Parents are paying a premium to live in school zones for Victoria’s best secondary colleges

In the zone: 1 Hall Street in McKinnon is in the sought-after local secondary college catchment. Local school catchments are now included on all Domain listings.
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Demand for homes in top state school zones is sending property prices in those areas straight to the top of the class.

Real estate agents say mum and dad buyers are forking out, on average, 10 to 15 per cent more to acquire a house within the boundary of an esteemed Victorian government college.

Parents happy to pay a premium to secure their child a seat at a reputable secondary school are keeping one eye on real estate listings and the other on annual VCE results.

Until now, buyers often needed to contact the school to determine if a property was within the catchment.

But on Wednesday Domain launched a new feature  on its website called School Zone, which provides the school catchments for every property listing.

One agent said the competition at auctions was “vicious”, because there are limited properties in catchments that guarantee enrolment.

McKinnon Secondary College is among Melbourne’s most respected and high-performing government schools and its zone is hot among prospective buyers.

Buxton agent and auctioneer Simon Pintado said properties inside the boundary attract an extra 10 to 15 per cent in price than those in streets just outside the red line.

Mr Pintado, from the agency’s Bentleigh office, said he was approached regularly by prospective buyers who wanted to buy only in the zone and wouldn’t even consider a property outside the perimeter.

The McKinnon zone had become more in demand over the past five years, but its popularity could be tracked back to a decade ago, Mr Pintado said.

Buyers preferred to invest a premium of $50,000 to $100,000 in a school-zoned property, rather than pay that sum in private schools fees, he said.

“It is already a proven performer. If that trend continues, buyers have an opportunity to make tremendous gains.”

Mr Pintado has newly listed 1 Hall Street in McKinnon – an elegant, three-bedroom renovated California bungalow – with the added cachet of being in the local school enrolment area.

Vendor Anne-Maree Louden and her husband Simon have owned the Hall Street property for 12 years, moving in just before the boom in the school’s popularity.

Ms Louden said she was aware the school’s success and good name had “held the market up” in the suburb.

Some zones, including for popular Strathmore Secondary College in Melbourne’s north-west, have been altered over the years by the education department, sparking anger among local families.

But the nearer the home is to the school, the safer the investment, which puts properties within walking distance of a campus on buyers’ most-wanted lists.

“Because we are so close to the school we knew we were always going to be in the zone,” Ms Louden said.

Hocking Stuart agent David Wood, who specialises in the Albert Park area,  said the secondary school in the upmarket suburb has had an influence on prices.

Albert Park College re-opened in 2011 and Mr Wood said a premium of about 15 per cent is added to homes in its enrolment border.

Mr Wood said family buyers were making a long-term commitment to live and educate their children in the area and were seeking homes they could renovate or extend as their needs changed.

“The school is a huge driving factor [in the property market],” he said.

“We see a lot of people who are trying to buy homes [in the enrolment zone] and that puts pressure on the market for homes that are bigger than two bedrooms.”

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Australian troops face threat in Iraq amid slow international response

Australian troops in Iraq are shouldering a heavier burden than they should in the fight against Islamic State. Photo: Michael DavisAustralian troops in Iraq have been dealing with roadside bombs, significantly raising the risk they face, as a Fairfax Media analysis shows they are shouldering a heavier burden in the fight against the Islamic State than other comparable countries.
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Defence has said that Australian special forces are already working closely with the Iraqis including tackling so-called improvised explosive devices – a more hands-on role than they were previously thought to be carrying out.

Such devices, known as IEDs, were the scourge of western forces in the previous Iraq campaign and the Afghanistan war. Fifteen of 41 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan died from IED blasts.

“Working with their Iraqi Special Operations counterparts, the SOTG (special operations task group) has qualified more than 100 Iraqi Security Force soldiers in counter-terrorist operations, dealt with IEDs in support of ISF and conducted electronic warfare operations,” a Defence spokeswoman said.

