Hunter theatre enthusiasts commit to new company 

Chris Maxfield has long held the dream of establishing a theatre company that would bring together Hunter Valley and Central Coast communities. And he found, in those get-togethers that actors have during rehearsal breaks, that the dream was shared.
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So in May this year, after two years of discussions and planning, a team of people from throughout the region established The National Theatre Company with the aim of producing shows that would have people from towns as widespread as Gosford and Scone working together as actors and stage crews, and performing at several venues.

In the past week, The National Theatre Company has held auditions for its first production, the musical Godspell, and an information night for a second musical, 13, for which auditions will be held in December.

A reading of a new play by Newcastle actress Emma Wood, Mr Bennet’s Bride, will be held tomorrow, with feedback from experienced regional actors, writers and directors.

While Godspell is a frequently staged musical, The National Theatre Company has obtained the rights for the first Australian staging of a re-orchestrated and partly rewritten version of the 1971 original that only ended its Broadway run in June.

And 13 is a recent American musical about a boy who moves from New York to a regional town and tries to make friends. It had its first major Australian production at the Adelaide Fringe Festival this year.

Mr Bennet’s Bride looks at the backgrounds of the parents of five daughters in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. A play reading is usually the first step towards the production of a new work.

Godspell will open at the new 478-seat St Philip’s Theatre at Waratah in late February – the first commercial booking of that venue. The Newcastle season will be followed by performances at Singleton, Cessnock and Gosford.

13 will have seasons in Singleton and Newcastle in April and May.

The hopes of the new company’s executive team to attract people from the Hunter and beyond to be part of shows have been fulfilled.

Maxfield says he had been up until 2am many mornings responding to emails from would-be cast members since auditions for Godspell were announced in late October.

On the day that I visited his Newcastle home to talk with him about the company and its plans, Georgia Taylor, a 17-year-old year 11 student from Scone, arrived with her parents for a singing lesson and an audition.

Maxfield, the company’s artistic director, has been helped in spreading the word about the company by other members of the non-profit company’s executive.

The company secretary, for example, is Tony Fletcher, of Singleton. Marketing manager Nicholas Stabler designs and develops websites around the Hunter Region.

Maxfield himself works at the University of Newcastle as a project and business process improvement manager.

The regional spread of the executive has helped the company to gain sponsorships from businesses such as a Pokolbin winery.

It was their love of theatre that brought the team together.

Maxfield is a multi-CONDA nominee who won an award for his performance as Ko Ko in a 2006 Newcastle production of The Mikado. He is nominated again this year for his Fagin in Metropolitan Players’ Oliver! and has been cast as the Phantom in that company’s staging of The Phantom of the Opera at the Civic Theatre next August.

He met Tony Fletcher when he was co-directing the musical Blood Brothers and Fletcher won a role. They again worked together in Oliver! with Fletcher as the officious beadle, Mr Bumble.

The choice of the name The National Theatre Company does not indicate a long-term plan to take shows throughout Australia, although Maxfield is hopeful that within two years the group could win Sydney seasons for some of its shows.

Instead, it is intended to show that the company does not have its focus on one city or community but aims to stage shows that will have broad appeal and give theatrical opportunities to people in smaller towns.

While The National Theatre Company is a non-profit organisation, the executive is looking at putting profits into two inter-related strands – employing theatre professionals in fields such as musical direction and choreography to help develop high standards in performances, and providing scholarships for young people.

In 2009 Maxfield founded i-act, an indigenous children’s theatre providing free acting, voice, stagecraft and acting-for-camera tuition aimed at achieving more realistic representation of indigenous children in mainstream theatre, television, advertising and film.

He has also been increasingly involved in the dance world by providing drama tuition since 2010 for the Newcastle-based National College of Dance’s summer schools.

The dance group is closely involved with The National Theatre Company. Its Lambton studios will provide rehearsal spaces for the theatre company and the choreographers of the first two shows will come from its ranks: Isabelle Leonard (Godspell) and Callan Constable (13).

