Young stars shine in a biased world

Alan Crowle (left) and Lisa Phillips are members of the generation of bowlers that is bringing tattoos and nose studs to suburban greens. Photo: Joe ArmaoLawn bowls is shedding its image as the domain of grey-haired grandparents in starched white uniforms.
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With their tracksuits, caps, nose studs and tatts, Alan Crowle and Lisa Phillips are the new, youthful face of the genteel suburban sport.

Mr Crowle, a TAFE hospitality student from Broadmeadows, stumbled across a bowls tournament while flicking TV channels three years ago.

He doesn’t like contact sports and was after a social outlet.

”I thought it was a sport that I could get into, that I could really dig,” he said. ”It was something I could picture myself doing. I thought, ‘I could play this sport’.”

”I bought an old bowls set for $35 on eBay and it went from there.”

He now plays five times a week, and in February competed in the Australian Open men’s singles. ”It was the first time I qualified for it,” he says, proudly.

”It’s just a mad sport, everyone should get into it, it’s given me a goal, it’s given me a life, something to look forward to.”

Happily, the rules have relaxed to the point where he can wear casual clothes, even when competing, as long as they have a Bowls Australia logo.

Even the bowls themselves now are often fluorescent pink, green, orange and yellow rather than traditional black.

Ms Phillips, who at age 19 is a two-time Australian Open champion, has noticed a trend for female players to wear ”skorts” – mini skirts with lycra shorts underneath.

She says most people she competes against, at the highest level, are aged under 35.

”It’s happened all of a sudden, there’s so many more younger people playing,” she said.

According to Bowls Australia, the current women’s national lawn bowls team has an average age younger than the Australian men’s cricket team.

Ms Phillips, from Newborough in Gippsland, will represent Victoria at the country’s biggest interstate lawn bowls competition, the Australian Sides Championships to be held at the Bendigo Bowls Club from this Monday to Thursday.

The event, on daily from 9am to 2pm, has free admission. For each state, female teams of 12 compete for the Marj Morris Trophy, and male teams of 12 compete for the Alley Shield.

On Saturday night, the sport’s elite will roll up at Bendigo Town Hall for the bowlers of the year and Hall of Fame awards, a night dubbed ”the Brownlow of lawn bowls”.

Ms Phillips, a fast food worker ”when I’m not bowling”, took up the sport aged nine after years watching her parents, uncle and grandparents play. She competed in the Victorian under-18 singles at the age of 12.

Twice a week she makes the three-hour round trip from her home to play at Clayton Bowls Club, which has high level competitions.

At first, she says, ”my friends bagged me out about it a lot: ‘It’s an old person’s sport’. I guess they changed their tune when I started to win some of the big events”.

She says the barefoot bowls movement – social sessions at local greens over beer – has won over many of the detractors.

”Sometimes you go and watch a game of bowls and it’s like being at a footy match. Everyone really gets into it.”

Her current goal is playing for Australia at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She has a sponsor – bowls product maker Henselite, who provides her gear. Winning the Australian Open singles and triples in February earned her $21,000 in cash.

Asked her tips for playing, she advised each player to find a technique that works for them, and says self-confidence can provide a winning edge.ON THE GREEN

– 1960 bowls clubs in Australia, 503 in Victoria – Whites are out, coloured clothes the norm – Australian National Team is known as The Jackaroos – Average age of national team 29 – World’s top two ranked men are Australian – Australia is the top ranked country in the world

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Culprits may face costs of putting out reckless fires

People caught recklessly igniting bushfires could be forced to pay the cost of extinguishing the blazes, potentially totalling tens of millions of dollars, as part of a Victoria Police crackdown.
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Arson squad head Jeff Maher said there had been a growing trend in the number of fires caused by reckless behaviour last summer.

The most devastating was the Aberfeldy blaze in Gippsland, which killed one man, burnt more than 86,000 hectares and destroyed 21 houses, 35 sheds and 11 vehicles.

It is understood that the Country Fire Authority and Department of Sustainability and Environment spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the blaze.

A 75-year-old man was arrested over the Aberfeldy blaze and is due to reappear at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court for a committal hearing on May 2, where he is facing five charges, including recklessly causing bushfire and causing a fire to be lit without written authority in a fire-protected area during a prohibited period.

Detective Senior Sergeant Maher said fires were recklessly being lit by people using angle grinders, welders, farm machinery and burning off during days of heightened fire danger.

”We are seeing a trend of reckless fires. They are not accidental, they are reckless and people [caught] will be treated accordingly.

