Newcastle startup Herb Urban takes the guess work out of gardening for those who want to grow their own

TINKER TAILOR: Jared Lawlor, founder of Herb Urban, with an example of one of his smart garden systems. JARED Lawlor has a green thumb but when he moved into a Tighes Hill house a few years back he grew it –and a business – to next level proportions.
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Mr Lawlor andpartner Heidi took the sun for granted until they settled in thesouth-facing home, which enjoyed little drenching natural light beyond a small patch at the front fence.

“Being so used to growing herbs and veges we didn’t know what to do so I put my skills to the test,” says the electrical engineer.

He ran PVC pipes along a wall and developed a complex watering and plant nutrient system which quickly drew comments.

“Friendswere like ‘wow, that is a great idea’ and I soon realised it was and started to look at ways to simplify the system so the end user who didn’t have time or the inclination to do the tech stuff but wanted a garden could just set it and forget it,” he says.

Today Mr Lawlor’s startup Herb Urban is thriving, with plans to retail its smart gardening systems nationally and globally. It offers automatedgardening systems including vertical farms, urban farms and automated green wall systems, all of which turn on a controller with sensorsthat ensure plants receive the right amount of water and nutrients.

Greening spaces: A Herb Urban installation in Newcastle.

“It is a zero waste system – there is nothing out there on the market like it and I’ve designed this from scratch in Newcastle,”says Mr Lawlorof the product that he makes in the Islington co-workspace of carpenter Stu Pinkerton.

Watch my garden grow: The controller of the Herb Urban system is in the large box, which controls the water and nutrients given to the garden.

“The plants only get given what they will use and nothing more or less so they are living in a perfect state.”

Herb Urban will soon release its first commercial product, a DYI “plug and play” product allowing customers to buy and setup the system at home.

Out of the box: Herb Urban garden systems are horizontal and vertical and made to measure for urban spaces.

“The first units will be delivered around Newcastle but the product will be refined so we can go interstate and globally,” says Mr Lawlor.

He and his partner have long grown their own produce, keen to cutwaste associated withsupermarkets.

Mr Lawlor says Herb Urban grew from a pure desire to give people the ability to grow their own food without having to think about it.

“People who can gardentake it for granted, the knowledge base you have to build up over a long time; ifyou are gardening conventionally you have to cultivate soil and put time and sweat into it,” he says. “We wanted to take the guess work out of it.”

Mr Lawlor, a participant in The Business Centre’s Start House 100 innovation course, says many clients live in central Newcastle andwant to grow their own produce for sustainability and health reasons.With manyhavingan oversupply of produce, heplans to create a community of sharing via a local farmers markets stall or an online forum.

Dissecting the Amerika dream

Making independent films anywhere is never easy, but it’s that much harder in a country embroiled in a debt crisis.
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All really good Greek actors are working at two theatres simultaneously and making films on the side just to make ends meet, says Yannis Sakaridis, who nevertheless managed to round up a formidable cast in his film Amerika Square. The good thing, from a film-maker’s point of view, is that all the privation makes you nimble.

“You get really good practice when you work on a Greek film. We did this film in four weeks. A lot of people do it in less time. There is a lot of talent at the moment in shooting and acting, really good crews and I guess the weather always helps.”

Sakaridis lived in London for 18 years, so he has a point of comparison with an arts environment that is relatively flush. “And I realise that Athens is really a very modern place for art, with amazing theatre, music and novels being written. People matured very quickly after the crisis, I think. You miss something but you get something. I mean, there is obviously not enough money. But there is a lot going on.”

Amerika Square is an adaptation of a novel by Yannis Tsirbas that deals with another of Greece’s immediate issues: the fact that this cash-strapped country is the first staging post for refugees from Syria trying to get to Europe. The eponymous square is an unofficial meeting point for those new arrivals, those hoping to leave and the so-called “travel agents” who will supposedly smuggle them across borders.

“In the ’60s it used to be a place where all the artists used to be, but then it moved on,” says Sakaridis. “In the last few years it’s been like Casablanca.”

In the original novel, Victoria Doesn’t Exist, the story was told from the point of view of Nakos (Makis Papadimitriou), a fellow-traveller with fascist party Golden Dawn, whose personal sense of grievance is grounded in the fact that even in his late 30s, he still lives with his parents and can’t hold or generally get a job. His friendship with Billy (Yannis Stankoglou) goes back to their shared inner-city childhood, but Billy is almost the opposite: cool, liberal, curious, possibly harbouring a secret wish to do something heroic in his life.

In the film version, Billy becomes the central character, watching aghast as Nakos becomes increasingly fanatical. He can’t let him know about Tarek (Vassilis Koukalani) – the third major character – a Syrian doctor he is hiding in the basement of the cafe he runs. “We wanted to have three stories because we wanted to see the three representative ideologies and ways of dealing in that area,” Sakaridis says.

The average Greek is sympathetic to the refugees, who have had significant support from the current Greek government, Sakaridis says.

“Because we are a refugee nation. Thousands of Greeks came from the east, or their grandparents or great-grandparents like mine. My grandparents came from Istanbul in 1922 so I’ve got in my DNA a sort of refugee mentality.”

What is most remarkable is that Greece has produced a film like Amerika Square – now its national Oscar entry – which has been lauded by the international film press as “one of the best European films to date on the subject of immigration in all its painful implications”. That’s pretty good going on no money.

Penrith great Mark Geyer has endorsed Garth Brennan for the head-coaching vacancy at the Gold Coast.

IN THE HOT SEAT: Garth Brennan is tipped to be announced as Gold Coast coach on Thursday. Picture: Jonathan CarrollPenrith great Mark Geyer has endorsed Garth Brennan for the head-coaching vacancyat the Gold Coast, amid speculation the Titans will confirm his appointment on Thursday.
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Brennan is believed to have emerged atop a list of coaching candidates including sacked South Sydney coach Michael Maguire, Brisbane assistant Jason Demetriou and Ipswich’s coaching brothers Shane and Ben Walker.

Brennan’s credentials include winning the NSW Cup with Penrith in 2014 and the NSW Cup-NRL State Championship double this year after cutting his teeth as the club’s under-20s coach in 2012-13.

