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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Meredith Music FestivalPhotos

Meredith Music Festival | Photos Big Daddy Kane ends his set at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.
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Julian Richie during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Sai Stanton-Lawrence, 6, and Koji Stanton-Lawrence, 8, during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Caitlin Walker, Madison Walker, Rhys Doyle and Sandy Kirkman during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Raph Korman prepares some gyoza during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Crowds begin to gather for the first set in the Meredith Lineup, “Power”

Jess Patto, Ross McPherson, Tom Finch, Kylie Reeves and Nicole Warner during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Bridget O’Sullivan, Sarah Penman, Sebastian Hammond and Sachiko Robinson during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Gaz Gerard, Celeste Buckley, Romy Lawson, Casey Fisher and Fergus Lawson during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Friends pile in on one of the more colourful couches during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Crowds begin to gather as clouds clear for the first set in the Meredith Lineup, “Power”.

Sandy Brentnall and Sarah Robins during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Alex Giersz, William Mortimer and Alistair Blair during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Sara Casey, Don Corleone and Adam Jackson during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Ben Mackie, Leo Scace and Alice Mackenzie during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Viviane Serra, Taylor Ogden, Joelle Bronson, Jake Nichols, Jun Miyagi and Leah McPherson during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Donna Bucklow and Groopie the catapillar during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The view looking out on to the main stage on the Meredith Eye during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Nic Stephens, Niel Mulligan, Kelsea Rau and Julian Richie during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

A sea of tents at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

John Steele, Jesse Setaro, Nathan Dorman and Marcus Stove during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The view looking out over the main stage from the Meredith Eye during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The Meredith Eye during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Bec Lane, Parker Rettke, Thomas McBean and Megan Tainsh during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

A sunflower at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Stephen Callaghan, Colette Leber, and Alex Buchmann during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Sammie Molnar, Issy Jooste, Lauren Mitchell and Taylor Martin during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Crowds at sunset during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Crowds during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Hannah Smchilson, Lucy Bonks, Stacey Nicoll, Daniel Menzies and Mat McCubbin during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Brendan and friends during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Crowds during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Decorations at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Christian Abbey and Brodie Stagg during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Tom Patterson, Jonno Hill and Sofia Omstedt during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Max Pollard, Tom Pollard and Joanna Cullen during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Jessie Gordon during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Annie Balzer and Sally Kerr during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The front row for Big Daddy Kane during the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The Meredith Eye by night at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

the front row during Big Daddy Kane at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Fairy lights at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

The gift Shoppe by night at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Night at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

A couple enjoy the show at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

Night at the 25th Meredith Music Festival, 2015.

TweetFacebook Pictures from the 25th annual Meredith Music Festival.The Courier

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Troopers assembling as The Force awakens

GLENFredericks watched everysingle trailer and teaser for the forthcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but has had to stop.
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“A new Chinese trailer came out and I’ve decided not to watch it because I can’t handle the excitement I’d feel if I saw another 10 seconds,” Mr Fredericks said.

“I’m a bit nervous, very excited but I’m also trying not to think about it too much because it just distracts me.”

That’s easier said than done, considering Mr Fredericks and his wife Joanne runThe Empire Coffee Co., a Star Wars inspired cafe just a few steps away from TowerCinemas in Newcastle.

His lifelong passion began as a six-year-old in 1977,when the firstfilm was released.

EXCITED: Stormtrooper Glen Fredericks is counting down until the release of the latest Star Wars movie next week. Picture: Phil Hearne.

Mr Fredericks, a father of four,is nowa member of the 501stLegion, a group of enthusiasts who build their own costume replicas and donate their time and raise funds for charities.

“We’re bad guys doing good,” he said.“People dress up as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo but can’t change their face. When you’re a Stormtrooper or Darth Vader,kids come up and ask,‘Are you real?”

Mr Fredericks and a group of about 15 will wear their costumes to Reading Cinema in Maitland ahead of its sold out 12.01am Thursday screening.

Complex manager Yvette Cavanagh said another 150 tickets had been sold to the12.10am screening.