”Victoria Police will take a zero-tolerance approach to this.”

He said as part of the crackdown, police would seek the costs of controlling and extinguishing fires from people found to have recklessly lit the blaze.

Senior Sergeant Maher said police would use the Sentencing Act to seek fire suppression costs, which he said might lead to civil lawsuits after the initial criminal proceedings.

”Suppression costs may be heading your direction, but you may have insurance companies pursuing you.”

But Senior Sergeant Maher said such costs and court action could be avoided.

”People have got to be aware if they are in a declared fire danger area, if it is a declared fire danger period and they have to check with the fire service if what they intend to do is permitted or not permitted.”

CFA operations officer Graham Lay, who is based with the police arson squad, said the costs of extinguishing fires were ”astronomical” and warned there would be more prosecutions against people lighting reckless fires.

”What frustrates us most is they are avoidable fires, very avoidable. It’s carelessness, it’s recklessness,” Mr Lay said.

”It’s about people not understanding fire and the potential of fire, that’s the main issue.”

Mr Lay said firefighters continued to see people using welding and grinding equipment during fire danger days, as well as people driving through paddocks with high grass, which had the potential to ignite a big inferno.

”That’s all reckless behaviour. Burning off is a big issue for us.

”We get people who burn off and they burn outside their permit so they can be prosecuted for that.

”There is going to be more and more prosecutions in the future. Victoria Police and CFA are not going to tolerate this any more.”

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Bottom feeders: a tale of two Tonies

Elite units often adopt animal mascots such as tigers, bulldogs or even Tassie devils to illustrate their fighting spirit. So it remains a mystery why the Purana ganglands taskforce concluded the most appropriate creature to represent it was a mature-age yabby.
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Perhaps it was because it would never stop digging and thrived in murky conditions, or more likely because it fulfilled the first rule of policing: it was free (It arrived in the office courtesy of a detective who seconded it from a Castlemaine dam).

But once the decision was made the yabby was on easy street. It was given near five-star conditions in an aerated aquarium cleverly converted from a seized 25-litre glass receptacle previously used to produce top-quality amphetamines.

The freshwater crustacean was named Tony after the owner of the raided speed lab, one Antonios Sajih Mokbel, who was still on the run in Greece.

The Tonies had another thing in common. Both were close to boats – the yabby’s was a toy one at the bottom of the tank while Mokbel’s was a $340,000 ketch he used to sail to the other side of the world.

In the 10th floor St Kilda Road office of the Purana taskforce Tony was given a daily feed of a gourmet fish food and was probably the only yabby in the history of yabbydom to enjoy stunning city views.

Then a couple of the administrative staff became concerned he was lonely in this marine version of solitary confinement. And so they bought a couple of goldfish to keep him company. Sadly, Tony ate them.

It is 10 years next month since the Purana taskforce was established as a belated response to Melbourne’s gangland war. Until then police had stubbornly refused to change tactics. As the body count mounted, each case was dealt with by whoever was on duty at the homicide squad.

It was Detective Senior Sergeant Phil Swindells who first saw the obvious connections between three of the murders and urged his superiors to set up a taskforce.

That was in November 2002, but it was not until May 12 the following year Purana was up and running – first under Swindells and then under Detective Inspector Andy Allen.

The initial operational plan suggested a staff of 13 (not including the yabby) and a time frame of three months. Eventually it grew to 52 and is still going.

At the beginning there was one name that kept popping up and it wasn’t Tony Mokbel, or Carl Williams or the Morans or even members of the Carlton Crew. It was a little-known car thief called Andrew ”Benji” Veniamin.

The former boxer was the suspected shooter in the murders of Dino Dibra in October 2000, Paul Kallipolitis in October 2002 and Nik Radev in April 2003. (Eventually police would declare Veniamin killed seven gangsters, although he would not live to be charged.)

The irony is that Veniamin was killed over a murder he didn’t commit. On March 23, 2004, he was involved in an argument with Mick Gatto, who blamed him for the murder of his great friend Graham Kinniburgh.

Veniamin said he wasn’t involved but Gatto was not convinced. The discussion turned nasty and Veniamin ended up dead. Gatto was charged with murder but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence.

For the previous seven years Veniamin had been kneecapping anyone who crossed him, from fellow drug dealers to a competitor for a lady’s affection.

So how did someone as unsubtle as Benji progress from being just another Sunshine street hood to a deadly hitman?