The former Newcastle Wests and Waratah-Mayfield fullback, who still lives at Stockton, also coached the Knights into the National Youth Competition finals in 2011.

“If it is true, geez, that’s a great result for the Titans because not only have they got a great coach, but they’ve got a great bloke,” Geyer said on Triple M Sydney on Wednesday.

“He’s got good intestinal fortitude. He’s all about making the player better. He’s not into politics. He doesn’t like the shit in the game. He just gets straight into what’s important and that’s the players and their performances on the footy field.

“They need a bloke to go in and be a great mentor and also going to be firm, but fair.”

Another premiership-winning ex-Panther, Martin Lang, wished Brennan luck and added that he is “going to need it”.

Lang said Brennan’s greatest challenge would be in managing enigmatic superstar Jarryd Hayne.

Hayne fell out with former Titans coach Neil Henry, who was subsequently sacked with a year to run on his contract.

“Everything I hear about him is very good,” Lang said of Brennan. “He’s got a great knowledge, good relationship with the players.

“But at the end of the day it will come down to how he handles Jarryd Hayne.

“I know these NRL jobs are few and far between but that’s a tough job to go into.”

Lang reckoned there were worse ideas than for the Titans and Panthers to trade Hayne and Matt Moylan if Brennan got the green light.

Moylan reportedly fell out with recently re-signed Penrith coach Anthony Griffin, missing the NRL finals campaign this year.

“Maybe he should swap him for Moylan at Penrith so Hayne can go to Sydney where he is happy, I don’t know,” Lang said. “But as a first-time coach Garth will know everybody needs to be treated differently.

“In many ways you have to treat someone like Hayne like a thoroughbred racehorse.

“But you have to set standards and if they are broken you have to pull everyone in line whether they are paid $1.2 million a year or $80,000.”

Lang said Hayne was just one dilemmaBrennan would faceat the Gold Coast.

A call on which consortium will buy the Titans off the NRL is not expected until November.

It is unclear whether Brennanwould relinquish his roleas New Zealandassistant coach at the World Cupjob if he securesthe Titans job.

Halfback Ash Taylor has also delayed contract extension talks until the Titans’ future is clearer but he becomes a free agent on November 1.

Other Titans can’t wait – prized utility Tyrone Roberts announced a surprise move to English Super League club Warrington from next season.

“There’s the club ownership, player retention, re-signing Ash Taylor, Roberts has gone to England – it’s a big call taking on the Titans job,” Lang said.

Schutt tunes up verbal barbs ahead of Ashes

n wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy will “bring the bitch back” for Sunday’s Ashes opener in Brisbane, and key quick Megan Schutt has vowed to play her part in an aggressive approach against England this summer.
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The visitors enter the Ashes with a swagger in their step after leapfrogging into the world’s No.1 ranking following their World Cup triumph in July where Schutt’s team was bundled out by India in the semi-finals.

That loss was particularly painful for the tournament favourites who have been stewing on their failed World Cup campaign ever since, and the Aussies are set to unleash three months of pent-up disappointment on England this weekend.

Healy declared last week there would be plenty of chatter from behind the stumps while England was batting throughout the series, and Schutt was keen to chime in not only with the ball, but with her razor-sharp wit.

“I didn’t think you could use the word bitch in media so that was great, I had a good laugh and I was like ‘Why haven’t I done that before?’,” Schutt said. “I love it, I love when Midge [Healy] comes out with that attitude because when she’s chirping I’m glad to be on the same side of it.

“We’ve talked about, until recently, we’ve been the No.1 team in the world for a long time and I think personally we should have a good presence out there.

“I’m not necessarily a sledger in a sense, but I just like to say things that are probably going to get in their head, and get them thinking about the game. Every now and again make a sly comment with a bit of a devil eye, that’s kind of what I do best.

“I’ve got piercings all over my face and ears so it’s intimidating.

“It’s not an arrogance thing, it’s a confidence thing and saying ‘Hey we’ve turned up to play a game of cricket’. I know I’m going to try and be chirpy out there, it’s something that I do well so I might as well do it.”

and England play three one-day internationals starting on Sunday before a day-night Test at North Sydney Oval starting on November 9.

That’s where Schutt will come into her own brandishing her deadly in-swing bowling, using a pink ball which is expected to move around under lights.

“I’ve had a few bowling sessions with the pink ball down back in Adelaide and the ball was moving,” Schutt said. “It was awesome, it was great to have a ball that from the get-go has got a bit of a seam and it was a bit more of a pronounced seam, I felt like I could hold it really well.

“I was getting movement which was lovely, and that just creates a good contest between the bat and the ball and at the end of the day that’s what you want to see in a Test match.

“That’s going to be really important especially on a deck that’s not going to be able to give too much to the bowlers, so hopefully under lights that ball’s moving a bit for me.”

Master of dragons’ genetic code scoops nation’s top science prize

Professor Jenny Graves with bearded dragons she named Malcolm and Bill for the announcement she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science at Parliament House Canberra on Wednesday 18 October 2017. Fedpol. Under embargo until 1700hrs Wednesday 18 October 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares SPECIALX KANGA SMH , NEWS , Kangaroo , Prof Jenny Graves with on of her subjects a pouched young Tammer Wallaby. Prof Graves is studing the kangaroo genome. Photograph taken on the 22nd of August 2002 by Andrew Taylor / jat
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Professor Jenny Graves may not be a mother of dragons, but she is the master of their genetic code.

She analyses bearded dragons’ genetic blueprint, or genome, and studies how, at higher temperatures, male eggs, with male genes, develop into females.

Having fewer males could decimate the species under climate change, but there is also a human dimension.

If environment can affect how dragon sex genes work, how does a pregnant human mother’s diet, for example, affect the way her unborn baby’s genes work?

Professor Graves’ curious expertise was rewarded on Wednesday with the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

She is the first solo woman to receive the nation’s top science prize.

Her accomplishments include mapping the genome of kangaroos and the platypus, and studying chromosomes of emus and Tasmanian devils.

