Nats go for Cobb

Former NSW Farmers Association president John Cobb emerged victorious from the National Party preselection bout for the seat of Parkes.
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The 51-year-old farmer defeated three contenders during a secret ballot of 149 delegates at Dubbo’s Wesley Centre on Saturday.

Just moments after being told he would carry the party’s hopes into the next federal election, Mr Cobb urged voters to stick with the Nationals vowing the good times were just around the corner.

“We are so close to, I think, at least five years of good stuff,” he said.

“We cannot afford a change of government at a time like this.

“We just cannot afford to have a change of government and we won’t have a change of who’s holding this seat I can assure you of that.”

The father of seven daughters, Mr Cobb – who lives with wife Gai on a property 100 kilometres west of Condobolin – said he would base his electorate office in Dubbo and “possibly” commute home on weekends.

Last month he stepped down from the farm lobby group, after almost three years at the helm, to take a second stab at federal politics. In 1992, he lost a preselection tussle with then-member Michael Cobb (no relation) who held the seat for 12 years.

Parkes MP Tony Lawler described Saturday’s outcome as a “relief” that took him one step closer to his own political exit. He will retire after just one term.

“I’ve got no doubt John’s got the credentials and the experience and the knowledge of the electorate,” Mr Lawler said soon after the vote.

“I would have been very anxious if we didn’t have such quality candidates. So certainly, this has made my decision a lot clearer.”

Despite its National Party pedigree Mr Cobb said he had no intention of taking the “seat for granted”.

“They can choose between a local who has held a number of important leadership positions and will hit the ground running to deliver for Parkes, or an ALP candidate who will be told what to do by his union masters in Sydney and Canberra,” he said.

“What I think we’ve got to do is make sure everybody knows what the National Party has done over the past few years – it’s done an awful lot for country people.”

Among the wins, he said, was the Roads to Recovery program, protection of regional airline access to Kingsford Smith Airport, and defeating tax moves restricting the transfer of businesses and properties between generations.

Country Labor candidate Joe Knagge, on the campaign trail for the past five months, congratulated his opponent but said the decision “came as no surprise”. Both candidates have promised a campaign free from personal attacks.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Rhinos need to reproduce recent form

The Dubbo Rhinos will be hoping to retain the form which saw them conquer the Dubbo Kangaroos last weekend when they take on the Parkes Boars in round seven of the Blowes Menswear Cup in Parkes tomorrow.
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Without a win heading into the match, the Rhinos looked a different team in last Saturday’s local derby, recording just their second victory over the Kangaroos with the 23-10 scoreline.

The Rhinos appeared inspired against their more fancied counterparts and relished the result, but coach Andrew Williams was quick to point out that the win was just the first in their Central West quest.

On the road, the Rhinos will again need to lift against the Boars, who are currently third on the competition table having won four of their first six matches.

Only one change has been made to the team which defeated the Kangaroos last weekend, with Ben Mathews coming back into first grade at five-eighth, having recovered from injury.

That move has pushed Glen Gallagher to inside centre, Guy Perrin to outside centre and Jason Leach to the wing, and Ian Burns from first grade back to third grade.

The Rhinos forwards, who comprehensively outplayed the Kangaroos, are unchanged and will need to muscle up again on Saturday against the powerful Parkes pack which is not lacking in size.

Austin Whitehead, in his first match back from injury, was particularly strong against the Kangaroos and will again need to lead the forwards, while Williams will also be looking for another big game from workhorse young prop George See.

Nick Hubbard jumped well in the line-outs against the Rhinos’ Dubbo rivals and will be needed again to secure quality ball.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Vaughan’s faith in reshuffle

Dubbo Kangaroos coach Scott Vaughan is hopeful a new prop and hooker and a back row reshuffle can reverse his team’s form for when they play Orange City at No 1 Oval tomorrow.
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The Kangaroos tackle the Lions in round seven of the Blowes Menswear Cup and are looking for a more committed forwards performance after last weekend’s 23-10 loss to the Dubbo Rhinos.

The Kangaroos were overpowered and out-enthused by their local rivals last weekend, the Rhinos being first to the breakdown on most occasions to secure their own possession and poach from their opponents.

