Sio’s a Super inspiration

Pat Sio, brother of ACT Brumby Scott Sio.They used to spend afternoons bashing into each other in the backyard and now Pat Sio wants to follow big brother Scott into Super Rugby.
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But first the powerfully built back-rower is aiming to emulate Scott’s junior achievements and win selection in the Australian under-20s side for the world championships in June.

While Scott was in Melbourne preparing to play for the ACT Brumbies against the Melbourne Rebels, Pat was finishing his first camp with the national squad.

The brothers – Pat is taller but Scott is heavier – spent their Christmas holidays ”trying to choke each other out” in wrestling sessions in Sydney. The park down the street from their house was another venue for their wrestling sessions.

Now Brumbies prop Scott is the inspiration driving Pat’s bid to make his first Australian team.

”It’s always good to aim high … I look at [Scott’s achievements] as a challenge,” Pat said. ”I reckon I’m up to the challenge … we both have the same goal – play for the Wallabies.

”Scott has taught me a lot of the things he’s learnt at the Brumbies. He thinks he’s faster than me, but I’ve got him covered … we’re always competitive.”

An Australian under-20s squad spent the past week training at the Australian Institute of Sport at the first camp with new coach Sean Hedger. The initial squad of 50 will be trimmed to a smaller group that will prepare for the junior world championships to be held in France later this year.

Sio failed to make the Australian schoolboys teams, but has his sights set on a Super Rugby deal and under-20s honours.

Canberra duo Tom Staniforth and Andrew Robinson are also pushing their names forward for selection.

Both played in the Australian Schoolboys team last year and Brumbies coach Jake White has invited them to train with the Super Rugby squad.

”I’ve just learnt to go harder and go faster by training with the Brumbies,” towering second-rower Staniforth said. ”I’m still getting bumped and smashed [by the older guys], but I’m really lucky and that’s the only way you learn.

”When I look into [my goals] too much, that’s when I get worried and don’t play well, so I’m just having fun now.”

Robinson had to sit out the majority of work at the camp after injuring a shoulder in the Brumbies Q Sevens tournament last weekend.

The Tuggeranong Vikings back hopes this will not affect his chances of winning a spot in the final 28-man squad.

”It’s frustrating, but hopefully I get a chance to show them what I can do,” he said. ”Getting picked for the under-20s is my major goal for this year and then hopefully have a successful season with the Vikings.”

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Cooper’s reflections of a dummy past

HE WENT from Australian rugby’s hottest commodity to the sport’s most hated figure in the space of 14 months. It is fair to say Quade Cooper knows a thing or two about the ups and downs of professional sport.
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But success never comes with a promise to stick around and Cooper, a boxing match and a rugby game into his latest, hopeful comeback, has learnt that the hard way.

”The margins of success to failure are so small,” he says. ”At the start of [2011] everything was just falling into place, whether [the Reds] were playing the best football one week to not very well the next week, we were still winning games because we were working so hard. From the success of the 2011 Super rugby season to the – I wouldn’t say failure, but – to the 2011 World Cup, us not performing to our best and myself as well. That margin is so small, you can’t let up for a second.”

The car park of a suburban shopping centre in Brisbane’s southern suburbs is an unlikely place for reflection.

But here is Cooper, sitting in his car on a Thursday night, wondering into his phone why he said the things he did on live television towards the end of last year and whether he would have said them at all if he had not pushed his playing return so hard.

”I think to a degree they all coincided with each other,” he says. ”When you’re injured it’s a very tough time emotionally, there are so many ups and downs with rehab and there’s a lot of hard work and frustration that goes into it. A lot of things can add up and I guess it’s just like anything in life, whatever your day job is, you can have a bad day in the office, a day when little things agitate you.”

Cooper had a bad few months. After the disaster of the World Cup campaign and the long road back from a serious knee injury, the Reds playmaker returned to the pitch last May to help salvage Queensland’s season and get the team through to the finals.

In August he made it into the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship but lacklustre performances in three Tests culminated in another injury to his knee and more surgery in September. A little more than a week later came the now-infamous television interview, in which Cooper claimed the Wallabies were ”destroying” him ”as a person and as a player”. The reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

”I understand it, of course,” he says. ”There’s a lot of people, myself included, when I look back over some of the things I said in that interview, there’s a lot of emotion and things that come across wrong and that I didn’t necessarily mean but that came out in a way that was [wrong].”

