mathers who lives in a unit, credits with her ability to have Tilly, and notes how that has allowed single people living in units to have the companionship of non-human animals.

Tender Moments

Back in Johnson’s inner city studio, I ask if in her years of painting portraits of dogs and their people, a story had stood out for her? After a little pause, she says the most poignant moment was painting a portrait of her husband Arthur, and their previous cocker spaniel, Trubby.

“He was holding her and looking outwardly from the painting,” she said.  “There’s a lot of love [and]  I called it true love …because he was absolutely besotted with that dog.” 

True Love. Photo Judith Johnson

Trubby was “dignified and elegant” said Johnson, but she laughs at her description saying it sounds like she was talking about a person.  So, I ask her about that– about the anthropomorphising of animals that we do, and how as some have argued, we’ve infantilised dogs, and blunted their nature because they live so much on our terms.

“I like the dog to be a dog and a cow to be a cow,” she said after telling me that as a child she rejected circuses because of the way they treated animals.   “ I still think of my dog as someone who’s given respect, not someone who’s dressed up, their dog-ness being reduced to something that’s shallow.”

So I’m curious, what advantage is there for dogs in this dance with humanity? Is the bargain equal?

Predictably, the scales are lopsided, and according to Bekoff, the relationship we have with dogs doesn’t always benefit them. Although it can enrich their lives with challenges and different experiences. But more importantly, it has a global significance: it can teach us compassion and empathy toward other animals.

“We can learn that each and every life matters,” says Professor Bekoff.

“I like to call it bridging the empathy gap.  We [become aware of] how we interact with non-dog animals if you will, from the way people are interacting with dogs.  That’s why I’ll often ask people “would you do that to your dog?  What if that animal were a dog?”  It gets a conversation going you know; it brings it home.”  

Taking care of dogs with dementia: Kerry and Kenzo’s story


Kerry Mcmyler lives in Lancashire in the UK.  She’s had her dog Kenzo, a Labrador Collie cross for 15 years–ever since he was a puppy. She says he chose her from a litter of nine, barging past all of them to go to her.

When she moved away some six years ago, her parents took responsibility for Kenzo who was then about 10.  Then a couple of years ago, he started barking in the evening, and showed other signs of anxiety and restlessness. The family also noticed a pattern where these behaviours would start in the late afternoon and continue until midnight.

While researching Kenzo’s symptoms online, Kerry came across information about Sundowner’s syndrome in dogs, where dementia-like symptoms worsen at night. She says it all came together for her then, especially when the vet later confirmed it.

Sadly, Kerry’s father passed away last year, and it’s been an emotional time for her and her family. Kenzo was dependent on her dad for routine and connection, and she feels one of the triggers for his behaviour could be pining for her father.

Kerry is 44 and a healthcare Science Associate Practitioner in Microbiology (Infectious Diseases) with the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

She and her partner moved back to take take care of her mum and Kenzo, and I caught up with her during a very busy time.  We spoke via email.

What was your reaction to the diagnosis? What went through your mind?

How myself, my mum and my partner Sarah were going to cope with just losing dad. Was he just missing him? Was he grieving? I gave him an old jumper of dad’s but he wasn’t interested. He shows all the tick boxes of Canine Cognitive Decline (CCD) except the incontinence. 

What treatment –that you know about–is available in the UK for dementia in dogs?

Unsure at present. We have him on a calming pill called Xanax and he also has arthritis so he has 1/2 paracetamol twice daily. We have tried CBD (Cannibas oil) too which did help for a while but he has run out of this at present.  It does calm the barking down but not the restlessness. 

You say that at the beginning of Kenzo’s dementia, he was living with your parents who had a routine for him. But now this has changed because of your dad’s sad passing. Can I ask, how bonded was Kenzo to your father?

Very much so, he was the person that took him for walks. So his routine has had to change. I now take him when I arrive home from work. The shocking factor for me was mum was quite socially phobic having arthritis herself and relied on dad to help her get about.   However, whilst I was at work a few months ago, she decided to walk him on her own. It was a huge turning point for her [in] regaining her confidence.  Kenzo walked with her slowly and did not pull which was so lovely.


Image: Kerry Mcmyler

You’re the primary carer for your mum, and I wonder if you could describe what that means to you—being a carer.

It is a responsibility of selfless love. After dad passed away, my partner Sarah and I gave up our jobs 320 miles away.  I withdrew from my [university education]. I was one year off finishing my biomedical degree. However, sadly this hospital cannot fund or allow me time off to complete it. And now I have had a change of heart about where my life is heading to after much reflection.

I left my job of nine years in microbiology, and Sarah [left hers] in helping the elderly in rehabilitation. We moved in with mum so she did not have to sell the house, and to help her with daily tasks, bills and to give her company. I know we have done the right thing and it has set us all in a new direction. As an only child, I love my mum dearly and I want to make her time on this earth as special as it can be and make as many memories as I can with the time she has left. 