Maxfield is looking at further-developing the relationship by staging musicals such as West Side Story in which dance is a key element.

The choice of the first two shows certainly shows a keenness to involve as broad a range of people as possible. The cast of Godspell will be drawn from a wide age range, but performers in 13, in keeping with the teenage characters, will be aged 12 to 16.

The company will also be choosing two people for each role, with actors alternating in performances to give as many people as possible a chance to broaden their skills.

Maxfield had his first professional role at age seven, in Noel Coward’s Red Peppers.

He combined part-time acting with a career as a policeman in Sydney, with his day job later helping him in a continuing role as a cop in the television series Home and Away. He worked extensively in theatre, film and television before moving to Newcastle in 2000.

He has worked in the past two decades in human resources, with the skills coming in handy when he was told the rights to the new version of Godspell were not available.

After carefully navigating various parties, and having legal restrictions lifted, he eventually received a letter from Schwartz himself, decorated with an artist’s caricature of the composer, in which Schwartz wished the new company “All [for] the best” in staging the show – the wish, in that form, being the name of one of the Godspell songs.

PLAYERS: Tony Fletcher, Georgia Taylor and Chris Maxfield. PICTURE: JONATHAN CARROLL

When the axe falls

Eddie McGuire has opened up about the way redundancies were handled at Channel Nine.Channel Seven sacks veteran reporterTen risks ratings disaster after cutsGuess who came to lunch?
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COMMENT

When Eddie McGuire was forced to axe 100 staff from Channel Nine – barely a few months into his new role as CEO – he decided to give it to them straight.

Unfortunately, his HR department had other plans.

Instead of letting him sit down and talk with each unlucky worker, they made him read a scripted statement to them. He was also advised not to answer their questions.

“It was a disaster . . . the worst thing I did,” McGuire confessed to his Triple M listeners last week. “These HR people come in, they have their set plays – and they never work.”

That was in 2006: an annus horribilis of bad headlines for Nine. Of course, its redundancies were never going to be painless. But as McGuire found out, the advice from HR only compounded that pain.

Now, the embattled Ten Network seems intent on replicating these blunders with a series of ham-fisted sackings from its news department, including the removal of presenter Helen Kapalos.

And it is not alone: most TV and radio networks have swallowed the misconception that redundancies should be swift and brutal. No farewell to loyal audiences. No saying goodbye to colleagues. Just hand in your pass, pack your things and go. Now.

The theory is that a swift sacking equals a “clean break”. The reality is that using a guillotine leaves a lot of blood. Badwill rises. Leaks spring. Rumours swirl.

The most bemusing aspect is that all this could be avoided through common decency. No one likes being sacked but a simple thank you, a farewell gathering and the option to work until the contract ends goes a long way towards reducing animosity.

Yet the idea persists that brutal axings are a hallmark of “decisive” management.

“Apparently in radio, people have to be sacked with some kind of great drama,” Wendy Harmer, a former 2Day FM host, once told me. “You can’t be told in advance you’re going to lose your job. There has to be some sort of vile skulduggery.”

Indeed, many hosts have no idea they’re doing their final show until it’s over. Often, they’re sacked as they come off air and told not to return.

This happened to Mix FM’s George McEncroe in 2009 – on April Fools’ Day, no less. Eventually, her bosses convinced her it was no joke and McEncroe later described the experience as “very David Brent”.

Others have endured rumours and even newspaper reports of their impending demise, including former Triple M hosts Peter Helliar and Myf Warhurst. By the time they were sacked, it was common knowledge in the industry they were making way for Eddie McGuire.

Likewise, Sydney newsreader Bill Woods was assured by Channel Ten management that recent reports of his sacking were wrong. Woods even told Fairfax Media he was looking forward to returning to work after the weekend – only to be sacked the moment he did.

