Press Council adjudication

THE Press Council has considered a complaint by Margaret MacDonald-Hill about a series of articles in the Newcastle Herald relating to chairs of Community Consultative Committees (CCCs) and selection of arbitrators to preside over land access disputes between mining companies and landowners.
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The first article headed “Mining dispute system faulted” was published on April 10, 2014 (print and online).

It reported that Ms MacDonald-Hill worked as an arbitrator while being paid undisclosed amounts by mining companies to chair nearly a dozen CCCs. It quoted her comments about declaring appointments and not arbitrating disputes for companies for which she chairs CCCs.

It also reported an instance where she had stood aside due to conflict of interest.

The second article “Consultation risks loss of faith – committee gravy train leaves no minutes”was published on April 12, 2014 in print (and under the headline “Consultation risks loss of faith” online on April 11, 2014).

It reported on the issue of potential conflicts of interest.

It mentioned Ms MacDonald-Hill in this context but did not give details of her work for CCCs or the payments she received.

The third article “Arbitration scrutiny” was published in print on April 15, 2014 (and online under the headline “Mining land dispute process in the spotlight” on April 14, 2014).

Its relevant content was similar to the first article.

Ms MacDonald-Hill complained that it was unfair for the articles to focus only on her because other chairs are also “high profile and act in multi capacities” and the articles did not mention there have never been any complaints from landholders.

She said the unfairness was exacerbated by comments suggesting that she is either acting inappropriately or is not acting in the best interests of the parties, but nothing positive is said about her work.

She said the headline “Consultation risks loss of faith: Committee gravy train leaves no minutes” unfairly and inaccurately suggests that the chair of the committees (including her) are paid highly for minimal work and does not fairly reflect the tenor of the article, as the article does not mention anything about the level of payment to her.

She also said the publication eventually agreed to publish a clarification but it was not published in the agreed position.

The publication said the articles were accurate, fair and balanced and related to matters of public interest about the CCCs.

It said both sides of politics, lawyers and landholders had raised or investigated potential conflicts of interest in the CCC process.

It said the articles include positive material in quoting from her and the Department of Planning. It pointed out that it mentioned Ms MacDonald-Hill had stood aside on at least one occasion after a possible conflict had been raised. It said that when asked to disclose her level of payment she exercised her prerogative to decline.

It also said it did not cause the delay in agreeing a clarification, which had then been published in accordance with the agreement.

Conclusions

THE Council does not consider that it was unfair or unbalanced for one of the articles in particular to focus on Ms MacDonald-Hill as part of their examination of the system, especially as she chaired so many CCCs and her side of the issue was quoted. Accordingly that aspect of the complaint was not upheld.

The Council considers that the reference to a “gravy train” in the headline of the second article suggested she was paid highly for minimal work.

It has concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy, fairness and balance in this respect.

Also, the headline did not fairly reflect the tenor of the article, which did not say anything about her level of payment or the nature and amount of the work she does.

Accordingly the Council upholds these aspects of the complaint.

On the material available to the Council, it is unable to resolve the issues around the delay in the correction or its placement.

Frequent flyer: Greg Mortimer

Greg Mortimer. Greg Mortimer.
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Greg Mortimer.

Greg Mortimer.

HOTEL

My favourite hotel is my sleeping bag and mat. It is particularly good when there is no roof over it or walls around it, like in Antarctica. In fact, when I feel a bit hemmed in at home, I take it out into the backyard for a really good night’s sleep. AIRLINE

I have my own little Cessna 182. If you want to really see Australia, get a Cessna. You can almost land where you like and when you want. The inflight service is excellent. The coffee is particularly good. RESORT

On the rare occasions that I have been to a resort, I’ve luxuriated in Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island. It is owned and run by our good friends Haylie and James Baillie. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place, perched as it is over the waves of the Southern Ocean. It is particularly marvellous in winter when the big ocean storms beat against the cliffs of Kangaroo Island, sending spray hundreds of metres into the air. See southernoceanlodge上海龙凤419m.au. LUGGAGE