The commandos have also “helped to co-ordinate … air strikes and close air support operations during more than 75 advise-and-assist tasks in partnership with the ISF”, the spokeswoman said.

While the government was last year considering sending additional troops for a longer term training role – following discussions between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a meeting in Beijing – it is now understood to believe Australia is currently doing its fair share.

A detailed analysis of international action in the fight against Islamic State militants reveals that key countries have not sent forces commensurate with their resources and in many cases have not yet met their pledges.

Australia’s contribution of 200 special forces plus 400 personnel working on the air campaign comes from a small standing force of about 59,000 troops.

But Britain and European countries are yet to send any substantial troop numbers for building up the Iraqi forces on the ground – which is regarded as essential to ensuring the Iraqis can retake the larges swathes of territory captured by the militants.

There is understood to be irritation across the coalition – including in Australia – that the British have not contributed more. The country’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon last year pledged to send ground troops numbering in the “low hundreds” – from a standing force of 160,000 – but this has not yet happened.

British newspaper reports at the weekend suggested the number was being watered down to 100 or fewer amid speculation the government is worried about a political backlash in an election year.

Canada’s contribution to the air campaign is similar to Australia’s but they have sent only a few dozen special forces soldiers to train Kurdish fighters in the north.

France, Germany and Norway have also pledged ground troops to advise and train the Iraqis, but none has yet materialised. France however has about 3000 troops in North Africa hunting al-Qaeda-affiliated militants and is also involved in the air campaign in Iraq.

Fairfax Media has been told the 1500 international ground troops that the Pentagon was expecting late last year – above the 3000 the US has committed – are nowhere close to being found.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said Australia was “proud to partner with other countries in order to rid the world of the Daesh death cult” but “individual contributions are a matter for each country”.

But the lack of serious contributions by key countries raises questions about whether the difficult phase of the campaign – helping the Iraqis take back territory – can be achieved.

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it would be difficult to defeat Islamic State with the current resources.

“This is not a problem you can solve with a couple of thousand trainers … We’re probably going to be in a stalemate for most of this year.”

He said the IED threat would likely grow, particularly as the Iraqis try to go on the offensive, taking them into territory that Islamic State would litter with hidden bombs.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more IEDs actually … There is no clear distinction between the front line and rear lines in Iraq anymore.

“What that means is that our guys are actually in a pretty high threat even if they’re not doing combat operations. But they’re well-equipped to deal with it. They know how to handle themselves.”

He said allied countries were wary about getting further involved because they were unconvinced that the Obama administration was fully committed, nor that the government in Baghdad was in a good enough shape to take on Islamic State.

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Melbourne’s Theatre Works teams up with London’s Southbank Centre for new season

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker
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Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in Fake It Til You Make It. Photo: Sarah Walker

St Kilda’s Theatre Works celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and creative director and chief executive Daniel Clarke says the 2015  program is as diverse and exciting as any so far in his successful tenure.

“It’s my fourth year at Theatre Works and – as it should be – I think each year has got stronger and stronger,” he said ahead of the theatre’s program launch.

“I’m really excited about this program; there are a lot of great artists; new artists we haven’t worked with before and artists that we’ve developed relationships with over the last four years.”

The first big show of the year is a world premiere tour of British performance artist Bryony Kimmings’ new show Fake It Til You Make It,  a co-commission between Theatre Works and London’s Southbank Centre.

The show, which promises “homemade music, stupid dancing, onstage arguments, real-life stories, tears and truths” co-stars Tim Grayburn and explores clinical depression.

It is, Clarke says, something of a coup for the indie theatre company.

“It’s amazing! We’re developing it now and it’s a project that we’re doing from the ground up, which is one of the visions I had when I started at Theatre Works, to do more of that,” he says.

Kimmings appeared in the hugely successful Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model at Theatre Works last year.

“This project came from that, from  the relationship we developed with Bryony,” Clarke says.

The work will premiere in Perth, play a month in Adelaide and will, be, he says “in top shape when it opens in Melbourne”.

