ALP slams bushfire buyback exclusions

Jacinta Allan.THE state government’s bushfire land buyback scheme has been criticised for being ”too narrow” because it does not apply to some high-fire-risk areas such as Cockatoo and the Otways that were not hit by bushfires in 2009.
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More than 500 properties destroyed by the 2009 fires are expected to be eligible for the voluntary scheme, for which the government has made available $50 million.

But Labor frontbencher Jacinta Allan slammed the program, saying it exposed as ”a sham” the government’s commitment to implement all 67 recommendations from the Bushfires Royal Commission.

”This Baillieu government scheme is for people affected by the 2009 bushfires only,” she said. ”It has no regard for people who live in high-fire-risk areas in other parts of Victoria and the [ commission] recommendation was to implement this policy in high-fire-risk areas.”

The buyback plan excludes high-fire-risk areas such as Cockatoo, Mount Macedon, and the Otways, devastated in previous bushfires, she said.

Ms Allan said the scheme did not give any detail on what would happen to land acquired under the buyback. ”Who will manage it to keep the fire risk down? If DSE [Department of Sustainability and Environment] is to be responsible, what additional resources will they be given and when?”

Recommendation 46 of the Bushfires Royal Commission final report urged the state to ”implement a retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the state of land in these areas”.

In a discussion of ”high-risk areas” attached to the recommendation, the commission said the government should consider a range of factors including ”giving priority to acquiring land that is in an area of unacceptably high bushfire risk and on which dwellings were damaged or destroyed by the 2009 bushfires”.

When asked yesterday why the buyback did not apply to high-fire-risk areas that did not burn in 2009, Bushfire Response Minister Peter Ryan said: ”When you have regard to the provisions of recommendation 46, this scheme is appropriate.”

Mr Ryan said the rules of the buyback were ”not set in stone” and the $50 million would be increased if needed. He also denied the buyback rules were too stringent, adding that people whose houses were destroyed in 2009 and had since built in a different location could still qualify for the buyback on their burnt property.

Mr Ryan said if acquired land was left vacant it would have a ”minimal” impact on country communities. Acquired land left in public hands would have to be maintained by the DSE to an ”appropriate standard” to minimise bushfire risk, he said.

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More carbon support for dairy farmers: Fonterra

JOHN Doumani, managing director of Fonterra Australia New Zealand says that the unique electricity demands of dairy farmers need to be understood when it comes to carbon pricing and compensation.
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Speaking as the nation faces the introduction of a carbon tax and several related impacts on business, Mr Doumani said that his company is advocating for greater assistance for farmers to help them transition to low carbon technologies.

“The reality is that dairy farmers engage in energy intensive processing, so they should be eligible for funding to help them adapt.

“We have been talking to Government about the special needs of dairy farming and so far, they are very receptive of the message,” he said.

“The biggest likely impact of carbon pricing for dairy farmers will be electricity price increases. Electricity is a major input cost in dairy farming as energy intensive milk processing starts on the farm.

“We expect the Government’s carbon pricing will have a direct impact of about $3,000 per dairy farm per year on average in terms of increased electricity costs. Predicting this, we want to help our farmers identify ways to reduce electricity use on-farm today, in preparation for a carbon-priced tomorrow.”

Mr Doumani said that he and Fonterra as a company accept that a low carbon future is an inevitability – and a challenge that has to be faced.

“But it is also an opportunity to innovate, invest and drive for a more competitive future; with lower costs, improved market access and greater consumer confidence,” he said.

“We have initiated a series of programs to reduce our carbon emissions across our manufacturing operations, and now we are turning our attention to how we can help our farmer suppliers.”

Fonterra said that this week it had launched a guide to provide dairy farmers with practical advice on how to manage the electricity cost increases of carbon pricing.

It covers the key areas of on-farm electricity usage and invites farmers to do a self-assessment of their operations.

Mr Doumani said the guide is just the first piece in an overall program to help Fonterra’s dairy farmer suppliers in Australia prepare for a new low carbon economy.

“We have been engaging with our farmer suppliers here in Australia in conversations around sustainability. What they tell us is that they want to operate a sustainable business and they want to reduce their carbon emissions, especially in light of the additional costs that will be associated with the carbon pricing, but that they don’t know how to do it or fund it.

“What they want is independent advice from someone who really understands dairying to advise them on what technologies to employ. Farmers are telling us that they are wary of the “snake oil salesmen” knocking on their doors offering a whole range of dubious solutions. They are concerned about unproven technologies and capital costs necessary to implement change,” he said.

The guide includes a calculator to help farmers consider their likely electricity bill increases and a self-assessment tool so they can understand how their operation rates against best practice electricity usage.

In addition, practical energy saving advice is provided across seven key areas:

Hot water heating Milk cooling Vacuum pumps Water and effluent pumps Lighting Energy sourcing Cleaning systems Fonterra is also running information sessions for farmers and providing expertise to assist with on-farm assessments.

“We have listened to our farmers’ concerns and now we want to help them make informed decisions for their businesses,” concluded Mr Doumani.

Copies of the Fonterra guide; “What does a carbon price mean for you?” are available by calling the Fonterra Supplier Administration Centre on 1800 266 674.

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Resilient Merinos one step closer

Sheep CRC post-graduate student Gus Rose.BREEDING Merino sheep that can withstand harsh summers across southern Australia without losing weight is a step closer to reality.
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Such sheep could potentially reduce feed costs and the risks of running livestock in areas of high seasonal variability and boost ewe reproductive performance and lamb production.

Sheep Cooperative Research Centre (Sheep CRC) post-graduate student Gus Rose has found that Merino ewes can be bred to lose less weight during summer when there is poor feed and gain more weight during the spring flush.

“This is a step towards breeding sheep that are better adapted to Australian pasture conditions and that will be more tolerant of climate variations in the longer term,” he said.

Mr Rose’s four-year PhD project is investigating the genetic and economic value of sheep resilience to liveweight loss in summer and autumn. He is being supervised by a team of Sheep CRC researchers in Perth, WA, and Armidale, NSW.

The Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector and aims to increase the productivity and profitability of the industry via new technologies for adoption by both the meat and wool supply chains. It is supporting 31 doctorate and masters students as part of its postgraduate education and research program.

