OrotonGroup collapses into administration

AFR. Oroton Generic. Shot at the queen victoria building. Pic by Nic Walker. Date 24th March SPECIALX 0121231Iconic handbag retailer OrotonGroup is up for sale after becoming the latest casualty in Australia’s retail bloodbath and collapsing into voluntary administration.
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The 79-year-old company revealed on Thursday that an eight-month strategic review which looked to sell, privatise, recapitalise or refinance the business had failed to find a viable option to secure its future.

About 60 Oroton stores would continue to trade as usual while administrators Deloitte Restructuring Services pursue a sale or a recapitalisation, the company said.

“The board is disappointed that it has had to take this step after running such a comprehensive process,” said interim chief executive Ross Lane, whose grandfather Boyd Lane founded Oroton in 1938.

“However … it is apparent that voluntary administration is necessary to protect the Oroton business and the future of this iconic Australian brand.”

Oroton has suffered falling sales in recent years and ran at a $14.2 million loss in 2017.

The company’s shares, which went into a trading halt on Tuesday while the board finalised the result of its review, had fallen from $7.80 in early 2013 to $2.44 a year ago. On Monday, they closed at just 43??.

Administrator Vaughan Strawbridge said he and his colleague Glen Kanevsky would be focused on continuing to operate the business as they seek to sell or recapitalise the company.

Restructuring the group was also a possibility. “Our ambition is that a stronger Oroton business will emerge from this process,” Mr Strawbridge said.

Oroton joins a string of mid-sized fashion retailers to collapse over the past 18 months, with Marcs, David Lawrence, Herringbone, Rhodes & Beckett, Payless Shoes and Pumpkin Patch all going under.

Oroton said in August that it would close its six Gap franchise clothing stores so it could focus on its core handbag brand.

The company’s stock is tightly held, with the founding Lane family controlling 21 per cent of shares while fund manager and long-time company backer Will Vicars, of Sydney-based firm Caledonia, owns 18.2 per cent of shares.

Mr Vicars offered up to $3 million in credit support to Oroton in June as it underwent the strategic review, led by investment bank Moelis & Co.

Gazal Corporation, the listed wholesaler of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen and Pierre Cardin apparel in Australia, bought 7.3 per cent of Oroton in July.

A privatisation bid by the Lane family or Mr Vicars, or a takeover from Gazal, were all floated as possible outcomes from the review.

The company had net debt of $5.4 million at the end of FY17, and a market capitalisation of $18.3 million at its last share price. Only 31 per cent of its shares were in free float.

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Queen’s Wharf architect explains tower’s ‘natural’ design

Queen’s Wharf architect Kevin SnellThe man who designed Queen’s Wharf Tower in the 1980s says it was meant to be a temporary structure and is surprised it has lasted this long.
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Architect Kevin Snell said the observation tower had served its purpose and he was not surprised Newcastle City Council had decided this week to demolish it.

“It was only designed as a temporary structure, like an expo-type structure,” he told theNewcastle Herald.

“My ego’s not threatened, that’s for sure. I’m very, very surprised that the council has dished out the money to maintain it all this time.

“I applaud the council for 30 years of support for the structure, but I fully understand, and I’m not crestfallen that it is to be demolished because that was always to be the case.”

Mr Snell said the tower, which was built as part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations and opened by the queen in 1988,was meant to be dismantled after only two to five years.

Kevin SnellQueen’s Wharf architect Kevin Snell, right, with real estate agent Chris Chapman in 1983.

MOVING FORWARD: A race car drives past the Queen’s Wharf Tower on Saturday during the Newcastle 500. Picture: Simone De Peak

CLEARING THE AIR: An artist’s rendering of how the wharf would look without the tower. Picture: Newcastle City Council

Before and after images of Queen’s Wharf with and without the tower. Image courtesy of Newcastle City Council

An artist’s rendering of how the tower-less wharf could look. Image courtesy of Newcastle City Council

TweetFacebookThe tower was first designed as a square. Once it became circular,the domed roof was meant to open hydraulically into four sections like petals.

