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City offers $4.25 million olive branch in Sydney primary school deal

Contested: The proposed site of a new primary school in Ultimo. Photo: Ryan StuartThe City of Sydney has offered the state government a $4.25 million olive branch in a bid to revive plans for a new inner-Sydney primary school.

But the Department of Education and Communities is refusing to reconsider buying a council site in Ultimo, after abandoning talks last month.

The council’s old depot on the corner of Fig and Wattle streets had been earmarked for a 1000-student school. However, the negotiations between the two parties, which began more than 12 months ago, stalled over the cost of remediating the heavily contaminated site.

The department said it walked away in frustration after the council refused to accept its offer of $74 million, a price that took into account a clean-up cost of $18 million to $25 million.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who said the department’s move was disappointing, has written to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli proposing a compromise.

Under Cr Moore’s proposal the council would absorb half the $8.5 million difference between the department’s final offer and the asking price endorsed by councillors.

“This new offer reduces the sale price by $4.25 million,” said Cr Moore, who plans to put the new deal to council when it meets on Monday.

“I also again propose that the department could meet the remaining gap in the sale price through additional in-kind public benefit for the City of Sydney, such as a second 80-place child care centre.”

The letter follows Cr Moore’s unsuccessful attempt to speak to Mr Piccoli on the phone last week to try to  broker a compromise.

Cr Moore, who urged Mr Piccoli to resume talks,  said the reduced price demonstrated the council’s commitment to providing a new primary school for inner-city residents.

But the proposal has left the department unmoved.

“Council’s belatedly revised offer to sell the Wattle Street site still far exceeds the department’s expectation of what is a reasonable purchase price for land on which to build a piece of community infrastructure,” a spokesman said.

“In meeting its commitment to deliver a new school for the Ultimo-Pyrmont area, the department continues to investigate options for that purpose, and these will be discussed thoroughly with the local community before a solution is implemented.”

A working party established to increase primary school capacity in the area is due to meet on Monday to discuss other potential sites for the school.

Ultimo Public School Parents and Citizens’ Association spokesman Bill d’Anthes said the government’s response was shortsighted.

“Because they’ve already invested a lot of time in planning [on the Wattle Street site],” Mr d’Anthes said.

“The community wants the school, and wants the school there.”

Shane Watson says holding his nerve against pace a challenge

Shane Watson says holding his nerve while facing fast bowling has been his biggest challenge since he returned to cricket after the death of Phillip Hughes.

The Australians conducted their main training session before the first Test on Sunday at the Adelaide Oval, after which they were addressed by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Watson, who was on the field when Hughes was struck, said he had been initially apprehensive while facing bouncers in the nets and was still learning to trust his skill again.

“From my perspective, bowling’s a hell of a lot easier,” the all-rounder said. “Just mentally, running in and letting it go compared to batting. You’ve got to make sure you hold your nerve out there when the guys are steaming in.

“That for me has been the biggest challenge of getting back into it again. But by Tuesday, when it starts, we’re all really excited to get out there and take on the Indians.”

Watson said he was gradually becoming more at ease with batting and the dangers that went with it.

“I’ve got more comfortable with just reacting to what I see and trusting my skill,” Watson said.”Because I know at any stage if you get a ball and get unlucky and it hits you in the wrong spot it’s always going to cause some serious damage anyway.

“But that’s just part of the game. You hope that your skill can get yourself out of trouble if that comes our way.

“I knew I had to confront it when I went in over at park 25 as well and every day I’ve gone in I’m feeling more comfortable. One more day leading into the Test match, I know I’ll be ready to go.”

Watson said Friday’s session, at Park 25 in Adelaide’s outskirts, had been particularly difficult as it was the first time he had batted since Hughes’s death.

“A few things flooded through my mind as soon as I went out to bat,” he said. “I thought I’d processed it quite well the previous week. It’s been tough but it’s been a great thing to get back to the game we love so much playing.

“We know how much Phillip and the family loved the game as well. It’s also for us to be able to continue on with his and his family’s legacy, making sure we continue to play the game that we love so much because it’s enriched our lives so much.”

