LETTER: Postcode hardly worth debating

I FIND it a bit perplexing and sort of amusing that there seems to be an idea that if Lake Macquarie doesn’t have an individual postcode it’s kind of a mysterious and elusive destination that no-one can quite find.
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And maybe it’s even Port Macquarie.

As if anyone actually searches out places to visit by postcode listings.

I had no problem when I googled Lake Macquarie on the net in determining its exact geographical location.

Living in a rural area that is often identified as ‘‘about 80 kilometres north of Newcastle’’ for anyone outside the area to get an idea of where I am, I accept that’s just the way it is.

I think it’s a bit parochial to be so concerned over such an irrelevant technicality.

In the same way, Hunter Valley doesn’t have a designated postcode.

Lake Macquarie is exactly the same.

Just enjoy where you live, and don’t sweat the pedantics.

Leisure centre will be more than just a pool

THE proposed Kangaroo Flat Aquatic and Leisure Centre will bring a range of benefits to the community.
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I think when it is constructed it will be more than just a swimming pool, it will be a community hub.

A gym, a creche, an adventure splash park and a wellness centre are all planned for the new facility at Browning Street in Kangaroo Flat.

Just think of all the students, families and community groups that will be able to use it.

The multi-purpose centre will be one of the best-used facilities in the city, in my opinion.

Having a centre where people can learn to swim, meet up with friends, work out in a gym and learn about healthy eating is worth fighting for.

To see the City of Greater Bendigo say this project is its number one priority is great step. To have federal candidates Lisa Chesters and Greg Bickley throw their support behind it is also positive.

All parties involved with this project need to be on the same page to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved.

The price tag for the project is a big one – $28 million – which is why it is important for local, state and federal governments to work together.

Last night, speaking to the people making this project a reality, I came to understand the thinking behind the project.

Everyone involved has a clear direction and a strong passion to get it started.

I can’t wait to see the impact it will have on the community – and to use it myself.

– KRISTEN ALEBAKIS, reporter

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LETTER: Silt rings alarm bells

THE article “River discharge sought”, (Herald 31/5) should engender alarms along the Hunter River.
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The river is already silting as the above picture at Horseshoe Bend, Maitland, shows.

At Weston, Kurri Kurri Landcare has been battling to get the silted heavy metal mining waste and smelter waste removed from Swamp Creek. All to no avail. Nothing has been done.

Where once there were deep pools and few minimal intrusive floods and a much greater water-carrying capacity, now the creek floods dangerously into homes around the Fourth Street bridge.

Numerous flood and catchment studies have been released – in 1992, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, and 2008.

Two contradictory studies were published a day apart in July 2010, and two more diametrically opposed to one another in April and May 2011 would seem to suggest an elaborate scheme to confuse residents at risk.

Residents live in fear of floods in June and February when the east coast lows bring torrential rains.

As far as I am aware not one councillor or council staff member has offered any apology or reason for the unbelievable lack of empathy for people who face this danger.

Is Maitland at risk from mine waste silting? You bet your life it is. Look at the dog wading in the fast-silting river as the sun sets on autumn of 2013.

Traditional family unit vital for stable upbringing

The disintegration of traditional family life and the rise in fatherless homes is having serious social implications in Western societies, and the clamour for same-sex marriages further compounds this problem.
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The civil purpose of marriage is not simply to reaffirm the love of a man and a woman for life, nor just to register a business arrangement.

The main purpose of marriage is for the legal protection needed for the one institution that ensures society’s stable future.

All healthy societies in all times and places in history are unanimous that the orderly procreation and upbringing of children is best in a natural family, or as close as possible by relatives or surrogates in extreme necessity.

As family life breaks down, so does society.

The decline in marriage and the rice in illegitimacy are prime factors in the rising crime rate, in poverty and in social decay generally, i.e. decency, manners.

The results of fatherlessness are even more alarming from recent studies in US and UK.

Chaos results when communities permit a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes (usually dominated by women) and who are never able to acquire a stable relationship with a male role-model to help restrain their masculine impulses and guide them into proper male roles.

Crime, violence and unrestrained rebellion from the whole social structure are almost inevitable, as we see increasing today.

Many studies have shown that children raised in traditional mum and dad families are much more likely to finish school, to get a decent job, to socialise, marry and settle down than to resort to lawlessness from frustration.