Mr Rose said the problem of sheep weight loss during summer affected most livestock enterprises in Mediterranean environments in Australia and overseas.

He said reducing weight loss without incurring high feed costs, especially for breeding ewes, would be a major plus for livestock producers right around the globe.

“It would also reduce the risks and costs of maintaining sheep in good condition during summer in more marginal areas with inconsistent rainfall,” he said.

“There may also be potential to run more sheep than normal in these areas and increase returns.”

Mr Rose is also working in collaboration with the Netherlands-based Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre at Wageningen University, where researchers are assessing the genetic robustness and fitness of cows.

“The Dutch have developed a good scientific knowledge about animal adaptation and it is a good fit for my research,” he said.

Mr Rose analysed five years of data from a sheep resource flock in Katanning, WA, to discover the heritability of variations in Merino weight loss and gain.

His findings were recently presented to the annual European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) convention, where he won the prestigious prize for best scientific poster in the genetics category from a field of 100 participants.

This convention targets young scientists from across the global animal science sector and his award earned him the right to chair a session at next year’s event.

Stage two of Mr Rose’s PhD project will investigate the genetic and economic links between sheep resilience to live weight changes and other important production traits, such as wool weight and reproductive performance.

He said this process would include surveying farmers across Australia to identify the main profit-driving traits for Merino enterprises in a wide range of geographic environments.

“Once we know that sheep can be genetically robust and resistant to summer weight loss during times of low feed availability, then we can start to work out the best breeding objectives to target other economically important traits in these flocks,” he said.

Mr Rose said including an economic analysis in his research was vital because it would allow farmers to scenario-plan their most profitable options.

“If we can identify the more resilient sheep to weight loss and gain, we need to know the potential advantages and trade-offs with other breeding traits and what impact these will have on farm business bottom lines,” he said.

“For example, if labour costs are included, resilience to summer weight loss might be highly valuable to farmers because it has potential to reduce labour requirements and potentially free-up more time for other enterprises, such as cropping. This allows the whole farm to operate more efficiently.”

Mr Rose said he hoped his research would help sheep breeders breed animals that better coped with the environment, allowing them to concentrate on other production traits to optimise profits.

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Cricket’s new test – the boom from the bottom up

Edinburgh Cricket Club juniors Isabel Smith, Ted Smith and Freddie Cole for a photo at Brunswick Street Oval in Melbourne. Photo: Wayne TaylorFour years ago Edinburgh Cricket club in Fitzroy had 17 senior and junior teams, this year they have 27. They have always had a senior women’s team but for the first time this season they have a girls team in the juniors and expect to have the numbers to field a second one after Christmas.
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Last season Elsternwick Cricket Club scratched together three under-12s teams – this year they comfortably have five and almost have enough for a sixth. Brighton is in a similar position.

At Gisborne Cricket Club they can’t find enough ovals for teams to play on and nets to train in.

The Sanctuary Lakes Cricket Club formed in 2012 with two under-11 cubs teams (the modified rules competition for rookies). The club now has 100 junior players, 14 seniors, 90 kids in Milo and another 60 in T20Blast.

They have nine T20 teams making them the biggest Twenty 20 club in Melbourne’s west.

Twenty20 cricket might have killed West Indies cricket – or expedited its demise – and made for a flat summer of Test cricket, but the short game has not killed cricket.

While cricket is suffering at the top level it is booming at the bottom. This is a bottom-up resurgence.

Across Victoria the number of kids registered in MiloT20 Blast is up 73 per cent. In part, this is because it is a new event and the increase comes off a lower base than the more entrenched Milo cricket (the Auskick of cricket) but Milo cricket to is up 13 per cent too.

It is not just an urban quirk, the West Gippsland Cricket Association will also field a third more junior teams this year than last.

The success of the Australian women’s team is also having a big impact. Ellyse Perry might be as important to the resurgence of cricket as David Warner.

“We were a bit surprised when Isabel said she wanted to play but we thought it was good,” says Andy Vance of her 10-year-old daughter Isabel’s decision to join Edinburgh CC.

“She didn’t see it as a boys’ sport, she just saw it as sport, which I thought was interesting.

“That is how they approach it at the club too, which is good.”

The Eastern Cricket Association has formed the Anna Lanning Shield female competition (a bit weird, having a shield named after a 21-year-old current player) but it now has 15 teams up from five in its inaugural season last year.

Female participation across the state is up 9 per cent, and as a consequence the Victorian government has committed $10 million to help upgrade sports pavilions to make them more female friendly.

Isabel’s younger brother, Ted, was drawn to the game through Milo cricket and enjoying Twenty20 and test cricket. His teammate, Freddie Cole, is also just seven but he dons the big pads, sloppy helmet and gloves and has a hit. He is also reading Kaboom Kid, co-authored by David Warner.

Brad Shadbolt, vice-president at Edinburgh CC and a former district player, said the club had for a long time under-resourced Milo cricket.

“Since we have put time and effort into it, the growth in numbers has been staggering,” he said.

“The interest among girls is a big reason for the increase in numbers too. We added a junior girls team this year and with social media and word of mouth more girls have come down ,so we expect after Christmas to have a second junior female team.

“Hopefully next year we will have three or four junior female teams,” Shadbolt said.

Better-managed clubs, investment in Milo cricket and the growth in females playing have all been significant, says Cricket Victoria chief executive Tony Dodemaide.

To illustrate a point about Twenty20, he says avid readers do not start out by reading novels, an appropriate analogy for those who consider Twenty20 cricket cartoonish cricket, but he makes a valid point.

The introduction of rookies or cubs competitions as a bridge between plastic ball cricket and proper cricket has been an important change.

In these introductory competitions they use all the regular protective gear and a hard ball but they shorten the pitch if necessary, every player bowls for a couple of overs and batting in pairs batsmen face a few overs and don’t go out – the other side just gets five runs for a wicket. Scores are normally not kept (even if every kid remembers how many runs they made and wickets they took).

Andrew Headberry at Gisborne says while they are a growth area, like Sanctuary Lakes, the increase in numbers far exceeds just population growth.

“Our biggest growth has been in our juniors. It’s been big for five years but over the last two years it’s been massive. It’s reached the point we can’t find enough grounds to play on and nets to train in – but it’s a good problem to have,” he said.