Ex-Cat Allen Christensen makes a new home in the north

On location: Former Cat Allen Christensen (left) and new Lions teammate Matt Maguire at Brisbane’s training campat Noosa. Photo: Supplied On location: Former Cat Allen Christensen (left) and new Lions teammate Matt Maguire at Brisbane’s training campat Noosa. Photo: Supplied

On location: Former Cat Allen Christensen (left) and new Lions teammate Matt Maguire at Brisbane’s training campat Noosa. Photo: Supplied

On location: Former Cat Allen Christensen (left) and new Lions teammate Matt Maguire at Brisbane’s training campat Noosa. Photo: Supplied

Allen Christensen’s personal highlight of the 2014 AFL season wasn’t so much a game or an individual performance, but a mid-season interview on radio station SEN.

Nursing the back injury which had given him much grief and caused him to miss the first half of the season for Geelong, Christensen looked on bemused as commentator Dermott Brereton took off on a rambling journey of a question.

Either confusing Christensen with a teammate or lost in another train of thought, Brereton began soliloquising about Australia’s top end and the sentimental pull of “up north”, asking him to describe the lure of home.

Christensen let him arrive at the destination, then with some pleasure landed the punchline. “Well, I’m lucky, I’m from Lara,” he said, as the commentary box broke up in hysterics.

He still can’t help but giggle at the memory. “It was pretty funny. I saw it coming from a mile away,” he chuckles. “You could see all the other boys in the box thinking, ‘This guy’s got no idea what he’s talking about’. I just thought I’d put him back in his box.”

The moment won Dermie the feted “Gold Scheissen” award of 2014. And yet, as it’s transpired, with Christensen joining Brisbane in the post-season’s most unexpected trade, Brereton wasn’t all that far off the mark. “I suppose he’ll claim he was right now,” Christensen smiles.

But after a traumatic couple of months in which the personal issues that caused Christensen to seek a way out of Simonds Stadium became the subject of much intrigue, things are finally starting to settle down.

“It was hard dealing with people not understanding that, but I’m really looking forward to my future here,” he said as Brisbane went about its pre-season campaign at a Noosa training camp.

Geelong chief executive Brian Cook was one of those people. “It is difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped,” Cook said only last week.

“He admitted he had some personal issues and felt he needed to leave this environment to deal with them. I don’t believe that. We needed to deal with them. He made a decision that I hope doesn’t come back … which he regrets in the future.”

Christensen isn’t angry about the comments, just insistent that only he alone can be the judge of the solution required.

“It’s my life, not anyone else’s,” he said. “Just because I play footy doesn’t mean I’m not a normal person and have to deal with stuff they do. Hopefully, people in 12 or 24 months time when I go back to Geelong to see my family will see how much happier I am.

“I know people there care about me, and that’s why they were upset about it and angry. I knew I’d be upsetting people but I also know Brisbane were happy to have me, and that they’ve put in place a really good support system to help me.

“I’ll just have to let my football do the talking for now, and hopefully take it up to another level.”

This is something of which Christensen is confident. For a start, he’s joining a suddenly burgeoning on-field brigade including Dayne Beams, Mitch Robinson and a long-term casualty but class act in Daniel Rich. Then there’s the post-season surgery on his troublesome back which may just have done the trick.

“I haven’t really played injury-free for two or three years,” he said. “But I had a decent year in 2013 and that was when I had a decent pre-season, so I know the level I can get to if I can get fit.

“I think I’ve come up here at the right time, at the start of the rehab from surgery, just going about it a different way. That’s no disrespect to Geelong, they got me back playing really quickly, but unfortunately it blew up again. We’ll just see how this one goes, but so far it’s tracking really well, and I’m in a good place.”

And so are the Lions, expectations about 2015 are already significantly higher than when Justin Leppitsch took over as coach a year ago, with the club still teetering from the sacking of Michael Voss, months of turmoil at board level and the much-chronicled departure of five players all seeking a return to their home states.

“Getting Dayne [Beams] and ‘Robbo’ really adds to the depth but I’d already sussed all that out when I decided to come to Brisbane,” Christensen said. “But it’s not just them. Jack Redden, Tom Rockliff, Daniel Rich … look at all those names, they’re established AFL players who’d be playing in any team in the league.

“We’ve got a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but I guess coming from a really successful club I can sort of see the similarities in the direction, and it’s really excited me. I’m stoked to be able to pass on some of the knowledge that I’ve picked up from blokes like Joel Selwood and Jimmy Bartel, and I think I’m in a good position to be able to help lead at this club even though I’m still one of the young blokes.”

Certainly, like Geelong, with many potential midfield rotations at Brisbane, Christensen is going to have to be at the top of his game to get the sort of midfield minutes he’s looking for.