Star Wars will be the only film showing in two of the complex’s four theatresfor the week after its release. About 500 tickets have already been sold to the eight sessions that will screen each day.“It’s multi-generational and much anticipated,” Ms Cavanagh said.“You’ve got your hard-core Star Wars fans,but then you’ve also got the general populationwho have grown up with it, know the story and want to see how this one will turn out.”

The fervor is reaching fever pitch across the wholeregion, requiring cinemas to devote up to two thirds of theirtheatres to showing back to back screenings.

Event Cinemas at Glendale has sold about1300 tickets to its eight midnight screenings.Tower Cinemas at Newcastle,Reading at Charlestown,Hoyts Charlestown, Scottys at Raymond Terrace, Nelson Bay Cinema andMajestic Cinemas Singletonare also hosting midnight screenings.

Mr Frederickssaid he waslikely to watch the film again and again.“When you turn the clock back to 1977, it was groundbreaking, we’d never seen anything like that before,” he said.“But at the same time it felt like it had a lot of heart and soul in it.

“The prequels used too much computer imagery, but this one seems to be not as precise, it has a human sloppiness that is going to make it feel even more real.”

Newcastle Herald

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Life renewed after horror

Life anew: Apolina Kakonga with her daughters Eliza ,8, and Honorina ,10, and Yves Nkoranyi. Pictures: ELENOR TEDENBORG
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Yves Nkoranyi and Apolina Kakonga have endured heroic journeys to escape the horrors of war. In the first of a two-part series, they tell their ultimate story of hope to reporter Nigel McNay.It was his final, liberating flight from death, chanced to him like a feather plucked from a barren sky.

Nine years in a Kenyan refugee camp.One of 70,000 people trapped by a suffocating squalor and hopelessness, starving though somehow still alive.

And then there wasthe lingering terror of raids by bandits.Refugees had money, or so the local people outside the camp’s perimeter thought.These opportunistic thugs would enter the camp’s plastic tents in the dark, nonchalantly shooting people dead if they could not find something, anything, of value.

Yves Nkoranyi always had hope.It wasn’t yanked away by his parents’ assassination when he was 14, nor by witnessing the rape and murder of his sister.It was a kernel of truth deep inside him, like a small, smooth stone he could reach in and grasp and from which he could somehow draw life. He had faith he would pull himself free of the quagmire of barbarity.

Carer: Yves Nkoranyi with Kalianna clients Christopher Taylor and Maddie McInnes. Yves’ future, he says, is all about doing what he can to help others in his new, cherished community.

And he had a resolute faith in God that he would be spared, despite living in a world choking on raging contradictions over the sanctity of life.

The horror that struck – six of Yves’ family of 11 were killed – was spat out by politics and tribalism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.In area alone it is Africa’s fourth-largest country, rich in natural resources, but wracked by a civil war of two decades that has extinguished the lives of millions. Up tonine nations have becomeentwined in its indecipherable web.

The teenage Yves fled. “I started running.”Through the forest, day and night, no shoes and no idea of where he was heading. Fear drove him on, the relentlessness of it all causing his legs to hideously swell.Piles of putrefying bodies, sometimes 20 or 30 at a time, would come into sight on the road ahead as they tried to reach the relative safety of a police compound.

“You say, ‘OK, rest in peace’,” Yves says, crossing himself. “There is flies, it’s smelling. You can’t do anything.We have to cover the kids’ faces at the time.And we didn’t know where we are heading to.”

It should have been a 300 kilometre journey.Avoiding “the guns, the bombs” meant it stretched for an eternity more, the flight of a crow devoid of its anatomical compass.

But because he had lost contact with his brother’s family, he then moved on to the enormous Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya. The thought was his brother might re-appear. Yves is now 31. For the past six years he has lived in Wodonga, working as a disability support worker with Albury’s Kalianna Enterprises.

He has also become a man of learning, recently meeting Charles Sturt University’s requirements for a bachelor’s degree in social science.It’s one of several qualifications he has racked up, despite his ongoing struggle with English.

His now-life quest stemmed from the time in 1999 when war was raging in Uganda.People were turning up with terrible injuries and because there was no nurse, he and others helped clean their wounds.