A $60,000 fine, $20,000 of which was suspended on the condition he toes the line going forward, and an awkward public apology followed but Cooper ruled himself out of the Wallabies tour of Europe in November while his future in rugby hung in the balance.

Three months on, with a lucrative new two-year deal but no guarantees of Wallabies selection, Cooper knows he may never be able to heal the rift with those supporters who found the on-air tantrum was a bridge too far.

”I apologise to everybody that thought I was disregarding the Wallabies jumper, that I didn’t want to play for the Wallabies,” he says. ”I know a lot of people will never fully understand my reaction or fully forgive me for what I did but I’ve got to get on with life and continue to come back and play as good a [game of] football as I can and hopefully everything will look after itself if I do the right thing.”

Cooper continues mulling what he’s learnt since being simultaneously booed and cheered by the Eden Park crowd as he limped off the field in Australia’s final game of the World Cup 16 months ago.

A skipping rope on the back seat of his car is an obvious nod to his controversial new side project, boxing, but is also an important part of the five-eighth’s renewed commitment to preparation, which includes knowing when to push and when to accept you’re not ready.

”If I had my time over I would never have come back [to the Reds] so soon or when I did come back I wouldn’t have played as much as I did because I just wasn’t ready for it,” he says.

Coming back from serious injury is the ultimate test of a quality athlete, balancing the time it takes to return to full physical and emotional strength against pressures from coaches, administrators and the athletes themselves.

As well as pushing his Super rugby return, Cooper now believes he might have been a ”liability” for the Wallabies.

”The things I’m able to do, that are my abilities and the strengths I bring to the team, I just wasn’t capable of doing those things,” he says. ”I probably wouldn’t have put my hand up to play because I feel like now I could have been a liability.”

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Blowing the whistle on panic

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.THE Australian sporting landscape – dramatised and catastrophised by a multiple and at a rate not possible before the internet era – looks a bleak place today.
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The Australian Crime Commission has identified corruption on a grand scale, with scope for much more. Essendon remains in a state of crisis as it seeks to deal with what is at very least a grubby look. Melbourne finds itself both victim and beneficiary of football realpolitik. Absolved of tanking on the grounds that the AFL does not know what it is, the Demons were penalised for bringing the game into disrepute anyway; this was not so much a judgment as an out-of-court settlement.

Two reports confirmed what had become obvious about Australia’s swimming team anyway, that it had grown too big for its budgie smugglers. In the aftermath of vandalism at a soccer match, the state government announced a crackdown on flare-lighters, scalpers and those most egregious of sporting wrongdoers, ambush marketers.

In Johannesburg, the Oscar Pistorius story broke, and broke, and broke. At the height of all this carnage, the wanton Ricky Ponting was booked for throwing his bat. Sport stood exposed as a darker and more evil place than any back alley, a cesspit of swirling greed, ego, ambition and immorality, no place to send your kids.

Or did it? How does this landscape really look when the glasses of inflammatory magnification are lowered? Is it really an irredeemably uglier place than it was a month ago? Or a year? Big time sport, with its nexus of glamour and money, always has attracted the corrupt; remember the Chicago Black Sox from almost a century ago? Cricket has been aware of match-fixing for nearly 20 years now.

Globalisation has brought corruption closer to home than ever. It is doubtful that this came to any administrator as a shock. As far as can be ascertained, the incidence of crookedness in Australian sport remains isolated. There is no suggestion of official conspiracy.

Drugs in sport are newer than fixing scams, but scarcely a Gen-Y concoction. In the last month, there has been a regrettable conflation, as the AFL convened a summit on the prevalence of illicit drugs, then the ACC suggested that there was an issue with performance-enhancing drugs in AFL and NRL.

Finally, on Friday, Australia’s swim relay team admitted to breaking the rules concerning prescription drugs. Following hard on the cleats of the Lance Armstrong scandal, it creates an impression of sport as one giant den of undifferentiated drug-addled debauchery.

If it looks as if sporting authorities are always chasing the cheats and miscreants, that is because they are. There is only so much that can be done pre-emptively. Every summer in Australia, despite all the vigilance, precautions and deterrents, there are always fires to put out.

