POLL: Lake council deficit tipped to top $27m

LAKE Macquarie City Council has projected an operating deficit of $27million for this financial year, a blowout of $13million in three months.
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Council documents show it projected an operating deficit of $14million at the start of the financial year.

But the council’s September budget review, to be considered at a council meeting on Monday, has revised that forecast to an operating deficit of $27million.

The council said there was a simple reason for the huge deviation.

A council statement mainly attributed ‘‘the appearance of a $13million discrepancy’’ to government grants received last year for work to be done this year.

Liberal Cr Ken Paxinos said questions needed to be asked about the ‘‘mismatch’’ in the council’s budget.

‘‘One of the basic accounting procedures is the need to match income and expenditure,’’ Cr Paxinos said.

‘‘We need to know where we are financially and our accounting practices need to be rock solid.’’

Labor Cr Daniel Wallace said a lot of councils had problems with their balance sheets, partly because of the timing of government grants.

‘‘It’s not just an accounting issue faced by Lake Macquarie,’’ he said.

News of the deficit projection comes a day after Newcastle City Council said it was considering cutting $19million from its annual budget to get back in the black.

Lake Macquarie council has taken a different route of higher taxes and bigger government. Lake residents will pay an average rate rise of 55per cent over seven years, with business rates to rise by 71per cent.

As reported last month, Lake Macquarie council plans to run budget deficits until 2016-17.

Cr Paxinos said he was concerned it would take so long ‘‘to get back in the black’’.

Cr Wallace said deficits were not a bad thing if the money was spent on infrastructure, but ‘‘they’re not good if they are spent on maintaining current levels of services’’.

Council general manager Brian Bell declined to be interviewed.

TAFE changes hitting staff and students

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A DIPLOMA in visual arts will set Hunter TAFE students back $12,500 a year from next year, more than double the annual cost of studying art at university.

Hunter TAFE has finalised the commercial fees for its fine arts and ceramics courses in 2013, after the state government scrapped subsidies because of, it said, poor completion rates and low job prospects.

The cost of one-year visual arts and advanced visual arts diplomas will go from $1300 to $12,500, but students are now able to apply for government HECS-style loans.

For a three-year University of Newcastle fine arts degree, the Australian student contribution for a subsidised place in 2013 is $5868 a year.

It would cost a domestic university student $17,600 by the end of their degree.

The Hunter Street diploma will be the most expensive in NSW, with other TAFEs charging between $7700 and $11,000.

There are deep concerns the hefty fees could put a nail in the coffin of Newcastle’s 120-year-old Hunter Street Art School.

NSW Teachers Federation Hunter Street representative Matthew Tome, who is head art teacher, said the prices were cost-based and good value, given the school’s quality. He said they should be compared to unsubsidised fees. At the University of Newcastle an international student paying unsubsidised fees would pay $70,500 for a degree.

Mr Tome said students did not pay back loans until they reached an income threshold.

Nine of the art school’s staff are expected to face redundancy.

‘‘We’re not thrilled,’’ Mr Tome said. ‘‘But we’ve been determined to keep the art school running.’’

Annelies Koch, 23, of Mayfield, has work in the final exhibition at the Hunter Street Front Room Gallery, which is being closed under the cuts.

‘‘Suddenly cutting the budget like this is disgusting,’’ she said.

A Hunter TAFE spokeswoman said fine arts programs had been finalised and were progressively being advertised on the website.

Students could apply for government-funded student loans, she said.


MORE than 40 Hunter TAFE staff are facing redundancy in the lead-up to Christmas.

The Newcastle Herald has obtained documents that show plans to consolidate and axe courses under the state government’s $1.7billion education cuts.

Staff have been sent ‘‘change initiative information sheets’’ that had a deadline to provide feedback by November 9.

The proposed job cuts include 18 jobs from tourism and hospitality, three in boatbuilding, three in business and computing, nine in fine arts and nine in information technology.

TAFE said it was still conducting consultation, no voluntary redundancies had been offered at this stage and any surplus staff would be managed in line with ‘‘excess employees’’ policies. Some could be redeployed.

NSW Teachers Federation Hunter TAFE organiser Rob Long said staff feared the job cuts were the start of things to come.

Up to 800 positions at TAFE statewide are expected to go.

Part-time and casual staff had also lost some or all of their shifts, he said.

Mr Long said they didn’t blame the institution but rather state government education cuts.

‘‘Living through it is personally traumatic,’’ he said.

‘‘Inevitably students will either have high costs, or heavy debt, and receive a poorer quality standard of education.’’

A Hunter TAFE spokeswoman said TAFE NSW had to make significant changes to its budget during the next four years to meet the state government’s efficiency targets.

‘‘We must adapt to our changing environment to remain competitive,’’ she said.

‘‘Every effort will be made, during this review, to minimise the impact on front-line services.’’

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said in September the cuts were necessary to help the government tackle billions of dollars in lost revenue.