“When I got here (to Wodonga) I thought, ‘OK, let’s make it my career to help people’.And since I’ve been here I’ve just been studying.”

Yves is married to Edwidge – she too was in Kakuma, though romance bloomed much later – and they have had three children, aged 2, 4 and 6. Yves also has an older boy, now16.The terrible, all-pervading fear has gone.He is a relaxed, cheerful man.But that fear had gripped him so tightly, for so long, it once made him reluctant to share his story.

“Sometimes it’s very hard. I feel myself not comfortable, it’s very emotional,” he says.

It returns him though to the moment that set off that seemingly impossible desire to dodge an anonymous death in the camp.He raises his left hand, drawing his thumb and forefinger to about two inches apart.

With a quick twist he outlines a dirty, messy scrap of paper that by some miraculous opportunity he sighted. That brightly coloured feather floating in the drab mass of numbed misery.

Someone was sharing a contact from Australia. It was what Yveshad never given up on finding. An age passed before he saw it again. “It was a long process for that person to give me that address.”

But he did. And so Yves wrote, telling his story to a person “I don’t know”. Six more hungry months passed, then he got a reply from the Sanctuary Australia Foundation. The Coffs Harbour-based organisation helps re-settle government-approved humanitarian entrant refugees. And that includes people such as Yves from war zones around the world .

“When I went for the interview (with the Immigration Department) official, I feel like I’m leaving the camp,” he says. “I’m going to Australia. I’m starting a new life. I’m just now going to get a better life.”

Hope: Apolina Kakonga is full of joy for her children’s new future on the Border.

A mother’s dreamHE was killed in the never-relenting bloodshed. A husband lost, making for an albeit-remote opportunity lost forever.

It left her to raise several children alone, an impenetrable mess should she stay in the Congo. Her first home.But Apolina Kakonga does notwant to dwell on that, unable or perhaps just unwilling to sort through scant fond memories from before the madness struck.

“Sometimes I tried to forget, but it’s hard to forget something that has happened to you in your life,” she says.Apolina wants to tell a different story anyway. How she survived six years as a widowed mother in a Ugandan refugee camp.

Like Yves, she is multilingual. He speaks seven languages and is quick, with a laugh, to say his English “is No.8”. It’s not so bad though that it hampers his translating for Apolina, who has set learning her new tongue near the top of her must-do list.

As a child, Apolina wanted to be a nun. Getting married took that away, then the war and her husband’s death gave her no choice but to flee the Congo for Uganda.She was 29 when she and her children entered the refugee camp. “Life wasn’t easy. I struggled. When I started running (from the war) I was with other members of my family,” she says.

In a tale that runs true with so many, they became separated. All hope of support from her family was gone. They lost sight of each other at the border.Apolina, now 36, has never heard of them again.The struggle in the camp was in finding food and again, when darkness fell, the fear of armed marauding thieves rose.

“They may come in the night. My little girl was worried when we went fetching water,” she says.“Life was hard. There was no schooling for my kids.”What she knew most was she could never go back to the Congo, because of what it had already done to her life.“My life was in danger. I was just looking to where I would feel safe.”

Those times were over quickly for her kids, coming to an endsix years ago. The oldest, Leo, puts his hand out waist high to show just how much smaller he was back then in Uganda. He smiles, yet again. They all do.

But they carry one stark memory of a not so distant reality, Mum says quietly.“The sound of the gun.”

Her boysLeo, 13, and Steven, 12,love soccer, while thegirls –Honorina, 10, and Eliza, 8 –are intobasketball. Smart, healthy kids, a bit bored by this serious stuff their mum’s talking about, but listening closely and picking up on everything said.

Mum holds her younger daughterclose, smiling and kissing her gently as she strokes her hair. Eliza drifts off to sleep whereshe sits, her head resting on the table.Apolina is grateful and no longer feels “like I’m that person I was in the Congo”.

When Yves pushes through and talks about the horrors, Apolina sinks back inher chair and bows her head. Briefly she has lost the openness and warm, engaging smile that constantly outpoints her limited English.