In fighting an image of sport as some sort of anarchic orgy, authorities do not always help themselves. Sweeping statements about bringing evildoers to heel tend to make a hollow sound.

Pettifogging officiousness grates. Run out for 95 in a one-dayer in Perth, Ponting spun his bat in the air in the mildest gesture of frustration. For this, he got a ticket. It is as well for Rob Quiney that he caught his bat that afternoon in Adelaide, or he might have had more zeroes to deal with.

Protecting sponsors’ rights seems so beside the issue. It reminds me of the image of Sachin Tendulkar in the 1996 World Cup, hiding from the drinks cart lest he be identified with a rival soft-drink maker. Coke? Pepsi? I didn’t care then, and can’t remember now, and that’s the point. I remember only Tendulkar as a pawn.

As for the AFL’s bush lawyer ruling on Melbourne, consider the words that started it all, Dean Bailey’s on the day of his sacking: ”I was asked to do the best thing by the Melbourne Football Club, and I did the right thing by the Melbourne Football Club.” The AFL’s verdict, a bureaucratic masterpiece, was that the Demons had embarrassed the game, but not by tanking.

Sport is far from unblemished. As a microcosm of life, how could it be? When held up to the light, it is bound to show the worst of humanity as well as the best.

Not so long ago, we were as a country marvelling at the mighty batsmanship of Michael Clarke, and exchanging gracious farewells with Ponting and Mike Hussey, and hailing Novak Djokovic’s mastery at the Australian Open, and – if our eyes were open wide enough – admiring the excellence of the Australian women’s cricket team, and just last Saturday thrilling to the spectacle of Black Caviar in full flight, and on Thursday feeling a little warmer in our hearts as one-time refugee Fawad Ahmed took five wickets in debut to bowl Victoria to victory over Queensland, and – if our minds were free enough – speculating about the day Khawaja, Sandhu and Fawad might play together for Australia …

And believing and trusting in them all as we always have, which is both sport’s genetic flaw and eternal, animating charm.

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Free-running Folau will give me room to move, says flyer Kingston

THERE are few in rugby with better inside knowledge of Israel Folau’s potential than Tom Kingston.
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The young Waratahs winger will start in the back line with Folau in the side’s season opener against Queensland on Saturday, and says the NSW fullback is as exciting to play with as he is to watch.

”He drags in that many defenders that it doesn’t matter who runs outside of him a lot of the time, guys like me and Drew [Mitchell] and Lachie [Turner] just have to pick our lines right and you can get some pay out there,” Kingston says.

Of course it does matter who runs outside Folau, and Saturday’s wing spots were among the most hotly contested in the starting XV.

Kingston beat the likes of Test-capped Turner and rookie Michael Hodge to get his start. Coach Michael Cheika went with the Sydney University player because, he said, he wanted a pure flyer who could ”pin his ears back every time he gets the ball”.

”It is the way it goes in rugby, and if you ask the same question to a guy like Lachie or Drew that’s probably how they got their opportunities, so it is a cyclical thing,” Kingston said of his elevation to the starting side.

”At the same time, that competition means it’s not [being selected in] week one and starting for the rest of the season, it’s that continual competition week in, week out. Cheik’s shown he’s going to pick the guy in the best form, so you’ve got to be carrying that form in week to week.”

Kingston’s form was among the strongest in the squad during the Waratahs’ three trial matches against the Rebels, Blues and Crusaders. Played in combination with Folau for some time in each match, the pair’s partnership helped Kingston score three tries against the Blues and gave the Waratahs’ attack genuine unpredictability.

Kingston said the time on field with Folau was invaluable.

”Athletically [Folau is] probably one of the best guys I’ve seen come through the door out of anyone I’ve trained with,” he said of his teammate. ”The Crusaders was a great test, guys that have played 60 or 70 Super Rugby games still can’t tackle him first-up, and that’s an incredible trait to have. He just beats people one on one. Not even one on one, three on one he was beating people.”

Saturday night will be the toughest test yet of the Waratahs oft-mentioned new attacking style. Kingston, 21, who is starting his second full season with NSW, said the side had been ironing out the kinks that were visible in their final warm-up against the Crusaders last week.