“The very top of the thing was designed to open like a flower opening,” Mr Snell said.“The four panels were to open, but the cost blew that out of the water.The fact that it stays closed, as it were, is the result we have.”

Queen’s Wharf, the accompanying tower and a now-dismantled walkway from the Hunter Street mall were builtto entice people to cross the heavy rail line and engage with the working harbour.

The wharf complexwon the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ (NSW chapter) Lloyd Rees Award for urban design in 1988.

Mr Snell, who last climbed the tower five years ago with his grandchildren, said his initial design for the structure had evolved due to costs, engineering challenges and a range of other issues.

“It was just a barren waste, so the idea of the tower was to draw people from the CBD across the railway line to the foreshore and then by climbing the tower get some idea of the closeness of the CBD tothe harbour and just as a point of interest and a bit of a landmark.

“The reality is that the council were very concerned that no one be able to fall or jump off the tower, so it had to be closed in all the way.

“The sponsors were people like Tubemakers and the steelworks, so clearly we weren’t going to build it out of concrete, plus concrete was a much more permanent structure.

“And then if you can imagine the concentric rings we decided to make it out of to celebrate Tubemakers or pipe bending in Newcastle, one ring has one weld, whereas four pieces of a square tower would have had four welds, which would be four times the cost, really.

“The other thing was the council was concerned it be a gentle walk, so you would find your own level, and if you were feeling exhausted you could stand there a while and other people could pass you. There’s a flat section on every quarter turn.

“So then it came down to the structural engineers designing the most efficient way to hold the thing up, and the circular shape ended up being the most efficient shape.

An early model of Queen’s Wharf.

“I was actually listening to a bit of talkback, and a few people said they enjoyed going up there and getting a sense of the working harbour and the foreshore and just an overview, and that was pleasing me to hear because that’s exactly what it was designed for.

“On the other hand I fully acknowledge it was a short-term thing and it’s probably served its purpose.”

The council has called for community feedback on what to put in the tower’s place, and Mr Snell hoped that whatever it was would continue to celebrate the “Dangar axis”, an alignmentbetween the cathedral and harbour in surveyor Henry Dangar’s 1824 town plan.

Mr Snell urged the council torecord the tower’s history as part of an award-winningbuilding of its time.

Newcastle property developer Keith Stronach called two years ago for the entire Queen’s Wharf complex to go, and Mr Snell was open to the idea.

“I wouldn’t shy away from a brief to recreate a whole new presence there.”

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Landmark or eyesore? Mixed views on tower demolition

Deal restores Dalwood name to historic estate

VINTAGE LABEL: Bryan Currie, the senior winemaker and general manager of Hungerford Hill, Sweetwater and Dalwood wine operations.INa major coup for Hunter Valley wine history, the Iris Capital group of Sydney hotelier and developer Sam Arnaout has bought the right to restore the Dalwood name to the Branxton home of Australia’s oldest continuously operating vineyard estate.
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Ina deal negotiated with the Penfold arm of ASX-listed Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) over several months, Mr Arnaout will be able to call the property Dalwood and produce wine under the Dalwood label.

Bryan Currie, the senior winemaker and general manager of Iris Capital’s Hungerford Hill, Sweetwater and now Dalwood wine operations,saidthe deal would mean a Dalwood label 2017 chardonnay would be released next autumn and other shiraz and semillon wines would follow. Dalwood wines would be produced from the coming 2018 Hunter vintage.

Dalwood was the name given by pioneer George Wyndham to the 445 hectares of Hunter River frontage land he and his family settled in 1828, 16 years beforeDr Christopher Penfold founded the Penfolds wine venture on the Magill Estate property in the foothills of South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges.

George Wyndham got the Dalwood name from a family estate in his native England and he his family and planted a vineyard and produced his first wine at Branxton in 1835. He and his sonJohnwent on to make Dalwood one of the best-known wine producers of the day.

In 1904 the then-family-owned Penfolds company bought the Dalwood property and wine brand and from the 1930s to the early 1960s it produced some superb reds and whites, including a 1930 cabernet sauvignon-petit verdot blend described by Macquarie St hand surgeon, author, winemaker and bon vivant Max Lake as “the best wine I ever tasted”.