But talk about her new community, the life ahead, and that past floats away.

“I can see the change in the life for my children.There is no hungry. There is no sleeping without eating, nothing.No fear.”

Part two of Yves’ and Apolina’sstory will appear on The Border Mail website next weekThe Border Mail

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Photograph captures a tiger by the tale

A FASCINATION with the Tasmanian tiger has led a Hobart man to pay top dollar for a photograph of the last known thylacine in the wild.
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The original photograph, purchased by Nevin Hurst, sold at Gowan’s auctions for $9775 last Saturday.

According to an article in The Advocate dated Wednesday, May 14, 1930, the photograph depicts a man named Wilfred Batty, who shot and killed the animal after seeing it kill poultry on his farm at Mawbanna, on the North-West Coast.

HISTORICAL: The last known image of a thylacine in the wild.

The tale said the animal was “exceptionally large”, measuring five feet and six inches in length.

It said the thylacine “caused a great deal of trouble in the Mawbanna district, having wrought havoc in fowl pens, while it had also frightened several children.”

Mr Hurst said the reserve price for the photograph was set at $20 but later raised to $250.

He said he was not sure how many people he was bidding against because it was done over the phone.

“We don’t know who put the photograph into auction, except that it was a lady.”

Mr Hurst said the photograph, which measures 5cm by 10cm, was in excellent condition.

“We need to preserve what little we have, which is why the photograph is just so important.”

He said his son shares the same fascination with the creature.

“I have been buying Tasmanian tiger skins and putting them into a collection. One reason we collect is we hope to match the stripes on his back in the photograph with one of our skins.

“The photograph and skins will all go into a private collection and won’t be released until we are absolutely satisfied with it.”

He said he still holds hope that the thylacine exists.

“If there’s any tigers out there – no one is saying there isn’t – the gene pool is so small they would be inbred and without strength. They would be destined to become extinct anyway.”

The Advocate

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O’Brien reveals dark side to AFL career

THAT MOMENT: The former St Patrick’s College student pumps his fist after booting his first AFL goal during a round 22 clash against Richmond in 2012.NICK O’Brien is not unlike many of the footballers that realise their dream of playing in the AFL, only to have just a fleeting impact on the game.
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BOMBER: Nick O’Brien looks to pass during the round 19 match against the Greater Western Sydney Giants this year. Pictures: Getty Images.

O’Brien’s career at the elite level never really got going – he played just 14 senior games across four years before being delisted by the Bombers last month – but his time in the system will never be forgotten.

The Ballarat boy was front and centre during Essendon’s supplements program, which has haunted the powerhouse club for the past few years.

And while he admits to being involved in the Bombers’ injection program, O’Brien is able to press on playing the game he loveswithout the fear of sanction.

The 22-year-old, who revealed he is not one of the 34 past and presentEssendon footballers issued with an infraction notice for their part in the scandal, is gearing up for a season with SANFL clubWoodvilleWest-Torrens, which he hopes can ignite a return to the big time.

O’Brien admits to having “about five or six” injections during his time at Essendon and feels lucky to escape without aninfraction notice.

REBEL: O’Brien in action for the North Ballarat Rebels during the 2011 TAC Cup season. Later that year, O’Brien was drafted to the Bombers.

“There was one or two first-year (players)that were the same year as me that got notices, but they were certainly getting 20-30 injections that year, which is a pretty big number,” O’Brien told The Courier.

“I had a couple throughout the year. I didn’t think too much of them at the time and from the feedback I’ve received from ASADA, it was all (above)board.”

FOCUSED: O’Brien marks the ball during the Bombers’ round 17 match against Port Adelaide Power at Etihad Stadium this year.

O’Brien said he had been told by former Essendonsports scientistStephen Dank that the needles were forimmunityrather than anything sinister.

“As a young kid, you just trust what people say, I suppose. Don’t you?,” he said.

HAPPY TIMES: O’Brien celebrates his first ever AFL win after Essendon beat the Western Bulldogs in round 16 of season 2013.

O’Brien admits he thought the program was normal practice and believed his injury at thetime spared him from being fully involved in the injection process.