Ten claims its decision had not been made when Fairfax Media reported it, just two days before it happened. It’s hard to believe they weren’t seriously considering it, though – and even harder to understand why they let Woods think he was safe.

If, on the other hand, Ten did decide to sack him just hours before doing so, it suggests such decisions are made on a whim: not a good look for a network in crisis.

Needless to say, Woods isn’t the first newsreader to receive false reassurances.

In 2005, Beverley O’Connor was sacked by Channel Seven. As she wrote in the Herald Sun recently, “Execution day was also a Friday but they decided to do it a few hours before I was due on air. Not only were they dumping me, but I had to go on air and announce my own humiliating departure to Peter Mitchell at the end of the bulletin.”

One executive looked her in the eye and promised she’d be given another job. That promise amounted to nothing.

It’s hard to decide whether this is worse than the unvarnished cruelty of Seven’s executives in sacking Mal Walden almost two decades earlier.

Last year, Walden told me, “We coined them the ‘princes of darkness’ because of their sheer acts of bastardry. I remember one guy standing at the door of the newsroom on a Friday and saying, ‘I’m going back to Sydney now to draw up a list of those I’m going to fire on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.’ “

What did this executive hope to achieve with such needless barbarism? Whatever his goal, it backfired spectacularly when almost all of Seven News’ audience switched off in protest over Walden’s sacking.

The most mystifying part of all this, however, is that such tactics are patently dumb.

People don’t like seeing their colleagues treated badly. Even if they’ve escaped the axe themselves, it diminishes their respect for the company – leaving them happy to leak damaging information to other journalists.

If media companies want to cut costs, perhaps they could start with the overpaid HR executives who peddle the nonsense theories that McGuire learnt are no substitute for simple, decent treatment.

[email protected]南京夜网.au

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

A round about way to build a roundabout: apartment block stuck in middle of multi-lane highway as couple flatly refuse to give way

Exclusive location. Close to transport. Lots of room. Unique view.
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For once all those tired, old real estate cliches are accurate.

Luo Baogen and his wife have refused to move out of their five-storey apartment block to make way for a highway in Wenling, in China’s Zhejiang province.

So the apartment block now serves as an unusual roundabout, surrounded by a multi-lane highway which, when complete, will lead to Wenling railway station.

International media have picked up on the Baogen family’s firm stance, quoting the People’s Daily, which reported the couple were not happy with the compensation they were offered to move out.

Their neighbours have moved on, leaving much of the building empty.

Several reports said changes in private ownership laws in China have made it harder for residents to be forced out of their homes.

The family are not the only people in China to put up such a fight.

The Daily Mail reported Hong Chunqin, 75, and her husband Kung, residents in Taizhou, in Zhejiang province, had made a similar decision this year to stay in a building, which now sits in the middle of a multi-lane road.

The family initially accepted compensation, but then changed their minds.

In England, the M62 highway near Scammonden runs right through Stott Hall Farm.

It was one property to survive when hundreds were bulldozed in the 1970s.

The tenant farmer, Paul Thorp, told the BBC in 2008 the farm had become an unofficial service station for motorists.

“People running out of petrol; coming and wanting to buy petrol and diesel; wanting to borrow spanners and jacks and to use the telephone,” Mr Thorp said.

“If I’ve got some petrol I’ll sell them some. I’ll try and help anybody out.

“It’s just not a nice spot to be, at the side of the road, especially if it’s rough weather. I can’t afford to give the petrol away, though. If I could get a regular trade, it’d be OK.”

Fairfax Media

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

History of surfing in Jarratt’s new book 

There’s not much that writer Phil Jarratt doesn’t know about surfing in Australia. Now he’s put his knowledge into an Australian history of the sport, writes HELEN GREGORY.
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Veteran surf journalist Phil Jarratt’s first meeting with former professional Mark Richards was as poignant as it was indicative of the history of his involvement with the dynamic sport.

