Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Conversation with Christine Townend founder of the Animal Liberation movement in Australia

On a brief visit from India recently, Christine Townend long time animal rights activist and founder of the Animal Liberation Movement in Australia shared some of her experiences and philosophy concerning animal rights, India, and spirituality with us.

Interview by Claudette Vaughan, August 2000.

CLAUDETTE: Christine, what advice would you give somebody who wants to make a difference but doesn't know where to start?

CHRISTINE: In reality the place to start is within yourself. The world is changing because the consciousness of people is changing. For each person who undergoes the inner transformation, a small part of the public consciousness is uplifted forever. A good campaigner is one who has confidence in themselves, who wants more than anything else to see a better world for animals, who is very determined and who is willing to give up anything to work for a world in which the animals are treated as living beings rather than production units.

Most importantly, a good campaigner is one who is humble and non-violent in all aspects of behaviour, and therefore prepared to listen to the other point of view, to work with all shades and variations of philosophy, to be prepared to accept compromises, and to present a logical, cool and detached public persona. If the animals could ask for one thing it would be for us all to be able to work together for our common goal, despite our varied philosophical and strategic views. So, a person can start in two ways both by self-observation and self-improvement, and by the practical step of joining an existing group, or forming a new group by calling together a few friends.

CLAUDETTE: India it's certainly a land of contrasts. My experience was that the people, especially the poor are so much more humane while paradoxically the middle classes were quiet greedy and grasping. While there I got entrenched in an awful scam involving a vet and a Tibetan dog who had cancer and eventually had to be euthanased. What is your experience of India?

CHRISTINE: There is something like 500 million middle class people in India and this strata of society is generally very interested in making money whatever the circumstances. Due to this, pollution, unplanned development and environmental destruction, together with loss of traditional human/ animal interrelations is occurring. Traditionally the village people have treated their animals as part of the household. We often hear someone say about their cow "She is my mother". It is hard to imagine an Australian farmer referring to the cattle they are about to send to slaughter in such a manner. It is my hope and prayer that these attitudes are not swamped by the WTO and the belief that eating of meat is trendy and Western.

CLAUDETTE: What's the story behind your shelter 'Help in Suffering' and your work in India?

CHRISTINE: In 1990 I became managing trustee of 'Help in Suffering', an animal shelter and registered Indian charitable trust, based in Jaipur, Rajastan. In 1992 my partner Jeremy and I went to live there, due to the fact that management was needed. We have been working there as volunteers ever since, and it has been a very rich experience. Apart from the normal work of the animal shelter rescue of injured and ownerless street animals, adoptions, rehoming etc we are conducting an international programme to create a friendly street dog population and control the spread of rabies in Jaipur. This has been very successful.

CLAUDETTE: Do you have any regrets about leaving the animal rights movement in Australia for India?

CHRISTINE: Actually, I became involved in 'Help in Suffering' not through any deliberate plan of my own, but because circumstances led me there, and it became apparent that the organisation in India might cease to function if I did not take an interest in it. So, it was not a deliberate choice on my part. However, I was grateful to have a change of direction as I had always been drawn to the culture and religion of India and I was finding that the major part of my work for Animal Liberation which was speaking to the rural community about mistreatment of farm animals was bearing no results.

I remember a particular occasion when I drove all the way from Sydney to Deniliquin to speak at a farmers meeting. It occurred to me at that meeting that the rural people came to hear my speech, not because they were at all interested in what I had to say, not because they were interested in changing their practices, but because I had achieved a certain notoriety, and they wanted to have a bit of fun baiting me and arguing. At that moment I realised that these people were not yet ready for change, not having the sensitivity to understand that it was their obligation to care for and treat their animals humanely. To them the sheep and cattle were "stock" and always would be. I felt deep impersonal sadness and I began to believe that talking to these people was, at that time, counterproductive.

CLAUDETTE: Have you witnessed much improvement since then?

CHRISTINE: The major changes that I have witnessed have to do with changes in consciousness, or in attitude, which is a cause for optimism, but which is hard to qualify. The rather peripheral and superficial improvements to legislation which have been introduced in Australia as a response to the change in public awareness are not encouraging.

I find it incredible that after all these years people are still at liberty to blast away at the ducks, blood and feather falling from the sky. In India, it is not permitted to kill any wildlife, even when the wildlife kills humans each year, as in the case of elephants. However, I do believe that there are changes in the public consciousness in Australia: vegetarians were considered rather unusual and peculiar in the 70s but now my sons tell me its 'trendy'. One does not see the stray dogs wandering around the streets anymore, and there is a general public knowledge about the cruelty of factory farming which simply did not exist when I started. However, I remain discouraged about the resistance of the rural community to the implementation of animal welfare changes.

CLAUDETTE: How do you respond to those people who ask you whether you don't have anything better to do with your time?

CHRISTINE: I say that everyone has a calling, there may be different callings, but my calling is to try and bring about right relations between the kingdoms of nature. Until humans lay down their weapons of war against the animals, we will never have harmony in the world at large. It is a sacred and holy duty to heal the rifts, to eliminate the violence, to practice harmlessness, and this affects humans as much as animals or any other living creature.

CLAUDETTE: What made you become an activist?

CHRISTINE: It was circumstance not any particular effect on my part. I was fortunate to be a member of an environment society at the Rocks in Sydney. Having just read Peter Singer's book 'Animal Liberation', I complained to the director Milo Dunphy, about the cruelty of factory farmed animals and the fact that there was no organisation in Australia fighting to stop this practice. Milo told me to stop whingeing and start a group, which I did. I was totally surprised with the response.

CLAUDETTE: Are you happy with your life Christine?

CHRISTINE: I have been blessed with a fantastic, rich, incredible life. I find life very miraculous and surprising. I grew as a human being only because of Animal Liberation, to which I owe everything. I love the animals unbearably, and it is only because of my inquiry into the spiritual teachings of India that I can understand to some very small degree why there is so much suffering in this little blue world wobbling through the space of this vast endless cosmos. I am interested in what one might call the Thatness, or Energy, the Source of Life.

CLAUDETTE: How can we help the progress of your work in India?

CHRISTINE: It seems to be that one of the qualities of people who work for animal rights is that they also feel a sense of responsibility towards the countries less fortunate than our own. That in itself is helping when it is associated with any small deed or contribution. We do need volunteers in India, but they must be people who are prepared to stay for a year or more, and who have proven skills with animals, for example, veterinarians and veterinary nurses.

We have a small organisation in Australia run by Brenda Glasgow. It is a registered charity which collects money for our work in India and which provides information for interested people. Brenda would certainly appreciate any help that was offered with the work. Her contact address is 12 East View Street, Greenwich, Sydney NSW 2065.

CLAUDETTE: Do you have any final words for the animal liberation movement in Oz for instance, the direction it should be moving in? What do you see for the future?

CHRISTINE: I am totally amazed by the skills, intensity and determination of the animal liberation movement in Australia. I read the magazines and I am deeply impressed by the hard struggle which is relentlessly maintained out of completely selfless motives, born of love only, love for the creatures, the beautiful animals. I am sure that, as long as our movement continues to grow in this way, there will be a world in which the killing and eating of animals is considered as much a sin as theft, pollution or rape.

We will love the animals so much and we will understand them so well, through science and through our own compassion that the idea of making the stomach a graveyard will be simply repulsive. The Jain people in India stifle little cries of horror when they see any animal being mistreated. They are vegetarian, and do not kill even an ant.

One day there will be many little cries of horror in every country all through the world. Those cries will build a fence through the air and no-one will ever again be able to reach across that fence to violate the animals.