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Nitro Circus’ Jackson Strong injured in fireworks explosion

Original source:The Daily Advertiser
Nanjing Night Net

Lockhart’s motocross star Jackson Strong is one of two menseriously hurt in a fireworks explosion at his home.

Details of the incident are still being gathered, but Mr Strong’s father, Lyndon,confirmed his son had been hurt in a New Year’s fireworks blast.

Strong has made an international name for himself in the daring motocross arena, rising from performing at the Lockhart Show as a youth to bagging swags of medals on the international stage.

PHOTOS: Jackson Strong in action

Strong, the reigning X Games Best Trick gold medalist,has ridden for Nitro Circus and most recently performed in Wagga as part of the Nitro Circus regional tour.

Ambulance media said paramedics responded to reports of a fireworks explosion on Milbrulong Road about 12.10am today.

A spokeswoman said two patients were taken to Wagga Base Hospital.

Jackson Strong, 22,is reported to be the more seriously hurt.

He suffered a serious leg injury as well as chest and facial injuries.

Pictures of Mr Strong’s facial injuries have been posted on his website www.jackostrong南京夜网.

“His left leg around his thigh is the worst part,” a worriedLyndon Strong said.

“He will pull through, no worries at all.”

He was flown into Wagga by helicopter and thenafter treatment at the base hospital was flown by plane to Sydney where he was admitted to the burns unit of St George Hospital.

A second man suffered a lower leg wound.

He is believed to be a good friend of Mr Jackson and was celebrating the new year with him.

X Games gold medallist and Nitro Circus star Jackson Strong has been injured in a fireworks explosion. WARNING: NEXT PICTURE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT

Jackson Strong posted this photo of his injuries on his website, jackostrong南京夜网

Ambulance media said he was a 20-year-old, but a spokeswoman for Murrumbidgee Local Health District said it was believed he was 28.

He is being treated in Wagga Base Hospital and is in a stable condition.

It is believed the incident happened on Mr Strong’s family property, where he regularly spends time and has filmed for a documentary,Headstrong.

In 2012, Strong became the first Australian to win back-to-back gold medals in the X Games Moto Best Trick category after creating history with the first-ever front-slip in competition and unveiling a body varial, The Jack.

Lockhart Shire Council did not have a fireworks display for New Year’s Eve.

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Baby Isaac the first of 2014

THE new year will be filled with hope and joy for Naomi and Jonathan Stucken who on Wednesdaywelcomed their first baby to the world.
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Baby Isaac, 12 days overdue when he was finally born at 1.35am on New Year’s Day, was also the first baby born at Orange Hospital in 2014.

He weighed 4.48 kilograms (9.8 pounds) and was 60 centimetres (23.6 inches) long.

“It’s been a bit of a marathon, but I’m just so happy he’s here,” Mrs Stucken said.

The first-time parents said they were a little nervous leading up to the birth, which was scheduled at Orange hospital instead of their home town in Cowra, due to a lack of an anesthetist over the festive period.

“When you know he’s so big I was quite nervous,” Mrs Stucken said.

“But I was very happy and relieved when he came out safely.

The name Isaac is an ancient translation meaning’he will laugh’, a fact the couple were aware of whentheychose the name based onone of their favourite bible stories.

Mrs Stucken said she had nothing but praise for the staff in Orange hospital’s maternity ward.

“I don’t think you’d have better service in Sydney, their standard of care is amazing,” Mrs Stucken said.

“Staff have been amazing and everyone we’ve spoken to is so helpful.”

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THE BEST NEW YEAR: Naomi and Jonathan Stucken with son Isaac, who was the first baby born at Orange Hospital in 2014. Photo: LUKE SCHUYLER

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Vansittart Park hosts thousands at NYE party

HAILED A SUCCESS: Mount Gambier Community Events Management Inc (MGCEMI) chair Steve Toope was pleased with how the fourth annual New Year’s Eve community celebrations were received. Pictures: BRETT KENNEDY NEED FOR SPEED: Cooper Bobridge (8) got behind the wheel of the go-karts, one of many amusements for the hundreds of children on site.
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VISITORS GALORE: Mount Gambier’s New Year’s Eve community celebrations attracted many visitors, including Adelaide’s Kobi, 8, and Levi Swanson, 5, and Lily Cunningham, 3, who enjoyed building a block tower.

HEAVY HITTING: The Riot City Wrestling crew was once again a smash hit with the crowd, as many cheered on GD Grimm, who outmuscled his opponent.

