Animal Protection >
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
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
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
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
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
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
|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
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
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.