“Obviously I want to try to get myself in condition where I can play a high half-forward or midfield role. They know I can play a variety of roles,” he said. “The main goal for guys like me, Josh Green and Dayne Zorko is to try to break into that midfield. That’s going to be a tough gig, but I saw at Geelong for five years that the more competition for spots at a club the better it is.”

Christensen inevitably still talks about Geelong a lot. His heart, he says, is still in his old home town of Lara, and some of his best mates are with the Cats.

“I still get messages from the boys at Geelong asking: ‘How’s Brisbane?’ and ‘what’s it like’, yada, yada. They’ve had plenty of changes there as well, and I reckon they’ll have a good year. But my future’s here, and I’m really looking forward to building this club into something I think could be pretty special.”

And when his new club and his old one clash in round 18 next year, Christensen is under no illusions about continued friendships counting for much at all. “I reckon it might be a bit frosty to be honest,” he chuckles. “Hopefully, I’ll be playing some good footy by then.”

Importantly, though, Christensen doesn’t feel the need to add anything about hoping he’ll be happy by then. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road getting a lot further north than Lara, but as far as happiness goes, Christensen already has it.

Architect Barney Collins says Wickham most central place for transport interchange

SOME want it, some don’t, some think there are better options at Hamilton and Woodville Junction, but prominent Newcastle architect Barney Collins says the state government’s plans to build a new public transport hub at Wickham will, in the long term, be bang on the money.

‘‘Newcastle station is not the centre of town,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not now and won’t be in the future. You need your transport hub to be where the people are and where it can be accessed, and that’s at Wickham.’’

Mr Collins, from EJE Architecture, said he’d grown tired of people arguing that no city anywhere is removing heavy rail in the way that it’s happening in Newcastle.

That’s because no city anywhere is located on a coastal peninsula like Newcastle and nowhere is there a 21st century city which has a heavy rail line cutting it in half, he said.

‘‘Efficient transport networks work on the principle of hub and spokes,’’ he said. ‘‘Newcastle’s hub is at the outer edge of one of the spokes. Newcastle has always suffered because it’s never really had a proper centre.’’

An artist’s impression of the Wickham interchange.

To make his point, Mr Collins drew a two-kilometre radius around the transport hub on an aerial map of every major Australian city.

In each example except Newcastle, the city’s main transport hub was within two kilometres of its major population.

‘‘They have to pull the rail line back to Wickham or the city will never work properly,’’ he said.

Woodville Junction was not an option, he said, because it didn’t offer good road connections. Wickham, however, would be centrally located to the city’s new CBD and had the capacity to expand a light rail network.

Mr Collins said talk of developers lining up to develop the rail corridor is ‘‘way off the mark’’.

‘‘I can tell you that almost all of them walking through the door here are wanting to put feet on the ground in the city’s west end around Wickham which is what this whole city plan was designed to do,’’ Mr Collins said.

‘‘Their only fear is that the line won’t be cut and that’s why they’ve been holding back. They’ve got the sites, they’ve got the right zonings and they don’t have the [mine subsidence] and heritage issues to deal with.’’

Girl raped by DOCS worker tells court of trauma

A GIRL repeatedly raped by a Hunter-based Department of Family and Community Services caseworker has told a court how she has nightmares and feels ‘‘like I want to run away but there’s nowhere to run’’.

But the man, who gained access to the girl through his relationship with her foster mother, and who was found guilty by a jury, still insists he is innocent and has the support of his then partner, the Sydney District Court heard on Friday.

The man, 57, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of sexual intercourse with the girl, who was as young as nine, and indecent assault, relating to offences committed over nearly three years.

In a victim impact statement read on her behalf to Judge Michael King, the girl said she had suffered ‘‘depression, sadness and anxiety’’ about the crimes committed against her.

She was ‘‘scared of the dark’’ and afraid to go out in public.

‘‘When I am around men I feel really weird and uncomfortable, like something is going to happen to me again,’’ she said.

‘‘Every time I go out, I feel like he is there so I have to hide.

‘‘I cannot talk about it to people because I feel ashamed and sick.’’

She hated the man for what he had done.

‘‘I also feel like I want to run away but there’s nowhere to run,’’ the girl said in her statement.

‘‘That’s how I feel, and the pain he has put me through, it is unbearable and I do not know if I will ever get over this.’’

The Crown argued that while the girl had not been in the man’s care due to his employment, the court should still have regard, when considering the seriousness of his offending, for the high level of trust the community placed in caseworkers who dealt with vulnerable children.

The man will be sentenced in February.