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Ground technical faults are being blamed for the outage that left around 65,000 Sky Muster satellite users without internet for two hours on Monday evening.The Better Internet for Rural Regional and Remote Australia advocacy group has renewed its call for an nbn notification and call centre in the wake oftechnical faults that left around 65,000 Sky Muster satellite customers without internet for two hours on Monday evening.
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Happening in prime time –from 5.45pm to 7.45pm –the unexplained outage meant hundreds of people turned to the only information source they knew for information.

“I was absolutely inundated – hundreds of messages and notifications, my mobile and home phones were ringing off the hook from all over – and we had no idea what had happened,” said BIRRR chief administrator, Kristy Sparrow.

“It’s just insane that nbn seems to want a group of volunteers to do their customer support for free.

“We have asked nbn repeatedly to provide an outage notification line, social media presence and an outage info web page – at the very least a call centre – to deal with this kind of event.”

Kristy had dozens of people ringing her to report their outage and find out what was happening – to the point she had to walk away from them to get answers.

“We understand people are frustrated and looking for answers, but considerable detective work is required behind the scenes for BIRRR to work out what is going on.

“If nbn would simply own the issue, address it properly and keep people informed, a great deal of angst on the part of customers and stress on BIRRR volunteers would be alleviated.”

Nbn co’s Queensland corporate affairs manager, Kylie Lindsay said that at arecent satellite roundtable meeting, nbn co CEO Bill Morrow undertook to publicise outages in response to a request fromBIRRR.

She said this was being looked at, and added that the nbn already had a 24/7 call centre that people could contact for information.

Saying nbn’s call centre had “been around forever” by ringing 1800 OURNBN(1800 687 626), Ms Lindsay said it would have current information, thanks to internal memos keeping everyone up to date.

The nationalnetwork outage took place 24 hours beforetheInterim Satellite Service was due to be switched off and decommissioned, with the first notice coming from Activ8me Customer Care, which said all Sky Muster services were unable to connect to the internet.

“This outage will also affect VoIP services connected via Sky Muster,” it went on to say.

Ms Lindsay said the network sufferedsome instability again in the early hours of Tuesday morning, but all services had since beenrestored.

“Our priority was to get the network up and running again, with our satellite service delivery partners Ericsson and ViaSat now investigating the root cause of the outage,” she said.

Outage timingThe timing of the outage, just hours before the ISS (Interim Satellite Service) was due to be switched off, meaning most of rural Australia will be dependent on Sky Muster for their internet connections from Wednesday, showcases just how vital the reliability of this service is, according to Kristy Sparrow.

“The outage also highlights just how important landlines are to rural and remote Sky Muster customers, with a huge number of BIRRR members having their landline phone as their only form of communication when the internet is out.

“Those who are dependent on Sky Muster for a phone service were completely without communication, and this is of great concern in the event of an emergency.”

Ms Lindsay said nbnand retail service providers hadundertaken a comprehensive campaign to inform ISS users that the service was being shut down permanently at midnight Tuesday.

“As at Monday, there were less than 800 people who had not yet ordered an alternativenbnservice, but this does not mean that they will be without a service as they may have chosen to make do with mobile solutions or another provider,” she said.

Kristy’s frustration was evident as she said that the Sky Muster satellite hadnot been the promised ‘game changing’ experience for rural and remote Australians.

She said that along with restrictive data allowances, the unreliability of the service hadcreated significant impacts to education, business, health and welfare of regional Australians.

“Ongoing outages, speed issues, off peak updates, rain fade and lack of support are but some of the extensive issues list that BIRRR continues to advocate to be fixed.”

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

Fight won: Shellharbour councillors voted to pursue legal action – and subsequent appeals – over the past year. Peter Moran this week formally apologised for voting against the last legal appeal.A Shellharbour councillor has delivered a heartfelt apology at the council’s first meeting since Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced she would reverse the plan to merge the council with Wollongong.
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Independent councillor Peter Moran sought forgiveness from councillors and the communityfor voting against the last stage of the council’s legal appeal.

“When we lost our court case and the time came for the council to pursue an appeal, I made a value judgement based on the information before me and chose to vote against pursuing an appeal,” he said.

“That was the wrong decision for me to have made in the event. I’m sure the community is aware that it is only the fact that we were engaged in the appeals process that actually saved us from being amalgamated.

“Iwish that I hadn’t voted that way.”

Amid saccharin optimism about the city’s future standing aloneother councillors declared he was immediately resolved; Liberal Kellie Marsh said she would not accept the apology as she did not think it necessary.

Ealrier, in a sentimental introduction to the meeting, Mayor Marianne Saliba rattled off a long list of thank yous to all those who has supported the “no merger” campaign.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward also made a guest appearance to speak about his support for the council remaining separate

“I’m pleased to be here and see that your council is continuing to meet and be a pulse for local democracy,” Mr Ward said.