The centre piece of my sophisticated choice of luggage is a daggy old blue daypack that goes everywhere. Beyond that it is a rich combination of paper bags or a soft bag.  ACCESSORY

My must have travel accessory is my wife Margaret. Not as an appendage, but as a critical element for happy travels. NEXT ADVENTURE

As this goes to print I hope to be in South Georgia on a luxury super yacht. South Georgia to me is one of the best places in the world. In May, we are running a trip to Madagascar with television news presenter and conservationist Richard Morecroft; and in November I plan to be in Iran, which I think is possibly one of the most interesting and most misunderstood countries in the world.

In 2013, Greg Mortimer purchased Adventure Associates and adventure travel company, in partnership with family members and fellow explorers Sue Werner and Henrik Lovendahl. See adventureassociates上海龙凤419m.

LETTER: Paymentin Primo condition

I REFER to the article ‘‘Workers unpaid as labour hire company folds” (Herald 20/1): The implication that Raying Holdings is one of many unscrupulous labour providers engaged by Primo is strongly refuted.
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Primo is aware of two labour hire companies that have underpaid workers engaged at our Scone beef abattoir, Hunter Valley Quality Meats, one being Raying against which a court judgment has been made.

Primo assisted the Fair Work Ombudsman in its investigation of Raying and welcomes this decision. The other labour company, New Bridge Trading, is being dealt with by the liquidators.

The meat union claims to have overwhelming evidence that hundreds of workers engaged by labour providers at Scone are being or have been underpaid.

Apart from the two labour hire companies and the workers mentioned, Grant Courtney and the meat workers’ union have not provided any recent evidence, nor have they complained to Primo management about underpayment practices in relation to any other labour hire company working with Primo in Scone.

Primo seeks to employ local people in its operations, it also provides traineeships to train existing workers in knife skills and butchery qualifications.

Unfortunately the skills shortage is such that we also rely on labour hire companies to provide skilled labour.

Since these original matters were identified in 2013, we have implemented a process to audit labour hire companies to ensure that all workers on all Primo sites receive the correct remuneration.

This year’s audit is under way and so far no anomalies have been identified.

Primo values its reputation and seeks to conduct its operations in a way that is above reproach.

Paul Hitchcock, chief executive officer, Primo Group

Gunman told Sydney siege survivor she had 15 minutes to live

Hostage survivor Seline Win Pe said she was given 15 minutes to live.Police divided over strategyTruth more important than blame gameSiege investigation nears completion
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Sobbing as she relives the ordeal, former Lindt Cafe siege hostage Seline Win Pe reveals how the gunman told her she had only minutes to live.

In an interview with 60 Minutes, Ms Win Pe says gunman Man Haron Monis looked her “straight in the eyes and said ‘you have 15 minutes'”.

“I said ‘please don’t shoot me, please don’t shoot me. I only have my mum, please don’t shoot me’,” Ms Win Pe says, weeping.

The emotional footage is the first interview in a series 60 Minutes is conducting with those who survived the siege that rocked the country in December last year.

On the morning of December 16, Man Haron Monis took 18 people hostage in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place. He was armed with a gun and forced two of the hostages to hold up a black flag with Arabic writing, known as the Black Standard, in the window.

After 17 hours gunfire was heard coming from the cafe and armed police stormed the building. Sydney barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson and Lindt Cafe manager Tori Johnson both died, as did Monis.

Until now, little was known about what happened inside the cafe, and Channel 9 has reportedly paid handsomely for the privilege.

Fellow survivors Lindt Cafe assistant manager Harriette Denny and employee Fiona Ma have also been interviewed.

“We had to beg for our lives,” Ms Denny tells 60 Minutes. “He was going to shoot someone.”

The interviews also reveal Monis forced Ms Ma to run errands for him within the cafe.

There are reports five others will also partake in the series of interviews and there has been much speculation about their remuneration.

