Archive for 2019

Banana-throwing Thai leader on media warpath again

Bangkok: Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha once threw a banana peel at reporters and has threatened to “probably execute” those who did not tell the truth.
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Now the former army chief, who holds sweeping dictatorial powers, is on the warpath again accusing journalists of stirring up controversy over an expensive watch and ring that his 72-year-old deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, was spotted wearing at a public relations event.

Photographs of Prawit’s Richard Mille watch, which is estimated to be worth up to $US500,000 ($660,000) and the diamond ring, have gone viral across Thailand’s social media.

And they have prompted questions about why the career military man failed to declare them in his list of assets, as required by Thailand’s anti-graft agency.

Prawit, who also serves as minister of defence, has not publicly explained how he could afford such expensive accessories.

The country’s National Anti-Corruption Commission is expecting a letter of explanation.

Only days after urging Thais not to tolerate corruption, Prayuth accused reporters of wanting to divide the country’s leadership that has ruled since toppling a democratically elected government in 2014, after months of political instability.

“If nobody is beside me, I will tell you, I will be fiercer. I will fully exercise my power,” he told reporters, adding questions about his deputy’s wealth would be dealt with in compliance of laws.

Thailand’s military-dominated government has restricted freedom of expression, censored media outlets, banned large public gatherings and prosecuted dozens of people under a draconian sedition law.

Prayuth partly justified seizing power in 2014 because of what he called endemic corruption in the government then led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who has fled Thailand after being convicted of negligence over a corruption-riddled rice subsidy scheme.

Just as the furore over Prawit’s accessories was erupting, Prayuth claimed his government had taken many steps to combat corruption, including improving laws and setting up anti-corruption networks.

“Thai people must reject and no longer tolerate any kind of corruption,” he said.

“Corruption is not an easy problem to solve but if all parties help one another to fight against it, I believe we can do it,” he said.

Last year Thailand was ranked the 101st worst country Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Prayuth has promised to restore democratic rule but deadlines for elections have been repeatedly pushed back.

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short takes for Thursday December 14 2017

WELL done Joanne McCarthy, Peter Fox and Julia Gillard for your dedication to exposing the evils in our community.
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I watched the ABC show last night Undeniableand was choked up at the pain and suffering the victims and their families had endured.

Hopefully all that areaffected can start thehealing process.

Suzanne McColl, ThorntonTOupstage our big brothers in Sydney maybe we could stage a raft of same-sex marriages aboard the Stockton ferry under theshining light of the phallic tower before it too is removed.

John Bradford,BeresfieldWHAT a dumb decision by Newcastle City Council to rezone the heavy rail land.

With the unprecedented population increase in Newcastle over the next few years this land should have been reserved for open space.

In addition it would serve as a utilities corridor to provide for increasing the capacity of sewerage, water supply, gas, electricity and telecommunications to the new developments within the city. Very short sighted.

Steve Weatherstone,Warners BayI SUPPORT Allan Earl’sdenunciation of the Liberal Party of the last 20 years (Letters 13/12) for putting Section 44 in the constitution, and for the Labor Party turninga surplus of $17 billion and net assets of $29 billion into a $19 billion deficit and net debt of $153 billion. Oh, wait –no.

Sean Farnham,Kurri KurriI AGREE with MacMaguire (Letters 11/12) that doesneed a new flag and anthem.

I suggest that we remove the Union Jack and replace it with a rainbow in a square border with the colours red, black and yellow.

Our new national anthem could be “Advance Queer”.

Alan Kendall,NeathI AM not giving a vote of confidence to either political party, but have to pointout the depth of hypocrisy that has enveloped our politicians.

I ask who is shocked by Sam Dastyari’sjudgment failures?

John Howard and Alexander Downerwere unaware of the n Wheat Board doing deals with a country we were at war with andboth men are still suckling on the public teat.

Allan Earl,ThorntonSHARK nets are an archaic method thatreally do not stop sharks based on sightings so far.

It’s just so the people who watchedJaws one too many times or freak out at any little shark incident can imagine they are safe.

Matt Harper, KahibahTHE POLLSShould the Knights let Jack Cogger go?

Yes53%, No 47%Should shark nets be phased out?

Yes 59%, No 41%

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‘Feel-good effect’ of same-sex marriage buoys consumers

It hasn’t just helped the wedding planners and the florists: The “feel good factor” of same-sex marriage has had a hand in driving consumer confidence to a four-year high, the latest Westpac Melbourne Institute Index shows.
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The monthly survey measures how confident people are in their income stability, economic future and their spending decisions as one of the key indicators for the overall health of the economy.

With an interest rate rise now likely to be off the table until the end of next year and employment numbers continuing to grow, consumers have responded by pushing the index up by 3.6 per cent to 103.3 in December from 99.7 in November.

“This is a surprisingly strong result and confirms the lift we have seen in the index over the last three months,” said Westpac chief economist Bill Evans.

“Also supporting a more positive assessment for respondents’ finances is coverage of the government’s recent speculation around possible tax cuts.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said personal income tax cuts, on top of company tax cuts from 30 per cent to 25 per cent for all businesses, continued to be a priority for his government.

The rhetoric has buoyed consumers who are now expecting their most positive personal finance period in more than two years.