“I think the brightest days of this council are in front of you.”

He reiterated his opposition to the merger proposal, and also made efforts to bury the hatchet with Ms Saliba; the pair exchanged many heated words in the past year.

“I know that you and I have had some interesting times over the past 12 months, but I want to thank you in particular for your strong leadership.” he said.

Despite the peace-making mood of the meeting, Cr Moran pointed out that the plan to drop the merger had not yet been officially decreed, meaning councillors were still obliged to adhere to rules for councils under merger proposals.

But general manager Carey McIntyre said he had been told the official notice from the Local Government Minister was “imminent”.

“Notwithstanding the announcement of February 14 that the state government would not be further pursuing a merge…Shellharbour City Council is yet to receive that advice in writing,” Mr McIntyre said.“The advice council officers have been able to obtain from the Office of Local Government is that that letter is imminent.”

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

LEADING THE WAY: Todd Newton and Annabel Sides during their visit to Brown Brothers Winery at Millawa Victoria as part of the program.TWO Inverell residents have been selected for an intensive leadership development program with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.
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Annabel Sides and Todd Newton are joining 31 leaders from across the country in theprogram thataims to produce a network of informed, capable and motivated leaders to work collaboratively within their communities andadvance the interests of rural and regional Australia.

Mr Newton, who is the Technical Manager for Bindaree Beef Group, said the program commenced with a 12-day experience in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

“The course has been a wonderful experience,in particular the Kimberley session which provided an opportunity to challenge and test myself outside my comfort zonewhile exploring my personal beliefs, values and leadership style,” he said.

Upon returning from the Kimberley the group met in Melbourne late last year where they undertook media and communication training directed by journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

A further session has just been completed in north east Victoria where the group experienced first-hand insights into community and regional leadership with the intent of gaining inspiration and skills relevant to their own leadership development.

Mr Sides is Manager of Business and Finance for Northern Tablelands Local Land Services and said the program, which is in its 25thyear, was both challenging and rewarding.

“This program has provided me with one of the most challenging and exciting experiences ever,” she said.

“Previous participants have inspired me enormously and I truly believe the ARLF are serious about increasing leadership capacity in rural and regional Australia and I’m excited to be part of that.

“I hope one day to be able to give back all I have learned.”

ARLF Manager for Leadership Programs Graham Smith said the sessions are aimed at stripping distractions to hone leadership skills.

“The Kimberley location is importantas it takes participants away from day to day distractions and the technology we’re so often hooked to in day-to-day lifeand gets our leaders exploring personal values, leadership attributes and team work,” he said.

Mr Smith said the group would travel to Indonesia in May this year.

The overseas experience will be designed to develop the participants’ international networks and exploringcultural differences prior to a final graduation in Canberra later this year.

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

FISH OF THE WEEK: Shaye Hamilton, right, wins the Jarivs Walker tacklebox and Tsunami lure pack for this monster flathead caught in Lake Macquarie.

The 2017 NSW Game Fishing Association Interclub tournament went down to the wire last weekend at Port Stephens.

Although the marlin were patchy, the competition was tight with only 200 points separating first from third heading into the third day.

“The lead changed a couple of times during that day, a couple of dolphin fish in it, before the winning fish was tagged about 3pm,” NSWGFA president Gary Chenoworth said.

Central Coast GFC was crowned champion club tag and release with 77,781 points. Lake Macquarie took club capture honours with 32,272.80 points. Champion boat tag and release was Ambition from Sydney GFC with 55,025 points

Champion boat capture was Broken Bay vessel with Murrifin with 20,763.96 points. Martin Booth, who fished on Murrifin, weighed the heaviest marlin, a 151.90kg blue marlin on 15kg line, which was enough to earn him champion male angler tag and release.

Steve Dial (LMGFC), fishing on Redemption, weighed the heaviest shark, a 256.1kg tiger on 15kg line worth 16396.80 points, and took out male capture honours. The heaviest other game fish weighed was a 26.1kg mahi mahi caught by Newcastle GFC angler Luke Henkel on 24kg line.

A total of 55 marlin were tagged and released, and three weighed, with the species breakdown22 black, 23 blue and 13 striped marlin.

Newcastle and Port Stephens anglers Cassie Herbert and Ebony Pearson rose to the occasion on the Monday to claim tag and release and capture honours in the Lyndy Grieves Memorial Ladies Day.

“We had good weather Friday and Saturday with the Sunday a bit ordinary and same for the Monday,” Gary said. “Everyone had fun and the new three-day format was well received and will be back next year.”

Port Stephens Game Fishing Club secretary Nigel Rushworth was very pleased with the way his club hosted the event.

