Peter FitzSimons: A league of their own – it won’t last

SPEAKING of the NRL and its administration or lack thereof, my pound to your peanut says there will be a change in their scheduling next year. I refer to the A-League grand final being on when the leaguies had just about nothing on against it. In fact, just about nothing the whole weekend! There was the Kiwis Test on Friday night, which is always about as fifth as good as a State of Origin; a ”World Cup” game (no, really) between Samoa and Tonga; and was it the City-Country thing that only drew 4000? The net result, of course, was that the sleeping giant of Australian sport, soccer – now obviously awoken – was given a free kick.
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The AFL might feel equally aggrieved with the weekend. While the Wanderers have clearly captured the imagination of western Sydney and seem to have acted as a unifying force on a highly diverse population – even as they went within a whisker of winning the whole competition – the GWS Giants played to a paltry crowd and managed to become the only team to lose to the Melbourne Demons. And rugby in all that? Obviously struggling across the board. Crowds of 11,000 to 16,000 for the Waratahs speaks for itself. But, last weekend, at least a pulse! Queensland and the Brumbies played themselves to a standstill in a game where penalty goals were eschewed in favour of running the ball, and a fantastic game resulted.

BANNED DRUGS

Two months ago, as this column noted at the time, NSW Minister for Sport Graham Annesley was called with other sports ministers for an emergency briefing by the ACC on where the investigation into drugs in sport was up to. Coming out of the meeting, he went straight into a live cross with Channel Nine, where there appeared to be an expectation among panellists that he would confirm there was not much to it. But no. When host Karl Stefanovic asked the former league referee his thoughts, the obviously shellshocked Annesley replied: ”[It’s] quite serious … and scary in some ways.” Interviewed a couple of days later on the ABC why the ACC and ASADA had made their announcement seemingly so early, Annesley replied that it was better to go early than, ”have to explain to the coroner why we announced too late”. Tragically, this week, we may have seen something of what Annesley was referring to – the potentially lethal consequences of taking supplements on the banned list.

It is, of course, way too early to determine if – as reported yesterday – there might have been a causal link between the peptides and Cronulla player Jon Mannah in 2011, and the return of the cancer that killed him. In fact, it has not been confirmed that Mannah did receive any of the substances. However, it does highlight the fact that all the concern about such drugs is not simply to do with their effect on sport. The reason a lot of them are on the banned list is because they are dangerous and potentially fatal. If that link is established in this case, it will move the whole terrible saga into an entirely different realm. And there really will be a lot of explaining that needs to be done to the coroner.

Annesley’s words are looking tragically prophetic.

THE POINT IS?

Who knew? After TFF wondered idly last week why the AFL gives out four points for a win and two points for a draw, some readers pointed out that, pretty much across the world, soccer gives out three points for a win and one each only for a draw. Why, I wonder?

TOSSERS INC.

Dear TFF

Those bunch of d—heads prancing about a pub betting on the TAB and, of course, winning and ”impressing” the ladies, are in many ways just as annoying as the Tom Waterhouse ads. The TAB ad pretends the beautiful people are smiling indulgently at the d—heads – but that just proves what loveable, and winning, d—heads they are. Just shows you don’t have to do anything meaningful or challenging in life to be both loveable and a winner. Right?

Regards

Mike Sandy

NO EXCUSES

A point of order, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew, re your remarks after All Blacks and Hurricanes winger Julian Savea was charged last week with assaulting his partner. ”Without judging the rights or wrongs of this case,” you said, ”we are concerned that this is another incident involving a young player. We need to find out whether we are doing enough to help these young men cope with the pressures of the professional game.”

Can I say a word? That word is: ”Nuh.” Steve, that almost sounds like you’re excusing it. And yes I know that Savea has publicly apologised and begged his partner and her family for forgiveness, but the point remains. Playing a game for a few hundred grand a year, and being internationally famous is not ”pressure”.

Raising a family of five on the basic wage is pressure. And in either case, whatever the situation, real men do NOT hit women. No excuses, no exceptions. And of course it is for the courts to judge his guilt or innocence, beyond reasonable doubt. But the standard of proof required to stand him down from the team is a lot less.

Savea played last weekend, despite the Hurricanes knowing of the incident. He is due to play this weekend. A man who hits a woman sullies the jersey he wears. He should be stood down for a long time, perhaps doing volunteer work in a women’s refuge.What they said

Ray Hadley on NRL chief Dave Smith: “I will tell you what you want to do Dave; pull your head out of your bum and build closer links with the grassroots of the game, the people who will pay your wages for the next two decades.” And welcome to rugby league, by the way.

Former NRL chief David Moffett: “It’s like a coach losing the dressing room. I feel sorry for Dave Smith. He was pitched into a job that his background would indicate he’s not suited for or prepared for. It’s one of the toughest gigs in world sport. It will end in tears.”

Dave Smith on the structural changes he has made to the administrations: “But I feel really pleased that I put my stamp on it. This is me, this is Dave Smith, this is his leadership structure.” Talking about yourself in the third person? Mate, you’re going to fit right in.

Chris Gayle showing how it is done, after his unbeaten 175 runs from 66 balls: “Everything just worked for Chris Gayle today … I’m an entertainer, I try to entertain as much as possible.” Deep sigh. Thousand yard stare into the distance.