In 1967 Penfolds sold the Dalwood site, but not the brand name, to Perc McGuigan, who had been its Hunter cellar master-manager for 28 years. Perc subsequently sold the property to a three-man partnership that included son Brian – who went on to build Wyndham Estate into an Australian wine giant before the French Pernod Ricard group acquired the estate in 1990 in its $73 million takeover Wyndham Estate company.

Under Pernod Ricard ownership the Wyndham site was a venue for concerts, wine sales, weddings and social and corporate events. In 2014, however, Pernod Ricard shut the estate and it remained in limbo until its sale to Iris Capital last December for a reported $3 million. After the purchase Iris Capital chief Sam Arnaout said his group would reopen the site and return it to its glory days.

Iris has a burgeoning Hunter wine empire, born in July 2016 with the 48-hectare Sweetwater estate in Rothbury, and was followed up last November with the Hungerford Hill complex. Iris has become a major player in the redevelopment of Newcastle CBD, buying a 1.66-hectare Hunter Street Mall site.

Before selling the Dalwood name to MrArnaout, TreasuryWine Estates last September made another important contribution to the Hunter Valley’smatchless wine heritage by selling the 147-year-old Ben Ean estate in Pokolbin,to Brian McGuigan and Colin Peterson. The $5 million to $8 million sale of the former asset of the Lindeman’s arm of TWE gave Mr McGuigan and Mr Peterson ownership of the Ben Ean winery building, vineyard, cellar door, function centre and restaurants. It also gave them the right to use the Ben Ean name on the site, but not as a wine brand.

Turnbull announces royal commission into banking sector

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison address the media during a joint press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 November 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe Turnbull government will establish a royal commission into misconduct in Australia’s banking sector.
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the backflip on Thursday after bank CEOs called on the government to establish an inquiry to end the uncertainty plaguing the sector.

“The speculation about an inquiry cannot go on,” Mr Turnbull said.

“It’s moving into dangerous territory where some of the proposals being put forward have the potential, seriously, to damage some of our most important institutions.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 22: Generic ‘Big Four Banks’ – ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank, NAB Bank and Commonwealth Bank. General view of people walking past bank atms on 22 September, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Paul Rovere/Fairfax Media) Generic banks

The royal commission will run for 12 months.

The CEOs and chairmen of the Commonwealth, Westpac, National Australia and ANZ banks made the request in an email sent on Thursday to Treasurer Scott Morrison.

It comes amid mounting pressure on the coalition government from Labor and some Nationals MPs for the establishment of a royal commission into the nation’s banks.

The banks have consistently argued that further inquiries into the sector, including a royal commission, were “unwarranted” as they were costly and unnecessary distractions at a time when the sector faced significant challenges.

But in the email to Mr Morrison, they said in light of recent speculation, it was now “imperative” for the government to act decisively to deliver certainty to the sector, bank customers and the community.

“It is now in the national interest for the political uncertainty to end,” the email says.

“It is hurting confidence in our financial services system, including in offshore markets, and has diminished trust and respect for our sector and people. It also risks undermining the critical perception that our banks are unquestionably strong.

“We now ask you and your government to act to ensure a properly constituted inquiry into the financial services sector is established to put an end to the uncertainty and restore trust, respect and confidence.”

The banks said the inquiry should be led by an eminent and respected ex judicial officer; its terms of reference should be “thoughtfully drafted and free of political influence”; its scope should cover the community’s core concerns; report back in a timely manner; and it must replace other ongoing inquiries.

The email was signed by ANZ chairman David Gonski and chief executive Shayne Elliott, CBA chairman Catherine Livingstone and CEO Ian Narev, NAB chairman Ken Henry and CEO Andrew Thorburn, and Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted and CEO Brian Hartzer.

Mr Turnbull has repeatedly denied any need for a royal commission after a series of scandals in the banking sector, but Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan believes he has the numbers to go ahead without cabinet approval.

