Newcastle and Hunter volunteers recognised as part of Volunteering China’s National Volunteers Week

MANY THANKS: Rob and Margaret Wilbow with Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service chief executive Richard Jones, who expressed his gratitude for their volunteering. ForRob and Margaret Wilbowvolunteering has become a way of life.
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After moving to Port Stephens from Sydney five years ago, the retired Salamander Bay couple chose to become involved in volunteering as a way of socialising, keeping busy and giving back.

The pair are amongthousands who are being thanked for their generosityas part of Volunteering ’s National Volunteers Week.

Across the country, organisations are sayingthank you to the some six million ns who volunteer their time each year.

The couplerun theWestpac Rescue Helicopter Service’s Port StephensVolunteer Support Group, who organise a range of fundraisers. Most notably,the Angel Billy Golf Classic,held annually for the past 20 years. The event has raised over $630,000 since it began.

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Rare Moreton Bay jellyfish found lurking in Lake MacquarieWoman, 33, allegedly drives with blood alcohol reading of 0.283Eight staff and a patient catch scabies as Kurri Kurri Hospital ward put into isolation“We run the Port Stephens fundraising effort,” Mr Wilbow, 68,said.

“We’ve got80 tinsinbusinesses right throughout Raymond Terrace and up as far as Karuah.”

Mrs Wilbow, 64, is also a volunteer palliative caredriverand a part of Port Stephens Friendship Group.

“We enjoy it and l like improving things,” Mr Wilbow said of why he volunteers.

Richard Jones, WRHS chief executive,said volunteers are essential to the sustainability of the emergency service.

“At the heart of every organisation are people,” he said.“For the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, it is the people we serve, those who work with us and those who support us.

“Since our early beginnings, volunteers have been integral to our operations and in 2018, they remain an important part of who we are and what we do.”

Newcastle City Council paid tribute to the city’s 350 volunteerson Thursday.

WELL DONE: Council’s Volunteers Week function. At front is Alma Tate, Michael Moffitt, Nuatali Nelmes, Pauline McDougall and Nancy Tapp. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

“Whether it’s a few hours a week helping an older citizen learn how to use email, or an entire day each week guiding visitors at the museum and gallery, it all adds up to a better community,” lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

“Volunteers have worked more than 24,000 hours just at Blackbutt Reserve and Landcare sites alone during the past 12 months.

“At $30 an hour, those two projects amount to around three quarters of a million dollars in labour being donated.”

NSW abortion zone laws pass first hurdle

Laws giving women a “safe zone” around NSW abortion clinics, free from protesters and activists, have passed their first legislative hurdle after a day of debate and protest.
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The proposed laws, which will provide a 150-metre exclusion zone around clinics and make it an offence to film staff and patients without their consent, passed the NSW upper house on Thursday.

The bill is now expected to be introduced to the legislative assembly next month.

Government MPs have been given a conscience vote on the legislation, which NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says she is likely to support.

The bill provoked emotional debate from both sides of the house, including Early Childhood Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, who fought back tears in describing her own miscarriage and subsequent medical procedures.

Ms Mitchell, who voted in favour of the bill, said she would have been pushed close to the edge had a protester confronted her outside a clinic she needed to visit following the miscarriage.

“If I had had to have the procedure after losing my baby in the clinic, no-one would know the reasons for me being there because it is just not possible for protesters outside the door to know the personal and intimate reasons why every woman is going into the clinic,” she told parliament.

Nationals MP Trevor Khan, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Labor’s Penny Sharpe, said the debate transcended political alliances.

“This is not a matter of left versus right, it is a matter of common decency,” Mr Khan told the upper house.

“It is not our place to judge these women, we do not know their stories.”

Meanwhile, Ms Sharpe took aim at free speech advocates arguing against the laws, saying what was occurring outside abortion clinics did not amount to protest.

“It is harassment, even if it is well-intentioned,” Ms Sharpe sad

The bill was not without its opponents, including Christian Democrat Fred Nile, who claimed a nearby abortion clinic had its sewerage pipes blocked by “baby body parts”.

“They had to get the plumbers in to find out what was blocking the sewerage pipes and you’ll be disgusted to know it was baby body parts, little arms, little legs, parts of bodies of babies that had been aborted,” Rev Nile said.

However, the abortion clinic in question issued a statement in response to Rev Nile’s comments, which it said were “completely false”.