Vaughan has promoted Shad Bailey from second grade to the first XV at hooker and reinstated Len Bartley at prop in an effort to inject some enthusiasm into the front row.

He has also asked Simon Aird and Phil Randell to swap positions, Randell moving to number eight and Aird into the second row. Danny Tink is unavailable and Peter Walters has taken his place at breakaway.

Peter Hyde has been rewarded for a standout performance in second grade last week, taking the number nine jumper from Luke Carney.

The Kangaroos lower grade teams will also be on show on Saturday and keen to continue their winning streaks against the lowly rated Lions.

On the back of their tireless forwards the second grade team has won its past three matches on the hop and is currently third on the competition table.

Against the Lions, who are third last, the Kangaroos will again look to their “angry eight”, who have been rated among the best-drilled forward outfits in any grade.

Under the innovative coaching methods of rugby genius Nigel Bourke, the Kangaroos third grade team has completed the first six rounds of the competition undefeated – Forbes coming closest in round three when they fell seven points short.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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‘Let me die’ injured crash victim begs family

A teenage hoon who led police on a high-speed pursuit through Brisbane’s eastern suburbs, crashed so hard into the back of another vehicle he broke the driver’s neck, a court has heard.
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Zac Robert Mannix pleaded guilty today to one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing grievous bodily harm.

Brisbane’s District Court heard the 18-year-old tradesman was driving through Alexandra Hills on the night of March 11 last year when police attempted to pull him over.

Prosecutor Amanda Meisenhelter said Mannix had consumed a couple of beers earlier that afternoon and was worried he would be over the limit.

He sped off and led police on a 25 minute chase through suburban streets, reaching speeds of up to 120kmh, the court heard.

When he was cornered in a cul de sac, he drove at a police car in order to escape and later pulled over and removed his number plates in a bid to avoid detection.

The pursuit eventually ended when Mannix turned onto Finucane Road and lost control of his car on a bend, smashing into the back of a Hyundai Excel at an estimated 110kmh.

Mannix and his three passengers ran from the scene and were later apprehended by police.

Joel Thompson, the driver of the second vehicle, suffered a broken neck and spinal injuries and required surgery and rehabilitation, Ms Meisenhelter said.

A victim impact statement, tendered to the court, told of how Mr Thompson’s life had been permanently changed following the crash.

The pain he felt in the days following was so severe that he begged his friends and family to let him die, the statement said.

Mr Thompson was forced to learn how to walk again and still suffers from back pain and anxiety.

Defence counsel Brendan Ryan said his client had acted stupidly because he was "frightened and scared".

Judge Michael Forde said Mannix had showed no compassion when he ran from the scene of the crash.

"Your actions of stupidity and carelessness in dangerously operating your motor vehicle have had a permanent effect on the victim," Judge Forde said.

He sentenced Mannix to 18 months’ imprisonment and banned him from driving for two years.

Mannix will be released on parole on September 12.

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Service honour for man with shows in ‘my blood’

Josh Bushell has seen his fair share of Sydney Royal Easter Shows – 58 he thinks, give or take a couple.
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Josh was introduced to the show by his family and says the annual visit to the show runs in “my blood”.

In fact, it could be argued agricultural shows were a way of life for him. As a former manager of the Western District Exhibit at the Royal Easter Show, it was in his best interest to see as many of the shows in his district as was humanly possible.

At his busiest, Josh once dropped in on the Molong show during the morning, headed over to Eugowra for lunch and then stopped in at Broken Hill to top off the day. “It would have been 1100 or 1200 kilometres,” he said. “And then we were off to another one in the morning.”

Now retired from the land and living on the Sunshine Coast, Josh still has a close affinity with the Hawkesbury region and is still actively involved with the Western District Exhibit.

His hard work has not gone unrecognised with Josh set to receive a gold medal at this year’s show from the Royal Agricultural Society – an honour reserved for those with a history of more than 40 years service.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Snubbed Rudd turns the tables on his critics

KEVIN RUDD has given a backhander to his Japanese and domestic critics by implying the Japanese Government had snubbed Australia and not the other way around.
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Mr Rudd delivered the barb on the eve of today’s meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, at which he will also restate his threat to pursue international legal action to stop whaling should diplomacy fail.