James Magnussen in an interview: “The Missile is a more confident and aggressive character than I am. The problem in and before London was my everyday life didn’t diverge from that persona.” Magnussen is my bet to recapture Australia’s affection, and still be selling undies when he is 40.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick on their poor training last week: “We didn’t train well, but does that get taken into the game? I wouldn’t think so. It happens all the time; sometimes I like to make love to my wife, I don’t always perform at a high standard.” Across Australia, men shifted uncomfortably.

These lines were on the back of a T-shirt of a man struggling along in the London Marathon: “50. Fat. Diabetic. Ahead of you.”

Former Test umpire Dickie Bird, who turned 80 last week: “The characters have gone out of all sports haven’t they? There’s no [Allan] Lambs, [Ian] Bothams or Dennis Lillees any more. We used to have a laugh in Test matches, which they don’t today – they don’t even smile.”

Kiwi rugby commentator, as the Queensland Reds put the Waikato Chiefs to the sword: “Genia, he’s been busier than a fiddler’s elbow tonight.”

George Smith on how much more rugby he has in him: “I don’t want to sound like Johnny Farnham.”

Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo on NFL players coming out. “I think it will happen sooner than you think. We’re in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now, and they’re trying to be organised so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy.”

Team of the week

Chris Gayle. In a game of bubblegum cricket in the IPL, the West Indian finished 175 not out from 66 balls, including 13×4, 17×6.

Jesse Williams. The Australian looks likely to be drafted to the NFL.

Melbourne Demons. Celebrated their win over Greater Western Sydney as if they won the grand final and to be fair it probably was.

Mike Denness. The only Scottish born captain of an English cricket team passed away last week. Denness once told the story of a letter addressed to him: “Mike Denness, Cricketer”. “If this letter reaches you,” it said, “the Post Office think more of you than I do.”

Central Coast Mariners. Finally savoured a grand final win and showed all knuckle-dragging Neanderthals of the other football codes – oh gawd, we hate you bastards! – just how well attended and enthusiastic a grand final crowd can be. And only 21 people arrested!

Mid North Coast Axemen. Just had their first victory in 13 years in the Country Rugby Championships. They defeated Western Plains 47-24. Let the word go forth from this place and this time: NO ONE beats the Axemen 14 years in a row! And good on yers.

The 18th Australian National Balloon Championships. Drew three times the crowd in Canowindra than rugby league’s City-Country game drew to Coffs Harbour.

RIP Margaret ”Nan” Barnes. (1919-2013). The greatest Cronulla Sharks supporter, ever, passed away last week. Vale.

Brumbies and Reds. Last Saturday night, the two teams played a cracker, spoilt only by the fact that itfinished in a draw.

Nic White. You all know the Beatles lyric: “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.” The Brumbies halfback looks like a terrier, thinks he’s a cross between an Alsatian and a sheepdog, but everyone can see he’s a great rugby player. And he should be Will Genia’s understudy in the Wallabies.

Jesse Mogg. Should be the Wallabies fullback. One of those blokes who sends a current through the crowd every time he touches the ball.

RIP Barry Taylor. 1935-2013. The well known Australian U/21, Manly and NSW Waratahs coach passed away on Wednesday. On ya, Tizza. You were a one-off.

Dank was ‘assured’ over Mannah supplements

‘Shattered’: Dank says his pain is with Jon Mannah’s family. Photo: Tim Clayton Sports scientist Stephen Dank believes he never compromised Jon Mannah’s health and says he consulted a leading oncologist before administering the late Cronulla forward with supplements.
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Cronulla’s supplement program has come under further scrutiny after a leaked internal report raised concerns of a potential causal link to Mannah’s fatal cancer. The front-rower, who played 24 games for the club between 2009 and 2011, died in January following a relapse of his Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dank, who worked at the club during 2011, said he was “assured” that any treatments he administered to Mannah would not affect his health. “My sympathies to the family,” Dank said. “I consulted an oncologist in relation to treatments. I was assured what was being used wouldn’t affect Jon’s condition. Jon knew what was being conducted. We would never deliberately do anything to contribute to Jon’s illness, whether it be to accelerate or restore it.

“I’m shattered for the family more than for my own reputation or the damages it might have caused me. My greater pain is for the family at this difficult time.”

An independent report prepared by former ASADA deputy chair Tricia Kavanagh provides a timeline of events in an extensive document. Darren Kane, a sports and commercial lawyer at Colin W Love & Company Lawyers, was engaged by the Sharks to review it and report back to the board with any legal issues.

His leaked advice included the following: “A brief review of available published medical literature suggests an identified causal link between the use of substances such as CJC-1295 and GHRP-6 and the acceleration of the condition of disease Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Without knowing anything further about Mannah’s exact medical history and without seeking expert opinion from an appropriately qualified oncologist it is difficult to take this issue further. The issue of Mannah has the potential to be as serious as matters could get.”

Kane said he was not in a position to discuss the matter. “In respect to anything I have done for the club, it is all covered by legal professional privilege and that’s a privilege only a client can waive,” he said.

The developments prompted the Cancer Council Australia to release the following statement: “Based on an assessment of the evidence available, Cancer Council Australia says there isn’t any link between HGH-promoting peptides and a relapse or onset of lymphoma.”

