Gallipoli secured for Anzac services

post on August 7th, 2019
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Authorities are talking down the threat of any terrorist attack at the centenary Anzac commemorations in Gallipoli while moving to assure visitors they are fully prepared if anything does go wrong.


Australian services director Tim Evans has also dismissed suggestions there could be traffic chaos as more than 10,000 visitors go through security and ticket checks to get onto the Turkish peninsula.

He’s “extremely confident” things will run smoothly.

“We’ve got a well-planned, well-rehearsed process,” Mr Evans said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will attend services on the peninsula on Friday and Saturday.

He’ll have two days of meetings in Ankara and Istanbul before that.

The PM is expected to push the Davutoglu government to better control its borders and stop radicalised Australians travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight with Islamic State militants.

Mr Evans says the threat assessment for the Gallipoli commemorations remains “as low as it goes” despite a series of arrests in Australia and the UK linked to an alleged IS-inspired terrorist plot to attack Melbourne services.

The low risk analysis is a joint assessment by Australian and New Zealand agencies.

“The threat assessment for Turkey is medium but the threat security assessment for the (Anzac) event is low,” Mr Evans said.

“Attending the event here in Gallipoli will be one of the safest places in Turkey for Australian and New Zealand visitors.”

Because so many VIPs are attending the 100th anniversary – including Price Charles, his son, Prince Harry, and world leaders, including Mr Abbott – Turkey had already ramped up security compared with previous years.

The Turks will lock down the southern peninsula on Friday for the international and Commonwealth services.

Access to the north of the peninsula, including Anzac Cove, will be tightly controlled on Friday and Saturday for the Australian and New Zealand commemorations.

There’ll be almost 4000 national and paramilitary police and at least 1000 soldiers from Turkey’s 2nd army corps.

Australia has a small number of liaison officers from the Australian Federal Police and similar agencies on the ground.

It’s been reported ASIO, ASIS and special forces have been deployed in recent weeks.

A no-fly zone will be in place, and the Turkish coastguard will use 10 ships to stop all non-naval vessels from approaching the coast.

If anything does go wrong three hospitals are ready to receive casualties. They can be evacuated by helicopter, boat or vehicle.

But officials say the biggest challenge in 2015 is actually traffic management.

There’ll be 10,500 people attending – as opposed to 4400 in 2014 – and they’ll need to pass through a series of gateway roadblocks.

Another big issue is sanitation.

Equipment-wise the event is comparable to putting on a concert in a remote national park.

And that, of course, requires portaloos.

“I always get a bit obsessed about the toilet facilities,” Mr Evans said.

“With 10,500 visitors we have 438 portaloos at about 400 uses per (toilet).

“I think we’ve got it covered.”

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Ship finally docks after Sydney storms

post on August 7th, 2019
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After being stranded outside Sydney Harbour battling seasickness, tilting floors and crashing waves, the majority of the 2,500 Carnival Spirit passengers couldn’t wait to get off.


But the Eggersdorf family, waiting patiently at the dock on Wednesday, couldn’t wait to get on.

“We were a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to leave today but then we got the text to go,” said father Nathan who with his two children, wife and mother were poised to head to New Caledonia.

Scheduled to dock in Sydney’s Circular Quay on Tuesday, the cruise ship was stuck outside the harbour after wild weather forced the harbour port to be shut down.

The conditions were too dangerous to send a pilot to guide the ship in, so the 293-metre ocean liner was left on its own against lashing nine-metre swells.

Passenger Dane Portelli said being stuck on a rocking ship out beyond the heads had most passengers feeling “down in the dumps”.

“We were locked in our cabins and we couldn’t go up to the top decks … everywhere you go there were just big waves crashing all over the boat,” he said, adding that one level of the ship flooded.

Items were thrown around, glassware was smashed, people lost their balance and the contents of their stomachs.

“It was just the rough winds and the waves, it was freaky,” said passenger Eleanor Pittana who felt “fantastic” upon docking in Sydney with her husband Ernie.

The couple and many other passengers praised the cruise staff and crew who kept the dining galley and common rooms open throughout the ordeal.

Passengers also received $50 onboard credit as compensation.

Captain Adriano Binacchi told media the Carnival Spirit was “built for all kinds of weather”.

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ARU takes the fight to cashed-up clubs

post on August 7th, 2019
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The ARU hasn’t given up hope of retaining Quade Cooper as it takes the fight to cashed-up European and Japanese clubs pilfering Australia’s elite rugby stars.