The Prime Minister told the Japan National Press Club yesterday that "six or seven" of his most senior ministers have visited Japan since Labor won the election in November.

"How many Japanese Government ministers have been able to visit Australia in the same time? I don’t think there are any," he said. "We need to put this in a bit of context."

Mr Rudd has been criticised by sections of the Japanese and Australian media, as well as by the Opposition at home, for not visiting Japan sooner and for visiting China first. But he told the press club that John Howard also waited six months before making his first visit to Japan.

Mr Rudd said he had to visit China early because Beijing wanted no big official visits after April because of the Olympics.

He stressed it was significant that more of his ministers had visited Japan than any other country. "The intensity of these visits reflects the priority which we in Australia attach to this important relationship," he said.

As a further sign of goodwill, Mr Rudd, during an audience at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, invited Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to visit Australia.

Mr Rudd said he would raise whaling at today’s meeting with Mr Fukuda and said a recent softening of rhetoric should not be mistaken for Australia abandoning plans to take Japan to the International Court of Justice.

He said settling the issue diplomatically remained the vastly preferred option, using bilateral talks and pressure at this month’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

"Let’s hope that diplomacy works," Mr Rudd said. "But you’re wrong to characterise that our policy has changed regarding abandoning any possible legal course of action."

Mr Rudd said it would be "abnormal" for Japan and Australia to agree on everything.

Whaling constituted "a strong disagreement between friends" and if diplomacy failed "let’s hope we can prosecute our differences in an atmosphere of friendship".

The Opposition accused Mr Rudd of overplaying his hand after New Zealand concluded there was no legal case and "the issue will be won in the court of public opinion not in a court of law".

Mr Rudd will today appease broader Japanese concerns by calling for the bilateral security agreement to be boosted and by assuring Mr Fukuda that Australia would be capable of providing Japan with food and fuel for at least another half a century.

Tokyo is alarmed that, with rapidly expanding China and India bidding for Australian produce, minerals and energy, as well as climate change and drought in Australia, there will not be enough to go around. Japan can produce enough food to feed only 39 per cent of its population.

Mr Rudd said that while market forces would have to be adhered to, Australia would not leave Japan in the lurch. "Australia has been a long-term reliable supplier of food, energy and raw materials for more than half a century," he said.

"We have no intention as a nation to change that for the next half century."

He would tell Mr Fukuda that even with the drought and a changing climate, Australia was a world leader in food and agricultural technology.

"We are great adapters. We have been adapting over a long period of time and will continue to do so and still see ourselves as a long-term, reliable supplier of food to the rest of the world, including Japan."

The men will also resume negotiations on a free trade agreement started by the Howard government. Japan is seeking food and energy security guarantees in the agreement while Mr Rudd implied Australia would not accept Japan’s protection of its agriculture sector. "We want to have an ambitious FTA with Japan that covers the field," he said.

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Students hoping to reach new heights

It’s a long and tiring two weeks for a showjumping teacher at the Royal Easter Show.
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With students arriving every few days, Jaenelle Waters from Mendooran spends each morning preparing them for their events and offering last-minute advice before they enter the arena.

“I’m overcome with pride every time one of my students goes into the ring.

“It’s fantastic they’ve made it to the Royal,” Jaenelle said.

The beaming teacher said getting up early every day and spending two weeks sleeping in a horse float was worthwhile if her students gained experience and, even better, if they went home with a ribbon.

“I’ve got three students competing at the Royal this year.

“They are very dedicated, travelling up to an hour to Mendooran for lessons,” Jaenelle said.

The three students aiming for a blue ribbon this year are Cristie Palmer, Mitchell Dansey and Alicia Cale.

Jaenelle is spending a lot of time in the ring herself.

She competes in the Part One showjumping category, which consists of World Cup horses.

“I’m competing on ‘Hezaskyhawk’ who came fifth overall in the Australian World Cup Series this year,” Jaenelle said

“I’ve been coming to the Royal since I was 12-years-old and I’ve always done really well.