Rev Nile described the bill as draconian, and said it would “stop ns who have strong belief in the sanctity of life from even saying hello, or smiling, or walking into that area”.

Outside parliament, protesters from both sides of the debate lined Macquarie Street.

Fair Agenda spokeswoman Alycia Gawthorne said women should be protected if they seek to terminate their pregnancy.

Carolyn O’Loughlin, who held a large placard with a photo of a 10-week-old foetus and caption ‘I cannot yet speak, please be my voice!’, says the new laws would censor free speech.

Colleen McCullough will dispute continues

A doctor who certified Colleen McCullough was sane and rational was unable to rouse her on his visit to her sickbed, the bestselling author’s primary carer has told a court.
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Nicola Wright also denies fabricating evidence because she wanted Dr McCullough’s widower, Ric Robinson, to lose the NSW Supreme Court battle over the author’s multimillion-dollar estate.

“I have no interest in whether he loses or wins,” Ms Wright testified on Thursday.

The author’s executor and friend, Selwa Anthony, claims the University of Oklahoma Foundation and not Mr Robinson is the rightful sole beneficiary of the estate as per a July 2014 will.

Ms Anthony claims Mr Robinson took advantage of his wife’s ill health to unduly influence her to leave him everything in the lead-up to her death on Norfolk Island on January 29, 2015.

Under cross-examination on Thursday from Mr Robinson’s lawyer, David Murr SC, the author’s solicitor Piria Coleman agreed she believed the university will was the genuine one.

Ms Coleman further agreed she had fabricated a document and given it to Mr Robinson, deceiving him into thinking it was a new will in his favour.

Mr Murr referred to a letter from Dr Robert Challender given to her by Mr Robinson on January 17, 2015, a fortnight before his wife’s death.

The GP said he had seen Dr McCullough several times over the previous six weeks and while she was not in good shape physically, her mental state was sane, rational and she was “completely able to make well considered decisions”.

The GP also wrote that he saw no signs of her being in physical or emotional distress.

Ms Coleman agreed the letter unequivocally said Dr McCullough had “testamentary capacity” and was not subject to undue influence.

Ms Wright referred to Dr Challender’s visit on January 14, 2015.

“Ric wanted a doctor to certify that Col was sane because he wanted her will changed,” she said in her affidavit.

‘”She could hardly speak.”

The GP could not rouse her but said he would write about how he saw her one to three weeks previously, Ms Wright said.

“I want to suggest that Dr Challender did rouse Col that day,” Mr Murr said.

“I disagree,” she replied.

She agreed she thought Dr McCullough had been “very badly done by by her husband” but denied fabricating evidence about conversations.

Earlier, Ms Coleman agreed she believed Dr McCullough was the “goodie” and her husband the “baddie” in the marriage but denied trying to cast Mr Robinson in as bad a light as possible.

The hearing continues before Justice .Nigel Rein.

Hawks overlook Ceglar to face Eagles

Forgotten big man Jonathon Ceglar has been overlooked for AFL selection, with Hawthorn backing Ben McEvoy to combat West Coast’s rampaging ruck duo.
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Ceglar has been named as an emergency for Sunday’s clash at Etihad Stadium with the Hawks settling on two changes to the side that lost to Brisbane last week.

Midfielder Jaeger O’Meara and veteran key defender James Frawley return in place of Kaiden Brand and James Worpel.

Prime mover Elliot Yeo has recovered from a knee injury and will line up for an unchanged West Coast.

The combination of a fit and firing Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett has been a key ingredient in the Eagles’ surge to the top of the ladder.

Such has been the seemingly diminished role of ruckmen in the modern game that the likes of Patrick Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe have added tap work to their duties this season, with most teams preferring just one specialist tall.

But clubs have been forced to rethink their plans following West Coast’s 47-point victory over reigning premiers Richmond last week.

The Tigers elected to have Shaun Grigg back up Toby Nankervis and the 190cm Grigg was put to the sword by the towering Eagles ruckmen.

Hawthorn have relied on McEvoy in the ruck this season, with Jarryd Roughead providing occasional support.

Speaking before the Hawks named their final 22, coach Alastair Clarkson said Ceglar was a chance to play his first AFL game since tearing his ACL in late 2016.

“We’ll make a call today,” Clarkson told reporters.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about West Coast, the size of their forward line, the size of their defence, the size of their ruck division. But we’ve also got to make a call about whether Cegs is ready.

