When you find yourself in the same place at the same time as you were exactly a year ago, it can really give you pause to realise how much has changed and how much hasn’t.It was around this time last year that I organised my first protest against the use of animals in the Lennon Bros Circus, set to perform at Cahill Park in Tempe, a suburb of Sydney.
I had attended protests before, but this was my first shot at organising my own for this particular evening. The daytime protest clashed with my cousin’s second birthday party and I was keen to continue the campaign.
I wasn’t the only one attending a kids’ birthday party that day, although I wasn’t to find out about Anthony Sharwood’s encounter with my fellow protesters until that evening; and again as I found myself in the Animal Liberation office by chance at the same time as Anthony’s phone call to Lynda Stoner.
Flash forward a year later, and a lot has changed, but then again, a lot hasn’t. I find myself once more organising protests for Animal Liberation NSW outside the circus at Tempe, once a volunteer but now a member of staff. The circus has changed, from the Lennon Bros to Stardust, but the owners have not. These two circuses, both owned and operated by the Lennon family, are amongst the very few with exotic animals left in Australia.
The protests continue, but they have changed too. Every circus protest by Animal Liberation since last year’s unfortunate clash has been organised and presided over by myself, with a particular view to avoiding another “Sharwood Situation”.
Two things you will never find at one of these protests: a megaphone, why shout at people going in when you can engage with them one-on-one? And targeting children, because this kind of desperate tactic is best left to fast food chains, sugary breakfast cereals and the circus. When someone calls you out on poor behaviour, it’s reasonable to re-examine yourselves and adjust your approach accordingly, rather than try to save face.
It’s unfortunate for the animals in their care that the Lennon family have not adopted the same attitude. One year later, and many things are exactly the same. These animals are still living in captivity and forced to perform, spending their days alongside major roads in miserable enclosures, with little stimulation or ability to exhibit their natural behaviours, still moved from town to town in cramped conditions.
One year later and the monkeys can still be witnessed pacing back and forth in their treeless cages out of anxiety.
One year later, and the Lennons still offer the same excuses and arguments, rather than re-examine the real needs of the animals they claim to care for as “family”. As far as Jan Lennon is concerned, if you give an animal a big enough box to sit in and the occasional treat, it has adequate welfare.
It is true that their enclosures may exceed the standard set in the Exhibited Animals Protection Act, but in consideration of several studies that conclude circus life can never be suitable for a wild animal, the specific size of an enclosure seems pithy for an animal used to roaming several kilometres a day.
Their domesticated animals are not much better off either, and if the definition for “treated like family” includes ponies being roped to trucks in one spot for several hours while it pours with rain, or three dogs sharing a space barely appropriate for one, churned into mud over a week of inclement weather, then it should be no surprise that most people now reject a performing animal circus as decent “family” entertainment.
“When animal activists attack!” was a timely reminder that passion is best directed into constructive methods of discourse, a message I pass on to anyone attending a protest with Animal Liberation NSW. When circus animals attack it is not out of passion but fear, anxiety or desperation, and the consequences tend to be far worse than a bit of bad publicity, such as the six-year old boy in Brazil who was torn apart by lions in 2000.
When Geoffrey Lennon was attacked by three lions in 2001 the circus claimed to have “no idea” why they would do that. Because, Mr. Lennon, these are wild animals with wild instincts and do not belong in the circus. I recommend a little reflexivity of your own, because one year from now I really hope not to be having this same discussion.
However, if you come back without the animals, I’ll gladly take my cousin for his fourth birthday to see the human performers. Who knows, I may even run into Mr. Sharwood dropping his daughter off for her friend’s birthday party.
Phillip Hall for The Punch