What’s the hardest thing about watching dementia in Kenzo?

His confusion, his age, his restlessness; falling off the sofa when he does not judge it correctly. We have said if he becomes incontinent we would put him to sleep. It is too much for mum to go through at 78 years old, having just lost dad too. I don’t want to lose her too. It would be the kindest thing to do however, for now, we are coping the best we can. 

How are you coping wth the demands of Kenzo’s care ?

It is tiring [to] after a 9-hour day…walk him [and] be up till midnight with his constant barking, crying and restlessness.   We try to reassure him but it is simply draining when you still have a daily life to live and chores to do. During the day he is fine, however, I work so I don’t really see the quiet side of him.  He is great with mum during the day. It is when I come home after 5 pm this starts. There has been quite a lot of tears and a huge relief when he is finally asleep. 

Kenzo in the snow
Image: K erry Mcmyler

How would you describe your relationship with him now?

I love him to bits.  He still greets me dutifully when I walk through the door of an evening but not of a morning. His eyesight is failing so I have to bend down to have eye contact with him but if I ask for a kiss sometimes I still get one off him. For that split-second, everything is back to normal. He recognises me, how can I possibly put him to sleep. Just another month…let’s see how we go…and the cycle continues. 

Kenzo and friends
Image: Kerry Mcmyler

You say that you will “know when it’s time”. It must be the hardest moment.  What will tell you that, and how do you imagine that moment in the future when you will have to say goodbye to Kenzo?

Heartbreakingly when he stops being responsive. Stops eating, drinking, or [becomes] incontinent. I would not want him to be in constant pain with his arthritis so if his back legs keep failing him there has to be a point where we end his suffering and do the kindest last thing a human can do. But we don’t say goodbye it is always “until we meet again”   


Image: Kerry Mcmyler

Christianity’s changing attitude toward animals

Nadyat El Gawley

The image is unforgettable, seared into my memory: pigs in utter anguish being gassed to death. You can turn away, but you can’t unsee the suffering on their faces.  A suffering that punches you in the heart. A suffering you can’t deal with and imagine for just a second that it can’t be true. It just can’t be.

ID 24602464 © Ihervas | Dreamstime.com

It’s a tiny snippet of a video on the website of the advocacy group, Animals Australia. There are others of course across the Internet—baby male calves being taken away (to the slaughterhouse) from mother cows, ducks and geese being violently fed in appalling conditions to produce foie gras, and shocking abuse of animals in some Australian abattoirs.

The cruelty of factory farming say animal advocates is on a colossal and indefensible scale; and it begs the question: Where did humanity get the idea that it could do what it liked to fellow creatures?

For some, the answer may be found in chapter one of the Biblical story of  Genesis where God gives Adam and Eve a mandate  to: “Subdue the earth  and have dominion over  the fish of the sea …the fowl of the air and every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

This has been a long-held and traditional Christian view, but leading Christian thinkers are now challenging it, and urging a new re-reading of Biblical teaching on animals. They’re also uncovering a  forgotten history of passionate campaigns for animal rights by many Christians.

A legacy of Christian animal activism

Rewind to the beginning of the 19th century,  and to what surprised Professor David Clough about Christianity and anti-vivisection campaigning.

Professor Clough teaches theological ethics at the University of Chester in the UK and says what’s been most striking about Christian activism for animals is how they engaged with the issue almost 200 years ago.

“ It was a real surprise to me when I started researching this area [to find] that it was Christians at the beginning of the 19th century who had become really concerned at the amount of animal cruelty going on, “ he told ABC Radio National’s The Religion and Ethics Report.  “ They were among  leading campaigners for changing the law to make animal cruelty illegal in Britain for the first time.”

It was leading evangelists such as William Wilberforce who campaigned for those laws, later joining with others to form the RSPCA.  Together with a group of Christians and a prominent Jew, Wilberforce, who had been a high profile campaigner for the abolition of slavery, founded the RSPCA in 1824, writes professor Clough in The Ark  the newsletter of UK based Catholic Concern for Animals.

However , he says that by the beginning of the last century with the rise of secularism in Western Europe and falling church attendance, groups such as the RSPCA wanted a broader reach and downplayed the Christian aspect of the organisation.  There was also, WW1 and the devastating human tragedy of the Great War to which Christians turned their attention.

The winds of change

There’s a scene in the 2016 Italian TV mini-series–Call Me Francis –where in the 60s, a young Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) intervenes to save a pig from the torments of a group of male students. This may have been a portend for the future where as Pope Francis, he releases his second encyclical Ludato Si, Praise be to you, in 2015. It’s one of the most far-reaching statements to come out of the Vatican on the place of animals in Christian teaching.  Significantly, it tackles traditional thinking about humanity being at the centre of creation with unchecked power over it.