Cooper is the latest marquee player reportedly heading offshore at the end of the year, with French newspapers claiming the mercurial playmaker has already signed with Toulon.

“We’re still in a dialogue with Quade. I’m not aware of him having signed any contracts,” ARU CEO Bill Pulver said on Wednesday after announcing the ARU’s dramatic shift in its selection policy.

“We would love him to stay in Australia and that’s what we’re working towards.”

Pulver made no secret the ARU was also working towards warding off international sharks circling Australia’s finest talent.

He hopes the ARU’s landmark decision to allow particular overseas-based players to be eligible for Wallabies selection will make clubs “think twice” about luring Australia’s big guns offshore.

Only stalwarts who have played 60 Tests for the Wallabies and seven years of Super Rugby or at international level will be permitted the long-service dispensation.

Cooper falls seven Tests short, but could conceivably qualify by the end of the year.

Regardless, Pulver said the ARU was tired of its blue-chip stocks being raided.

“To some extent historically, international clubs have looked at Australian talent as an easy target because of the policy we had,” he said.

“When you look at this in combination with the flexible contracting that we’ve introduced, we think we are now putting together the tools that we need to be more effective in retaining players.

“We take the issue very seriously of talent in Australia moving offshore and we’ll continue to look at opportunities to refine our policies to deliver the outcomes we want.

“Given the complexity of the policy around eligibility for selection, I don’t really want to suggest that this is the end of the thought process.”

Pulver said the ARU had been grappling with the issue for some time, with more than a dozen Wallabies stars already playing overseas and a host including former skippers Will Genia, James Horwill and current vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper departing after the World Cup.

“While we do not believe these policy changes represent a silver bullet, we do believe that they represent a positive step towards delivering the outcomes that we want.

“What it does do is it provides more competition for positions and that generally provides better outcomes.

“So I would like to think one of the outcomes is a more competitive Wallaby outfit.”

Pulver said the ARU would also have no hesitation in applying the IRB’s “Regulation 9” that allows it to bring Wallabies back from overseas clubs on demand for Tests during certain international windows including the Rugby Championship and fixtures in June and November.

“With world rugby’s Regulation 9, we clearly have the capability to do that and maybe they’ll think twice about recruiting some of these players,” he said.

“We were not pulling players out of their competitions to represent Australia (until now).

“There is a real effort on our part to repatriate some of our players and we are going to be a lot more aggressive around that approach now.”

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Iraqi family finds new life in Cambodia amid refugee deal controversy

post on August 7th, 2019
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Emad Farhan is haunted by war.


“Most of them died,” he says. “My neighbours and my best friends.”

“I don’t think about that, because I’ll cry if I think about that.”

The 18-year-old and his family fled Iraq when violence in their hometown, Fallujah, became too dangerous. They first went to Malaysia and then on to Cambodia.

The Farhans now live in the capital Phnom Penh and own a Middle Eastern restaurant on a street where the road is full of motorbikes and the pavement is lined with tangles of low-hanging power lines.

Inside the restaurant, bright red tablecloths flap lazily in the breeze as fans whirr overhead. On the menu are things like falafel, biryani, lentil soup and a savoury dish called “Ladies Finger.”

Emad’s father, Hashim, says the restaurant has helped them to fit in.

“Most of our neighbours came here to ask me about the food; about the smell of food,” he says. “[They asked], ‘Which smell is it’?”

Poverty and prosperity

The Farhans live in Cambodia on business visas, which they have to pay for, and are not refugees.

After fleeing their hometown they applied for refugee status in Malaysia but it was too difficult for Hashim to secure visas there for his wife and five sons – Mohammed (26), Ahmed (24), Yassir (22), Emad (18) and Ali (15) – so they moved to Cambodia while they waited for an outcome of their claim. That was almost a year ago. 

Their story is unusual in a country still recovering following the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s , which saw more than one million people killed. It’s a place where few people come to after fleeing war, but 51-year-old Hashim says they have been made to feel welcome.

“Cambodians are very nice people,” he says, “very friendly.”

The family represents what Immigration Minister Peter Dutton claims will be possible for refugees who are settled in Cambodia under the government’s $40 million refugee resettlement agreement.

Following the signing of a second Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Cambodian prime minister in Canberra last week, Mr Dutton said refugees who came to Cambodia from Nauru would be supported.

“We want to be able to give people who have an entrepreneurial spirit the chance to open up their own business if that is their want,” he said.