Previous recipients include Wi-Fi inventor Dr John O’Sullivan, bionic ear creator Professor Graeme Clark and cervical cancer vaccine developer Professor Ian Frazer.

The University of Melbourne’s Professor Eric Reynolds won the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation for his discovery of a protein in dairy milk that repairs and strengthens teeth.

He commercialised the finding into Recaldent products, such as sugar free chewing gum and toothpaste, that are used in 50 countries.

Professor John Dewar, vice-chancellor of La Trobe University in Melbourne, where Professor Graves is based, said: “Her global contribution to the understanding of evolutionary genetics and sex determination in humans is extraordinary.”

Professor Graves, who has been a geneticist for 46 years, is “thrilled to bits” with the prize. “It’s an endorsement of a lifetime working with n animals, and with a lot of very talented young people.”

She says her comparisons with the human genome “enable us to figure out how genes work and how they evolved”, and can translate to medical breakthroughs.

The genetics of kangaroo milk, for example, “could give us information about how to nurture premature babies”.

Professor Graves’ research teams at La Trobe and at n National University in Canberra also identified 14 new human genes.

She famously predicted that the human Y chromosome, which makes men male, is degrading and will disappear in a few million years.

Professor Graves wasn’t interested in science at Adelaide’s Presbyterian Girls’ College until a class on breeding budgerigars in 1959 showed how mating a blue with a yellow budgie resulted in a green one. Green budgies’ offspring were either blue, green or yellow.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is fabulous’, and that led me into doing science at uni.”

After she returned to La Trobe in 1971, after studying for her PhD in cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, a colleague persuaded her to study the genes of kangaroos.

He had said n animals were so unlike those overseas “that it’s like an independent experiment in evolution”.

Professor Graves said that to succeed in science “you have to have a few brains, but, really, perseverance pays”.

She hopes her prize inspires girls to pursue science. “It’s a really exciting career. Every day is different. Everything you do is ‘a world first’. It might be important or not important, but it’s always new and I love that.”

Former Kambala principal sues over emails that painted her as ‘tyrannical’

Former Kambala principal Debra Kelliher is suing the school and two of its teachers for up to $2 million in damages, claiming that emails circulated about her after her departure made her out to be a “tyrant”.
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Ms Kelliher, 60, resigned from the Rose Bay school in April after staff issued a vote of no confidence in her leadership, following claims that a significant number of staff had left as a result of changes she had brought to the school.

She is suing for defamation in the NSW Supreme Court over an email sent by head music teacher Mark Grandison to various parents, staff and former staff shortly after her resignation. Social sciences department head June Peake then forwarded it with the rest of the email chain to 200 staff.

Ms Kelliher says the email carried the defamatory imputations that she had waged a “vicious and tyrannical” campaign against the school, had acted unethically as principal and displayed a complete lack of interpersonal skills.

According to Ms Kelliher’s statement of claim lodged with the NSW Supreme Court, the email was also defamatory in making her out to be so incompetent that there had been a chronic loss of staff, which would likely lead to worsening academic results for the school.

Kambala has denied the emails were capable of being defamatory, and argue they were incapable of further harming her reputation in any case because she had already lost the confidence of parents and staff.

But Ms Kelliher says the school should have warned staff not to make adverse comments on her performance in accordance with her deed of release, and should have issued an apology or retraction after the email was sent.

She is claiming aggravated damages because she claims the imputations are untrue. The claims published in the email had made her unemployable as a principal, and she had already failed to obtain even an interview for comparable position, she says.

According to her statement of claim, the school was $12 million in debt when she became principal in 2014.

But she uncovered the fraudulent misappropriation of school funds by its former business manager Ian MacCulloch, who later pleaded guilty to defrauding the school of $400,000, the statement of claim says.

School records also showed that the former principal Margaret White had charged the school $650,000 in expenses over four years, including for personal items such as clothes, jewellery and hair and beauty appointments, Ms Kelliher alleges in her statement of claim.

Meanwhile staff leave practices were “irregular at best”, heads of department had “extremely light” teaching loads and staff enjoyed privileges such as travel with their spouses to international conferences that held little value for the school, there were gifts from the former principal and “extravagant” morning teas.

Department budgets were overspent, the physical assets of the school were run down and there was significant bullying and dysfunction among staff.

“Despite the school’s Anglican tradition, not only was there little real Christian practice, but there was open mocking of religion by staff members.”

But Ms Kelliher claims to have turned around the school’s financial position, retained its academic position, improved anxiety and suicidal ideation among the girls, rebuilt a relationship with the Old Girls’ Union and had overseen increased enrolments.

She alleges Mr Grandison was motivated by his personal dislike for her and his opposition to decisions she had made, such as refusing to buy a $300,000 Steinway piano when he sent the email.

This was even though she had requested the school council to continue a full scholarship for his daughter when the finance committee had questioned it, her statement of claim says.

It also says Ms Peake was motivated by “malice and spite” in circulating the email chain to 200 staff members, because she had been officially warned not to speak disrespectfully about senior staff, use an inappropriate nickname for a staff member or belittle and upset her colleagues.

Kambala and the two teachers deny in their defence filed with the Supreme Court that Ms Kelliher had suffered injury to her reputation as a result of the emails being circulated, but to the extent that the defamatory meanings were carried they were substantially true.

According to the defence, a large number of parents had complained about Ms Kelliher in the month before her resignation and more than 80 staff recorded a vote of no confidence in her in March.

They were concerned about the systems she had implemented, the loss of staff and the effect on Kambala as an educational institution, the defence says.

The day after a meeting of 100 staff and council members on April 7, Ms Kelliher was forced to resign.

Mr Grandison and Ms Peake published the emails in the belief that they were true and they were responding to an “attack” in a Sydney Morning Herald article that said she had resigned in response to a “nasty campaign”, according to the defence.

They claim that the damage was mitigated because Ms Kelliher had a reputation for unethical and bullying conduct, causing a large number of staff to leave and mismanaging the school to such an extent its future academic performance was at stake.

Ms Kelliher said in a statement that she felt it necessary to sue over the email, which had been widely distributed.