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has weighed into the debate, decrying their actions as “plain grubby” on Twitter, saying it is not “morally right” the siege victims profit from the tragedy. Is it not sad, those involved in the Sydney siege, who’s lives were saved are now selling their stories for profit. Terribly disappointing — Jeff Kennett (@jeff_kennett) January 19, 2015

Why we shouldn’t let terrorism stop us from travelling

Some see it as a new age of terror, but we have always had to put our trust in strangers when we travel. Photo: iStock Some see it as a new age of terror, but we have always had to put our trust in strangers when we travel. Photo: iStock
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Some see it as a new age of terror, but we have always had to put our trust in strangers when we travel. Photo: iStock

Some see it as a new age of terror, but we have always had to put our trust in strangers when we travel. Photo: iStock

Many years ago, on my first overseas trip, I travelled within Italy on a domestic flight with Alitalia.

It was the era when hijacking was used by various militant groups and individuals as a desperate tool to amplify their political messages across the world. The most famous hijacking was of Air France 139 in 1976 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which concluded in Entebbe, Uganda, when Israeli commandos stormed the plane and freed the hostages. (Cue Hollywood movie.)

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s there were dozens of hijackings, not only by organisations committed to the liberation of Palestine, but by groups as disparate as the Japanese Red Army, Sikh secessionists and the US-based Black Liberation Army.

It was not only various political “armies” who were emboldened by the publicity blitz hijackings earned – many individuals seized the chance to hijack planes for various reasons, from demanding ransoms to demanding that the Pope release the third secret of Fatima in one bizarre case.

Across two decades there were hijackings in Brazil, Prague, Fiji, Leningrad, Finland, California, Indonesia, Kuwait and other diverse international destinations, by no stretch related only to issues in the Middle East. One hijacking lasted 16 days but a good many did not result in loss of any passenger’s life.

Italy at the time was experiencing its own threat from the Red Brigades, so boarding my flight resembled a military operation. I recall walking across the tarmac at Milan airport, guarded by soldiers with machineguns, and then being asked to step in front of my luggage and identify it before it could be loaded on the plane. The flight itself was uneventful, but the boarding was frightening (more for what a nervous soldier might do with his gun than any threat of hijacking).

I am mentioning this for a little perspective on what is going on currently, a seeming increase in the number of horrifying and sporadic terror attacks throughout the world.

Many of these incidents are increasing the anxiety levels of travellers, who wonder which destinations are “safe” now that tourist favourite Paris (at the time of my writing this) is in lock-down. Each time there’s an incident, travellers also may fret a little bit more about the safety of destinations and their chosen mode of transport, whether it be train, bus or plane. Hijacking is less likely in these days of tightened airport security, but we read of other possible horrors such as “underwear bombs”.

This is all apparently evidence of a “new age of terror”, a description I’ve heard bandied around these past weeks. But is it really that new? In the late 1970s, on my first trip, it was pretty confronting to realise that the risk of our plane being hijacked was so great it necessitated the presence of the Italian army in force.

This is not to downplay the nature of the threat itself, but we in the comfortable West still do not live in a world where we realistically have to be looking over our shoulder every minute worrying about a terrorist strike. We are not yet in a “war” as some propose, including those who want to take our liberties away.

Yes, terrorist attacks do happen and maybe they will become more frequent, as the publicity these acts garner is proving an excellent tool of recruitment. But, to put it bluntly, there are myriad ways to die unexpectedly at home and on holiday, and one would be paralysed if each time we thought about travel we ran through all the possibilities in our minds.

Realistically, how can the traveller be vigilant about terrorism? If one puts one’s mind to it, there’s threat in everything. And travel involves a huge amount of trust, starting with the skill of the taxi driver who takes you to the airport. To travel well is to trust other human beings. Most of us who put ourselves in the hands of strangers know this.

In any case, all the above is what I tell myself each time I’m about to get on a plane, and I’ve lived in Paris when my local Metro station was bombed and in New York when American Airlines Flight 11 flew directly over my head and into the World Trade Centre.