“This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church, “ says the encyclical.

ID 120255764 © Mark Bosman | Dreamstime.com

“ Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” (LS 67).

Ludato Si  was not the only important statement on animals to come out of Christianity that year.  In September, American evangelicals released their own statement on animal protection–Every Living  Thing.  It calls on Christians to avoid treating animals cruelly and was the result of a unique four-year collaboration between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the evangelical community.  Over 1000 evangelical leaders and scholars signed the document.

Yet the statement is prefaced by a declaration that it’s not doctrinal in nature,  it  doesn’t address particular issues, and says that humans have greater worth than animals.  So how significant is it in getting Christians to focus on animal rights?

Professor Clough’s research indicates that Christians don’t see the link between their faith and the treatment of non-human animals.  But he told Radio National  that  the US statement is of  considerable importance.

“Often, evangelicals in the US have been thought as most resistant to issues like concern for animals or wider environmental concerns,” he told the ABC. “But, avoiding treating animals cruelly in the current context of what we’re doing to animals in intensive farming systems is a really radical statement.

If we were to seriously investigate the implications of not visiting unnecessary cruelty on animals through our farming practices, perhaps 98 percent of the current products available would be off the table for Christians.”

Goats at Hart Acres Animal Haven, NSW. Photo N. El Gawley

How much does the public know?

“ One of the things I talk about is that commercial egg production ( including free range and organic egg ) relies on the killing of male chics because they are of no economic value,” he told The Religion and Ethics Report. “And so what happens to them, is that they are dropped live into a grinding machine called a macerator which thought to be the most humane way of dispatching them.”

How little the public know about  factory farms is a widespread concern.  In talking to many groups in the UK, Professor David Clough notes audience reaction when he explains what happens in the egg industry.

These chics are usually a day old, and billions are killed in this manner each year across the world. In Australia, about 12 million perish this way.

“That’s a shock to the audiences that I speak to.  You can almost hear an audible gasp in the room when I mention that kind of example.”

Cracks in the veneer

There ’s good news among all this in Australia. While the most recent statistics on worldwide meat eating trends, put Australia at the top in 2015; a year later , Roy Morgan Research found that just over two million of us (11.2 percent) are either vegetarian or vegan—up from 1.7 million in 2012.  Many are switching for health reasons, but some are making the change for ethical reasons, and for the animals. And Roy Morgan Research predicts the trend is set to continue.

Courtesy of Veganuary

Thousands of  Australians sign up for Veganuary, 31 days of vegan eating in January and the Daily Telegraph reports that according to data from Google Trends, Aussies are more interested in learning about vegan principles than they are about the much-hyped keto and Paleo diets.

“ What really strikes me in relation to farmed animals is that this is an issue which is a big problem, but one which we can have an immediate impact on,” professor Clough told RN’s Religion and Ethics Report.   “ If we stop consuming the products of factory farming, the animals will not be enlisted into these systems. And so through a daily practice of what we choose to eat, we can make a difference to the numbers of animals that are being forced into these cruel systems.”

Should arms manufacturers sponsor Invictus?

As the Sydney Invictus Games come to a close,  perhaps unsurprisingly, media coverage didn’t address an important question. And it’s this:  why are arms manufacturers sponsoring an event for people disabled by injuries of war?

In a provocative and thought-provoking piece, anti-war activist Nick Deane asks this very question. And he also asks about the victims of those wars.  Those “who it must be said  were never even capable of threatening Australia.”

https://newmatilda.com/2018/10/15/prince-harrys-invictus-games-brought-arms-dealers-figuratively-literally/

Indoor rowing competition at 2017 Invictus Games
By Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How ISIL got here

The attack on Jakarta Thursday was part of a campaign targeting citizens of countries fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, according to a statement released by the group.

In a timely reminder about how we got here, We Are Many, is a film that tells the story of the huge opposition to Iraq’s invasion, and what happens when politicians ignore the people. It was shown around Australia toward the end of last year.  I put this story together about the film, with David Cosgrove.

 

When there are no more tears, just choking horror.

September 3 2015

110712-Homestead-60I have had the privilege of working with many refugee communities in Australia and hearing first hand, stories of courage from people who’d fled persecution and war.  People who put their lives on the line for others, for a principle or a cause; people who just wanted to live a life of dignity. And while hurt by their experience, they embraced their new home and generously shared their lives and stories with people like me.

Like many, I was horrified by the heartbreaking stories of Syrian refugees trying to reach Western Europe, and their inhumane treatment both by smugglers and some European countries.  The distressing story this morning about toddler Aylan Kurdi who was found on the Turkish coast will always haunt and shame me about the climate of fear I live in. A fear that is the result of western privilege.  So many of us in the west are living in countries which have acted scandalously on this issue.