Such long-term relationships with artists are reflected throughout the 2015 program, with everything this year either commissioned, produced or co-produced by Theatre Works.

Since taking on the role of creative producer in 2011, Clarke has won praise for expanding the company’s scope, partnering with international events including the Melbourne Festival and the Comedy Festival, as well as progressive local festivals such as Next Wave and Midsumma.

This year he’s forged another partnership with the VCA, with Flight, a mini season-within-the-season which will give a platform to recent graduates of the VCA Masters in Writing for Performance course, led by acclaimed playwright Raimondo Cortese.

After several applications from graduates of the course, which started three years ago, Clarke was inspired to give these new writers a “leg-up”.

Five plays will be showcased throughout July and August at Theatre Works and Footscray Community Arts Centre.

“These graduates develop a play over a whole year with Raimondo, and I thought it would be great to find a context to give a season to these works, and acknowledge these new voices coming out of VCA,” he says. “It’s something we hope will be an ongoing relationship.”

Other works include Adena Jacobs and Aaron Orzech’s world premiere The Bacchae, a co-commission between Melbourne Festival, St Martins and Theatre Works which features an ensemble of 30 actors on stage; Dracula, an intriguing theatrical concept from Little Ones Theatre in which performers try to recreate a silent movie on stage with a live score; and a double bill of work from two Singaporean-Australian artists. Saltwater, by Jamie Lewis, is a participatory work for just 15 audience members, who take part in the preparation of a meal.

“It’s more of a live art experience, and quite a ritualistic work,” Clarke says “It’s really a conversation where you’re making a meal with Jamie and sharing stories. I’d use the word ‘delicate’ to describe it. You’re there with a group of strangers but somehow, within that space, you remember your own family as Jamie talks about her own experiences.”

Saltwater will play with Letters Home, by Singaporean artist Joe Lui, who explores his life in exile after refusing military service in Singapore, making him a criminal and unable to return home.

Then there’s Rust And Bone, which Clarke himself is directing. Adapted from short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson, the work is described as an exploration of masculinity.

After stepping back from his own creativity to foster that of others, Clarke is, rightly, excited to be directing again.

“I didn’t direct a work last year, so I need to do it –  and I should flag that when I do direct for Theatre Works, it’s me doing it independently!”

The whole 2015 season is, he says, “big – in terms of scale and artists pushing themselves”.

“Although last year felt pretty huge, I feel like this might be one of the most … comprehensive, and solid.”

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Bespoke cottages built from the ashes

Bespoke cottages arise from Marysville ashes A classic style was chosen for the new bathrooms. Photo: SUPPLIED.
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A classic style was chosen for the new bathrooms. Photo: SUPPLIED.

A classic style was chosen for the new bathrooms. Photo: SUPPLIED.

TweetFacebookThe cottages have been designed using energy-saving principles that add to the living comfort while minimising environmental impact.

Anthony Slot, builder

Most bathrooms areseparated from an adjoining bedroom by a set of plantation blinds that when opened, blur the boundaries between the two rooms to create an interconnected space. Decorated with a neutral colour scheme and filled with sunlight, the resulting space radiates a serene atmosphere,Tracy says.

“It was important to us that the toilet was in the same room but out of view when laying in the bath, also the hanging lights needed to have dimmer switches to be able to create whatever lighting mood the guest wishes,” she says.“You may have also noticed the ornate mirror over the fireplace mantle, that is actually a 36-inch flat-screen television that is mounted on a recessed swing arm bracket that allows the guest to view it from the bath, dining table or even their bed.” It’s this latter feature that Anthony says is his favourite.

Products chosen include tapware from Reece Bathroom’s Bastow Hawthorn range, and towel rails and roll holders from the Faucet Cascade range. Baths includethe free-standing clawfootKado Classic from Reece and the the single Edison and Spanish vanitieswere purchased from Schots Home Emporium.