But human rights groups say a country with less than 100 refugees and a host of issues such as poverty, corruption and low employment rates is not equipped to give arrivals from Nauru what they need.

Finding allies

Support agencies and NGOs in Cambodia will play a crucial role in assisting any refugees who do arrive from Nauru but so far, few have publicly backed the deal.

Tek Vannara, chief of the NGO Forum in Cambodia, says most human rights NGOs in the country don’t support it.

“They ask the government to solve internal [issues] first, before thinking [about] external [issues] like receiving refugees from the outside,” he says.

Steve Cook, a representative of World Vision Cambodia, says the agreement is not something the organisation wants to be involved with.

“Cambodia is already facing a lot of challenges and while it’s made a lot of progress in these areas over the last few years…there’s a lot of strains that are still placed on the population and a refugee deal could place pressure on those strains,” he says.

In February this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced it would facilitate the resettlement of any refugees who volunteered to move. The IOM brought with it a number of new conditions, including that refugees be allowed to live and work anywhere in Cambodia. Before the migration body came on board, the Australian government said refugees would be able to live in Phnom Penh for only a year before they would have to move to rural areas.

In a statement to SBS, a spokeswoman for the Minister for Immigration said partnerships were developing.

“The International Organisation for Migration has agreed to provide settlement support and assistance to refugees coming to Cambodia from Nauru, and is developing partnerships with a range of NGOs and other agencies in Cambodia to establish these supports,” she said.

Under the agreement, the government has committed $40 million in aid to Cambodia to be delivered over four years. The government will also cover the cost of resettlement.

So far none of the refugees on Nauru have volunteered to move to Cambodia.

Building on unsteady ground

According to the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics (NIS) the poverty rate in Cambodia has decreased from 48 per cent in 2007 to 18.9 per cent in 2012. But still the gap between the rich and the poor is still vast and many people live in extreme poverty. 

Hashim Farhan, who worked as a blacksmith in Iraq, says his restaurant is picking up.

“Two times or three times, many customers came and they didn’t find a table,” he says. “So I told them, ‘Sorry, maybe one hour later’.”

The restaurant is open seven days a week and all the family pitches in with cooking and serving customers. Hashim says they are looking for a bigger space but they are hard to come by in Phnom Penh.

He originally borrowed money from friends to set up the business, an option that will probably not be available to most refugees coming from Nauru.

But Cambodian government representative Phay Siphan says refugees from Nauru will have the same chance as anyone else in Cambodia to be successful.

“They have a right to move around the world like Cambodian people, they have a right to become rich if they work hard,” he says.

‘Real’ refugees

Mr Siphan says the country agreed to take refugees from Nauru for “humanitarian” reasons, and to pay Australia back because it accepted a number of Cambodian refugees after the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979.

He says refugees from Nauru will be an “asset to the nation.”

But the Cambodian government has been accused of double standards for recently deporting a large number of asylum seekers who came to Cambodia from Vietnam saying they had faced religious persecution.

The government allegedly deported 40 Montagnards – Indigenous people from the central highlands of Vietnam – without hearing their claims.

Mr Siphan says the Montagnards are “not refugees” and the issue comes down to national security.

“We don’t allow anyone to use Cambodia as a swingboard for political refugees.”

“We miss our family,” he says. “I call my mother and family two times, weekly. They hope to come but cannot go outside Fallujah. We didn’t find anyone to help them go outside Fallujah.”

He says they would like to eventually immigrate to Australia or Canada, but right now they are waiting on the outcome of their refugee claim in Malaysia.

As customers begin to file into the restaurant for lunch, sons Yassir and Emad hand out menus and glasses of water.

Emad says he has made some new friends since moving to Cambodia and he likes to go skateboarding with them. He hopes to study at university and become a chemical engineer.

But the loss of friends in Iraq still weighs heavily on him.

“I live with them for more than 10 years so [I get] upset and sad when I think about it,” he says.

And he hopes other friends still there can join him in Cambodia.

“I told them about the life here,” he says.

“Life is easy and it’s good. 

“People are nice and kind.”

Follow @SylviaVarnham

Sylvia Varnham O’Regan was in Cambodia on a journalism fellowship with the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.

Listen to the SBS Radio report of this story:

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PSG need more time to reach the top in Europe

post on August 7th, 2019
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PSG were knocked out 5-1 on aggregate by Barcelona despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic and talismanic midfielder Marco Verratti returning to the Ligue 1 side from suspension but coach Laurent Blanc was not really shocked.