The NSW Opposition said yesterday the TAFE cuts would contribute to a skills shortage in local government positions such as childcare and gardeners.


■ Tourism and hospitality (Glendale and Wyong campuses)

■Metal fabrication and welding (Glendale campus)*

■Information technology (Newcastle and Tomaree campuses)

■Boat building (Newcastle campus)

■Metallurgy (Newcastle campus)

■Subsidised fine arts (Hunter Street campus)

■Subsidised sculpture (Hunter Street campus)

■Subsidised ceramics (Hunter Street campus)

NEW IN 2013

■Bachelor of Early Childhood (Glendale campus)

■Diploma of Visual Arts (Hunter Street) $12,500

■Advanced Diploma of Visual Arts (Hunter Street) $12,500

■Certificate III Visual Arts (Hunter Street) $6000

* TAFE says no final decision

TO GO: Student Annelies Koch has work in the final exhibition at the Front Room Gallery. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Confused mayor votes against himself

FIRST he wanted to wire his own office for video and sound, now the Auburn mayor, Ned Attie, has surprised his colleagues by voting against his own motion.
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Cr Attie wanted to vet the credit card activity of the general manager, John Burgess, on a monthly basis with quarterly reports to council, but then a fellow councillor added an amendment that the mayor should make the same disclosure.

In an about face, the mayor voted against the successful motion at the meeting, which was later stopped after a five-councillor walkout over pecuniary interests stripped it of its quorum.

On Thursday, Cr Attie said he was confused by the proceedings of Wednesday night’s meeting. The mayor, who has previously asked staff to investigate the possible installation of cameras and listening devices in the mayoral suite, said in hindsight he had cast his vote in error.

”Quite honestly it got so confusing with people firing things left, right and centre it just confused me,” Cr Attie said.

”It was really an error; I really should just have voted with everyone. I don’t have an issue, I’ve got nothing to hide.”

The deputy mayor, Salim Mehajer, and Liberal councillor Ronney Ouiek were also hiding nothing in the debate that sparked the councillor walkout.

Both declared pecuniary interests in another proposal to increase the floor space ratios and building heights in zonings covering the Auburn and Lidcombe town centres.

But neither left the chamber, citing council’s legal advice on new state government legislation that allows councillors to vote on planning changes where they personally stand to benefit, as long as they declare their direct interest up front.

The law changes were introduced in August to stop councils losing quorum when voting on proposals covering all or a ”significant” part of the council’s area, where councillors could be reasonably expected to hold an interest.

But councillors were split on how ”significant” matter before council actually was.

Cr Ouiek said their refusal to leave the room was ”all kosher” and criticised his fellow councillors who left in protest.

”We did nothing wrong according to the act, so what’s the problem?”

”If every time the shit hits the fan they’re going to walk out, they’re not fit to represent the community.”

But Cr Campbell said alternative legal advice supported his claim the proposed changes related to ”very limited areas” and the two councillors should have left the chambers.

”I said that if [council’s] legal advice is correct, then the state government has legalised corruption,” he said.

Cr Campbell led the walkout of councillors Hicham Zraika, Tony Oldfield, Semra Batik and Irene Simms after his move to force the two councillors to leave on ethical grounds also failed.

”I was unable to remain in the chamber to facilitate councillors voting to determine the extent of their own financial windfalls,” he said.

The planning proposal in question is due to return to an Auburn council meeting on Monday night. Cr Simms said the state government needed to meet a council delegation to discuss the legislation.

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

Lobby groups gatecrash annual meetings

The “tall poppy” syndrome is largely an Australian phenomenon. Doing well makes you a big target and there’s no shortage of people who’ll happily try to take you down.
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Recently, that mood has extended to corporate Australia – or more specifically to AGM season, where interest groups try to use those meetings to advance their agendas.

Sure, we’ve always had vocal critics at annual general meetings, many who just try to push their own agendas.

Sometimes, they are even relevant.

AGMs are the new battleground

But now shareholder activism has taken a new turn. The AGM has become guerrilla marketing for lobby groups and their causes. Even when there’s literally no chance of a resolution being passed, just putting the motion to the company’s shareholders is enough to garner media attention for the cause. More so if the company is large or widely held by retail investors.

We saw exactly that this week with the resolution put to Woolworths (ASX: WOW) shareholders which would have – if passed – put limits on the company’s operation of poker machines.

Bear in mind, these are legal, highly regulated gaming machines. They are operated by many, many hotel and club proprietors across the country, not to mention the listed casino operators. They are also in competition for the gambling dollar with lotteries providers and bookies, both listed and private.

And yet, a small group of shareholders decided to try to nobble their own company.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that this was a marketing exercise on behalf of the lobbyists. If it’s not, I’ll look forward to the same motion being put to each and every ASX-listed business with exposure to gambling every year from here on.

I won’t hold my breath.