On floors, Fara Granite 300mmx300mm floor tiles were teamed with 250mmx400mm plain white wall tiles. Dulux’s Whisper White colour was chosen for the walls. A mirror and coat hooks came from the Marysville Post Office. Other items, such as the leadlight windows were salvaged from demolition or building jobs.

“The leadlight windows were salvaged from a building job in Jolimont in Melbourne that I worked at years ago,” Anthony says. “There are four panels and all have had some repair work done to them and have been in storage just waiting for the right placement.

“Trend Windows in Bayswater custom-made an aluminium window frame to accommodate the stained-glass panel and place it in between two panes of 4mm toughened-glass, which was perfect for safety reasons and also for ease of cleaning the window.”

Being in the building trade, says Anthony, has long made the couple familiar with working to a budget and completing a project within a tight timeframe.

“We had a solid business plan and had most of the items and job specifications selected before we started,” he says. “This allowed us to shop around and change things at our own pace without it affecting the progress of the job.”

With the new business in full swing, the couple continue with other ongoing projects of rebuilding more properties around Marysville.

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Newcastle Jet Andrew Hoole expected to sign with Sydney FC within days

Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images
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Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images

Exit: Andrew Hoole, right, and Diogo Ferreira of the Glory contest the ball during a clash at nib Stadium. Photo: Gettty Images

Winger Andrew Hoole has rejected a two-year deal with the Newcastle Jets in favour of Sydney FC because he believes it will benefit his football career.

While the 21-year-old is yet to officially sign with the Sky Blues, a two-year deal is expected to be inked within days.

The Newcastle Herald revealed on Monday that Hoole was poised to join the A-League heavyweights, despite Jets owner and chairman Nathan Tinkler describing him as a priority signing.

Tinkler told The World Game SBS website that Hoole was “a great young prospect and we want to retain our best juniors, starting with him”.

Tinkler repeated those comments in The Financial Review on Monday when he said the Jets were keen to re-sign Hoole.

Since making his debut in January 2013 against Brisbane Roar, the former Broadmeadow Magic recruit has made 39 A-League appearances and is arguably the Jets’ best local talent.

Both the Jets and Sydney FC tabled similar offers in terms of value and length of time, but the lure of playing under Sky Blues coach Graham Arnold was an added attraction.

Hoole’s manager Joel Grenell denied the Sydney FC deal was finalised and said his client would leave Newcastle with a heavy heart.

“Obviously Andrew is a Newcastle boy and it’s always a dream of a player to play for their local club as long as they can, but this obviously has come up and it’s a very hard one to say no to,” Grenell said.

“Andrew has had a fantastic time in the youth team and first-grade team and they’ve helped develop him to get to this stage where Sydney FC want to sign him, so he’s forever in debt and very grateful of the opportunities being presented through [outgoing Jets CEO] Robbie Middleby and the club.

“It’s a very hard one for a young boy to leave Newcastle, but sometimes you need to get out of your comfortable zone to grow.”

Hoole’s departure followed the announcement on Monday morning that home-grown goalkeeper Ben Kennedy had re-signed for a further two years taking him through to the 2016-17 season.

The Thornton lad is the sole survivor from the Jets first season in the A-League and he has overcome a challenge from Mark Birighitti this season to once again become the club’s first-choice gloveman.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Jets ownership and their poor record of one win in 14 games this season, Kennedy said he never considered leaving.

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Noma pops up in Japan

Rather wonderful: Fermented shiitake mushroom in dark chocolate. Photo: Jill Dupleix Native produce: Hyokkori pumpkin, cherrywood oil and salted cherry blossom. Photo: Jill Dupleix
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Assorted Japanese citrus and long pepper. Photo: Jill Dupleix

Sydney chefs pop up in Melbourne restaurants, Melbourne chefs pop up in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong chefs pop up in New York. Chefs these days are busier popping up than chopping up.

The Big Poppa is, of course, Heston Blumenthal, who is moving The Fat Duck restaurant holus-bolus to Crown Melbourne for six months from February 3, with $525 a person reservations available only by ballot, but the most audacious of the here now, gone tomorrow trend-setters must be Rene Redzepi, of Copenhagen’s Noma, the world’s No. 1 restaurant for four years, who has just moved to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo for five weeks, until February 14.