Jarratt had arrived in Newcastle in 1970 as a Sydney Morning Herald cadet, working in Bolton Street, living in shabby digs in the East End and attending shorthand and typing classes as the only male student at what he recalls was Newcastle Ladies Business College.

Working afternoons allowed him to devote the mornings to surfing, which he had fallen in love with as a child growing up in Wollongong in the 1960s under the wing of the celebrated Bobby Brown, who died in a pub brawl in 1967.

Jarratt had surfed competitively up to the age of 18, then mostly hit the waves for recreation.

‘‘I would get to the city beaches in the morning and I kept running into this tiny, scrawny kid who always looked like he was about to burst into tears,’’ Jarratt recalls, his deep voice seeped in fondness.

‘‘You know how just before you start to cry your chin starts to wobble?

‘‘He always looked like that, but he could really surf, he was amazing, he had this unique style.

‘‘That was my introduction to Mark Richards.

‘‘A few years later I ran into him again as a journalist covering the beginnings of world pro surfing and I was astounded by the improvements in a few short years between 1970 and 1974 – Mark had gone from strength to strength.

‘‘You could see in the early days he was going to be somebody special.’’

Jarratt’s decision to leave newspaper journalism, follow his passion and dip his toes in the world of surfing magazines would set into motion a gambolling career in the industry that has spanned more than 40 years.

‘‘I think anybody that’s really involved with surfing and really loves it as a sport and lifestyle wants to try and make a living out of it,’’ he tells Weekender matter-of-factly from his home in Noosa Heads.

‘‘Back in those days when I was starting out professionally in journalism in the early 1970s there wasn’t really the career option to work as such in the surf industry and I certainly wasn’t good enough to ever become a professional surfer.

‘‘In the early ’70s professional surfing didn’t really exist either.

‘‘There were guys out there on a tiny little world tour but they weren’t really making money out of it, they were losing it.

‘‘I knew I wanted to do something that kept me involved in surfing and really the only option at the time unless you were a pioneer in the surfing industry – and a few of my friends became that – was to get a job in the media.’’

He edited Tracks magazine and Australian Surfer’s Journal, was a contributing editor to Surfer and Pacific Longboarder magazines, wrote 27 books, was a scriptwriter and consultant on surfing films, worked for Quiksilver in Europe and the US and collaborated with Surfing Australia on projects that included the recent release of a commemorative stamp set to celebrate the Year of The Surfer.

He has launched this month his most recent project, Surfing Australia; A Complete History of Surfboard Riding in Australia (pictured below) which chronicles the development of the sport over the past 50 years from the rebel fringe to the sporting mainstream, as well as the 50 years of adventure and experimentation that preceded the half-century of organised surfing.

Jarratt said he had ‘‘rooms full of research’’ following his last book Australia’s Hottest 100 Surfing Legends, which was packed with profiles on the sport’s greatest athletes.

‘‘After all these years of being involved I felt that all this work had one place, between one set of covers,’’ he says.

‘‘There had been histories of Australian surfing but I wouldn’t regard any one of them as really comprehensive and what I wanted to produce was a book that would stand the test of time, could be updated eventually but one that really told the whole story.’’

It also happened that 2013 would be the 50th anniversary of the birth of Surfing Australia, the governing body for a sport that had traditionally been the domain of the rebels and outsiders who had resisted governance in any form.

‘‘It has played such an important part in grooming Australians for the world tour and creating champions like Layne Beachley and Mark Richards and so many others and I thought I should combine my idea for a comprehensive history of the sport with Surfing Australia’s desire to have a book that comprehensively told their story.

‘‘So it’s a combination, my book tells the story of the whole century of surfing in this country but its also got a very strong emphasis on the organisational side of it, the contests, how we created so many champions over time.’’

Jarratt’s enthusiasm for the sport and attention to detail is evident in the hardback book, which follows surfing pioneers; the birth of clubs, contests and board-building; surfers sent to World War II; big characters and gangs; to the first of Australia’s many international surfing champions, Bernard ‘‘Midget’’ Farrelly and the significance of the 1964 inaugural Surfing World Championships at Manly.