“We were up by 30 per cent in participation and as aclub performed well both in and out of the water,” he said. “We didn’t take out any of the major Interclub prizes, which were well spread,but we were competitive and our women rose to the occasion to grab the double on Monday at the Lyndy Grieves Memorial.

“We’re looking forward to doing it all again next year.”

The game fishing focus now turns to the Newcastle East Coast Classic which will be held out of Newcastle next weekend, followed by events at Broken Bay, Sydney and Port Hacking.

Tune into VHFMarine Rescue representative and NSW Game Fishing Association life member Neil Grieves is planning to run a VHF radio operators certificate this winter for Lake Macquarie Game Fishing Club members and urges all to think about registering.

“It is a legal requirement to have a VHF licence on your boat if you have a VHF radio, and if you get caught unlicensed, the fine is a couple of thousand dollars,” Neil said.

“It’s important to know the right terminology on the radio because when the shit hits the fan on the water, that’s when you really need to know what you’re doing.”

Stormy weatherNeil manned the radios during Interclub and reports a clean bill of health safety-wise for the event, but aclassic example of the trouble that can blow up occurred during a storm that hit Nelson Bay during the Billfish Shootout last month.

“It only lasted 40 minutes, but within that period, three or four boats triggered their EPIRBs,” Neil said

Compton got caught in a water spout and lost its aerials, clears andelectronics.

“Water was going up into the air and the boat was doing 360s,” Neil, who saw phone footage from owner Dougie Russell, reported.

Another boatcoming through the heads got in trouble and was being washed onto the rocks at Tomaree before being assisted with a tow line.

Zulu, a visiting 50ft Riv, lost its clears and aerials in 80 knot gusts of wind and water.

Mida Touch, which was competing in the Shootout, had a 250kg mako draped over the back of the boat, still very much alive, when it started to sink in driving rain.

“There were two problems with the bilge pump; one, it was blocked, and two, there was this bloody big shark next to the pump,” Neil said.

“Gary Russell, president of Lake Macquarie Game Fishing Club turned around and went to its aid and thankfully they sorted things out.

“Before you knew it, the storm was over and everyone was OK, but in that brief window, things were very hectic on the radio and that’s when your procedures and protocols come into their own.”

Annual eventsThe Maitland City Offshore Fishing Club will hold their annual members weekend at Swansea Gardens Caravan Park from Friday March 10 to 12.

Meanwhile, the NSW 12-man Team Anglers Association titles will be held on Lake Macquarie this weekend.

ThursdayDRUGS, booze, infidelity, revenge porn, domestic violence, match-fixing, mutineers storming the corridors of power … ho hum. Another rugby league off-season has come and gone without incident.

Well, almost.

In a world exclusive, Seven Days can reveal the two major dramas that somehow escaped saturation media coverage.

The first is the phone call we receive, from a loyal Herald reader (God bless him), informing us he has just heard a radio news bulletin declaring that star Knights recruit Kalyn Ponga has signed to play in Korea.

Now there’s a scoop.

To borrow a line from Gus Gould … wow.

Not just that young KP had reneged on his deal with the Knights, but that the NRL is expanding into a whole new market where, as far as we’re aware, nobody has even heard of rugby league.

We suspect it’s a false alarm. On the same day that we receive this hot tip, the Newcastle Jets reveal recently signed Dimitri Petratos is on his way to Ulsan Hyundai FC.

Ponga, Petratos … easy enough mistake to make.

In an even more stunning revelation, my trademark weekly abusive, uninvited, hand-written letter from the Maitland Maniac culminates in the following outburst:”I have no respect left for you whatsoever as a sports journalist … this is THE last missive to you, a—hole.”

After years of expletive-laden, demented dribble, the Maniac has apparently hung up his poison pen. So far he’s been as good as his word, but it shouldn’t be too hard to lure him out of his dark, dingy lair.

All it will take is the following predictions: Canterbury to finish with the 2017 wooden spoon, and David Warner to be dropped before the end of the series in India.

I’d like to think Australia Post will pay me some sort of commission.

FridayOLD-timers swear that rugby league was a better game before the interchange rule was introduced, but I find myself pondering this logic as I reflect on events overnight in Pune, India.

In his first Test on the sub-continent, Aussie opener Matt Renshaw dramatically retires “ill” before making a frantic dash to the dunny.

“When you’ve gotta go to the toilet, you’ve gotta go to the toilet,” he explains afterwards.

Indeed you do.

But what about back in rugby league’s golden era, pre 1963, before the rules changed to allow teams to make two injury replacements? What would have happened if, on his first hit-up of the game, a big, fat prop at full velocity had copped a shoulder fair in the midriff, forcing an involuntary bodily function?

He would have played on, that’s what. Without so much as a second thought.

SaturdayTHIS is surely an Academy Award-winning movie in the making.