”[It was] pushing a last pass, and that’s in a lot of ways not a bad thing because it’s the energy and the enthusiasm coming out,” he said. ”If those passes go to hand we’re 20 points up against the Crusaders, and everyone’s cheering.”

There is no lack of confidence in Kingston but it is born of dedication and a studious application to his game, traits he said he modelled off Berrick Barnes and Tom Carter.

”In my first year [2011] I came in halfway through and it was all bright lights, but then you get a full season under your belt and you realise it’s a long slog, and you have to be diligent about your preparation every week because otherwise you can let it slip so quickly in the season,” he said.

”We did let it slip at points last year … but I don’t know that at any point last year we were as comfortable with our own game plan than we are this week.”

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Cooper plans to make better fist of things this time around

Listen and learn … Quade Cooper looks on as Reds mate Will Genia takes the mic.HE WENT from Australian rugby’s hottest commodity to its most hated figure in the space of 14 months.
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It is fair to say Quade Cooper knows a thing or two about the ups and downs of professional sport.

Success never comes with a promise to stick around, and Cooper, a boxing match and a rugby game into his latest, hopeful comeback, has learnt that the hard way.

”The margins of success to failure are so small,” he says. ”At the start of [2011] everything was just falling into place, whether [the Reds] were playing the best football one week to not very well the next week, we were still winning games because we were working so hard. From the success of the 2011 Super Rugby season to the – I wouldn’t say failure, but – to the 2011 World Cup, us [Australia] not performing to our best and myself as well. That margin is so small, you can’t let up for a second.”

The car park of a suburban shopping centre in Brisbane’s south is an unlikely place for reflection.

But here is Cooper, sitting in his car on a Thursday night, wondering into his phone why he said the things he did on live television late last year and whether he would have said them at all if he hadn’t pushed his playing return so hard.

”I think to a degree they all coincided with each other,” he says. ”When you’re injured it’s a very tough time emotionally, there are so many ups and downs with rehab and there’s a lot of hard work and frustration that goes into it. A lot of things can add up, and I guess it’s just like anything in life, whatever your day job is, you can have a bad day in the office, a day when little things agitate you.”

Cooper had a bad few months. After the disaster of the World Cup campaign and the long road back from a serious knee injury, the Reds playmaker returned to the field last May to help salvage Queensland’s season and get the team through to the finals.

In August he made it into the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship but lacklustre performances in three Tests culminated in another injury to his knee and more surgery in September. A little more than a week later came the now-infamous television interview, in which Cooper said the Wallabies were ”destroying” him ”as a person and as a player”. The reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

”I understand it, of course,” he says. ”There’s a lot of people, myself included, when I look back over some of the things I said in that interview, there’s a lot of emotion and things that come across wrong and that I didn’t necessarily mean but that came out in a way that was [wrong].”

A $60,000 fine, $20,000 of which was suspended, and an awkward public apology followed but Cooper ruled himself out of the Wallabies’ tour of Europe in November while his future in rugby hung in the balance.

Three months later, with a lucrative new two-year deal but no guarantees of Wallabies selection, Cooper knows he might never be able to heal the rift with those supporters who found the on-air tantrum a bridge too far, even for one as precociously talented as Cooper. ”I apologise to everybody that thought I was disregarding the Wallabies jumper, that I didn’t want to play for the Wallabies,” he says. ”I know a lot of people will never fully understand my reaction or fully forgive me for what I did but I’ve got to get on with life and continue to come back and play as good a [game of] football as I can, and hopefully everything will look after itself if I do the right thing.”

A skipping rope sits on the back seat as Cooper continues mulling over what he’s learnt since being simultaneously booed and cheered by the Eden Park crowd as he limped off the field in Australia’s final game of the World Cup 16 months ago.

The rope is an obvious nod to his controversial new side project, boxing, but is also an important part of the five-eighth’s renewed commitment to physical preparation, which includes knowing when to push and when to accept you’re not ready.

”If I had my time over I would never have come back [to the Reds] so soon or when I did come back I wouldn’t have played as much as I did because I just wasn’t ready for it,” he says. ”You might feel like you’re 100 per cent, you might feel confident, but playing footy – actually being out on the field and doing the things you know you’re capable of or have been capable of – takes time.”