At about $420 a person for lunch or dinner, it’s cheaper than dining at The Fat Duck, but don’t get excited. Seats sold out within hours, and there are 60,000 people on the waiting list.

Unlike Blumenthal, who will be essentially recreating the celebrated dishes of The Fat Duck in Melbourne, Redzepi is cooking food he has never cooked before. He and his research and development chefs, Lars Williams and Thomas Frebel have visited Japan seven times in the past year, sourcing suppliers, meeting farmers, and scouring the vast Tsukiji fish market for ideas and ingredients, to create a kaiseki-inspired menu based purely on Japanese native produce.

“The easiest thing would have been to bring all the foodstuffs from back home, but we don’t want to just copy Noma,” says Redzepi. “To be truly inspired, we had to be more than just culinary tourists.”

Along the way, they sampled Japanese ants, mountain grapes, larvae from lethal hornets, venison tongue, horsemeat, and farm-raised snapping turtle. Foraged local plants were tasted and tested, five kinds of local woods were processed into oils and broths, and 40 different lacto-ferments and garums were tested in readiness for opening night.

The Noma team hasn’t just moved into the 37th-floor Signature Restaurant, but it has dismantled and rebuilt it, to reflect the innate simplicity and nature-driven traditions of Japan and the utilitarian naturalness of Danish design. The conversations between Redzepi and the Mandarin Oriental’s general manager, Anthony Costa, mark a significant shift in thinking from restaurant pop-up to restaurant-in-residence.

Denmark’s famed Carl Hansen & Son was commissioned to design the oak tables and chairs, and 13 different local Japanese artists and artisans created every serving plate, tray, bowl and utensil used.

The cost of the tableware alone was greater than the total cost of flying the 77-strong Noma team, including the dishwasher, from Copenhagen to Tokyo. “We need to sell these objects afterwards, piece by piece, or we’re in the shit,” says Redzepi. “It’s a mind-bending exercise to risk everything coming here. We still don’t know if we are going to break even. To pay the rent on Noma in Copenhagen and here in Tokyo, it is a lot of pressure.”

Clearly, it hasn’t been done solely as a money-making exercise. “We wanted a life experience for the whole team,” he says. “Being here throws us off balance. That is good. Who knows what will happen?”

Of the 6500 diners who will pass through Noma’s residency, more than half are Japanese. The big surprise is the number of Australians, including a family of six from Sydney who built their three-week holiday around their Noma reservation, making up one-third of the bookings.

“Australia and Noma have always had a special affinity”, says Redzepi, citing the long-serving Australians on Team Noma, from sous-chef Beau Clugston, of Coffs Harbour, to restaurant manager James Spreadbury, of Adelaide, and team leader Katherine Bont, of Sydney.

The dining experience itself is slightly surreal, with chefs producing 16 consecutive dishes during three hours. One, a delicate, thin-shelled tart topped with astringent wild kiwi and shavings of fingernail-sized freshwater clams (the sort lurking in the base of every Tokyo bowl of miso soup), requires 3850 raw clams to be opened by hand for every service, lunch and dinner. Thirteen people do this, for four hours, twice a day.

At one point, a whole roasted wild duck – not shot, but caught by traditional saka-ami hunting nets – is brought whole to each table, before being dissected and returned in all its beak-to-claw glory with a blood-red matsubusa berry sauce.

