Injury curse strikes Cummins again

PATRICK Cummins admitted his immediate playing future was ”up in the air” after he was sent to have scans on a possible back injury that again threatens to sideline the talented teenager during Australia’s Test summer.
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Cummins, 19, had scans on Wednesday after reporting soreness upon his return from South Africa, where he played a key part in the Sydney Sixers’ Champions League Twenty20 triumph.

He was not chosen in Australia’s squad of 12 for the first Test against the Proteas in Brisbane next week, but with selectors looking at including him for the third Test in Perth, the last thing they want is for the speedster to break down again.

”The scans aren’t too conclusive at the moment,” Cummins said. ”We’ll know more in the next couple of days … at this stage it is still up in the air … I’ll go and see the physio but I think we’ll know more by Friday.

”I had a pretty clear goal for the season this morning but right now it’s kind of changed and I’m not sure now, but I want to play some red-ball cricket. I haven’t done that for a while and I’m really keen for it. Right now [in terms of goals] I want to play as many games as possible and just enjoy playing.”

Cummins was an absentee throughout Australia’s campaigns against New Zealand and India at home last season after injuring his heel during his remarkable debut Test in Johannesburg. The injury at first seemed innocuous but turned out to be serious.

He has not played a first-class game since and had been keen to make a long-awaited return for NSW next Monday as a substitute in the Sheffield Shield encounter against Queensland in Brisbane. The Blues’ four Test players are due to miss the fourth day to link up with the national team and NSW will replace them with reinforcements if the match goes that long. Almost certainly, Cummins will now not be one of them.

Cummins has been beset by injury in the past year just as his international career has taken off. He was flown home from Australia’s one-day tour of England in June after sustaining a side strain in the first match at Lord’s.

He returned to feature in the limited-overs series against Pakistan and then the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka before helping bowl the Sixers to victory in Johannesburg this week.

Australia’s crew of international fast bowlers – Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc – are otherwise fit and healthy but it would be a blow to lose Cummins.

”It’s a shame really,” said fast-bowling great Glenn McGrath, who was on Wednesday night inducted as a Bradman Foundation honoree, as was retired Indian batting maestro Rahul Dravid.

”He started off his Test career so well and I was watching him in the Twenty20 World Cup – he looked so impressive. He was thinking on his feet, he had good slower balls, good pace, he was hitting good areas. If there are issues with his back again it’s going to be disappointing.”

But McGrath agreed that Cummins would take time to grow into his body and had time on his side. ”When I was 19 I was living in Narromine and playing country cricket on Saturday afternoons and training once a week,” he said. ”He’s well and truly ahead of me.”

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Hussey shapes up for Proteas

MIKE Hussey says his 2009-10 career renaissance against England will hold him in good stead against the team that is now his biggest nemesis, South Africa.
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In Hussey’s debut Test season, in 2005-06, the then 30-year-old faced the Proteas in series in Australia and South Africa, and came away with a hefty batting average of 59.56.

But since then the left-hander has not passed 50 in 16 innings across three series against South Africa: the loss at home in 2008-09, the win away immediately afterwards, and last year’s 1-1 draw.

Over that period, Hussey’s average against South Africa is a meagre 18.47.

While he has fallen in single figures in half of those knocks, he has made at least 20 in seven others, indicating he has been able to get a start against the Proteas’ pace-dominated attack but never survived long enough to match his overall conversion rate of a 50-plus score every three innings.

”There’s no point in worrying or stressing about anything in the past because there’s enough things to worry and stress about when you’re out in the middle in a Test match anyway,” Hussey said on Wednesday as he prepared to lead Western Australia in its Sheffield Shield match against Victoria at the MCG.

In the 2009 Ashes loss, Hussey averaged a mediocre 34.50, although almost half of his runs for the five-match series came in the last Test.

Hussey started the next Ashes series 15 months later under severe pressure to hold his spot and responded by averaging 63.33 in a team that lost heavily. Based on that outcome, he said he would take the same approach at the start of this home season.

”I have tried doing that before. Against England I’d had a mediocre season and I was getting all worried about it and then ended up performing a lot better against them next time,” he said.

”The Test matches we’ve played against South Africa in South Africa have been extremely difficult for batting. I’m expecting the pitches in Australia to be very good, very true, and if you get in and get through that initial period there’s no reason why a few of the guys can’t go on and get big scores.”

While Australia has four specialist pacemen in its first Test squad, South Africa has brought the same number for the entire three-Test series: the big three of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, with Rory Kleinveldt in reserve.