The traditional family is the best department of health, education, and welfare ever “invented”.

We must nurture and protect it.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom within our society as well. Lest we forget!

Brendan Keogh,

AFA president,

Bendigo Branch, Victoria

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‘I am not weak. I am unlucky’

Dr Anna Thomas, who studied international students and gambling, says many are naive about the risks. Photo: Penny Stephens1Hong-Li read about Crown Casino in a Lonely Planet guide. At a family send-off at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport, en route to a three-year stint as a student in Melbourne, one of his cousins gave him a copy of the travel bible.
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“A 24-hour non-stop cavalcade of illuminated excess,” he read. “You’ll either be spellbound or nauseated.”

Thirty-five thousand feet above the ground, however, the neon gaud of some casino seemed irrelevant. Gambling had never really interested him. At his farewell party the previous evening, everyone had played mah-jong, the way they do at weddings and at wakes. The ivory tiles, emblazoned with dragons and flowers, clicked and rattled into the night.

Completely incomprehensible to the layman, mah-jong is a means of bringing extended families like Hong-Li’s together. It’s even said to sharpen the brains of the elderly. But he drifted in and out of the game, chatting instead to friends. Everyone was envious of his impending adventure.

Hong-Li * is 22 years old. His face is sallow and wrung out. During his 18 months in Australia he has cultivated a wispy beard and a pot belly. He shows me a photograph taken in the week before he flew out of Chengdu. In it, he is lean and full of boyish brio. He and his stunning girlfriend stare down the camera. He shakes his head. “I need to go to the gym, exercise more, go in the sun more,” he says.

There are three subsequent photos in his iPhone gallery – a self-portrait taken at arm’s length, a pile of gaming chips and a shot of his landlord’s cat. “It’s been hard to make friends,” he says, picking at the phone. “Especially recently.”

I was introduced to Hong-Li via the man tutoring him in algorithms, of all people. I wanted someone who could offer an insight into the challenges faced by the more than half a million international students currently enrolled in Australian colleges and universities. Hong-Li, I was told, was isolated and disengaged.

When Hong-Li suggested we meet in the food hall at Crown, it was obvious the casino loomed large in his stay in Melbourne.

While he is loath to admit it, Hong-Li is one of a growing number of international students with gambling addictions. Though hard data has traditionally been hard to come by, a study conducted by Swinburne University’s Dr Anna Thomas and Professor Susan Moore, which sampled nearly 1600 local and international students from Victoria and Queensland, painted a bleak picture.

Published this week in The Journal of Gambling Studies, the study found that while international students actually gamble less than their Australian classmates, they are more prone to problem gambling overall.

Dr Thomas and Professor Moore found that 6.7 per cent of international students have serious gambling addictions, nearly six times the average of the general population. Also, international students that gamble are far more vulnerable to problem gambling than local students. “Many come from a quite closeted environment and suddenly they have a lot of freedom in a new country and possibly access to a large amount of money for living expenses,” Dr Thomas says.

“Also, international students often come from countries where gambling is restricted, or in some cases where it is banned altogether. The casino is therefore new and very exciting for them.

“However, they are often very naive about the risks, believing they can beat the odds of a totally random casino game. When they do run into trouble, we found that many are reluctant to seek formal help and counselling.”

Wesa Chau, the founder of the Australian Federation of International Students and a former ambassador for Responsible Gambling Awareness, says in Chinese culture there is a stigma attached to seeking help.

“Chinese people do not like to go and see counsellors,” she says. “If they do, they are seen as being crazy. Counselling still equals mental illness for many Chinese.”

In this respect Hong-Li may well be true to type. The only thing he needs, he insists, is a few more good hands of blackjack.

“We don’t have counselling for this at home,” he says. “We don’t have a word for counsellor. Gambling is big in our culture, too. So many Chinese films are about gambling. Every family plays dice and card games. But if you cannot control it, you are considered a weak person. I think I am not weak. I am only unlucky.”

Erroneous beliefs about gambling are disproportionately high with some international students, says Diane Jenkins, a Gambler’s Help community educator in Hong-Li’s area of Melbourne.

“More so than local students, some international students think they can beat the house,” she says. “They think they’ve developed a system that can win in the long run.”