A problem – but the wrong solution

To be clear, I’m not advocating for or against greater restrictions on poker machines. I think problem gambling is an important social issue that needs to be confronted and dealt with. Too many families are being affected by gambling addiction every day.

I am criticising the practice of targeting single companies as a proxy for an industry and in pursuit of a goal that is clearly out of reach. It is an abuse of the process.

Even if the motion was carried, the only outcome would have been to handicap Woolworths’ business, with precious little impact on the industry as a whole.

Socially responsible or just ‘feel good’?

I have no problem with investors who decide not to invest in companies who have gambling businesses.

However, socially responsible investing requires a personal ethical decision on what you are prepared to invest in – and it’s a nuanced issue.

Sure, most of us can agree that cigarettes and guns probably fall outside the boundaries of socially responsible investing, but what about retailers that sell cigarettes. If pollution is bad (I think it’s a safe assumption), then do we avoid all companies which aren’t carbon neutral? Some don’t invest in mining companies, yet happily put their money into companies that use the processed materials.

On the surface, it seems easy to make “ethical” investment decisions, but the reality is much more complicated.

Over before it began

The issue is that the resolution, as put, was never, ever going to pass. The proposers knew that, the company knew that, and yet it has earned thousands of words of reporting and commentary.

Mission accomplished for the lobby group in question – because the mission was essentially a guerrilla marketing exercise. The issue was raised and talked about, and all on Woolworths’ dime, after it was forced to hold an extraordinary general meeting to deal with the resolution.

For the record, the motion only garnered 2.5 per cent support.

Of course, much of the commentary that followed has focused on the vote and Woolies’ handling of the issue.

By virtue of the motion being raised, the company is now dealing with the distraction. Meanwhile casinos, pubs, TABs and bookies across the country continue to ply their trade unaffected.

Foolish takeaway

If you want to genuinely affect social or regulatory change, it’s a legislative and social issue. At the very least, a genuine effort would see the same approach taken to all listed companies in the same space – from Woolworths to Wesfarmers (ASX: WES), Crown (ASX: CWN) and Tatts Group (ASX: TTS), and only when those shareholders had garnered enough support to give the motion a fair chance to succeed.

Anything less is simply a PR exercise, with the “tall poppies” forced to foot the bill.

The Motley Fool has just released a brand NEW special free report. BusinessDay readers can  click here to receive a copy of The Motley Fool’s Top Stock for 2012-13.

Scott Phillips is a Motley Fool investment analyst. He owns shares in Woolworths.

You can follow Scott on Twitter @TMFGilla. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

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

HOME: Seemingly afloat at Marks Point

Some of Newcastle’s most significant and beautiful buildings were raised from the ground by a Davis: Newcastle’s graceful Town Hall, the much-loved David Jones in Hunter Street, and Belmont Hotel circa 1957 are all examples.
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In fact, three generations of the Davis family – grandfather, father, and son – all of them called Charles, have built throughout the area. The son, the current Charles Davis (Charlie to his mates), is now semi-retired. He and wife Barbara, Belmont Citi Centre’s manager for 18 years, have built a few houses for themselves over the years, but none have they loved as much as the older home they found in Marks Point three years ago. They were living in a home Charlie had built in Redhead and weren’t actually planning a move.

But a chance sighting of a waterfront property in an agent’s window was enough to warrant an inspection.

From there, as the saying goes, ‘‘One look was all it took.’’

Three years on and quite a bit of work later, they love it even more.

‘‘It is not a mansion, but you could just not replace this spot no matter where you went,’’ Barbara says.

The ‘‘spot’’ is on the sought-after northern side of Marks Point, with gun-barrel views across the bay to Belmont Hospital and the Belmont 16-Footers Club.

As if that isn’t enough, the view stretches the full 180degrees east to Belmont South and west to the Watagans. Uninterrupted and never to be built out, it’s definitely as good as you could get – anywhere.

The house itself was in good condition but not quite to their liking. They decided to modernise it – including the addition of plenty of storage.

Charlie has done all of the building work for which, ironically, their furniture has provided the incentive.

‘‘Everywhere we have lived, I have built around the furniture,’’ Charlie says.

The first step was to reinvent an existing workshop and a garage to create a formal entry leading to a dining and lounge room on the lower level.

These formal spaces, overlooking the pool and the bay, provided the right setting for some of Barbara’s inherited treasures, such as a graceful green velvet lounge suite.

A bedroom on this level was also given a modern feel with additional wardrobe storage and the en suite was renovated to their taste. The centre piece is an unusual green glass vanity.

The bedroom itself has a large picture window allowing the occupant to wake to a water view every morning.

The pool area also received a revamp – a new deck with landscaping, new lawns and a water feature. There is also a slipway into the bay.

Upstairs, a new granite kitchen was installed, including a walk-in pantry. It is easily accessed from the living room, which has wall to wall windows looking straight at the view.