The Sharks Unity ticket, which swept to power during the recent elections, campaigned strongly on the platform that the decision to sack four key staff members would be reviewed. It is unclear whether recent developments have changed that stance.

Meanwhile, directions were heard for a civil defamation action in the Supreme Court on Friday launched by Dank against Cronulla-Sutherland District Rugby League Football Club Ltd. It is understood further legal proceedings will be launched by the sports scientist as a result of News Ltd’s initial report about a possible link between Dank’s administration of supplements and Mannah’s death.

Twitter @proshenks

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I’m ready for the No.7 spot: Faulkner

Ashes tourist James Faulkner believes he is capable of holding down the number seven position against England, and he won’t be a shrinking violet if he gets the chance.
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Faulkner’s main skill is his slippery brand of left-arm pace, but questions about the form of Shane Watson and matters of team balance mean he could also be called upon to play a significant role with the bat.

Faulkner, the only uncapped player in the Ashes squad, said his batting had improved enough for him to feel comfortable slotting in at seven.

Tasmania was prepared to bat him in the top six for much of the summer before last, and he is coming off a 444-run Sheffield Shield season spent at seven and eight, culminating with 89 in the final against Queensland.

“I would be definitely be comfortable to bat No.7,” said Faulkner, “Wherever you can slot into an Australian team, I think you are pretty happy to play wherever you can. It was a reasonably successful year last year for Tasmania with the bat and hopefully I can make a few more big scores, that’s my aim at the moment.”

As national selector John Inverarity intimated when he described Faulkner, who turns 23 this month, as “a very competitive cricketer who gets things done”, he will bring a forceful attitude that has sometimes been missing from recent Australian teams.

“I like to think I’m a pretty strong competitor on the field and off the field I’m a pretty relaxed sort of character,” Faulkner said from India, where he is playing for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.

“When the game is on the line, I’m pretty aggressive. I get on the front foot instead of being dictated to.”

Unlike many talented youngsters who get swept along by the Twenty20 wave, Faulkner has established a solid first-class career, averaging 22.34 with the ball and 29.11 with the bat, while earning a taste of international cricket in the shorter forms.

He is likely to continue his ODI career at the Champions Trophy in June, which precedes the Ashes.

“I’ve always tried to be as consistent as I can across T20, one-day cricket and four-day cricket and not specifically have a focus on any of the three. The IPL has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for all the countries … but I look at it as an opportunity to progress my cricket on different wickets. You get experience pretty fast,” Faulkner said.

“It doesn’t get any higher than Test cricket. I’ve been thrilled to play a couple of T20s for Australia and a full ODI series against the West Indies, I really enjoyed it and it tested my game out. But it’s a whole new ball game now with Test cricket.”

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Master of the novella form

HARMLESS
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By Julienne van Loon. Fremantle Press. 140pp. $22.99.

The action of Julienne van Loon’s novella Harmless is compressed into the late morning and afternoon of a single day. Compression is one of the novella’s hallmarks, and van Loon uses it to good effect. A few pages in and tension clamps the hearts of the protagonists; a few more pages and the reader is struck by an impending sense of doom.

Two of the protagonists, an eight-year-old girl, Amanda, and an elderly Thai man, Rattuwat, are on their way to visit Amanda’s father in prison when their car breaks down. It is hot; the only other traffic road-trains. Rattuwat, who has come to Perth for his daughter’s funeral, has no money and no mobile phone. They get out and walk, leave the road, and soon, carrying neither food nor water, become separated from each other.

Though the landscape is dry and hard, I was reminded of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and the sense, in that classic novella, that, once the initial incident has taken place, what follows, unavoidably, is a tragic downward spiral.

Amanda finds orchids and, hours later, a dying kangaroo. Rattuwat sees a man on a tractor in the distance. But he doesn’t know how to ask for help and wonders if he isn’t some kind of ”walking ghost”. Meanwhile, Amanda’s father, Dave, waits for his visitors and, when they fail to show, is forced into some kind of reckoning with himself. He spends the afternoon regretting his failures, as a father and as a de facto husband to Sua, the Thai woman whom he rescues from her abusive husband, but then leaves, escaping back into the familiar security of prison.

The title comes from Dave’s reflections, after he has climbed onto the prison roof and waits, while guards close in. ”I’m not here,” he thinks, and then: ”Harmless, but; harmless, eh? That was the main thing.” Dave is only dimly aware of the levels of irony that permeate this scene, obliging readers to question the meanings of ”harm” and ”harmlessness” and where the line might lie between the two. Van Loon’s novella works by posing questions and leaving readers with a sense of mysteries that can’t be explained. There is no room, in a novella, for detailed explanations; only what is strictly necessary so the story can be told. Those who understand the form can make remarkable use of it. Van Loon is one of these.

Sua is a character constructed out of memories, lovingly and convincingly recalled by Amanda as she trudges on; Rattuwat’s memories of Sua’s childhood and the family’s misfortunes in Thailand are heartbreakingly real. But it’s a minor character, Darjuna, who manages a petrol station, who offers hope at the end.

Harmless was originally inspired by the Jatakas, stories of the Buddha’s former births, in which the Buddha appears variously as a king, an outcast and an elephant. In the course of writing the novella, van Loon says, she became less concerned with keeping true to the original tales; but surely it is the Buddha as outcast that shines through her narrative, and the grace one outcast can unexpectedly confer on another.