Hussey knows little of the uncapped Kleinveldt. ”From the footage, he’s a big guy and looks like a very good bowler,” he said, but played down the importance of his selection, because the Proteas’ first-choice pace battery was undisputed.

”They’ve got a proven attack that’s done the business over quite a period of time. They’re seasoned, hardened Test-match cricketers,” he said.

”They know their recovery, they know their preparation very well. I’m sure they’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys staying fit for the whole series.”

The shield match starting on Thursday will be Hussey’s first red-ball match since the April Test tour of the West Indies. His only recent practice experience was net sessions with Test teammate Ben Hilfenhaus while they represented Chennai.

While his Champions League stint with the Super Kings seemed pointless, as he played only one match because of the depth of the squad, Hussey pointed out there would have been little alternative for him in Australia as Western Australia was on a shield sabbatical caused by Perth’s Champions League participation.

■Dale Steyn will extend his tour in Australia by one week to bolster the Brisbane Heat for its Big Bash League season-opener.

Steyn will renew acquaintances with Darren Lehmann by making a one-off Twenty20 appearance for the Heat in its December 9 clash against the Hobart Hurricanes at the Gabba.

With contracted West Indian firebrand Kemar Roach not available for the first match, the Proteas’ paceman will take one of Brisbane’s four international spots.

Brisbane coach Lehmann only this week asked if the top-ranked Test bowler was interested in an extra game after the three-Test series with Australia. ”I was pleasantly surprised when he said he was,” Lehmann said.

”In fact, I was over the moon.”

With aap

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Hilfenhaus in three-way fight for the first Test

BEN Hilfenhaus, Australia’s outstanding bowler against India last summer, on Thursday begins a three-way tussle with Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon for two places in the attack for next week’s first Test against South Africa in Brisbane.
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The robust Tasmanian will bowl his first red ball in a match since April in the Sheffield Shield game against South Australia, starting in Hobart on Thursday, having puffed away some cobwebs while returning modest figures of 1-73 from 13 overs in Tuesday’s one-dayer against the Redbacks.

Australia’s bowling coach Ali de Winter is confident Hilfenhaus can overcome a disjointed preparation, caused by Champions League commitments with Chennai, to be somewhere near his best by the time the selectors choose the first-Test attack to face the Proteas.

De Winter, who helped restore Hilfenhaus’ pace and swing before his renaissance last summer, said Peter Siddle and James Pattinson enjoyed a considerable advantage in their Test preparations from stringing shield games together, while Hilfenhaus and Starc bowled in short bursts at the Champions League.

The latter two have subsisted on the short formats since August, although Starc has done more competitive bowling than Hilfenhaus in that time.

”It’s difficult to know how close he [Hilfenhaus] is going to be to his best. We all know how good his best is, but what we’ve known for a long time is that his preparation, as well as Starc and a few others, would be interrupted by short-form cricket, so we’ve put in place the best-possible measures that we think will get them ready for selection,” de Winter said.

”The selectors have picked their 12 and we are pretty confident that Ben, along with Starc and the others, are going to be in a position where they can be as near to their best as possible without having the ideal preparation.

”More than one shield game would have been great, and we’ve seen with Siddle and Pattinson the benefit they have had from extra games. In Ben’s case and a few others, that’s not the case, but we have known that for a long time and we have dealt with it as best we can.

”We hope Ben bowls well and gets some wickets in Hobart, as we do Nathan Lyon, and we hope Starc gets through his shield game [for New South Wales against Queensland] with some good form as well, so the final XI for the selectors will be a difficult choice. We’re pretty happy we’ve got guys who are fit and selectable.”

Hilfenhaus has experience, physical resilience and a fine domestic record at the Gabba on his side. The selectors regard him, and fellow workhorse Siddle, as the constants in Australia’s pace attack, but Starc offers an appealing left-arm option. The selectors could yet opt for all four fast men, if the pitch is tinged with green.

Hilfenhaus, who took 27 wickets at 17.22 against India after he was recalled for last summer’s Boxing Day Test, would presumably be a strong candidate to take the new ball, but needs to find his red-ball groove in the shield game.

De Winter, who was at the Champions League to monitor Australia’s quicks, is confident Hilfenhaus and Starc have done enough full-throttle net bowling with red balls, and believes the Tasmanian’s pace and action are in good order.

”The games he played for Chennai, having not played much competitive cricket, he came straight in and performed well for them up front with the new ball, with his pace up around the 140-mark, which we know is his best sort of pace. He swung the ball, challenged the defence of the batters and got wickets for them early,” de Winter said. ”Everything we have seen so far suggests he is in pretty good form. I did watch him bowl on the television [against the Redbacks] last night, and he started quite well. We also have to remember he is only two or three days off a plane. He is a pretty robust and resilient kind of guy, so we don’t have any concerns about him, or any of the others.”