“I’ve picked up a few ribbons so far and hope for more later in the show. I’m hoping my students will do well too.

“I like to pass on the tricks of the trade which have led to my success in the past.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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PM orders anger management for MP

WHEN Kevin Rudd ordered the federal MP Belinda Neal to attend anger management counselling yesterday, he lifted the lid on one of the worst-kept secrets of the NSW Labor Party – that Ms Neal can frequently be abusive and even violent.
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Ms Neal is a woman who, senior Labor sources say, keeps photographs and written names of her political enemies in her freezer. And neighbours have told yesterday of police visits to Ms Neal’s home at Woy Woy Bay, where she lives with her husband, the NSW Education Minister, John Della Bosca. They had often heard her swearing and screaming coming from the house.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was forced to interrupt his tour of Japan – one of the most important international visits of his political career – to telephone Ms Neal. He ordered her to undergo anger management, and threatened to dump her from the Labor Party if she transgressed again.

Mr Rudd had reached his limit. In the past week, Ms Neal has been accused of swearing and abusing staff at Gosford’s Iguanas Waterfront, and threatening she would have the club’s "f—ing licence"; and yesterday it emerged that she had been suspended for kicking a rival soccer player while she was on the ground.

Mr Rudd put every Labor MP on notice, saying they were expected to uphold decent standards of behaviour.

"No one, I repeat no one, is guaranteed a future in politics and that goes for all our members of Parliament," he said in Tokyo.

After meeting the Japanese Emperor Akihito, Mr Rudd said: "I spoke to Belinda Neal today and said to her that there appears to be a pattern of unacceptable behaviour. She’s indicated that as a result of our conversation that she’ll actually be seeking counselling to assist in her own management of her relationships with other people."

A somewhat contrite Ms Neal confirmed this yesterday, admitting that her argument with Iguanas staff "did continue too long". But she continued to insist she had received bad service, and she denied kicking the soccer player when she was down.

But the Iguanas affair appears set now to be investigated by police. The Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, wrote to the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, and asked him to investigate contradictory statutory declarations of the events written by the venue’s staff and Ms Neal’s and Mr Della Bosca’s dining companions. 

It will not be the first time the police have been involved with the couple, say neighbours yesterday. They confirmed that police had been called to the couple’s home two or three times in the past decade, and it was "not uncommon" to hear Ms Neal’s screams coming from the house.

"Swearing and things being thrown, I’ve heard it," one male neighbour said. "I’ve heard them arguing, fighting and throwing things. She’s a mouth on her."

It has long been rumoured that Ms Neal has been abusive towards her husband. Mr Della Bosca and Ms Neal did not respond to written questions yesterday, but Mr Della Bosca’s spokesman said last night: "The minister does not want to respond to untrue and hurtful muckraking other than to say he loves his wife very much and has been married for 22 years."

When Mr Della Bosca was asked in a profile interview last August if Ms Neal had hit him on occasions, he said: "Not true". Three other neighbours in their small dead-end street spoke of Ms Neal’s rages

In the Central Coast seat of Robertson, the election night dampener in November was the lurking guilt that, in our desperation to get rid of John Howard, we had sent a time bomb to Canberra. Poor Kevin 07, we sagely said. As we raised our glasses to toast Rudd’s win, somebody added: "And Kevin, sorry about Belinda, mate." 

"You can hear the language, you can hear the throwing," another said. "She’s the one that does all the calling and the abusing."

Ms Neal’s erratic behaviour is often viewed in Labor circles as the reason why her husband has not gone further in his career. As one senior Government source said: "The truth is we all know this [latest incident at Iguanas] is Belinda’s doing and Della’s judgment evaporates when Belinda is involved. It has been the way for 20 years."

One of Ms Neal’s Labor colleagues said she publicly humiliated Mr Della Bosca at several country Labor conferences by shouting and abusing him. Another Labor source said she was so vindictive that she boasted of putting her enemies’ written names or their photos in the freezer.

Another Labor source said she was so vindictive that she boasted of putting enemies’ written names or their photos in her freeezer. This practice has been recorded as a modern adaptation of a hoodoo spell to shut up the named person, or freeze their words.