Maybe Yemen isn’t on my travel list this year, but Paris and Istanbul, which has recently had an attack in a tourist district, are.

Keep calm and carry on.

Afghan refugee offered university place after years in detention

Keyhan Farahmand, who just received an offer from Macquarie University, fled Afghanistan and spent years in a processing centre. Photo: Verity Chambers Keyhan Farahmand, who just received an offer from Macquarie University, fled Afghanistan and spent years in a processing centre. Photo: Verity Chambers
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Keyhan Farahmand, who just received an offer from Macquarie University, fled Afghanistan and spent years in a processing centre. Photo: Verity Chambers

Keyhan Farahmand, who just received an offer from Macquarie University, fled Afghanistan and spent years in a processing centre. Photo: Verity Chambers

For most of the state’s 85,000 university applicants nervously waiting for first-round university offers on Wednesday night, the HSC exams were the toughest challenge to getting a tertiary education.

But it’s fair to say the stress of the HSC pales in comparison to the journey faced by 26-year-old Keyhan Farahmand, who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan and spent years being processed as a refugee before finally being offered a university place in Sydney this week.

“Before 2001 there was nothing at all. All universities, schools, colleges all closed,” Mr Farahmand said.

After the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the country’s education system was bolstered, but living in a rural village, he couldn’t reap the rewards.

“All of the students who have finished high school, you have to participate in an exam … but if you don’t have the materials, how can you go and pass the exam?”

In 2009 he was forced to leave Afghanistan. As member of the Hazara ethnic minority in an area controlled by the Taliban, he faced persecution and judged it far too dangerous to stay.

“The place that Hazara people are living is just like a prison … all around [is] the Taliban,” Mr Farahmand said.

So he fled, and ended up in an immigration detention centre in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city. Mr Farahmand told Fairfax Media he once spent eight consecutive months in the same room without leaving it.

“I’m not complaining,” he said. “But it wasn’t like what it should be.

“I’m sure that even in prison that people have a right to go outside.”

He spent about 1½ years in that detention centre before being transferred to a refugee camp, where after 18 months he was offered asylum in Australia by the Gillard government. Today, he lives in an apartment in Auburn.

Many of his fellow detainees weren’t so lucky. A young friend grew impatient with the system and left on a boat for Christmas Island.

“No one knows what happened to him.”

But his years of pain and uncertainty were vindicated this week. Mr Farahmand was offered a place at Macquarie University in north-west Sydney to study a bachelor of arts in media. He hopes to one day work as a journalist.

“I think journalism has a very strong responsibility to the public and all the things that are happening in society,” Mr Farahmand said.

“And probably one day I can do something for my people, for any people who need it.”

Things to do in Tallinn, Estonia: One day three ways

Penny Pinch
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Having long since emerged from behind the Iron Curtain to become one of the busier tourist hubs on the Baltic Sea, the Estonian capital is also much better value for money than the more familiar historic centres of Western Europe. Start with elk soup and meat pie at the superb little shop built into the Old Town Hall ($5, raekoda.tallinn.ee) before climbing the 12th-century spire of St Olav’s church ($3, oleviste.ee). Once the tallest building in the world, it has been repeatedly hit by lightning and burned down three times in the last 800 years but still stands to offer vertiginous views over the red-tiled rooftops. Visit the wonderfully evocative Russian market for quality old crockery and high-grade home-made jam ($10, jaamaturg.ee), and the striking Kumu Art Museum for a primer on more recent developments in local painting and sculpture ($8.50, ekm.ee/eng/kumu). Then spend the evening sampling strong, dark house beers and rustic Estonian cooking in the mediaeval candlelit tavern of the Olde Hansa Restaurant ($40, oldehansa.ee), and find a comfortable, affordable room nearby at the Old Town Alur hostel (private doubles from $50, hostel.alur.ee)