“With the labour market remaining strong respondents are generally more confident about the domestic economy and there is likely to have been a ‘feel good effect’ from the passing of marriage equality legislation,” said Mr Evans.

But shops hopeful of a Christmas rush should temper expectations with the “time to buy a major household item” index still stuck below the long run average of 127.5.

For the first time this year consumers and businesses have traded places, with consumers picking up the slack as businesss confidence struggles on the back of very disappointing household consumption figures in the third-quarter national accounts

Tuesday’s NAB business confidence figures showed that while construction is buoyant, other sectors are becoming increasingly pessimistic – none more so than retail.

“The subdued conditions in retail have been a major concern for some time now,” said NAB chief economist Alan Oster.

Nervous homeowners and hopeful homebuyers expect house prices to continue falling in NSW, with future price expectations down by 24 per cent over the year.

Victoria is catching up both in confidence and in price, with the expectations of future house price rises up by 10 per cent during the same period of time.

“The variations mainly reflect the sharper slowdown in price growth evident in the Sydney market,” said Mr Evans.

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BoatingFierce Farr 40 racing in cityMark Rothfield

SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN: Sydney yacht Edake, the winner of the Newcastle Farr 40 One Design series last weekend.NEWCASTLE once again showed its racing colours last weekend, hosting a super-competitive fleet of Farr 40 One Design yachts and crews at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club for their Trophy Series.
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There was no digging up streets, breaking the sound barrier or alienating the East Enders – just a few buoys laid two miles off Strzelecki Lookout by race officer Ted Anderson and it was down to business.

Racing began in lumpy seas and 15 knots of sou’east breeze on Saturday, and the Novocastrian crew on Good Form, led by Joe de Kock, opened strongly by winning race one. Unfortunately they couldn’t quite maintain good form henceforth.

Jeff Carter’s Edake – rhyming with ‘headache’ – took boat-of-the-day honours over the more fancied Hill PDA – the Akubra-wearing owner/skipper was fulsome in his praise for the race management and hospitality, while also complimenting his largely amateur crew.

“We nailed three of the four starts and our speed was awesome,” he said. “We came out today and showed the other boats we have the ability and crew work to make a real go of it.”

NOVOCASTRIAN CREW: Newcastle’s Good Form, owned by Joe de Kock, in action on Saturday.

Martin Hill’s team sat just one point adrift after the first four races, Carter noting: “It was us and PDA fighting it out. We did six or seven tacks to windward and even tried to fake gybe on them, to get them off our hip. It was awesome; it’s just great racing up here.”

Hill PDA scored two firsts but a fourth in race two became their ball and chain.

“Farr 40 racing is about saving inches,” Hill said of another incredibly close contest.

Aboard were Rio 2016 Laser gold medallist Tom Burton as tactician and Finn Alexander, n Sailing’s Youth Sailor of the Year: “I was really pleased with Finn’s input, and the fact we improved over the day,” Hill added.“The race management was great and the courses well positioned. It’s all on tomorrow.”

But when tomorrow finally came, it was Jeff Carter’s day – Edake would clean-sweep all four races, their best ever performance in 11 years of Farr 40 campaigning.

With tears in eyes at the presentation ceremony, along with the salt from a celebratory dockside dip, the emotional skipper attributed the victory to hitting the line in a good position, sail design and crew work, which he said rivalled the pro teams.

“The boat is quiet and has speed. We’ve been working at this boat for seven years and all bar two are core crew from the 2016 Farr 40 worlds in Sydney,” Carter said.

“We’ve been up there on day one before but haven’t managed to complete a series of eight races, and we’ve never taken four bulletsin one day.It was humbling when Martin Hill and Tom Burton came up afterwards and said we did absolutely everything right out there.”

Hill PDA finished day two in second place overall, with a 14-point gap to Edake. Third on a countback was Rob Davis and Andy Baker’s Melbourne team on Nutcracker, while Joe de Kock grabbed fourth place after finishing with a solid second in the final race.“It’s awesome having everyone up here for one regatta, they are just a good bunch of people,” de Kock said.

CATALINA CATCH-UPCATALINA yacht owners are invited to the annual rendezvous on Lake Macquarie from January 12-14, courtesy of Club Marine, Lake Macquarie Yacht Club and RA Mackay Yacht Brokerage.It starts at 6pm on the Friday with an informal get-together at Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, including welcome drinks and music on the deck – marina pens can be arranged. Saturday will feature a fun (non-spinnaker) race/sail past around Pulbah Island before returning to the club for a presentation dinner with a Hawaiian theme. The following day has a leisurely cruise and raft-up for lunch at Styles Point.

Contact Rod Mackay on (02) 4950 5706 or [email protected]苏州夜总会招聘.au

ANCHORAGE SHINESTHE Anchorage Marina at Corlette has just completed a major upgrade to help raise the status of Port Stephens as a mecca for larger boats.There’s two new marina arms with 22 berths catering for vessels from 55-66 feet, plus a wave attenuator spanning the marina mouth. At 5 metres, it’s one of the widest in .Port Stephens mayor Ryan Palmer said it was a new angle on the traditional fishing and sailing the region was known for. “It’s about quality, not quantity,” he said. “Luxury boat owners can get away from it all up here, knowing there are now modern facilities for boats their size.”