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Deals and wheels under the spotlight

PART ONE of the trilogy of corruption inquiries starring former Labor ministers will get under way today in a purpose-built hearing room to accommodate a battalion of barristers who, over the next five months, will represent more than 70 witnesses.
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The Independent Commission Against Corruption’s three-part inquiry is expected to be one of the most sensational in NSW history and will examine explosive corruption allegations against the former ministers Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald and Eric Roozendaal.

Also on the witness list are three former premiers – Morris Iemma, Kristina Keneally and Nathan Rees – along with senior ministers including Frank Sartor.

Mr Roozendaal, who is the only one of the three Labor heavyweights still in Parliament, will feature in the first of the inquiries, which will start at 10am and is expected to run for a week.

Operation Indus will investigate the circumstances in which Moses Obeid, one of the five sons of the former minister, provided a brand new Honda CRV to Mr Roozendaal, the then minister for commerce and roads.

The first witness scheduled to give evidence is a Camperdown panel beater, Peter Fitzhenry, who will be followed by a car dealer, Keith Goodman.

The pair are expected to provide details of Moses Obeid’s 2007 request that the pair source a black Honda CRV for Mr Roozendaal but to put the car in the name of Nata Re.

Once Mr Roozendaal had taken delivery of the Honda, Moses Obeid organised the $44,000 payment from an account of his business partner, the property developer Rocco Triulcio.

Nata Re is the sister of Mr Triulcio. Mrs Re has previously told Fairfax Media that she had never owned a Honda CRV and that she had never heard of Eric Roozendaal.

Mr Triulcio said he could not remember any payments but he was planning to buy the Honda for his sister. He then changed his mind and gave her his old Mercedes.

Last year Mr Roozendaal confirmed that Moses Obeid had organised the purchase of the car for him, and that it was subsequently registered to his wife Amanda, but the former minister said his actions had ”all been completely kosher” and that he had paid $34,000 to the dealer for his car.

Mr and Mrs Roozendaal and Moses Obeid are expected to give evidence next week.

The ICAC Commissioner, David Ipp, QC, will preside over the public inquiry. Counsel assisting the Commission for Operation Indus are Geoffrey Watson, SC, and Nicholas Chen.

After Mr Roozendaal and his set of wheels are finished, the corruption commission will move on to allegations of corruption over coal exploration licences which involve Moses Obeid’s father, Eddie, and the former mining minister Ian Macdonald. Some time in March next year the third inquiry will examine Mr Macdonald’s granting of a training mine to his friend, the former union boss John Maitland.

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Call for a rethink on breast screening

AUSTRALIA’S breast-screening program should be reassessed to make sure it is not causing more harm than good, leading epidemiologists say.
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The deputy director of the Women’s Health Research Program at Monash University, Professor Robin Bell, said it could be argued that women should no longer be routinely invited to have mammograms because of the significant risks of ”over-diagnosis”.

On Tuesday an independent panel of experts in Britain said that for every life saved by its breast-screening program, another three women would be over-diagnosed and treated unnecessarily for cancer that would never have caused them harm. This meant the program was preventing about 1300 breast-cancer deaths every year while causing 4000 women to be over-diagnosed.

The experts said that while the benefits of the program still outweighed the harm, women should be given detailed information about the risk of over-diagnosis to make a more informed decision about screening. They also called for a reassessment of the cost-effectiveness of the screening program.

In response to the British findings, Professor Bell said Australia needed to rethink its approach to breast screening because the balance of harms and benefits had shifted considerably since the BreastScreen program began in the 1990s.

While the British panel used data from the 1970s and ’80s to estimate a 19 per cent rate of over-diagnosis through breast screening, Professor Bell said more recent Australian research suggested 30 to 40 per cent of cancers detected in the BreastScreen program were over-diagnosed.

This meant the ratio of lives saved to over-diagnoses could be one to six in Australia, as opposed to the British estimate of one to three. Given that a screening program has to produce more benefits than harms to be viable, she said it could be argued that Australian women in their 50s and 60s should no longer be invited to attend screening because the invitation implies the benefits outweigh the risks.

The government could still provide free access to mammograms for women who wanted them, she said, particularly those with a strong family history of breast cancer.

A spokesman for the Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said the government’s Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Screening was monitoring emerging evidence about the harms and benefits of breast screening.