BUBBLE TROUBLE: Cassidy Lynagh, 5, was extra bubbly Tuesday night at the Mount Gambier Community New Year’s Eve celebrations.

NO SEATING ROOM: Adelaide-based Circus Elements entertainer Scott Griffin got the crowd involved in his performance.

VANSITTART Park hosted thousands of revellers on New Years Eveas families and friends came together to usher in 2014 at the fourth annual Mount Gambier Community New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Residents flocked into the venue from the Wehl Street entrance, making their way to the centre of the oval where jumping castles, merry-go-rounds, musicians and wrestlers waited to entertain the festive crowds.

Mount Gambier Community Events Management Incorporated chair Steve Toope said he was happy with the community response.

“I think it all went pretty well, the weather gods were definitely smiling on us,” Mr Toope said.

“You only have to look out the window today (Wednesday) to realise we were lucky.

“At the end of the day we didn’t have any hassles or hitches.

“We aim to get about 3500-4500 people and at a rough guess I’d say we were around the mark.

“It was a similar size crowd to 2012.”

Mr Toope said he received positive feedback from residents throughout the night.

“The fireworks were obviously well-received and everyone seemed happy with the range of entertainment,” he said.

“From an organiser point of view, I’ve really got nothing to complain about.”

Mr Toope said the central Vansittart Park location once again proved to be a winner.

“The one thing I see on New Year’s Eve when I’m walking about the area is that from a family perspective, it’s a good venue to go to,” he said.

“The kids can go off and parents know they will be safe and you see all the extended family catching up with a rug on the grass.

“From my point of view, I look at it as one of those events that friends and families can really come together, sit down and have a chat to catch up.

“From a parent’s perspective, if the kids are being entertained, then that can mean the parents or grandparents are in for an easier night.”

With live music a strong feature of the night, Mr Toope said the committee’s gamble on securing the services of Adelaide band Platinum Plus paid off.

“I think they went down really well, they were a tight outfit,” he said.

“We sort of punted that they’d fit the demographic and that’s exactly what happened.

“It was very easy listening and family friendly, so they were a good fit.”

While a large portion of the crowd left after the early fireworks, Mr Toope said organisers were prepared for the exodus, with other people still entering the venue right up until the stroke of midnight.

“That’s how we’ve designed the night, because we understand a lot of people have younger families,” he said.

While the committee has barely had time to celebrate the beginning of 2014 with plenty of packing up done yesterday morning, the next installment is already on their minds.

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EDITORIAL: The city’s new year fireworks

THE number of Hunter Region destinations offering New Year’s Eve fireworks has dwindled in recent years.
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With no Warners Bay, Swansea or Caves Beach displays on Tuesday night, Wangi Wangi was the only Lake Macquarie town with fireworks.

The lack of attractions on the eastern side of the lake probably helped draw more people into Newcastle, where the council has traditionally hosted two sets of pyrotechnics – one at 9pm, the other at midnight.

But this year, Newcastle City Council dispensed with the midnight display, promising instead to spend as much on the one show as it previously did on both.

Initial impressions of the Nobbys display were positive enough, but early praise was soon dampened by a rising tone of disappointment from some watchers, and not only with the quality of the fireworks show itself.

A number of people also complained about a lack of traffic control once the fireworks had finished, when an immediate exodus of vehicles led to substantial traffic jams on both sides of the harbour.

No organisation hosting a New Year’s Eve fireworks display is going to deliberately disappoint its public. Some said this year’s display was not as high in the sky as previous years. But with Sydney pouring $6.8million into its harbour spectacular, a Newcastle show costing $120,000 – and just $20,000 of that on fireworks – was probably destined to suffer by comparison.

While Nobbys is an obvious landmark for a fireworks backdrop, there may be merit in moving to a more central point on the harbour, such as Dyke Point, which has been used at least once in the past. Another alternative might be to shoot for a shorter display, but to send the fireworks skyward from a variety of vantage points along the waterfront.

Such a change would not only put more people closer to the action, it may well add grandeur to a spectacle that, for adults at least, can become repetitive after the first few minutes.

Newcastle council had its share of critics last year and some might dismiss complaints about fireworks as nit-picking or carping. Lord mayor Jeff McCloy’s suggestion was for people who complain to ‘‘contribute some money in some way’’.

That’s a fair point, but some might say they do already – through their rates. Debates over council spending priorities are nothing new, but civic leaders must be wondering if there are ways to make the 2014 fireworks more of a night to remember. For the right reasons.