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Russia’s mission in the Arab world is far from finished

Cairo: Flanked by army officials, two strongmen – Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sissi – stood motionless, peering over their respective energy ministers as they signed a deal to build a nuclear power plant to the tune of $US21 billion ($27 billion).
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Russia and Egypt might be entering a new era of close ties, reminiscent of the previous Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War, but that has more to do with haphazard US foreign policy.

As Yemen’s civil war worsens and Saudi Arabia assumes a more dominant regional role, American allies such as Egypt and Israel, as well as foes including Iran, are turning to Russia as a more reliable partner to push their domestic and foreign agendas.

The military pomp and parade on display for Putin in Cairo on his flash visit on Monday was a graphic indicator of how both autocratic leaders are attracted to exuding political might rather than necessarily acknowledging the terminal economic calamities gripping their countries.

Russia is facing a severe economic crisis with international sanctions and a high poverty rate of 14.4 per cent, but its projection of military power through its various arms sales to Arab client states is an important political move that has been effectively deployed.

A year after floating its currency, Egypt’s economy has steadied with more foreign investment but its debt has ballooned to more than $US80 billion.

Although Arab regimes still rely heavily on US security patronage, the Russian appeal lies in Moscow’s willingness to aggressively put its hands up as an international power that is concerned about regime stability and unencumbered by lip service to human rights.

“The message Russia is sending to other Arab countries by supporting [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is that if you are facing domestic trouble we are going to stick by our allies,” Karim Bitar, a Middle East expert at the Paris-based Institute for Strategic International Relations told Fairfax Media.

“We are not like the US, we are not going to sell you weapons and then abandon you when you face problems”.

“So when Sissi flirts with Russia he’s just sending a signal to the US that we might explore alternatives.”

Egypt is still the second biggest recipient of American military aid after Israel to the tune of $US1.3 billion annually but in August the Trump administration froze nearly $US300 million of weapons over human rights concerns.

Egypt has bought 50 fighter jets costing around $US3.5 billion from Russia and signed a deal last month to have mutual use of the two countries’ airbases.

Incidentally, Saudi Arabia paid $US3 billion for sophisticated Russian air defence missile systems in October, according to Reuters, while Iran, its regional rival, has negotiated the purchase of a $US10-billion Russian S-300 anti aircraft missile system.

Putin has also shrewdly capitalised on the US’s schizophrenic policy mainly towards Syria to fill the political vacuum that started with the Obama administration and was prolonged by Trump’s heavily-gutted US State Department.

In the process, he has managed to woo other important autocratic leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, convincing him to withdraw his support to Syrian rebels and focus his political ambitions instead on curbing Kurdish statehood on his border.

In a show of Putin’s confidence, on Monday he announced a partial withdrawal of troops from Russian bases in Syria citing his concerted campaign to degrade Islamic State and other opposition forces.

But Bitar believed that is not the end of it.

“So far the cost benefit analysis shows that Russia got what it wanted without paying a heavy price, however I do think it will end up paying the price for its intervention in Syria,” he said.

He warns that much like the Soviet Union’s mishandled campaign in Afghanistan fuelled the rise of jihadis and birthed al-Qaeda, current militant groups are already including mentions of targeting Russia in their jihadi propaganda.

“The mission is far from accomplished”.

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‘Unusually intense’: big heatwave may not crest until mid-next week

The first major heatwave of the summer started to lap Sydney’s suburbs on Wednesday and is unlikely to fully recede for another week.
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Sydney’s central business district will be spared the worst of the heat for most of the coming seven days as cooling sea breezes are expected to keep the lid on worst extremes.

Western suburbs, though, sweltered from Wednesday with the mercury in Penrith nudging 40 degrees, with 42 degrees forecast there on Thursday. It may also touch 40 degrees again next Wednesday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has also declared a total fire ban for the Sydney and Illawarra/Shoalhaven regions on Thursday.

Much of the continent will bake during this period, particularly north-western NSW and south-west Queensland. There the hot spell is likely to be the worst for December in eight years if not longer, Brett Dutschke, a senior meteorologist from Weatherzone, said.

“It’s unusually intense and long lasting for this time of the year,” Mr Dutschke said.

Parts of southern are broiling on Wednesday, with Adelaide already reaching 39 degrees and Melbourne 37 degrees.

Onshore winds, though, kept Sydney – or at least places close to the harbour or the coast – to a more pleasant 28 degrees, the bureau said.

(See BoM chart of Wednesday’s extremes below.)

Weaker sea breezes on Thursday, though, will see a top in Sydney jump higher to 37 degrees.

Penrith is the hottest site across the city so far on Wednesday, with 39.8 degrees clocked at 3.30pm. Hottest still to come

A couple of weak cool changes will provide some relief for those near the coast on Friday and Sunday, before the heat starts to build again for the NSW capital.

“The following three days at least [from Sunday] will be when we feel it – that’s when the nights are going to stay warmer for longer compared to the next couple of nights,” Mr Dutschke said.

There’s little let-up in the heat for many parts of NSW – and many other inland regions – over the next week. Photo: John Veage

“It looks like there’s a good chance that next Wednesday will be our hottest day [of the current spell] just ahead of a stronger, cooler change,” he said.

