Cheryl Forrest-Smith

Sentient Associate Member, Animals Australia Executive


As I opened the gate to my aunt’s home, the car was parked under the car-port, as usual, but completely covering the entrance was the most spectacular spider’s web.  Naturally, over a cup of tea, I remarked on this to her.  “Oh yes dear.  It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?  We haven’t the heart to take the car out because it would destroy all that beautiful, hard work.”   I was in my early teens, and such kindness and consideration to a life form that was commonly greatly feared and detested really resonated with me.     


And her brother, my father, loved nature and always had dogs.  His favourite saying was:  “Never trust a man who can pass a dog without saying ‘Hello’.”  I have found it very useful.


When I was around 7, in search for work, my father moved us for a blissful time to the country.  There I met a most extraordinary German Shepherd.  We became instant friends, and were inseparable.  He and I would head off into the bush together for big chunks of the day, and we were completely content.


Returning to the city, I had a lightning-bolt moment with classical music from which, thank heavens, I have never ‘recovered’.  Like other species, I found the world of music to also be infinitely rich and complex.  Both never fail to inspire and sustain.


In my teens, having enjoyed a wonderful childhood with animals, I stumbled across a display in a shopping centre of horrific photos of experiments on primates, rats, and mice.  It was like being shot.   I was shattered.  I couldn’t think, and felt physically ill.  My world was never to be the same again.   Then, in my early 20’s, I saw a documentary about the seal hunt.  Again, devastated, inconsolable, a close friend said that:  “If cruelty to animals upsets you so much, do something about it!”


Around this time, whaling was still allowed in Australian waters.   I was now a Television Producer in an advertising agency, and had become a member of the Australian Conservation Foundation.  When ACF realised my occupation, they asked if I would produce a ‘Community Service Announcement’ for television, against whaling.  So, with the help of a friend, we created a 60 second spot using magnificently beautiful footage of whales – breaching, tail-flapping, etc…, and edited it to a segment of Mahler’s gloriously grand and profound 2nd symphony, then contrasted with a sharp cut to the cruelty and carnage of the hunts.  It won many awards and, more importantly, contributed to the banning of whaling in Australian waters.


The Humane Society of Australia (not Humane Society International) focused on experiments around this time.  I eagerly agreed to produce a CSA for them, and subsequently joined the committee.   This was a major turning point.  It was during this time that the HSA attracted future greats of the animal advocacy movement to its ranks – e.g.  Glenys Oogjes (Animals Australia from day 1, now CEO),  Graeme McEwen (Founder, Barristers for Animal Welfare),  Lynda Stoner (currently Communications Co-ordinator, Animal Liberation NSW, and Animal Justice Party – Federal Candidate), Liz Jackson (Choose Cruelty Free).    We went on to work with Peter Singer and Christine Townend (Animal Liberation Founders).  All legends in the movement.  All highly effective, committed individuals, and courageous souls to whom, on behalf of the animals, I am eternally grateful.


From this productive and exciting collaboration was born the Australian Federation of Animal Societies (AFAS) in 1980.  It was the first umbrella organisation for animal groups of all shapes and sizes, right across the country.  This, in turn, became the Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Societies (ANZFAS), which is today – Animals Australia, and its international arm, Animals International.


In 1983, whilst we were still AFAS, the Federal Government announced that there was to be a ‘Senate Select Committee of Inquiry into Animal Welfare’.   It was the largest, most comprehensive investigation ever held, into every aspect of animal use in Australia.  We had no time to lose.  Everything had to be well researched, well documented, 150% accurate, and well presented.  We ‘conscripted’ family and friends, acquisitioned offices, and charmed printing companies. 


AFAS submitted three weighty volumes, and sub-volumes, including photographs, plus presented during Committee hearings, and so very much more.  The Inquiry ended in 1991, and whilst it was the most comprehensive inquiry into animal use ever, the AFAS submission was also the most comprehensive ever compiled, and was used as a reference source for many years.   After so much hard work by so many, the gains were disappointingly small.  However, there was a promising shift.  The movement had made its mark, and done it professionally and with integrity.  It had informed and drawn attention for all to see, cruel practices previously unheard of and well hidden.  So, whilst our losses were largely due to government and industry alliances, a new awareness across the wider community had begun.