More to come

with BusinessDay

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Charity day big success for Academy

ACTION PACKED: Eighteen teams representing their respective mines competed in a day-long rugby league 10s competition at Singleton’s Pirtek Park on October 7.Three hundred and fiftylocal mining employees made up 18 teams representing their respective mines and competed in a day-long rugby league 10s competition at Singleton’s Pirtek Park on October 7.
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CHIPPING IN: SGS Academy team members volunteered their services selling raffle tickets throughout the day to raise funds for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

Organised by the Singleton Volunteer Support Group, the competition also included two women’s teams for the very first time this year and was cheered on by over 1800 spectators.

“As active members of the Hunter Valley mining community, SGS Academy was excited to see the addition of the Women in Mining Series and to be one of the sponsors of the victors of the day, the Hunter Hawkettes,”Ryan Compton, Training Services Manager at SGS Academy said.

NEW FEATURE: SGS Academy was proud to be one of the sponsors of the inaugural Women in Mining Series won on the day by the Hunter Hawkettes.

“It was great to be able to socialise with a number of our training clients, and to work together to support the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.”

As well as sponsorship involvement, SGS Academy team volunteers sold raffle tickets on the day to raise funds for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

“The Hunter Valley is all about community and this is exactly what today was about,” Julie-Anne Wright of SGS Academy said.

“The community involvement was fantastic and the day was a huge success for the Rescue Helicopter Service with $80,000 raised.”

Each year the Rescue Helicopter undertakes more than 1500 missions including transporting people from accident scenes, transferring critically ill patients between hospitals and undertaking search and rescue operations throughout Northern NSW.

“We can’t wait to be involved again next year,” Wright added.

Rocking in hall of fame

LOVE THAT ROCKS: Guitar super couple Orianthi and Richie Sambora performing at a charity show alongside The Doors’ Robby Krieger. RICHIE Sambora promises he will reunite with Bon Jovi if the iconic American band is inducted into the Rock’n’roll Hall Of Fame inApril.
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He wouldn’t miss it –dead or alive.

“It’s going to happen. It’s been a long time,” Sambora tells Weekenderfrom his home in Los Angeles.

It would besacrilegious if Sambora wasn’t there celebrating Bon Jovi’sinclusion into one of music’s most exclusive clubs.

Together with frontman Jon Bon Jovi, Sambora forged one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the late 80s and 90s, producingera-defining hits like Livin’ On A Prayer, Wanted Dead Or Alive and Keep The Faith.

The pair were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Rock’n’roll Hall Of Fame opened in 1986 and boasts theveritable cream of popular music talent like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and David Bowie.

Bon Jovi havepreviously been nominated and will compete with the Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, Dire Straits and Kate Bush to join the class of 2018.

LIKELY RETURN: Richie Sambora performing with Bon Jovi back in 2010.

“To get in that line, to get in that queue with all those people I grew up idolising, that’s what makes it,” Sambora says.

“I grew up makebelieving I was Paul McCartney, or Bob Dylan and they’re all in there.The fact that someone gives you a little nod is really good.”

If the induction happens it will be particularly exciting for Bon Jovi fans. Itwill mark the first time since 2013 that Sambora has performed with the arena rock legends.

However, the 58-year-old guitarmaestro has hardly been keeping quiet since departing Bon Jovi’s rock juggernaut.

In the interim he has forged ahead by launching an electrifying duo, RSO, with his partner and Australian guitar goddessOrianthi.

Last year Sambora and Orianthi toured Australia and performedat the NRL Grand Final and then in September they released their debut EP Rise.

HOPE: Richie Sambora has found love and musical inspiration with Orianthi.

The five-track EP of polished modern rockwas merely a taste of what the couple have created in their home studio.

“I think we have70 songs in the can, or something like that,” Sambora says of writing with Orianthi.“We’ve written so much.

“The man-woman thing doesn’t really exist. Some people will get together in today’s world and do a single, but this is Ori and I and it’s an entity.

“I don’t think it’s happening out there any more. We know what to do. It’s not likethis is our first time at the dance.”