After more than 25 years in mothballs, arguably the most famous Real NRL club of them all, the once-mighty North Newcastle Bluebags, announce they are staging a resurrection.

And who is to be cast in the lead role? None other than inaugural Knights skipper Sam Stewart, aged 54. Fair dinkum, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

All they need now is Tina Turner belting out “Simply The Best” as Slammin’ Sam leads them out on the field for their first game.

The only issue for the Bluebags at the moment is securing a home ground. Apparently McDonald Jones Stadium – or the ISC, as Sammy still knows it – is the best available option, but it might not be big enough.

SundayADDING weight to the theory that fact really is stranger than fiction, news surfaces of an unusual interchange looming in the south of France.

Former Wallaby and boy-band wannabe James O’Connor is facing a stint in the doghouse with his club side, Toulon, after getting arrested trying to buy cocaine.

There is speculation that while he serves his penance, his replacement is likely to be rugby league convert Ben Barba … no stranger to a touch of white-line fever himself. Toulon are hopeful both players can eventually feature in the same backline, providing they keep their noses clean.

Meanwhile, rumours surface that former AFL star Ben Cousins is pondering a shock move to French rugby.

Monday HOLLYWOOD SCRIPT: Knights legend Sam Stewart is planning a comeback for no-longer-defunct North Newcastle Bluebags.

I read with interest that former Knights winger James McManus has filed alawsuit against the club over his career-ending concussions. The club who still employ him, that is.

Hmm …awkward.

Apparently the Flying Scotsman is suing not only the current Knights, but also the former entity owned by billionaire-cum-bankrupt Nathan Tinkler. Can’t say I like his chances of getting 10 cents out of Tinks. Plenty have tried and failed. He’d be better off buying a scratch lottery ticket.

TuesdayTwas the week before Christmas – sorry, season kick-off – and that means it’s time to chase up the Herald tipsters.

In a devastating blow, it appears as if glamours Tegan Martin andCatherine Britt might not be available for selection.

At least we’ll have James Gardiner, who might not be a good sort but can certainly carry on like one.

In the first omen bet of the year, ABC guru Craig Hamilton tips the Warriors, then changes ship and jumps aboard the Knights.

I applaud his bold selection. Then again, Knights legend Tony Butterfield bravely tipped his old club in every game last year, and not surprisingly joined them in collecting the wooden spoon.

WednesdaySO here we are, one sleep before greatest game of all is again under way.

Before we know it, the last week in September will have arrived and we’ll be getting ready to cheer for the Knights in the grand final.

Between now and then, I can’t guarantee that I’ll make you laugh so hard you’ll Matt Renshaw yourself.

But I’ll give it my best shot.

SOMETIME, somewhere, there must be a city with an harmonious city hall. But wherever that place might be, it’s certainly not here in Newcastle, where the political differences between our elected councillorsseem to have again eclipsed whatever abilities they may possessto work together for the good of the region.

After months of simmering tensions behind the scenes, the Liberal Party’s Lisa Tierney has resignedwithout warning from the council, letting fly at Labor Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes on the way out the door.

As she did publicly in July last year, Ms Tierney accused Cr Nelmes of bullying behaviour. Then, as now, Cr Nelmes deniesthe allegations, and accusesher Liberal critics of being politically motivated.

For its part, the Office of Local Government has done nothing to help clarify the situation, and declinedto comment.

Only time will tell whether this spat acts as an effective pressure valve to easerecent tensions, or whether further accusations are traded across the political divide.

But whatever happens, the existing council is now just half a yearaway from going to the polls, with an election likely to be held in early September. Had it not been for the Coalition state government’s bungled local government mergers, an election would have been held last year.

By truncating the process the way she did, Mike Baird’s replacement as premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has allowed Newcastle City Council and its forced marriage partner, Port Stephens Council, to walk away from the altar with their relationship unconsummated. Their respective dignities intact, the two councils have been given a perhaps unexpected chance to prove the pro-amalgamation lobbywrong.

In Newcastle especially, the stakes are incredibly high. As the Newcastle Herald has repeatedly observed in this space, the Newcastle CBD is in the early stages of a make-or-break process of regeneration. This is not to ignore the rest of the region, or to put the inner city ahead of the needs of the bulk of the population, living in the suburbs.

But it is to say that now, with so much at stake, that Newcastle needs a council capable of strong and united leadership.

Those councillors wanting to stand again have the next few months to show they are worth re-electing. Because after September, we need acouncil prepared to leave its political differences at the door, and to govern for the greater good.

ISSUE: 38,479

WINNER: Georgetown newsagents Paul Smith and Kim Monaghan on Wednesday. Picture: Brodie OwenANSWERthe phone.