Another dish is a play on zaru soba, the “noodles” thinly sliced cuttlefish coated in fermented cuttlefish, ready to dip into a resinous broth of pine and rose petals. Another is a glossy black “leather” made of black garlic, folded origami-style into a leaf. Yet another is a crystalline shima-ebi prawn, still twitching, dotted with citrus-spiked black ants from the forests of Nagano in western Japan. It’s all very Japanese and, strangely and rather wonderfully, it’s also very Noma.Menu sampler

Assorted Japanese citrus and long pepper

Shaved monkfish liver

Just-steamed tofu with wild walnuts

Sea urchin, maitake mushroom and cabbage

Scallop dried for two days, beech nuts and kelp

Hyokkori pumpkin, cherrywood oil, salted cherry blossom

Garlic flower origami

Sweet potato simmered in raw sugar all day

Fermented shiitake mushroom in dark chocolate

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University vice-chancellors must step up on higher education reform

Vice-chancellors need to lift the debate about higher education reforms.It’s time for Australia’s university vice-chancellors to get down and dirty on higher education reform.
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In last year’s budget, the Abbott government announced the most significant changes to Australia’s higher education system in 25 years – including a full deregulation of fees. Eight months later, university leaders are in furious agreement that reform is essential to stop the sector falling into decline.

Yet the government’s reform package remains stalled in the Senate following a narrow defeat last year. And the general public remains hostile. In the six months following the budget, support for fee deregulation rose a mere five points, from 17 per cent to 22 per cent, according to Essential Media polling.

This should have been a golden period of debate about Australia’s universities. Instead, we have had a national conversation heavy on rhetoric and light on facts. Future students and their parents – that is, the people who will be personally affected by higher fees – have largely been excluded from the conversation.

That’s why vice-chancellors, some of the smartest people in the country, should step in and break the impasse. It’s time for them to end the speculation and lift the standard of debate. It’s not enough to lobby politicians behind the scenes. With notable exceptions, too many vice-chancellors have relied on the government, and peak body Universities Australia, to sell the need for reform.

Labor and the Greens have made merry with predictions of $100,000 degrees proliferating if universities are allowed to set their own fees. Poor students, they say, will be scared off university. But past fee increases have not deterred poor students from going to university. And graduates won’t have to pay back a cent until they are earning a decent wage.

Meanwhile, the government claims it would continue to pay around 50 per cent of the cost of a degree. Competition, we are told, will keep fees low. Both statements are assertions, not evidence. We won’t know for sure until universities announce what they will charge under a deregulated system.

That’s where the vice-chancellors come in.

Each vice chancellor should outline what students would be expected to pay if the government’s reforms become law.

This would lead to a more informed debate about whether the potential fee increases are excessive or reasonable. It would also end uncertainty for students enrolling in university this year, and face surprise fee hikes in the later years of their degree.

Two universities have released fee estimates for 2016, the year deregulation would kick in. The University of Western Australia says its students would pay a flat $16,000 a year, meaning a $48,000 bill for a three-year degree The Queensland University of Technology says its most­ ­expensive course, a double ­degree in business and law, would cost $78,500 – a $17,300 increase on current levels.

Other universities have done similar modelling but refuse to release it. Yet they also insist any fee rises will be limited and responsible. To convince the public and the Senate crossbench of this they should do what they would demand of their own students: back up their claims with evidence. Facts, after all, are sacred; assertions are cheap.

Secondly, vice-chancellors should explain, in clear and practical terms, how future students would benefit from fee deregulation.

The case for deregulation has mostly been made at a macro level – the need to protect universities from government cuts by finding a more secure funding stream. It’s an important argument, but not one that has resonated with the general public.

When pressed on how they would spend the extra money, vice-chancellors speak of smaller and more personalised tutorials, investments in the latest technology and new scholarships for disadvantaged students.

But these arguments have not been made loudly or persuasively enough to cut through the noise about fee hikes. More detail is needed. A better story needs to be told.

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Newcastle Blessing of the Waters 2015: Ethan Talevski takes the honour

Newcastle Blessing of the Waters 2015: A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers
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A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

A wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths on Monday. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

Ethan Talevski is held aloft after claiming the honours during a wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

Ethan Talevski is held aloft after claiming the honours during a wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

Ethan Talevski is held aloft after claiming the honours during a wet Blessing of the Waters at Newcastle Ocean Baths. Pic: Max Mason-Hubers

TweetFacebookRAIN poured and wind blew, but itwas not enough to deter eight young men from making a splash in the Newcastle ocean bathson Monday afternoon.