The 32-year-old Adelaide-bred Orianthi might have been born a year after Bon Jovi’s debut album, but she’s hardly a newcomer to the rock’n’roll world.

Orianthi, full nameOrianthi Panagaris,has been writing songs since she was 15 and jammed with the legendary Carlos Santana at 18. Then came her big break in 2009 when she performed in Carrie Underwood’s band.

That led to her being personally selected by Michael Jackson to perform on his This Is It tour, which was ultimately cancelled due to the pop icon’s death.

Richie Sambora

However, Orianthi quickly recovered from the tragedy to become Alice Cooper’s first female touring guitarist from 2011 to 2014.

These successes in the traditionally male-dominated world of rock havemade Orianthi a poster girl for aspiring female guitarists.

“Growing up I never thought about that, I just wanted to play guitar,” Orianthi says.

“I love to inspire more females to pick it up and be in the industry and be strong and empowering, but I also want to inspire guys too.

“It’s really cool I get so many messages through Facebook and social media saying‘thank you so much for inspiring me’.”

Given both Sambora and Orianthi are renown for their wizardry on a fret board you can only imagine the guitar duels which happen in the lounge room.

Orianthi says their professional relationshipnever crosses the line into their personal one by becoming overlycompetitive.

ROCKING UNION: Orianthi and Richie Sambora are renown for their on stage guitar duels.

“I think it’s just being able to inspire each other, like if Richie comes in with an idea,we’re working off each other,” she says.

“We bounce ideas around all the time and it’s a very creative atmosphere.”

Sambora agrees.“It’s basically common respect, that’s what it’sabout,” he says.“We respect each other and what we’ve done and we live together.

“There’s the relationship part of that and then the business part.”

Richie Sambora and Orianthi headline the inaugural Under The Southern Stars with Jimmy Barnes at Tuncurry’s Harry Elliott Oval on January 6.

Record-breaking heat to give way to 200mm downpours in NSW, Victoria

The entire state of Victoria and large parts of South Australia and New South Wales are on flood watch as an unprecedented wet weather system looks to smash through the recent record-breaking heat.
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Southern and eastern Australia is about to cop a lashing from Mother Nature, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) advises, with falls of up to 200mm predicted in parts of Victoria and western NSW.

Severe thunderstorms are expected in South Australia late on Thursday and into Friday, bringing with them damaging winds, hail and heavy rainfall up to 100mm.

As the system moves into Victoria and NSW, that predicted rainfall only gets higher.

“The system will ramp up over Victoria and western NSW on Friday and into Saturday with rainfalls of 100-200mm expected in these areas, particularly those areas closer to the ranges,” BoM senior forecaster Scott Williams said.

“Peak falls in the northeast of Victoria could top 300mm over the 48 hours to Saturday night.

Initial Flood Watch issued for Victoria: From Friday to Sunday widespread totals of 60-120mm in the South and 100-200mm in the North are forecast. Widespread flooding is likely from Friday onwards. Check here for updates https://t.co/Ildo3KSAXKpic.twitter南京夜网/arHidYCYGu

— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) November 29, 2017More than a months rain forecast in 36 hours in some areas to start our summer. Check the #forecast at https://t.co/SrkQxr8aaYpic.twitter南京夜网/gb9i8dBbYt

— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) November 29, 2017FLOOD WATCH updated 4:30pm. Very heavy rainfalls expected Friday and Saturday for Bell, Belubula, Murrumbidgee, Upper Murray and Snowy Rivers: https://t.co/xZcXIvFypN#NSWfloodspic.twitter南京夜网/QpKsnjiqt8

— Bureau of Meteorology Australian Capital Territory (@BOM_ACT) November 29, 2017The State Emergency Service advises that people should:Don’t walk, ride or drive through flood waterKeep clear of creeks and storm drainsBe aware that in fire affected areas, rainfall run-off into waterways may contain debris such as ash, soil, trees and rocksBe alert that in areas recently affected by fires, heavy rainfall increases the potential for landslides and debris across roadsBOM Severe Weather Update – Warnings current at 10.30am Friday, November 30Source: Bureau of Meteorology