One Labor source said anybody who knew her would know "how far-fetched and ridiculous" was the suggestion that she did not swear at Iguanas. Mr Rudd did not say whether he believed Ms Neal and Mr Della Bosca’s denial that they threatened and abused the staff at Iguanas.

Mr Rudd’s action puts further heat on the Premier, Morris Iemma. But Mr Iemma’s spokesman insisted yesterday that "appropriate action" had been taken against Mr Della Bosca, claiming there was a lack of evidence that he had behaved inappropriately.

Late yesterday, Ms Neal told ABC radio that after a 20-minute phone conversation with Mr Rudd, she finally accepted that she had not handled the Iguanas situation appropriately; this after days of she and Mr Della Bosca claiming they were at no fault.

But Ms Neal maintained that she did not swear at staff and did not threaten their liquor licence. In fact, she said she was the latest victim of poor service at the restaurant and nightclub. "I have been contacted by several people who have had similar or far worse experience than mine."

Earlier, at a news conference, Ms Neal said: "The argument did continue too long and as a result I have had a conversation with the Prime Minister today in which I agreed that I would attend counselling to deal with conflict with other people and I suppose I’ll do that as soon as arrangements can be made."

Ms Neal denied doing anything wrong in a soccer game for her team, Umina United, in which she was given a red card and sent off. She allegedly kicked The Entrance-Bateau Bay United player Amy Parslow, and was suspended for two weeks.

"There was an occasion where my boot made contact with the other player’s boot," Ms Neal said. "It was a minor incident and as a result the referee made a decision and I guess referees make good decisions and not so good decisions. I … left the field and, of course, the other woman involved went on to finish without injury."

She dismissed the acting Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s remark that her anger formed a disturbing pattern of behaviour. "I haven’t spoken to Julia Gillard. I have spoken to Kevin Rudd, who is both the Prime Minister of the country and my leader."

She refused to admit she had anger problems, instead saying she would take the classes "to draw a line in the sand".

A former councillor who served with Ms Neal on Gosford City Council for four years in the 1990s said she was very difficult to work with, regularly raised her voice during debates and was known to swear in the chamber.

"She was very, very aggressive in debate and she was known for being very forthright and difficult, especially with her Labor Party colleagues who were on council with her, they found her the hardest to work with," the councillor said. "There’s wasn’t a lot of raised eyebrows when we heard what happened on Friday night, it came as no surprise."

Another former councillor said Gosford police had told him they had been called to Ms Neal’s family home several times in the past few years after complaints of shouting and swearing.

Labor sources say Ms Neal has long harboured ministerial and even, bizarrely, prime ministerial ambitions when she tried to move to the lower house from the Senate in 1998. One reason Labor head office allowed her to run in the seat of Robertson at last year’s election was that, with its 6.9 per cent margin, senior officials believed she was only a slight chance of winning.

During the campaign, Ms Neal suggested Labor had a secret plan to review the carve-up of GST revenue or raise the GST rate. Mr Rudd insisted an increase would happen "over my dead body". According to a local campaign source, Ms Neal kicked up a fuss when told to retract her statement.

Ms Neal got into trouble when a neighbour took her to court over her dog, Checkers, harassing him on his motorcycle. Ms Neal wanted to challenge the fine but eventually pleaded guilty, the local campaign source confirmed, after she was pressured by the party.

Late last month, Ms Neal apologised to Parliament after telling the heavily pregnant Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella that "your baby will be turned into a demon by evil thoughts". Mrs Mirabella suggested then that Ms Neal needed counselling.

During the Herald’s profile interview, Mr Della Bosca rejected that Ms Neal’s lack of political success had been "a problem for me or a problem for her – no, I don’t think so. We’ve got a 21-year marriage. It’s been a good marriage. Like every marriage it’s had its ups and downs but I think that kind of comment is unfair and untrue."

Ms Neal said at the time, when asked if she was fiery: "I haven’t really heard people say that. Certainly I’m someone who has the courage of my convictions. I’m prepared to stand up [for them]. There’s no point representing a seat and not having a … strong voice." A voice soon to be restrained by anger management.