Where possible people should take advantage of cooler evenings to open windows to help buildings lose some of their built-up heat. Double block

A slow-moving high pressure in the Tasman Sea and a similarly stagnant low over north-western Western are combining to push the heat over central into the south and south-east.

The Sydney metropolitan region has a “very high” fire danger rating for Wednesday, and that will climb to “severe” on Thursday with the total fire ban coming to effect from midnight. Total Fire Bans will be in place for the Greater Sydney Region and the Illawarra/Shoalhaven tomorrow Thursday 14 December. Severe fire danger is forecast in these areas. #NSWRFSpic.twitter苏州夜总会招聘/c8D8GvcrpC??? NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 13, 2017

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letters to the editor December 18 2017

MAKING A MOVE: Vicki McCarter, of Mayfield West, argues that some small but important items seem to languish without attention as the council unveils big plans. AS I read Newcastle council interim CEO Jeremy Bath’s news on the swish new digs(“Council’s $7m march west”,Herald9/12) he and others employed by the people of Newcastle will enjoy for their work, rest and play my thoughts turn to recent communication with that same staff and elected councillors.
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Children living in Mayfield Westand those who visit Stevenson Park for sporthave been for years attempting to play on outdated and unsafe equipment.

According to the councilthis equipment was last replaced in 1984 and until very recently, was in such a bad state it was held together with gaffer tape.

The solution to the gaffer tape was to repair it with nylon rope, which now burns and blisters the childrens’ hands.

Our community group managed to extract a promise before the last local government election to securefunds for upgrades. This month we were informed that the Stevenson Park upgrades notice of motion ‘recommends’funds be ‘considered’ within the council budget. Unlike the surety of Mr Bath’s $7 million for his swish new digs, it seems our fight for decent, basic recreation amenities for our kids goes on.

With every big spending announcement, all the people of Newcastle’s inner west see is more of their rate money being allocated to things that are seemingly more important than them and their kids.

Vicki McCarter,Mayfield WestLOOK TO THE LIGHTHOUSEIT is pleasing to see the Shepherds Hill Cottage is being re-furbished & expressions of interest called for (“New dawn for historic Shepherds Hill house”, Herald 11/12). It’s about time too.

This building is perfectly located for a coffee stop on what is a long trek between Newcastle and Bar Beach. Walkers and visitors to Newcastle would be very grateful for a rest and some refreshment in such a beautiful location.

This suggestion may not be entirely welcome to The Hill residents of course, but it is an area that should be shared and enjoyed by the whole population. It is, however, unfortunate for the Marine Rescue service and having them at Warabrook makes no sense at all. Moving them to the Nobbys lighthouse buildings would be a better solution, as it is at least closer to the coast than Warabrook.

Whatever happens, it is good to see the cottage getting a bit of love. The next project should be the Post Office.

One can only wish.

GayeBarbour,Hamilton SouthBUSTING FOR A BETTER RIDEWHILE I appreciate that our route will be significantly improved inboth and thatI will only need one bus instead of two under the new timetables, a lot of other passengers, even on current high demand bus routes, will require more than two buses.

The bus route changes were meant to encourage more passengers on to Keolis Downer’s routes but I believe, except for the key routes, they are highly likely to drive more people away.

Weren’t we promised faster journey times and the return of expresses?

The map shows that even some high demand routes, or parts thereof, have been discontinued. Hillsborough now seems to me to receive no busservice.

I note that Maitland hasaddedbus routesbutyet again Newcastle loses, with services down from 26 to 22. The city needs more bus routesat good frequencies, not less bus routes.

Why areKeolis Downer choosing torelease the timetables on January 2 and not before? The times should’ve been released when the maps became available. I’ve tried to ask, but they won’t reply.

Dennis Taylor, Adamstown HeightsA GENEROUS HELPINGAFTER my recent graduationmy family of 13 members, six friendsand I werehumbled by the patience and kindness of the staff at the Star Buffet atMayfield Ex-Services Club.

My graduation finished late and we got to the restaurant at closing time. After describing our reason for being late, the staff let us collect as much food as we wanted then left us to eat peacefully asthey cleaned up and closed. We were able to not only enjoy our lunch but also spend as long as we wanted with each other. The children were able to have lots of fun while we adults relaxed.

Many of our family members yesterday were from overseas for the graduation. They, with me, greatly appreciate the staff of this beautiful establishment. The restaurant complemented the celebration of my graduation from fouryears of full time study. I am truly humbled by their kindness.

Tereapii Charlie Inukiha’angana,CooranbongMORE THAN JUST BAD EGGSWITH the report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about to be released, it’s important to note that chief executive of Truth Justice and Healing, Frances Sullivan said:”The handling of child sexabusein the Catholic churchis all about the misuse of power, privilege and those who participatedin positions of responsibility.”

My hope is that those who cling to the argument that there were just a few bad apples in the church might wake up to thefact there was asystemic and pervasivewebof deceit within the institution.

This wicked desire to put the reputation of the church above all else was a poison that robbed so many children of the essence of their childhood and set them on a path to devastation which many have never overcome.

Pat Garnet,Newcastle EastDUST IS DUST TO MEOUR home backs onto a housing development off Radford Street in Heddon Greta. At the moment there is a large amount of earthworks and land clearing including mulching fallen and pushed down trees.