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Thomson turns his back on Labor

THE former Labor MP, Craig Thomson, has labelled his old party hypocritical and will vote against its legislation to excise the Australian mainland from the nation’s migration zone.
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The controversial bill was introduced into Parliament on Wednesday and is set to pass the lower house before the end of this month with the support of the Coalition.

However, Mr Thomson, for the second time in two days, will vote against Labor on legislation, saying the party’s about-face from its position on the bill six years ago was too much to stomach.

“One of the main reasons I decided to enter Parliament was because I was appalled at the way Australia was treating asylum seekers,” he said. ”But now we are seeing a Labor government going back to the Howard years by excising mainland Australia from the offshore processing centres in an appeal to the worst elements of human nature.

“The Labor Party was right in 2006 to oppose this and the reasons then apply just as much now.”

On Tuesday night, Mr Thomson voted to amend a bill to free Australian research from unintended consequences of a defence treaty with the US.

Mr Thomson represents the seat of Dobell on the central coast. He was suspended from the ALP in April pending civil and criminal investigations into his use of a union credit card before entering Parliament.

Should he be cleared following a criminal investigation, it is understood he has not ruled out running as an independent.

In 2006, the Howard government tried to excise the mainland from the migration zone but failed amid fierce internal resistance from moderates. Now, Labor wants to introduce the measure as part of its policies to try to stop the escalating flow of boats.

Under the change, anyone who arrives on the Australian mainland by boat will be sent offshore for processing to Nauru or Manus Island and would no longer be entitled to be processed onshore or receive a bridging visa and limited work rights.

Mr Thomson’s resistance will not stop the passage of the bill because the Coalition is expected to support it.

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Deadly human link ends with horse vaccine for Hendra virus

AN international team of researchers has developed the first horse vaccine for the deadly Hendra virus, using the ovary cells of a Chinese hamster.
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Being launched on Thursday in Brisbane, the vaccine’s arrival follows years of testing and means the cycle of transmission between horses and humans will be broken.

Seven people have contracted Hendra and four have died from the virus that has killed 81 horses, including nine this year. There is no known cure for Hendra, which was first identified in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra in 1994.

While flying foxes transmit the virus through bodily fluids, humans have only ever contracted the virus from horses.

A specialist in veterinary pathology at the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Deborah Middleton, said that, by stopping the virus in horses, science had effectively stopped it making the leap to humans.

”This is significant, as to get a vaccine to market for people would have taken another 10 or 20 years because of all the guidelines and ethical approval needed,” she said.

Work on developing a vaccine didn’t start until 2005, as scientists first had to understand the virus’ structure, parts and how it generated an immune response from the animals it infected.

That research led scientists to focus on the many proteins found on the outside of the virus that act as an alert for the immune system. One protein in particular caught their attention – the G-protein.

”We realised it was protection against the G-protein that was really critical in clearing the virus from the system,” Dr Middleton said.

This protein is the active ingredient in the vaccine. Once injected, animals generate antibodies to the G-protein and can eliminate infection much faster when it happens.

”It gives the animal a head start,” Dr Middleton said. ”If you have an animal vaccinated with the G-protein, its immune system is tricked into thinking it has seen the virus before, so it already has antibodies and it can react quickly.”

The G-protein can be man-made in commercial quantities, intriguingly using a cell line derived from the ovary cells of a Chinese hamster.

”It’s amazing, really,” Dr Middleton said. ”This cell line has been going for about 60 years.”

The cells keep regenerating and the gene for the Hendra G-protein is put into the cell’s DNA. It then produces Hendra G-protein, which is harvested.

The Australian Veterinary Association has recommended all horses be vaccinated, with a national vaccination register to be established. The vaccine, a course of two injections, does not cause any side effects.

The multi-disciplinary team of up to 60 researchers included virologists, molecular biologists, pathologists and protein chemists. Scientists came from the CSIRO, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the US and commercial partner Pfizer.

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Big and small are certs in hat stakes, but felt is the last straw

FINDING a headpiece for the Melbourne spring racing carnival it is not as simple as popping any old hat on.
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Milliners look at many components when fitting a headpiece to match their clients’ race-day outfits.

Nerida Winter, a Sydney milliner with many Melbourne customers, says it is not just the shape of a face that determines race-day headwear but the ”whole package, including your height, shoulder width, personality, attitude, as well as outfits, jewellery and necklines”.

Other factors also come into play, such as the No.1 spring racing rule: no felt.

”Straw is the appropriate material for the spring carnival, as felt is strictly for autumn,” says Winter.

This season hats should be big or small, but nothing in between. Smaller headpieces and larger hats are the most popular shapes.

”Women are choosing smaller sculptural headpieces over fascinators these days, or if they are confident to do a hat, they are bigger than ever before,” Winter says.

