As a small girl, shy and freckled, I was enticed and enchanted by the world of animals.
Like many children, I had a special connection with my dog, Bronnie, and I fantasised that I could talk to her, to all animals, enter her world and be as one. At age five, I wrote a picture book from the perspective of an ant, and later saw myself caring for orphaned lion cubs, like in the film I adored, Born Free. I debated whether I wanted to live in the wild savannahs of Africa or in a rose-covered cottage in countryside England, like my idol Beatrix Potter. Any imagined life was surrounded by creatures, not people.
When I was seven, my grandmother served us tongue, a traditional eastern European dish, and my first light-bulb flashed – meat is animals. I was eating my soul mates. I pronounced myself vegetarian on the spot, and if my family hoped it was a phase they had yet to see my force of will. It was 1981 and not the best time to be veggie in carnivorous Australia. Sad but determined, I gave up my favourite meat pies from the tuck shop, ate empty burger buns at classmates’ birthday parties and grew accustomed to the teasing.
My next aha moment arrived at eleven when, walking the Sydney streets with my father, I came across a table with leaflets and petitions. Stopping to look, I was consumed by the horrors of factory farming and signed up to receive Animal Liberation’s magazine, Outcry. Lying on the floor of my pink bedroom, I inhaled the pages, deeply shocked by the images of broken limbs, cages, concrete and wire. I tacked their poster to my wall: The chicken in your freezer has more room now than it did when it was alive. I knew cows, sheep and pigs were no different to Bronnie; they felt the same pain, fear, joy, and love. I couldn’t imagine my dog being treated like that: locked in a cage her entire life, unable to move freely or even go outside, having her tail cut off or teeth pulled out without anaesthetic. My letter to the editor was published in the next edition: I never knew people could do such rotten things to animals. If I was older I would really give those people a hard time.
That calling, that passion, never waned. By age fifteen, I was increasing my activity. With my friend Danielle, we skipped school and hitched a six-hour ride to protest duck hunting in West Wyalong, where we camped and rowed boats onto the wetlands to rescue injured water birds. I held a bird in my hand, blood seeping from her beak, as she died in my arms. Danielle and I moved onto other forms of activism, from waving banners at protest marches to sneaky activism at the Opera House that we invented ourselves. We would go to opening night at the opera and gently place small stickers, which we’d prepared beforehand, onto the ladies’ fur coats. They continued to elegantly sip their wine not realising that our words ‘Fur is Murder’ were plastered on their backs. We’d hightail it out of there, giggling and smug before we were discovered.
My protest life was short lived as my shy introverted character wasn’t so well suited to the big crowds, confrontations and larger-than-life actions. I was never going to be the type to stand with a megaphone and lead a charge.
As an adult, I realised how activism comes in a plethora of forms, each one powerful and necessary. When combined, they create lasting change. I founded Voiceless with my father Brian Sherman in 2004 and we built a network of influential Australians from the highest levels of science, law, business and the arts dedicated to raising awarenessof animal protection. Together, we created an organisation focused solely on advocating for animals, stopping cruelty and preventing suffering, and my childhood promise, my dream, came true. My small beginnings turned into something big and proud.
Through the power of words, I hope to spark aha moments for others in my writing, especially young people, and inspire them to question essential ethical issues.
Animal protection is the social justice movement of our time and I aspire to play my part in creating a kinder world.
Ondine is the co-founder and managing director of Voiceless, the animal protection institute. She is a life-long animal advocate, passionate about promoting respect and compassion for all creatures. Ondine holds a BA in Communications and MA in Environmental Studies. She is an ambassador for Action for Dolphins and director of conservation NGO This is My Earth (TiME), and writes regularly about animal protection in the media.
Ondine grew up in Sydney and now lives in Tel Aviv with her husband and three children. Her mischievous street cats, loyal dogs and ex-battery chickens all keep her extraordinarily entertained.