Dust from the site blows towards the back of our home covering the back outdoor table and pool which we are then forced to constantly clean. This very morning was the last straw with the smell of sawdust coming into our home. I have complained to Cessnock Council, Daracon and the EPA. I have taken footage and photos of the dust created from this site. Mine sites have to adhere to strict dust monitoring conditions with regular visits by the EPA however developments such as this are allowed a free run. We would honestly be better off living adjacent to a coal mine where supervision and on site monitoring is mandatory.

Michael Steele,Cliftleigh

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Have $10,000 to burn? Splash out on Star Wars toys

“Star Wars” returns to the big screen this weekend, with fans young and old already lining up in Hollywood for early screenings.
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“The Last Jedi” is sure to attract a wide audience, including those same kids who were there in 1977 to see the very first episode. Back then, they might have had to scrape together paper route money for a ticket.

Now older and wealthier, some are still brought to tears by Luke Skywalker’s appearance at the climax of the last instalment, “The Force Awakens.”

What to do with that reverence for a galaxy far, far away? Well, spend, of course.

And when it comes to Star Wars, there’s always been an almost endless selection of goodies to choose from. Now under the auspices of Disney, the latest push for toys is unparalleled, starting this year in September with a “Force Friday” marketing extravaganza to further boost sales.

The first Force Friday in 2015 accounted for about $US1 out of every $US11 spent on a Star Wars toys, according to NPD Group, and sparked a sevenfold increase in online sales for the month of September.

But what if you want something more fancy than a light saber? If you’re a diehard fan with money to burn, here are some items you may not find in the shops. The Star Wars pinball machine

Source: Stern

For the man cave, what can be better than a Star Wars themed pinball machine? Retailing for as much as $US8,999 ($11,308) from Stern Pinball, a limited edition version immerses the player in “the dynamic and challenging Star Wars pinball environment as they battle to restore justice to the galaxy.”

The game features speech from the original trilogy and color-changing LED-lighted inserts, as well as a sculpted LED-lit Millennium Falcon and TIE fighter. A Millennium Falcon coffee table

Source: Regal Robot

What living room of any self-respecting Star Wars fan would be complete without a Millennium Falcon coffee table? The team at Regal Robot has made an official line of Star Wars furniture. Among the highlights is the $US6,499 ($8,117) Millennium Falcon Asteroid Coffee Table, featuring the famous craft navigating a dangerous debris field like the one in “The Empire Strikes Back.” The item is hand-painted and made of fibreglass from original hand sculptures. The Han Solo carbonite desk

Mark Gallagher, far right, a builder who managed the town’s rugby team to a championship in 2014, with friends and his father. Source: Regal Robot

Let’s not forget the office. Why leave your workspace bare when the desk you work on every day can feature Han Solo frozen in carbonite? The downside is it’s too late to get it for Christmas, as it takes 12 weeks for the $US9,999 ($12,565) made-to-order item to come your way. The Darth Vader crystal

Source: Swarovski

Add sparkle to your favourite Star Wars character by having her or him or it cast in Swarovski crystals. For $US10,250 ($12,880) you can have one of 300 black crystal Darth Vaders, set by hand with 29,000 crystals. Each one took 120 hours to complete, according to Swarovski. There’s also a crystal set C-3PO droid at a lower price point if money is an issue. Star Wars couture

Source: Rag and Bone

???Imagine you’re fighting for the Rebel Alliance in high end clothing brand Rag & Bone – specifically it’s line of Star Wars themed clothing. That means a lot of white, sand colours, and orange. Desert style. One white-padded jacket retails for $US1295 ($1627).

Source: Rag and Bone

To match, there’s a Rag & Bone “Ellis Force Boot” for $US695 ($873). But, as with most objects of desire in fashion, many have already sold out, so you may have to use the Force on a more susceptible sales associate. A Crystal R2-D2

Source: Kosnar Gem Co.

Etsy, the go-to online marketplace for crafts, offers some compelling Star Wars gifts, such as a this naturally occurring R2-D2 in sapphire crystal from Sri Lanka. The cost for these unusually combined elements? Only $US4400 ($5529). The $US10,000 Death Star fire pit

Source: Milwaukee Blacksmith

For a backyard gathering to roast some marshmallows and discuss the latest plot twists, there’s the six-foot Death Star fire pit. Each is custom made by Milwaukee Blacksmith. The biggest retails at $US10,000 ($12,566) although smaller versions for less ambitious emperors are also available. The $1300 Millennium Falcon Lego set

Source: Lego

With 7541 pieces, nothing will occupy your children better than the Millennium Falcon Lego set.

Described by the creators as the largest, most detailed Lego Falcon model they’ve ever made, it features intricate detailing, including upper and lower quad laser cannons, landing legs and such interchangeable crew members as Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO. Members of the new generation of Star Wars characters are also available, including the lovable droid BB-8.


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Broughton Island program to attract back seabirds

CLEAR VIEW: National Parks & Wildlife Service ranger Susanne Callaghan on Broughton Island’s highest point. Picture: Jonathan CarrollIF you go by numbers, Broughton Island is close to the heart of Port Stephens. It is only about 19 kilometres north-east of Nelson Bay, and the journey takes less than an hour by boat.
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But if you go by feel, Broughton Island is gloriously distant from the 21st century. The island is T-shaped on a map, but it could well be an X marking the spot where you can find the nearestplace to paradise along this part of the coast.

