Good Reading

Two important books this month - about an ABM missionary early last century from Allen & Unwin, and a new series of very short introductions from Oxford University Press.

Terribly Wild Man Ernest Gribble: by Christine Halse.  (Allen & Unwin. 220 pp; $35.00 softcover) is a very readable insight into the life of a missionary to Aborigines.

Ernest Gribble was an Anglican priest who worked for the ABM in Queensland and West Australia. He had originally wanted to be a drover or jackeroo, but was persuaded by his missionary father to follow in his footsteps.

His efforts were not always appreciated, both by the ABM and his wards. The 'top guns' at ABM thought that he was "obsessed with sex", as he zealously policed the behaviour of the ATSI on the mission stations. Church attendance was compulsory, and the missions  resembled a military encampment.

In anticipation of the later 'Stolen Generations' he frequently abducted aboriginal children from their parents as part of his philosophy of protection. Yet despite his colonial zeal, he championed their cause, leading a campaign to investigate a police massacre in the 1920s.

His family life was tormented, sojourning from his wife and children, even taking a lover in his loneliness though insisting on rigid moral standards for others.

He died in obscurity, a tragic figure that represented all the antimony of his time, a post colonial in a colonial age.

Halse bears witness to his humanity, echoing the tensions that haunt Australia's past.

Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction by David DeGrazia (Oxford University Press. 131 pp; $19.95 softcover) is a title in new series that is meant to stimulate ways in to new subjects.

In 131 pages philosopher DeGrazia presents a well balanced discussion for the pro and anti arguments on animal rights through history and for today.

Do animals have any moral status or rights ?  Do we regard them as equal to human beings ? Areas of concern arise particularly with intensive poultry farming, zoo animals and various animals used in medical research.

Issues relating to meat eating aside,  animal rights have to be confronted every day  especially by pet owners. Not all animals are equal, and we do not know at what point on the phylogenetic scale sentience disappears, being replaced by more primitive non-conscious neural mechanisms.

Moral status is probably best grounded in relationships, and appeals to the moral importance of social bonds. As pet cats and dogs live with us, they develop deep personal relationships, though having truncated plans. So are we like our pets ?