At Sanctuary Lakes, according to Paul Pritchard, they have also been mindful of tailoring the culture of the game and not just the rules to the community

“The Point Cook area has a strong migrant population from east and south-east Asia, with people from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan joining the club.

“We are influenced by the Muslim culture of some of our players and we understand we have to cater to all of our players, so where in the past you might throw some sausages on the barbie now we are also providing halal meat and chicken.

“It’s just common sense.”

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The moment that changed terror suspect Sulayman Khalid

Imprisoned: Sulayman Khalid, charged with further terrorism offences. Photo: YouTube
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Two charged after counter-terrorism raids

15-year-old terrorism suspect denied bail

The family of a western Sydney man allegedly at the centre of a disrupted terror plot have given an insight into the moment he allegedly turned his back on dreams of becoming a policeman and became disaffected.

Sulayman Khalid, 21, has been in SuperMax prison since his Regents Park home was raided in December, 2014, and several pages of handwritten notes were seized, allegedly containing loose, partially-formed plans to attack an Australian Federal Police building in Sydney.

On Thursday, after 12 months of physical and electronic surveillance and analysis of the notes, police charged Khalid and four others, including a 15-year-old boy, with further terrorism offences relating to the alleged plot.

Khalid’s older sister has set up a Facebook fan page to write post protesting her brother’s innocence, questioning his harsh treatment in SuperMax while awaiting trial, and detailing his upbringing.

She says her younger brother, born in Australia to Iraqi and Italian parents, wanted to be a policeman or a chef until the moment his passport was confiscated in 2013, when he was 18.

In a public post, she said Khalid left to study under a sheikh in Egypt when he was 17 but had to return to Australia temporarily because he fell ill. On his return, ASIO cancelled his passport and provided no explanation or avenue for appeal, thereby “crushing his dream” to return to Egypt.

“He didn’t want to be a cop anymore nor a chef, he just wanted to speak up against injustice [and] move towards media and communications,” she posted. ​

“This is how you isolate and make a young man who had just turned 18 feel confused, hurt, secluded and threatened. Just a letter with minimal information and no regard for his feelings, aims, hopes and dreams.”

The sister said, from that point on, her brother was frustrated and felt he was continuously being “ignored and watched”.

Khalid was outspoken about his passport cancellation, speaking to Fairfax Media and appearing on SBS’s Insight, where he walked off set after being grilled on extremism.

He would also preach in the main streets and parks of Greenacre and had set up his own YouTube channel for sermons.

His sister said he was a peaceful and misunderstood man, whose imprisonment in SuperMax would make the situation only worse.

“His wisdom is yet to grow … if they just let him out and give him a chance, if they sit with him and discuss his hurt [and] anguish and give him a chance to be understood they would all realise he is no terrorist. He just needed someone to approach him, put him in the picture, not strip his passport from him.”

Khalid has passed his family two hand-written notes from custody, one saying “I am INNOCENT!!!” and another with a hand pointing to God, covered in writings relating to “tawheed” – the Islamic concept of oneness of God.

The family have also been selling T-shirts with the slogan “suspicion is not good enough” for $25 to help fund his “expenses in prison”.

On the Facebook page, his sister has asked for friends and supporters to write to him and visit him in prison.

Police will allege Khalid and four others charged on Thursday were part of a close-knit cell planning to attack government buildings, specifically the AFP.

Khalid’s legal team have previously argued he didn’t author the notes, which his sister claims were verses from the Koran and “tawheed papers”.

On Thursday, police told a court that fingerprints were lifted from the documents, connecting a 15-year-old Georges Hall boy, who was 14 at the time, to their creation.

He was denied bail in Parramatta Children’s Court on Friday, with a magistrate saying there was evidence he was inspired by Islamic State ideology.

The boy’s phone allegedly contained pictures of a beheading, IS propaganda, photos of himself holding a rifle and a text message saying he wanted to get to “paradise” through “banana” – believed to be a code word for guns.

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The statements murdered grandmother Helen Dawson Key’s family will never get to read

Helen Dawson Key, 75, was shot at her front door in Paris Place just before 6pm on Wednesday 19 November. Her body was located the following morning. Photos: NSW Police Photo: Daniel AdamsIf the family members of Helen Dawson Key had their chance, they would have faced her killer and told of their pain.
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It was a moment some of the 75-year-old grandmother’s relatives had prepared for, taking notes to form parts of their victim impact statements.

But Rodney Boatswain, the 63-year-old man accused of shooting dead Ms Dawson Key in her home over a bitter will dispute, died last week before reaching his trial.

“I thought that after he died I would stop thinking about what I wanted to say to him,” Ms Dawson Kay’s daughter, Kathy, said.

“But every night lying in bed still, as I have done for the past 10 months, I think of what I want to say and ask him.”

Boatswain was already diagnosed with terminal liver cancer by the time police came knocking on his door in February.

He was charged with murdering Ms Dawson Key as she made dinner in her Toongabbie home on November, 19, 2014. Her three beloved dogs were with her lifeless body when a friend came looking for her the next day.

At the time of Boatswain’s arrest, a bizarre question had already surfaced on a Magic Eight Ball website.

Did Rodney Boatswain kill Helen Dawson Keys?

Police say they investigated the strange post but it did not “yield any significant evidentiary leads”.

Detectives alleged Boatswain, a frail and ill man, killed Ms Dawson Key because he believed she convinced his mother to change her will unfavourably to him.

Ms Dawson Key was close friend’s with Boatswain’s mother, Reita. The pair often attended barbecues with Ms Dawson Key’s close knit family.

Mr Boatswain admitted in a police interview that he held a grudge against Ms Dawson key but denied killing her.

However, Ms Dawson Key’s family will never get to see the case against him played out through the justice system. Boatswain died with family by his side last Friday in hospital.

He died hours before he was due to be arraigned for Ms Dawson Key’s murder in the NSW Supreme Court.

“He will never have to face the courts, he will never have to face us,” Kathy said.

“We will never be able to say to him all the things we have been asking for the last year. We may never find out my mother’s last moments.”

The family are approaching Christmas with sadness. It is usually a joyous affair where more than 50 relatives come together and “Aunt Helen” gets to see her precious relatives.

In the absence of a court to read them in now, Ms Dawson Key’s family have shared parts of their victim impact statements with Fairfax Media.