‘‘I’ve tried to use the skills I have as a storyteller to make it accessible to everybody,’’ he says. ‘‘I’ve devoted a lot of space in the book to getting the detail right.’’

The book also dispels some long-perpetuated myths, including that newspaper man William Gocher walked into the water in Manly in 1907 and swam during the day – in an era when ocean swimming was illegal after 7am – was arrested and, in doing so, changed the law.

But Jarratt says it wasn’t like that.

‘‘My reading of it [the truth] was that he was primarily drawing attention to his newspaper but at the time he played it up, ‘I’m testing the law here and if they arrest me I’ll put it in the newspaper and we’ll get this law changed.’

‘‘He did go for a swim at Manly and it did make some difference but the fact was that it was a campaign over the next five years that eventually caused the laws to be changed.

‘‘In Sydney and other populated areas you could go swimming in the surf in daylight hours and that was the beginning of the whole surf culture.

‘‘Everyone started doing it, and people started drowning while doing it, so the surf lifesaving movement began to try to get the fatalities down. Out of all that came surfboards, you could use a surfboard to try and save people.’’

Another myth was that Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku introduced surfing to Australia when he visited in the summer of 1914-15.

‘‘In fact we had a small but very keen tribe of surfers trying to ride surfboards several years before that,’’ he says. ‘‘This book tells that whole story, how they tried really hard but they didn’t quite have it, didn’t quite understand how to do it, then Duke came out here for that summer and really set things alight.’’

Phil Jarratt.

Jennie Thomas: The Midas Touch 

Jennie Thomas turned personal tragedy into humble generosity and has opened her heart to the region’s best and brightest, writes ROSEMARIE MILSOM.
Nanjing Night Net

The widely respected former vice chancellor of the University of Newcastle, Professor Nick Saunders, was many things, but huggable was not one of them. That never stopped Jennie Thomas.

‘‘She has this wonderful philosophy about the value of a good hug and she disarms people,’’ says Bernie Curran, executive officer of the University of Newcastle Foundation, the institution’s philanthropic arm.

‘‘You watch these stiff people so used to being academic and reserved suddenly being swamped by a big hug,’’ he says chuckling. ‘‘That’s a measure of her affection and warmth,’’ he says of the foundation’s most dedicated donor.

Unfortunately I miss out on one of Thomas’s famous hugs because our interview happens over the phone. The 71-year-old pint-sized dynamo lives in Canberra and her impending visit to Newcastle for the International Space Time Concerto Competition, an ambitious and historical music event she helped fund to celebrate the Newcastle Conservatorium’s 60th birthday, conflicts with Weekender’s production schedule.

Thomas is well-known at the university for her enthusiastic support of students and researchers through a number of grants and scholarships, but her generosity also extends beyond the leafy Callaghan campus to include the Hunter Medical Research Institute, Hunter Melanoma Foundation, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Centre, an eye clinic in Sierra Leone, small business loans in Niger and education and health projects in Fiji and Burma.

When we speak, she has just returned from a two-week trip to Burma with her partner, respected ACT horticulturist David Young.

‘‘It was an eye-opener,’’ she says. ‘‘David and I travel a lot and this was the best trip we’ve ever done. The people made it stand out – they are so gentle and warm.

‘‘One of the first ladies I met was called Me Me and she told me something I’ll never forget; she said, ‘Jennie, the way you talk about your country, it’s a ‘me’ society. Turn the ‘m’ upside down; you need to become a ‘we’ society’. We had a big hug on that one,’’ she laughs.

It is a long way from a small dairy settlement near Lismore, where she grew up as the third eldest of nine children, to Burma, but Thomas is nothing if not adventurous. The former teacher first travelled overseas in the late 1960s when her late husband Philip Emlyn, known as ‘‘Em’’, an industrial chemist who graduated from Newcastle University – then a part of the University of NSW – took a job demonstrating the use of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) in European laboratories.