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Bus passengers abused by intoxicated teenagers

VIOLENCE, abuse, threats and heavily intoxicated teenagers – it was the New Year’s Eve ‘‘bus ride from hell’’ for a Swansea woman and her daughter.
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Mary, 64, spoke to the Newcastle Herald about her ordeal aboard the 350 bus to Swansea Heads on Tuesday night, which she said left her traumatised and her daughter ‘‘physically shaking’’.

After watching the Newcastle foreshore 9pm fireworks, the pair boarded the bus outside the Newcastle railway station about 10pm.

It was at Charlestown that the trouble began.

‘‘The driver let on three people and then waited for seven more, they were all drunk and underage,’’ she said.

‘‘They were swearing, crying and fighting among each other and then one girl abused an elderly lady who told her not to use foul language.

‘‘I pushed and pushed the stop button until the bus stopped and a passenger told the troublemakers to leave.’’

Mary said that as the group left one of them punched the perspex screen at the front of the bus ‘‘so hard he left a blood trail’’. It was right in front of where she and her daughter were sitting.

And a girl member of the group threatened the passenger who told them to leave.

‘‘They were pointing their fingers like a gun at the passenger and said, ‘We know your face around town and we’re going to get you’.’’

Once the teenage passengers were removed, Mary and her daughter thought the trouble had passed.

But another drunken passenger, who looked to be about 20, got on the bus and tried to comfort the obviously distressed passengers, including a girl at the back of the bus.

‘‘The girl’s father took offence and the pair began arguing and physically fighting after the father grabbed the younger man’s hair,’’ she said.

The fight prompted the bus driver to pull the vehicle to the side of the road and he marched up the aisle to get involved, Mary said.

He escorted the drunk passenger off the bus and a scuffle ensued on the side of the road in front of several residents who had stepped outside to see what all the noise was.

Mary said her daughter called the police and the pair, as well as an elderly woman, got off before their stop and walked to Belmont police station to report the incidents.

A spokesman for State Transit said the matter was being investigated by police.

‘‘Newcastle Buses are providing CCTV footage of the incident to assist the police in their investigation,’’ he said.

He said State Transit and the Police Transport Command worked together to deliver safe bus services, including regular police operations in Newcastle.

‘‘All buses in the Newcastle fleet are fitted with digital CCTV to discourage crime and help identify offenders,’’ he said.

‘‘The CCTV system includes four inward-facing cameras to assist with the investigation of incidents on buses, and one forward-facing camera.

‘‘Newcastle bus drivers are in radio contact with the Newcastle radio room to report incidents and to seek police assistance for serious incidents.’’

Mary said the evening had made her rethink catching public buses in the future.

‘‘All we wanted to do was return home to see the midnight fireworks,’’ Mary said.

‘‘We did what we were supposed to do and caught public transport into the city and we had to go through an ordeal like this.’’

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FRIGHTENING: Mary had a traumatic New Year’s Eve bus ride on the 350 service after drunks boarded. Picture: Peter Stoop

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Bradken trains in asbestos breaches

NEWCASTLE-based engineering giant Bradken is under fire for importing heavy-rail locomotives containing deadly asbestos from China.
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The locos are quarantined at Rutherford, as Australian Customs and Border Protection officials investigate the breach of a 10-year ban on the import of products containing asbestos.

It is the first time Bradken has purchased locomotives from China and a company spokesman said the breach would not deter it from dealing with Chinese manufacturers in future.

Unions described the Chinese imports as a “disgrace” and said Bradken should be held accountable for not ensuring the safety of its supply chain.

The two locos were certified in China as asbestos-free and arrived in Australia in November 2012.

Bradken learnt about the asbestos in October.

ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said asbestos-free certificates issued by Chinese manufacturers were “not worth the paper they were printed on”.

“The ban was put in place almost 10 years ago for good public policy reasons because one fibre can kill,” he said.

“There have only been two prosecutions since the ban was implemented and the message that sends is you can import with impunity.”

A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said Bradken could face a fine of up to $850,000 or three times the value of the locos, whichever is greatest.

“Importers are responsible for ensuring goods they import are free from asbestos and must declare this on import documentation,” he said, declining to comment further.

Bradken’s spokesman would not reveal the cost of the locos and said independent testing revealed the white asbestos was contained.

He said there was no risk ‘‘of any exposure to personnel’’.

‘‘Our specifications to the supplier was they be asbestos free,’’ he said. ‘‘The reality is they have not spent very much time on track at all.’’