Ms Jenkins says loneliness, boredom and poor living conditions can also lead to excessive gambling. “Students are often looking for something exciting and going to the casino they think will bring this to their life. We hear again and again that they don’t like the degree that they’re doing. Also, some of the accommodation that we hear about is almost like a cell and they often struggle cooking for themselves now they are away from home.”

Hong-Li says there was nothing to do in his early months in Melbourne. “My study was easy. There was nowhere to go out where I live. I have to come into town, but I know few people here. I don’t drink. The casino was interesting to me.”

Walking along the Yarra River one night after class, he was stopped in his tracks by Crown’s hourly explosion of fire. Flanked by tourists, he stood open-mouthed, slightly taken aback by the spectacle. In his pocket he had a $10 note and some coins for the bus home.

When the fiery display petered out, he wandered onto the gaming floor and took in a game of roulette. Eventually, he wagered his note on his lucky number, eight. “No more bets,” the dealer said in the neutral voice common to the game. The ball spun and spun and then stopped – number eight.

He put one-third of his winnings in his jacket pocket and placed the remainder on the eight and again it won for him. In a little over a minute, he had won $8000. By the first inexorable whoosh of the next fire show, he was waiting at a cab rank, his heart racing and his wallet bulging. He’d just won more than $15,000.

The next day, he stayed longer. He returned a considerable proportion of his previous day’s winnings, before breaking even with a late run of eights. Within a week, he was cutting classes to visit Crown. He eschewed the pokies and the big wheel and instead sought out games that would test his skill. He scoured internet sites for information on blackjack and baccarat. Years of intense mathematical training were finally bearing fruit.

Those first few months, he says, “were like a trance”. He was betting up to $1000 a hand. In five minutes one day he won $20,000 by doubling up on blackjack.

The next week was the Melbourne spring racing carnival. Crown was swamped with boozehounds. “The vibe was very bad,” he says. With an eye to impressing some Chinese girls in their Flemington frocks and fascinators, he coolly put $3000 on the eight. A successful wager would have netted him more than $100,000. The ball locked into the slot and the croupier mouthed “eight black . . .” But it teased and trickled next door – 23 red.

He started chasing his losses. Within a week, he had blown everything – all his winnings, all his tuition fees and all the money he’d put aside for rent.

Hong-Li shares a two-bedroom house in the south-eastern suburbs with an Indian student who juggles full-time study with a job at a convenience store. They barely see one another. There is no direct train line to the city so he catches two buses to get to university or – as is the case now – the casino.

On the way there, he writes emails to his family and friends, conjuring up stories of cramming sessions, exam results, celebratory parties and road-trips around Australia. On the way home, his brain is too scrambled for such concoctions and he invariably falls asleep.

His father is a senior manager at a large factory. I ask if his parents are wealthy. “They are hard-working, yes,” he says. “My father is very high in his job.” He sighs. “They are honest people. Proud.”

The first time Hong-Li was wiped out, he told his parents he needed to buy a car. They wired $20,000. He later told them he was taking extra units over summer. Well done, they said, and transferred thousands more. Most recently, they have covered the alleged costs of moving to the inner city, an essential means of bumping up his grades.

Hong-Li says he’s not as superstitious as many of his countrymen. But he adheres to several rituals. If he’s having a rough trot, he adjourns to the bathroom and washes his hands for several minutes before taking up residence at a table out of view from the losing one.

Before he starts punting in earnest at the baccarat tables, he has a few looseners at roulette. He always bets on the eight. He doubles up if he wins. He moves on after half-a-dozen unsuccessful bets. He always seeks out an Australian croupier.

Today his bus was 20 minutes late and the table where he normally opens proceedings flashed its recent results: 8, 16, 8, 8, 24, 8. “That bus should have been on time,” he says.

When things were going well, he found himself bumping into increasingly familiar faces, speaking the same tongue.

“We’d say hello and talk about if we’re winning, what dealers we like, what numbers are up, what we’re eating,” he says.

But the more money he loses the less inclined he is to connect with other people. “Sometimes I’m in there all day, from morning until the last bus, and I don’t say a word to anyone,” he says. “All I do is wave my hand to the dealer.”

One man he is communicating with is his loan shark. He initially applied to Cash Converters for a payday loan but he was rejected, owing to a lack of payslips. The loan shark, who is roughly the same age and from the same Chinese province, rings several times a week and leaves messages. He tells Hong-Li he has his father’s email address.