“He’s getting closer but we just want to make sure it’s the right decision for him and for us.”

Clarkson noted the Hawks had deployed two ruckmen throughout their premiership years and their new system might need tweaking to accommodate extra height.

The ninth-placed Hawks are out to extend a decade-long streak of wins against the Eagles in Melbourne.

Smith, not Mitchell Hawks’ No.1 danger man

West coast expect Isaac Smith to be Hawthorn’s most dangerous player on Sunday, not Tom Mitchell.West Coast coach Adam Simpson reckons $151 Brownlow Medal hope Isaac Smith is Hawthorn’s most dangerous player, not ball magnet Tom Mitchell.
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Mitchell is second favourite behind Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe to win the Brownlow this season after producing a series of big hauls through the midfield.

The 24-year-old is averaging 35.4 possessions and 9.4 clearances a game, and has also booted five goals.

He has tallied 40 or more disposals in five of his nine games this season.

Mitchell looms as a key figure in Sunday’s clash with West Coast at Etihad Stadium.

Simpson acknowledged Mitchell’s hot form and the danger he posed.

But the former Hawthorn assistant is even more worried by wingman Smith, who averages 22 possessions and has booted 14.5 from nine games.

“I think Isaac Smith has probably been their best player in terms of what he can produce,” Simpson said.

“He hasn’t changed for 10 years really – his running capabilities, the way he connects, and he hits the scoreboard as well.

“He’s in All-n form at the moment.”

Simpson said he wouldn’t get caught up in putting too many resources into stopping one or two players.

“Shutting down one player doesn’t mean success. It’s the same thing with Dustin Martin last week. We had a bit of a role on him but stopping him doesn’t guarantee you victory,” he said.

Simpson said Elliot Yeo would play against the Hawks despite the midfielder’s recent knee scare.

Yeo injured his right knee when it became twisted in a tackle against Richmond last week but scans have cleared him of any damage.

“It was pretty superficial,” Simpson said.

“And he came back on and was probably our best player behind (Jack) Darling so that is always a good sign.

“He pulled up a bit sore but we took a pretty light approach this week and we need to get him running around in Melbourne. But at this stage he is playing.”

Jeremy McGovern has been granted an extra day in Perth to be with his partner and newborn son, with the star defender to fly out on Saturday.

West Coast haven’t beaten Hawthorn in Melbourne since 2006 but are well placed to break that losing run following their recent rich vein of form.

The Eagles have won eight straight games to shoot one game clear on top of the table, while Hawthorn (5-4) fell out of the top eight following last week’s 56-point shellacking by Brisbane.

Roosters’ Robinson cagey on Carney link

There’s no firm links with Todd Carney to the Roosters – yet.Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson is happy Todd Carney is set to resume his career with North Sydney, but is cagey on a possible return to the NRL club.
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Carney’s move to the Bears has been put on hold as his management negotiate a payout figure with Queensland Cup side Northern Pride following his exit for personal reasons earlier this month.

His decision to link with South Sydney’s feeder team has been met with fierce criticism from the Rabbitohs, who reportedly threatened to cut ties with the foundation club.

It is now understood North Sydney are in talks to partner with the Roosters, who are without their own reserve grade club in 2019 after Wyong opted to sever ties at the end of the NSW Cup season.

Carney spent arguably the best season of his career at the Roosters, where he helped the club reach the grand final against St George Illawarra in 2010.

However he was sacked from the club the following season and spent nearly three years at Cronulla before his contract was again torn up after his infamous ‘bubbler’ incident.

Robinson was non-committal when asked whether he would be interested in signing Carney, who still needs clearance from the NRL if he was to lodge a contract with a club.

“He’s a good man and on his own path. It was good to hear that they were going to give him an opportunity but obviously that’s got nothing to do with us,” Robinson said.

Robinson also said the club were yet to decide who would be their feeder club next season, although it is also understood the Roosters could field their own reserve grade team.

“Obviously Wyong won’t be continuing in the (Intrust Super Premiership) next year, so we’re looking at our options over the next few years. We’re obviously quite keen to partner with someone,” he said.

“There’s a few options out there and obviously there’s a lot of speculation. But we’ve just got to continue and see what happens over the next couple of months.”