Australia hasn’t seen the best of Cooper since that sizzling Super Rugby season nearly two years ago. As well as pushing his Super Rugby return from the knee injury, Cooper believes he might have been a ”liability” for the Wallabies. ”The things I’m able to do, that are my abilities and the strengths I bring to the team, I just wasn’t capable of doing those things,” he says.

But car park confessions do not amount to regrets for a footballer who would be content to never make it back to poster-boy status.

”In our world, for professional athletes, a lot of people are there for the ride, they’ll use you while you’re relevant and move on to the next thing that comes by,” he says.

”It’s tough to learn but it’s better to learn it earlier rather than later. I’m glad I’ve been through a lot of experiences, and I’d like to say that now I’m in a position where I’m learning from all the mistakes I’ve made.”

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Cheika ready to lead the Waratahs to glory

ACCORDING to blink theory, first impressions are often the truest impressions. The first time I met Michael Cheika, the new coach of the Waratahs, was at Manuka Oval decades ago. Randwick, with Cheika as one of their aggressive loose forwards, had come to Canberra to play the local side.
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As the Randwick side walked into their changing room, Cheika spotted me among the small crowd watching the great men arrive. ”Spiro Zavos,” he called out, ”the rugby writer who never goes to matches.” ”What I am doing here, then?” I replied.

What I took from this brief encounter was that Cheika was an abrasive personality (as well as a player) and what rugby players call ”a needler”, someone who likes to provoke a reaction in people he is dealing with. What he was really saying was that if I had gone to matches I’d have to be promoting him as a Waratahs player in my columns. I immediately warmed to someone who had such self-confidence and a certain bravery in expressing it.

I subsequently followed Cheika’s successful career as a coach in Europe with great interest. He coached Leinster to Celtic League and Heineken Cup triumphs. His teams played aggressive rugby in front of large and enthusiastic crowds of supporters. I have high hopes that this sort of take-no-prisoners approach by Cheika to his rugby, to promoting himself, his team and to his coaching will work well for the Waratahs this year.

Like Rod Macqueen, Cheika is a successful businessman. He can walk away from coaching without a financial worry. This will enable him to cut through all the politicking that has bedevilled the Waratahs since 1996. This politicking, involving power disputes between the leading Sydney clubs, board struggles and incessant power plays by senior players, has made the Waratahs a dysfunctional team for too long. A clean-out of administrators has created a new environment at the Waratahs.

The new chairman of the board, Roger Davis, has looked to Cheika to fulfil the potential of the team and win a first Super Rugby trophy. So far in 2013, so good. I watched the Waratahs defeat the Rebels in a friendly at Hobart a couple of weeks ago. Israel Folau revealed himself as the X-factor player teams need to win Super Rugby tournaments. The Waratahs forwards, too, tore into the rucks and mauls and, initially, gave away penalties. It was explained to me the reason for this was they were trying to work out how far the referee, Angus Gardner, would let them go. The Waratahs, too, played in a style that had many similarities to the old ”Galloping Greens” Randwick game. One dazzling back movement was started from behind their own posts.

Against the Crusaders, in a second friendly at Allianz Stadium, there were fewer ruck penalties. Folau made a sizzling break from the kick-off.

The Waratahs, too, gave away shots at goal to score tries, which they did, scoring two to the one conceded. Cheika explained afterwards that he wanted his team to learn how to score tries.

For the first time in years, the Waratahs are really fit. The runs up the Coogee Steps have produced a side that looks, in body shape, more like a New Zealand side. Cheika, too, has imposed his way on the team by naming a new captain, Dave Dennis. He has dropped a former captain, Benn Robinson.

Tom Kingston, a player with a high work rate, has been preferred as a wing to Lachie Turner, whose early promise has been diminished through injuries.

There are 14 Wallabies in the Waratahs squad, nine of them in the forwards. The Waratahs have the players to be contenders. The Chiefs finished 11th in 2011 and won the Super Rugby tournament, with a new coach, last year. The Waratahs finished 11th last season. First impressions of Cheika suggest that sooner rather than later the Waratahs are going to be contenders.