Her niece, Jenny Hitchcock, was dismayed by the fact Boatswain was able to spend his final moments with his family.

“We didn’t get to have these moments of last goodbyes to a very special member of our family,” Ms Hitchcock wrote.

“To say we are so very sad is an understatement.

“Another Christmas approaching us where we won’t have Aunty Helen at our Christmas lunch and dinner table.

“Then her 77th birthday in January nearing another milestone that we won’t get to celebrate with her.”

She said no justice had been served on Boatswain but thanked the homicide detectives and DPP who had worked tirelessly on the case.

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Screen grabs: Amy Schumer is gloriously shocking and Sean Penn’s still got it

Mostly Sex Stuff: Amy Schumer. Sean Penn in The Gunman.
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Old film, new release: Bartleby.

DVD: Avanti!

GAMES

HITS AND MISSES All platforms Time, now, to take stock. What was great … and what flopped? First, the hits… 1. Fallout 4 (post-apocalyptic with a sense of humour). An obvious one, but somehow even better for all the pre-release hype since it actually delivered. 2. Until Dawn (twist on teen horror genre). A compelling attempt at an “interactive movie”, where you spend more time directing outcomes than “playing” in a traditional way.   3. Grand Theft Auto 5 (crime spree in fictional Los Angeles). An amazing, sprawling, detailed city that invites you to kill innocents … or go mountain biking instead.  4. Agar.Io (blobs eat other blobs, get bigger). The mobile addictive hit of the year. Try it for free. 5. Fantasy Life (free-roam community). A highlight in a thin year for Nintendo’s 3DS, it had echoes of Animal Crossing but brought some original flavour too.And three that disappointed… 1. Battlefield: Hardline (cops-and-robbers variant of long-running series). They took our favourite open-world army game and made it into a poor parody of Grand Theft Auto. Boo. 2. Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley (farming simulator). Nintendo made farming too realistic for its latest 3DS installment in the series: all busywork and no fun. 3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (shooter). Like an over-sequeled action movie: lots of explosions, noise and woeful acting. Yawn. AH

DVD

BARTLEBY  Wellspring, unrated

Herman Melville’s brief but endlessly suggestive 1856 masterpiece Bartleby, the Scrivener concerns a Wall Street clerk who suddenly stops working, meeting all requests with the polite but firm statement, “I would prefer not to”. It’s a role that seems tailor-made for an eccentric like Crispin Glover, and as the star of Jonathan Parker’s updated 2001 adaptation he doesn’t disappoint: he’s a pale, intent, disturbingly comic presence, frozen like a waxwork in his undertaker’s suit, or squirming in panic as if fearing the loss of some private treasure. Parker retains much of Melville’s dialogue while relocating the action to a modern open-plan office, filmed in the kooky expressionist style of Tim Burton or David Lynch: the cartoonish colour scheme makes jarring use of lime green and burnt orange, while everyday objects such as a photocopier or a ceiling vent take on uncanny menace in close-up. Like the original story, the film can be understood as both a surreal allegory and a literal account of the soul-destroying nature of office work – a theme that has lost none of its relevance since Melville’s day. JW

FREE-TO-AIR

AMY SCHUMER: MOSTLY SEX STUFF December 13, ABC1, 9.30pm

If you’re not familiar with US comedian Amy Schumer (who has had a meteoric rise to fame in just the past few years), this stand-up special, filmed in front of a live audience in San Francisco in 2012, is a great primer: you’ll either love her or you’ll be appalled. She opens with the announcement that she “finally slept with my high-school crush! But now he expects me to go to his graduation. Like I know where I’m going to be in three years …”. Before apologising for a “kid-f—ing” joke and moving on to another gag that opens with the line, “So my mom’s a c—. No, hear me out!” If that’s not your thing you definitely won’t enjoy the rest of her routine which, as the title promises, is mostly about sex, ranging from jokes about Asian chicks and their vaginas, pubic hair maintenance, “slutty”  friends, knowing her body type (“sturdy”) and going to a yoga class just after taking the morning-after pill. It’s lewd, edgy and out there – everything that makes Schumer one of the best female comedians today. KN

DVD

THE GUNMAN Universal Sony, R

Sean Penn has still got it. At 54, he can still play the action man and be completely convincing. Based on the French novel The Prone Gunman, the film plot has Penn acting as an undercover hitman in the Congo, working for a third party contracted to multinational mining companies which did not want the government to nationalise their assets. Penn kills the country’s interior secretary and flees undetected. He also leaves behind his lover, a doctor, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), without explanation. Seven years later he comes looking for answers. He’s made his way back to the Congo, but somebody wants him dead. Again, he flees, seeking answers from his original security contractor in London. That leads him to Barcelona, where his former contract mate, Javier Bardem, is now married to Penn’s former lover. Guns, chases, threats, sex, it’s all there, pushing the plot to its predictable conclusion. Warning: the body count is high. JK

DVD

AVANTI!  MGM, M

An oblique response to changing times, Billy Wilder’s sweet-and-sour 1972 romantic comedy is crammed with topical allusions despite centring on two extremely unhip characters: Wendell Armbruster jnr (Jack Lemmon), a prudish American businessman who comes to Italy to claim the body of his father, and Pamela Piggott (Juliet Mills), a British shop assistant with an apparent eating disorder whose mother died in the same accident. Shot on location around the Gulf of Naples, the film has a leisurely, scenic quality unusual for Wilder, yet the script is one of his most densely woven, paradoxically intertwining idealism and cynicism, romance and bureaucracy, sex and death. Though the jokes about Italian inefficiency and corruption are gentle for the most part, there are multiple snakes in this Eden, including a blackmailer (Gianfranco Barra) with Mafia connections and a taxi driver who gives a fascist salute. American boorishness is mocked more relentlessly, especially when Armbruster’s State Department pal J.J. Blodgett (Edward Andrews) comes on the scene – leading to a prescient exchange about the Middle East, as well as some not-so-subliminal reminders of the Vietnam War. JW

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Star Wars by the numbers: Why Disney has scored the deal of the century

Tomorrow the world: The Force Awakens is destined to set a swag of new records. Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd
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When Disney bought Lucasfilm for $US4.1 billion in October 2012, it got the deal of the century.