The ugly side of ‘cell therapy’ in NSW

Alleged abuse at NSW prisons has been the focus of the latest ICAC inquiry in Sydney.Light is being shone on questionable NSW prison guard culture by a corruption inquiry that’s exposed details of cell shakedowns and alleged inmate abuse.
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So-called “cell therapy” is used to punish belligerent inmates, according to former guards who’ve admitted superiors direct them to trash cells merely to “show a presence”.

At the heart of a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing, which began in Sydney this week, lies the alleged February 2014 bashing of an inmate at the Lithgow Correctional Centre.

Officers are accused of lying in incident in reports, deleting CCTV footage and planting drugs.

The probe offers a rare glimpse into those who keep NSW criminals locked up and the problems experienced in their workplaces.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Sam Duggan says systemic corruption is a consideration.

“Importantly, it should not be assumed that the events which unfolded at Lithgow are necessarily isolated,” he told Monday’s hearing.

“They are not.”

Questions were raised about why specially-trained guards were ordered into the inmate’s cell in the first place, with suggestions either he or his cellmate were abusive on an intercom when complaining of having no television.

Former officer Terrence Walker was the first ICAC witness asked about “cell therapy”.

“It can (range from) yelling abuse to completely trashing the cell and sometimes further,” he explained.

By “further”, that could mean physical force, before revealing potential targets.

“Belligerent inmates, known troublemakers, ones that abuse staff … it’s purely to teach them a lesson.”

His colleague Elliot Duncan admitted it wasn’t uncommon to be directed by superiors to dish out “cell therapy”.

“My understanding of that is to show a presence more than anything,” Mr Duncan testified.

“(To) put them in their place.”

The inquiry has also raised questions about trust issues between guards, with officers suspected of having reported inappropriate conduct being labelled as “dogs”.

Officer Wesley Duffy claims he was excluded from the reporting process following the alleged bashing because his “heavy-handed” colleagues knew he would want to be honest.

Perhaps tellingly, Mr Duffy had never heard of cell therapy and said he wasn’t the only one in Lithgow who considered the tactics of colleagues inappropriate.

Already two of the implicated officers have been “relieved from duty”, including one who went on to become one of the most senior departmental officials.

A Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman said there were “strict formal procedures” around the use of force and the idea of cell therapy was “completely unacceptable”.

“(The department) actively investigates any suspicion that those procedures have been breached,” she said in a statement to AAP.

Disciplinary measures can include referral to police, fines, dismissal and imprisonment.

Few would argue with Mr Duggan’s suggestion correctional staff have a “difficult and probably thankless task” that involves power over inmates.

With that power comes responsibility, he added.

That “also requires the eradication of any culture which covers up situations where Corrective staff have overstepped the mark”.

But he said the “vast number” of staff perform their functions honestly.

Schools must be built at centre of community: Minister for Education Rob Stokes in Newcastle

Rethink: Rob Stokes said education was a “process not a product” and measurement of outcomes needed to be qualitative. Picture: Simone De PeakSCHOOLS need to be designed for the futureand built in the physical centreof their communities, so that businesses can “look in and see how they can partner” with educators and students.
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Minister for Education Rob Stokes made the recommendation in a wide-ranging address ata Hunter Business Chamber eventat Merewether Surfhouse on Friday.

It followed his appearance alongside Premier Gladys Berejiklianto officially open the University of Newcastle’s NeW Space campus, which he said was “profound recognition that the future of this city and this region has education at it’s heart”, an idea he saidshould be reflected in the location of schools.

“For too long we’ve literally, spatially, separated our schools out and put them on the periphery –found a big site, put big ovals around it and put classrooms in the middle,” he said.

“We needto integrate schools back into the community.”

Mr Stokes said society was in the midst of “rapid change” and students needed skills to develop knowledge into ideas and solutions for problems.

He saidthe entire community was responsible for preparing children to be lifelong learners and for jobs of the future.

“Teachers cannot do it all themselves and it’s ridiculous to suggest they can,” he said.

“The recent Gonski report’s recommendations said the idea ofbusiness mentoring in schools and relationships between industry and education is critical in achieving education excellence.

“We need to get away from the Fordist idea of education as some sort of production line.

“The skillset we need is bigger and the relational engagement as a community needs to be bigger.

“That has changedthe way we design our schools – we need to facilitate that community interaction and joint use facilities that make it spatially attractive for businesses to look into schools and see how they can partner.”