In fact, from the kitchen you can’t see anything but water, giving the distinct impression you are on a boat, rather than land. For Charlie this space is the best part of the house.

‘‘I sit up there for my half hour of meditation each morning. We get some beautiful sunsets over the Watagans and of a night when the moon comes up what it does on the water is just beautiful.

‘‘In the middle of winter you can live in that room and not even need a fire on. I’ve built a heap of houses for myself and you just have to have a north-east aspect.’’

Barbara agrees: ‘‘I can’t believe the lifestyle we’ve got and only be two minutes from Belmont. You never feel like you are on your own because on the water, there is always someone coming or going.

‘‘It is very much like being on holidays all of the time. You can’t beat waking up to this.’’

Do you know a house we could feature?

Email [email protected]南京夜网.au

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Television: Tune into rude health

It never ceases to amaze me what people will do to achieve their precious 15 minutes of fame.
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Or, in the case of not-for-the-squeamish UK television program Embarrassing Bodies, free medical treatment.

The patients featured on the show have to be getting free medical advice or treatment to compensate for the humiliation of having their private parts displayed, full screen, in high definition, don’t they?

Watching an episode of Embarrassing Bodies is akin to staring at the sun. You know it’s causing damage, and that you shouldn’t do it, but you can’t look away. It is utterly, and revoltingly, compelling.

(I’d like to take the opportunity, at this point, to assert that I do not watch the show regularly. If I happen to see the start, however, there’s a good chance I’ll be transfixed until the end. That is partly due to the humorous social media exchanges occurring as my friends and I watch.)

The show’s mantra is ‘‘No shame, we’re all the same’’. Doctors Christian, Dawn and Pixie will have you believe that the show exists, purely and simply, to aid people suffering from ailments that they are too embarrassed to show their GP.

Hmmm. I will address this point shortly.

The show’s website claims the program can also help viewers ‘‘self-diagnose at home without attending a doctor’s appointment’’.

This is marginally more believable, but also risky for a patient.

Self-diagnosis is fine until you decide to self-medicate, or start to ignore medical treatment altogether.

But trying to justify the show’s existence by saying people who are too embarrassed to see their GP about an ailment would rather it was dealt with on television, to an audience of millions worldwide? Puh-lease.

Whatever its medical worth, Embarrassing Bodies is a hit because of its shock value and cringe factor – not for any alleged altruistic public health service.

An episode I watched a few weeks ago is a case in point. A young woman is led into the stark white consultation room. Correctly, I predict that she has an ailment concerning either her breasts or genitalia.

Within 30 seconds she is on a bed, in a gown, and a view most commonly reserved for gynaecologists, obstetricians or midwives fills the screen.

We are also ‘‘educated’’ by a close-up of a man’s penis (he was being treated for a skin condition on his chest – go figure); shadowy footage of a woman giving herself a coffee enema (to which she is addicted and, while embarrassing, this is not exactly a common ailment); and a woman with a breast implant gone horribly wrong.

The program gives the impression the Embarrassing Bodies team travel around the UK having random patients drop by for medical advice. The show’s website, however, makes it clear that one must actually apply for the privilege of worldwide humiliation.

What is interesting about cringeworthy reality television is not the content, but the people who willingly agree to bare all in the interests of entertainment.

Never mind showing up to work the next day knowing your colleagues have had a long hard look at the rash on your testicles. Never mind chatting to your father, knowing he knows you urinate during intercourse (yes, I saw that episode).

How are these people able to look anyone in the eye ever again?

As for the people who turn on the TV and contribute to the ratings? That’s another column altogether.

Embarrassing Bodies is on Nine Network at 9.30pm on Wednesdays.

STEEL STOMACHS: The show’s doctors are untroubled by the gruesome ailments.

Liz Love: Bistro Molines

What: Bistro Molines at Tallavera Grove.
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Where: 749 Mount View Road, Mount View, NSW 2325.

Prices: Entrees, $24 to $27 ; mains, $39 to $42 ; sides, $9 to $10 ; desserts, $17 ; cheese, $17.

Chef: Robert Molines.

Owners: Robert and Sally Molines.

Wines: A selection of French and Hunter Valley wines, showcasing Briar Ridge, Pepper Tree and Tallavera Grove wines.

Hours: Lunch Friday to Monday; dinner Friday and Saturday.

Vegetarian: Four entrees.

Bookings: 49909553.

Bottom line: Entree, main, dessert for two without wine about $165.

You can take le français out of la France but you can never take la France out of le français. And this is never more evident than when Robert Molines prepares the dishes of his native Provence or shows off one of his passions – his herb and vegetable garden outside the restaurant kitchen door.

The enduring reputation of this SMH Good Food Guide one-hat restaurant, which nestles into the side of a hill and enjoys an enviable outlook over a sea of vines to the northern rim of the Hunter Valley, bears witness to this passion and that of Robert’s talented wife, Sally. Add some dedicated staff and you have a winning formula.