“We will argue the statements are completely at odds with the evidence that exists regarding the school’s academic record and my performance as Principal of Kambala,” she said.

“To that end, I have been touched by the phone calls and emails I have received since I left the school and would like to take the opportunity to thank the staff, students and parents who continue to support me.”

The school’s legal representative did not return calls on Wednesday.

Newcastle’s WNBL bid put on hold for at least 12 months

NEWCASTLE’S hopes ofentering a team in the Women’s National Basketball League have been deferred for at least 12 months.
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Newcastle Basketball had been aiming for inclusion in the 2018-19 season, after receiving $5 million in state government funding last October to build a 2000-seat stadium capable of hosting national-league games.

But construction of the stadium, which is expected to take nine months, is still yet to start, after it was delayed by a land claim on the site made by the Awabakal Aboriginal Land Council.

Next WNBL season would be likely to start in early October, 2018.

OLYMPIAN: Suzy Batkovic

Meanwhile, Newcastle Basketball’s initial expression of interest with regards to next seasonhas not progressed into acompliant business plan.

In the circumstances, Basketball recently told Newcastle officials there was “no possibility” of entry in 2018-19 and to instead focus on making a successful bid for season 2019-20.

Basketball ’s priority for next season is to establish a team inBrisbane, increasing the league from eight teams to nine.

WNBL general manager Paul Maley told the Herald on Wednesday it was decided the best course of action was for Newcastle “to take the foot off the pedal” and accept that 2018-19 entry would be unattainable.

OLYMPIAN: Katie Ebzery

“In terms of the growth strategy, the Brisbane market is the No.1 priority,” Maley said.

“What that meant for Newcastle is that we wanted to let them know immediately that there is no possibility of entering next season. The earliest consideration would be for season 2019-20.

“We thought it was better to advise them that there was definitely no possibility for next year so that they don’t rush in and put a whole lot of time, effort and resources into producing a bid.”

Maley said that even if construction of the new stadium was under way, it was unlikely that Newcastle would have been considered for next season.

“It’s really more a matter of prioritising Brisbane,” he said.

“That as a strategic priority sits above everything else …that’s not to say we will have a team in Brisbane next year, because we will need to receive a successful bid.”

Maley said factors like population and location meant itwould “make sense” to eventually have a WNBL team based in Newcastle.

“We haven’t established a time line with Newcastle,” he said.

“We need to. But right now, all we have said is take your foot off the pedal for the time being.What we have to do is give them a time line so that they know what they have to work to.”

Newcastle Basketball general manager Neil Goffet said the governing body’sdecision“might be a blessing”, given that it was unclear whenconstruction would start on the stadium.

HOPEFUL: Neil Goffet

“We are working on our bid and we just have to make sure it’s so good that BA can’t refuse us entry into the 2019-20 season,” Goffet said.

“There needs to be a lot of community support, but it’s a great time to be involved with women’s sport in with so much of it now fully professional and televised, like the new Fox Sports deal for the WNBL.”

He was hopeful to have some clarity on the stadium time frame soon. It was reported in August that Awabakal was withdrawing its land-rights claim.

“We have been working closely with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Minister Barilaro’s office to get the best outcome for Newcastle and the Hunter Region with regard to the stadium development,” he said.

“There are a few things in the pipeline that will hopefully come to fruition in the near future.”

Newcastle officials are hopeful home-grown Olympians Suzy Batkovic and Katie Ebzerywill be involved if and when the city secures entry into the WNBL.

Pulver hits back at latest senate inquiry claims

Outgoing ARU chief Bill Pulver has hit back at allegations raised in Monday night’s final senate inquiry hearing, which suggested former Melbourne Rebels owner Andrew Cox siphoned millions of dollars of grant money into non-rugby interests.
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It was ARU chairman Cameron Clyne’s turn to defend the culling of the Western Force when he faced questions in Canberra from senator Linda Reynolds, who alleged up to $6 million of Rebels funding provided by the national body was funnelled into Cox’s various companies.

The Force’s drawn-out axing from the Super Rugby competition in August led to two failed court appeals and a senate inquiry, which is expected to deliver a report in mid-November.

Pulver fell on his sword following the announcement the Force would be removed from the competition and will leave his post as chief executive as soon as a replacement is found.

Speaking to Fairfax Media on Wednesday after announcing a home three-Test series against Ireland to be played in June next year, Pulver rubbished the suggestions about the former Rebels owner.

“My understanding is that’s complete nonsense,” Pulver said.

“The funding relationship between the n Rugby Union and the Rebels was a confidential document.

“We review all their financials. He also had a business partner, he owned a majority of the entity and there was a minority shareholder.

“I am not aware of him siphoning money off into other businesses. Where that’s coming from I have no idea.”

West n mining magnate Andrew Forrest offered a reported $50 million to the ARU to keep the Western Force in the competition, but that was rejected.

Forrest announced in the aftermath of the Force’s demise that he planned on starting a rebel rugby competition involving teams from the Indo-Pacific region.

The ARU has developed a working party headed by deputy chairman Dr Brett Robinson that has been working with World Rugby to help facilitate the implementation of the new competition, but Pulver said there was still much to be done if the rebel league was to get off the ground by 2018.

“It’s a pretty rigorous process, n Rugby and World Rugby ultimately have to approve any international competition like that,” Pulver said.

“It’s a lot of work to set up an international competition like that so we’re working very closely with them. They’re also reaching out to other countries that might be involved and they’re also having meetings with World Rugby, so there’s a lot of engagement going on.

“It’s their time frame not ours. Our understanding is [Forrest] is keen to get the first version of this competition up and running next year, in which case there’s an awful lot to do.”

The ARU has appointed a recruitment firm to seek a replacement for Pulver, who hopes to leave his post by Christmas, and an interview process will begin in the coming weeks.

Pulver plans to take the year off once a new chief executive is appointed.

Ireland president Michael Higgins was in Sydney on Wednesday to announce the first three-Test series to be played between and their northern hemisphere rivals.

Brisbane will host the series opener on June 9, before games in Melbourne (June 16) and Sydney (June 23) as the Wallabies look to extend their unbeaten run against the Irish on n soil, which stretches back to 1979.