Van Loon’s first novel, Road Story, won The Australian/Vogel Award in 2004.

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Lessons in new lands

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Photo: Jon ReidAMERICANAH
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By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fourth Estate. 400pp. $29.99.

Americanah is the third novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her first, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book. Her second, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Prize in 2007. All this bodes well.

However, towards the end of Americanah, one of central character Ifemelu’s friends, Ranyi, says to her: ”Who are you to pass judgment? … Stop feeling superior!” I wanted to high-five Ranyi at this point, because she’d summed up my frustrations with Ifemelu. She’s a woman who says what she thinks. She’s lusty. She can be funny. She’s a sharp observer of the subtleties of the relationships between men and women. But she’s often strangely passive and lacks perspective on her own behaviour.

We meet Ifemelu on the day she decides to move back home to Lagos, after having lived in the US for 15 years, and despite having been granted citizenship. During those years she has studied, worked, dated and become a successful blogger.

Her blog is called Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. I enjoyed the conceit of Ifemelu’s extremely long titles for her blog posts, but any playfulness with form ends there. I became increasingly bored by the writing style of the posts themselves.

The obsession with categories and subtleties of race relations is interesting – Ifemelu observes that she didn’t become Black until she moved to the US – and is one of the main themes of the novel. Some of the observations, especially about the politics – and care – of hair are engaging. (Why does Michelle Obama straighten her hair? Are tight curls too Black?) However, Americanah is written as if Adichie thinks her readers won’t understand her themes unless they’re underlined by the blog.

This all has the effect of making the novel appear to hover uneasily between non-fiction and fiction. While I have no idea how much of the story is autobiographical, it shares with some autobiographies the sense that every detail of a character’s life is compelling.

The result of this is a flattening out of the narrative, with long sections that need to be waded through to get to the scenes that have more momentum. And the resolution, when it comes, seems rushed, despite the book’s 400 pages.

The central plot device is that Ifemelu had to leave her boyfriend, Obinze, behind when she went to university. Will they, or won’t they, get back together when she returns to Nigeria all these years later?

But the structure is too saggy to make that possibility seem compelling. Adichie uses a six-hour hair-braiding session in Philadelphia as a point from which Ifemelu can reminisce about her life as a young girl in Nigeria, and then her years in the US. Obinze’s experiences are interspersed along the way. This structure draws their relationship past the point of any tension, and in the end it feels like a technique to provide shape to a fairly formless narrative.

There is much to like in the novel. Obinze’s point of view informs the extended sequence in which he tries to find work illegally in Britain. It’s one of the strongest and most moving sections of the book. Dike, Ifemelu’s nephew, is a wonderful character, and his struggle as a child and then as a teenager to live with his mother’s decisions produces scenes in which a character actually embodies the challenges and complexities of racism rather than observing them.

Dike’s mother, Aunty Uju, is a terrific study of an intelligent, lively woman who places too much faith in men to help her navigate through life. As Ifemelu observes, America seems to subdue her. It also seems to affect Adichie’s writing about her, and Aunty Uju seems to slip away from the novel once she is forced to leave Nigeria. It’s a loss.

Despite this, there is a lot to like in Americanah. The challenges of immigration, the shock of finding yourself in a culture where you can’t read situations or nuances, are evocative. Not to mention the scenes where we feel what it’s like to fall from a confident middle-class life to one where you may literally die trying to get enough money for food and rent.

Adichie is marvellous at conveying the sense that the life of an immigrant (and getting your hair braided) involves endless patience. That’s when we get real flashes of what it’s like to live forever poised, waiting for that moment when you have permission – from yourself, from the government – to truly embrace life.

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Jockey’s ban halved for sister fight – but no May carnival

JOCKEY Nikita McLean yesterday lost her bid to ride in next week’s May Racing Carnival, but vowed to mend the bitter family feud with her sister that brought her before the stewards in the first place.
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McLean, 27, appealed against a five-month ban imposed a week ago following an ugly brawl with jockey sibling Jackie Beriman at Hamilton races on April 14.

Yesterday, the appeals board halved her sentence to two-and-a-half months, which still prevents her from riding in next week’s carnival.

The board heard the sisters came to blows after McLean’s husband, top Warrnambool-based jumps jockey Brad McLean, and Beriman, 18, had an affair. The story of the warring sisters of the racetrack soon captured the attention of national media.

On April 18, McLean angrily told stewards that Beriman had wrecked her marriage and was now trying to destroy her career. But yesterday she appeared to have changed her tune.

She told the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board that she now wanted to end the battle with Beriman.

“I’m committed to trying to restore my relationship with Jackie and will work hard to achieve that,’’ McLean said.

Board chairman Russell Lewis said there had to be some degree of understanding shown to McLean, given the domestic circumstances that led to her attacking Beriman. The board was told that Brad McLean’s infidelity with Nikita McLean’s younger sister had driven her to the limits of her capacity and she had felt betrayed.

Patrick Wheelahan, for McLean, said the five-month penalty would have cost the jockey up to $70,000 in earnings and was too severe.

She will now be off the track until June 30.