And what about the food? With a loyal following of locals and visitors from Newcastle, Sydney and beyond, the menu reflects a commitment to locally sourced, in-season produce but keeps the long-time favourites. Expect to find Robert’s duck liver pate or terrine de campagne, lamb brains, rabbit and venison; all that changes is the method of preparation or the accompaniments. Blanquette de veau in winter, fillet of veal wrapped in prosciutto in spring; rack of lamb in spring, lamb shank in winter.

Each table receives an amuse bouche. You can never predict; it depends on the whim of the kitchen. It may be a creamy stuffed egg half, or a crisp pastry star topped with fish mousse and salmon roe.

Even though the place is full, the efficient service guarantees the meal proceeds at a pace well suited to a pleasant Sunday afternoon. And there’s always the stunning view to distract.

It’s hard to go past the leek tart with its crisp pastry and creamy filling topped with a raft of tiny white asparagus spears and a vibrant green chervil hollandaise – a substantial dish that would make an excellent vegetarian main.

Where would a French menu be without St Jacques au gratin? This is Australia so they’re called scallops. Four plump specimens, each one in its half shell sitting on a bed of spinach, coated with a basil infused gratineed bechamel sauce. Very traditional, very delicious.

Venison and roasted beetroot is a marriage made in heaven, the rich, well rested-meat perfectly offset by earthy vegetables including broad beans, carrot and cannellini beans. I wish I had kept some of the delicious crusty ciabatta to soak up every last drop of the sticky blackcurrant jus.

The white bean and chorizo cassoulet brings Mediterranean pizazz to a perfectly trimmed rack of lamb. This is more restrained than it sounds; there should still be room for some dessert.

And what to choose. Not only are there 10 listed on the main menu; the blackboard has three more. But I have spotted the chocolate mousse millefeuille on another table.

A fine, crisp pastry sandwich is filled with two scoops of creamy, airy dark chocolate mousse and offset by caramelised orange slices topped with vanilla ice-cream – heaven on a plate.

Excellent coffee and petits fours confirm what we have always known. France is not as far away as you think. Formidable.

HEAVENLY: Bistro Molines has great views over the northern rim of the Hunter Valley. PICTURE: RYAN OSLAND

Word of mouth: Vintage heaven

He builds hot rods. She likes pretty dresses.
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Together Brook Bodiam and Emma Hinchcliffe are a match made in a vintage-lover’s heaven.

The couple is behind Tighes Hill’s MisKonduct Klothing – a vintage fashion and tea house on the corner of Elizabeth and Union streets.

The grand old building was an art gallery in a former life.

Now a weathered Coca-Cola sign adorns the wall above retro tables and chairs in the cafe.

A chandelier and an old-style bike hang from the ceiling.

To a soundtrack of rockabilly tunes, shoppers kick back with a coffee or tea and a macaron in the cafe or little courtyard before flicking through the racks of retro and vintage-inspired clothing and accessories.

‘‘I didn’t really know much about ’50s style or retro fashion until I met my partner Brook about five years ago,’’ 37-year-old Hinchcliffe says.

‘‘Brook builds hot rods, so we’d go to car shows where I would see all the girls really dressed up, and I just fell in love with the fashion.’’

Having worked in real estate, then human resources, Hinchcliffe began MisKonduct Klothing as an online business selling vintage and retro fashion reproductions.

She spoke to the women she met at the car shows to find out what they were looking for, what they liked and what they didn’t like.

When clients started emailing to request opportunities to try on the clothes, she found herself setting up a small space in her converted warehouse home to accommodate.

Hinchcliffe also set up stalls at markets and car shows.

‘‘Brook built me this little warehouse, which was great for a while, but then I outgrew it,’’ she laughs.

‘‘We’ve got so much stock now.’’

Although many urged her to just enjoy the luxury of an online business with its smaller overheads, Hinchcliffe was sure a shop front could also be successful.

‘‘I despise going to shopping centres at the moment,’’ she says.

The hassle of finding a park, only to find carbon-copy colours and fashions, holds little appeal.

‘‘Ladies are now looking for different prints, something a bit special, and I think they just want to look like ladies again,’’ she says.

MisKonduct Klothing is a ‘‘destination shop’’, but since opening in September, business has been good.

‘‘People will wander in and find something they love, then talk about it to their friends,’’ she says.

‘‘So just through word-of-mouth we’re steadily building a good customer base. Then we’ve still got the online side of the business as well. I think they complement each other.’’

Some customers have driven from Sydney and from as far as Canberra to rifle through clothes by the likes of Pinup Couture and Bernie Dexter.

Hinchcliffe imports most of her stock from the US.

‘‘It takes a lot of effort to source vintage-style clothes that aren’t made in China,’’ she says. ‘‘So they are probably a little bit more expensive, but they will last, and they won’t date.’’