That was the message from NSW Lotteries on Wednesday after another lottery win in Newcastle –this time for a staggering $10 million –but it was a windfall yet to be claimeddespite repeated attempts by lotteries staff to contact the winner.

The ticket was sold at Georgetown Newsagency and was registered.

It was the only division one winner in Tuesday’s Oz Lotto jackpot, and is the second lottery win to sweep Newcastle in a week, after a man came forward at the weekend to cash in a year-old ticket bought at Marketown to win $1 million.

NSW Lotteries spokesman Matt Hart said several attempts to contact the winner using their “Players Club” registration details were unsuccessful.

Mr Hart pleaded with the winner to answer the phone so NSW Lotteries could “break the news that they’re now $10 million richer”.

“We don’t know if this winner knows about their huge $10 million windfall yet, but we’d love to get them on the phone to confirm the news to them. I suspect it’s really going to turn their week around!” he said in a statement.

“If you bought a ticket at Georgetown Newsagency in last night’s Oz Lotto draw and your phone is ringing, please pick up! You’ll really want to take our call!”

Georgetown Newsagency owner Paul Smith said he was thrilled to have sold the winning ticket.

It is the newsagent’s first division one winner since taking over the store three years ago.

“I’ve never heard of it [the prize money] getting over $5 million in Newcastle,” Mr Smith said. “I haven’t heard of anything this big in a single win before.”

His wife, Kim Monaghan, predicted the $10 million win would be life-changing.

A savvy Georgetown butcher senses a new business opportunity … pic.twitter南京夜生活/S0CTTyv4Le

— Brodie Owen (@Brodie_Owen) March 1, 2017

“When I heard, I just said ‘wow’,” she said. “Ten million is a lot of money. To the winner, congratulations, well done, I hope it makes a big difference to your life.”

There was a buzz in Georgetown after the win. A butcher sought to capitalise on the stroke of luck by putting out a tongue in cheek sign to entice passers-byto “Lotto winning meat” of “millionaire quality”.

The winning numbers were2, 37, 26, 17, 42, 33 and 27, with supplementaries 44 and 4.

File photoBallarat’s position as the beer capital of Victoria has been cemented with the announcement of a $1.2 millionAustralian Craft Beer Centre of Excellence.

The centre which received $500,000 in state government funding will work in partnership with Hop Temple off Armstrong Street and will include a brewery, a tasting bar, a teaching space and a function area.

The space which was first proposed in Visit Ballarat’s 2014Destination Management Planis expected to create up to 25 full time jobs within five years.

Thirsty: Federation University’s Geraldine Lewis, Peter Aldred and Sam Henson along with Australian Craft Beer Centre of Excellence director Brian Taylor. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Centre director Brian Taylor said the centre would provide a great asset for the city’s professional micro-brewers as well as promote Ballarat as a destination for beer enthusiasts.

“Ballarat’s got a long history of beer and we want to really drive that, especially given the university has the number one beer course in the southern hemisphere,” Mr Taylor said. “Like the wine industry in the past,people want to experience flavour, know where the product has come from and they want a story.”

The centre will partner with Federation University to deliver a range of small courses and programs designed to help educate beer lovers who make the trek to Ballarat.

Brian Taylor – Australian Craft Beer Centre of Excellence director

The centre’s brew space will also provide a hub for up and coming brewers to hone their craft and develop their business.

FedUni head brewer Dr Peter Aldred said the centre would compliment the university’s academic offering by providing consumers with a greater appreciation of the trade.

Artist’s impression of the centre

“We can do a whole series of courses on things like beer styles, beer faults we find in the industry, and we can talk simply about how beer is made without the hardcore science we do,”Dr Aldred said.

The announcement comes on the back of a wave of craft beer in Ballarat, which has seen the establishment of two new micro-breweries in the past 12 months.

It also follows the announcementBroo Beer Company would be setting up a $100 million brewery which is expected to create 100 ongoing jobs.

In a statement Wendouree MP Sharon Knight said “Ballarat is the craft beer capital of Victoria and soon, people will have new ways to learn about and appreciate the region’s brewing strengths”.

Construction of the centre is expected to begin within 12 months, pending planning applications.

Artist’s impression of the centre

BROTHERLY LOVE: The Mata’utia boys – and friends – paying a visit to John Hunter Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House.IT would have been easy to start off my first column by reflecting on the pre-season, how hard we’ve trained, and how wellprepared we are for Sunday’s round-one clash with the Warriors.

But I’m guessing you’ve heard that all before.

So instead I would like to take you behind the scenes and provide an insight into what some of my teammates, the Mata’utia boys, have been doing in their down time.

Since he arrived back from St George Illawarra midway through last season, Peter Mata’utia has played mainly as left-side centre, and more often than not I’ve been outside him on the left wing.

When we travel to away games and stay overnight, we’re roommates.