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Clarke belts a ton after lucky let-off

INDIA refused to budge on the vexed issue of umpiring technology, and their distrust is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Their stubborn opposition to the decision-review system, however, has already come back to bite them in the first Test against Australia.
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If there was one batsman they did not want to be let off the hook at the MA Chidambaram Stadium it was Michael Clarke. Far and away the world’s most untouchable scorer of runs during an unforgettable 2012, he has proven time and again – via three double centuries and a triple in one calendar year – that when he gets a start, he is difficult to stop. A 23rd Test century, and third in India, proved him as good as anyone against spin.

The Australian captain’s reprieve came on Friday just before tea when, on 39, he appeared to be caught, via an inside edge, at short leg by Cheteshwara Pujura. He was given not out by Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena, a decision that soon after was confirmed as horribly wrong by replays and a Snicko reading that showed up so clearly it was as if Clarke had clubbed the ball out of the ground.

MS Dhoni, India’s captain, had no avenue for review, as is the case throughout this series. Their own choice, they can have no complaint.

However, the Clarke let-off hurt more deeply as he and an impressive Moises Henriques (68), on Test debut, produced a resurrection mission on a first innings in which Australia had fallen from an enterprising 2-126 to be languishing at 5-153. The pair put on 151 together, and while India struck again late, a day-one total of 7-316 was decidedly more healthy than it might have been.

Ravichandran Ashwin, the tall off-spinner who learnt his craft with a tennis ball on the streets of Chennai, was the bowler who was cost Clarke’s wicket by the umpiring blunder. It would have been his and the team’s sixth of the day, having already secured a five-wicket haul in a session-and-a-bit as he frightened the life out of Australia’s middle order on a south Indian dustbowl.

He would get his half-dozen later, claiming 6-88, but Clarke’s would have been doubly valuable.

It was not Clarke’s first win of the day. Victory at the toss – the word ”bat” could not come out of his mouth fast enough – was just as important.

Batting third against a coterie of hungry spinners will be difficult enough. Chasing even 100 to win in the final innings would have been about as easy as a foreigner driving a hire car in Chennai peak hour.

If Ashwin’s success was not plain enough, the ground staff’s activities in the session breaks spelled out just how specially prepared this pitch was for India’s three spinners. Armed with straw brooms, they swept the red soil deck at length, emitting a large plume of orange dust with each pointless swipe. The only sign of life on it for the past fortnight were the odd grass clippings sprinkled on the deck like coriander leaves on a stir fry.

The Australians will try their own luck with reverse swing and variable bounce when they take the ball, and there was plenty of the latter around on day one to inspire encouragement.

Australia was in strife until Clarke stepped in, as is almost custom these days, and saved the day, in the process surpassing 7000 Test runs and Sir Donald Bradman’s career tally.

He was ably supported by Henriques, whose selection was wholly justified by a mature half-century ended shortly before stumps, by Ashwin.

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Hunter’s rich in the coal belt

LOYAL: Ben Hedley outside his store Sports Power, says the local economy relies on mining. Picture: Peter Stoop
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IDYLIC: Enjoying the lifetstyle are Gary Shirley, Marian, Steve and Brendan Sampson. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Big bucks following coal belt workers

SO you thought the people earning the big bucks all lived at Merewether and Bar Beach?

You’d be partly right, but new data has confirmed the Hunter Region’s ‘‘new rich’’ live in the coal belt stretching between Maitland and Muswellbrook.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics this week released its latest wages and salaries data.

The figures are based on the 2009-10 financial year and therefore lag the bureau’s full national figures, but the data is the latest that can be broken down suburb by suburb.

Merewether, which has traditionally topped the suburban earner’s rich list, slipped to fourth in 2010 as the height of the coal boom pushed the wage earners at Singleton and Muswellbrook to the top.

The average annual wage in Singleton fell just short of $63,000 in 2009-10, with the average wage in Merewether coming in at a still-healthy $56,811.

Suburbs such as Maitland and Branxton also scored highly, reflecting the large number of people living there and working in the mines further up the valley.

Of the top 10 areas in the annual wages stakes, only two areas – Merewether-The Junction and Newcastle-Cooks Hill – weren’t in or near the mining areas.