Total: $116.50 Easy Does It

Built into the upper walls of the Old Town watchtower, Kohvik Dannebrog Cafe is something of a tourist trap but the coffee and cake is almost good enough to justify the inflated prices, and the setting makes for Tallinn’s most atmospheric breakfast ($25, no website). Just beyond those walls is the Viru Hotel, a high-rise erected by the Soviet regime in 1972 for the dual purpose of accommodating Western tourists and spying on them. The former KBG surveillance centre on the upper floors is now a creepy but fascinating museum with a regular English-language tour ($15, viru.ee). Take the city tram a few stops to Kadriorg Park, where the gorgeous palace built by Peter the Great now houses the Estonian Art Museum ($5.50, ekm.ee) and the surrounding grounds are lined with oak trees and old wooden buildings. If it’s summer you can enjoy a dinner of inventively prepared local produce in the garden at Lieb Resto Ja Aed ($50 with wine, vabalaud.ee/et/restoran/leibrestojaaed), then a movie from an inflatable deckchair at the Katusekino rooftop cinema ($6, katusekino.ee), before taking to bed at The Three Sisters Hotel, a stylishly updated mediaeval merchant’s house (rooms from $150, threesistershotel上海龙凤419m)

Total: $251.50 Splash Out

It’s not exactly classic local fare but the Bonaparte bistro does the best espresso and croissants in the Old Town ($20, bonaparte.ee), which should set you up for a morning of browsing the craftsmen’s workshops of St Catherine’s Passage and the boutiques of the burgeoning “Karja Quarter”. Squeezed into those narrow streets are many familiar premium brand-stores – Armani, Burberry etc – and specialist outlets such as Suda, a showcase for Estonian designers Ave Tamme and Julia Havanskaja, among others (budget at least $150, suda.ee). Around noon, head to the harbour for a yacht cruise around the Bay of Tallinn, where you can see the modern-mediaeval skyline from the water and sail past other highlights of the Baltic coast, including Patarei, the sea fortress built by Tsar Nicholas I (from $235 per person, estoniaexperience上海龙凤419m). In the evening, you should catch whatever play, opera, or dance recital is being performed at the Von Krahl, a wonderful backstreet theatre now rightly renowned across Europe for bold and astonishing productions ($25 approx, vonkrahl.ee). A world-class six-course tasting menu of gourmet French-Russian cuisine will cost you a lot less at Tchaikovsky Restaurant than it would in Paris or Moscow ($115, telegraafhotel上海龙凤419m/restaurant-tchaikovsky), and since it’s located inside The Telegraff, Tallin’s top 5-star hotel, you might as well stay the night there too (rooms from $215 approx).

Total: $760 approx

The writer travelled at his own expense.

Wyong mayor Doug Eaton’s family company’s timber yard fails fire safety checks

Doug Eaton.WYONG mayor Doug Eaton’s family company has failed to fully comply with a Fire and Rescue NSW emergency fire safety order from 2011 at its Mannering Park timber manufacturing business, a fresh inspection on Wednesday has revealed.
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Fire and Rescue NSW inspected the premises after issues were raised at a second Eaton & Sons hardware store in the Big Flower nursery at Ourimbah early this month.

While the company had complied with an emergency fire safety order at the Ourimbah tenancy within the nursery, it faces further action at the Mannering Park site after Fire and Rescue NSW sends a report to Wyong Council.

In both cases, Eaton & Sons opened the businesses without Wyong Council consent, and was later required to lodge development applications. The company received an unspecified amount of ‘‘government assistance’’ from the then NSW Iemma Labor government in 2006.

Mr Eaton said he recalled it might have related to payroll tax, but could not remember the amount.

This week the Newcastle Herald revealed that the Mannering Park business had run for nearly a decade either without council consent, or without complying with a court-ordered approval condition linked to a road with a history of fatal crashes.

The council is yet to determine an approval modification lodged in July 2012 for access works that were a condition of a council consent in March 2010.

Mr Eaton was a director of Eaton & Sons from 1981 until June 20 last year when he resigned, only days after the Ourimbah hardware store opened.