”Women are touching on the ’40s and ’50s couture when it comes to the larger styles. The side sweep hat has made a comeback which complements the peplum dresses that are in fashion at the moment.”

With smaller headpieces, women are making a statement with a fashion-forward twist.

”We are experimenting with modern textures, lace, horsehair, silks and studs,” says Winter.

Jonathan Howard, from Hatmaker in Paddington, opts not to sell fascinators at his Sydney shop. ”I do headpieces and hats. This season we are seeing larger-style hats but smaller headpieces are also on trend because they are easy to travel with and women like how they are practical.”

The Melbourne milliner Molly Kasriel, who designs for labels including Fiona Powell and Morgan and Taylor, says women choose smaller pieces because they are a safe option. ”They suit everyone,” she says. ”They are easy to wear.”

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Big energy users agree to switch off in peaks

ELECTRICITY demand will be cut by the amount of power needed for 50,000 airconditioners on the hottest days this summer under a deal between NSW transmission network operator TransGrid and big energy users like manufacturers, universities and data centres.
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The deal – a forerunner of the kind of demand management arrangements recommended in a Senate report to be tabled on Thursday this week – means the big users are paid to switch off an agreed quantity of power for an agreed period of time on days when electricity demand peaks.

It was brokered by demand side response company EnerNOC, which aggregates and guarantees the demand reduction, and will help cut the huge peaks in demand that occur for fewer than 40 hours a year but require infrastructure spending that accounts for about 25 per cent of household power bills.

It could pave the way for similar deals with businesses and even households if smart meters are rolled out nationwide.

Smart meters collect more information about electricity use than ordinary meters. They can also send and receive information and remotely control electricity use, such as a proposal in a Senate report that households agree to savings by letting power companies shut down their appliances during peak periods of demand.

Iain MacGill, an electrical engineer and director of the University of NSW centre for energy and environmental markets, said the state government must ”bite the bullet” and commit to a potentially costly roll-out of smart meters to manage NSW’s electricity.

The Senate report, which will form the basis of the federal government’s package of power price reforms to be put to the states in December, proposed a national roll-out of smart meters.

Only about 20,000 NSW homes have the meters, compared with 1.3 million in Victoria, where the government aims to put them in every home by the end of next year.

As revealed by Fairfax Media on Wednesday, the Senate report into electricity pricing will recommend accreditation for demand side management companies, as well as a shift to ”cost reflective pricing” – allowing consumers to avoid the expensive peaks.

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Purler of a yarn on how women kept troops in comfortable socks

Duty calls … Janet Burningham inspects a sock knitted using a pattern probably similar to that used by the women below during WWI.HERE is a story from the days when love meant a clean, warm pair of knitted socks.
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Nobody knows how many grey wool socks Australian women knitted for the boys at the front during World War 1, but volunteer Janet Burningham of Heathcote can tell you exactly how long it takes to knit a pair.

Using a rare and annotated grey sock pattern, it took two weeks (squeezed in while catching the train or watching television) and about $20 worth of Patons’ 8-ply grey wool for Ms Burningham to reproduce the seamless socks. (Each sock would take about a day to knit without life interfering.)

Ms Burningham, a member of knitting group Wrap with Love, used a pattern that belonged to Irene Read, a keen knitter for the war effort nearly 100 years ago. About the size of today’s iPhone, ”The Grey Sock” kit is small enough to slip into a woman’s handbag. Its instructions were meant to be followed exactly to ensure the woollen hosiery was comfortable and warm.

Two copies of the pattern, one with handwritten reminders presumably learnt over repeated knittings, were found in a bequest to the State Library of NSW by descendants of Mrs Read, who accompanied her husband to Egypt in 1915 where Dr Read cared for the first Anzacs wounded at Gallipoli.

According to the library’s war specialist, Elise Edmonds, the grey sock is a symbol of how women on the home front contributed to the war effort. ”The First World War activated knitting needles across the country as women and girls mobilised their skills to support soldiers overseas,” she said.

In much the same way as today’s Wrap with Love volunteers meet to knit woollen blankets to send overseas, women during WWI would meet to knit socks for the troops overseas.

The troops never had enough socks because the wool rotted in the wet, muddy trenches. When socks went bad, so did feet, causing trench foot, which caused feet to swell, smell and rot. Corporal Archie A.Barwick wrote in the trenches of Ypres, Belgium, that he had not ”been dry since leaving Fricourt Camp some time ago” and his feet ”suffered so”.

Some days later, his platoon of 30 to 60 men received 14 pairs of clean socks, which were ”not enough but better than none at all”.