NSW

Flood watch for Bell, Belubula, Murrumbidgee, Upper Murray and Snowy Rivers:Local and minor to moderate riverine flooding may develop along the Murrumbidgee River from Friday onwards.Southern and central districts forecast to receive the most rain, with some areas likely to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall during Friday and Saturday.The Upper Murrumbidgee catchment is wet following rainfall in the last two weeks.Potential to cause minor to moderate riverine flooding as well as local flooding from Friday onwards.Victoria

Initial flood watch for Victoria:​Heavy rain and scattered thunderstorms are likely to develop in the far west during Thursday night before extending across the remaining parts of the State during Friday. The heavy rain and thunderstorm activity will continue on Saturday.Three day totals of around 60-120mm are expected south of the Divide and over the far northwest with totals of between 100 and 200mm over remaining areas on and north of the Divide. However, totals over the northeast ranges may exceed 250mm.Catchments likely to be affected: Snowy River, Tambo River, Mitchell River, Avon River, Macalister River, Thomson River, Latrobe River, Traralgon Creek, South Gippsland Rivers, Bunyip River and Dandenong Creek, Yarra River, Maribyrnon River, Werribee River, Barwon, Leigh and Moorabool Rivers, Hopkins River, Lake Corangamite, Otway Coast, Upper Murray and Mitta Mitta Rivers, Kiewa River, Ovens and King Rivers, Broken River, Broken Creek, Seven and Castle Creeks, Goulburn River, Campaspe River, Loddon River, Avoca River, Wimmera RiverSevere weather warning for heavy rainfall:Heavy rain and scattered thunderstorms which may lead to flash flooding are likely to develop in the far west during Thursday night before extending across the remaining parts of the state during Friday. The heavy rain and thunderstorm activity will continue on Saturday.Three-day totals of around 60-120mm are expected south of the Divide and over the far northwest with totals of 100-200mm for remaining areas on and north of the Divide. However, totals over the northeast ranges may exceed 250mm. Locations which may be affected include Mildura, Horsham, Warrnambool, Bendigo, Shepparton, Seymour, Maryborough, Ballarat, Geelong, Melbourne, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Traralgon and Bairnsdale.

Forget sea and tree changes: There’s another option out there

While the outback holds a special place in many Australian hearts, there would be few city dwellers keen to trade urban comforts for life on a remote outback property.
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It wasn’t something Amy O’Shea had expected to do either. After spending a gap year working in retail in her hometown of Toowoomba, and feeling uninspired, her mum suggested she head to a remote country area to work as a governess.

“My original reaction was ‘what even is a governess?'” O’Shea says.

A career teaching and caring for outback kids isn’t something urban women are lining up to do, but O’Shea’s interest was piqued. She found a “govie” position on Hewart Downs Station, a few hundred kilometres north of Broken Hill, and was soon heading out to far-west NSW.

The new home required O’Shea to adjust to some difficult realities, like “iffy” phone reception and sharing a bathroom with workers on the property. But she was soon won over by the beauty of the landscape.

“The country can go from deep red sand hills to stony open flats every few hundred metres,” she says. “It can be quite harsh sometimes, but I love that you can come out here and see for miles, breathe fresh air and see the whole sky at night. Plus the sunsets are pretty amazing.”

O’Shea says the most unexpected thing was the friendliness of the local community.

“Everyone just seemed to love everyone, and they were so welcoming to me as well. Coming from a city where you pass people you don’t know every day???it was really awesome to have someone smile and have a conversation with you.” Related: The professional couple living on a busRelated: How Ashlee is flipping Hawaiian apartmentsRelated: The downside of rural life no one talks about

With neighbours living kilometres from one another, getting together to socialise is a priority, and there are no prizes for guessing where it’s done: “Out here we go to the pub,” O’Shea says. “That’s where the whole town gets to catch up on weekends. Other than that, we go to rodeos, gymkhanas, and occasionally get to dress up for the races.”