The space upstairs at MisKonduct Klothing is often used as a studio for fun, tasteful pin-up photo shoots.

Recently it was used for a retro glamour hair and make-up workshop by the Lindy Charm School For Girls.

‘‘It’s such a pleasure to come to this beautiful building every day,’’ Hinchcliffe smiles.

‘‘Having a shop like this in Newcastle is pretty special, because people are travelling from all over to access it,’’ she says.

MisKonduct Klothing, 15 Elizabeth Street, Tighes Hill, is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday until 4pm. Visit miskonduct南京夜网.

GLAMOUR: Emma Hinchcliffe fell in love with retro fashion when her partner used to take her to hot rod shows. PICTURE: ANITA JONES

That’s Life: Formal delight

What more can you say about school formals that hasn’t already been muttered through pursed parental lips and furrowed brows?
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Heaps actually, and most of it’s pretty good.

As Malcolm Fraser once said, life wasn’t meant to be easy. Nor was getting ready for formals.

But with a dash a luck and a bucket of product, it can be all right on the night.

Yes, there is a touch of pressure to be supermodel level, be they colt or filly.

And people can get strung out if the hairdresser’s answering machine keeps saying they’ll be closed for Melbourne Cup and we’re already into the second Tuesday of November and the formals on like TOMORROW!

You suspect deep down the hairdresser will be open, they just haven’t worked out how to adjust their message bank.

But talk about anxiety. Arrrrrr, my nails.

And when I say nails, I mean my nails, scratching down a blackboard, channelling the suspense that is choosing a dress, shoes, hair design, jewellery, blue steel facial expression.

And assurances my booty is poppin’ in this outfit, but not in a slutty way.

There’s so much to achieve, and yet so much nanny-state legislation requiring students to attend school in term four and do things like exams rather than roam the boutiques seeking out ‘IT’ items which will forever – like Carrie’s fire-starting telekinetic powers – set them out from the pack on prom night as being hot.

But not in a supernatural homicidal way. Just a look to die for.

Dudes perhaps get it a tad easier. Most brush up fairly well with the addition of, let’s face it, clothes.

A suit propels them far beyond that to fashion areas most haven’t been to since first communion or sports prezzos.

The arrival of metromania has done mountains to lift the bar in that department to the point where it seems like they almost care.

The gals on the other hand, need to learn about pain.

In so many ways it would be better if our society bound their feet from an early age, like the ancient Chinese, so they developed grotesque and malformed.

Or perhaps bash the soles of their tootsies with baseball bats.

Or drive hot nails through them in the manner of crucifixion.

Only then could they prepare for the delicious agony that is heels and take their first teetering steps into the realms of high fashion, and I mean high.

Talk about attack of the Amazons.

The modern day female formalite could quite well suit up favourably in the WNBL such is the tall factor.

But it’s no good being able to stand on stilts.

You need to walk, or something approximating that word. Land stride? Vault?

Not sure, but it takes some mastery to get from dining table to dance floor.

And you don’t want to know what happens after that because someone could lose an eye, or an ankle.

Formals weren’t so formal back in my day.

“Irresponsible events fraught with liability” would probably better describe what went on.

And even today that thought is ever present.

But well organised with a collegiate sense of togetherness, school formals can be wonderful reminders we’re all on a journey together.

And that should be celebrated from time to time, Gangnam style.

Furry work: becoming a theme park costumed character

Eri Suzuki is serious about her goal in life – working in a theme park as a character mascot, one of those oversized, fuzzy creatures that dance and cavort with children.
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So she came to the Choko Group mascot school in Tokyo for instruction in the myriad tricks of the trade, such as how to move in giant feet and a furry animal head.

“Where are your eyes? Where are your ears?” said Choko Oohira, the school’s founder, gesturing in front of a recent class on moving in costume that included students dressed as a giant panda, cats and sheep.

Herself a 20-year veteran of the mascot arts, Oohira founded the school – the only one of its kind in Japan and, quite possibly, the world – in 1985. Her goal: to help mascot wannabes perfect the art of moving and playing the characters.

“When I see places where someone’s hand is coming out between the costume’s hands, or they take off their mask in front of people, or show their skin under the mask, it’s very disappointing,” Oohira said.

“I just want to tell them that’s not how to do it. I want to show the world how to fully become the character and explain that’s how to make children happy.”

Students are taught everything from traditional dance, to help with actual dance routines as mascots, to different walking styles that illustrate different ages while wearing costumes.

Other lessons include how to interact with children while wearing a costume, how to present a kind or even scary aura, and training to make sure the mascot’s gestures work when people are unable to see the performer’s face.

There are roughly 25 students, ranging from those just giving it a try for fun to others, like Suzuki, destined for work in theme parks. They range from those in their 20s up to those in their 50s.

“I had been doing this in my own sort of style, so I wanted to try and actually learn from professionals,” said Eiichiro Sakaida, a 21-year-old who has worked as a mascot part-time and came from more than 900 km away to try the class.