To the outside world it didn’t seem such a bargain at the time – there hadn’t been a new Star Wars film in seven years and the saga was apparently over – but George Lucas was already developing a new sequel trilogy when Disney came knocking.

JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which opens on Wednesday, may or may not bear much resemblance to the story Lucas had in mind, but it is just the first flowering of what promises to be an enormously bountiful crop for the House of the Mouse in years to come.

Disney’s plans for the series include not just the new trilogy – episodes VII, VIII and IX, to be released in 2015, 2017 and 2019 – but three other spin-off movies, to be released in 2016, 2018 and 2020 (the year the studio regains full rights to all but the first film, which is set to remain with Fox forever).

There are also major theme-park attractions planned, plus computer games, television series, books, comics, and – the jewel in the crown – official licensed merchandise.

To get a sense of how valuable merchandise might be, consider this: The six movies so far released have taken about $US4.4 billion ($6.1 billion) globally at the cinema. But, according to Chris Taylor, author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, about $US32 billion ($44.34 billion) worth of Star Wars merchandise has so far been sold.

In August, Macquarie Securities analyst Tim Nollen​ predicted merchandise linked to The Force Awakens could top sales of $5 billion in the first year alone. About $500 million of that will go to Disney in license fees.

Disney has put a “productive lifespan” of 40 years on the franchise. By the time it has eked the last dollar out of it, Star Wars will be almost 80 – older even than Harrison Ford, the 73-year-old returning as Han Solo after 30 years away from the series.

The Force Awakens is almost guaranteed to set records in Australia. The widest release to date here is Avengers: Age of Ultron, which opened earlier this year on 754 screens. Disney won’t say exactly how many screens Star Wars: The Force Awakens will open on, but industry sources suggest it is likely to be more than 900 – almost one in two of the country’s 2080 screens.

It will set a record for pre-sales, too: again, Disney is coy, but estimates have the figure north of $10 million.

The Force Awakens will almost certainly set a new record for opening weekend box office, too. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 holds that record, with $18.36 million in July 2011. (Incidentally, that’s almost as much as Star Wars made in its entire first run, which lasted more than a year as those limited prints slowly made their way around the country.)

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, it wasn’t simply buying a catalogue of movies. It was buying the rights to 17,000 characters, many of them so amenable to being moulded in plastic and sold to young children that the merchandise industry has a word for them: “toyetic”.

Disney was also buying the rights to an Expanded Universe that includes, writes Chris Taylor, “some 260 novels, dozens of short stories, 180 video games, more than 120 comic books”.

That universe will soon expand a little further, with at least two Star Wars Lands planned, at Disney’s theme parks in Anaheim California and Orlando Florida. Each promises to be a 14-acre “immersive environment” based on the worlds conjured in the new films. Visitors will meet bizarre creatures as they explore a hitherto unknown planet, do battle with Stormtroopers and “fly” the Millennium Falcon.

It is likely to be at least five years before those theme parks open. Until then, fans will have to keep dreaming, while Disney keeps counting the cash.

Karl Quinn is on Facebook and on twitter @karlkwin

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Why Hollywood movies are so bad

One of the best films of this year: Mad Max: Fury Road. Photo: Jasin Boland Scene from The Last Picture Show – one of the last great movies? Photo: Supplied
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In 1971, Peter Bogdanovich​ made The Last Picture Show, his third film, in Archer City, northern Texas. It was based on an autobiographical coming-of-age book by Larry McMurtry, who grew up there. It had Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and a luminous Cybill Shepherd, in her screen debut. The opening shot was of the Royal Theatre, the local cinema, in a winter dust storm. The cinema had burned five years before, but they dressed it up for filming. It’s still there – just. I visited recently, on a movie pilgrimage. It has no roof, no seats and no screen, but the die-hards of Archer City (population 1750) keep doing events there.

Bogdanovich loved the Hollywood golden age, so he made the film in black and white. McMurtry’s title already carried the idea that something had passed: it was the last picture show. How right they were. They would not be able to make that film now, even if they wanted to do it in colour. It’s the kind of high-quality, artistic drama that Hollywood has all but abandoned, in favour of large-scale, big-budget, action-based, computer-generated, cookie-cutter movies featuring robots, men in capes, and giant scary machines.

The biggest film of 2014 was Transformers: Age of Extinction, with $US1.1 billion in worldwide gross box office. The next nine films were all based on fantasy and superhero franchises (The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent, The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1, X-Men: Days of Future Past) or reboots of 50-year-old ideas, most of them from comic books: The Amazing Spiderman 2, Captain America, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Interstellar, at No.10, was the first sign of an original idea. Sure, some were fun, but which of them delivered a rich dramatic story that offered anything more than sensory stimulation based on pace, noise and action? Even when they’re good, these movies are bad, if you take the view that cinema at its best is about who we are as humans, and earns its place among the great arts. Modern blockbuster cinema barely has any humans.

I do not dismiss action movies. Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the best films of this year, just as Seven Samurai was one of the best of 1954. Both will be remembered in 50 years. How many others of the last few years will be? I have been writing about movies since 1984 and it is hard to think of a worse era than now. When and why did movies get so bad? I offer some ideas below, with no certainty. There are 100 other factors I could cite. No one knows anything, as everyone involved in film knows. Especially when it comes to working out what to do about it.

The studio blues. Hollywood doesn’t really exist, in the sense of one industry dominated by seven major studios. They’re all owned by conglomerates, so a studio head answers to a boss in Tokyo, New York, or London. That was true of the old Hollywood to some extent, but the higher-ups were usually in the entertainment business, even if based in New York. When the studios were forced to divest their theatres in 1948, most sold off their backlots to raise cash. The “writers’ building” became a thing of the past. The best directors (like Frank Capra) and stars left to become “independent”, controlling their own production companies, even as they went broke. When TV kicked the stuffing out of the studios in the ’50s, big corporations moved in on the studio carcasses. The new bosses came from anywhere but show business: insurance, car parking, Vegas, oil wildcatting. There are still some good people running studios, who love movies and know a good script when they see it, but no studio is looking for modest successes any more.