“Those who follow FC Barcelona know the patience required to win the Champions League. You need the means, but also some patience,” Blanc said after the 2-0 defeat at the Nou Camp, which followed last week’s 3-1 humbling at the Parc des Princes.

“The first qualified for the semi-finals are Barca and Bayern Munich. Paris will certainly be there one day but you have to understand we need time,” he said after PSG’s third successive quarter-final exit in the tournament.

Once again, Sweden striker Ibrahimovic failed to shine in a big game in which his attacking partner Edinson Cavani, despite his limitations, seemed more involved.

PSG saw off Chelsea in the previous round but that was more of a one-tie thing, with Thiago Silva and David Luiz scoring after Ibrahimovic had been sent off in the second leg.

Luiz was below-par in the last two games, being at fault on four of the five goals PSG conceded against Barca, but PSG’s limitations are collective, conceded midfielder Blaise Matuidi.

“Barcelona are an institution, a club who have been at the top level for a long time, like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich,” the France international said.

“We have been around for five years only.”

PSG were bought in 2011 by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), who invested massively in the club hoping to win Europe’s premium club competition.

While they never look threatened in the Group stage, PSG have been failing against top-notch opposition.

“Let’s be realistic, they were better than us. They will probably win the Champions League,” Ibrahimovic admitted.

“As far as we are concerned, it is not possible to reach that goal on short term. We have made several big steps and we were eliminated by a superb team.

“Let’s not lie to ourselves, it’s just reality.”

PSG will now focus on winning the Ligue 1 title for the third consecutive season — a goal more suited to their capacities — with a possible treble on the cards as they won the League Cup and will play the French Cup final on May 30.

They are second in the standings behind Olympique Lyonnais on goal difference but have a game in hand.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Australian IS recruiter Neil Prakash in new video calling for attacks at home

post on July 7th, 2019
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The Australian Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash, also known as Abu Khaled Al Cambodi, features in a highly-produced video urging his “brothers in Islam” to launch attacks in Australia.



“You must start attacking before they attack you,” he said in the recently surfaced video. “Send a message to my brothers, my beloved brothers in Islam in Australia… when are you going to rise up and attack them for attacking you?”

The video came just days after three Australian teenagers were charged over an alleged Anzac Day terror plot thought to be inspired by Islamic State.

Monash University Terrorism expert Greg Barton said there was a link.

“It was almost certainly released this week because of events on Saturday. It is possible they were holding over initially the video until after, they were hoping for a successful operation,” he said.

However, both the Victoria’s Acting Chief Commissioner Tim Cartwright and Victoria’s Islamic Council secretary Kuranda Seyit said they were not aware of any link between the charged men and Prakash. 

“It was almost certainly released this week because of events on Saturday. It is possible they were holding over initially the video until after, they were hoping for a successful operation.”

Neil Prakash said in the video that Muslims needed to stand up for their sisters, in the wake of rising Islamophobic sentiments in Australia. 

“All I hear in Australia is this sister was hurt. This sister’s hijab was ripped off.”

He referred to his “dear brother Numan”, likely a reference to Numan Haider, the 18-year-old shot dead after stabbing officers outside Melbourne police station in September 2014.

“The media has portrayed that we come here, that we’re social outcasts, that we had nobody, that we have to turn to Islam because we were just troublemakers in the past,” he continued in the video. “But this is far from the reality.

“We came to establish a state, we came to give our blood, we came to pave the way towards establishing the caliphate (Islamic State).”


Prakash, who is Fijian-Indian and Cambodian, converted to Islam before travelling to Syria in early 2013.



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Anton Enus meets Anh Do as artist launches first solo exhibit

post on July 7th, 2019
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The first time I met Anh Do was at the MCA in Sydney.


He just came up and introduced himself. Within five minutes I felt like he was my best friend. He’s that kind of guy. In fact, the most noticeable thing about Anh Do is his disarming personality. He smiles a lot, he speaks from the heart and he doesn’t self-promote.

And so it is when we catch up in Sydney as he’s preparing for his new show. He talks freely about the men he’s painted, his own shortcomings, his kids, his daily routine (drop off the kids at school, paint, pick up the kids).

Olsen Irwin Gallery director Rex Irwin playfully describes Anh as “Mr Not-Good-Enough”. When the Paddington Gallery decided to work with Anh about 18 months ago, his initial feedback to the artist was that the painting he saw was not quite ready for exhibition. Little did he know that Mr Not-Good-Enough would take the comment literally. He went home and destroyed the canvas. Such is the hunger for artistic excellence in this 37-year-old who came to Australia as a refugee when he was a young child.