He has been a councillor since 1991 and has had four stints as Wyong mayor.

In an email on Thursday, Wyong Council confirmed that Eaton & Sons had

operated at the Mannering Park site since 2005 without an occupation certificate.

It cannot be issued until the access works are completed.

In an email in response to questions, Mr Eaton said he believed the building was ‘‘exempt from requiring any occupation certificate’’ because it was a former government building.

In an October 2011 report to Wyong Council Fire and Rescue, NSW Superintendent Warwick Isemonger said the Mannering Park site included ‘‘large amounts of timber stored in an open yard with no fire protection’’, making it ‘‘impossible to extinguish’’ in the event of a fire.

‘‘The Rural Fire Service building services unit may have similar concerns regarding the large fuel load and the poor level of fire protection provided by the premises owners,’’ Superintendent Isemonger said in the report.

Australian Open: Fab Four still count where it matters, with the bookies

In many ways, 2014 signalled the beginning of an inevitable shift in the men’s game. Of the 40 previous grand slam titles, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray claimed an astonishing aggregate of 37. It was almost as rare as a Serena Williams apology that two of that four weren’t in the last four of a major.
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But last year, men’s tennis entered unfamiliar, unpredictable terrain. Stan Wawrinka, the perennial Swiss bridesmaid, upset Djokovic and Nadal in Melbourne, and while Nadal cantered to his customary French Open and the Djoker pipped Federer at Wimbledon, the US Open produced a surreal final in which Marin Cilic – who hitherto had never made grand slam semis  – drubbed Kei Yishikori.

So, if you consider that half the 2014 slams were won by the Four Tenors and other half taken by the back-up singers, then you could argue that the odds are similar at the 2015 Australian Open – that “the Four” are about as likely to win this event as the rest of the field.

Alternatively, if the sample taken includes the previous 10 years of grand slams, then the percentages would be more than 90 percent in favour of the fab four (39/44) – Black Caviar odds.

So, this invites an intriguing question –  whether this men’s title will be won by the Four or “the field?”

When this question was put to Tony Roche, the Australian great and coaching doyen (and one time coach of Federer), he agreed that the field had made inroads. But was it a 50-50 proposition at Melbourne Park? “Not quite,” said Roche.

“I’d take the four,” said another decorated Australian, Mark Woodforde. The TAB, when asked to frame a market, made the Four a short-priced $1.40 compared to $3 for the field and was happy to accept bets.

The case for “the field” rests on a series of obstacles for the Four. First is Nadal’s limited preparation and banged up body. Then, there’s Federer’s age; despite all the optimism about the second coming, he’s 33 and hasn’t won here, nor made a final, since 2010.

Murray, meanwhile, didn’t have a stellar 2014, which was evident in his slide to no 6 in the rankings, having made the giant leap for British-kind by winning Wimbledon in 2013; that said, he was razor sharp against hapless Marinko Matosevic and no one thinks of him as genuinely behind Wawrinka and Yishikori.

That leaves Djokovic, the blatant favourite to win his fifth Australian Open. The Djoker supposedly lost form later last year, but the end score was formidable: he went 61-8, won Wimbledon, was runner up in Paris and reached the semis in Melbourne.

Djokovic performed like a no 1 seed in his second round stroll on Thursday, smashing Andrey Kuznetsov 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 in 84 stress-free minutes. If Nishikori was considered among the pick of the field, then there was a hell of a contrast between his four set struggle against 86th ranked Croatian Ivan Dodig 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 and the Djoker’s  imperious dismissal of Kuznetsov. Nishikori sceptics note that the smaller man (178cm) has had difficulties when facing raw power.

If not Nishikori, then who heads “the field”?

Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov is the logical upstart, with an explosive Wawrinka, too, viewed as a danger. Tomas Berdych can beat anyone, yet, as one tennis insider put it, “there’s something missing” – mongrel, perhaps – from the package. Milos Raonic is another high end talent.