Head office on line 1. Corporations hate risk and movies can’t be made without it, especially the good ones. No studio would touch Citizen Kane now. A fundamental schism opened up in the 1960s between the studios and the new, younger audience, because Hollywood could not keep pace with social change. Baby boomers wanted Bonnie and Clyde, not The Sound of Music. There was a brief flowering in the 1960s and early 1970s, when a new generation of young directors came in (Altman, Coppola, Scorsese, Malick) to make art cinema. Hollywood doesn’t know much about art but it knows what it hates. And then along came Jaws and Star Wars to change the expectations of how big one movie’s profits could be. George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg saved Hollywood and nobody had to think about art any more. “Less risk, more profit” was the goal in old Hollywood too, they just didn’t know how to achieve it. TV advertising of movies changed that: it became possible to maximise the take at a film’s opening, before word-of-mouth could kill a bad movie. Hollywood has been perfecting that idea for 30 years now and they have become very good at persuading the public that a good movie is the one that opened strongest last weekend, even if the critics hated it. The media helps them do it, by reporting on box office figures without discussing the ways that those figures are manipulated. The media are part of the gravy train anyway, because of the ad campaign revenue.

There are no new ideas. And if you have one, they won’t let you make it. The traditional method of reducing risk was to pack a film with stars. The new method is the tent-pole franchise, based on a hit book series for young adults. Then you don’t need stars. It’s true that the young actors in the Harry Potter films were well paid. It’s also true that Jennifer Lawrence at the start of the Hunger Games franchise was worth a lot less than she is now. The franchise doesn’t have to be new: in fact, it’s safer if it has already been done successfully in the distant past – as in the reboot of Planet of the Apes and Star Wars. Originality is over-rated. Old ideas have pedigree and track record. Even old ideas and characters that old people have forgotten can be revived. Looking forward to the new Peanuts movie in January?

Will it play in Shanghai? The US domestic market is shrinking; most of the revenue now comes from offshore and that means China, where box office growth is phenomenal. In order to maximise the reach of films into that highly restricted market, the studios need films that are easy to market to people who don’t speak English. That means dialogue and characterisation are out, broad action and simple plot (beasts/sharks/robots chase humans) are in. Forget nuanced political issues and be careful about supernatural themes – the Chinese won’t license the film if they don’t like the treatment. The new Chinese audiences aren’t stupid, but they don’t want to read subtitles any more than Americans do. A new mantra has risen: Make the monsters bigger.

The big score. Piracy forces the studios to try to recoup all their profits at once. That means the film is released around the world at the same time. At certain times of the year – like Christmas in Australia with a Star Wars coming down the pike – everyone gets out of the way. There is no room for small and high quality, except at quieter times of the year, so those films make less money. From there it’s a small step in studio thinking to say smaller films can’t make money, so why bother?

The talent has gone to TV. This is only partly true, but if you are a young writer with a great idea, you can have more control and make a better film if you take it to one of the big cable-based networks, or the new mini-majors like Netflix. If you produce it yourself, you also make more money. You won’t get the huge budget of a tentpole movie, but you might reach more people. Big TV screens are the new picture shows, and you never have to leave home for quality drama.

The bloody internet.  Hollywood once had all the eyeballs. From the 1930s to the 1950s movies and radio were the only mass entertainment. Television stole half of that, but movies came back slugging with 3D and cinemascope. They’re trying to do the same thing now with Imax 3D and giant spectacles (on the screen, as well as on your face), but nothing can compete with the internet, where you can watch what you want all the time and for very little or no cost. Internet porn, gaming and free pirated movies – on your phone, your pad, or your PC.

The cinemas are rank.  From George Street to Leicester Square, going to a movie is often a diabolical, not to mention expensive, experience. Projection standards are terrible because the exhibitors got rid of the projectionists; there are no ushers if you want to complain, and many people refuse to turn off their mobile phone. And who can blame them for texting when the movie they’re watching is so bad? Once the connection with audiences is degraded, the behaviour follows suit.

Cinephilia is dead. Quentin Tarantino would say that one reason the movies are in trouble is that they have abandoned film in favour of digital shooting and projection, and digital doesn’t have the same appeal to the eyes. That is why he is paying cinemas to install 70-millimetre projectors for The Hateful Eight (out in January). In a wider sense, the history of movies was once hard to acquire. That made it cool to be a cinephile who had seen all the early works of Godard. The great films are now more accessible than they have ever been, so less cool.  I’m not sure I buy these arguments, but it is certainly true that cinema is less appealing to the young and hip than it once was. Maybe that is the films they are being offered?

The movies are all the same. This is true if you only go to the big cinemas. There is a huge range of great movies we are not seeing in those venues. Even the art houses choose conservatively (French, Italian, anything with Judi Dench). Repertory cinemas once flourished in places that had a good student population, like the inner-west of Sydney. In Melbourne, they still do. There are signs of new life in this area, in smaller funkier places like The Golden Age cinema in Sydney. We can only hope.

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Scentre strikes $2.85m deal with Booodl start up

Apps such as Boodl are increasingly aiding customers find perfect Christmas gifts. Photo: Fiona MorrisShopping is not everyone’s most enjoyable way to spend a day, particularly wandering around a mall trying to locate the stores selling the items on your list.
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This is why technology is being embraced by landlords and customers alike, to not only entice pedestrian traffic to the centres – via the alignment with online shopping through click and collect – but to also make the whole experience that much easier.

Landlords have all said that technology and online shopping is a friend not a foe and they work with tenants to embrace a range of new ways to drive customers back into the centres.

These include food apps where lunch can be pre-ordered to avoid wasting time in a queue, to getting alerts when items are on special or have just been delivered to a store.

One of the latest is called Booodl​, a smart local shopping app. It has inked a $2.85 million strategic investment deal with a consortium comprising Scentre Group – the owner and operator of Westfield in Australia and New Zealand – James Packer, Erica Baxter, Square Peg Capital and Matthew Grounds.

Scentre also plans to expand its technology business, taking an equity stake in disruptive start-up mPort.

mPort pods allow shoppers to get their body measured within minutes and use the information to find clothes that fit, and track their body and health.

The Booodl app and website uses geolocation and machine learning to help consumers find physical retail stores that sell products they want.

Booodl co-founder and chief executive George Freney said users of the app can save these products to a list and receive reminder notifications whenever they’re near a store that sells one, helping to drive more relevant customers in-store.