“As I said as a young kid, I was pretty up front in…I was pretty enthusiastic about the program we were on – unfortunately it was proven to be a little bit unorganised,” he said.

“It’s probably somethingin yearswe will look back and say it probably wasn’t the club’s best moment, but I certainly didn’t have any reservations at the time, so I can’t really look back now and say that I regret this or regret that. It’s just the way it happened at the time.

“I just thought that’s what sort of everyone was doing.

“It is what it is and I just hope that all the boys can get off in a couple of months time when they get the verdict again.”

O’Brien said it has been sad to see many of his former teammates struggle mentally with the intense pressure of the past few years.

“I think without naming names, you see people whose dream it is to play AFL like mine was and that’s all you want to do as a young kid and to see them not enjoy doing it and almost feel like a chore to rock up and train and play,I just think … that did shock me a fair bit…” he said.

“I’ve been alright, but there wasdefinitely times where I felt a little bit worn down by it all, to be honest.”

O’Brien sayshe still has a good relationship with sacked coach James Hird and stresses he will always be thankful for the opportunity given to him by the Bombers, Carngham-Linton, St Pat’s and the North Ballarat Rebels.

As for the future, he just wants the boys in red and black to enjoy some rewards for their hard work.

“It would be great to see them have success because what they have been through the last couple of years in such a public manner has been really sad to watch and sad to be apart of,” he said.

Ballarat Courier

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Thunderstruck with shock

A shot from Tim McDonald’s video. Picture: Tim McDonaldFEW people struck by lightning live to tell the tale, but even fewer write the whole thing off as a strange stitch-up by their workmates.
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It’s a club so small and unusual it may include onlyWeston’s Jason Tait, who did both within minutes atRutherford on Wednesday.

His newfound claim to fame came surging down from the heavens over Rutherford about 4pm on Thursday as he shifted a mate’s ute out of the hail and under shelter.

“We started moving some of the cars under cover,” Mr Taitsaid.

“When the hail really started coming down he asked if I could move his car.”

Longtime colleague Tim McDonald filmed the hail on his phone while Mr Tait drove colleague Ken Marvin’s utilityoff the street.

The footage became more interesting in a flash as lightning scorched the sky, spraying sparks off the ute’s black twin cab and arcing to a nearby power pole.

Footage from Mr McDonald’s phone shows the car barely breaking its pace despite the dramatic strike, which appears to hit the passenger side roof.

Mr Taithappily concedes thathe was calm through complete ignorance of what had happenedrather than nerves of steel or a cool head.

Lightning strike survivor Jason Tait, left, and his workmate Tim McDonald on Friday. Picture by Jonathan Carroll

A flash through the back window was all he saw from the driver’s seat metres away from where the lighting hit.

Mr Tait said he felt more like he had been photographed than struck by lighting, and would likely have written the whole thing off as a bad prank without photographic evidence.

“I’ve seen a flash out the backwindow but that was it,” Mr Taitsaid.“I was a bit shocked when I actually saw what happened.I honestly thought those guys were stitching me up.”

The full pyrotechnic display inspires audible wonder from Mr McDonald as Mr Tait appearsto shrug it off.

“It was absolutely amazing, he was a little bit oblivious to it,”Mr McDonald said

Jason Tait

Mr Tate says he is grateful for his lucky escape despite his early doubts.

“I’ve still got two legs and a heartbeat,” he said.

The incident resembles the 2013 Bar Beachstrike that leftWickham’s Wayne Lennan with a damaged car,a sound resembling a shotgun blast ringing in his ears and a viral video.

Mr Lennan escaped the incident without any injury.

Mr Taitjoked on Friday the video gave his planned braggingextra punch.“I’m going to milk it,” he said.”Especially if it’s in the paper.”

Newcastle Herald

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Ex-boyfriend caught in act of vengeance

CONVICTED: Chrisopher Wilcox was busted using fake number plates to rack up fines in the name of his ex-girlfriend’s new partner, and stole her passport to ruin her holiday Picture: FacebookFAKED number plates, high speed fines, a break and enter and targeted theft were all part of Christopher Wilcox’splan for revenge.
Nanjing Night Net

He set it in motion on New Year’s Eve, just hours after his ex-girlfriend left to party in Sydney, and days out from her trip to Thailand, court documents reveal.