We’ve known each other for years, but in the past 12 months we’ve become really close friends, and I can only admire what he and his siblings Chanel, Pat and Sioneare trying to achieve in establishing theMata’utiaBrothersFoundation, which is in the final stagesof becoming a non-profit charity.

Their goal is to raise money for local sporting teams and the community in general.

In particular, they are hoping to sponsor aroom at Ronald McDonald house, so that families from outside the region are able to stay close to their sick children at no cost. Once the foundation is registered, they planto launch a website that will allow people to donate to what I believe is a really worthy cause.

The thing about the Mata’utias is that they genuinely care about people who have encountered toughtimes.

With four brothers and three sisters in the family, they had a humble upbringing and their mother,Matalena, worked two jobs to put food on the table.

They’ve been lucky enough that, through rugby league, they have been able to create a pathway for themselves, but they haven’t forgotten where they have come from, and the help and support they received along the way.

They love Newcastle, they’re very grateful for the position they are now in, and this is their way of saying thanks to the community.

It’s only in the early stages, but it would be nice to think that, through their foundation, they can leave a legacy for this city long after their playing days have finished.

More immediately, Peter and I have a job to do on Sunday, namely keeping the Warriors’ right edge – Tuimoala Lolohea andDavid Fusitua –contained.

There is a great feeling in the campat the moment, especially after our big win against Canberra in the trial match two weeks ago.

I’m sure every team is confident at this time of year but we know how hard we have trained, and how much everyone has improved.

It’s a relief that the pre-season is finally over and we can get down to business.

It’s going to be a big year for the Knights. I can’t wait for it to kick off.

Lake Macquarie coach Anthony Richards hasno illusions about how hard the step up to the Northern NSW National Premier League will be this year for his Roosters.

NEW BLOOD: Former Jaffa Tom Smart, pictured in 2015, will return to the NPL with Lake Macquarie after a season off. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Which is one reason why Lake Macquarie will be out to win theinauguralHeritage Cup pre-season competitionthis Friday to Sunday.

“It’s a cup, it’s a competition, so we’ll have a crack at it,” Richards said.“It might be the only thing we win this year. It might be the only grand final we make, if we’re good enough toqualify.We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ll just look to go out and do the best we can in every game.”

A week out from the start of their return to the NPL, Lake Macquarie will be one ofseven first- and second-tier clubs with more than 100 years of history taking part in the Heritage Cup. Interdistrict clubMaryland Fletcher are playing in place of the defunct Minmi Rangers, who were the region’s first club.

The cup, also featuring NPL clubs Adamstown, Weston and Edgeworth, could be an early guide to how Lake Macquarie will handle their return to the top level.

Former Lambton JaffaTom Smart and the likes ofTom Sparre, Justin Broadley, goalkeeper Benn Kelly and Matt Toohey have joined the Roosters and will give them valuable state league/NPL experience, but Richards said “it might takes us a bit to get used to the pace”.

The Roosters were minor premiers in all grades of the second-tier last year and were the only club promoted for the new three-year NPL licencing period, taking the league from 10 to 11 clubs.

Despite that success, the additions and the retention of players like Sam Walker, Tom Walker, Blake Green, Steve Rospigliosiand Corey Fletcher, Richards said expectations were low for their first year back in the league since 2014.

“I don’t see us winning the comp but I just hope we’re competitive,” he said.“We know where we are at in the pecking order, so we are hoping to just get better as the year goes along. That’s our goal.”

The Roosters, who lost to major premiers Wallsend in the semi-finals last year,start the season away to Weston, the 2016 NPL wooden spooners, on Sunday, March 12.

On Friday, Lake Macquarie play Maryland Fletcher from 7.45pm in Pool B of the Heritage Cup at Adamstown.

They take on West Wallsend (11am) and Adamstown (4pm) in their other 60-minute pool games on Saturday in the quest to make the Sunday 10am grand final at Adamstown.

“Every game is difficult for us,” Richards said.“We missed out on a grand final last year in the NEWFM comp but we’ll have 20 of them this year.”

“We’ve pretty much kept the guys that we wanted, so we’re a happy bunch and the ones who have come into the club are known to the group already so that’s made it easier.”

The dark agents of espionage have long relied on toxic substances to eliminate their problems.

I was reminded of this last week when evil North Korean dictatator Kim Jong-Il took the concept of “political poison”to another level with the fratricidal despatch of his half brother at KL airport.

Kim Jong-nam was wiped out with a dab of VX, the most potent of the known chemical warfare agents, sending a clear message to political dissidents everywhere –beware reality TV pranksters.

Not that the unsuspecting agents of this dirty deed done cheap had any idea they were about to kill someone.

They thought they were taking part in some reality TV hijinks. Dream come true (but not for Kim Jong-nam), it did end up on on CCTV, and it was real.