“There’s been a wonderful rivalry between our two teams in recent years and, in particular, the Irish team has performed superbly in the last couple of years,” Pulver said.

“We are neck and neck vying for that No.3 and No.4 position in the world. We’re sincerely looking forward to having a sea of green up and down the eastern seaboard June next year.”

Ireland have put together a submission to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, up against France and South Africa. is one of 39 voting bodies that will decide which bid is successful.

The Footy Show lasted longer than Fatty would have ever imagined

You’re right.
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Under the circumstances, it is a little difficult to talk about the abrupt departure of a major Channel Nine star, without being compromised every which way, but let’s do it anyway.

I refer, of course, to the sudden end of Fatty Vautin and The Footy Show, and must, as ever, disclose that I do regular work for Nine myself, as does my wi … oh, wait!

In the world of sports media, it is one of the more significant events of the year, the end of an era, the final burying of a show whose demise has been predicted for the better part of two decades, and …

And right there is one of the problems. For starters, those under 40 will have just about no memory of what Vautin was like as a player.

The answer is, he was a bloody good one, playing for Manly, the Roosters, Queensland and the Kangaroos, even though – and this was part of his charm – he didn’t particular look like one. See, though a player in the era of Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga, he had nothing like the skill of the former, and was perhaps just half the muscle mass of the latter. But he was passionate, enduring and more often than not on the winning side of things, including captain of the 1987 Manly side that won the premiership.

“I had a great run,” Vautin acknowledged to Brendan Jones of WSFM fame, on Wednesday. “Especially for a short, chubby, redhead who played for both Manly and Queensland. That’s not a career, that’s a miracle.”

That is Vautin all over – always the one with the funny quip, the twinkle in his eye and the one right in the middle of the colourful stories. My own favourite goes back to the 1987 Origin series when Wayne Bennett picked a young bloke from Ipswich called Alfie Langer in the Queensland side. In one of the first team meetings, there was open discussion between Bennett and Lewis as to how best to go about covering for Langer’s presumed defensive deficiencies. Should he go in the second line or out wide?

Having listened to the discussion for as long as he could, Vautin could bear it no more.

“Hey, he’s a Queenslander!” he roared. “He won’t let us down. He’ll play where he normally plays.”

(Which Langer did, mowing down anything that moved just on suspicion, and won the man-of-the-match award.)

With a fund of such stories to draw on and an inexhaustible supply of quintessentially n quips, Vautin prospered in the media from the first, and though he started with a bits and pieces role at Channel Seven, it was at Channel Nine from the early 1990s onwards that he truly found his feet.

No, he couldn’t dissect a game like Peter Sterling, or call one like Ray Warren, but he was strong and his passion always shone through. While some thought commentators should be neutral, that was never Vautin’s go and in Origin matches, he would sometimes forget himself and roar, as those from north of the Tweed were getting close to the line, “Go, go, GO!!!”

He also shone with Kerry Anne Kennerley with regular appearances on the Midday Show. He was so good that in the latter months of 1994 he was given his own show to host, The Footy Show where, again, he shone from the first.

The basic idea was that instead of deadly earnest analysis of football, you’d have fun with it and yes, it included lots of embarrassing skits that invariably involved the likes of Vautin and Steve “Blocker” Roach, putting on women’s dresses. It was not to everyone’s taste, but enough people loved it that it became iconic, and though it had many transformations over the years, the one thing that never changed was Vautin, with his twinkle, his head-wobbles, his catchphrases, “Turn it up”, “I’ll get back to you shortly” and “That’ll do me”.

Outside of the studio, he was never particularly hard-working but he was always popular with floor crew, producers, camera, makeup people etc. There were never stories about Fatty behaving badly, because he was off-camera exactly what he was on camera, a really good bloke.

His key love through all those years, beyond his family, was playing golf. He could never quite believe that he had landed such a well-paying gig, just for being himself, and was always open about how lucky he was with everything that had happened to him and how Nine, as he said to me once, “looks after me like a silkworm”.

The fact that The Footy Show is now over for him is, as he would be the first to acknowledge, not bad luck. It is simply the end of era – and one that lasted much longer than he ever thought it would have.

So good on you, Fatty. I am not sure if there is a sports media hall of fame, but if they start one, and I get to be a judge, you and Sterling would be my first two picked from the ranks of rugby league players.

Go well, and I look forward to seeing you around the traps.

On board the dredger “David Allan”

On board the dredger “David Allan” The hull of “David Allan” splits to release the load in its hopper off the Newcastle coast.
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Preparing to leave from Dyke 6.

Crew members Mick Crabb and Damien Dunphy on board “David Allan”

“David Allan” leaving its berth

“David Allan” leaving its berth

Crew members preparing “David Allan”

“David Allan” deck

Crew member Mick Crabb

Crew member Damien Dunphy

“David Allan” heads down the South Arm

“David Allan” heads down the South Arm

Crew member Damien Dunphy

Crew member Damien Dunphy

“David Allan” in Newcastle harbour. Picture: Simone De Peak

Crew member Mick Crabb operates the drag head and pump on “David Allan”. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The dredging equipment on “David Allan” is lowered

Preparing to pump silt and water into the hopper

Silt and water pour into the hopper

Silt and water pour into the hopper

Silt and water pour into the hopper

“David Allan” heads out with a full hopper towards the disposal ground.

“David Allan” heads out with a full hopper towards the disposal ground.

“David Allan” in Newcastle harbour

“David Allan” in Newcastle harbour

“David Allan” heading out to sea

Colin O’Donnell, foreground.

Port of Newcastle’s Keith Wilks studies a chart on the bridge.

Colin O’Donnell watches the load pour into the sea at the disposal ground

Crew member Doug Robinson

The hull opens to release the load into the sea

“David Allan” in Newcastle Harbour. Picture: Simone De Peak

TweetFacebookDavid Allan as its hull splits down the middle and its load pours into the sea.

This is not a maritime disaster I’m witnessing. David Allan is designed to do this, and the ship’s hull iscleaved apart a number of times every day.

Still, it’s a disconcerting sight, to be peering at the swell through a ship’s split hull.