I am reminded of some of the stories I had the privilege to record over the years and how such stories should be heard, read again and repeated so that we don’t forget what a terrible lottery life is.  Below is an excerpt from a collaborative radio piece I produced as part of the cultural development program of the Sydney based Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) and the ABC’s Poetica program on Radio National.

You will hear the voice of Afeif Ismail from Sudan describe the horror of Dafur in an incandescently quiet language not easily forgotten. Afeif speaks in Arabic, and Vivienne Glance reads the translation.

The full program can be heard here.

Animals: the abandoned mates of war

Nadyat El Gawley


August 2 2015

The older she gets, the more pessimistic she feels. To writer Jill Mather, there’s no cure for humans’ lack of respect for animals. And so since her retirement, it’s been her mission to record their stories. Specifically, those that perished in war.

Eight million animals died in the Great War. They carried soldiers and supplies, delivered messages, were shot at and killed.   Six million alone were horses, about as many as the allies’ military casualties. The difference is, as Ms Mather says, the horses didn’t volunteer.

She talks about how she had to give up her horse after she contracted polio at the age of 16. There’s a silence, and then she says: “I never really recovered”.

Looking out the window at Yarramalong Valley on New South Wales’ Central Coast where she lives, she can see horse and goat paddocks. The animals seem fine despite the day being one of those stormy rainy days on the east coast of New South Wales . Her love for animals and knowledge of the horse has driven her work. The former journalist and teacher has written five books including Forgotten Heroes, about the Australian Waler in WW1.

Walers are mixed breed horses bred for outback conditions. They are evenly tempered animals, reliable in tough environments.

“ We have a special affinity with horses,” she says. ”Let’s take the light horsemen who were on patrol in the Sinai for example. If those horses made a noise or snorted, or stamped, or called for a mate, they could reveal their position. So when a trooper put his hand on his neck, that horse knew to freeze.

“He also could move through those desert sand hills very silently. They could rely on one another. If the trooper was shot or injured in any way, there are many stories of horses carrying the trooper back to base camp.“

Horses Abandoned

Through the complex history of WW1, the fall of empires, battles won and lost, the horse remains on the fringes. Looking for their story has highlighted the “profiteering” of war for Alex McInnis, media and communications officer at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. She sees evidence of that in the Australian Government’s refusal to bring home horses sent to war.

“The Government sold them,” she said.   “It was too expensive to bring them back. They abandoned them.”

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Horses of the Australian Light Horse Association at Tails From the Past , Addison Rd Community Centre. Photo with permission by Addison Rd Community Centre.

The Australian War Memorial records 136,000 horses being sent from Australia to France, India, the Western Front and the Middle East with the troops. At the end of the war, most horses were sold to European countries, and to India, then a British colony.

“At the end of the war,” says Jane Peek, Curator of Military and Technology at the Australian War Memorial, “most of the horses were sold onto Belgian farmers or unfortunately –the ones that couldn’t be sold on–there was a very strong market in horse meat and that’s still the case in Belgium and France. And the very best of them were selected to go to Britain for breeding.”

“In Palestine where the Australian light horse was operating, at any one time, there were 13000 horses. Of these, 2000 were put down because they were too old or debilitated.”

Only one horse, Sandy,  came home.

Bridging the divide

The old military barracks at Marrickville’s Addison Road Community Centre has been a space for multicultural services and alternative groups since the 1970s. In this small Inner West suburb, there’s a big history. The nine-acre site was the army’s major centre for enlistment in almost every conflict in the 20th century according to Sue Castrique, the Centre’s historian.

Young conscripts were sent from there for training before going to Vietnam and it was there where the Save Our Sons (SOS) movement protested against the war with its silent vigils.

But, it was not always about war. In its early days, the Centre was about the horses and the community. Rosy Porter, Program Co-ordinator at the Centre, is mindful of the layers of history. She, along with colleagues and volunteers helped to mark the site’s history and the Australian Centenary with an event about horses—Tails from the Past.

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Military drill, Tails from the past. Photo, Addison Rd community Centre ( by permission)

“It was actually the horses that bridged some of the divides between the community and the Army at the time [the first half of the 20th century], because the kids would come in to see the horses and then talk to the officers here. The officers would ride the horses up Addison Road and the kids would follow. The army actually had a close relationship with the community. “

Wars and Protests

But once the site became a community centre, political attitudes changed. Sue Castrique, says the organisation’s  outlook was the direct opposite to the “whitewashed huts and strict military discipline”.

“Many community centre members had been shaped by anti-conscription protests,“ she writes, “some were refugees from war zones. For some time, there was unease about recognising the site’s past as an army depot, or becoming the guardians of a history with the army’s conservative and militaristic overtones. ‘Historical’ was a word most often used when talking about leaking rooves, a soggy car park and the tangle of phone lines that made technicians weep.”

But things have changed, and today, organisers of Tails From the Past stress they want to bring both sides of the Centre’s history together.