“The most noticeable thing about Anh Do is his disarming personality. He smiles a lot, he speaks from the heart and he doesn’t self-promote.”

His first solo exhibition is called Man. The works – and there are just eight in all – are powerful portraits. Almost all the subjects look directly at the viewer, intensity apparent in their eyes and sharp lines defining their faces. The impasto technique, reminiscent of Nicholas Harding and perhaps even Ben Quilty, lends itself to this overload of emotion. It’s no coincidence that the paintings speak of lives the tough way. The subjects, Anh tells me, were chosen because they had experienced things they were proud of, and things they were not so proud of. Just like me, he adds.

One is a struggling artist he met on the roadside in Italy. Another is a fellow he befriended down Wollongong way who trades in odds and ends. An older man with a plaited beard was a fellow art student and the man who stares intently through a pair of thickly framed spectacles was his former Tafe teacher.

It’s astonishing to sum up all that Anh Do has achieved in his short life. He’s a trained lawyer but rose to fame as a comedian. He also starred in Footy Legends, a movie made by his director brother, Khoa Do. On the side, he’s written a memoir, The Happiest Refugee, which won the Book Industry Award for Book of the Year. And for good measure, got to the finals of Dancing with the Stars.

But his abiding passion since childhood is art. His talent has taken him to the finals of the Archibald Prize (a portrait of his previously estranged father) and now this: his first solo exhibition.

As I walk through the gallery amidst the presence of these intense subjects, I can’t help but wonder what’s next for the man who seems to know no boundaries.

‘Man’ will be showing at Olsen Irwin in Woollahra from April 22-May 10.

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A closer look at the inflation figures: What you’re paying more – and less – for

post on July 7th, 2019
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The headline Consumer Price Index rose 0.


2 per cent in the March quarter, and is 1.3 per cent higher for the year.

While that number gets the most media attention, it is the core or underlying rate which the Reserve Bank is more concerned about.

That’s because it strips out one-off volatile moves in the index, to give a more accurate read on inflation.

The Reserve Bank likes to keep underlying inflation between its 2 to 3 per cent target band, which it says is a rate which sufficiently low enough that does not material distort economic decision in the community.

At 2.35 per cent, it is well within the RBA’s comfort range.

NAB Chief Economist of Markets, Ivan Colhoun told SBS World News, “The Reserve Bank would like to lower interest rates because the economy is not growing particularly strongly, and unemployment is higher than it would like, but it is also concerned that housing prices are quite elevated, and that also it may be encouraging people to borrow more than is warranted.”

He adds, the latest data looks a bit better on the economy.

“It’s a very close decision, tending to think the risk of another cut as early as May has been reduced.”

NAB will make a formal forecast after the release of its Quarterly Business Survey tomorrow.

A closer look at the inflation numbers reveals prices rose the most in the three months to March in tertiary education, domestic holidays and medical and hospital services.

The biggest price falls were seen in fruit and petrol.

In fact, the quarterly petrol price fall was the biggest since December 2008.

For the year, petrol is down 22.5 per cent, the largest decline in the history of the series.

But the ABS points out, prices for unleaded fuel across the country have already trended up since March, suggesting the low prices have ended.

What the economists are saying about inflation and interest ratesRiki Polygenis and Katie Hill (ANZ)

“While slightly above market expectations, there is not enough in today’s figures to justify a re-think of the moderate inflation outlook, which is neither too strong nor too weak to substantively impact on RBA deliberations. But the ongoing downside risks to growth in our view point to a further rate cut in May to support the transition underway in economic activity, although we admit that this is a close call.”

Craig James (CommSec)

“At present inflation is very much under control; Overall the latest result is likely to see the Reserve Bank discuss the merits of another rate cut at the upcoming May meeting. CommSec believes that the cash rate will be cut by 25 basis points to a historical low of 2 per cent in May.”

Janu Chan and Jo Horton (St George)

“The current below-trend pace of economic growth suggests another rate cut from the RBA is likely. Today’s inflation data confirms the RBA has room to cut interest rates again in May.”

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Australian boxer Billy ‘the kid’ Dib out to win world super-featherweight crown

post on July 7th, 2019
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Billy “the kid” Dib wants this title really badly.


He takes on Japan’s Takashi Miura on May 1 to fight for the WBC world super-featherweight crown.