Wilcoxused a key to gain entry through the back door ofherWarners Bay home, and stole herpassport.

He also took a bottle of Moet champagne he had once gifted her, and left an empty bottle of Moscato behind -covered in prints, and despite the apprehended violence order out against him.

When she arrived home at lunchtime the next day,she knew he’d been there.

Eight days later, mid-packingher bags for Phuket, she noticed the photo page in her passport had been changed.Her date of birth read 1779, and her passport number was new.

After denying he’d beenthere, police conducted a search of Wilcox’s Charlestown hometo findpages of scanned images of passports,and printouts from her ex’s emailaccount.

Mobile phone records showed texts to a friend sent on January 9: ‘’She got a new passport and is leaving for phuket tomorrow morning’’

When asked what happened to her old one, he answered:‘’Idid a little modifying! I will tell you in person. They are only going to have 4 days instead of 10.’’

Police say it was clear he took the passport, and returned it, after changing those details.But it did not end there. A few weeks later, Wilcox struck again, makingup fake number plates to match those of his former partner’s new man.

He organised a test drive from a car dealer at Wickham. After attachingthe fake number plates, he racked upspeeding fines along McCaffrey Drive and Griffiths Road in Lambton, reaching up to 115 kmh in a 60kmh zone.

Wilcox, 38, failed to front Newcastle Court on Friday where hewas convicted of two speeding matters,fined $3000,disqualified from driving for nine months. More charges werelikely to follow, the court heard.Wilcox has also pleaded guilty to three charges over the passport crime, and is due for sentence on January 13.

Newcastle Herald

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Teachers’ wage garnish ruled unlawful

Victorian teachers will be reimbursed money garnished from their wagesto pay for their school laptops after the Federal Court on Friday ruled the Education Departmentdeductionswere unlawful.
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Kangaroo Flat Primary School grade 6 teacher and Australian EducationUnion state councillor Alastair Pata welcomed the union’ssuccessful action, which saw the practice ceased.

Mr Pata said laptops were tools of the trade for teachers and should rightfully be paid for by their employer.

“It’s just such anessential resource for teachers to have, we couldn’t do our jobwithout them,” he said.

“Students all have laptops and classrooms arefull oflaptopsfor thekidsand theteachers needtohave laptops as well.”

Mr Pata said before the rulingteachers had had no choice but to accept the deductions but had frequently questioned the practice.

“A new teacher, forexample, would be automatically signed up to the program becausethey needed a laptop right at thestart of their job,” he said.

“Our members constantly tell us that it is a big thing for them, they feel like the laptops are part of their daily job, they need them to do reports orto email parents orto email staff.”

AEU Victorian presidentMeredith Peace said laptops were essential equipment for teachers.

“Expecting teachers and principals to pay out of their own pockets for a computer that they use to write school reports, communicate with parents and other teachers and plan lessons is absolutely unfair,” she said.

“[Friday’s]orders mean 46,000 teachers and principals will receive the recompense they deserve for having these deductions made from their salary.

These orders also mean unlawful deductions like this cannot happen in future.”

Teachers and principals employed by the Education Departmentwho had money unlawfully deducted from their wages will be repaid by December 24, including a 5 per centinterest payment.

The department will not appeal the decision and is expected to repay a total of $37 million plus costs.

Bendigo Advertiser

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Families turn to charity

BATTLING: Long Gully resident Patricia Davies has turned to charity to make ends meet as rising living costs and her deteriorating health mean her disability support no longer covers her basic costs of living. Picture: NONI HYETTCharities in Bendigo are helping more and more families buyfood, pay rent and cover transport and other basic costs of living–despite government cuts to their budget.
Nanjing Night Net

Families turn to charity Salvation Army Major Kaye Viney. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Captain Ray Butler. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Patricia Davies. Picture: NONI HYETT

Bendigo Family and Financial Services’ general manager Jenny Elvey. Picture: NONI HYETT

Picture: NONI HYETT

TweetFacebookBendigo Advertiserpainted a similar picture, as struggling families face increasing pressures from high rentsand a rise in the cost of living.But MsElvey said the story was not one confined to central Victoria.