Rising theatrically out of the sea, Broughton Island is 114 hectares of time-sculpted natural beauty. It is the largest in a group of islands and is part of the Myall Lakes National Park.Broughton Island has seduced people across the water for many generations, from the traditional custodians, the Worimi, to sailors and fishermen, and, more recently, tourists.

Yet for the native wildlife on the island, the waves of human impact washing up on the beaches have also brought dislocation and decimation. A couple of species of rare seabirds, the white-faced storm petrel and the Gould’s petrel, were driven off the island.

But the push is on to entice these birds back to Broughton.

Esmeralda Cove, Broughton Island, with the huts in the distance. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

HAVING cut across a sedate sea from Nelson Bay, the Imagine Cruises catamaran threads its way around Looking Glass Island and into Esmeralda Cove, on the island’s south-eastern side.

At the head of the cove, just beyond the languid curl of the beach, is a cluster of huts, most of them fishing boltholes held tightly by families for generations. But one belongs to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Standing on the sand, watching the vessel approach, is NPWS ranger Susanne Callaghan. She has been out here working for a couple of days. Callaghan helps unload supplies and greets those disembarking from the catamaran; a couple of tradesmen, who are doing maintenance work, and Jeff Pettifer, who has been coming here for more than 50 years and is the presidentof the Broughton Island Conservation Society Incorporated, which is the hut users’ group.

“I feel privileged to have this as my office,” smiles Callaghan.

Brought up in Canberra and having worked in the Kosciuszko National Park and around Sydney, Callaghan first stepped ashore on Broughton Island 12 years ago.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is an amazing place, how privileged am I to be included in its management?’,” she recalls.

“But the more trips I made, the more problems I could see, weeds mostly, but with public visitations and vertebrate pests.”

The most damaging pests were rabbits and rats.

“This place was lousy with rats, you couldn’t sleep at night for them running on the tin roof,” says John “Stinker” Clarke, renowned fishing columnist, author of the book, Broughton Islanders, and regular visitor to the island.

LONG TREK: Ranger Susanne Callaghan and vegetation expert Paul O’Keefe searching for petrel burrows. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The rats, Stinker explains, had hitch-hiked to the island on boats.

The rabbits were deliberately introduced in the early 1900s as part of a virus research program. They flourished on the island. Stinker says “this is a wonderland for a rabbit,” but their presence was creating a wasteland in places, as they did enormous damage.

As Susanne Callaghan explains, this was a double whammy for the island and its wildlife. The rabbits changed the vegetation, spreading weeds, and burrowing into the surface. The rats ate the birds’ eggs and chicks.

Some birds managed to survive a century of marauding. The shearwaters, or muttonbirds, kept nesting on the island. However, the Gould’s petrel and the white-faced storm petrel disappeared from the island.

To give the petrels a chance of returning to the island, and to help the land regenerate, Susanne Callaghan and her National Parks and Wildlife Service colleagues knew the rats and rabbits had to go.

With the pests having been on the island for a century or more, Stinker Clarke had his doubts when Susanne Callaghan told him of a plan to eradicate them.

“When she said, ‘I’m going to get rid of the rats and rabbits’, I said, ‘Good luck!’,” Clarke recalls.

NPWS ranger Susanne Callaghan on Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

In 2009, there was a controlled release of the calicivirus, and baits were dropped from the air. Callaghan says that was carried out in the winter, to minimise the impact on native fauna and the migratory birds.

After two years of observing the island, the service declared Broughton feral-free. And it seems the rats and rabbits haven’t returned. An effort to educate visitors, and vigilance, has helped keep the pests at bay.

“Never seen any vermin whatsoever [since the eradication program],” says the Broughton Island Conservation Society’s Jeff Pettifer. “And we’re monitoring for them at the huts as well.

“It’s quite a credit to all the people who come here that there’s been no reinfestation.”

Yet the eradication program has been only one step in the island’s rehabilitation.

To see some of the latest developments in enticing back the petrels requires many steps – and mostly uphill.

Hiking on Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

FROM the NPWS hut on the shores of Esmeralda Cove, the 1.7-kilometre walk that lies ahead through the island’s grassland-covered heart and up a ridge line to the highest point, Pinkatop Head, looks beguilingly pleasant.

Deceptively beguilingly pleasant, as it turns out.

Susanne Callaghan leads the trek, as we walk behind the huts and into a honeycombed landscape. The earth is punctured with hundreds of shearwaters’ burrows.

Callaghan says while the migratory birds continued to visit the island when the rabbits and rats were here, the pests’ removal has “taken pressure off the population to breed as normal”.

She estimates there are more than 100,000 breeding pairs on this island and neighbouring Little Broughton Island between spring and late autumn.

“Myself and a colleague spent three very hot summers pulling birds out of burrows,” she explains, to arrive at an estimate of the population.

By way of demonstration, Callaghan lies on the sandy earth and plunges her arm into a burrow.

Susanne Callaghan reaches into a shearwater burrow, Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

As she fossicks for a bird, Callaghanexplains the shearwaters pair up and come to the same burrow with the same mate, season after season.

