Recently, in my research of the supply chain radio doco, I've come across quite a few people who identify as animal activists, but actually just reserve their animal welfare activities to the rescue of rabbits.
That's just what Australia needs more of. Rabbits.
Gabbing to them got me thinking more about one of Australia's iconic man-made structures. The Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Most people in Western Australia have seen the signs for Rabbit-Proof Fence Road. A century ago everyone knew about the fence, but in recent times many Australians weren't particularly aware of the rabbit-proof fence until the eponymous film came out in 2002, based on the 1996 book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington.
But what is the story behind the Rabbit-Proof Fence?
Although many of Australia’s early colonial settlers of the eighteenth century were not of the highest moral fibre, by the mid 1800’s various affluent Britons were relocating here. Welcome the Acclimatisation Societies.
Oh! Acclimatisation Societies. That sounds lovely, you think. They obviously wanted to acclimatise to their new home, Australia, right?
No. Not exactly.
Acclimatisation Societies were created in order to “enrich the fauna of a region with animals and plants from around the world.” Of course, today we find that idea abhorrent, having seen the ruinous affects of introduced species on endemic flora and fauna. But the real purpose of the Acclimatisation Society in Australia was to make Australia more like Great Britain. Early acclimatisers had introduced domesticated rabbits (among other things), but these were not good for hunting, and didn't survive very well in the scrubby landscape.
It was on. Then it was off. Then it was on. Then it was off. Ad infinitum.
Despite all that, I haven't stopped working on this project, but I haven't had a solid update to bring you. I have had lots of messages from industry people, individuals concerned for animal welfare (that includes farmers, of course), and people generally interested in the state of the project. Increasing hits per day too, which is great, but my update is not going to be long today.
Continued pressure on livestock producers and exporters has meant people have just had to get on with their work. So many people are living under a cloud of debt and uncertainty right now, creative projects tend to take a back seat at times like this. Unfortunately.
The good news is that the project has taken on a bigger scope. It's now a supply chain audio doco. I'll travel the supply chain and look at all its elements. Things that interest me most are job opportunities in the remote regions of Australia, the producers, pre-embarkation quarantine, ESCAS, AQIS, what happens during loading, the sea voyage, destination feedlotting, Indonesian wet markets, and the consumer. I think these are ultimately the things people want, and need, to know about. This is after all the linear narrative of the live export trade.
There was a wonderful key note speech given by an Aboriginal Elder in Queensland not long ago. He talked about the downward spiral of a large portion of the Indigenous youth in his community, which had been curbed by work on cattle stations which supply the live export trade. I haven't been able to get a transcript, but I'll post it when I do.
Time line on the shipping project now looks to be a couple of months off. But what's a couple of months on a year anyway?
Keep your ideas and messages coming!
Is it just me? Or is it a post-Mayan 21 Dec 2012 thing? Nothing I do seems to be moving in a forward direction at the moment.
One thing I can say is that I've recorded a fantastic doco with an amazing fellow. It's one I've been organising about for about a year. Now I just have to get down to editing it.
Interview subject: Doctor Charles Slack. Princeton Ph.D Psychology, academic prodigy, and reformed drug addict. Charles met and talked to Albert Einstein, took LSD with Timothy Leary, was at the forefront of psychology in the 60's, and was one of the youngest professors Princeton had ever seen. His trajectory followed rather a different path than one might suspect. Drugs, alcohol, a stint in a "mental institution". Now at 84, he's well known in drug and alcohol recovery circles. I recorded with Charles and his wife Sue in their apartment overlooking the turbulent Indian Ocean, and I have to admit I got a little carried away with his amazing stories of life in the 50's, 60's, and 70's. I recorded so much audio, the hard part is going to be paring it back.
I've also had some contact with - THE - MOST - AMAZING - PERSON...okay so he's a friend of mine but he is the world authority on animals and animal related ANYTHING (you know who you are)...and there might be a chance for me to make a doco on the treatment and trading of exotic pets in the Middle East. I get a bit hyper at the thought, because this is a topic I am really passionate about. By the by, if you ever have a few spare dollars you're looking generously and philanthropically to donate, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will do some real good with your hard earned bazingas. They run an elephant orphanage in Nairobi, which rescues baby eles. When I was in Kenya the first time in Tsavo I thought they were joking about elephant poaching. But no, it's still rampant. Read all about the trust here. You can even adopt an elephant on the website, and if you're ever in East Africa, make a visit. You'll never forget giving an ear tickle to a baby ele wearing a blanket.