McLean said she was relieved and glad the ordeal was behind her and said she wanted to now ensure that “the conduct of all riders in the female jockeys room was professional and up to the workplace standards that apply in 2013’’.

Beriman declined an offer to speak to The Standard.

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Weight expectations

WAGGA GOLD CUP
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MURRUMBIDGEE Turf Club is in the box seat to host one of the strongest Gold Cups on record after nominations exceeded expectations yesterday.

Dual Group One winner Danleigh tops the weights with 63.5 kilograms among 47 nominations for Friday’s $140,000 Listed Wagga Gold Cup (2000m).

Leading Sydney trainer Chris Waller nominated five for the race, with entries also from fellow big-name horsemen Peter Snowden, David Hayes, Robert Smerdon, Anthony Cummings, Clarry Conners, Graeme Rogerson and John Thompson.

Murrumbidgee Turf Club chief executive Scott Sanbrook was blown away by the nominations and believes the Cup is shaping up to be the best he has seen.

“I can’t recall so many nominations with such a high standard,” Sanbrook said yesterday. “It’s beyond our expectations, we couldn’t be happier with the standard we’ve got.”

Danleigh, fifth in the Doncaster last start, leads Waller’s team and is joined by overseas imports Class Is Class, Illo, Moriarty and Fulgur.

Danleigh is an unlikely starter due to the 63.5kg with Waller believed to be leaning in different directions with Moriarty and Fulgur.

That leaves Class Is Class and Illo, both owned by former Wagga man Richard Pegum. Among the other high-profile nominees were Peck and Sindarin for Snowden, while Hayes has Whisper Downs, Auld Burns and Rock Robster all nominated.

Classy city winner Single is already a confirmed acceptor with Nathan Berry in the saddle, while Crafty Irna and Scream Machine are all but certain starters.

Last year’s Gold Cup winner Coliseo was also a surprise nominee, given he is due to run in the Group One Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick today.

Wagga is likely to have just the one Gold Cup representative in Devised for Tim Donnelly. Lexical Ambiguity is the next best hope but needs luck. Brendon Avdulla is also the latest Group One-winning jockey to confirm his attendance at the carnival.

Sanbrook said everything was shaping up for a huge two days of racing.

“The nominations are simply exceptional,” Sanbrook said. “To have a number of leading stables supporting to the feature races is wonderful for a country club and to have a Group One performer such as Danleigh among the nomination tops it off. “Across the board is there is a lot of depth in the nominations.”

Meanwhile, nominations have been extended until 11am on Monday for the Jason Motor Group MTC Guineas and the Rules Club Maiden Plate (1200m).

STAR FACTOR: Group One winner Danleigh, for Sydney trainer Chris Waller, headlines the list of 47 nominations for Friday’s $140,000 Wagga Gold Cup (2000m).

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Trickling down the order in desperate times

No, I didn’t have Brad Haddin in my Ashes squad. Thought his time might have passed. Didn’t believe he had done enough to displace the incumbent Matthew Wade, or even earn a touring berth ahead of the younger Tim Paine.
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But, counter-intuitive as it might seem, it was reassuring to see his name among the 16 announced on Wednesday. A sign of desperate times? The whimsical thought that the deeds of a now distant past can be repeated? Or a reaction to the obvious vacuum in experience and leadership in a team that seemed at odds with itself in India?

Or – more optimistically – was Haddin’s selection resonant of an experienced (read elderly) Ashes squad that sends an unexpectedly encouraging message: Yep, this is going to be tough. Perhaps too tough. But we are going to do everything in our powers to be competitive. Not in two years or four years or when the progeny of Boon and Warne and some Waughs reach the age of cross-Pacific-can-drinking-record consent. But now.

Hold your fire. Do not hit the button on angry missives about the shortcomings of a batting order that seems, on paper, as fragile as my psyche standing over a downhill two-footer. Put yourself in the selectors’ Hush Puppies and remember they were shopping at a garage sale, not a Brighton boutique.

Yes, they have more openers than a wine taster’s kitchen drawer – although, admittedly, none who would displace the still raw Nick Compton from the England line-up. Let alone Captain Cook, the English skipper with the dashing Downton Abbey land baron good looks and serene born-to-bat manner.

We have been left with no choice but to institute a form of trickle-down selection whereby openers are redistributed to fill the gaps. My batting line-up is Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Watson/Khawaja, Warner.

Keep your fingers off that keyboard! There is method here.

Cowan and Rogers are real openers. Blunt the attack, take the shine off, tire the bowlers. That sort of thing. I’m trusting Roger’s experience in English conditions and Cowan’s cussed nature and professionalism. At least for the first two Tests.

Hughes? Iffy against the swinging ball. But I’m ignoring the way he was tortured by the Indian spinners, rewarding the manner in which he fought back, and reaching for a blindfold.

Clarke at four. Not voluntarily, but obviously. Watson plays if he proves in the tour matches he can give me 10 overs per-innings with the ball, that his form with the bat has improved and, of course, if he has completed his homework and kept his room tidy. If not, Khawaja gets his chance.

Warner at six? Why not bring him in when the ball is doing less and he can attempt to discombobulate the English bowlers with his cross blade? Alternatively, some might suggest he will be in before lunch anyway. So not much change there.