“This is something that has gone right through Australia, with the new funding arrangementaffecting struggling people andfamilies nationally,” she said.

Facing rising rents and higher utilities,more families in Bendigo are turning to charity to help pay their bills.

‘I can’t keep up with the cost of living’Former truck driver, sheep shearer, horse breaker and single-mother ofseven,Patricia Davies has been a regular at theBendigo Family and Financial Services for the last four years.

“In the beginning it was to volunteer…I’m a carer by nature,” she said.

“But over that period I’ve found it harder and harder to survive on my pension.I started struggling to pay gas, electricity, bills, car rego, petrol, going to the hospital twice a week (and)physio.”

“Then I became a client.”

MsDavies receives $970 in disability support afortnight, due to severe back problems forwhich she requiresa walker.

“It probably dates from the first time I was thrown by a horse,” she said.

“Then there was the truck driving …in those days there was no power steering, we loaded and unloaded by hand.”

Of her fortnightly allowance,$250goes toward payingrent and$210towardthebills of her Long Gully home. She spends$54 on medication,$150 on groceries and$40 oncleaning.

“Once you factor in filling the car, going to Melbourne for treatment … I end up spending more than I get in,” she said.

And the 62-year-old is preparing for her expenses to continue to rise–she says her fortnightly script will go up to$70 next year and soon she will need to hire an electric wheelchair at $100 every two weeks.

“The cost of living is just rising faster than I can keep up,” she said.

Charitybridgingrent gap Bendigo Family and Financial Services’ general manager Jenny Elvey

Victorian households in low-income brackets are spendingmore than half oftheir income on rent alone–andregional president of the StVincent de Paul Society,Tony Spurling, said many simply could not afford it.

“We take for granted the supply of utilities and yet we are finding more and more that a large number of families cannot afford these basic necessities,” he said.

“It is becoming harder and harder for so many people to provide a roof over their head.”

Giving his annual Christmas address to volunteers this week, Mr Spurling said the$68,800 in rent assistance and short term motel accommodationprovided by thecharity this year represented a“considerable increase” on 2014.

Of the $570,000 in charitythe society provided this year,$273,000 was used in food assistance.

But Bendigo charity organisations say more and more families are being pushed to charity as they are unable to pay rent,bills and other basic costs of living.

Last month the country’sfirst rental affordability index found that rental affordability was– in the words of one of its authors–“dividing Australia in a big way”.

That index showedregionalVictorian households in low-income brackets werepaying up to 58 per cent of their income on rent.

Mr SpurlingStVincent de Paul Society had seen about a 10per cent rise in the amount spent on services on services such as utilities, transport and prescription medication.

This year the society spent$36,000 in utility assistanceand$46,000 in transport assistance.

“Our lifestyle is dependent on transport and without it, people have trouble finding a job, attending medical appointments and generally being part of the community,” Mr Spurling said.

And while many charities said they were struggling with recent cuts to their budgets at a time of increased demand, theStVincent de Paul Societyregional president said the social service sector had been put under increased strain by both sides of the political aisle.

“Political parties of both persuasions talk a lot about macro economics but are devoid of consideration as to the social impact of the inadequacy of the social benefits system,” he said.

The hard work of volunteers, he said, was keeping an increasingly strained safety net intact.

“The long and short term effect on the family and the lifelong impressions on the children cannot be measured, but one thing is certain, the society will use its resources to fill the gap where government has failed.”

Push to manage finances MORE WITH LESS: Captain Ray Butler said the Salvation Army was seeing positive outcomes from an increased focus on financial counselling. Pictures: GLENN DANIELS

As their budgets are cut and more people come through their doors seeking assistance, Bendigo charities are increasingly looking to help struggling families better manage their own finances.

Salvation Army Captain Ray Butler said the amount of area his organisationcovered had been extended to includeplaces as far afield asShepparton. And as the amount of charities receiving government funding was reduced, the Salvos were required to increase the volume of their work, over a larger geographic area.