Consumers can also message stores via the app to confirm details such as price and availability, and pre-purchase products from retailers that have enabled the Pay & Pickup feature. Accelerate store growth

Mr Freney said the $2.85 million investment will be used to accelerate store growth and user acquisition.

“More than 90 per cent of retail is still through physical stores, but not many people actually enjoy shopping,” Mr Freney said.

“Our mission is to make a store more discoverable. The physical store is the heart of the shopping experience, yet stores still miss crucial opportunities to engage with nearby shoppers, and users waste countless hours trying to find and buy what they’re after.”

Mr Freney, who describes himself as a “tech genprenuer” said connecting with Scentre was a logical step for Booodl.

“Our purpose is to create extraordinary places, and connect and enrich communities,” said Scentre Group chief executive Peter Allen.

Through its connection with Westfield Labs in the US, Scentre has introduced a range of tech products, including a new guidance system and ticketless parking at a number of its malls. The nationwide launch of Booodl follows a successful Sydney-based pilot program with seven local retail partners.

During this time, 31,600 products were added to users’ lists, 12,500 reminder notifications were sent to nearby shoppers, and over 6200 messages were exchanged between stores and customers.

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The dynamics of retail leasing in the Sydney CBD

Artist impression of 55 Market Street, Sydney.Sydney retailers are set for a new round of musical chairs as they jostle for space as part of the NSW Government’s move to buy properties for preparation of the planned Metro stations.
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This will see a number of key tenants looking to relocate before the wrecking balls demolishes the buildings, in which they lease the ground floor.

In November, the NSW Government announced that it will buy up to 20 commercial buildings in Sydney as part of its plan to roll out six new train stations across the city.

Tiffany & Co, will be one of the major names impacted as it leases the prominent site at 39 Martin Place, which is owned by DEXUS Property.

The upmarket jeweller has to now move out by early/mid 2017 at the latest.

According to agents, Tiffany & Co. might need 1,000 square metres and the options could include ISPT’s 345 George Street or GPT/Queensland Investment Corp’s MLC Centre.

However, due to the timing, other possibilities such as DEXUS Property’s 175 Pitt Street and Brookfield/Investa’s 388 George Street could be harder as both projects will not be ready until 2018/19.

The David Jones Market Street department store site, which is up for sale, might be hard as the chain may lease it back for another five years.

Agents said if Tiffany & Co moves to 345 George Street, to be opposite Burberry, then it will change the future landscape of George Street as more semi-luxury brands will follow.

Alex Alamsyah​, Knight Frank’s senior director, retail leasing said the the Sydney CBD is very dynamic, with expectations of some movement of luxury/super luxury brands to King Street to take advantage of the developments of the adjoining properties such as 388 George Street, 175 Pitt Street, 138 Pitt Street and the MLC Centre.

“There is also changes of tenancy mix along Market Street because of the future project of 55 Market Street and whatever happens to the David Jones Market Street building,” Mr Alamsyah said.

It is understood that Investa, on behalf of the new owners, the Chinese Investment Corp, has lodged a development application to demolish existing facades, internal structures and former monorail station facility at 55 Market Street and construct new facades and upgrade the retail units.

This comes as the market awaits the outcome of the purchase of the management rights of the CIC portfolio, with Mirvac said to be the purchaser, and the DEXUS and Investa Office Fund proposed merger.

“With this news we could see the DEXUS play on 388 George Street, next to their 175 Pitt Street, and Mirvac’s on 55 Market Street, hence the dynamics of retail leasing in Sydney CBD is unpredictable,” Mr Alamsyah said.

“In 2015 we have seen the opening of Microsoft, H&M, Zara Home in Pitt Street Mall Sydney; and luxury brands Rimowa​, Franck Muller and Cartier in Martin Place, King Street and Castlereagh Street respectively.

“Next year (2016) we will see the opening of HSBC flagship branch at 333 George Street, Tesla at 20 Martin Place, and undisclosed luxury brands at 119 King Street and 112 Castlereagh Street which have been secured by Knight Frank but will only be announced by early next year 2016.”

In addition to all this retail activity, the casual food & takeaway market in the Sydney CBD continues to evolve, according to Michael Hanscomb​, Knight Frank’s director, retail leasing.

“First it was Westfield Sydney’s Black Label Food Court, then the Galleries remixed and dramatically improved their food court offering, Now it’s MLC Centre and Barangaroo which have set a new benchmark,” Mr Hanscomb said.

“The next major food court offering development will be Chifley Plaza’s redevelopment which also incorporate high-end restaurants/cafes and fashion which will set a new benchmark for excellence in the Sydney CBD.”

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Litbits December 12 2015

Poet Geoff Page at his home in Narrabundah. Photo: Jay CronanPOETRY NOT AT THE GODS
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Poetry at the Gods will be reborn with a new name and home in 2016. Next year, the series will be relocated to the Italo-Australian Club, 78 Franklin Street, Forrest, and renamed Poetry at Terza Rima. Admission is still $10 waged, $5 unwaged and dinner is available from 6pm at Tosolini’s in the club (meal bookings on 6239 7520), with readings at 7.30pm. Les Murray will be the first reader there on Tuesday, February 9. Others are Kathleen Bleakley, John Foulcher and Suzanne Edgar (March 8), Iggy McGovern and Petra White (April 12) and Cassandra Atherton and Alan Wearne (May 10), Devin Johnston, Adrian Caesar and Nicola Bowery (June 14), Robyn Rowland and Sarah Holland-Batt (July 12), Russell Erwin, Kathy Kituai and Paul Munden (August 9), Geoff Goodfellow and Nigel Roberts (September 13), Theodore Ell, Andrew McDonald and Sarah Rice (October 11), Judith Beveridge and Michelle Cahill (November 8) and Andrew Burke and Tim Thorne (November 8). Bookings essential. Email Geoff Page on [email protected]论坛. OLGA MASTERS AWARD

The winner of the 2015 Olga Masters Short Story Award was Sharon Willdin from Petersham (NSW) for her story, “No. 12 Hollis Street”, which won $1500; the runner-up was Pamela Parker (Caloundra, Qld) for “Matt McConachie: This is your life” which won $500. The winning entries can be accessed at olgamastersshortstoryaward南京夜网419论坛. CALIBRE PRIZE

Australian Book Review seeks entries in the 10th Calibre Prize for an outstanding non-fiction essay. All essayists writing in English are eligible, regardless of where they live. Essays must be between 3000 and 7000 words and must be written in English. Deadline: January 18, 2016. First prize is $5000 and publication in ABR. See: australianbookreview南京夜网419论坛/prizes/calibre-prize/calibre-online-entry. What’s on

December 12: Between 10am and 2pm at Harry Hartog Book Store at Woden Plaza, author Mick O’Donnell will be talking about and signing his latest historical fiction crime novel Absence of Evidence, recently published by Novel Suite. The novel is Mick’s third following on from Betrayal and Stillsbury Lane. Further information on 6232 5832 or mickodonnellonline南京夜网.