She and her colleagues aren’t sure how far the birds have come, “but a long way is the message”, somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

To answer questions such as this, the NPWS staffhave been attaching data loggers to the legs of 20 birds.

From the information collected on these tiny devices,the researchers hope to learn not only where the shearwaters fly from, but also how often they head out to sea for food, and where else they go.

The rangers attempted to attach data loggers last season but the birds somehow managed to be rid of the them by the time they returned to the island. This year, the devices are being attached more securely.

Callaghan gently pulls out a bird, a sleek lozenge of feathers and long narrow beak protesting at the intrusion. It is a wedge-tailed shearwater.

Susanne Callaghan holds a wedge-tailed shearwater, or muttonbird. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The ranger explains how the birds have been laying eggs in recent days, and the chicks will emerge early in the new year.

As if to demonstrate its annoyance, the bird latches onto Callaghan’s finger, and the ranger negotiates its release. It takes a little while, but Callaghanis unscathed.

“I usually come away with all sorts of Band Aids over me,” she chuckles, beforeputting the shearwater back into the burrow, accompanied with a softly murmured, “Sorry, darling”.

The shearwater latches on to the ranger’s finger, before the bird is returned to the nest. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Callaghan points out that all around the burrows are prickly pear bushes. While there is direct spraying on the weeds, she says there is still a long way to go before the prickly pear isbrought under control.

We head back down to the shoreline, rock-hopping along the fringe of the cove. We then begin the climb, picking our way through wind-bashed bush and sharp-bladedgrass. Callaghan says a lot of this vegetation is the response to a long history of fire on the island; whether by the hand of nature or humankind is up for debate.

Yet she stops occasionally to hold a delicate flower or the leaves of a lilly pilly, and she points out small pockets of rainforest plants:“This gives us a clue of what this may have been like once with the vegetation”.

On Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The battle to return the island’s plant life to a semblance of what it once was rages across the island. Callaghan spots a patch of bright orange moving and glowing in the tangle of a bitou bush. It is the shirt of Jo Wiffen, a contractor from bush regeneration group Trees in Newcastle. Or, as Callaghan calls her, when they meet up on the hillside, a “bitou bush slayer”.

“Down there,” Wiffen says, still catching her breath. “There’s a great big lump.”

“Chock a block?,” asks Callaghan.

Wiffen nods and replies, “Just keep working our way back.”

Jo Wiffen, along with three others, are on the island for three days, tearing into the bitou bush. Trees in Newcastle contractors come to the island about three times a year.

Bush regeneration worker Jo Wiffen and NPWS ranger Susanne Callaghan. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

This is Wiffen’s first time on the island, yet despite the hard work and rough terrain – or perhaps because of it – she is relishing her time onBroughton.

“It’s better than sitting in an office,” Wiffen says. “I work in retail, that’s cruisier, but this is better for your soul.”

I look at the huts cradled in the cove off in the distance, and between here and there is a vast battleground to be conquered by the bush regenerators. Just ahead of us along the ridgeline is Paul O’Keefe, a vegetation expert visiting the island. O’Keefe’s involved in the planning to fight the weeds. He says in addition to the prickly pear and bitou bush, there is buffalo grass and morning glory, which has taken over the slope right behind the NPWS hut, so the rangers have an environmental enemy right outside their door.

O’Keefe says the removal of rabbits has helped stop the spread of some weeds, but others are taking off as the seabirds become more entrenched and provide plenty of nutrients.

“I’ve never seen biomass like on this island; you slide down it, it’s unbelievable,” he says.

Vegetation expert Paul O’Keefe and Susanne Callaghan on Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

We don’t slide; rather, we continue to climb, puffing and sweating, until we reach Pinkatop Head. The reward is views that are so stunning, they steal whatever breath we have left. To the south, we can see Port Stephens and the coastline shimmering as it shrinks into the distance. To the west are the Myall Lakes. We’re standing on the island’s north-eastern edge, and over the drop is Little Broughton Island and, beyond that, the majesty of the sea.

Callaghan points to two small islands to the north-west of where we stand. One is North Rock, about 1.3 kilometres away, and the other is Inner Rock, about 600 metres from the main island. They are where the white-faced storm petrels were driven to.

Susanne Callaghan explains how a century ago, visiting ornithologists wrote in their journals about the petrels breeding in their thousands on Broughton, mostly in the island’s central dunes.

“A significant population,” she says, “but then they were no longer here.”

We shimmy and step down the steep northern slope to see the latest attempt to call the birds back. Installed under a clump of casuarina trees, close to the precarious drop to the water, is a loudspeaker. Dotted around it are six artificial nesting boxes.

The loudspeaker and artificial nesting boxes for Gould’s petrels on the island’s northern side. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

The loudspeaker is known as the “love box”. Each night, it emits a recording of a Gould’s petrel, the plaintive cry drifting outinto the darkness over the water – and down the cliff. For Callaghan and her colleagues know that the Gould’s petrel nests in crevices at the foot of the cliff.

In 2009, after the pest eradication program, they heard a call from below. It was the sound of hope to Callaghan “Yes, it was amazing!”. Using a camera on a burrow scope, they saw a Gould’s petrel incubating an egg.