“I realized there’s a lot of things that I didn’t know, so I hope to use what I’ve learned this time going forward.”

Once students graduate, work is unlikely to be a problem since Japan, which idolises all things big-eyed and cute, has been experiencing a massive mascot boom.

Mascots exist for everything from individual companies to theme parks, government offices and tourist sites such as Tokyo’s eponymous Tokyo Tower. Each has their own character and is pulled out for promotional events.

In the greater Tokyo area alone, there are some 250 mascots, not counting those used as company promotions.

“I do indeed like them,” said Seiji Uchida, 12, who took part in a recent morning exercise session with a score of characters. “The fact that they’re fluffy and each character has its own personality is quite interesting.”


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

A mind’s eye in front of your nose

Next big thing? … Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality See Through Glasses. A heads-up display for cyclists can be used through the See Through Glasses as shown in this grab from a concept video.
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Riding high … Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality See Through Glasses

Battleground … Google’s Project Glass.

Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality See Through Glasses.

The next computing battleground could be on your head, with an Australian company taking on giants like Google and Microsoft with wearable computers in the form of glasses that appear to be straight out of a sci-fi flick.

After conditioning us to walk around absorbed in our mobile screens, the technologists now want to place digital information directly in front of our eyes before we necessarily know we need it.

It’s known as “augmented reality” and analyst firm Juniper believes revenue from augmented-reality apps will reach $5.2 billion in 2017, up from $82 million this year.

“The natural evolution is to take those tablets and those phones out of your hands and put them up there in your field of vision,” said Paul Kouppas, chief technology officer of Sydney-based Explore Engage.

Explore Engage has been around for about three years and specialises in augmented reality, having built apps for Audi, Sony, NBN Co, Angry Birds, Telstra, Paramount and Transformers 3.

Those apps were designed for smartphones and tablets but the company has spent the last two years and $2 million creating prototype smart glasses, recently demonstrating them on TV for the first time.

The company has positioned the camera-equipped glasses as a challenger to Google’s Project Glass initiative, which is essentially Android-powered glasses that users can interact with by voice. Google’s glasses will be offered to developers early next year for $US1500 ($A1445) before being made available to consumers by 2014.

But while Google may be, as co-founder Sergey Brin said, “making science fiction real”, the current version of its glasses still requires users to look at a screen in their peripheral vision, rather than using see-through screen lenses that overlay the digital information directly in front of the user.

This makes Google’s promo video from April slightly misleading, but Explore Engage has released its own video showing some of Google’s futuristic features working on its real-world prototype. Another of its early working apps for the glasses is a version of Space Invaders.

“Because [Google] are not directly augmenting your line of sight, certain things wouldn’t be possible on their glasses,” said Kouppas.

Explore Engage is using crowd-funding site Pozible in an attempt to raise the money to finish the technology and mass produce it and is also seeking venture capital investment. But Kouppas warns that it is still likely a few years away from prime-time mainstream worthiness and the first applications would be industry-specific.

Kouppas said architects and engineers were a particular focus as the glasses could be used to see what a building looks like in situ before it’s built or to visualise underground pipes and infrastructure.

The company is also working up navigation, education, tourism, real-time translation, home entertainment, gaming, medical and sports-event glasses apps. While Google is aiming at the mass market, Explore Engage says it is “more about particular use cases and bespoke design first, and mass marketing second”.

“You could do a bit of a mashup between something like Second Life and a game like Doom, and allow them to co-exist in the real world,” said Kouppas.

The next apps the team wants to make for the glasses include a CPR instructions overlay with voice prompts of what to do in an emergency and a cycling “heads up display” providing route and safety information, navigation, music and communication between riders.

Microsoft is also working on smart glasses, according to a newly published patent application, designed to be used while watching live events like sport and concerts.

Late last year The New York Timesreported that Apple was also “conceptualising and even prototyping some wearable devices”, but the example given was not headwear but a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist, interface with the iPhone and take commands using Siri.

Another competitor is Vuzix, which has recently launched its Smart Glasses M100 that includes a camera, GPS and motion sensors, microphone, earpiece and a version of Google’s Android operating system.

It looks more like a Bluetooth headset than a pair of glasses and places a small screen in the user’s peripheral vision. The device, expected to go on sale next year for under $US500, connects via wireless or Bluetooth to a smartphone and supports third-party apps.

Vuzix also offers a glasses-style augmented-reality system called the STAR 1200 that features cameras and see-through screens in each lens. The screens overlay information as though you’re looking at a 75-inch flat screen from three metres away. It costs a whopping $US4999.

Kouppas said high-end smartphones with various sensors were finally unlocking the potential of augmented-reality glasses. The Explore Engage prototype still connects via a wire to a smartphone but he said this allows it to offload processing and power requirements to the phone, enabling the glasses to be more lightweight and visually appealing.

