Animals Australia
Memphis Gaston (centre) stands in front of crying bull image, protesting for his legacy

Who is Animals Australia?

With a love for the Earth and all its creatures, advocate-driven organisation Animals Australia is here to change the world. To find out more, our columnist Maria Slough talks to director of campaigns, Lisa Chalk.

Animals Australia first came to my attention back in January last year, when their rescue missions played out on Instagram as fires savaged the bush in Mallacoota. As the world watched in disbelief as this beautiful part of Mother Earth burned, we mourned the loss of life and the helpless plight of the animals caught in the flames. Over a year later, the sun has not long been up in the UK as I settle into my Zoom call with Lisa Chalk, the director of campaigns for Animals Australia.

\"It probably goes without saying that everyone who works at Animals Australia has a deep love for our fellow species and is driven by a desire to make the world a kinder place for them,\" Lisa explains. \"As advocates, as strategists, who believe that our greatest ally is the human heart - the seat of the conscience - we have found that if we can dismantle the layers of inherited mental programming that form part of unconscious collective thinking, then the heart will guide us to kinder choices for the benefit of animals, people and the planet. This is what drives us.\"

Animals Australia was formed in 1980 by Professor Peter Singer and Dr Christine Townend to fill the gap in animal welfare and go where help is needed. They did exactly this during the Bush fires, facilitating placement of food and flying vets such as Dr Chris Barton into the firegrounds where koalas, like the one captured here by photographer Joanne McArthur, were found with their joeys on their back in entirely burnt-out areas.

How would you describe your personal journey with animals?

\"My mum is a big animal lover, so I have always had animals around me and loved them for as long as I can remember. When I was eight, she went to the local animal shelter with my brother to adopt a dog and they came back with two dogs and a goat.

That pretty much sums up my childhood! I was always the kid who would gravitate to the animal in the room before the people; indeed, that remains true today.\"

\"Now, I have two rescue dogs, best described as joy-givers - who else in your life brings a smile to your face purely by their presence in every single moment of the day? They have been part of my family for 10 years and just looking at them makes my heart feel so full. There is no separation between them and me, our hearts are connected and this is such a great insight into how the relationship between humans and animals was meant to be - and can still be. My dogs are a constant reminder to live in and appreciate the present moment. It's such a privilege to have animals in your life.\"

Ten years ago, when Lisa joined Animals Australia, she ate a meat-based diet. It was not a requirement of her employment that she follow plant-based living, but the team advised her that it was highly likely that she would eventually transition as she was exposed to what the job revealed.

Animals Australia
Image: Joanne McArthur

\"It was always going to be a natural evolution in my life to stop eating animals, because that is where my heart was, I just hadn't got there myself. It was incredibly liberating when I made that choice and I wondered why I didn't do it sooner. It was the Live Export investigation in Indonesia in 2011 that was the catalyst. For many Australians it was the first time they came face to face with animals raised and killed for food. It was very powerful.\"

How else are Animals Australia helping?

Animals Australia investigations and campaigns are recognised worldwide, and they have a unique approach to tackling the topic of plant-based living. Whilst the staff at Animals Australia are plant-based, they don't consider themselves a vegan organisation. They know that the most profound impact humans can have to help animals is to choose not to eat them, and their live export investigations are consistently cited as being a defining moment for people in choosing to no longer eat animals.

\"Inherited mindsets are primary influencers of human thinking,\" Lisa continues, \"attitudes and choices that result in separation, discrimination and animal suffering. As an organisation, we seek to ignite an evolution of human thought to heal the human-animal relationship. The first step is asking ourselves whether eating animals is a conscious, considered or inherited choice? Giving people an insight into the experience of an animal raised and killed for food can lead to profound shifts in thinking and dietary choices.\"

Through the food advocacy brand VegKit, an initiative of Animals Australia, they aspire to ignite that evolution of humanity, inspiring and supporting people to enjoy more plant-based food. Australia is still a predominantly meat eating country but over the past year change is happening. They saw a 46 per cent increase in grocery sales of plant-based meat products; a doubling of plant-based meat products in supermarkets to 200, and 22 companies now comprising Australia's plant-based meat industry also doubled. It is predicted to be a $3 billion AUD food category in Australia supporting 6,000 jobs by 2030. As the global trend that plant-based meat products are forecast to command up to 10 per cent of the $1.4 trillion global meat market by 2029, up from less than one per cent in 2019, change is happening.

Animals Australia
Image: Animals Australia

What is Animals Australia's biggest achievement in the last five years?

\"It has to be achieving a ban on live sheep shipments for three months of the year. We have taken the live export trade from sending six million sheep overseas annually to barely 760,000 last year and we achieved a ban on live exports during the 'northern summer', so for those three months of the year you cannot export sheep from Australia.\"

\"One of our most dedicated attendees at the many live export rallies we have held is Memphis Gaston, who became the face of our live export campaign during the Australian Federal election in 2019. He has been coming along since he was four years old. Achieving this ban was amazing progress and will continue to prevent some of the worst animal suffering we have seen in sheep trade history. The footage of sheep literally 'cooking alive' at sea sparked a national outcry and led to the Labour party committing to end live sheep exports if elected, which sadly they weren't.\"

\"The world's biggest animal tragedy is without doubt the 70 billion plus animals raised and killed for food globally each year. Many people remain unaware of the lives of deprivation of these animals. They are denied the most basic legal protections simply because of the 'category' they were born into, food rather than friend, despite the fact that all animals share the capacity to suffer. Many of the countries we traditionally exported to have no facilities in place to safely and humanely restrain and handle Australian cattle, and restraint with ropes was very common. Australian cattle are not used to human handling so are very fearful. Our 2011 investigation in Indonesia exposing this did lead to the Australian government putting in place regulations to prohibit this method of restraint for our exported animals, but went on to expose animals still being subjected to such treatment AFTER these regulations were put in place.\"

The restraints that Lisa refers to are archaically barbaric as animals are tied up tightly and pulled to the ground so the slaughterman can access their throat to be cut. The stress and fear that the animal will endure is unimaginable.

In 2013, an image was taken during an Animals Australia investigation in Mauritius showing the practice still in use.

The image known as 'The Crying Bull' became iconic in Australia.

The weeping Bull lost his life, it was taken from him, stolen to feed someone a burger, the sentient soul who showed the world how frightened he was as tears rolled down his beautiful face. His legacy does live on as this devastating image continues to circulate and it is a stark reminder as Lisa says that, \"He was sent there for his meat so that is what he became.\"

Was his suffering in vain?

\"Countless hearts opened to him and others like him, and live export is consistently cited as a reason people choose to go plant-based. We have a long way to go but every day more people are bringing animals back into their circle of compassion, which is an extraordinary motivating force.\"

Animals Australia
Image: Edgars Mission Farm Sanctuary

Follow Maria's photography journey at mariasloughphotography.com and Instagram @mariasloughphotography

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