The title eluded Jeff Fenech in his bouts with Azumah Nelson, and Lionel Rose failed to capture it in 1971.

Dib is now aiming to heal past wounds and he’s out to prove there is no Australian curse.

“We have had some history with this title – nothing that people actually want to remember – but hopefully on May 1st I’m going to flip that around,” he said. “I’m going to bring the world title back home to Australia, and we’re all going to enjoy it together.” 

Dib is proud of his Lebanese and Palestinian heritage, and vocal about his love for Australia.

“We have had some history with this title, nothing that people actually want to remember, but hopefully on May 1st I’m going to flip that around.”

At age 13, he wrote on his bedroom wall that he would be a boxing world champion. He’s done that in two different classes, and worn his heart on his sleeve all along.

As a teenager he turned down a chance to box for Lebanon at the Olympics because he couldn’t comprehend facing another Australian.

He’s faced “demons” since losing the IBF featherweight title to Russian punching-machine Evgeny Gradovich, who is responsible for two of his three professional losses.

But he says, “Your mentality is your reality,” and he’s very confident of silencing the home crowd at the Ota City Gymnasium in Tokyo.

‘Very tough fights against punchers and fighters’

Daniel Geale is making his own way back to the top, and there’s no easy road to get there.

He takes on Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto for the WBC World middleweight title in New York on June 6.

Having always fought for his family, Geale has a new inspiration; three-week-old Harper is his fourth child.

Like Dib, he feels very confident about the challenge ahead, and intends to make Australia proud.

“There are some huge fights coming up, and I wish Billy all the best, he’s a good friend of mine, and we’ve both got very tough fights against punchers and fighters that are going to come forward, and try and knock our heads off, so we’re going to have to use our skills and bring these titles home.”

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Town like ‘war zone’ after superstorm

post on July 7th, 2019
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The torrential rain that has battered the NSW east coast has claimed a fourth life, with a body being pulled from floodwaters in the NSW Hunter region.


Cyclonic conditions have lashed Sydney and surrounding regions with a severe weather warning still in place for the Illawarra while residents in Sydney’s southwest have been ordered to evacuate after the Georges River broke its banks.

As night fell in Maitland on Wednesday, a rescue operation turned to grim recovery.

Police divers retrieved the body of an elderly woman whose car was swept into Wallis Creek along Cessnock Road at about 9am as witnesses watched on in horror.

Despite initial fears that two women had drowned, officials now believe the hatchback’s driver was its sole occupant.

Three people from a second car were rescued at the same location, while a mother and her baby were also saved from rising waters nearby.

With authorities advising the worst was over, stories from some of the worst-hit areas continued to emerge, with the town of Dungog where three people were killed and homes washed away described as a “war zone”.

Three people were killed in Dungog, after a flash flood swept through the town on Tuesday morning.

Colin Webb, 79, Brian Wilson, 72 and Robin MacDonald, 68, were all believed to have been trapped in their residences with the men caught in their retirement village homes while Ms MacDonald had refused to leave her pets.

NSW Premier Mike Baird has urged people in the worst-hit areas to “hang tough”, confirming Dungog, bucketed with 300 millimetres of rain in 24 hours, along with Maitland and parts of the Central Coast, would be declared natural disaster zones.

“With the storm easing, we’re beyond that and what’s going to be the key focus is getting our communities back on their feet,” Mr Baird said.

“To give you a sense of the size and scope – in Dungog there’s more rain that has come down in the last 24 hours than they have seen in a 24-hour period for the past century.”

Helicopters had been dispatched to assess the damage.

“It’s like a war-zone,” Fire & Rescue NSW Superintendent Greg Rankin said.

Dungog resident Colleen Jones spoke of the horror of the rising floodwaters and watching her home be washed away.

“We just got out,” she said just metres from where her home was ripped from its foundations.

“I was just terrified,” she told AAP.

“It is just unbelievable, the current of water. It is just heartbreaking.

“It was just horrific to watch, just to see your house crumble.”

As of Wednesday evening, more than 205,000 homes were without power.

More than 110 people had been rescued from floodwaters, while emergency services had responded to more than 11,100 calls for help since Monday.

So far there have been more than 19,500 insurance claims across NSW.

The opening of Sydney harbour brought to an end a long, uncomfortable wait off shore for more than 2000 passengers aboard a cruise ship that had been prevented from entering on Tuesday.

The Carnival Spirit docked at Circular Quay on Wednesday morning.

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