“I am paying big interest rates,” Hong-Li says, shaking his head. “I am trying to win the rates right now.”

Hong-Li says although he is depressed he tries to remain positive. Optimism, they say, blooms the cheek of every gambler. “I have a good system.”

He says he

has to go and heads for the casino proper. His eyes are fixed on the carpet, a dizzying, hotchpotch arrangement of coins and jewels. He passes a conga line of poker machines and arrives at a roulette table. He stops, straightens his shoulders, nods to the croupier and reaches for his wallet.

* Hong Li is an assumed name

Jonathan Horn is a Melbourne writer.

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Drunk driver jailed over Warrawong crash

A serial drink-driver who was five times the legal limit when his car ploughed into a Warrawong service station has lodged an appeal after being sentenced to nine months’ jail.
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Wollongong Local Court Magistrate Michael Stoddart yesterday slammed Allen George Waretini’s “appalling” behaviour on the afternoon of August 18 last year, saying he was amazed no-one was seriously injured or killed in the incident.

The court heard an inebriated Waretini, 55, parked out the front of the BP service station at Warrawong about 4.50pm and went inside to buy cigarettes.

When he got back in his car he reversed the vehicle about three metres before stopping and revving the engine.

He then accelerated forward, ploughing through the front doors of the service station and smashing into a freezer and shelving inside the shop.

The court heard the damage bill topped $45,000 and security guards had to be hired around the clock for a week until the building could be repaired.

Waretini was arrested at the scene and taken to Shellharbour Hospital, where a blood test revealed he had an alcohol reading of .278 – more than five times the legal limit.

He yesterday pleaded guilty to drink-driving – the sixth such charge on his lengthy traffic record.

His lawyer, John Gallagher, conceded the court had few options other than to give Waretini a jail sentence, but asked Magistrate Stoddart to take into account the fact that his client had mental health issues and had made attempts to deal with his alcohol problems.

However, Magistrate Stoddart rejected pleas for leniency, saying that based on Waretini’s alcohol reading alone it was a wonder the Port Kembla man was “still alive”, let alone adding a crash to the situation.

“You’re lucky you didn’t run into someone in the service station such as a customer or the attendant,” he said.

“You have an atrocious record for drink-driving and this is a very disturbing set of facts. I’m satisfied the only appropriate sentence for you is [full-time] jail.”

Magistrate Stoddart jailed Waretini for nine months with a non-parole period of four months.

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Brendan’s piercing world record attempt spiked

A Wollongong man who was poised to claim a place in Guinness World Records says he is devastated at the book’s decision to “rest” the record he was going to break.
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Brendan Sawczuk was set up to attempt a world record next weekend, but has been forced to reconsider. Picture: DAVE TEASE

Body piercing specialist Brendan Sawczuk spent $3500 on materials ahead of his June 16 attempt on the record, for the most people body-pierced in one hour by one person.

He planned to pierce 120 nostrils in 60 minutes at his Wollongong salon, Pierce Xpress, to beat existing record-holder Rhonda Polley, who pierced 64 people in Melbourne on September 18, 2010.

MORE: 120 nose piercings in an hour … can Brendan do it?

Guinness approved Mr Sawczuk’s application in January but by late May, when he wrote again to check if Ms Polley’s record still stood, he was told the record had been rested.

“This … means that no-one can attempt this record and become a new record holder and therefore is not a category that we wish to pursue further,” a representative for the franchise wrote in an email.

In a later email, a representative said the decision was made on health and safety grounds but – bizarrely – a new “most people pierced in one hour” record category had been created – the same as the former category but without the requirement for a single person to perform the piercings.

The change meant Mr Sawczuk could still likely break the record, but his new record would be easily beaten by a group of people performing piercings at once.

“They could get 500 [piercers] and … do one each,” Mr Sawczuk said.

Mr Sawczuk, who was preparing sterilised, individualised piercing kits in the lead-up to his attempt, believed the new category posed a greater health and safety risk.

“They’re saying to me they’re worried about one person going quick, yet they’re encouraging multiple people to go quick, doing multiple skin penetrations in the one premises, which is more unsterile,” he said.

“If there was some sort of logical explanation, I could accept it and move on but it’s very contradictory.”

In an email, a Guinness representative told Mr Sawczuk the franchise’s records were constantly under review.