While today’s knitting patterns are the size of an A4 sheet and leave little to the imagination, Ms Burningham said the original pattern was a little hard to read because it was so small.

Once she got going, it was easy for Ms Burningham, an experienced sock knitter who recalls her mother knitting socks for the World War II effort. By the time Ms Burningham had turned 12, her mother had given her the ”tedious” task of knitting socks for her father.

”He was an army person, and he used to wear long stockings. And it is a long way down from the knee to the heel when you are knitting. [There’s] no interest at all,” she said.

The Grey Sock pattern and other war memorabilia, including a map and a diary, will go on display at the State Library of NSW from November 9, to mark Remembrance Day.

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Greens deal opens way for delayed national poker machine reform

CONTROVERSIAL watered down national poker machine reforms are set to be implemented after the Greens agreed to back the Gillard government’s scheme, which will also give the green light for a trial of mandatory precommitment in the ACT.
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After months of negotiation and several offers from the Greens to compromise if $1 bets were accommodated, the reforms will eventually lead to every poker machine in Australia offering punters the option to preset how much they are willing to lose.

The independent Andrew Wilkie has already ”reluctantly” declared support for the bill and lashed the Greens for standing in the way of unprecedented federal poker machine reform. Poker machine regulation is currently the domain of states.

Other key independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, have previously said they supported the ideas of the bill, without having actually seen it.

The Greens support should allow the bill to pass the lower house and guarantees it will go through the Senate.

The Greens will continue to campaign for a $1 maximum bet limit as the best way to curb problem gambling on poker machines. The gambling lobby is vehemently opposed to $1 bets.

To secure Greens support, funding has been pledged for a national gambling research institute.

In January the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, reneged on her deal with Mr Wilkie for a national scheme that would force all punters to preset how much they were willing to lose before they started gambling.

Facing a multimillion-dollar campaign from the clubs and pokies industry, particularly in marginal NSW and Queensland seats, the government said it did not have the support of the Parliament to pass the reforms.

Instead, the government offered a national voluntary scheme under which machines would allow punters the option of setting a loss limit. Mr Wilkie reluctantly agreed to back that option, but the government was unable to pass the legislation, with the Coalition and Greens against it.

Under the government’s plan all new machines would also have to be ready for mandatory precommitment, and all machines will have to have the technology by 2016.

If a trial was conclusive then a national network of mandatory precommitment could be activated by a future government.

Under the scheme there would be a national regulator and all pokies within a state would be eventually electronically linked.

The government’s bill also will include a $250 ATM withdrawal limit in poker machine venues where state laws do not already apply withdrawal limits.

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A few more hard knocks

Songs of joy: Jonathan Welch and the Choir of Hope and Inspiration, which grew out of the original Choir of Hard Knocks.JONATHON Welch, the Hard Knocks choirmaster who shone a musical spotlight on the homeless and hopeless five years ago, is visibly pained to speak about it. Fact is, this Australian Local Hero for 2008 has tried to avoid discussing the subject until now in the hope that his tribe of unlikely choristers might eventually get what they regard as their just rewards.
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But no, Welch has come to accept the fact that they are never going to resolve a dispute over the income from the CDs, DVDs and concerts from those glory years of 2007-08. This was the cause of the regrettable split in 2009 that saw musical director Welch and most of his ramshackle band of singers split from the charity organisation that partnered the concept, RecLink.

It was a bitter and regrettable end to what had been an inspiring project. A few choristers, upset at what they saw as an injustice, sought legal advice and even turned on Welch. One claimed his life had been ”ruined” after his name and criminal record appeared with one of the choir’s DVDs.

Welch says he has learnt some lessons from the experience, one being that the name ”Choir of Hard Knocks” was a problem from the start, ”because it was trademarked by the production company, which I didn’t know. I never went into making the TV series thinking it was going to be a huge success.

”Everybody kept saying, ‘this is going to be enormous’, but I just kept thinking: ‘I just want to get on with running the choir’.”

Welch says it was like a ”bushfire behind the scenes” during the break-up. ”There was a lot of money that came in from the concerts, sponsorships, donations – I know that 150,000 copies of the first CD were sold – and the choir members became increasingly upset, wanting to know where the money was and what was happening to it.

”My proposal was to set up the choir independently, with an independent audit of accounts, with RecLink remaining in partnership, but they said no.”

RecLink CEO Adrian Panozzo is adamant that all money raised – including more than $1 million in 2008 – went towards the Hard Knocks singing program. ”We are a registered charity with the Australian Tax Office, so every year of our operations we are required to be publicly audited,” says Panozzo.