David Allan deliberately opens itselfto the sea so that other ships’ hulls don’t become stuck on the bottom of Newcastle harbour. For David Allan is a dredger, picking away at the Hunter River’s muddy mouth and keeping clear the commercial shipping channel and berths in what is one of ’s busiest ports.

MAKING WAY: Silt and water sucked from the bottom of the shipping channel in Newcastle harbour pour into the hopper of “David Allan”. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll

OF the more than 2200 ships that cruise in and out of Newcastle harbour each year, none is seen more often than David Allan. It is perhaps the most visible vessel on the water, for it seems to be a constant presence.

Even the most casual observer of harbour life would have noticed this 71-metre vessel, as it ploughs in and out past Nobbys or slowly picks its way around the port.

“It’s just like a great, big vacuum cleaner,” says Keith Wilks, Port of Newcastle’s executive manager operations and infrastructure.

The ship’s official title is a trailing suction hopper dredger (TSHD), which, Wilks explains, is essentially what David Allan does; it drags a trail, sucks in what it stirs up, and that poursinto the ship’s hopper. The processis dredging.

To see the TSHD in operation, Keith Wilks and David Allan’s crew of seven invite the Herald on board. Wilks can quickly find his feet on a ship’s deck. He went to sea for the best part of a decade and, before this job, he worked for the tug company Svitzer and was involved in the Pasha Bulkersalvage operation in 2007.

“David Allan” in Newcastle harbour. Picture: Simone De Peak

David Allan is berthed at Dyke 6, on the edge of the former BHP steelworks site,in the Hunter River’s South Arm.

On the other side of the river, along the Kooragang shore, are a few of the reasons David Allan’s work is crucial.

A row of bulk carriers is being loaded with Hunter coal, each tonne pushing the massive hulls ever closer to the harbour bottom.By the time some of these ships depart, there may be clearance of little more than a metre in the channel. David Allan provides certainty for those on board that there’senough water under them in the port.

“A ship has to have uniform depth; it’s critical in keeping a port going,” Wilks says.

The dredger maintains the channel at a depth of 15.2 metres from the breakwalls to the Kooragang 10 berth in the river’s South Arm, which is a distance of about nine kilometres.

“It’s a lot of channel for us to maintain,” Wilks says. David Allan also keeps clear 20 ships’ berth boxes, and the Basin area off Carrington to a depth of 12.8 metres.

David Allan is on the harbour seven days a week. Its role is ceaseless, flowing on as surely as the river that makes the ship’s place in the port so necessary. The Hunter carries the silt into the harbour, and the dredger clears at least some of it.

“David Allan” heads out with a full hopper towards the disposal ground.

The Port of Newcastle is licensed by the federal government to remove 650,000 cubic metres of silt and sand a year. On average, Wilks says, about 500,000 cubic metres are removed annually. About 30,000 cubic metres of sand are removed from the harbour entrance. The rest is silt that has come down the river.

“We help it on its way, because it’s coming anyway,” Wilks says. “It’s fair to say the Hunter River is a fairly disturbed system.”

The river becomes more disturbed after major storms, and what is washed into the Hunter upstream will most probably show up in the harbour, creating even more work for the crew. After the 2007 “Pasha Bulker” storm, Wilks says, there was so much sediment the channel lost about a metre and it took six months of dredging to clear.

“Probably in nooks and crannies, they’d still have [silt from] the Pasha Bulker storm in there,” he says.

“Most of the silt comes down the North Arm,” he explains, because it is broader and shallower than the South Arm, and the particles are carried along more quickly, before a lot of it is dumped in the slow sweep of the river off Stockton known as the Horseshoe.

PLANNING: Port of Newcastle’s Keith Wilks examines a chart in the bridge.

That is the area the dredger is bound for on this day. The port’s hydrographic survey team has been measuring the harbour’s depth in the vessel JT Gowlland, and its data determines what parts need dredging. So that information has helped set the course for David Allan.

The ship doesn’t begin at one end of the port and works its way down. Rather, “we jump around according to what needs dredging,” explains Wilks.

“And dredging can’t get in the way of shipping movements.”

After he has coaxed David Allan away from the wharf and we cruise downstream, Trent Hollis, who is the ship’s master today, points to patches of pink on a computer screen. That’s what has to be dredged. Hollis will guidethe ship, while crew member Mick Crabb, who is sitting beside him, will operate the drag head and pump.

Crabb has been a crew member for about six years, and before this, he worked on gas tankers and rigs, mostly off ’s north-west coast.

Crew member Mick Crabb operates the drag head and pump on “David Allan”. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The dredgercruises at under two knots, while the drag head is lowered over the starboard side and into the mud.

“The first law of dredging – don’t go backwards,” says crew member Colin O’Donnell, who has worked on the ship for 25 years.

The first law is followed, the pumping begins, and a slurry pours into the hopper. It looks as though the harbour is being turned upside down, as the mud and water flow in. Keith Wilks says the sediment is sampled and tested before it is pumped up and disposed of out to sea.

“What we’ve seen over time is a general improvement,” he says, citing the closure of the BHP works as contributor to a cleaner harbour bottom.

The hopper, which holds about 1100 cubic metres, is quickly filled.

The ship’s bow points to the immensity beyond Nobbys, and Trent Hollis hands over control of David Allan to crew member Jon Baxendale to guide her out to sea.

“She’s not too bad, very responsive,” says Baxendale, a second-generation mariner, as David Allan picks up pace at the touch of open water. “And I get a kick out of going to sea; it must be in the blood.”

The dredger doesn’t head out when the sea is angry. But today, the swell is about one and a half metres, and David Allan nods and gently sways, as Baxendale steers her to the disposal ground. The site is a one kilometre-square area, containing, on a chart at least, 100 “boxes”. This load is to be dumped above “Box 15”.

Trent Hollis orders a turn to starboard to “slow it down for the hole”.

“Coming around!,” responds Baxendale.

David Allan steadies and then her hull parts on large hydraulic hinges.

“It splits 27 degrees,” says Colin O’Donnell.