“Whilst we do not think this to be the case, in this instance we have become concerned that the record category, when limited to one piercer, may encourage the applicant to perform the process at a greater speed, potentially at the cost of the quality of aftercare,” the email read.

“We wanted to avoid the record category reflecting the fastest time to undertake a piercing and as such we felt this record category should not be limited to one piercer and should be increased to a team of unlimited size. Having said that, the record category may still be attempted by an individual.”

More than 120 people had volunteered to be pierced as part of Mr Sawczuk’s record attempt.

He said he still planned to make the attempt but it could be delayed as his correspondence with Guinness continued.

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Father of five on why he’s taking part in pulmonary trial

A visual representation of damaged lungs.A formerwelding inspector and father of five is taking part in the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease trial.
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The 74-year-old thinks effective management of his moderate COPD is crucial to maintaining an active lifestyle.

“I want to be able to enjoy everyday life,’’ said the man who preferred to remain anonymous.

‘‘That means playing with my seven grandchildren, walking the dog twice a day, playing bowls four times a week and regularly mowing the lawn and caring for my garden.’’

The ex-rugby league player and boxer worked as a welding inspector, particularly on submarines, for 50 years and believed he was ‘‘sucking in fumes and dust on the job’’.

He began wheezing roughly 25 years ago, but was diagnosed with COPD only six months ago after visiting a doctor. He said that he had not been to a doctor for about 40 years.

‘‘Perhaps if I had seen a doctor when my wheezing problem began, my COPD wouldn’t be as bad now.’’

The man said he learned about the COPD trial through his doctor during one of his regular check-ups and said the experience benefited him and the community.

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Flying the family flag

THE whole of Griffith will be watching when Andrew Fifita makes his Origin debut tonight – but one family will be cheering the loudest.
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Fifita’s Griffith family, the Ngus, will watch with pride when he takes to the field for NSW.

As a troubled teenager Fifita’s family encouraged him to move away from Blacktown to live in Griffith.

With the help of his uncle, Ali Ngu, he was able to turn his life around.

Twenty-four-year old Viliami Ngu said he was looking forward to watching his cousin and former Griffith Waratahs teammate play for NSW.

“Everyone is really proud of him,” Mr Ngu said.

“He took a big step when he came to Griffith to get out of trouble.

“He has worked hard to get to this level and we are all extremely happy for him.”

Fifita has certainly come a long way from the rebellious teen that landed in Griffith in 2006 to become the giant Cronulla Sharks prop, ready to represent his state for the first time at Origin level tonight at a packed ANZ Stadium.

“My dad was strict with him,” Mr Ngu said. “He lived with us for about four years. Dad is exceptionally proud of how he’s changed and turned his life around.

“He has been ringing us every now and then and is grateful for everything we did for him.

“I’ll probably go down and watch the game at the Sporties club with mates.

“It is nice to think Griffith is behind him and proud of what he has been able to achieve.

“He made a lot of friends when he was living here.

“It is great to see that he has stepped up to a bigger life now.”

Fifita is the fourth local to represent the Blues.

Born and bred Ray Brown was the first Waratah, followed by Len Bertollo from the Waratahs and Black and White Laurie Moraschi.

TEAM FIFITA: The Ngu family, (back) Ali, Shorne, 16, Mele, 17, Viliami, 24, Teu, (front) Serena, 9, and Lakai, 11, will be cheering Andrew Fifita on from afar when he plays his debut State of Origin game tonight. Picture: Anthony Stipo

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Subbie on show: Melbourne Cup winner to local schools

PRIMARY School students will get up close and personal today with Melbourne Cup-winning racehorse Subzero.
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The 24-year-old gelding is in Mildura ahead of the Murray Downs Golf and Country Club Swan Hill Cup this weekend.

‘“Subbie” will visit Sacred Heart Primary, Irymple South Primary, St Joseph’s Primary and Jacaranda Village, after visiting Bupa Nursing Home yesterday.

Racing Victoria Workforce Development co-ordinator Rebecca Wilde said students would get the chance to get a hands-on experience with one of Australia’s most-loved racehorses.

For more of this story, purchase your copy of Wednesday’s Sunraysia Daily 05/06/2013.

GIDDYUP: Racing Victoria apprentice jockey Emily Tremelling with Melbourne Cup-winning racehorse Subzero in Mildura yesterday. Picture: Clancy Shipsides

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