Speculation was rife in the aftermath that the use of VX indicated a new level of threat from Kim Jong-il, adding chemical warfare to his nukes and implausible denials.

But as the furore settles, the consensus seems to be that VX was used simply because it is so reliable –a handy consideration when you’re trying to kill someone.

Like most airport food, VXis clear, tasteless and odourless, and works by penetrating the skin. A dropcan kill in minutes.

Compare that to the three weeks it took radioactive polonium-210 to kill Russian ex-spy and investigator Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Tardy.

A similar dose took out Russian businessman Roman Tsepov in September 2004.

The delivery system on this occasion was a cup of tea, which inducedvomiting and diarrhoea, suggesting Tsepov had also ingested airport food, only to pass away two weeks later in glowing non-health.

I don’t mean to make light of these dark moments, but history (Wikipedia) revealsa cavalcade of hits- some self-administered, others with non-consensual assistance– dating back to ancient times.

Casualites include Socrates (Hemlock), Cleopatra (asp) and more recently, Phar Lap (still not clear).

Other standouts involved the attractively named Abram Slutsky, head of the Soviet spy service, who was poisoned with hydrogen cyanide by the NKVD in 1938.

Japanese Kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII ate no less than four livers of fugu fish to prove just how immune he was to their deadly delights, before promptly expiring.

And Sunni jihadi fighter Ibn al-Khattab died in 2004 via a poisoned letter sent from Russia, yet again, with no love at all.

Perhaps the more macabre interest lays in the list of political figures who MAY have been poisoned.

They include Yasser Arafat who died of cirrhosisof the liver, even though he was a non-drinker. True, you don’t have to drink to get cirrhosisbut it probably won’t hurt if you’re an enemy of Mossad.

Stalin was allegedly poisoned on the orders of his minion Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria who was later excecuted on the orders of Krushev. No one really cares how they went, just so long as they did.

And then there’s the numerous kings, queens and popes who have fallen foul of poisoned figs, apples, mushrooms, you name it – underlining just how unhealthy eating fruit and veg can be if you’re a VIP.

I don’t want to dwell on death, unnecessarily, but this trip down murderous-memory lane reallyresonated with me this week.

And not just because I am in the process of nominating a binding beneficiary for my super and the talk lately has been about my hypothetical, yet obviously appealing (to some) death.

Clearly, we all have to go some way, and it makes you wonder how you might be filed.

Under “A for assassination” perhaps (see above); or “D for death during consensual sex” (alleged luminaries who knocked off on the job includeBilly Sneddon and Matthew McConaughy’s dad); or maybe “O for announcing the wrong movie of the year at the Oscars”. Talk about La La Land, dying on stage and as an accountant, all at the same time.

But if it’sreal dramayou want, let’s talk “death by duelling” –an ignominious practice from days gone by, long banned, but quitepopular if you were a cad and a good shot.

In most situations, I’d probably take dishonour before death, because I’m a coward. Unlike the players who routinely chose pistols at dawn if they felt their good name sullied.

Amusing among a multitude of not-so-famous encounters is theshowdown between Missouri congressman Spencer Darwin Pettis and American miliitary heroThomas Biddle in 1831 on the aptly named Bloody Island.

When challenged by the feisty Pettis, Biddle, being short sighted, settled on pistols at a suicidal five paces. Records suggest their arms crossed as they blew each other into the hereafter.

A reliable ploy that even King Jong-il would applaud, if not for its bloody-minded stupidity, then surely its effectiveness.

Builder turns out tiny houses with an Aussie touch How’s the serenity?! Photo: Ben Messina Landscapes

Frost has delivered his huts to sites across Queensland and into northern New South Wales. Photo: Ben Messina Landscapes

Inside the bush huts Neil Frost builds at Darra, in Brisbane’s west. Photo: Ben Messina Landscapes

Neil Frost of Timber Transitions who is building his 68th bush hut this week, a two-bedroom version with kitchen and bathroom featuring claw-foot bath, to be delivered to a rural property. Photo: Wendy Hughes

TweetFacebookWhat happens when the iconic outback slab hut meets with the simple-life philosophies behind modern minimalism and the tiny house movement?

In the case of Brisbane’s Neil Frost, the result is a hand-built, transportable “bush hut” that Queenslanders are swooping on as a weekend escape or even a place to call home.

As far as houses go, we’re talking the cheaper end of the market, with prices starting at $43,000 for a three-metre by six-metre cabin. Add a gas kitchen, bathroom and solar power, and the price is generally below $55,000 — even with delivery fees added.

The huts arrive like some huge handmade gadget, albeit one wafting Queensland blue gum and iron bark.