The diesel locos were made by China Southern Rail and were undergoing registration and commissioning work in the Hunter.

Freight carrier SCT Logistics imported 10 of the same locos and asbestos was detected in October following complaints by Adelaide maintenance workers about white dust around the engines.

Tests revealed there were carcinogenic fibres in the cooling pipe, exhaust and brake insulation.

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency chief executive Peter Tighe said the situation highlighted “serious problems” with Australian compliance.

“As far as the Chinese are concerned there is no problem with asbestos,” Mr Tighe said.

“It is far too easy for these things to slip through the cracks when all you need to import something is a certificate from the manufacturer to say it’s asbestos free.”

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW secretary Tim Ayres said if a local manufacturer used asbestos it would be shut down.

‘‘These companies are getting a cheap deal, by setting up a supply chain they can’t guarantee,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s pretty simple, trains made in Australia don’t contain asbestos and they keep workers in jobs.”

Bradken’s spokesman said the company acted immediately to quarantine the locos and was co-operating with investigators.

He said the asbestos would be removed and the locos put into service with an Australian operator.

A spokesman for Qube Logistics confirmed it ordered six of the same locos, but said it would not accept them with asbestos.

‘‘We have our inspectors working with the manufacturers on site to ensure that no asbestos is used,’’ he said.

This is not the first time China has broken the Australian ban on asbestos.

In 2012 more than 25,000 Chinese-made Great Wall, Chery and Geely cars were recalled after asbestos was discovered in engine gaskets and brakes.

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Bradken’s Mayfield headquarters

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OPINION: Booze-culture reform requires new policies

‘‘HE’S awake and talking but unfortunately he can’t feel or move his hands or feet.’’
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I was in an emergency department in Sydney, talking to a young man’s father who was back in the UK. After breaking the news over the phone I could hear his panicked voice echo down the phone as he called to his wife. He relayed the news; their son had broken his neck. He had fallen off a balcony. Drunk. That New Year’s Eve, and the phone call, is seared into my memory.

Sadly, an almost identical event occurred a few years later, again as a result of a New Year’s Eve party that spiralled out of control because of alcohol. A fight, fuelled by alcohol, had broken out just after midnight and a young man had fallen off the balcony. When he landed he was conscious. He knew immediately he was a quadriplegic.

Personal experiences such as these are what motivate and galvanise the effort of doctors, nurses, police and emergency workers to try to stop alcohol-related violence and the effects of harmful alcohol consumption.

Alcohol continues to be a major issue for our health and justice system. While there may have been reductions, in 2012 there were still more than 14,000 alcohol-related non-domestic assaults and 1300 alcohol-related assaults on police.

A recent NSW Auditor-General’s report estimated the economic cost of alcohol-related harm to be more than $4billion, although the true impact is difficult to measure partly because of a lack of data.

The public was rightly outraged at the senseless death of Thomas Kelly. His parents Ralph and Cathy have bravely continued to highlight the repercussions of alcohol-related violence. It’s not just neurosurgeons who know the consequences of king hits. Other outcomes of alcohol-related violence are disfigurement and eye injuries that result from glassings, the multi-traumas from drunk drivers, and spinal injuries.

But there is much more, including the 10,000 cases of alcohol-related domestic assault and the many cases of child abuse where alcohol is a factor. Alcohol-related violence is not just an issue for the street. It enters into our homes as well.

Alcohol-related harm should not be a political issue. It is a significant public health issue, indeed a preventive health issue.

A recent survey of public hospital emergency departments showed that on Saturday night one in seven emergency department visits were alcohol-related. In some areas the rate was as high as one in three.

Personal responsibility is an important part of tackling the problem. But this is a hollow one if there is no active policy to change the alcohol culture that pervades Australian society.

Australians have been sold a dud through advertising and marketing. Many believe that excessive drinking is part of our culture. Despite the advertising budgets of the alcohol industry, government can positively shape attitudes to alcohol just as we do with other public health initiatives. We need the sporting heroes and other respected public figures to lead.

Alcohol-related violence and harm is a complex problem. It cuts across almost every government portfolio – police and emergency services, justice, tourism, family and community services, education and health. We need a whole-of-government approach that looks at education, marketing of alcohol, especially to young people, pricing and taxation, venue licensing and opening hours, harm minimisation and enforcement.

The recent five-year review of the Liquor Act 2007 and the Gaming and Liquor Administration Act 2007 had some positive recommendations, including a requirement for payment of an annual liquor licence fee based on venue risk. But there is no annual review of the licence itself, so NSW remains one of few places to grant liquor licences in perpetuity.