“We don’t know if they’re new arrivals because of the eradication program, or if they’ve been there a long time,” she says.

The ranger hopes the audio from the “love box” will entice the Gould’s petrel to come in and use the nesting boxes.

“This is just an attempt of helping them establish further,” Callaghan says. “It’s proven to work on Cabbage Tree Island [just to the south of here], so maybe Broughton Island can help expand the pairs.”

A Gould’s petrel, photographed on nearby Cabbage Tree Island. Picture: Supplied

About 50 metres to the east along the precipice is another loudspeaker and a cluster of nine small boxes. This speaker plays the white-faced storm petrel’s call. Callaghan has been keenly checking the small boxes for any signs of bird life.

“So far all we’ve found is one feather, which is a promising sign,” she says. “Maybe it [the petrel] has had a sticky beak, we don’t know. It’s still a work in progress.”

“The ultimate goal is that they establish their own burrows, but hopefully this gives that a head-start.

“This is the first season, so we’ll seewhether to leave them here, or to move the boxes.”

White-faced storm petrel. Picture: National Parks & Wildlife Service

Working near the artificial nesting boxes are Associate Professor Brian Wilson, a soil scientist from the University of New England, and Kirsten Drew, a PhD candidate studying the effects of using glyphosate herbicide on the island.

With the battle against weeds, Drewsays, the question of how the herbicide is used is “really significant in this environment”.

All these scientists and environmental officers are working together towards rehabilitating Broughton Island, including producing soil and vegetation maps.

“We’re trying to understand those links between the birds, soils and vegetation, and how that has changed the island,” says Brian Wilson.

NPWS ranger Susanne Callaghan, with one of the nesting boxes. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

DURING the trek back to the huts squatting along Esmeralda Cove, we deviate to scour a grassland area on the island’s eastern edge. Paul O’Keefe saw burrows the day before, and he thought they may have been created by white-faced storm petrels.

Yet after searching the slope, O’Keefe mutters, “No luck today”.

Susanne Callaghan smiles and replies, “We’ll find it.”


SUSANNE Callaghan’s belief that one day the petrels will return and nest on the island is driven by not just optimism but the changes she has already seen.

“Having the longevity to see the changes, it’s the best program I’ve ever been involved in,” she says. “We’ve kicked a massive goal for ecology on the island.”

A team of rangers and scientists (and one journalist) on Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Others who know and love the island have marvelled at the changes they’ve observedaround them.

“I’ve seen a real improvement in the bird life and the vegetation,” says John “Stinker” Clarke. “I’ve watched the bird life return. To me, it’s been a rebirth.”

As for the island’s future, Susanne Callaghan holds “very high” hopes. The key, she says, is finding “the balance between conservation and recreation”.

“We want people to visit the island, while meeting the needs of the unique ecosystem that it is,” Callaghan concludes.“It’s just about getting everything right.”

On Broughton Island. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

As we walk back through the grasslands, surrounded by a sea glistening like lapis lazuli, and looking over to the mainland so close in distance and yet so far in mood, you’re left feeling that Broughton Island and the seabirds it could help cradledeserve nothing less than getting everything right.

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NRL| Knights enforcer Mitch Barnett taking nothing for granted after off-season surgery

Knights enforcer Mitch Barnett says his 2017 Player of the Year award guarantees himnothing next season after one of the biggest roster shake-ups in the club’s history.
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Barnett is recovering after off-season shoulder surgery that has restricted his training in the pre-season and left him racing the clock to be ready for round one in March.

“I’m a little bit ahead of schedule so should be right to start the season if everything goes well between now and then,”Barnett said.

“Daniel Saifiti and I both had full shoulder reconstructions and have basically only been doing some running so far. Hopefully when we come back in the New Year we can ramp things up a bit and start doing a little bit of contact.”

Barnett injured his shoulder early last season but managed to rehab it to get him through until it popped back out again in the final game of the year against the Sharks.

“I knew I was always going to have to get something done at the end of the season but I aggravated it a lot morein the first tackle of our last game and I think there was a pretty big break in the front of the shoulder,” he said.

“Dan had his done a week before me andwe are working towards getting ready for the trials.

“We are doing everything we can from the rehab side of things and the physios and strength and conditioning staff are doing everything they can and giving us all the programs to get us back so it’s all been going to plan.”

A testament to Barnett’stoughness and injury management was the fact he still managed to take out the club’s Player of the Year award .

But with an influx of new players joining the roster and plenty of competition for spots, particularly among the forwards, Barnett says he can’t afford to take anything for granted.

The Knights have added the likes of Jacob Lillyman, Herman Ese’ese, Chris Heighington and Aidan Guerra to their pack roster with all four players likely to command positions in the club’s top 17.

“There is a lot of competition right across the park which is something we didn’t have last season,”he said.

“I haven’t been involved in any of the skills sessions but looking at everyone train, everything seems a lot quicker and sharper.

“That’s another reason why I am eager to get back there and get into the thick of things and really try and improve on last season and get a spot in that 17.

“Nothing is handed to you in rugby league but as long as I can get my shoulder right, I’m hoping with all the hard work I’ve put in, everything will fall into place.”

Mitch Barnett

Recovery: Knights forward Mitch Barnett is on track to start next season after major shoulder surgery. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

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