Much better Warner at six than the unfortunate Wade. His elevation to No.6 was an act of desperation, and his glove work has let him down. Haddin’s leadership, experience and – fingers crossed – form with the bat prevails. With the caveat that, despite the vice-captaincy, he is not immune from being dropped.

The bowling? Pattinson, Siddle, Harris and Bird. (Four seamers for Trent Bridge. With Lyon to get his chance at the Oval and other spin-friendly venues.)

By now, every New South Welshman will have screamed ”What about Mitchell Starc?”

Harris is a strike bowler with a big heart and a consistent line. Bird is dangerous and miserly. But Starc gets his chance when the first MRI comes back showing a stress fracture in one of the other bowler’s back or shin.

So here it is: Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Watson/Khawaja, Warner, Haddin, Harris, Pattinson, Siddle, Bird.

Not exactly The Invincibles. But, I reckon, not utterly vincible either.

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Facts key to fiction

Alex Miller warns literalism in novels should be avoided. Photo: Jay CronanIf you’re going to write fiction, you had better get your facts straight. This is the creed of multi-award-winning Australian novelist Alex Miller, whose books are peppered with people he knows, and historical events he has read about. They are set in places he has visited. When he was an honours student at Melbourne University in the 1960s, he took a course called The Theory and Method of History. In studying three different accounts of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, the students were challenged with the idea that written history could be as elastic as fiction.
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In Canberra earlier this month to give a lecture to University of Canberra students, Miller says he has often considered the authenticity of his own writing in this context, even while he invents storylines.

“History – or historiography – is often held up as about the facts of history, whereas fiction is held up as ‘it doesn’t matter because it’s not true’. It matters absolutely if fiction is not true,” he says.

Readers must be able to recognise the places he’s writing about – and recognise themselves if he has based characters on them. If they don’t, he has failed, because anyone who has ever stumbled across a factual error in a novel will know how quickly the book’s authenticity can dissipate.

“Writing a novel is an act of faith, absolutely, and you’d better get your facts right,” he says.

“And that doesn’t mean to say you’ve got to be earnest about it, and god forbid you’re literalist about interpreting the spirit of what you’re doing.”

His 1992 novel, The Ancestor Game, is partly set in China, where it is still in print, in two different translations, and is taught at various universities there. Miller recalls once being set upon by a Chinese professor of Australian studies, who demanded to know how he could possibly know “the smell of duck shit in Hangzhou in 1932”.

“I said, ‘Well I didn’t, but you did – it was already up your nose, and you were there, apparently.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I was there! I was a boy!’ “

In writing the book, Miller had refrained from describing such a smell in too much detail. “What to leave out is critical,” he says. ”That there was the smell of duck shit, that ducks were kept and allowed into a courtyard … I knew about such things because I did a bit of reading, I’d had some experience, and I certainly knew the smell of duck shit. I think the smell of duck shit in 1932 in Hangzhou is the same as the smell of duck shit today, pretty well, if it’s in an enclosed space especially, because the ammonia fume goes straight up your nose. So I left that to the reader because with fiction, and with history, if you don’t allow the reader’s imagination to play its part, the book will be boring and they will put it aside.”

Factual is key, but literalism is to be avoided at all costs – a killer, he says, in all the arts. Fiction should only be limited by the human imagination, and how can we begin to be literal about something so ephemeral?

That history he read so many years ago – William Prescott’s “definitive” account of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, for example – isn’t made any less enjoyable by having been overtaken by later events.

“It’s contributed to the conversation, and it’s not the truth,” Miller says. ”It’s a version of what happened, and novels are a version of the intimate lives of us.”

After all, he says, no one reads War and Peace to find out who won the Battle of Borodino, but Tolstoy still had to do his homework, lest readers lose faith in his work.

“Those sorts of things are so important in my life, that the people I write about recognise themselves in what I write,” he says.

“If you write about somebody and they read the book and they know that the character they’re reading about is based on them and they find it awkward, strange and untrue, that would be terrible. It hasn’t happened yet.”

So it’s not for him, that writer’s rule of masking their characters lest they be recognised?

“I don’t have rules like that because I think other people do different things,” he says.

“I’m not trying to tell anybody how to write novels. I know what I do, and what I do is I write about people and places I love. I write about them as novels, and I’ve given my life to them and I respect it more than anything. I think it’s an honourable thing to do if you do it honourably. The imagination of the reader is as least as important as the imagination of the writer, and what to leave out, like the smell of duck shit or the attempt at that point to say what that smell was actually like … As soon as you make a rule of it, somebody writes something witty and wonderful about the smell of duck shit that does say exactly how it is, so there are no rules. It’s an old rule, isn’t it? There are no rules.”

Alex Miller’s 11th novel, Coal Creek, is due out in October, published by Allen and Unwin.

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Frightened kids refuse to sleep

THREE children are too scared to go to sleep at night after thieves broke into their Tolland home and stole their Christmas presents and toys.
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Now their mum, Vanessa Whitley, says she’s been looking at counselling for them because the heartless break-in has left them so scared.

The incident happened on Monday, April 15, and saw the family’s Dennis Crescent house ransacked during the day.

Among the items stolen was the children’s PlayStation console, an iPod, laptop, games and a Thumpstar motorbike.

Even a money box that her son, Lachlan, 10, had been proudly filling with gold coins wasn’t spared.