“We then build richer communities whereyoung people are more attuned to what business expects from them and where the opportunitiesare, and we ourselves can learn what sorts of products young people want and what sort of experiences they’re looking for.”

Mr Stokes said therewereopportunities for collaboration between councils and thestate, Catholic and independent school sectors, which each maintaintheir own playing fields, playgrounds, libraries and other facilities.

NRLHe is Newcastle Knights-bound next season but Sharks centre Jesse Ramien won’t be showing any love for his future club on Sunday

Jesse Ramien signed at Newcastle for the next two seasons for love.
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But the Knights won’t be expecting the young Sharks centre to show them any on Sunday when the two sides clashat Beanie for Brain Cancer Stadium.

The 21-year-old former Junior Kangaroos star is one of Newcastle’s big recruitment pick-ups for next season.

Ironically, he made his NRL debut against the Knights in last season’s final round at McDonald Jones Stadium, scoring a try in the Sharks’ 26-18 win.

And he has featured in a further eight games for the club this season despite announcing in February he was defecting to the Knights.

READ MORE: Newcastle KnightsIt is understood the Sharks were desperate to keep him in the Shire and Wests Tigers and Bulldogs also made strong offers for him.

But the former Coonamble Bears junior, who spent a couple of years at Hunter Sports High in Newcastle after his parents sent him to live at Kirinari Hostel in Garden Suburb when he was just 11, has a 5-year-old daughter LaSharn living on the Central Coast with his former partner and wants to move closer to her.

“She’s the absolute love of my life, everything I do is for her. She loves it, she absolutely loves footy,”Ramien told Fairfax Media earlier this month.

“It’s a massive opportunity for me to provide for my little girl. Once she came along she was pretty much all I cared about.

On his way: Sharks centre Jess Ramien will join the Knights next season but will be the enemy on Sunday.

“It’s all pretty much anyone cares about that has a family. When they’re playing, they want to provide for their family, play good footy.

“Now that she’s come along I have an opportunity to do that and I’m going to do what I can and everything I can to play my best footy and provide for her.”

Ramien considered quitting rugby league when he became a father at just 16 but was talked out of it by his family because of the opportunities the game could present to him.

He was at Manly at the time but linked with Cronullaand underlined his potential by scoringthe Sharks’ only try intheir 22-6World Club Challengeloss to Wigan in February last year.

He will mark Knights centre Nathan Ross on Sunday.

New lava flow enters ocean in Hawaii

A lava flow from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has split and is entering the ocean at two points.Lava has entered the ocean from a third flow in the third week of a Hawaii volcano eruption that has opened up nearly two dozen vents in rural communities, destroyed dozens of buildings and shot plumes of ash into the sky.
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Low lava fountains from the Kilauea volcano were erupting from a nearly continuous 3km-long portion of the series of fissures that have opened up in the ground, scientists said on Thursday.

The fountains were feeding channelised lava flows down to the coast. The eastern-most channel split on Wednesday, creating three ocean entries.

Since the eruption began on May 3, Hawaii County has ordered about 2000 people to evacuate from Leilani Estates and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Hawaii officials have said they may need to evacuate a thousand more people if lava crosses key highways and isolates communities in the mostly rural part of the island where the Kilauea volcano is erupting.

A blocked highway would cut people off from the only route to grocery stores, schools and hospitals.

The US Marine Corps said on Thursday that it had sent two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from a base near Honolulu to help if more evacuations become necessary. Each helicopter can carry 50 passengers.

The volcano has opened more than 20 vents in the ground that have released lava, sulphur dioxide and steam.

Lava has destroyed 50 buildings, including about two dozen homes. One person was seriously injured after being hit by a flying piece of lava.

There continues to be intermittent explosions at the summit that have been sending plumes of ash into the sky.

On Wednesday, the volcano belched a plume that reached about 2130 metres high, scientists said. Right before the explosion, there was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake at the summit.

“We are kind of in this steady state,” said Wendy Stovall, a scientist at the US Geographical Survey.

There’s no indication about whether lava volume will increase or decrease, she said. The continued explosions are expected to “last a little while longer.”

Trainer Paul Perry gives pair even chance in Fred Best Classic

LEADING CHANCE: The Paul Perry-trained Perast winning the Queensland Day Stakes at Doomben. Picture: AAPPaul Perry couldn’t split The Mission and Perast ahead of the group 3 Fred Best Classic (1350 metres) on Saturday at Doomben.
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But the veteran Newcastle trainer was happy in the knowledgethey shouldn’tbe going head to head at the front of the field in the early stages again.