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Getting to root of salt problem

It’s not easy being green, but at a salinity site near Western Plains Zoo the high survival rate of about 2000 trees has surprised project co-ordinators.
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More than 95 per cent of the striplings planted last September have weathered the first critical months.

With little more than good ground preparation and some conscientious weed control the six species are thriving.

The two-hectare site is one of 50 trials west of the Blue Mountains and part of the State Salinity Management Strategy.

Locally the project is under the control of State Forests, Western Plains Zoo and Dubbo City Council.

“By choosing different sites, soil types and species the trial will determine which trees are the most suitable for production in terms of combating salinity and commercial viability,” council’s landcare director Ken Rogers said.

“We put the trees in and then basically left them to their own devices. In about 12 months we should be able to judge how that’s worked.”

Early days or not the zoo, which hopes one day to run animals on the site, believes there is an important message for landholders.

“We are much the same as a working farm except we have weird-looking animals instead of cows,” environment co-ordinator Phil Cameron said.

“It shows you can strategically plant trees, improve your productivity and still have a farm.”

State Forests western regional manager Paul Wells described the trial as “critical” in the fight against salinity. Planting trees, he said, sucked up carbon and lowered the water table.

“Once we give commercial value to those it will become profitable.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Discovery sheds light on Burke and Wills

IN APRIL 1861, the explorers Robert Burke and William Wills – sick, starving and desperate to survive – abandoned their surveying instruments and other non-essential items in outback Queensland and continued south on their ill-fated journey.
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Almost 150 years later, in a discovery being proclaimed as the holy grail for Burke and Wills enthusiasts, a Melbourne academic says he has found some of the equipment buried in a creekbed hundreds of kilometres inland from Brisbane.

The discovery could rehabilitate the tarnished image of Wills, whose credentials as a surveyor have been maligned.

The site, known as the Plant Camp, is integral to the Burke and Wills story because it tells of the increasingly desperate state of mind of the explorers, who were unwell, low on supplies and had to abandon everything but their food after a camel died.

At that stage a party of four, the men struggled on from the Plant Camp to Coopers Creek in South Australia, only to find their support party had given up on them and left just a few hours earlier. All but one of the explorers, John King, died on the journey.

The Melbourne academic Frank Leahy discovered the buried instruments last year after a painstaking search that began 20 years earlier.

Dr Leahy said Wills used a combination of dead reckoning, a compass and astronomical observation to keep exhaustive records that ultimately showed a high degree of accuracy.

"Wills was a great surveyor, there is no doubt about that," he said. "His reputation suffered very unfairly."

Dr Leahy and the Royal Society of Victoria have asked the Queensland Government to protect the site and declare it a heritage area to prevent fortune hunters descending on it. Items recovered from the site include rifle and revolver bullets, a spirit bubble used for surveying, buckles from belts and strapping, a canvas and leather sewing kit containing pliers and needles, hinges and latches and a paperweight.

If authenticated, the surveying instruments used by Wills on the trip would be not only of enormous scientific and historical significance, but also of financial value, after the development of a lucrative market in Burke and Wills artefacts.

Two years ago a Burke and Wills water bottle sold at auction for $286,000 and a breastplate connected to the expedition sold at auction in Sydney last month for $180,000.

The hunt for Plant Camp began in earnest in the mid-1980s, when Dr Leahy, principal fellow in the Department of Geomatics at the University of Melbourne, took Wills’s own co-ordinates and surveying records and overlaid them with sophisticated spatial analysis, corrected them for error (which he calculated by comparing Wills’ records with the co-ordinates of identified sites) and worked out where the camp should be.

In 1986, during one of many trips to the area, he discovered a blazed tree – a tree with its bark cut back, which the explorers used to mark each camp – surrounded by terrain described by King to a commission of inquiry into the expedition.

"By using the astronomical records made by Wills and descriptions in his journals of camps along the route, I decided this had to be the place," Dr Leahy told the Herald . "It is the Plant Camp, there is no doubt about it, and finding the equipment there proves it."