During the Inquiry, I moved home from Melbourne to Sydney in 1985, and landed my dream job – Recordings Producer with The Australian Opera (now Opera Australia).  I worked closely with the ABC to record our operas for simulcast and radio broadcast, and produced videos and CDs from those performances for international distribution.  We were the largest provider of opera on video in the world, the first to release an opera on DVD.  I was immensely fortunate to work with Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, including responsibility for the television recording aspect of Dame Joan’s international farewell to the opera stage, at the Sydney Opera House.   Over a 6 year period, with invaluable assistance from colleagues at the ABC, we found three supposedly destroyed television recordings of Sutherland (Norma, Lakmé, and Lucrecia Borgia).   I was able to completely restore all of them.  This led to a commission from the ABC to totally restore a ballet film, regarded as one of the world’s best, but fallen into disrepair – The 1973 Don Quixote, with Rudolph Nureyev, Robert Helpmann, a top cast of principals, and The Australian Ballet.


Throughout my professional life, the animals continued.  I was President of the Animal Societies Federation, and appointed to the Animal Research Review Panel of NSW.  I am currently on the Executive of Animals Australia.   Independently of that, I also have several networks dedicated to animal issues, and together, our activities include action alerts, informing/updating, lobbying politicians, writing to media, working on informing and engaging the non-converted, etc….    If someone has something of a more confidential nature, I ensure that that is respected, and that the information reaches a destination where it can be put to best use.   


Trying to discipline myself to a more narrow and, therefore, more effective focus, current issues include live export, slaughter, experiments, the establishment of a Federal Independent Office of Animal Welfare. I believe it is also important to pursue the greyhound racing NSW ban, for despite Premier Baird’s backflip, the legislation is still in place.  So, it’s not over yet!   If we can win NSW, other states will follow.  And every win is a win for animals everywhere.


As a child and throughout my youth, when the widely regarded, ludicrous view was that animals don’t feel pain, I knew that they not only felt pain, but that they were intelligent and had a rich and complex range of emotions.  My sense of their sentience went way beyond even the love of animals my family had, but I felt very alone with this view.  Today, with social media, and attending such conferences as the Animal Activists Forums, Animals Australia’s AGMs, and various rallies, I know that I am far from alone.  


Reviewing Frans de Waal’s book (SMH ‘Spectrum’, 12.11.16) ‘Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?’, Simon Caterson says that there is a slow but seemingly inevitable historical shift in attitudes towards the treatment of animals.  In Australia, the gradual recognition of the importance of issues pertaining to animal welfare is manifested in the intense public debate over inherently exploitative activities such as greyhound racing and the live export trade.”


In large part, this is thanks to courageous undercover investigations.  Revelationary exposés have achieved wide media coverage, reaching people all over the world.  The wider community is now more aware than ever before, and they are responding with informed compassion.  A small sample of examples:  Universities have courses in animal law.  Animals are gaining legal status as sentient beings with specific rights.   One in 4 Australians are eating less meat, or are vegetarian or vegan.  One in 6 are choosing dairy free.   The new mayor of Turin (Italy) wants to make the village vegan.  The Attorney General of New Zealand celebrated her new appointment with a formal vegan dinner.  The winner of the People’s Choice Best Restaurant in Melbourne, ‘Smith & Daughters’, is vegan.  China has announced that it is working to reduce its citizens meat consumption by 50%, and the United Nations is urging nations to discourage their citizens from eating meat – Both on environmental grounds, due to 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gasses being caused by animal food production, but the reduction in cruelty and suffering would be astronomical!


I love working to help animals, have been a volunteer for over 40 years, and feel that the least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.  Borrowing shades of Jane Goodall:  There are so many ways in which we have deeply wronged our fellow sentient beings, but once we understand, once we care, then we have to do something.  So today, finally, many have a real sense that there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the movement, and commentators around the world are declaring that animal rights may be the next great social justice movement.   Some say it already is.


I became a member of Sentient, because I feel very strongly about supporting a national veterinary body that overwhelmingly represents what is in the best interests of all animals.  That is Sentient’s priority – There is no other agenda.   I admire, and am extremely grateful to Founders – Adele, Katherine, and Rosemary.  From their passion and commitment, Sentient has become a leading, and highly respected animal advocacy organisation. .