The measures that were part of the Newcastle trial are not the only solution, but the way alcohol is provided through licensed venues is important. At the very least, consideration should be given to extending the trial to other areas. In medicine, when we think we have a potential treatment we continue researching, expanding our research with larger trials until we are confident it is safe and works.

The Newcastle research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and the treatment measures should be the subject of continued research.

There are no simple solutions, but the NSW public needs to know that the NSW government understands there is a problem.

We need to see that whole-of-government NSW alcohol strategy that puts the health and safety of the public ahead of the alcohol industry and vested interests.

Professor Brian Owler is a Sydney neurosurgeon and Australian Medical Association NSW head.

PREVENTABLE: Up to one in three visits at emergency departments on Saturday nights are alcohol-related. The Newcastle alcohol trial should expand to to other areas, writes Brian Owler.

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Antarctica rescue: Aurora Australis spots stricken Akademik Shokalskiy

The Xue Long becomes visible to the Aurora Australis for the first time. Photo: Colin CosierAustralian icebreaker the Aurora Australis has spotted the stricken Akademik Shokalskiy on the horizon for the first time since it was asked to rescue the Russian vessel on Christmas Day.
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The Aurora has spent most of New Year’s Day ploughing through pack ice towards Chinese ship the Xue Long, which has also been waiting in the pack.

It is now 3.1 miles from the Xue Long and has made slow but steady progress through the ice, which has been broken up by the wind and is more flexible in places.

Heavy fog that has hampered rescue efforts for the past two days finally lifted on Wednesday mid-morning.

Watt Bay, near the Mertz Glacier, has been shrouded in low-hanging fog, preventing the helicopter on the Xue Long from flying because without a horizion pilots find it difficult to distinguish between ice floes and clouds.

The first part of the rescue will be carried out by the Chinese, who will use their helicopter to transport the 52 passengers from the Shokalskiy, which has been hired by a group of Australian scientists and tourists, to the Xue Long.

The Aurora will co-ordinate the second phase of the evacuation by shipping the Shokalskiy passengers from the Xue Long to the Aurora, using its barge.

The Australian ship spent Tuesday and Wednesday morning navigating a path through thick pack ice towards the Xue Long, which has been sitting within the pack for several days.

“We went in to see how far we could get in close to the Xue Long and let them know where some easy ice was,” Aurora captain Murray Doyle said.

The Xue Long is within about 18 kilometres of pack ice, which is needed so it can operate its helicopter when the rescue begins.

“[Captain Wang] has been sitting there because his helicopter doesn’t have floats, so it can’t fly over water.”

But to avoid getting caught in the pack itself, the Xue Long has been slowly moving back towards open water, Captain Doyle said.

Crew on board the Aurora, which is owned by P&O Maritime and leased to the Australian Antarctic Division, have been preparing a selection of dried food items to transfer to the Shokalskiy for the crew, who will remain on the beset vessel.

The Shokalskiy has been trapped by thick sea ice since Christmas Day. There is now about 22 kilometres of ice between the ship and open water.

Pack ice moves at the mercy of the wind and because the Shokalskiy is surrounded by pack ice, it moves with the ice. Over the past two days the ship has moved 1.3 nautical miles – about 2.4 kilometres.

Nicky Phillips and Colin Cosier are travelling in Antarctica as part of the Australian Antarctic Division’s media program.

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Growing party sets city seeking headache cure

Revellers came out in far greater numbers than expected to celebrate New Year, with early estimates of about 2 million people crowding around the central city area. This was nearly half a million more than predicted.
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The huge crowd made for a great party but also foreshadowed future problems about managing the burgeoning event.

Ten years ago, the crowd was half that number.

”The event has just become more and more popular, and that is something that we will have to take into consideration,” lord mayor Clover Moore, said.

As the celebrations grow larger so does the challenge of managing that number of people.

More than 170 people were arrested in the Sydney and northern area – another 13 were were sent to the sobering-up centre – in what the police viewed as a successful New Year’s Eve operation.

“Generally the crowds were well behaved, when you have that number of people,” NSW Police acting deputy commissioner David Hudson said.

”But as predicted a couple of days ago, we did have certain individuals who saw fit to ruin the evening for a number of people – exacerbated by excessive consumption of alcohol.”

The alcohol exclusion zones were very important, he said. The increase in those areas meant people with children could visit the city to enjoy the fireworks ”confident that they were not going to be standing next to some drunk or someone who’s going to be violent towards them”.