So that's the good news.
The bad news is that, like the proverbial hot potato, I've been dropped from almost all my contacts on the Shipping Project. One big export company CEO expressed much interest in the project in December, replied to each email I sent with a promise: I'll get back to you tomorrow...but never did.
I've had nine or ten Twitter impersonators, retweeting my posts, and one very, very vitriolic email from someone in agriculture telling me what I was, and what I could do to myself, because I have failed thus far to get on a live export ship. Thanks for the tips, anon. TTYN.
Yes, the last little while has been like pushing mongo. In the next little while I'll be editing out my doco with Charles Slack, so please do drop me a line. Abuse welcome, just please, try not to start another impersonator account on Twitter. It's been done. You know what I'm saying. That's so last week.
Feb 20 - Update. All may not be lost. I have developed a mild nervous condition in the process, but an embarkation date has been mentioned. Fingers crossed.
Anupam Sharma – Festival Director of the AFFI: Australian Film Festival of India.
Encore Magazine listed him as one of the fifty most influential people in Australian film.
As well as a festival director and television personality, Anu is a renaissance man: director, actor, producer, and author. He is also most excellent fun, and we talked earlier in the year as Anu was calling for contestants on the SBS show Bollywood Star
, a series he would later appear in, as the head judge.
Last year was a big year for Anupam. As well as loads of projects on the go, it was the inaugural year of the AFFI. This year, the AFFI teamed up with more Aussie/Bolly heavyweights to bring a huge festival of Australian film to Indian audiences, not the least of which was a Baz Luhrrman retrospective, apt because stylistically you don't get much more Bollywood
in the way of Aussie films.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this part of the world, so I really wanted to find out how the second AFFI went, and it has just wrapped up.
I feel like an age has passed since I last sat down to write. But it hasn't...I've just undergone a massive transformation.
Some of you may know this, and some may not.
I'm on a serious mission to make a radio documentary...which is going to change the world. (Well a bit of it).
I've finished LiveCorp's Accredited Stockperson training course*, which was a critical step for me towards making the Shipping Project radio doco on the live export food chain. I can categorically say I went from having a partial understanding of how the industry operated, to having a comprehensive understanding of it. I once thought I'd just turn up to the dock with my recording equipment and a sun hat and I'd be off.
You: I have a livestock carrier with 3500sq meters of space for cattle, and I want to export a load of southern Australian Bos taurus steers which average 470kgs for a journey that takes six days, setting off from a port south of latitude 26° in February. Can you tell me the maximum number of beasts I am permitted to take under the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), and how much feed I'll need to take to get there on a 2% body weight daily feeding regimen?
You: But Geire, last week you didn't even know what a Bos taurus was?
Me: I KNOW!
This is an intensive course for people who want to look after livestock in the export industry. It was attended by people of varying backgrounds and levels of experience. There were people who already work in exports. There were stockmen, people from cattle stations, feedlots, industry bodies, farms, a lovely guy from Indonesia with heaps of interesting experiences, two Filipino stockmen, someone from Europe, and people from all over Australia...even New Zealand was represented...did I mention there were five women?
We examined animal welfare. Looked at low stress stock handling, herd behaviour, mob structure, livestock senses, and effective communication with animals. We looked at the Australian standards and how they've improved conditions all over the world. We studied issues of quarantine, pre-embarkation management, animal management at sea, and discharge at destination. We looked at emergency procedures, veterinary care, and livestock disease identification and treatment.
We discussed live export in a historical context, and learnt how animals are raised in the countries we export to, population growth, international animal welfare, demand for meat, and the sophistication (dare I say it, lack there of at times) of foreign cultures.
Something that really excited me was learning about new research into animal management systems, and I want to show you this amazing video of cattle in a feedlot setting. People love to tell us that feedlots are cruel and animals are half dead and don't get fed. That is just not true. Feedlots are all about getting herding animals to do the best they can so they grow. Stressed, sick and unhappy animals do not grow. The fodder is highly researched and managed, animals are carefully handled, and they are always being monitored so there isn't competition for food. This is a great example of a rotational system where cattle get time in a sandy pen adjacent to the feedlot. You tell me if they look like they're unhappy.
I'm trying to hide it, but I don't think I can.