The Mission and Perast seta cracking pace in the Golden Rose last September before both faded.

“I don’t want to see that again. It made me sick watching it,” Perry said.

The three-year-old stablemates clash again on Saturday in what could be stud-bound The Mission’s last race.

The Choisir colt, a group 1 winner,has been competing admirablyagainst the nation’s top sprinters in recent months butwill have to overcome a poordraw in12 on Saturday.

Perastgained his start with victory in the listed Queensland Day Stakes at Doomben two weeks ago.

Perry expected Perast, a$4.60 chance, to race on the pace from barrier four and The Mission,an $11 chance, to get back from his gate.

“It’s a drop in class from where he’s been racing,” Perry said of The Mission, which will stand at Aquis Farm in Queensland after the winter carnival.

“There’s plenty of speed in the race so hopefully he can slot in somewhere from that draw.

“Perast ran well last start but they should both be chances.”

Asked to pick his best hope, Perry said:“I wouldn’t like to say.There’s not much between them.”

Perry’s other runner wasNothing Too Hard in the group 3 Grand Prix Stakes (2200m). He was sixth in the group 3 Rough Habit Plate (2000m) last start.

“His run the other day was super,” Perry said. “He’s up there for the Derby, and the mile and a halfI think that will suit him better.It finds him outa bit that journey [2200],butthat’s the only reason he’s there, for the Derby.”

Also at Doomben, Newcastle trainer Kris Lees’s Le Romain was the $3.40 favourite for the group 1 Kingsford-Smith Cup. Lees has alsoGraff (Sires’ Produce Stakes), Danish Twist (Glenlogan Park Stakes) andNurse Kitchen (Lord Mayor’s Cup) chasing black-type wins.

At Randwick, Perry has last-start winner The Getaway in the listed McKell Cup from gate two.

“It’s up in class but he’ll run a good race, he’s that sort of horse,” Perry said.

“He’lljust race his normal pattern. He’ll probably be back in the field and work his way home.”

Perry’s Miss Imagination and Petrossian are also racing at Randwick.

“She’s another filly on the way up,” he said of Miss Imagination.“Her run the other day at Scone was good in the listed race, and I think she’ll improve with whatever she does, but you would expect something from her.

“Petrossianneeds to run.He drew wide the other day and we had to scratch him, so he’s probably short of a run.”

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian says ‘buzzing’ Hunter Street doesn’t need light rail rate relief

Premier says ‘buzzing’ Hunter Street doesn’t need light rail rate relief Gladys Berejiklian in Newcastle on Friday.
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TweetFacebookNewcastle Herald has reported on the woes of many businesses, including Newcastle Coins, Pacific Dreams, Three Bears Kitchen, Frontline Hobbies, Sushi Koo and Newy Burger Co, since light rail work began last year.

A survey by business support group Newcastle Now in February found 55 per cent of respondents had cut staffand 90 per cent had lower turnover.

But Ms Berejiklian insisted the light rail project had enlivened the city.

“Hunter Street was dead, dying, it was gone. Now it’s the exact opposite. It’s full of hope and aspiration,” she said.

“We’re supporting those businesses at this time by making sure we’re communicating with them.

A sign on a doorway in Hunter Street on Friday. Picture: Supplied by Tim Crakanthorp’s office.

“Now, put it this way, after the project’s finished and all the businesses are doing well, we won’t expect anything back from them because that’s our gift to the city.

“If there are any unexpected consequences, of course we’ll engage, but that hasn’t proven to bethe case yet.

“ … We thank them for their patience, but we expect that by October, November we’ll be out of the construction zone, and by that stage the businesses will see so much extra business like they’ve never seen before.”

Newcastle Now executive manager Richard Christian said the almost-completed sections of light rail were a cause for hope, but this should not discount the continuing hardship of traders along the route.

“I wouldn’t say it’s buzzing, no. I think there are areas that aren’t as heavily impacted, but I think to say Hunter Street is buzzing is not entirely the case,” he said.

“I think the sort of money we’re talking about to help these businesses through is not an enormous pot. It’s just enough to get the ones who are on the edge.

“It’s inefficient to just let those businesses fail and then have to move on and new businesses to re-establish themselves.