It was at a local gymkhana that she met Jake, the manager of the station next door, who would later become her husband. She laughs at the suggestion that it was love at first sight. “No, I don’t think so. We took it slow for the first couple of months, although we did get engaged pretty quickly.”

She credits her husband for introducing her to a new favourite hobby – sheep mustering. “My husband is a bit motorbike mad, so he got me on one and out there mustering with him as soon as he could, and I had a ball. I don’t think I could ever get tired of doing that every day.”

If her new hobby is a world away from Toowoomba, so is her latest governess job, which has her travelling all over the corner country of far-west NSW with the family she works for. Their accommodation is towed along with them – two dongas (transportable buildings) on semi-trailers that provide necessary living areas, as well as the schoolroom O’Shea teaches in.

That job will be wrapping up soon, however, as O’Shea prepares for the next stage of her ever-evolving life – she’s due to have her first baby in March. Being pregnant is another reminder of how isolated she is.

“I’m 22 weeks pregnant at the moment and have had a few issues along the way, and while the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) is amazing, it’s difficult knowing that if something happens you’re so far away from anything.”

She’s grateful to be better connected than some. The home she shares with her husband at Yandama Station has decent phone service, and is relatively close to an RFDS-approved landing strip in case of emergency.

O’Shea plans to go back to Toowoomba for the birth, but only temporarily. She misses her parents, but knows she’ll be keen to return to the wide open spaces of Yandama Station.

“Whenever I go back to Toowoomba, the one thing I miss is the open sky,” she says. “I love that I can look out my bedroom window and see the sheep going down to water. No cars, no noise. I love being out on the bike and just seeing open land for as far as the eye can see.”

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Sam Dastyari quits key positions after more damaging China revelations

Senator Sam Dastyari, pictured in the Senate this week. Photo: Alex EllinghausenOpposition Leader Bill Shorten has ordered Labor senator Sam Dastyari to resign from his parliamentary responsibilities following another day of damaging reports about his dealings with businessman and political donor Huang Xiangmo.
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Senator Dastyari will quit his positions as deputy opposition whip in the Senate and as chair of a committee but remain in the Parliament.

The demotion follows Fairfax Media’s revelation that the New South Wales senator warnedthe Chinese Communist Party-linked political donorlast yearthat his phone was likely tapped by government agencies, including the US government.

Before the two spoke, MrDastyarigave MrHuangcounter-surveillance advice, saying they should leave their phones inside and go outside to speak.

The face-to-face meeting between the pair in the grounds of MrHuang’sMosman mansion in Sydney last October came several weeks after MrDastyariquit the frontbench over his dealings with MrHuang.

It also occurred after ASIO briefed senior political figures, including from the Australian Labor Party, that MrHuangwas of interest to the agency over his opaque links to the Chinese government.

Audio obtained by Fairfax and released late on Wednesday revealedthat Senator Dastyari had delivered a deliberate and detailed defence of China’s position in the South China Sea in mid-2016 in defiance of Labor policy.

Weeks after that speech was first reported, andamid fierce scrutiny about why the rising star of the ALP had contradicted Australia’s bipartisan foreign policyon Beijing’s aggressive territorial claims, Dastyari suggested his comments were off the cuff.

“Now I’m not going to be the first or the last backbench Member of Parliament to have taken a foreign policy question they shouldn’t have taken, mumbled it and answered it incorrectly,” he told the ABC’sAustralian Story.

Mr Shorten said this”mischaracterisation” of those comments had made the senator’s position untenable.

“Last night I spoke to Senator Sam Dastyari and told him to resign from his senior Labor positions in the Senate. It is not a decision I took lightly,” the Opposition Leader said in a statement.

“I also told him that while I accept his word that he never had, nor disclosed, any classified information, his handling of these matters showed a lack of judgment.”

Senator Dastyari was forced to resign from the Senate frontbench late last year because of earlier revelations concerning his relationship with Mr Huang and statements on the South China Sea. After setting about rehabilitating his political image, he was given the deputy whip position in February.