“It makes me sick that the children have to go through this,” Mrs Whitley said. “A lot of these items were Christmas presents.

“They’ve had nothing to play with on their school holidays.”

But it’s not what the thieves took that has been the main issue.

The most concerning part of it is the fear and sleepless nights that have followed.

Mrs Whitley’s eldest son Tyson, 12, sleeps on the couch because he doesn’t want to be in his room alone.

“It’s upset the kids, they won’t sleep at night,” she said.

“They just cried when they saw the house after it had first been broken into.”

Mrs Whitley said everything had been padlocked and secure when the break-in occured, but since this hadn’t worked they had installed security cameras.

She said police had taken finger prints but she’d been told there wasn’t much they could do.

The family are putting a call out for the community to keep a look out for the Atomick Pro X 125cc Thumpstar that is black, red and grey.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

LOW ACT: (From left) Tyson Whitley, 12, brother Lachlan, 10, and sister Britney, 6, feel scared after thieves stole their toys and Christmas presents. Picture: Michael Frogley

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

Hit and run ‘reveals human nature’

A WOMAN whose car was run into on her way to the Anzac Day march said she’s appalled the driver fled the scene.
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Gail Butler was turning through a roundabout from Somerville Street on to Williamson Street about 10am Thursday when a ute drove into the back of her car.

By the time she pulled over to assess the damage to the rear of her car the driver had sped off.

She said she was disappointed the person did not stop, and said she feared there were too many instances where people were not showing consideration.

“I was really upset,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been quite upset if he had have waited and talked, or checked on the car.

“It just makes you sad that this is probably happening to a lot of people.”

Mrs Butler was driving to the Bendigo Anzac march in honour of her father.

“My dad John William McMaho, was actually one of the last remaining of the Rats of Tobruk. It was really special to me to be able to go in the march after he passed away last November. It was quite emotional to have lost him.”

Mrs Butler was helped by a woman who let her use her phone to call police.

“I walked along and found a house and a lovely young lady called Meghan took me in and gave me a drink,” she said.

“It restored my faith a bit. There was one horrible incident but then immediately seeing someone so kind,” she said.

Mrs Butler said she believed the driver of the car who left the accident was in his 20s and was driving a dull-red coloured ute with a tan dog chained in the back.

She said she would like to see more people speak out about thoughtless accidents.

“I just want to be proactive. There’s got to be so many people that this happens to. It’s just not right,” she said.

Anyone that witnessed the incident can contact Bendigo Police on 5448 1300.

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

Bendigo showgrounds killing: A tragic life leads to tragic death

VERONICA Hudson’s life “reads like a horror story’’ Justice Betty King told Melbourne’s Supreme Court during sentencing yesterday.
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Justice King said that on December 26, 2011, Hudson and her partner Edward Heron were staying in a tent at the Bendigo showgrounds.

“It was not a proper tent in that it was just hanging from a tree, it having been donated to you but without any pegs or sufficient poles to erect,’’ she said.

“The circumstances in which you were residing were very poor. ‘’

The court heard Hudson and Heron started drinking at 10am and that sometime after 3pm they were seen arguing.

“At around 4.20 in the afternoon you were seen to push the deceased man with one hand and when he fell over you jumped onto the deceased, straddling him across the stomach and chest area and you stabbed him with a knife,’’ Justice King said.

Heron died from a single stab wound to the chest.

Witnesses said Hudson was frantic and screaming “I’ve killed him and I want him to live”.

She then handed her phone to a witness to phone triple 0.

Justice King told the court Hudson was arrested and taken to the Bendigo police station, where she was so distraught she was found unfit to be interviewed.

She said while the crime appeared to be motivated by alcohol and anger on first view, “what must be understood in dealing with this matter is the long history both relating to your (Hudson’s) personal history and the history of the relationship between yourself and Edward Heron’’.

Hudson and Heron, who was 16 years older than his partner, were both of Aboriginal descent.

Heron was removed from his family at a young age and placed in foster care before spending most of his early years in the youth justice system and prison.He had a long history of prior convictions, including robbery, violence, the manslaughter of his first cousin and had spent five years in jail after a brutal attack on Hudson in 2006.

Hudson was one of five children to an Aboriginal father, whom she never met.

She was a ward of the state, sexually abused as a child and had a neglected education before working as a prostitute in Kings Cross at the age of 13.

Hudson fled her first violent relationship and gave up a heroin addiction when she fell pregnant to a son.

He was born while Hudson was in custody.

Hudson fled to Alice Springs soon after her release, where she became involved with a violent man for eight years, who during that time pushed her in front of a four-wheel-drive, causing her to spend 16 months in hospital learning to walk again.

Her relationship with Heron started one month after that relationship broke down and was described to the court as “appallingly violent’’.

“You described him as cutting your arms, hand, throat, pulling your teeth out with pliers, that he was very jealous, very suspicious, always believing that you were having sex with any male that you met, including with your son, your son’s friends or any male around the area,’’ Justice King said. “The more he drank the worse the jealousy was.’’

Justice King told the court that on March 1, 2006 a domestic violence order was taken out against Heron, but six days later he waited near Hudson’s unit and assaulted her.

“To describe it as assault is to downplay the significance and the horror of the injuries and suffering that he inflicted upon you,’’ Justice King said.