“For the consumer it’s just a natural progress of how we interact with our world,” he said.

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Old rail line uncovered by works near Surf House

IT has spent decades under bitumen but a former Merewether beach-front rail line reared its head again today.
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Workers unearthed the old track, which appears to be part of a spurline used in the late 1800s known as the sand sidings, during works on John Parade .

A map of the Burwood Estate Railway circa 1887 shows the sidings splitting from the Beach Railway in the vicinity.

Picture: Simone De Peak

The sidings then appear to stretch from near Merewether Surf Club towards Dixon Park.

Newcastle Herald historian Mike Scanlon said the rails’ location indicated they may have been part of those sidings.

‘‘This old railway line is likely to have been part of a once extensive sand removal operation that speared off from the present Watkins Street corner,’’ Mr Scanlon said.

‘‘There were once huge dunes around the Dixon Park area which were heavily exploited.’’

Mr Scanlon said the line appeared to have fallen out of use by 1900 and seemed completely gone following the Depression.

‘‘Possibly it went back as far as 1862 when the Red Head Railway was built nearby along the coast south to remote Glenrock Lagoon,’’ he said.

University of Newcastle archivist Gionni di Gravio said the discovery site’s location indicated it may have been from the Burwood rail network.

Passers-by were split over how significant the discovery was.

Bar Beach’s Louise Ragg said she was unaware of the area’s rail history.

‘‘I think it’s exciting but I don’t think you can do much with it,’’ she said.

‘‘Maybe they could do something [to mark the old lines] like they have with the Honeysuckle foreshore.’’

New Lambton Heights’ Anthony Brodie said he believed the rail line’s long absence was warranted.

‘‘Realistically it’s a non-event,’’ Mr Brodie said.

‘‘I just hope the council doesn’t get involved and cause the redevelopment [of John Parade] to slow down for something as insignificant as this.’’

MAP: Courtesy of Light Railways magazine

Leaders – who needs ’em?

Watching over … do we need a boss to keep us on track?It feels as though we’re part of a culture that loves to worship heroes. The superstar CEO. The rock-star entrepreneur. The trailblazing humanitarian. The fearless editor. The visionary politician. A lot of it implies that we anxiously crave inspiring leaders to follow. But it’s worth asking the question: to what degree are leaders still relevant in a modern world?
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The shift towards a leaderless society can be seen in movements like the Arab Spring and the Tea Party, neither of which have formal leaders but have amassed a significant amount of support. And during 2010 and 2011, Belgium went 541 days without a government leading the way … and yet life carried on just fine.

What’s to suggest that businesses can’t be stripped of leaders in the same fashion? Professor David Day from the University of Western Australia believes formal leadership isn’t always necessary. He tells me that’s because “leadership is a process not a position”.

This means leadership can be produced by a group of individuals who collectively set a direction and then build commitment towards that goal. “This is why people need to be prepared to step up as a leader when needed even if they are not the leader in terms of position,” he says.

In her book The End of Leadership, Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman writes that the leaders of today are weaker than the leaders of yesterday, and part of that can be attributed to the empowerment of employees.

She likens it to the traditional role played by wives. Once upon a time, they were subservient, effectively owned by their husbands within a legal system that recognised the man as the master. Now, it’s a different story, with marriages represented by much more equal relationships.

Similarly, for a long time, leaders were required to be dominant, asserting their power over obedient followers. “No longer,” writes Kellerman. “Now followers, like wives, are far sturdier than they used to be, stronger and more independent.” And that independence means they want to have a greater say.

I asked Professor Gayle Avery from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management for her views on whether leaders are necessary. “I think the point revolves around the distinction between leaders and leadership,” she said.

Leaders are those who are appointed to a specific position of authority, usually with a job title to match, such as Team Leader or CEO. In other words: hierarchy.

Leadership, on the other hand, is what emerges when individuals are perceived by colleagues as the natural influencers of a group. Professor Avery refers to it as organic leadership, which means it has less to do with a boss ordering subordinates around, and more to do with shared decision-making.

A few months ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a profile on a company called Valve Corp, based in Washington, which prides itself on being boss-free. Its 300 employees recruit new workers, determine each other’s pay, and collectively decide who to fire. And, of course, promotions do not exist.

So, just because a team lacks a boss doesn’t mean it lacks leadership. Still, problems remain. One potential risk is the issue of accountability. When someone isn’t formally in charge, it can be difficult to figure out who’s responsible for a team’s under-performance. (You know, who to blame.)

Another downside is that if you have a leaderless team – one that fully embraces the democratisation of work – there’s the possibility of endlessly delayed decisions. That’s why it’s often said that dictatorship is the most efficient form of government. It may not be the most desired, but it’s arguably the most efficient.

Perhaps a similar principle applies in the workplace. Or, could it be, that Tina Turner had it right all along? Maybe we don’t need another hero. You tell me.

Does every team need a leader? Leave a comment.

Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

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