Dimitrov, 23, who has every shot and more, is widely regarded as the coming player. Woodforde reckoned he would be the next grand slam title winner and potential no 1. Dimitrov coach, Australian Roger Rasheed, said that, having reached the semis at Wimbledon (beat Murray, lost to Djokovic in four) and stretched Nadal here in last year’s quarters, Dimitrov had reached the stage where he believed he could win a major.

“Now he does (believe he can win),” said Rasheed. He’s seen it. You gain belief from experience.”

Our experience is watching four guys win majors. But Wawrinka and Cilic have shown what’s possible. “That gives the others hope,” said Roche.

Topics: Giving new meaning to the old Big Bang Theory

IT was always going to be fine, firing a gun from the bowels of Fort Scratchley, a gun that hadn’t worked since the 19th century.
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It’d be fine, even if the roar filled the concrete fort, the black Nordenfelt gun trained on the Stockton Bridge. It was all safe – they gave us earmuffs. Still, when the smoke cleared and silence returned, it was a relief to see the bridge intact.

‘‘That was awesome,’’ grinned Ryan Sandford of Mayfield East, our competition winner, who got to fire the first round.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video‘‘That was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I knew it’d be powerful, but it surprised the hell out of me.’’

Eight times the Nordenfelt roared. The guest gunners were Hunter Water employees, media types including us (one media type, not us, pulled the trigger on ‘‘ready, aim’’) and Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes.

We were briefed by Andrew Griffiths, the master gunner who’d poured $80,000 of his own money into restoring the gun. Andrew seemed no-nonsense (Topics is all nonsense), but could talk about the Swedish-designed gun all day.

‘‘These guns were designed in 1882, so there are no drawings,’’ he said. ‘‘We had to go off old photos.’’

Andrew and his team rebuilt the Nordenfelt with a $20,000 grant from Hunter Water. It will be one of six guns in operation when Fort Scratchley opens on Australia Day. Take it from us, you’ll know when it goes off.

THREE sleeps, just three more sleeps until the future of sport, Pontoon Cricket, arrives.

The game’s Australia Day debut will take place on Lake Macquarie at Toronto, player Tony Cummins tells us.

‘‘The winning team will be awarded the perpetual Pontoon Challenge Cup,’’ he said.

As the name suggests, the Royal Motor Yacht Club’s floating pontoon will act as drop-in pitch, with fielders in the lake aided by various watercraft – floaties, inner tubes, inflatable crocodiles. Motors aren’t allowed.

Topics has read the rules of the game and we’re impressed by their spirit and innovation. Hitting a buoy (not a boy) results in four runs, fielders can take catches in their flotation devices and there’s even a line on sportsmanship.

‘‘Just remember, we’re not playing for sheep stations.’’

Warner. Kohli. Take note.

Musical mates Ben Gumbleton and Kim Churchill.

WE love a good bromance, and the one blossoming between indie rocker Kim Churchill and Ben Gumbleton – lead singer of local band Benjalu – sounds worthy of a Judd Apatow movie, or at least a cooking show.

Canberra-born Churchill, who plays tonight at the Cambridge Hotel, recently posted on Facebook about his friendship with Gumbleton. Actually, he has a massive rap on Newcastle in general.

‘‘Where to begin when it comes to my relationship with Newcastle,’’ wrote Churchill, possibly with a sigh.

‘‘[Benjalu’s] lead singer Ben Gumbleton has become my best mate and a great songwriting partner … The Newcastle area has been the closest thing to a base I’ve had and it’s wonderful to be heading back there.’’

Yeah, Kim can visit whenever. Tickets to his show at bigtix上海龙凤419m.au.

IT’S been suggested we put the mockers on Damien Rider, the guy paddling a kneeboard from the Gold Coast to Bondi, by mentioning he might see a shark or two off Newcastle (Topics, January 22).

Damien, if you’re reading this after being stalked by a 3.5-metre great white off Bar Beach yesterday morning and being chased, eventually, into Merewether, um. Sorry mate.