At the other end of the scale, Forster, Tea Gardens and the Nelson Bay peninsula all recorded low average wages, but those figures were heavily influenced by the high number of retirees on pensions, and self-funded retirees who live there.

Merewether regained its No.1 crown on the list that incorporates all household earnings – the list includes wages as well as investment earnings, business earnings and the earnings of superannuated retirees.

Meanwhile, the bureau yesterday released new national figures which show the average Australian adult worker in full-time work earned $1393 a week in November last year, a rise of 4.8per cent on the previous November.

In NSW, the average adult full-time wage hit $1398.90 per week last November, behind Canberra ($1645.10) and the mining rich Western Australia ($1590.60).

LOYAL: Ben Hedley outside his store Sports Power, says the local economy relies on mining. Picture: Peter Stoop

SINGLETON:Drive for high earners to keep funds in town

BEN Hedley makes no bones about it.

‘‘Without mining, Singleton wouldn’t be so strong, and my business wouldn’t be either,’’ he said.

Mr Hedley owns Singleton’s SportsPower store. He used to work for the store’s previous owner, but 18months ago he poured in his life savings and bought the store from his boss.

‘‘When we talk to our customers, most work in the mines, or their husbands do,’’ he said. ‘‘The store goes well here, even though retail is down a fair bit. I know some people struggle to keep their heads above water, but it’s a pretty good community here that is loyal.

‘‘Without the mining, though, I don’t think this local economy would survive.’’

The average annual wage in and around Singleton is more than $62,500, above that in Merewether, Bar Beach and Cooks Hill, traditionally the Hunter’s more affluent suburbs.

‘‘The crazy thing is that a lot of money leaks out of Singleton,’’ Gill Eason from Singleton Chamber of Commerce said.

‘‘High wages also reflect the shortage of skilled workers. There are plenty of people around town who will tell you that this downturn is the downturn we had to have so that ridiculously high wages in some industries come back to where they should be.’’

The Australian Bureau of Statistics data putting Singleton at the top of the high-earners list in the Hunter was collected before the recent downturn in the mining sector, but Ms Eason said Singleton was still a strong and resilient community.

‘‘What we and the council have been trying very hard to do is make Singleton a place that people want to come and live,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s one thing to have all this money being earned here, but another to keep it here.’’

NELSON BAY: Digging for cash comes second to lifestyle

SINGLETON and Muswellbrook can have their cashed-up miners. Nelson Bay residents wouldn’t swap their idyllic lifestyles for the world.

The Nelson Bay region, and the area north to Tea Gardens and Forster, is home to seven of the bottom 10 suburbs where average wages are at the lower end of the scale.

That is due largely to the high proportion of retirees and superannuants living there, along with the lack of major industry.

But the residents don’t care one iota.

‘‘My office looks out over the bay and I reckon that’s a whole better than looking over a coalmine,’’ small business owner and Nelson Bay resident Marian Sampson said.

Mrs Sampson and her husband Steve, the local chamber of commerce president, moved their family and Bayview Group of businesses from Sydney’s western suburbs to Nelson Bay almost seven years ago.

‘‘We have a wonderful environment here, the water is pristine, there’s no pollution, the streets are clean and the community here is just fantastic,’’ she said.

‘‘And there are jobs here for the kids that are dream jobs. Our 16-year-old son is working as a deckhand on one of the charter boats. He went out marlin fishing last week and got paid for it.’’

Gail Armstrong and her husband put down roots in Corlette after fleeing Adelaide and driving around Australia for three years in search of a new place to call home.

‘‘Everything is here, including the things I had on my shortlist, such as good library, a movie theatre, a beautiful beach where we can swim all year round … It’s a beautiful place and the community is so strong and supportive.

‘‘A lot of people earn a great deal of money working in the mines, but it’s not just money that adds to the social value of towns. It’s a wonderful lifestyle, we wouldn’t swap it.’’

Meningitis baby misdiagnosed

THE mother of a baby boy with meningococcal disease, who was misdiagnosed twice in two days at John Hunter Hospital as having gastro, has slammed claims the emergency department is adequately staffed.
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She said her 10-month-old boy, Sunny, pictured, was lucky to be alive after being sent home, and then waiting almost six hours to see a doctor when he returned to hospital.