I'm depressed today.
I visited a feedlot and talked to a cattle farmer (I'll call him James) yesterday.
I've been out to this feedlot before to get a bit of an understanding of how a feedlot works. Feedlot = feeds a lot of animals, yeah I know...but it is actually a bit more complicated than that. Stocking rates, water source, feed analysis, moving the livestock around...these things take time, and care, a lot of knowledge of animals husbandry...and people. A lot of people.
Usually the whole environment is pretty exciting, but it was very different yesterday. A shadow has descended. "James" said he's thinking of getting out, and it's a "bloody depressing" time, not least of which because of all the hard work that has gone into it. They've spent the last ten years or so building up the infrastructure, and have a feedlot which is considered exemplary (this facility plays host to school excursions, farm days, and international dignitaries, all hoping to see how a real operating feedlot works). It might be coming to an end for this multi-generational farming family, and the many staff members who've built lives in the country around the jobs they love.
The staff (friends more than staff really) have all come up through the ranks. Their training starts off slowly - it can be dangerous work - but is complete when each member of staff has a full eduction on the process of live export. They've all seen the facilities on the live export ships, and the overarching feeling is that Australia's high standards demonstrate to the world how livestock can be transported. Still, "James" said it weighs pretty heavily on him that their hard work is discounted by many people in the general public, and they're beginning to lose the passion for what they do.
Warning: clicking read more will open the rest of this blog post, and you may find some images disturbing.
I know, you savvy creature, you'll see right away this is the first blog entry on my website. I used to blog on other sites...but then I thought, that's a bit dumb. I'll do it here and anyone who happens to be interested will come across it. That's you. Stay right there.
This is going to bring you up to date with the Shipping Project, my radical idea to go to sea with thousands of animals, and see for myself what the live export industry is really all about. Let's face it. We're not going to start needing less food...barring some unforeseeable disaster which wipes half the humans of the face of the planet. There I go dreaming.
Oh! And record it for a radio documentary.
Alston Koch is the king of disco in Australia. What do you mean you don't know him? You must be mental, or in your 20s. You need a musical re-education my friend. Starting now.
Alston had a band called Dark Tan in the 70s, and their song Disco Lady was a massive hit. Don't even think of playing it around my mum, and I'm not making this up - she will dance. He was on Countdown all the time (which is a sentimental connection to me, because Ted Emery, the director of Countdown, gave me my first contract on TV). But I mustn't digress.
I first interviewed Alston when the Disco Lady Remix started zooming up the ARIA charts...peaking at number 1 (cos it couldn't actually go any higher), bumping Coldplay, Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, Kimbra, and Gotye. I mean, I don't want to embarrass anyone, those are just the facts.
Since then Alston has done just about everything you dream of doing when you're performing in your car thinking I should have been a singer. You do it too. Signed by Sony Music International (that's the sexy Sony everyone wants to be signed to btw...but you know, no biggie, they've only represented Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and Paul Simon)...
Click play to listen to my interview with Alston earlier this year.
It's not a secret. I've got a weird name.
My name is actually so complicated I can only remember one person ever getting it right straight off the bat. Except in India. In India they don't seem to have a problem with it. Geire, Geire, Geire. It's like water off a duck's back to them. When I ask, how do you know how to say my name? They say...but it's just Geire, and that's that. It easily accounts for half the reason I love India so much I think. I'm suddenly a normal person, who isn't intimidating just by the mere virtue of 5 small letters which look like they fell into the grid of a boggle cube.
People ask me, did you make it up, or were you born with it? (It might look like one, but it's not a condition).
Come on. Don't be dumb. Who would give themselves a name like that?
No, I was actually given that name at birth. And it's not a made up name. When I was in Norway I saw the alphabet-soup-named town that Geire derives from. I've even seen it in a Baby Names book. It means "Queenie" or "The little queen"...a zillion years ago some little girl named Geire ascended to the throne...something, something? Think dead relatives, or the plague, some tragedy befell the family...(I could be making this up)...In any event...it sounds confusing. I note: the legacy continues.
But I'm not Norwegian. I'm the same sort of bitsa that makes up most of the population of Australia. Bit of this, bit of that. Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Spanish, some pilgrim who went to the US. I can't find any trace of Norwegian which would let me even sightly off the hook.
My mum knew a Geire, and liked the name.
An absolutely acceptable name.