The hull of “David Allan” opens to dispose of its load of silt and water

The deck rises like a seabird’s wings, exposing the swell. One of the crew later says that as a mariner, it’s a disturbing sight:“Ships aren’t usually meant to split open.”

Within about 10 seconds, the hopper is empty, and the hull is sealed once more.David Allanpushes towards the harbour entrance. The dredger makes this voyage on average five times a day.

On the way back in, Colin O’Donnell scans the water. Despite him having made this voyage thousands of times, he mutters, “there’s always something different happening on the water, always something”.

Brought up in Kurri Kurri, O’Donnell went to sea in the 1960s as a cadet on theIron Wyndham, part of the BHP fleet that would load and unload in that stretch now occupied byDavid Allan.

Colin O’Donnell, foreground, on the bridge of “David Allan”

He has seen remarkable changes on the harbour and along its shores, a lot of it shaped by this ship he is on. When O’Donnell joined the David Allan in 1992, the BHP steelworks was still operating, and there were only a couple of coal-loading berths. He is amazed by the transformation of the South Arm, particularly at the Kooragang berths upstream, where great ships are nudged into the bank.

“All that up the river was just about swamp,” he recalls. “You could walk across parts.”

But some things don’t change.

“It’s one of those things that if you come back in 150 years, they’ll still be dredging the port of Newcastle,” O’Donnell muses.

The ship’s relief master, Trent Hollis.

If you went back more than 150 years, there was dredging in the port.

In the late 1850s, Edward Moriarty, who was the engineer for Hunter River Improvements, devised a plan for developing the harbour. From 1859, continuous dredging took place on the harbour. Within two years, he could report that parts of the harbour had been deepened by 10 feet, or just over three metres.

Yet maintaining the port was an unrelenting challenge then, as it is now. In 1889, TheIllustrated Sydney Newsreported how “a good safe enclosed harbour has been secured; but unfortunately, owing to the immense quantity of sediment brought down by the Hunter River, dredging operations have to continually kept up”.

The same story could well be published today.

“This never ends, we’re always on the river,” Keith Wilks says. “Unless you stop erosion, it’s just going to keep on coming.”

HAVING helped clear a path for other ships,David Allanthen stays out of their way in the port.

Trent Hollis is alerted that a bulk carrier,Star Artemis, has just “lifted off” from the Kooragang 9 berth and is heading down the South Arm. He has to work out where to pass the fully laden ship.

“We can’t stay in the channel,” Hollissays.

Hollis peers at his paper charts then at a computer screen that marks other vessels on an automatic identification system, before looking up and out.

“Whatever we’re looking at electronically, you verify it by what you see out the window,” he explains.

The 44-year-old has been on ships for almost half his life. He’s been on water for much longer. He grew up by Lake Macquarie. Hollis has been onDavid Allanfor four years and is the Mate and ReliefMaster.

“It’s a good position,” he says, “and it can be stressful at times. The biggest stress is being aware of other vessels . . .You’ve got to be a step ahead.”

“David Allan” with Nobbys off its stern

Just below Walsh Point, near where the North and South arms meet, Trent Hollis takes control to pass the approaching bulk carrier. He takes the dredger just out of the channel, andStar Artemislumbers by.

“I take a lot of pride in this,” says Hollis. “We realise how important it is to maintain those draughts of the big vessels.”

For if ships are stuck, a lot of trade would be left high and dry. In 2016, almost $16.7 billion worth of exports passed through the the port. While coal accounted for the bulk of that, everything from wheat to aluminium was shipped out.What’s more, almost $2 billion in products were imported through the port.

“If we lost depth [in the port], then farmers can’t expect their wheat to be exported,” says Keith Wilks. “A lot of people rely on this port.”

SoDavid Allan, he concludes is more than a constant presence on Newcastle harbour; it’s a vital one.

“It’s playing an important role in keeping an economy going,” Keith Wilks says, “and not just in the region, but also inthe state and the nation.”

Brambles wears shareholder wrath over exec pay

Brambles will overhaul pay for its senior executives in the face of an investor backlash that almost delivered the company a first strike vote against its remuneration report.
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Following a year that saw the global pallet giant ditch profit targets in the face of strong competition and changing dynamics for its important customers, Brambles copped strong protest votes from investors at its annual general meeting.

The final vote tally was 76.77 per cent in favour with 23.23 per cent against, so the company avoided the 25 per cent no vote threshold for a first strike.

Shareholders also voted strongly against the re-election of long-serving chairman Stephen Johns with proxy votes lodged ahead of the meeting recording a 24.77 per cent vote against his continuing on the board.

The re-appointment of director Brian Long also attracted a hefty 18.2 per cent vote in opposition from shareholders ahead of the meeting.

The shareholder angst came as Maurice Blackburn also announced on Wednesday it was seeking to build a class action against Brambles after it downgraded its earnings guidance earlier this year.

The changes to executive pay will see Brambles able to clawback long and short term bonus awards of shares which had been awarded to executives but that had not yet vested.

“I would like to acknowledge shareholders’ disappointment with the company’s performance [in the 2017 year],” Mr Johns told the meeting in Sydney on Wednesday.

“This disappointment is reflected in the lower level of shareholder support for some of this year’s resolutions to be considered at today’s meeting.

“I want you to understand that the board also shares your disappointment and is united in overseeing the effective management of the company on behalf of you, our shareholders.”

Mr Johns told shareholders that he expected there would not be a repeat of the poorer 2017 result pointing to the company’s previous record of growth.

“We hope and expect to return to those [returns] in future years, we are looking for a return to very, very good figures and very good performance,” he said.

The board had opted not to pay any short-term bonus for the 2017 financial year to former chief executive Tom Gorman, who left Brambles earlier this year.

Director Tony Froggatt said the company had reviewed its payment structure leading to a recasting of executive remuneration.

Key changes included a shift towards using underlying profit as the key measure for the determination of bonuses, delivering greater powers to the board to clawback bonuses and restrict the trading in shares by the chief executive.

Mr Froggatt said the changes would better align the interests of executives and shareholders.

n Shareholders’ Association representative Mary Curran raised concerns that new chief executive Graham Chipchase had retained his position as a director of AstraZeneca which was worth about $1 million a year and could be a distraction given it has faced its own challenges.