The court heard a summary of relevant transcripts from the assault, which said Heron struck Hudson several times to her face whereupon she fell over.

He then kicked her in the face and back, bent down over her and bit her above her left breast before placing both feet together and jumping up and down on her face, back and head.

Hudson remained on the ground until 7am the following day, pleading with Heron to get her help.

She was too scared to get up.

The bite wound became infected, and Hudson was flown to Darwin for treatment to a broken jaw.

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Related coverage:

‘Horror story’: Hudson sentenced for Bendigo showgrounds killing

Reason for women’s violence often masked behind danger

Editorial:Still much to learn about gender equality

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Justice King told the court that when Heron went to prison, Hudson was “passed back” to the previous partner who had assaulted her.

“Until the deceased was released from prison, at which stage he tracked you down, found where you were living and you returned to him instantly out of a combination of love, fear, lack of choices and hopelessness,’’ Justice King said.

“From the material it appears that all the family members of both families, yours and Edward’s, expected that you would be the one who died as a result of this relationship.

“There was much discussion in the statements about the deceased man’s extreme jealously and constant infliction of violence upon you.

“You came to accept that you deserved to be punished by Edward Heron as well as the other men in your life.

“You accepted punishment was appropriate because you made them angry, or upset them.

“In relation to Mr Heron, you believed to a large degree he protected you and this was just one of the prices you paid for that protection.”

Justice King read several statements to the court from Hudson’s son, Harley, who told of being too afraid to protect his mother from Heron.

“I was aware of him biting her, cutting her throat, and giving her constant black eyes and injuries,” the statement read.

“She used to hide it from me all the time because she knew I hated it and I disapproved. “I think she was also worried that if she got help from anyone, he would pay her back worse next time.

“Even though Woody was a little bloke, he was very unpredictable and I was definitely afraid of him.’’

Harley also wrote of looking forward to spending time with his mother free from alcohol and family violence.

“Strangely, I think being in gaol has actually been quite a positive experience for her,” the statement read.

“She has been cooking and gardening and making art, not drinking or using drugs and she has had a chance to focus on getting her life back together.”

A witness at the showgrounds had also spoken of seeing Heron assault Hudson on a daily basis.

“I have seen the man hit the woman just about every day,’’ she said.

“This would involve punches and slaps but I also saw him poke her in the face with his fingers, in the face a number of times.

“She would just sit screaming at him but not hitting back at him.”

In sentencing Hudson to six years’ jail, with a non-parole period of three years, Justice King said it would appear from all the material that the prisoner was “subject to constant violence by this man and everyone appeared powerless to prevent it’’, including Hudson herself.

‘TRAGEDY’: Veronica Hudson is led from court. Picture: Jodie Donnellan

“Your life clearly has been one where you have lacked the power to do much to make it better or worth living,’’ she said.

“Your life is a tragedy in the true sense, as to a degree was Woody’s.’’

Justice King said she believed Hudson had a strong chance of rehabilitation.

“You are incredibly remorseful for what you have done,’’ she said.

“Despite the problems in your relationship it was clear that you loved Woody a great deal.

“The two of you shared a most tragic life resulting in a most tragic death.”

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

Dress to impress for the gold cup carnival

WITH one week to go until the Wagga Gold Cup, Myer Wagga is hosting a series of workshops today to have racegoers looking their best on race day.
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The two workshops will showcase fashion trends for both men and women.

Myer designer Leona Edmiston advises ladies to wear attire to suit autumn.

“Remember, ladies, to dress for the season; incorporate gloves and hosiery into your look and have fun with different textured fascinators drawing from felt, velvet and leather leave your straw fascinations at home until spring,” she said.

The designer said women should avoid wearing new shoes.

“Remember the races are about sophistication and elegance, ladylike dress is a must, and something I’ve learnt from experience is don’t wear brand new shoes,” she said.

Ms Edmiston also shared her thoughts on men’s trends.

“For men, conservative dress is important but don’t be scared to move away from charcoals and blacks and get adventurous with a textured look incorporating autumn hues,” she said.

“A camel suit can be teamed perfectly with deep colours like plum, burgundy and teal.”

Former Miss Universe Australia Laura Dundovic has been announced as a judge for a highlight of the Gold Cup Myer Fashion on the Fields.

Racewear fashionworkshops

Where: Myer Wagga

When: Today at 12.30pm and1.30pm

What: Racewear fashion workshops showcasing menswear and womenswear trends for racegoers for the Wagga Gold Cup.

Hosted by: local fashion and racing identity Julieanne Horsman

Featuring: the female face of the Wagga Cup Nardia Pinto

Trends for men

#1 Heritage

– Textured tweeds

– Prince of Wales checks

– Camel, rust and mustard

– Plum, burgundy and teal

#2 Autumn tones

– Burgundy, caramel, wine and spice are the essential colours of the season in menswear

#3 Ivy League look

– Conservative style

– Clean cut

– Modern checks

#4 Modern luxe

– Dress to impress

– Deep dark tones – plum and burgundy; multitude of blues; steel, ink, indigo, teal and cobalt; greys, charcoals blacks

Trends for women –

– Leather

– Peplum

– Lace

– Bejewelled

– Winter florals

Female Face of the Gold Cup Carnival Nardia Cooper

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