Staying neutral

stirrup
Stirrup Cafe, Addison Rd Community Centre. Photo: N. El Gawley

The Addison Road Community Centre is busy with activity. The black and white themed Stirrup Café is the first of the many huts on the site. Several community, arts and environmental organisations have made their home here.     To the left, there’s a truck unloading old furniture for the Bower Centre —a recycling outfit that runs the Men’s Shed in Marrickville. And further down, is the Centre’s office. A strong theme of social justice runs through the posters and notices on the wall. Outside in the crisp sun, planes fly overhead, dogs run through the grounds highlighting the centre’s dog friendly policies, and children chatter as they make their way to another activity.

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A dog-friendly workplace. Photo: N.El Gawley

People who went to the Tails from the Past event and whose views varied on the question of war had regarded the Centre as a safe space Ms Porter says.

“ I think it’s important, even of you disagree, to still know the history of war and …find out what it meant for the horses or for the men and how tough it was, so you can then reflect on war and what it means to go to war now today.”

“We had the Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign inside the hall as one of the stalls …but we had the Light Horse Association [who] do the re-enactments. We had diggers coming back [who] remembered the site. We had family members of diggers who passed away, and they were some of our honorary guests. We had a mixture of people coming together on both sides of those two views,” she said.

The Horse

horses
Tails from the Past, Addison Rd Community Centre, Marrickville, Sydney. ( by permission)

Phillip Chalker, president of the Australian Light Horse Association is easygoing and relaxed, having just bought some feed for his horses, and has pulled over into a car park for the interview. He is passionate about increasing awareness of the role the horse played in the Great War.

“ When I went to school (1973), I don’t remember ever, hearing about the light horse. It was always about Gallipoli and the Western front, “ he says.

“ There was more [that happened] in WW1 than Gallipoli and the Western front. We’re interested in educating and communicating with people about the role of the horse in the third front: Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq).” And after about 20 years of talking to groups and making contact with the community, Mr Chalker feels things are changing.

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War Horse, sculpture by the Bower Centre. Photo: N El Gawley

We owe more to animals than we know or remember as Jill Mather argues. Being forgotten by government after all they had meant–“the horses were all” she says–is to animal advocates, a terrible injustice of the war.

Horses suffered extreme thirst and hunger, carried heavy weaponry, were shot at and wounded horribly. The Hughes Government’s decision in 1918 was a blow to many.

“A lot of soldiers were prepared to pay for their horse. They would’ve paid anything to have got their mate back,” says Ms Mather.

But the soldiers had no power to influence a post-war government they had sold their horse to.

“When soldiers joined up in 1914, some of them came with their horse, in which case, the army bought the horse from them, “ said Ms Peek. “So it became army property. Now I think, there was a lot of resentment at the end of the war when the horses couldn’t come home.”

The story doesn’t stop there. There were other animals such as camels, donkeys, even elephants that were used for war fighting purposes and died in WW1 according to Jill Mather. She says mules delivered medical supplies, and carried gun parts “staggering on until they dropped dead and nobody cared”.

It is why she writes books about the cost to animals in conflicts, and why it has become her life’s passion.

A Year of Exchange: Susan Price on being a socialist

Nadyat El Gawley


April 25 2015

It was a year spent on an international student exchange that got Susan Price, Summer Hill’s Socialist Alliance candidate, interested in politics. That, a relationship and a film.

Tall with red hair, Ms Price says her friendships with Chileans while on exchange in the United States in the early 1980s was the starting point of her political activism. One of her first serious relationships was with a Chilean who had left his homeland with his family after the 1973 military coup in the country.

The violent ouster had removed the democratically elected Salvador Allende government, and installed the US backed military regime of General Augusto Pinochet.   Many thousands perished in the subsequent crack down on the left, including Salvador Allende , and the gifted New Song Movement’s Victor Jara.

Not long after coming back to Australia, Ms Price, 48, saw David Bradbury’s searing documentary, Chile, Hasta Cuando, (Chile, When will it end?).   It was “consciousness changing”, she says. She was horrified to learn that people can “suffer in that way and be summarily executed and disappeared”.

David Bradbury’s Oscar nominated documentary was described by The Sydney Morning Herald then as a “film full of the pain of an abused people … in rebellion against institutionalised torture and murder.” Its impact on a young Susan Price was far reaching. She had encountered, for the first time, film makers who took risks to expose the world of exposing human rights violations .

“It was probably the process of meeting friends in my late teens as an exchange student that opened my eyes to a whole other world that I had been protected from as a child.”

Susan Price
Socialist Alliance candidate Susan Price campaigning in Marrickville at NSW’s 2015 state election. Photo: N. El Gawley

On Marrickville Road outside a pre-polling booth are representatives of The Greens, Labor and Liberal Parties and the Socialist Alliance candidates and volunteers.

