What an exciting few days it has been! Last week, I flew to Australia for the Voiceless 2006 Awards Event held at the Sherman Galleries in Sydney on Thursday morning. I was there to receive a Voiceless Award for a grant funding an exciting workshop on animal law issues. If interested, you can read about the grant by clicking here, and see more about the workshop here. In this blog, I want to focus on the event itself, and about Voiceless generally, because there’s plenty to talk about on those subjects!
Voiceless, the Fund for Animals is an amazing organization. Founded by Brian Sherman, AM and his daughter Ondine in 2004, it has grown rapidly over the past few years, and emerged as a powerful supporter for animal interests in Australia. The Shermans have done an outstanding job bringing their business and artistic acumen to a cause that deeply needed them. If animals are to have a chance to live with any dignity in modern society, it’s going to be because of people like the Shermans, who understand the plight of farm animals, and are determined to do something about it.
They’ve certainly surrounded themselves with some good people. Nobel Prize winning author J.M. Coetzee is a Voiceless patron, and has been a consistent and strong supporter of better conditions for animals, writing thought-provoking books like “The Lives of Animals” to emphasize the suffering animals endure and get the public to wake up and do something about it. His speech at the awards ceremony (read by Hugo Weaving, as Coetzee was unable to attend) was inspiring, targeting the factory farming industry for its cruel treatment of animals, and comparing the industry’s methods to techniques used in the Holocaust.
“In the 20th Century, a group of powerful and bloody-minded men in Germany hit on the idea of adapting the methods of the industrial stockyard, as pioneered and perfected in Chicago, to the slaughter – or what they preferred to call the processing – of human beings”, wrote Coetzee. “Of course we cried out in horror when we found out what they had been up to. What a terrible crime to treat human beings like cattle – if we had only known beforehand. But our cry should more accurately have been: What a terrible crime to treat human beings like units in an industrial process. And that cry should have had a postscript: What a terrible crime – come to think of it, a crime against nature – to treat any living being like a unit in an industrial process.”
Coetzee is not the only famous name aligned with Voiceless. Hugo Weaving is the organization’s ambassador, and was present at the awards ceremony. I had a chance to talk with Hugo about his interest in animals and his work as Voiceless ambassador, and thanked him for attaching his name to the cause. Budding actress Abbie Cornish has signed up as well. She is now the ambassador for Voiceless Animal Club, a remarkable initiative designed to get school children thinking about being compassionate towards animals, and demonstrating that compassion on a daily basis.
Naturally, I’m also thrilled by the fact that Voiceless has made such a commitment to legal reform as one of its key objectives, and has realized that making a real difference in this area requires better legal education, and a stronger caliber of legal argument. Their first step was hiring Katrina Sharman, a long-time animal law enthusiast and an extremely capable advocate, to be Australia’s first “animal lawyer”. Katrina helped craft Voiceless’s powerful submission on pig farming “From Paddocks to Prisons”, which offers an indictment of the industry and the laws that supposedly govern it. There are more such submissions on the way, and they have become a welcome addition to the sparse scholarship in the area. Katrina has become a frequent and highly effective speaker on animal law issues, and one that cannot be ignored, delivering presentations on the plight faced by farm animals all over Australia, the United States and even in New Zealand.
Voiceless Law Talk, a sophisticated and well-designed on-line forum accessible to lawyers and law students in Australia and New Zealand, has been another major success. It has allowed those of us with an interest and concern for animals, normally isolated by distance and ignorance about each other’s very existence, to share thoughts and ideas together, and has elevated the level of dialogue on these issues.
The awards ceremony was an example of the high quality and attention to detail that has become a symbol of Voiceless. I was delighted to be a small part of it, and must confess that it was a real thrill to win an award and actually receive some recognition for my work on animal law issues. The ceremony was very well attended, both by media and the public, and held on the same day as the opening of the Sherman Galleries exhibition “Voiceless: I Feel Therefore I Am”, which contains art works from some of Australia’s leading emerging and established artists reflecting on the widespread human use of animals and the cruelty surrounding our dealings with them.
The opening was packed with art lovers and animal enthusiasts, and it was great to catch up with some old friends and make new ones. After the opening, the grant winners and Voiceless staff went to dinner (vegan, of course) at Otto Ristoraunte, one of Sydney’s leading restaurants, where we talked well into the night.
The whole day was a real thrill for me. I was thoroughly impressed by the Voiceless operation and by the commitment demonstrated by its founders and dedicated staff. There’s no doubt in my mind that this organization is making a real difference, and we in New Zealand could certainly use one like it. Thankfully, by supporting our project, Voiceless has recognized that improving the dialogue between scholars in both countries can go a long way to helping the plight of animals. I’ll certainly be doing my best to ensure that its investment is put to good effect.