The Burke and Wills Society is aware of the claimed discovery of the Plant Camp, which Dr Leahy reported in the December issue of the Journal Of Spatial Science , but has so far not endorsed it as authentic.

The society’s president, David Corke, said yesterday that the recovered items could belong to Burke and Wills, but until a sextant or astronomical survey instrument was found, the society would not accept the site as authentic. "It is still up in the air as far as most of us are concerned," Mr Corke said.

The location of the discovered items made sense, he said, but it was a large area that was difficult to search. The material had also been scattered, although this could have been caused by flooding in the creek or because it was moved by Aborigines.

The hunt for the camp has sparked intense rivalry among Burke and Wills historians and items so far have been recovered by Dr Leahy, as well as by the former Victorian surveyor- general Ray Holmes, who Dr Leahy took to the site in 2005.

"To his credit and persistence, Ray Holmes returned several more times with his family and he uncovered the spirit bubble that was part of Wills’s astronomical equipment," Dr Leahy said.

He has attempted to verify the items through various means, but says the most convincing evidence was from cross-checking the discoveries against the list of stores taken by Burke and Wills when they left Melbourne on their expedition.

"The material we have found was scattered at a distance of up to two kilometres from the blazed tree, most probably because the bag eventually split and its contents dispersed."

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Zoos go back to nature for diets

The secret to healthy and happy zoo animals is a balanced diet and Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoo shapes up pretty well, according to zoo nutritionist Debra McDonald.
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The veterinary nutritionist, from the Bronx Zoo in New York, is visiting Western Plains Zoo as part of the annual Australasian Regional Association of Zoo Parks and Aquaria conference to give a series of lectures on healthy eating for animals in zoos.

Born and raised in Victoria, Ms McDonald has spent the past 12 months working in the US.

“There are no zoo nutritionists in Australia so to get the experience I needed I went to America to work with the best in the world,” she said. “Basically I’m here to give an insight into what needs to be considered in the way of diet for zoo animals.”

Ms McDonald said the Bronx Zoo was vastly different from Western Plains Zoo.

“The Bronx Zoo is absolutely huge – bigger than Dubbo’s zoo,” she said.

“Because of the winter snows over there they have a lot of indoor exhibitions which are managed quite intensively and there are also a number of open-range areas.

“They’ve just spent $40 million on a new Congo exhibit for their gorillas – we could almost build a whole zoo here in Australia for half that.”

As the nature of zoos had changed in the past 20 years so too had the nutritional needs of the animals, Ms McDonald said.

“In the past there wasn’t a big focus on breeding animals in zoos – the zoo could just go out and catch another one from the wild if they wanted,” she said.

“But now zoos are trying to encourage animals to breed in captivity and release endangered species back into the wild, so the diets of zoo animals need to be less processed and more natural.”

Ms McDonald will return to the US next week to work for a few months before returning home to set up Australia’s first zoo nutrition centre.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Drag strip truce takes a battering

The shaky truce between Dubbo City Council and developers of a multi-million- dollar drag strip took another battering this week.
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Dubbo City Car Club members emerged with a less-than-rosy prognosis for the future of the project after a meeting with senior council staff.

“It’s finished for Dubbo,” one member said later and only moments before the start of a full council meeting.

“They said it could take another 18 months – that’s the end of it as far as we’re concerned.”

Lengthy delays to the development process have seen the $4 million project enter its fourth year.

But council’s environmental services director Doug Herd, quizzed by several councillors on the night, had a very different take on the latest negotiations.

Describing the meeting as “happy” and “positive” he agreed the timing to rezone land for the development was in the “lap of the gods”.

Nonetheless, he was hopeful of getting all the information back to council about mid-year, with the rezoning gazetted before Christmas.

He also assured councillors that staff would work with the club’s consultants who were already familiar with the project.

Project co-ordinator Alan Walker said that in light of Mr Herd’s comments to council the club would take a “wait and see” approach.

“I was sitting up the back of the council chamber thinking ‘were we at the same meeting’,” Mr Walker said later, claiming the club had already made wide-ranging compromises.

“We’ve dropped all of it but the drag strip. We’re tired of doing studies on the impact of everything from driver training to walking a dachshund.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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