December 14: Geoff Page will be featured in That Poetry Thing at Smith’s Alternative, 76 Alinga Street, Canberra City, at 7pm (doors open 6.30pm) – with open mike session, interview and reading. Cost: $5.

December 15: Frank Bongiorno will discuss his history book The Eighties with former Canberra Times editor-at-large Jack Waterford at Muse Canberra, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston at 8pm. Tickets $10 includes a drink. Bookings: musecanberra南京夜网419论坛.

December 16: Canberra poets`The Mull & Fiddle Quartet – Martin Dolan, Suzanne Edgar, Michael Thorley and Melinda Smith – will provide an evening entertainment at Manning Clark House, 11 Tasmania Circle, Forrest. 7.30pm. $10 full, $7 concession, free to members. All welcome.

December 22: Diana Thompson’s debut novel, Winterflood’s Passion, is a piece of erotica set in the Southern Highlands. She will talk about it at Muse Canberra, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston at 8pm.Tickets $10 includes a drink. Bookings: musecanberra南京夜网419论坛.

January 14: Celestial Storytelling in the Conference Room, Level 4 at the National Library of Australia features storytelling with a Chinese twist from 11.30am to noon. Cost $2 a child. Bookings: nla.gov419论坛.

February 2: In the National Gallery of Australia shop at 10.30am, Claudia Hyles will discuss The merchants of light by Marta Maretich. Cost $15 members, $18 guests. Bookings: nga.gov419论坛.

Contributions to Litbits are welcome. Please email [email protected]南京夜网419论坛 by COB on the Monday before publication. Publication is not guaranteed.

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Book review: Cara Carissima, by Geoff Page; Lakeland, by Maureen O’Shaughnessy

CARA CARISSIMA, by Geoff Page. Picaro Press, $20; LAKELAND, by Maureen O’Shaughnessy. Ginninderra Press, $25.
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By happy coincidence, two daring and experimental new narratives have been published. One is a verse play, a salon piece in nine scenes, Cara Carissima by Geoff Page, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in Australian poetry. The other is a story told in verse and prose by a relative newcomer, Maureen O’Shaughnessy, with Lakeland.

Page’s subject matter might seem parochial – a series of conversations in a cafe in Civic in Canberra between the participants in, and spectators to, the dissolution of a 27-year-old marriage – yet this is a matter, however familiar, that can be of grievous consequence. By contrast, O’Shaughnessy ranges from 1904-2014, from Germany, Poland and Russia into an Australia where old world tragedies are still potent immigrant memories. Each work is alike though in offering a dramatic polyphony, finely delineated voices speaking in monologue, or in company.

Page’s Cara Carissima is a five-hander. One speaker, the barista, links the scenes and observes the action between Sarah, who is getting rid of her husband Barry (a senior public servant), Sarah’s younger sister, Jane, and Cara, Barry’s 41-year-old executive assistant who has just split from her lover, Helmut. Barry is consoling: “Even Teutons have their limits”. No consolation from Sarah as he feels “the whetted edge” of her voice in regard to their wayward sons in Melbourne: Giles has dropped out of law, while “Jack’s med is on the skids”. Worse are their alternative choices: “a band called NOISE. And Anglicare”. As Barry relates her assault on him: “Encyclopaedic, one might call it -/front-on, sideways, in reverse”. Neither is Sarah spared. For Cara she is “a sort of goddamn Hitler-ess/patrolling her domestic Reich”. With unflagging humour, Page will show us who laughs last.

He is a master of light verse. This has nothing to do with triviality, but rather with admirable legerity in handling serious business. A formalist, in Cara Carissima Page deploys quatrains, rhymed abcb. The rhyme words are key to the comedy and the narrative momentum – “OK/chardonnay” – or when Barry thinks of how Cara’s parents might react to an older man: “My thirteen extra shades of grey/might make them wish they’d never seen me”. There the final word jubilantly completes a rhyme with “grandbambini”.

O’Shaughnessy ventures more widely, shifting from verse to prose and back with a skill that makes a complex exercise look simpler than it is. She also has to manage a more convoluted and longer story than Page. For instance, she traces a female line from Anna in Germany in 1904, to her abandoned daughter Helene, to the latter’s child Sieglinde, who emigrates to Australia and has the daughter called only M and a granddaughter, Celia. In the book’s last scene, M and Sieglinde are in Poland in 2014: “she’d wanted to see her home town again”.

The emotional heft of Lakeland is found mainly in the European scenes, whether of the rise of the Nazi Party, “Insolent Jews have been arrested” (one section featuring the Berlin water tower that was the site of the first concentration camp), the involvement of members of the extended family in war, the fate of those who are captured by Russians at war’s end (this in the harrowing section set in a prison near the Masurian Lakes), the uprooting of millions in the years after the war. O’Shaughnessy covers this ground by vignette; for instance, depicting the flight of Sieglinde and her brother Christof from East Germany in 1951: “over the frozen ground the refugees pressed on in hurried amazement”.

O’Shaughnessy’s book demands close attention and patience as gradually the connections across generations are revealed. There are frightening scenes – the countdown in the midnight hours at the end of 1944 on a merchant ship in the Baltic Sea – and incongruous ones, as when Sieglinde takes her German nephew, Ewald, a travel writer, to Victoria’s Little Desert. He is horrified at “country that flowed through your eyes like a wasteland”. Then there is the pathos of a house now without children – “waft after waft of vacancy”.

That Geoff Page has once again excelled in a medium that he has tested and enriched is no surprise. The advent of O’Shaughnessy is a very welcome one.

Cara Carissima will be performed at The Courtyard Studio, December 17-19. Bookings: 6275 2700.

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