She decided to speak out about her ordeal after reading comments in the Newcastle Herald last week by hospital administration that the department had enough staff.

The Newcastle woman called on NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to review staffing levels at the hospital, saying doctors and nurses were “run off their feet”.

“It was just so busy and after waiting hours in a cubicle, I eventually took matters into my own hands and went looking for a doctor,” the mother said. “This is not an attack on the staff as they are obviously doing their best to cope, but it’s very clear to me that there needs to be more of them.”

Sunny was taken to the emergency department about 5.15am on January 27 suffering diarrhoea, vomiting and a rash. He was discharged two hours later with instructions to return if his condition deteriorated.

They returned about 1am the next day and the boy was not seen by a doctor until 6.30am.

Opposition Health spokesman Andrew McDonald described the wait yesterday as “completely unacceptable”.

“The maximum wait for a baby is two hours and two hours is unacceptable, he should have been seen in 30 minutes after his mother took him back,” he said.

Sunny was eventually admitted to John Hunter Children’s Hospital, with his mother told he had gastro.

The baby was struggling to open his eyes, was limp and had a “blank expression on his face”. A short time later, a nurse raised concerns about Sunny’s condition and asked a doctor to take a look at him. The doctor diagnosed a bulging fontanel and said it could be a case of meningitis.

A lumber puncture confirmed Sunny had meningitis meningococcal and his mother was told the next 24 hours would be critical.

“They didn’t know if he was going to make it or not, the whole experience was absolutely terrifying,” she said.

“I just kept thinking that he couldn’t speak for himself and I should have demanded that he was seen earlier in the emergency department, but it was so busy in there, there were babies crying everywhere.”

The Herald reported last week that John Hunter’s emergency department treated 3641 more patients last financial year, almost an extra 10 a day, when compared to Liverpool Hospital.

This was done with 20 fewer full-time equivalent nurses and three, or almost 40per cent, fewer full-time equivalent advanced trainee doctors.

Hospital general manager Michael Symonds said the emergency department was adequately staffed.

After reading Mr Symonds’ comments, Sunny’s mother said she had no choice but to speak out.

“It was made clear to me that it was extremely busy at the time and there were staffing issues. So to read in the paper claims there were not, made me extremely angry.”

Mr Symonds apologised to the family yesterday, but said there was a “full complement of clinical staff” on at the time.

“Sunny’s condition was monitored at regular intervals by the emergency department team and appeared to be stable,” he said.

Mrs Skinner also declined to request a review of the emergency department’s staffing levels.

The boy who was misdiagnosed twice in two days as having gastro.

For further informationwww.meningococcal.org

Steam heritage vehicles auction

HAMMER: Auctioneer Tony McTaggart is expecting a big response. Picture Peter StoopONE of Australia’s most impressive collections of rural machinery and heritage vehicles will go under the hammer next month in Muswellbrook.
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Thousands of items, including vintage steam engines, sulkies, heritage vehicles and antique paraphernalia, some 160 years old, represent a lifetime of collecting by the late Ian Gordon.

The treasures will be auctioned by his wife, Barbara Gordon, through auctioneer Tony McTaggart, on the family farm on March 17.

Mrs Gordon said she never thought to complain about her husband’s hobby, which still enthralled him until the moment he died on November 25, in 2010.

“He had this passion all his life, even before I knew him and we had been married 55 years,” Mrs Gordon said.

“He was in the shed looking over some of the things when he died.

“I wanted this auction so these items would go to collectors who felt the same way about the things as he did, better than they deteriorate away.

“But it will be mixed emotions for me because he collected all over NSW and they meant so much to him.”

Rare items including harvesting machines and ploughs dating from the 19th century will be the centrepieces of the sale.

Two cars, a 1927 Buick and a Morris Issis, and sought-after nostalgic advertising signs are expected to create interest.

Mr McTaggart, the owner of Muswellbrook real estate agency Edward Higgens, Parkinson First National, itself 120 years old, said he had never seen anything like the collection for its range and diversity.

“They are wondrous items of the past and so many, but it is hard to put a figure on what they would fetch because of their rarity,” Mr McTaggart said. “There is a big interest in steam in this region.”

He had received calls from throughout Australia and New Zealand from enthusiasts keen to know every detail of the collection.