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’Shanghai Sam’, the whale and the ‘lost’ tape recording

The only reason to get excited about Meghan and Harry

I’m not sure if you’ve heard but apparently Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle this week. Did you notice?
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I know, it’s been hard to get hold of any information about Meghan, her outfits, her background, her skin-tone, her ring, her potential dress, her mother, her father, her freckles, her embittered half-sister, her first husband, her love of roast chicken, her hair, her body language during the proposal video.

Still, it’s good news, isn’t it? And we need good news right now. We need news that won’t be twisted into “fake news”. News that prompts us to say to that co-worker we usually avoid, “They’re engaged!” To which they reply “Huh? Who?” and you smile to yourself, thinking, “You idiot. Don’t you read? This is why I hate you.” And then we walk on.

I don’t care if you think Meghan is “basic” or that the TV show she just quit was a glorified soap opera. I don’t care that Harry looks a little too much like that reportedly lecherous redhead Captain James Hewitt. The point is, “Basic” and “Ginger” are in love and it’s the first bit of good news we’ve had in a century. At least, it feels that way.

Let’s review. The year 2016 carried with it the stench of an open coffin. If you loved a celebrity, chances were they died on you last year. David Bowie. Prince. Carrie Fisher. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. George Michael.

And just when you thought humanity couldn’t sink any lower into the bog of our collective grief, along came the self-proclaimed swamp-drainer himself, Donald Trump.

The reality-star-turned-punchline-turned-president functioned as the perfect bridge between 2016 and 2017, personifying not just the death of hope, but everything we were yet to learn about so many narcissistic men in power.

Oh yes, that’s right! It might have taken until October of this year but as soon as The New York Times published its detailed report on movie producer Harvey Weinstein, what once amounted to a few dying embers of sexual assault rumours, became a bushfire of allegations. And half-baked apologies that managed to offend even more people.

“Sorry, I came of age in the 1970s”, “Sorry, I am gay”, “Sorry I have Asperger’s”, “Sorry, I misread the situation, I actually thought the women were into it. But now that I’ve been exposed, I see that was maaaaybe a mistake?”

The accusations were so frequent, and often so shocking, you almost wished some of these men had been taken from us in 2016 so you didn’t have to face the disappointment. Don Burke and Kevin Spacey? Sure, we heard the rumours for years. But Matthew Weiner? Jeffrey Tambor? That weird-looking guy from Gossip Girl?

Who’s next? Big Bird?

Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.

What I do want to know is more about Meghan. Does she really use roast chicken as a vehicle for making friends? Was she really surprised when Harry proposed? Every news outlet in Britain is screaming “ANY DAY NOW!” and still she’s shocked? I’ll tell you what I’m shocked about, the creeping sense I have that Harry might actually be hot.

Oh, I know everyone has been saying it for years, but calling a royal good-looking comes with a long list of caveats, the first of which is this: Harry is good-looking for a person whose parents were distant cousins. OH but pish tosh!

Do you not see him, standing there, beaming at Meghan, a woman who is clearly a good 50 kilometres out of his league? And did you not see her beaming right back? Well, it warms one’s heart. And just in time for Christmas.

I refuse to be cynical about their union, I choose joy; for them, for us, for the souvenir collector’s items, because joy feels as if it has been in limited supply for two years now.

The royal engagement is an omen, a flicker of light at the end of a long, sewage-filled tunnel. A sign that maybe we don’t have to keep re-watching The Crown just to get a hit of old-world glamour, a spot of pageantry and plummy accents. We can now fix our eyes firmly on the real crown, and then turn, ever-so-slightly to the left, and then, turn again to look further down the road to a little church, well, chapel to be exact. And we can wait like the crazies we are until one fine May morning …

Well, not literally. I mean the weather’s bound to be terrible.

What we can do is return to our news feeds, comforted by the fact that people will once again fight the good fight about grammar, lack of sleep, and how bored they are by the royal coverage. And we can rejoice once more, marinating in the gossip and good humour that comes with the news that two people we’ve never met are going to hold a slightly awkward party we are not invited to.

Cheers, eh? To 2018.

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