At the Marrickville Rd Café nearby it’s busy and noisy, but the heady aroma of coffee fills the blue grey air.  Ms Price talks about her involvement with progressive Christian groups as a teenager in Brisbane. “You know, the do unto others kind of thing,” she says.

Her interest in left wing politics drew her to the only non-mainstream party in the early 1990s, the Democratic Socialist Party. The party grew out of various formations of Marxist-Leninist groupings in Australia and merged into the Socialist Alliance in 2010.

The Alliance has been contesting elections since 2001, and this is Susan Price’s third state election. The pace is grueling with 12-hour days and weekends that include door knocking, letter boxing, having a street presence and attending public events around the newly formed electorate.

The seat of Summer Hill has replaced the old electorate of Marrickville, and takes in most of the Marrickville area, parts of the Canterbury and Haberfield electorates.

Marrickville has been a Labor stronghold for many years, but The Greens are making significant inroads into the political life of the area with their concern for the environment, refugees and the impact of big business resonating with community.

The Socialist Alliance’s platforms are determinedly left wing with policies on participatory democracy, electoral reform, renewable energy and making NSW a refugee safe haven. The party is campaigning on a platform to shut down the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney’s west, and allow refugee applicants to live in the community while their claim is being processed.

She regards the latter initiative as an important protest against the way the Federal Government is treating asylum seekers. “It’s going to take that kind of initiative to force the Government back.”

Drawing on examples of national and international issues being taken up by local government, Ms Price likes to bring issues down to the grassroots level such as the refugee welcome zone effort promoted by the Refugee Council of Australia. More than 100 councils across the country have signed up to this powerful and symbolic gesture according to the Council.

It is reminiscent of an initiative from the 1980’s and 1990’s when local governments across Australia declared their areas to be “nuclear free zones”.

“It meant that you could not drive trucks carrying anything radioactive through the City of Brisbane . And there were people who supported that policy who would have been happy to get out and put their bodies on the line to ensure that was the case if the Federal Government or a mining company tried to challenge it.”

New South Wales as a safe haven for refugees is an issue close to her heart, and she and she is keen to see people providing sanctuary for refugees, or blockading the Villawood Detention Centre to prevent deportation of asylum seekers.

“You can just start to imagine what could be possible if you had that kind of political position in a state like NSW and a big city like Sydney.”

It is here that Susan Price’s deep political engagement with human rights, connects with her lived experience. After completing her student exchange placement in the United States, she moved to Sweden for a couple of years with her Chilean partner. There, she taught English and was a care worker in a nursing home, where she had to learn Swedish to communicate.

“I’ve lived as a migrant overseas, and that was actually an eye opener. It was a bit of an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes for a change.   It was partly got me active in the first place in solidarity and internationalism.“

She sees it as an accident of fate that people end up being refugees. And with an insight gained from that experience, she ends her answer to the question with another.

“It could easily be you or me. And what makes anyone there-from Afghanistan or Sri Lanka or anywhere else any different to any one of us?”

Saving Racehorses: Reform or Revolution?

Note: I wrote this story before the Melbourne Cup and the tragic death of two horses there yesterday.  I have since tried to talk to the Australian Racing Board about whether they will now talk to animal advocates given this is the second year in a row where horses have died at the race.  They haven’t responded, but I will be keeping an eye on this story.

========================================================

Nadyat El Gawley

November 5 2014

The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR) is calling for reforms to the racing industry as the country prepares for the Melbourne Cup. The animal welfare group is urging the public to ask whether the glamour of horseracing is worth the cruel deaths of horses every year.

According to the group’s website, 125 racehorses have died on the track between August 2013 and July 2014 from catastrophic limb injury.

“Unfortunately there has been no meaningful change [in] the industry,” said Communications Manager, Ward Young via email. “That is why we are calling on racegoers and punters to support our call to reform the racing industry and create a better world for horses.”

The group’s controversial billboard of a dead horse erected by a city expressway in Melbourne was pulled down after only four days in early October. However, they said public support has been overwhelming.

CPR’s billboard erected on the City Link Freeway in Melbourne October 4 2014. It was pulled down October 8 2014. Image source: CPR’s Facebook page.
CPR’s billboard erected on the City Link Freeway in Melbourne October 4 2014. It was pulled down October 8 2014. Image source: CPR’s Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian RSPCA said while they acknowledged the confronting nature of the billboard, it showed “ the outcome that will face many horses when they finish racing.

“We believe the industry that profits from these racehorses needs to do more for their welfare when they retire,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

The industry defends its reforms and points to a retirement plan announced in July that makes it mandatory for owners to report the reason for their horse’s retirement, as well as plans beyond racing.

“The data …will provide the industry with greater insight into the reasons horses retire and their activities post racing,” said Caitlin Lei Sam from Racing NSW.