But by the early hours of New Year’s Day thousands of revellers had flocked to Beare Park in Elizabeth Bay – a venue with no alcohol ban – where residents reported that the party had become unruly.

”They started coming onto our property and climbing on cars and using our garden as a toilet,” said Jana Masarova, who lives adjacent to the park. There were only three toilets in the park, which was already full of drunk people, she said.

”We had planned to go down there to have a look at the fireworks but it was too dangerous,” Ms Masarova said.

The City of Sydney promised that the park would be better managed next year. ”[We] will consult with residents and police to minimise any behaviour that could mar this wonderful event,” a spokesman said.

Cr Moore, said the site had been overrun by an unexpected influx of backpackers and tourists and that the city’s cleaners had recovered several passports from the site.

Cr Moore on Wednesday morning visited the park, where a peak of 50 cleaners worked from daybreak until after lunch gathering four tonnes of rubbish and cleaning up broken glass on their hands and knees. This was just part of an extensive clean-up operation involving more than 350 workers and 60 trucks collecting 58 tonnes of rubbish, and which cost the city $300,000.

The lord mayor said she would consult with the state government about how better to manage crowds next year.

But she said she was against levying additional fees on revellers as a means of controlling numbers.

Despite a bashing in Kings Cross which left a teenager in a critical condition, emergency services said the celebrations were broadly in line with their expectations.

”The crowd swelled early in the evening making it difficult for our paramedics to move in and around,” NSW Ambulance deputy commissioner Mike Willis said.

Police said their crowd control efforts were successful, notwithstanding the arrests. ”You have to be realistic about the number of people [and] the amount of alcohol that is consumed,” Mr Hudson said.

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Spike Jonze taps into love in a virtual world in Her

More on HerMovie session timesFull movies coverage
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Years before the invention of Siri made people comfortable talking directly to their digital devices, Spike Jonze got the seed of an idea for a story about a romance between a man and his computer.

”About a decade ago, I saw an article online that said you could interact with an artificial intelligence program (called A.L.I.C.E.),” Jonze said during a recent interview about Her, his fourth feature film.

”So I IM’d (instant messaged) this address and got a little banter going back and forth, and for a moment I had this buzz of, ‘Wow, this thing is talking to me’. It didn’t take long to reveal it was just parroting back what it had already heard before, but for that 20 seconds I got the idea of a man having a relationship with an operating system.”

Jonze filed the idea away and says he ”didn’t really think about it until a few years later, when I realised just how intriguing this was, that the concept could be used to explore relationships, and it started to become much more”.

Did it ever. Her is being hailed by critics as a remarkably touching, deeply thoughtful achievement by Jonze, best known for his earlier mind-bending movies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, as well as his award-winning commercials and music videos. Her was named best film of 2013 by the US National Board of Review.

Set in a near-future Los Angeles, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as the not-quite-divorced loner Theodore, who pens love notes to strangers as an employee at the website BeautfulHandwrittenLetters南京夜网. Still hurting from the separation from his wife (played by Rooney Mara, seen mainly in dreamy flashbacks), Theodore is walking through his life in a fog of heartbreak until he is enticed by an ad for ”OS1: a new operating system, an intuitive entity that listens to you, knows you, understands you.” ”Samantha” becomes the virtual assistant of his dreams. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha brings order to Theodore’s digital life, organising his hard drive and emails. But before long, she becomes his inseparable, albeit disembodied, companion.

Despite its boy-meets-computer set-up, Her evolves into an earnest and subtly profound inquiry into what is both fulfilling and confounding about modern love.

”The biggest challenge, for sure, was creating a real, believable love story that people would engage with both characters, even though one half of the relationship is never seen,” Jonze says. Much of the film relies on close-ups of Phoenix’s face as he registers his character’s emotions and, by proxy, the emotions of his love interest.

”Joaquin is just so completely, naturally alive onscreen,” Jonze, who cast Phoenix as soon as he finished his first draft, says. ”Then I spent a year tinkering with the script, and every time I had a new version, I’d show it to him and we’d talk about it.”

Johansson has already received critical praise for the believability of her performance as the seductive operating system that tries to understand the human world and feel the weight of real emotions.

”I really tried to empathise with Samantha, to understand what her experience would be,” Jonze says. ”I cared about her as a real entity even though she’s without physical form, so I hoped others would, too.