“Arelatively small amount of money would go a long way to helping some of these businesses that have been here a very long time to just get through.”

The Herald reported on Thursday that Mr Christian had hoped to meet with Ms Berejiklian to seek state government funds for Newcastle Now’s planned funding package to help businesses.

That meeting did not take place, but he said the premier had reached out to him in a phone call and he had not given up hope of bringing the government on board.

Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp said Ms Berejiklian had “backflipped” on her promise to consider rent relief.

“The premier made it abundantly clear that she had not walked down Hunter Street in quite some time when at her press conference she said that business was booming,” he said in a media statement.

“If she had walked mere metres from the university she could have spoken to business owners who haven’t reaped the rewards of her government’s program.The premier’s spin does not align with the shop owner’s experiences on the ground.”

Hunter Street businessman Brett Dann, whose Helloworld Travel head office isopposite a section of completed light rail next to NeWSpace, said the landscaped track looked “fantastic”.

“It’s great compared to what Hunter Street used to be. We’re obviously very excited now that we’ve got the barriers down. I think it looks beautiful,” he said.

Mr Dann opened the office, which has a ground-floor shopfront relying on foot traffic, in September.

“Unlike other businesses, we obviously knew what we were coming into,” he said.

“It’s certainly affected our business, because obviously we expected that precinct to be finished in December [last year].

“I think the overall project is on time, but if you look back to the original guides and notifications, especially for us, we were told that the section to Merewether Street would be open by December 31.

“It was open, but it wasn’t finished, and then obviously it closed again for some time.”

The manager of Brides and Beaux bridal shop, Michelle O’Connor, said the track looked “absolutely fantastic” but the loss of parking on Hunter Street would hurt business, which had suffered during the construction period.

“It’s been difficult to get to us,” she said. “Luckily we are a destination shop, but it’s definitely dropped off.Especially in the last six weeks when it’s been in front of us it’s probably dropped more than half.

“The whole time, of course, but more so when we had the trucks in front.

“We had the university in front and then this and it was like, ‘My god, this is never-ending.’”

Origin won’t distract Panthers: Griffin

James Maloney: One of at least 11 players in Origin contention from the Panthers-Dragons NRL match.It’s the top-of-the-table clash with more than top spot at stake.
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At least 11 players from both St George Illawarra and Penrith are considered in contention for State of Origin jumpers when first meets second at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.

Some, such as Dragons pair Tyson Frizell and Ben Hunt, are believed to be certainties.

Others, such as Penrith trio Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey, and Dragons quintet Euan Aitken, Cameron McInnes, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin, are on the cusp.

Then there’s incumbent Blues five-eighth James Maloney, whose grip on the No.6 jumper is loosening after NSW coach Brad Fittler publicly questioned the veteran’s defence this year.

Fittler went on to declare Saturday’s blockbuster as a final Origin audition, however Panthers coach Anthony Griffin is confident the players won’t be distracted by the individual goals.

“It’s hard for them, but I think we’ve had a pretty good week at training. I know all our guys are focused, as theirs will be,” Griffin said on Friday.

“It’s what they do out there on Saturday night that’ll determine some of their Origin chances. I think the game will always come first in their mind and we’ll find out what happens after that.

“They’re all good, level-headed guys. The reason they’re in contention is the job they’ve been doing. They’ve been playing very well and I haven’t seen any reason why that’d change this Saturday.”

Only 1200 tickets remain available for a clash Griffin believes is his team’s biggest test of the season, particularly in the forwards.

With the exception of front-rower James Graham, the Dragons’ entire starting pack is jostling for Blues selection against Penrith’s lone NSW hopeful in Campbell-Gillard.

Griffin confirmed his front-rower would start after playing the past five weeks with severe tooth pain.

“Our forwards have done a great job and this will be their biggest test, I’d imagine. The St George pack, they’re a very big, mobile pack and they’ve done a great job,” Griffin said.

“That’s why they’re leading the competition. They’ve given their halves a real platform to play off. Our guys are going along really well and they’ll get their chance to have a real forward battle there.”

STATS THAT MATTER

* The only time St George Illawarra have met second when coming first was against the Panthers in 2010, when they lost 12-8 in Mark Gasnier’s first match back from rugby union.

* The Dragons are looking for six straight wins over Penrith for just the second time in their history.

* The Panthers have won 11 of their past 12 matches at Panthers Stadium, including all five this year.