Ms Lei Sam said the industry can use the information to create more rehabilitation programs which would help alleviate public concern over animal welfare.

CPR accepts this as a good start, but they point out one of the retirement options is ‘livestock sale.’

“While there is a chance the horse may be rehomed,” said Young, “there is a much bigger chance they will be purchased by kill buyers [for] abattoirs and knackeries.”

“It is so important … the racing industry uses its money and power to ensure racehorses aren’t sent to these kill-houses of despair. ”

Last year, CPR proposed a retirement plan which allowed for every horse in the industry to be rehomed. It would cost 1 per cent of the betting turnover and end the ‘discarding’ of horses bred for racing, but that don’t make it to the track. According to the group, these horses make up the bulk of what’s referred to as ‘wastage’, and end up being slaughtered.

The plan was rejected by the Australian Racing Board who would not comment on why they had dismissed it.

In the clamour following the installation of the billboard, the Australian Racing Board’s Chief Executive Peter McGauran told The Age he had no respect for CPR because they spread ‘myths’. But others in the industry have taken a different view.

Scott Brodie who runs the unique Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program funded by Racing NSW, is persuaded by the value of communication. With a wide background in horse training and education, Brodie’s networks have included animal advocates. And he’s tried to reach out to them.

The former NSW Mounted Police horse trainer said he thought he might be able to unofficially mediate between Racing NSW, and animal welfare groups.

“I didn’t really get good feedback … it was really disappointing at the time.”

“It’s good to have someone that’s got a foot in each camp and as a mediator, have an understanding of both environments. There’s an opportunity there to bring people together,” he said.

 

Scott Brodie with one of the horses stabled at Canterbury Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley
Scott Brodie with one of the horses stabled at Canterbury
Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley

Brodie oversees an estimated 30 volunteers and a partnership with Corrective Services NSW’s St Heliers facility at Muswellbrook. The program also has a number of staff who look after the horses at its headquarters at Canterbury Racecourse in Sydney.

“The horses come from owners, trainers, studs,” he said. “We have horses that have been racing for 10 years; we have some horses that never even made it to the race track. “

“They go to the prison… [and] because we’ve got plenty of land up there, the horses will have six months just in a paddock being horses.”

“And once they’ve had that six months…we introduce them to the inmates [who] do six weeks with each horse utilising natural horsemanship techniques which is horse whispering.”

Mr Brodie regards the program as one providing holistic approaches to horse training where gentle interaction is core. But he also sees it as one which helps both horses and people in the art of communication.

A staff member working with Mr Sublime at Canterbury Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley
A staff member working with Mr Sublime at Canterbury
Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley

“I’ve seen some unbelievable stuff,” he said about the turnaround in the lives of the inmates. So far, he says, no one who has gone through the program has returned to gaol.

About 100 horses go through the program each year and according to Lei Sam, there’s a great demand for it. However, there are “ many owners and trainers who already have future plans for their horses once retired…”

It is a point of contention with animal welfare groups who say the industry is not doing enough to save the lives of retired or working horses.

A disturbing video posted on CPR’s website in 2012 taken at the Victorian Laverton Knackery during Cup Week, showed horrifying treatment of horses. The animals were shot in front of one another with one horse dragged across gravel still alive after its throat was slit.

For Ward Young, watching it all has profoundly changed him.

“It does something to you that cannot be undone. For me, it stained my psyche and I could not in good conscience turn away and let it continue,” he said.

 

Climate change, a clarion call for the arts

September 26 2014

Nadyat El Gawley

In a week when thousands marched across the globe calling for action ahead of the UN Climate Summit, Australian artists were asking how will we live?

As part of the fifth Sydney Fringe Festival, 14 artists and architects have collaborated to explore domestic spaces in an era of environmental destruction. The work is presented by Branch3D in the Sydney suburb of Forest Lodge, and is set in a private home with a difference: there’s a shop front entrance.

Sarah Nolan, who lives in the house and is director of Branch3D, has been using the shop front window as a gallery. Passers by have enjoyed the art, and the festival has drawn a wider audience. People are “intrigued about a show of artworks throughout a … private house,” said Nolan.

The site-specific work, Bunkered, takes visitors through the impact on domestic life when the outside world becomes hostile.

“I like the idea that a bunker can mean so many things… hiding yourself or disguising yourself,” says one of the participating artists, Lisa Andrew. Her work, Droom, is an exploration of what she calls the “make do” future possible in a world ravaged by climate change.

Andrew’s work is installed in a bedroom. It is a fabric construction surrounding a bed with inkjet images of wood, brick and cardboard. A place to hide or shelter in, as Bunkered’s catalogue essayist Yvette Hamilton writes.

But it’s the dramatic text stamped on the installation the visitor first notices: “Australia told to feed region or face invasion.” It’s a screen shot from an ABC news report two years ago when it reported a speech by the head of the Australian Agricultural Company.