”I feel it was more a difference in philosophy. But it was definitely a separation and it was upsetting for our staff and volunteers at the time. RecLink continues to have personal relationships with some of the people. We see them in our daily lives moving around town and a lot of choir members still attend our programs.”

When the dust of conflict eventually settled, Welch and his choir regrouped as the Choir of Hope and Inspiration and now, three years later, the concept that won the hearts of TV viewers across the nation is being reborn, bigger and more ambitious than before.

From a humble office in the arts district of Southbank, Welch and associate David Jones have just launched the School of Hard Knocks Institute, a broad-range educational facility that will teach singing and many other facets of the arts.

”I thought, why just have a choir when you can have an entire school?” says Welch, who this time made sure he registered the new name, cheekily linking it with the ”Hard Knocks” brand.

The school has a range of arts and wellbeing programs including creative writing, drama, and keyboard and drumming tuition. There is even a course in how to play the ukulele entitled ”Ukelear Power”.

In its first three months, the new school has gained the backing of 22 Australian arts, education and welfare organisations, including Mission Australia, Open Family, Brotherhood of St Laurence and Box Hill Institute.

In their role as de facto classrooms, Federation Square, Queen Victoria Market and even the Melbourne Cricket Ground have made space available.

”At the moment the programs are being piloted with many of the participants from our choir program,” says Welch.

”So we probably have about 100 [students] and they range across what you might call the disadvantaged spectrum. So we have five blind members, three guys in wheelchairs who have either had accidents or strokes – we have people with acquired brain injury. Most ranges of mental health, going from bipolar, schizophrenia, eating disorders, you name it.”

Welch says he had been pondering the idea of a school since the TV series screened. Many people had expressed interest in being involved but he wasn’t quite sure how to do it. ”I realised I was only one person, there was only so much I can do, and I had an enormous weight of responsibility on my shoulders with the choir and the demands on me after the documentary.

”I’ve just turned 54, so for me the next 10 years are really important in my working life. What I really want to do is build the capacity of many more people to run the programs.”

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Jonathon Welch who came up with the Choir of Hard Knocks as a TV concept. History credits TV producer Jason Stephens and his company FremantleMedia for that brainwave, although Welch had founded the Sydney Street Choir in New South Wales a decade earlier.

”Jason created the construct,” says Welch, ”and I think it was his wife who came up with the name, Choir of Hard Knocks.”

The idea has given birth to hundreds of choirs being created around the world: a Choir of Warm Socks, a Choir of One Knocker (a group of Brisbane women who have had breast surgery) and even a Choir of Hard Knox at Knox Grammar School in Sydney.

”I got an email the other day from Mackay – there’s a new one up there, Choir of Hidden Names or something. It is a great compliment but I don’t take credit for that and neither should Jason Stephens – that belongs to Pierre Anthian, who created Montreal Homeless Men’s Choir 20 years ago.”

That was where the story began for Welch. The Melbourne-born opera singer was staying with a friend in Canada in 2000 when a blizzard kept them indoors for three days.

”We were reading or watching movies,” recalls Welch. ”My friend had a copy of Reader’s Digest and pointed out an article he thought would interest me. The headline was ‘With a Song In Their Hearts’ and the story was about Montreal Homeless Men’s Choir.”

The article told of the 22 homeless men whom Anthian had formed into a ”ragtag collection” of choristers who had made their debut singing Christmas carols at a Montreal subway station in December 1996.

Their ages ranged from 19 to 68 and they had become the toast of Montreal, Toronto, Paris and New York.

”A light bulb went on,” says Welch. ”There was a picture of them and I could see the joy in their faces. I thought it was a great idea and when I got home to Sydney, I went about forming a Sydney homeless men’s choir.”

Unsure how to start, he had some flyers printed and quickly learnt his first lesson: the word ”homeless” was a no-no.

It might have worked in Montreal but in Sydney the street people were offended.

”I realised I would have to think more carefully about labels,” says Welch. ”Many of the homeless don’t identify themselves that way – they regard the street itself as their home.”

Welch said he eventually met Anthian, the pioneer of the street choir concept. ”Funnily enough,” says Welch, ”they had moved on from singing because they had similar problems to us with the organisation that was auspicing their funds.”

The Sydney Street Choir was officially launched on October 16, 2001, with the help of a variety of welfare agencies. There were 10 potential choristers at the first session, ranging in age from the late teens to early 20s. Welch’s partner, Matt, provided morning and afternoon teas.

They decided to put on a Christmas concert at Paddington Uniting Church with help from singer Marissa Denyer and the audience was boosted by members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, of which Welch was a musical director.