Frost has delivered his huts to sites across Queensland and into northern New South Wales. Photo: Ben Messina Landscapes

For transportation, the corrugated iron roof over the verandah folds down and the timber decking folds up, to be unfurled at the final resting place. Mr Frost finishes them with gnarly timber posts from a collection he’s amassed over the years in his outback travels.

It’s his deep-seated passion for timber and a fierce attention to detail that sets his hand-built huts apart from anything else on the market.

“I’ve just always loved timber; once it’s in your veins it just never goes away,” he said.

He said people responded to the character, uniqueness and even the fragrance.

“I know from people who’ve stayed in these buildings, they look at every board, they look at how wide that board is and the different grain in the wood … no two boards are ever the same, no tree is the same tree.”

He prefers the term “bush hut” to “tiny house” because he likes to incorporate a bit more space than some of the “claustrophobic” tiny house examples he’s seen.

But the motivating philosophy is perhaps the same behind those adopting a tiny house or a slab hut to live in – a simple life, a shedding of possessions, perhaps a more minimal existence with a gentler environmental footprint.

Neil Frost of Timber Transitions who is building his 68th bush hut this week, a two-bedroom version with kitchen and bathroom featuring claw-foot bath, to be delivered to a rural property. Photo: Wendy Hughes

Mr Frost was selling rustic timber furniture at weekend markets when he was commissioned to build a hut on a property in the outer suburbs or Brisbane five years ago. As he built it on site, the idea came to him that such a thing could be constructed in a factory, to be delivered whole. He’d even since gone back to school to get his road pilot’s licence, gesturing towards a ‘wide load’ sign on a truck at his Darra yard.

he off-grid factor — with the addition of solar panels — evolved as the orders began to flow in and he has employed an interior designer to finesse some of the finer details.

“They can leave here fully powered up with solar panels on the roof ready to go,” Mr Frost said.

“As I say to people, ‘I can even have a cold beer in the fridge for you when it gets there’ because they’re being powered up while they’re on the road.”

He and his team of builders at Timber Transitions, which includes son Richard, are constructing their 68th hut this month.

He says while the huts have been snapped up by tourism operators such as the luxury hotel brand, Spicers, orders are beginning to flow from people wanting to make them a home for themselves or for extended family.

Inside the bush huts Neil Frost builds at Darra, in Brisbane’s west. Photo: Ben Messina Landscapes

“We fall into thegranny flat area,” he said. “We’re building a two-bedroom one for exactly that at the moment.”

One couple moved into a hut on their property while their house was renovated … but decided to continue living in it even after the reno was done.

Another couple in the Scenic Rim bought two huts – one fitted with bedroom and kitchen, and the other with a full bathroom – for their daughter and son-in-law to live in.

Mr Frost will have display slab huts at this year’s Maleny Wood Expo (April 29 to May 1), CRT Farm Fest (June 6 to 8) and Mudgeeraba Show (June 24 to 25).

CHANGE IN STAGES: The Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange is at the centre of a plan to promote growth in the Glendale, Cardiff and Boolaroo areas.AN economic assessment of the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange finds that each stage of the project would have overwhelmingly positive impacts on the suburbs involved for the next 30 years at least.

The report by consultants Morrison Low was prepared for Lake Macquarie City Council and was recently posted on the council website for public consumption.

“Theeconomic assessment for the project scenarios was positive,” the report.

“Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits in reducing travel times and distances, improved road safety, cycling benefits and acceleration of land development will outweigh the capital and recurrent costs of the construction works.”

The estimated capital cost of remaining works were$5.4 million for a “missing” section of Munibung Road, $32 million for the Pennant Street, Cardiff, bridge and $120 million for new rail station at Glendale with a bus interchange.

The Pennant Street and Munibung Road works alone would generate net benefits of more than $98 million,with abenefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 3.8 and a net present value per dollar invested (NPVI) of 2.8.

With the $120 million of interchange spending added, the net benefits were almost $57 million, the BCR was 1.4 and theNPVI 0.4.

The report says the interchange would “supporthigher density for mixed-use retail,commercial [and]residential developments in local areas”, which was “expected to lead to higher land values for these developments”.

Measuring the impact of a full interchange with new land zonings, the authors found net benefits of $93.5 milion, a BCR of 1.7 and an NPVI of 0.65.

Detailed tables explaininghow the financial costs and benefits were arrived at showa dozen variables, including recurrent maintenance costs and various transport benefits, calculated upto 2047.

The report found building the Pennant Street bridge and extending Munibung Road would unlock about 90 hectares of development land and improve travel times for 16,000 vehicles a day, including 1500 heavy vehicles.

It said the project was “critical” to achieving the4890 more residents, 2740 new homes and 3800 extra jobs in “construction, retail, commercial and light industries” projected for Cardiff and Glendale by2300.

Lake council wants$26 million this year from the state and federal governments for the project.