“I think we need his full attention because [total shareholder return] is dismal, in fact we have had a palletful of poor returns,” Ms Curran said.

Mr Johns said Mr Chipchase gained valuable experience from his board position but that he had agreed to relinquish it if it interfered with his Brambles’ responsibilities.

One investor who indicated he would vote against Mr Johns’ re-election said the chairman was in an “awkward” position.

“Last year he told us all was well with the company. Obviously he didn’t know what the reality was or didn’t reveal it,” he said.

Stars hope Pietersen can play on beyond 2018

While Kevin Pietersen has declared his English Twenty20 career is over, the Melbourne Stars hope the England batting great has more than a season left in his Big Bash League career.
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Pietersen’s two-year deal with the Stars expires after this summer’s campaign, with the 37-year-old hopeful of another strong campaign amid what shapes as a powerful batting line-up.

Stars chief executive Clint Cooper dined with Pietersen, in Sydney for a promotional shoot, on Monday night.

He said the Stars’ list management team would wait until the end of the summer before consulting with the flamboyant star about his future.

“He has got everything to play for. If he plays the way he did last year, why wouldn’t he want to go around again? At this stage of his life, it’s what opportunities are in front of him and what is more important for his family,” Cooper told Fairfax Media.

“Regardless of whether he plays or doesn’t play on with us, he will certainly be involved with the club in some capacity. We had a club [event] around his rhino contribution [last summer], and that has gone worldwide. We will continue to work on that. He has been sensational for us, on and off the field, and I think we have been sensational with him, too.

“You only have to go back to the last Ashes campaign, and the perception of him from the n public is very different to what it was back then.”

Pietersen was eighth on the BBL run-scoring list last summer, but did not have the influence he had hoped for. Overall, he had a team-high 268 runs at 38.28 in eight matches, at a strike rate of 128.22. He passed 50 only twice and did not reach three figures. He had led the league with 323 runs at 40.37 in nine matches a year earlier, with a strike rate of 159.11 and four half-centuries.

Adelaide’s versatile power hitter Ben Dunk was the competition’s leading run-scorer last summer, with 364 at 52, including three half-centuries, and he has signed with the Stars.

“Essentially, we will review the entire list towards the end of the season. Someone like Kevin, who is an absolute superstar and done incredibly well for our club over the last three years, it basically is a year-by-year proposition at that age,” Cooper said.

“He certainly has a lot to offer … but as he inches closer to retirement other interests come in.”

Pietersen is likely to also have commentary duties in an Ashes summer, ensuring he will have plenty of time to prepare for the BBL.

“He is training relatively well. He will be out here for the summer, which is great. We will have a bit of time to get some practice into him, which will be terrific,” Cooper said.

Pietersen confirmed his career in England was over in August, after Surrey bowed out in the quarter-finals of the T20 Blast. He had managed only two matches because of a calf injury.

He said at the time he would continue to play T20 cricket overseas, and spend more time involved in his wildlife conservation programs in South Africa.

The Stars have confirmed they will play a practice match against the Hobart Hurricanes under lights at Traralgon Recreation Reserve on December 15. The expanded BBL begins on December 19, with the Stars, under new captain John Hastings, opening their campaign in Brisbane against the Heat on December 20.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne Renegades have added Gayle While, the deputy chief executive of Clemenger Melbourne, to their board. The board comprises Jason Dunstall (chairman), Paul Jackson, Jamie McPhee, Chris Nikou, Liam Pickering, Suzana Ristevski and While.

‘A fiscal termite eating away at the foundations of our corporate tax system’

Labor MP for Lilley and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, poses for a portrait in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Labor MP for Lilley and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, poses for a portrait in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Former treasurer Wayne Swan has launched another extraordinary attack on mining giant BHP, labelling it ‘s “worst tax dodger” and linking a million dollar bonus to the company’s CEO to his success at minimising tax.

Under the cover of parliamentary privilege, Mr Swan called BHP “a fiscal termite eating away at the foundations of our corporate tax system” and rubbished the company’s claims to be a global leader in tax transparency and corporate responsibility.

The world’s biggest miner has been in a long-running dispute with the n Tax Office over assessments spanning 11 years that total $661 million in primary tax, plus interest and penalties that take it to more than $1 billion. Under dispute is the margin on mark-ups on commodities sold to its Singapore marketing business, which many argue is a ploy to avoid tax in .

BHP strongly denies this accusation.

But Mr Swan said the BHP dispute accounted for a quarter of the ATO’s total $4 billion total corporate tax disputes, and accused the company of “pillaging the n Treasury and short-changing the n people, pure and simple”.

The backbench Labor MP – who clashed with the resources sector over his failed mining tax – also took aim at the company’s “self-righteous” leadership, claiming chief executive Andrew Mackenzie’s latest million dollar bonus was linked to tax evasion. Tax representation is listed as one of Mr Mackenzie’s performance indicators in the company’s 2017 annual report.

“In essence, BHP’s board have awarded their CEO a million dollar bonus for a billion dollars avoided in tax,” Mr Swan said.

“A million dollar bonus for organising aggressive tax minimisation through a tax haven resulting in one of the largest tax disputes in n history. A million dollar bonus for enhancing transparency and tax reputation when the company’s current tax affairs can only be described as a high farce.”

BHP declined to comment on Mr Swan’s speech but a company source dismissed his claims around executive remuneration as ridiculous.

In its latest economic contribution report the company described its dispute with the ATO as “complex”.

“BHP does not agree with the ATO’s position. Consequently, we have objected to all of the amended assessments and intend to continue to defend our position, including by initiating court action if necessary,” it said.

BHP said it has paid $66 billion in taxes and royalties to n governments in the past decade.

It paid a corporate effective tax rate of 34.5 per cent in 2017, higher than the general corporate rate of 30 per cent. Once royalties are included, the rate increases to 46 per cent.

Mr Swan made the claims during a debate on the government’s next tranche of company tax cuts, which he said was part of the “toxic foreign import” of trickle-down economics.