”When Scarlett came in to audition, we ended up having this meeting that was seven or eight hours long. We talked about the movie, about relationships, about the character, then we’d read a scene and talk some more. At one point I was able to articulate the idea that when Samantha is created she doesn’t have any fears, just like we don’t when we’re born. She learns these self-doubts and insecurities. That’s when Scarlett said something like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,”’ Jonze says with a laugh.

Unlike many filmmakers who have brought to the screen a dystopian future of robots and rubble, Jonze has imagined in Her a comforting day-after-tomorrow of natural fabrics, rounded edges and muted colours.

”We weren’t trying to make a predictive movie that says this is what the future is going to look like,” Jonze says. ”Early on, K.K. [Barrett, the production designer] and I realised we could let that pressure go and make a future that is a feeling, and as it developed it became more utopic-feeling.

”It’s an LA love story, and I think LA is a hyper version of what modern life is. It’s easier in a lot of ways. The weather is great, there’s the beach, you can find great food everywhere, the coffee is great, even inexpensive clothes are really nice. And we’re never lost, we are never not in communication, because of this thing,” Jonze says, touching his smartphone. ”Yet, in this world where everything is easy and comfortable, there is still loneliness and isolation. Maybe even more so.”

San Francisco Chronicle

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Ashes 2014: Scott Borthwick gets dream call-up for England

Talent: Scott Borthwick at a recent Northern District training session. Photo: SuppliedScott Borthwick is a born-and-bred Englishman but that has not stopped one Sydney family from claiming the budding leg-spinner as an ”honorary Australian”.
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It might be a stretch for Australia to lay any dibs on the 23-year-old with the thick Geordie accent but the local system can at least claim some credit for Borthwick’s rise.

As recently as the weekend before Christmas, Borthwick was plying his trade with the Northern District club in Sydney’s grade competition but Graeme Swann’s shock retirement has left the spinner on the verge of making his Test debut on Friday.

Borthwick is no stranger to Australia, having played a season in Adelaide’s grade scene and also spent time at the city’s Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy, where he received tutelage from two of the best – Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill.

Add that to the six first-grade games he has played with Northern District and that is enough for the club’s president to label him one of ours.

”I’d call him an honorary Australian – and a decent Pom, too,” Mike Langford said.

No matter how thorough Australia’s dossier is on Borthwick, few on these shores would know him better than Langford, whose family has played host to the Englishman during his stint in Sydney.

It is not uncommon for the club’s visiting players to stay with the Langfords for a week until they find their feet in Sydney but an exception was made for Borthwick, who happily performed household chores.

”I’ve had other cricketers come out to stay with me and it’s ‘What can you do for me?’, hence my wife’s hesitation, but this kid just went out of his way to help,” Langford said.

”He came in and it was ‘how can I help you?’ which is a nice change from a lot of touring cricketers. He stayed the whole time he was with us and we got to know him very well,” added Langford, a father of three.

”My wife wants to adopt him as a fourth son. That’s the sort of bloke he is.”

Borthwick was at the club’s Christmas party and due to fly home the following day to prepare for the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka when he received a phone call from England coach Andy Flower informing him to scrap those plans.

Swann had retired and he was needed with the senior squad rather than England’s development team.

Although Borthwick has not played internationally against Australia, he should not be a complete stranger to the side having lined up alongside Brad Haddin in a game in November.

Langford recalls seeing the pair ”chatting seriously” that day but does not expect any charity from Haddin at the SCG should Borthwick make his debut.

Asked if Australia would attack him in the manner that ended Swann’s career, Haddin said: ”No doubt.”

Borthwick’s numbers with Northern District – 11 wickets at 35, and 219 runs (including a century) at 31 with the bat – are respectable, though the Test arena is a big leap from the grade scene.

”The standard in Sydney is very good, it’s very competitive,” Borthwick said.

”You come across some good players, especially when the state players are playing. I got what I needed to get out of it. I got through some overs and got to spend some time in the middle.”

Borthwick considers himself more a spinner than a batsman but with a first-class average of 31 in both disciplines he is clearly no slouch in either.

As a leggie on debut, he expects the Australian batsmen to attack him but is backing himself to spin the ball past them.

”When batters do come at you it gives you the chance to get some wickets,” he said. ”Being around the squad … really excites me and I’m thrilled to be here.”

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Run-shy England skip batting practice before Ashes finale at SCG

Their batting has been streets behind Australia and they’ve been terrorised by Mitchell Johnson this summer but England have snubbed an opportunity to try to iron out their problems before Friday’s fifth Test.
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While Australian captain Michael Clarke and most of his top six had a hit-out in the SCG training nets on Wednesday, their opponents’ pre-match practice was restricted to a fielding session on the ground. Down 4-0 in the Ashes series, and having been blown away by Australia again in Melbourne thanks to another poor batting performance, they have not picked up a bat since.