Basically police not so much dropped the ball as buried it in the backyard. Veniamin couldn’t go a week without committing an obvious crime – his rap sheet over the previous decade included escapes, assault, drugs, arson, thefts, and shootings. His last job was as a butcher’s labourer back in 1995 and he was living way above his $435.20 fortnightly Centrelink payment. He should have been targeted, harassed, arrested, convicted and then forgotten.

For years serious investigations of organised crime were considered too expensive, too protracted and too hard. It was a false economy as it is always harder to cut down a tree than pull out a weed.

The void was quickly filled with crooks who made unimaginable fortunes from drugs and then fell for the trap of believing their own publicity.

If they had just kept pumping out the pills many would still be alive and probably heading to the BRW Rich List.

Instead, having watched too many episodes of The Sopranos, they started shooting each other in a most public and embarrassing way.

And so the Purana taskforce was formed.

At first detectives rapidly built intelligence profiles on the main players. Eventually they targeted the 13 key members of the so-called Carlton Crew, headed by Mick Gatto, and the same number christened the Williams Syndicate, led by Carl Williams. All the investigators were volunteers and all were warned of the risks involved in dealing with gunslinging gangsters. One was forced to move home twice after threats and a homicide investigator who was followed home by a Williams hit team eventually sold his house at a loss.

”We pretty much had to start from scratch,” Allen recalls. ”It didn’t take us long to establish Veniamin was a gun for hire who would shoot anyone if the money was there.”

While Purana was getting up to speed, the crooks were getting rich manufacturing it.

And Allen knew they needed results as there were growing calls for a royal commission. As the murders continued, critics confidently predicted Purana would fail. ”We were under significant pressure. Victoria was becoming known as the Gangster State,” Allen says. Certainly the gangsters showed no signs of backing off. Williams started calling himself The Premier because he ran the state and Mokbel the Prime Minister because he ran the country.

The tipping point came just six weeks after the taskforce was formed when Jason Moran and Pasquale Barbaro were shot dead at the Essendon Auskick in front of a van-load of children.

”There were people out there who thought the police should just let these characters take each other out, but when something like that happens in front of hundreds of kids and parents then there was a need for an immediate response.”

It was the homicide squad that made the breakthrough in the double killing, which led Purana to identify the gunman as a career criminal known as The Runner.

They managed to bug the car he was to use on the next job, although they had no idea that Carl Williams and The Runner had taken a $300,000 contract to kill hotdog salesman and disco drug dealer Michael Marshall.

Marshall was shot dead by The Runner outside his South Yarra home on October 25, 2003. The Runner was arrested by the Special Operations Group that night after he rang Williams from a phone box to say the horse they liked ”had been scratched”.

The murders would continue but that was the night the momentum shifted. Eventually Purana broke the underworld code of silence and has since cultivated eight key informers.

Williams was arrested and found guilty of one murder before pleading guilty to three more. (As he was led from the interview room, Allen reminded him, ”Hey, Carl, now you know. We run the state.” Touche!)

Williams was murdered in jail three years ago after trying to cut a deal with police.

So what is the tale of the tape? Purana was one of the most costly investigations in Victoria’s history and yet was more than self-funding due to its seizing crime proceeds valued at $55 million. Purana asset recovery expert Jim Coghlan grabbed everything that wasn’t nailed down, including investment properties, pubs, racehorses, cars, luxury watches and even Tony’s favourite wig.

But he is yet to get his hands on Tony’s escape yacht, Edwena (renamed St George), which this week was put up for sale in Athens for a second time.

Purana laid charges over 15 killings (gaining convictions in 11) and prevented six planned murders.

In the first three years, Purana investigated 316 people, had listening devices operating for more than 100,000 hours, recorded 6000 hours of telephone conversations, used 23 tracking devices and followed suspects for 22,000 hours.

Jim O’Brien took over as head of Purana in 2005 and spent two years dismantling the $400 million Mokbel drug empire, which culminated in the Athens arrest, extradition and sentence of a minimum of 22 years.

”We were able to steer clear of office politics, pick people with the right mixture of skills and were well resourced. It is the way major investigations should be conducted,” he says.

And Tony the Yabby? He died in captivity from old age – a fate his now slimline human counterpart sincerely hopes to avoid.

JOHN SILVESTER

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

Tinny collection anything but tiny

AVID: Adam Murphy is the owner of the world’s best collection of Australian beer cans, with brands going back to the 1950s. Adam Murphy next to his collection of beer cans in 1961 after he was old enough to start drinking.
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WHEN the earthquake hit in 1989, Adam Murphy thanked his lucky stars he collected beer cans and not beer bottles.

“A lot of bottle collectors lost some very valuable items that day,” he said.