Members of the Macedonian Orthodox Community gathered at the water’s edge under their umbrellas in trying conditions to watch the Blessing of the Waters ceremony.

The celebration is held annuallyto honour the Baptism of Jesus.

Participants take the plunge in the hope of retrievingablessed holy cross from the depths.

Onlookers watched as Priest Peco Petrovski threw the holy cross into the water.

Ethan Talevski, 12,was the lucky jumper who was first to find the cross and lifted it proudly onto the shoulders of his fellow jumpers.

‘‘I tried my hardest and hoped for the best’’, said a delighted Ethan.

‘‘It’s a wonderful feeling!’’

President of the community Chris Topevski said someone so young doesn’t often come out succesfully, making it an exciting achievement for Ethan’sfamily.

Mr Topevski said that even though there weren’t as many spectators as usual due to unfortunate weather, it was still a day everyone in the Macedonian community had been eagerly anticipating.

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Australian Open: Thanasi Kokkinakis prevails over Ernests Gulbis in five-setter

Australian Open 2015: full coverageNick Kyrgios shakes off back injury to winLive tennis scores
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Star-in-the-making Thanasi Kokkinakis says he is ready to embrace the expectation that will come with his thrilling five-set upset over No.11 seed Ernests Gulbis.

As success-starved Australian tennis fans hailed the triumph as validation of his rising reputation, Kokkinakis said he was “excited” by the hype set to surround him heading into a winnable second round match-up against fellow Australian Sam Groth.

“I know it was a good win. There’s more to come,” the 18-year-old said after the match that lasted for four hours and seven minutes.

“I don’t want to win just one round. Obviously it was my best win yet, he said. I’m not putting a limit on myself. I beat a guy that made the semis of the French [Open]. He probably wasn’t in his best form tonight.

“He’s beaten some good players before and I’ve beaten him, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Reflecting on the biggest win off his career – his first five-set slog and just his second win at the Australian Open – an exhausted Kokkinakis said he felt “a lot better” than he did last year after he beat Igor Sijsling (then ranked No.73 in the world) in his Open debut to advance to the second round.

Kokkinakis saved four match points in the fourth set and then held his nerve in a tense climax to steal the show on opening night at Melbourne Park, winning 5-7, 6-0, 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 8-6 on Monday night.

With attention centred on fellow Australian young gun Nick Kyrgios, world No.147 Kokkinakis thrived playing off-Broadway on show court three to produce a coming-of-age performance that the likes of Australian great Todd Woodbridge — had predicted just days ago that he was set to produce.

Kokkinakis, the other half of Australia’s talented “Special K” duo, collapsed to the ground in jubilation after winning the second of two match points and then relished a lap of honour with the fans.

His love affair with the pro-Australian crowd was in sharp contrast to that of his opponent, world No.13 Gulbis, who seemed to be distracted by the spectators at times — at one point telling them to “shut up”.

The umpire directed security to certain members of the crowd after the Latvian complained.

Gulbis, known for his combustible nature on the court, had several opportunities to address the crowd’s behaviour and its impact on the match in his post-match press conference, but avoided making a comment on each occasion.

“I lost, he won,” he said. “I had no problem with the crowd.”

Gulbis also refused to blame a persistent shoulder injury for his early exit, pointing more to the lack of matches during an interrupted preparation.

A full house had earlier lived every shot as Kokkinakis fought back from trailing two sets to one.

In a final set that lasted 84 minutes, Kokkinakis exposed weaknesses’ in his opponent’s technique and showed poise beyond his years, fending off break points at 4-4 and 6-6.

In saving one break point at 6-6, Kokkinakis correctly challenged a call of “out” that the replay showed had scraped the baseline by just millimetres.

“I showed I can match it,” Kokkinakis said. “A lot of matches last year I was winning a set against these good players but never able to finish the match through.