The modern form of AAS was largely developed during the 1950s by a team of Australian scientists and it revolutionised chemistry. Em’s knowledge and skill were in high demand.

‘‘He trained and mentored a lot of young physicists and chemists and computer experts,’’ Thomas recalls. ‘‘They were all his family; our house was always full of young students. It was a very exciting time in chemistry.’’

The couple, both scholarship recipients who met in Newcastle, married in Wallsend Baptist Church in 1962 and relocated to a pretty village in Switzerland, half-way between Lucerne and Zurich, for 18 months. ‘‘The first night we got there, Em was told he had to go to Germany the next day,’’ she remembers. ‘‘I didn’t know any of the language. He got up at 5 o’clock in the morning and vanished, and there was me.’’

She pauses. ‘‘I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt a lot about people. I learnt to be more observant than talk,’’ she laughs, ‘‘which is a bit hard if you’re me and you’ve grown up in a big family and all of a sudden you’re on your own in a European village where nobody speaks any English.

‘‘Em was off to a different country every week and if I wanted to, I went with him. I visited Russia during the Cold War and China not long after Nixon’s visit. Sometimes I didn’t want to [travel], and I just walked and explored Switzerland. It was an amazing experience. One of the things that held me together was that I had a lifeline with my mum. I used to write to her sometimes two or three times a day because she was so excited that I was able to travel, because she couldn’t.’’

After their return to Australia in 1971, the couple settled in Melbourne and Thomas helped establish child migrant education within the Victorian Education Department. She developed the curriculum, trained other teachers, and became a consultant. She also pursued her interest in renovating and building houses. ‘‘I don’t know that I’ve ever lived in a house that I haven’t done up,’’ she enthuses. ‘‘I like seeing results for hard work.’’

took his own lifein March 2001. He was 60. The couple had been together for close to four decades.

‘‘It’s a very dark place to be in,’’ Thomas says of the grief that overwhelmed her after Em’s death. ‘‘I did not ever think I would laugh again; I really didn’t believe it. He was a brilliant person, a caring person, who made a lot of difference to a lot of people’s lives.’’

Thomas remembers standing by his grave and questioning what to do next. ‘‘I just didn’t understand, but I realised that,’’ she pauses. ‘‘There are two ways you can go – you can feel sorry for yourself and say, ‘Why me?’, and then I thought, I only have one life and I need to do something that’s important. That’s when I decided to put Em’s money to good use.

‘‘I don’t need it for me; I live a fairly simple life apart from travelling, and I can go on making a difference to young people’s lives, I can go on mentoring people, and I tell you what, they give me back more than I’ve ever given.’’

Thomas fronted up to meet Bernie Curran at the University Foundation who then introduced her to mental health researcher Frances Kay Lambkin. Thomas asked Lambkin an important question, one that has since become her catch cry: ‘‘What is your dream?’’ Lambkin described how she wanted to create the world’s first computer-based therapy for those battling abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and depression. Thomas made a one-off $60,000 donation.

‘‘I’ve got a bit of a reputation in Newcastle for picking the right people [to support],’’ she says. ‘‘They’ve got to have that bit of extra something – I don’t know what it is, but it’s a spark and I can see the dream is real and that they will go on with it.

‘‘I make a small contribution and then they make that bigger contribution back to society. Frances was a case in point; she was left-field – I like left-field – and when I walked into her and [fellow researcher] Amanda Baker’s office one day and they told me about the DVD and using the computer to reach people with depression who might not seek help, I said, ‘Right, well, we’ll do that. Go for it’.’’

She also returned to John Hunter Hospital and asked the cardiologists who had treated Em how she could help. ‘‘He’d had depressive episodes throughout his life, but of course we didn’t have the knowledge that we have now,’’ she says. ‘‘At the time Em had his heart attack and stroke, I didn’t go back to the hospital and say, ‘He’s fallen into deep depression’. Now I know that so many people who have those significant health events later have a depressive episode and it can be very serious.’’