”I don’t think they’re in a great place, to be perfectly honest,” Australian vice-captain Brad Haddin said. ”I think you can probably tell a bit of that in their fielding the other day. I think that’s the first thing to go when you’re struggling a bit. All the team stuff, all the 1 per centers, they’re the first things to go. The batting and bowling, it’s an individual thing, but I think the team stuff looked like it was breaking a bit the other day.”

England’s fielding reached a new low with captain Alastair Cook as guilty as anyone thanks to a sitter he dropped at first slip on the fourth and final day of the Boxing Day Test at the weekend. It followed another chance that Cook dropped after wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow failed to move.

Yet it is their failures with the bat that have been most damaging, clearing the way for Australia to dramatically turn a 10-month period in which they had not won a Test. Only twice in eight innings have England managed to pass 300, and Australia boast the top five scorers in the series, with Kevin Pietersen scraping into sixth place with 285 runs at an average of 35.62.

Australia’s eight hundreds for the Ashes campaign are matched by only one from England – an admirable maiden century by all-rounder Ben Stokes in Perth. And the tourists’ shortcomings have not only been in the ranks of their specialist batsmen. While Australia’s lower order have got them out

of trouble on several occasions with important partnerships, there has been little or no resistance to the onslaught led by Johnson on the England tail.

They lost 5-6 to be rolled for 179 in their second innings at the MCG, squandering their best chance of a win in this series.

Haddin, however, was reluctant to criticise Cook and the England leadership on Wednesday. ”It’s not my place to judge how Alastair runs his team. We have to make sure our own backyard is in order,” he said. ”I’m not concerned about moves he makes … it’s hard enough making sure we’re up for every game.”

Asked why England had declined to bat, their emerging leg-spinner Scott Borthwick said: ”No reason whatsoever. We just had a nice runaround, a bit of catching and worked on our skills.”

The 23-year-old from Durham was a mid-tour addition to the squad after the shock retirement of Graeme Swann before the fourth Test, and is tipped to make his debut in Sydney. He disputed the perception that England are in disarray.

”The lads are sticking together,” Borthwick said. ”We had a great fielding session, and our energy was fantastic. We were running around taking great catches and everyone was patting each other on the back. The spirit is brilliant. We’re trying our best to get a good win in Sydney.”

As for Australia, Ryan Harris (knee) and Shane Watson (groin) did not train on Wednesday – Harris and fellow fast bowlers Johnson and Peter Siddle had a pool session instead – but there remained optimistic that they would be fit for Friday. If they are cleared the other possible change to the XI is a recall for all-rounder James Faulkner in place of George Bailey.

”We would love to have the same group go out that we did at the start of the tour, and if they are right to go they deserve that right to come out in this fifth Test,” Haddin said.

Twitter – @ChrisBarrett_

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Jackson Strong, motocross star, in hospital after backyard fireworks mishap

Jackson Strong, who made a name for himself in the motocross arena, was hurt in a fireworks mishap on New Year’s Eve.Motocross star Jackson Strong was among several people injured in backyard fireworks incidents in NSW on New Year’s Eve.
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An ambulance spokeswoman said paramedics responded to reports of a fireworks explosion on Milbrulong Road, Lockhart, in south-western NSW’s Riverina region, about 12.10am on Wednesday.

She said two patients were taken to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital but Strong was reported to be the more badly hurt. He suffered a serious leg injury as well as chest and facial injuries.

He was flown to hospital by helicopter and then by plane to Sydney, where he was admitted to the burns unit of St George Hospital.

“His left leg around his thigh is the worst part,” his father Lyndon said.

“He will pull through, no worries at all.”

Strong, 22, made a name for himself in the motocross arena, rising from performing as a youth at the Lockhart Show to bagging a swag of medals on the world stage. The reigning X Games Best Trick gold medallist has ridden for the action sports show Nitro Circus.

A 24-year-old man suffered burns to his face and large cuts above both eyes after a fireworks accident at a property at Waukivory, north of Newcastle, at 10.37pm on Tuesday, a NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said.

The victim was taken to Gloucester Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, then flown to John Hunter Hospital in a serious condition.

He underwent emergency surgery on Wednesday amid fears that he could lose the sight in both eyes.

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