“So I’m really happy with how I stuck together, even though I thought for periods I wasn’t playing my best tennis. I was able to find a way to get the points and the games that I needed.

“The crowd was unbelievable all night. They got me through again.”

Kokkinakis said another key element to his game was “trusting his weapons” when the pressure was on in big points.

“On the match points… I just went with what I work on every day, what my favourite shots are, so I went for a few forehands which were maybe were a bit of luck,” he said.

“I like to think they were a bit of skill, too. Maybe they were a bit of both.”

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Asian Cup 2015: Socceroos potential semi-final won’t be moved to Sydney despite Hunter Stadium limitations

The expected sell-out event will stay in the Hunter. Picture: Simone De Peak●​Editorial: Asian Cup dream on doorstep
Shanghai night field

A potential Asian Cup semi-final involving Australia appears certain to remain in Newcastle instead of Sydney despite Hunter Stadium’s already limited capacity being reduced by nearly a third for the tournament.

The Asian Football Confederationhas an exclusive tenancy deal with Stadium Australia for the duration of the tournament and would be free to move a high-profile semi-final involving the host nation to the 83,000 capacity venue.

The local organising committee in conjunction with the AFChave not looked into the possibility of moving a semi-final involving the Socceroos to Stadium Australia to accommodate up to 60,000 more fans in what would likely be a sell-out fixture.

After finishing second in their group to South Korea, Australia will play China in the quarter-final where they will have a chance to play either Japan, Iran or the UAE in a semi-final held at Newcastle, where capacity restrictions are in place.

In accordance with FIFA World Cup regulations, the AFC have so far prevented the local organising committeefrom selling tickets to the two non-seated hills behind the goals at Hunter Stadium, which reduces the capacity of the venue from 33,000 to approximately 23,000.

Should the two organising committees of the tournament move a potential Australia semi-final to ANZ Stadium, it would likely provide the local organising committeeabout $500,000 in additional gate takings as well as the opportunity to allow more fans to watch a historic match.

“Questions have been raised as to why the Hunter Stadium – the smallest stadium by capacity for the tournament – will host potentially the most high-profile match of the Asian Cup”: Picture: Marina Neil

However, the short turnaround of just five days between the quarter-final and the semi-final are proving a deterrent to moving what could be the biggest match of the competition, a potential clash between Australia and Japan, or Australia and Iran.

The local organising committeeclaims it would be a logistical nightmare to rearrange issues of ticket exchanges, broadcasting, travel arrangements, accommodation, staff and other requirements in just five days.

Questions have been raised as to why the Hunter Stadium – the smallest stadium by capacity for the tournament – will host potentially the most high-profile match of the Asian Cup. The state governments were invited to bid for games in packages, with NSW purchasing the rights for all semi-finals, the third v fourth play-off and the Asian Cup final. The Victorian government did not bid for anything further than a quarter-final due to hosting the Australian Open, which clashes with the latter stages of the Asian Cup. The Queensland government did not battle NSW for the rights to host the final four games of the tournament.

“We had an agreement with governments that we would have a rotating draw so teams travelled, that was fundamental to the funding agreement. We made a decision to take 4 games to Newcastle, and we had 11 at [NSW], as NSW paid the most money to have the games at this tournament,” Asian Cup 2015 chief executive, Michael Brown, said.

It was decided not to host more than seven games at ANZ Stadium due to venue congestion and the organisers confirmed they did not plan for Australia to finish second in their group and face playing a semi-final in Newcastle. However, if Australia does reach that stage, the local organising committeemight construct temporary seating on the hills behind both goals to increase the capacity for a match where demand will exceed supply.

“We’re looking at every option for the two grass areas at Newcastle we can put temporary seating on. We’re working with a couple of companies to work out costs, food, toilets, disabled seating, sight restrictions, and we have to work out if it’s going to be beneficial. We’ll be working through that, I’m not sure if we would have needed them if Australia doesn’t beat China,” Brown said.

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