At the same time, the amount theSalvation Army received was 20 per cent less this year than last.

“Essentially, that’smore demand and less money to do it,” Mr Butlersaid.

“So we’ve beenmore concentrated with people around financial case management and counselling.”

Bendigo Family and Financial Servicesgeneral managerJenny Elvey said her organisation had adopted a similar approach–despite seeing a rise in the number of people seeking emergency assistance for food and to meet costs of living.

“We can’t do as much for vulnerable people as we would like to, a lot of what we now do isfinancial education, advocacy on their behalf, putting them on payment plans that areaffordable or referring them to financial counsellors if they need help with complex financialissues,” she said.

“But we don’t have the funds we’ve had in previous years which might have gonetowards things like helping a family pay their electricity bills, or with medical assistance.”

This year the saw theBendigo Family and Financial Servicesemergency relief funding cut by 18 per cent. It lostfinancial counselling funding altogether and is now self -funding theprogram.

MrButler said the increased demand on theSalvation Army’s resources had meant the charity was considering the future of services such a popular drought relief officer, who attended the needs of farming communities throughout northern and central Victoria.

But Mr Butler said the increased focus on financial counselling was having some positive results.

“Thelevels of people seeking Christmas assistance hasn’tincreased so far this year and we’requite sure that’s because of some of the work we’ve beendoing around financial counseling–people being a bit more positive and responsible around planning for Christmas,” he said.

“That might meanpurchasingsomething through layby andmakingplanned installmentsrather than putting things on credit card or out of living expenses.”

Bendigo Advertiser

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Dog attack leaves woman shaken and afraid

Dianne Whiteman said owners need to control their dogs, or someone could get seriously hurt. Photo: BELINDA SOOLEA VICIOUS dog attack during an early morning walk has left a Grangewood resident shaken and afraid.
Nanjing Night Net

Dianne Whiteman and a friend were walking through Grangewood and Delroy Park about 5.30am on Wednesday, when two large dogs “just came out at us, snarling and growling”.

The dogs circled the two women once, before the larger animal lunged at Dianne, latching onto the arm she threw up to protect her face.

“We’re yelling and screaming at them saying ‘go on! Get home!’ And next the larger one actually grabbed me on the arm,” she said.

“[I] gave it a bit of a shake, it backed off, snarled and growled at us then they went back to the house.

“I heard someone call their names, [but they] never came out to say ‘are you OK?’ or anything. I just thought, all the noise…but nobody even poked their head out.”

Nursing four deep puncture wounds from where the dog’s canines sank into her forearm, Dianne walked herself home.

“It was [terrifying]. I just couldn’t believe the way that they came at us,” Dianne said.

“It was just the suddenness of the way they came at us, just so vicious.”

Dianne said the pressure of the dog’s jaw had been so great, she initially thought her arm was broken. She went to hospital, where she was bandaged up and given a tetanus shot and antibiotics to ward off infection.

The attack was reported to Dubbo City Council rangers, and manager environmental control Debbie Archer said an investigation was under way.

While Dianne’s physical wounds would soon heal, she feared the situation could have been a lot worse.

“There is an older lady walks there, and fairly frail with a little dog. Imagine what the skin, [the teeth] would have just torn it away,” Dianne said.

“And in that area you see a lot of little fellas getting off the school buses and that.

“Please, owners, just please do something about the violent dogs. Make sure they lock them up, tie them up – whatever needs to be done.”

“Our rangers are undertaking an investigation and the appropriate action will be taken based on the circumstances,” Ms Archer said.

Dianne Whiteman

While she couldn’t comment on the specific case, Ms Archer said rangers usually seize the animal until “we know they can be secured”.

“The owners [generally] have an opportunity to surrender the animal or council may issue a number of different orders – such as a dangerous dog declaration – requiring the animal be kept in a certain way,” she said.

“There are more people out at this time of year so keep your dogs secure. There are fines for not having your dogs secure and it is every pet owner’s responsibility to keep their animals secure and not having it be a danger to the public.”

Daily Liberal

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