Thomas became aware of research at HMRI and helped fund BraveHeart, a pilot study involving 39 patients at the hospital who were experiencing significant symptoms of depression or anxiety at the end of cardiac rehabilitation. The study showed that coronary heart disease patients who feel depressed or anxious can benefit from group therapy.

Em’s life – and tragic death – has helped her pinpoint projects to support across the arts, health and environment. She often reflects on the opportunities that came their way because of their tertiary studies, which only happened because they received scholarships.

‘‘We had very little money,’’ says Thomas of her youth. ‘‘Bringing up nine children in a scattered country settlement was a struggle. My parents, both teachers, had very few of this world’s goods, but they lived a life of loving and caring for us and others in our community. They gave us love and laughter, literature and learning.

‘‘Em also came from a home with little money or material goods. He arrived in Australia from a mining village in Wales when he was 10 and went to Toronto Public School, then Newcastle Boys High. What we both had was a love of life and people, a love of learning, and the determination to achieve our goals.’’

Thomas is passionate about supporting university students to reach their potential. ‘‘There’s a country girl there,’’ observes Curran. ‘‘She can’t stand bullshit, which is one of the reasons she likes being involved in the selection committees because she cuts through the garbage and gets to the essence of who someone is.

‘‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a stand-out on paper, she is looking for that little bit of something different.

‘‘She nosed around like a wombat until she found Alexia [Sinclair, award-winning photographer and digital artist] who won one of Jennie’s Travelling Art Scholarships while she was studying fine art at the university.’’

Thomas stays in contact with recipients and relishes news of their ongoing achievements

Curran says: ‘‘She does like to get involved in the life of the recipient, not in an interfering way, but in a way which encourages them. ‘‘They not only get the benefit of the dollars, they get the benefit of her – she becomes a mentor. I often use this image of Jennie as the mother duck walking across the road with an increasing number in her brood, ready to shelter under her wings.

‘‘Some donors will say, ‘Here’s some money for indigenous students doing medicine, you find them’ and that’s it, that’s their involvement. That’s not the way Jennie does it.’’

Thomas, who has no children of her own, has created a large and eclectic extended family. She wishes she was more comfortable with the term ‘‘philanthropist’’. ‘‘It sounds money oriented, but it’s people-oriented. Bernie pulled me aside one day and being a classics scholar loves explaining the origin of words; he said, ‘It means lover of mankind, remember that, that’s what you are’.’’

Though reluctant to sing her own praises, when I mention that Em would be proud of her work, she replies: ‘‘I’m sure so.’’

She believes Em would also be pleased about her involvement in the International Space Time Concerto Competition and she made sure his beloved classical music would feature alongside innovative compositions, including an iPhone ensemble.

The competition, which has been described as ‘‘Beethoven meets the Matrix’’, offers an opportunity to perform with a full orchestra. Several finalists will play live with an international internet-linked ensemble spanning five countries.

‘‘I’m getting very excited about it,’’ says Thomas, who contributed $30,000. ‘‘I think it’s an amazing opportunity for Newcastle. It’s a first in the world!

‘‘You’ve got to have a go; that was one of things Em and I used to say. When an opportunity opens up, you take it and if it doesn’t work, you’ve had a go.

‘‘My dad put me on the train [to study in Newcastle] when I was 17 and he said, ‘Go and make something of your life’. That’s what I say to my dreamers: go and do it.’’

The International Space Time Concerto Competition will be held in The Newcastle Conservatorium on Friday, November 30, and Sunday, December 2, and also screened live in Civic Park. Visit spacetimeconcerto南京夜网 for more information. Jennie Thomas blogs about her adventures at jtdytravels南京夜网.

ENCOURAGING: Jennie Thomas on the receiving end of a kiss from Nerida Ackland, joint winner of the 2010 Jennie Thomas Travelling Art Scholarship.