Mr Murphy, of Whitebridge, is the acknowledged owner of the world’s best collection of Australian beer cans, ranging from the first Aussie cans in the late 1950s to the hybrid aluminium bottles now coming into vogue.

A founding member of the Hunter-based Gladiators motorcycle club, he began collecting cans in 1961, when he was old enough to drink.

“I did a motorcycle trip around Australia and I found cans were better to carry than bottles since they didn’t break if you had an accident,” Mr Murphy said.

What started as a modest ambition to have a can from every state has grown exponentially, and now Mr Murphy and his wife Shirley have at least 15,000 cans between them.

Mr Murphy collects Australian cans and has about 4500, while Mrs Murphy handles the foreign examples and has about 9500. Her collection includes a wall of kegs from across the globe, many sporting risque designs.

Even the ceiling in their home is full of thousands of duplicate cans for sale or swap.

Beer can collecting is a serious business, and the Australian club has about 300 members, who sometimes resort to extraordinary strategies to locate rare examples.

“The earlier beer cans from England and America were shaped like Brasso tins, with a neck and a crown seal,” Mr Murphy said.

One holy grail for collectors is the all olive-green US army-issue can, supplied through the Pacific Islands in the thousands during World War II but now extremely scarce.

Interestingly, Mr Murphy’s career has been in wine – he has worked for Tulloch’s at Pokolbin for 40 years.

My only intention was to protect woman’s dignity

I refer to the front page article of Saturday, April 20, and subsequent articles concerning the Cultural Awareness Week ceremony on March 18.
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I am disappointed at the selective reporting of the Bendigo Advertiser.

When interviewed, I made it clear by stating “I never said one word to this lady”, but the article said I admitted to saying “come here, come here”. I did not say this.

I explained the dancing started in fun. Initially we enjoyed her dance however it quickly deteriorated into a sexual-style performance with the dancer thrusting her body into the faces of dignitaries. Among those in attendance were three religious leaders.

I saw the shock on faces. I rose and went as discreetly as possible to the side, behind two onlookers and gestured with my hand for the dancer to come towards me.

The dancer did not respond and her performance continued to deteriorate.

By this time people were laughing at her, not with her.

Some present recorded the performance on their phones and many, in my opinion, held her to ridicule.

I then left the immediate area as the situation was hard to watch. I didn’t regard this dancer humiliating herself as being funny, and I felt unable to protect her.

Your reporting gives the impression that the dancer was dancing in a fun way and I had a problem with that. Such an impression is far from the truth.

I explained how the dance deteriorated and how the dancer was ridiculed.

This important aspect was not accurately reported.

Instead the report concentrated on a few aspects in such a way as to make me appear insensitive to a person with disabilities.

In relation to Amicus, I am unaware of the nature of any complaint it has made as Amicus will not allow me to read the letter it wrote to the mayor.

The mayor has advised me that “a claim has been made that you both (Cr Helen Leach and myself) made inappropriate comments to a disabled girl who was dancing during the celebrations”.

At the time, council had the complaint for a month, had never informed me of it or asked me for my account of what happened, but an apology had already been given by the mayor.

Since the publication of your article, I have been contacted by an employee and also a board member of Amicus.

The employee said the dancer had performed like this in public on other occasions and was quickly redirected by her carer.

The board member had a number of other serious concerns about Amicus.

I have also been contacted by parents of people with disabilities who have said how horrified they’d be if their children performed inappropriately and their carer failed to protect them.

Let me assure you I understand and empathise with all people who have disabilities.

Neither you, nor the public, would be aware that I spent quite a long time in a wheelchair as a child, due to a car accident.

More recently I spent six months at the Royal Children’s Cancer Ward with my daughter who has a very rare blood disorder.

So it’s fair to say I understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities; I have complete respect and admiration for them.

Cr Leach and myself have been very unfairly treated.

We were both concerned for the person dancing that day. When onlookers started laughing at the dancer, I chose to try to help.

I don’t blame people for their derogatory comments on the Bendigo Advertiser’s website. The incident wasn’t properly reported.

My concerns have been further reinforced when, after your report about me caused much reaction among readers, a stunt organised by the Greens to literally use vulnerable people for party political purposes was reported by the paper in a positive way.

By contrast, my endeavour was to help, something I will never shy away from doing.

Cr Elise Chapman,

City of Greater Bendigo

Editor’s note: The Bendigo Advertiser stands by the accuracy of the reporting from notes taken during the interview with Councillor Elise Chapman. The Bendigo Advertiser has been provided with video of the dance.

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