When I was six years old, right about this time of year, I came to this very spot with my family. It was something so many families did, tugged along by excited children and lured in by the enchanted Christmas windows of Myer. And we did this because it meant something to us – the spirit of Christmas, the promise of presents and the essence of family, it all meant something to us.
Ironically enough, I stand here today, gathered with like-minded individuals who have given up their time because today means something to us all. However, it is not the intricate, colorful and mesmerising windows of Myer that captures our hearts and minds, but images of animals caught in the crossfire of our humanity and culinary pleasure. Of beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, curious, emotional, witty, playful and sentient animals who sadly will never experience the peace and goodwill that is purported to be showered on all at this time of year. They will never realise their potential or enjoy their place in the sun. In fact, for most of these animals, the very first time they will see the sunshine or feel and breathe fresh air will be on the last day of their lives as they are trucked off to slaughter.
But this is not a time for sadness, even though I know that for those of you who love animals, who care so deeply about them, and that what happens to animals gives you nightmares. This is a time to rejoice. And believe me, I am not discounting the tragedy that unfolds each and every day for animals; I am not turning a comforting blind eye to it.
We should rejoice because we are here. Have a look around you – here are people just like you, who never would have stood on this corner fifty-odd years ago.
Our numbers are growing, our voice is being heard, we are changing heart and minds and we are standing on the right side of history.
I cannot tell you how incredibly proud I am to be standing here with you all today, because it means something to me, as I know it does you. And I think one of the things that troubles us so much with what is happening to animals is because we know their worlds mean something to them. They are aware; they know what is happening to them and that so much of it causes them pain and suffering; they feel fear and anxiety, not only about their own experiences but about those of their buddies.
Animals suffer when their babies and friends are taken from them. They endure great discomfort and pain when they are crammed into cages, trucked off to slaughter or when their bodies are mutilated. Denied on a daily basis is the ability of so many animals to experience a life of joy, meaning and purpose, and they all tremble before death. And the people who do these things to animals are not punished; they are financially rewarded and all of these things are legal, but only so for now.
People often ask me how I can carry on given all the tragedy I see. Well, I can tell you this, the answer lies in something else I see. Something I am surrounded by on a daily basis: the animals and their enormous capacity to forgive.
There is Marty, a most noble, handsome and loving turkey. Marty daily reminds me of the best and worst of our species. The worst is evidenced by his hideously grotesque toes, the toenails having been severed when he was but a wee chirping chick.
This brutal amputation has left Marty with knobbly stumps that make walking difficult, as if it is wasn’t difficult enough under the huge muscle mass that is his body. A body that is the result of human selective breeding that is designed to get these hapless birds to their target slaughter weight with the least feed input in the shortest amount of time. It is a body that is so unnatural in form that his kind are not able to mate naturally. Our species has even taken away the magnificent colors that are a hallmark of his wild cousins, along with the ability to fly.
Marty proudly walks up to his new human friends, plonking himself down and purring as he receives head pats – and yes turkeys can purr.
Whilst Marty will never be the centrepiece of anyone’s dinner table, he will always have centre stage in our hearts, minds and lives. And the best within us all is swayed to agree after meeting dear Marty.
There is Penelope Sue, who just loves belly rubs and cuddles, much like everyone’s beloved dog. She reminds me daily of why pigs are so worth standing up for whilst so many others sit down to feed on their remains.
Penelope Sue can often be seen standing stock-still in the field with her best buddy Ballet Bob, a pig of equal charm and cheekiness, her pink nose gently sniffing the breeze as she gazes to a far-off place. Whilst I’ll never know what Penelope Sue is dreaming of, just like I will never know just what another human is dreaming of, I know that she is possessed with the same neural pathways that are vital for dreaming and sleeping, and there is no reason to believe that pigs and indeed all other animals do otherwise.
Luckily for Penelope Sue, her thoughts and dreams will carry on beyond this Christmas, but sadly, for most other pigs, theirs will not. Converted into pork, ham and bacon, no one will never get to know who these incredible and unique animals really were.
And then there is dear Betany, a broiler chicken, gently tugging at the leafy green in my hand and on my heartstrings, reminding me of the note that was so succinctly written on the box found outside our front gates that contained her and her eight siblings when they were but a few days old. The note said, “Friends, not food. Please save us!” And save them I will do my darned best to do; although I know I cannot directly save them all, I can inspire others to see Betany’s kind as beings who are so much more than the sum of their parts.
It truly is a joy to the world to see Betany and her sisters busily going about the farm, seeking the best spots to dust bathe in, the best patch to dig for grubs and the human most likely to offer to share their lap. And then a lump in my throat swells – these birds are on borrowed time: at 14 months old, they have way outlived the short miserable 5 to 7 weeks of life the industry had intended them to.
I know fully well that despite our careful feeding regime, exercise program, extensive veterinary knowledge and all the love and kindness we can muster, they cannot escape the genetic destiny our kind has imposed up them – that will ultimately claim their life.
You know, sometimes late at night, after I have put all the animals to bed and I walk about the farm, stopping to look at the incredible night’s sky, I wonder what I am doing here, what is the meaning in all of this. And then a gentle nibble on my finger by a lamb reminds me, and the words of Pablo Casals come to mind.
And that capacity cannot be bought, found under a tinsel clad Christmas tree or wrapped in colored paper for it beats within us all, it’s called our heart. It guides us daily, it’s called our mind and it’s what we choose to do, it’s called our life – all of which are woven together to form the rich tapestry of our being.
So my message for you all is to continue to do something that means something to you, because I know that whatever it is that you do, it will mean something to them.
*This speech was delivered at the combined Melbourne Pig and Chicken save rallied, held in the Bourke Street Mall on December 8th, 2016. My sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who attended. To find out more about these amazing animal save movements please see their Facebook pages for events and updates. https://www.facebook.com/Melbournechickensave/ https://www.facebook.com/Melbournepigsave/