The success of the street choir led to an approach from Stephens in Melbourne, where the TV documentary was recorded in conjunction with the ABC and RecLink. It screened over five weeks in 2007.

The choir went on to record two CDs, perform before then-prime minister Kevin Rudd at Parliament House in Canberra, at the Melbourne Town Hall and the Sydney Opera House, a performance that was telecast by the ABC and won a Helpmann Award.

”We’re looking to the future now with the School of Hard Knocks,” says Welch.

He is positive about predictions by governments that in 20 years a quarter of the population will be retired. ”We’ll have all these wonderful professional retired teachers of music and arts and drama who may like to come back and give their services for a day or half a day a week.”

Welch has recently returned from working with choirs in Uganda, where English is widely spoken but in a less than fluent manner. ”However, you can teach them a song. I taught them Absolutely Everybody, that big hit from Vanessa Amorosi, and all of a sudden you had 400 little black faces and 50 white people singing along. Singing just bridges all languages, all cultures and all ages.”

The Choir of Hope and Inspiration still practises weekly and holds regular performances. Twenty of the original 47 members are still with the choir.

”The choir remains a really important stake in the fabric of their social life,” says Welch. ”No one yet has gone on to professional singing but many have gone to part-time work or study. One of them is just this year finishing his masters in psychology. He has a brilliant mind.”

Welch envisages his new Hard Knocks school as being along the lines of the Victorian College of the Arts – down the road from his office. ”This is a college for the disadvantaged,” he says. ”Many of the people involved won’t have had the chance to explore their own creativity or to work with professional artists and teachers. It’s a great gift to be able to pass on skills and give people opportunities.”

Lawrence Money is a senior writer.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Draw puts Hvasstan in the zone – Gelagotis

MANNY GELAGOTIS says Hvasstan has ”the whole package” after drawing gate nine for Saturday’s $1.5 million Victoria Derby (2500 metres) at Flemington.
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Gelagotis, who is stable foreman for his brother Peter at Moe, went to Wednesday’s barrier draw worried it could ruin the Fastnet Rock colt’s chances in the Derby.

”The barrier was more critical to what I thought about the horse’s chances than anything else,” Gelagotis said. ”Now we have drawn in the middle of the field, it will give Glen [Boss, jockey] options. He should be able to help to find a spot and put him to sleep, it’s one less thing that can go wrong. I couldn’t be happier with that gate.”

The draw has three of the favourites next to each other in the barriers, with $2.70 top pick It’s A Dundeel to Hvasstan’s ($7) immediate outside and Mark Kavanagh’s Super Cool ($7.50) in gate 11.

However, it was Gelagotis who was oozing confidence about the Norman Robinson winner heading towards Saturday.

”We have thought for a while he was one of the two best colts in Melbourne. His lead-up going into the Norman Robinson was excellent but it was there he showed how good he is,” Gelagotis said. ”He had to find a way to win, and I just liked the way the horse picked himself up off the deck there. He showed he had taken a massive step.”

Hvasstan overcame a bumping duel with Kabayan in the straight to drive through the inside and win the Norman Robinson. ”This horse has got the whole package. He has shown he can accelerate off a slow tempo and a fast one as well,” Gelagotis said. ”There are no chinks in his armour, he can quicken, he can stay, and I have no doubt he will run the trip.”

The Derby is likely to be run at a good pace, with Fiveandahalfstar and the Gai Waterhouse-trained Our Desert Warrior likely to push forward and set a solid tempo.

That will suit New Zealand trainer Murray Baker with It’s A Dundeel, which maintained his place at the top of betting even after he was beaten in the Mitchelton Wines Vase by Super Cool as a long odds-on favourite at the weekend.

”We aren’t going to be changing anything. He is going to get back,” Baker said. ”It is a very big field, and we will need to get the right run because there are a lot of horses that just won’t stay and will be out of gas on the turn. That [staying] isn’t a problem for us. He has tightened up a bit from that run last week, and it has really helped him.”

It’s A Dundeel will probably be better suited to the long stretches of Flemington but so will his conqueror at Moonee Valley, Super Cool.

”Before he went to Moonee Valley he was getting back and finishing off, and you would have thought Flemington was going to be the track he was looking for,” trainer Mark Kavanagh said. ”I’m happy enough with the barrier because it looks like it’s going to be a truly run race. It is up to Michael Rodd now, but if he can get him relaxed and settled, we know he has a real turn of foot at the end.”

Honorius ($6.50) firmed after drawing gate two to be $6 second elect in the TAB Sportsbet market.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.