Detail: Droom by Lisa Andrew. Photo: N. El Gawley
Detail: Droom by Lisa Andrew.
Photo: N. El Gawley

“When I first took the photograph it seemed so out there,” says Andrew. “I was gleaning from surfaces around us to construct this incubating space that would almost be kind of camouflaged that you could exist in another way within it and not be noticed. So in a way I was playing a lot more on the actual idea of the word bunker.”

Droom is located alongside a video installation titled Emergency News Broadcast. It’s a live news report going wrong, with the anchor and reporters unable to connect, adding to the anxiety in the space.

Emergency Broadcast, Kuba Dorabiaski Photo: N. El Gawley
Emergency Broadcast, Kuba Dorabiaski
Photo: N. El Gawley

In an observation on how instant news is incapable of giving audiences context in crises, artist Kuba Dorabiaski shows us what happens when “Everything has collapsed.”  In her artist statement, she asks: “ What do they report when everything is news and nothing is anything anymore?”

“To me it’s about things not working. They can’t hear each other, they can’t communicate to the public because things are shutting down,” said Sarah Nolan.

Climate change is an issue Australian artists are increasingly addressing. Writing in the Guardian last year, lecturer and art critic Andrew Frost said concerns around climate change are shaping new Australian art. ‘’The return of landscape and nature as major themes is undeniable,’’ he said.

Climarte, a Melbourne based organisation working with artists on climate change joined the thousands strong march in Victoria Saturday September 20 as part of the global protests on the issue.

On the group’s Facebook page, they say artists need to make a choice.

“This is an invitation to join others who work, live and play in the arts in taking a stand. It is time for us to come together, as representatives of all that is creative, imaginative and hopeful in humanity.”

Climarte at Melbourne’s march for climate action. Source: Facebook
Climarte at Melbourne’s march for climate action.
Source: Facebook

The organisation has run forums and engaged with thinkers on the issue. Next year, in collaboration with arts institutions, it will hold the ‘Arts+Climate=Change 2015’ festival to make climate change a focus for the arts and its audiences.

Back at Forest Lodge, Lisa Andrew points out how the artworks connect with the house.

“A lot of the work is site specific,” she said. “These were lodged into the space to bring attention to the architecture and the living environment.”

Doggone

September 3 2014

Nadyat El Gawley

Leading animal and transport advocacy groups have criticised the sudden decision by Transport for NSW to ban dogs from the light rail in the inner west.

The ban has come after months of allowing commuters to take their pets on the trams since the service opened in March.

Michael Wright from Animal Medicines Australia says the decision was regrettable. “It would be disappointing if we approached human animal interaction in an overly risk-averse way,” he said.

IMG_0225
Hawthorne light rail station overlooking the Hawthorne Canal Reserve leash free dog park in Leichhardt. Photo: N. El Gawley

Dulwich Hill resident and dog owner Charlotte Manne was planning to visit Leichhardt’s dog park on the tram and was unaware of the ban.

“We have very few dog parks, so you need a bit of community engagement to find out what we actually want,” Ms Manne said.

“We’re at  a loss as to who made this decision and why. We will be asking the Minister to clarify,” said a spokesperson for NSW Greens senator Jamie Parker, via email.

“We’ve spoken to a number of residents in the area who are angered by the ban.”

“One pensioner had to make a four hour trip – on foot – as when arriving at the station, was told the dog was not allowed on the light rail, ” the spokesperson said.

Dogs NSW said state governments are ’unresponsive’ and ‘ out of step’ with the times.

“Australia is one of the highest dog owning countries in the world,” said spokesperson Brian Crump. “We believe … public opinion would support … dogs on public transport.”

Animal welfare consultant Maryann Dalton says there’s plenty of room for discussion on this.

“If they were to introduce a policy of allowing dogs on public transport, there should be particular carriages or services available to accommodate the animals and their owners,” she said.

With 63 per cent pet ownership, Australia is estimated by Animal Medicines Australia to have one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world.

Their latest survey, Pet Ownership in Australia 2013, shows dogs to be the most common pet, with 39 percent of households owning a dog.

This change in lifestyle will “increase pressure on the authorities [to provide services]” said Co-Convener of Ecotransit Sydney Gavin Gatenby.

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Gavin Gatenby and his Dingo Jesse at Sydney Dog Park in St Peters. Photo: N. El Gawley

The non profit group which works on public transport issues points to European countries where dogs have been able to travel on public transport.

“It’s just regarded as part of life,” he says.

IMG_0221
Mustapha Altinci and his rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback at Hawthorne Canal Reserve, Leichhardt. Photo: N. El Gawley

Dog owner and Leichhardt resident Mustapha Altinci said: “If it’s technically possible in any other country, it should be allowed in Australia.”

Transport for NSW and the transport minister’s office have not responded to requests for comment.

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