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  • Maitland plans more off-leash dog areas

    HAPPY: Vicki McDowall says dogs like Isis need to play. Picture: Simone De PeakMORE dogs in Maitland will be running free – gums flapping and tails wagging – if the city council proceeds with its plan to create more off-leash areas.
    Nanjing Night Net

    Maitland local government area has 12,184 dogs registered and this is expected to increase in line with population growth.

    Councillors are considering a plan to introduce five new off-leash areas, with two further sites planned as part of a new development in Lochinvar.

    Of the six current off-leash areas, the council proposes to scrap three which are no longer considered suitable.

    Maitland mayor Peter Blackmore said there were ‘‘quite a number of dog owners who have been requesting this’’.

    Pet groomer Vicki McDowall, who owns Groom N Dogs in Maitland, supports the extra off-leash areas.

    ‘‘It encourages people to play with their dogs,’’ Ms McDowall said. ‘‘Too many dogs are left at home and they start barking because they’re lonely.’’

    Dogs liked company and having humans around them, she said.

    ‘‘Dogs socialising with other dogs means they will be better behaved and well-balanced.’’

    The council should consider fencing off-leash areas, Ms McDowall said.

    ‘‘It can be a danger if dogs are off leash.’’

    A council report said fencing would be installed in areas where boundaries were unclear.

    ‘‘Fencing is a high priority, however, funding is dependent on future budgets and grant applications,’’ the report said.

    Cr Blackmore said the council would first gauge the use of off-leash areas and the responsibility of dog owners.

    ‘‘Once the popularity is displayed, I feel confident we’ll look at further amenities,’’ he said.

    Cr Blackmore, who is a dog owner, said there was demand for off-leash areas.

    ‘‘You really want to take dogs off leash at certain times, but of course you are mindful of the safety of other people, particularly young children,’’ he said.

    The council was to have considered the plan at its meeting last night but it has been postponed for a decision at its next meeting.

    New off-leash areas

    ■ Rathluba Lagoon

    ■ Anambah sporting fields

    ■ Les Circuit, Gillieston Heights

    ■ Lorn side of Belmore Bridge

    ■ Alliance Street, East Maitland

    ■ Lochinvar, two sites proposed

    ■ Bolwarra-Largs, site to be investigated

    Off-leash areas to be retained

    ■ Verge Street, Telarah

    ■ Bakers Brickyard Quarry, Raworth

    ■ A&D Lawrence fields, Thornton

    Off-leash areas to be scrapped

    ■ Vi Denny-Bowtell netball courts, Telarah

    ■ Greenhills Gardens, East Maitland

    ■ Beryl Humble Oval, Tenambit

    Source: Maitland City Council

  • Abuse victims shocked by Pell’s Vatican post

    Archbishop of Sydney cardinal George Pell, second from left, in Vatican City last week. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)CARDINAL George Pell’s appointment to a top Vatican post is ‘‘unsettling’’, ‘‘disappointing’’ and ‘‘a deadset shocker’’, say victims of the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse crisis and their families.
    Nanjing Night Net

    The cardinal’s move to Rome at the end of March after he gives evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse shocked people who campaigned for the historic inquiry.

    Pope Francis named Cardinal Pell as head of a new group to reform the Vatican’s administration and finances in a surprise announcement on Monday.

    Australia’s first ambassador to the Holy See Tim Fischer said it was a wise move.

    But, Hunter abuse spokesman Peter Gogarty, and royal commission campaigners Chrissie and Anthony Foster, of Victoria, condemned the appointment.

    ‘‘This is a brand new job that gives George Pell an opportunity to leave this country in five weeks and there will be nothing compelling him to return to Australia to answer questions about anything raised at the royal commission in future,’’ Mr Gogarty said. ‘‘It’s a deadset shocker.’’

    The commission hearing will consider the case of child sexual abuse victim John Ellis and how the Sydney Archdiocese handled his Towards Healing claim and legal case against it.

    Mr and Mrs Foster, whose two daughters were sexually assaulted by a priest, said George Pell needed to face the consequences of the Church’s actions in Australia before going to Rome.

    NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who campaigned with the Newcastle Herald for a royal commission, said the new position was ‘‘disturbing’’.

    A spokeswoman for Cardinal Pell and the Sydney Archdiocese did not respond to questions.

  • Thousands of ‘super trucks’ set for Hunter

    A NEW plan to upgrade the Golden Highway could lead to more freight moving through the Port of Newcastle, boosting economic activity but potentially putting thousands of trucks up to 25-metres long on city roads.
    Nanjing Night Net

    The proposal, to be launched today at State Parliament, promotes the highway, stretching from the Upper Hunter to Dubbo, as an alternate route between the agricultural Orana region in the state’s central and north-west, and the Hunter and Sydney.

    It would cater for ‘‘super B-double’’ trucks that cannot use the congested Great Western Highway into Sydney, where only 19-metre-long vehicles are permitted through the Blue Mountains.

    About 180 to 200 trucks a day coming from areas such as Dubbo and Mudgee could be using the Golden Highway route instead by 2031. Trucks would head down the Hunter Expressway then the M1 to Sydney, or be lured instead to the Port of Newcastle.

    Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner will release the proposal, along with two new infrastructure plans setting out priorities for the region, months after they were submitted to the federal government.

    Part of the broader Hunter Economic Infrastructure Plan, compiled by Infrastructure NSW and Regional Development Australia Hunter, the highway proposal could establish an economic case for more goods to move through the Port of Newcastle, creating jobs and investment.

    It could also help the city to be finally placed on the national highway network.

    RDA Hunter chief executive Todd Williams said there was capacity to boost activity through the port, which the state government is set to lease to the private sector.

    The highway proposal would tie in with national infrastructure priorities for enhancing freight networks.

    It would boost the economies of both regions, supporting the resources and agricultural sectors.

    ‘‘If we have the capability, we should be chasing these types of opportunities,’’ Mr Williams said.

    Freight operators had shown interest in the idea because it would allow them to use 25-metre ‘‘super B-double’’ trucks instead of 19-metre B-doubles.

    But the plan would likely encounter some opposition from residents along the route, particularly in Newcastle where concerns have been raised about the number of heavy vehicles around the port and Mayfield.

    Super B-doubles are permitted in Newcastle, according to Roads and Maritime Services maps, but only on certain roads, such as Industrial Drive.

    The proposal recognises the need for upgrades to the Golden Highway, a state highway where annually an average 65 crashes occur, including 35 that result in injuries and one or two fatalities.

    It notes the first 10kilometres of the road is currently at capacity and recommends further investigation of improvements and overtaking lanes.

    The number of trucks traversing the region is already set to soar significantly.

    About 1000 heavy trucks a day, or nearly 50 trucks an hour, will traverse the Golden Highway by 2031.

    And two-way movements of full trucks would increase from 1031 a day to 2020 on the New England Highway west of Singleton.

    West of Branxton, trucks will increase from 1216 to 2446.

    B-doubles are trucks with two trailers that can be up to 25metres long and 4.5metres high.

    The standard is 19metres, with the longer version known as ‘‘super B-doubles’’ that can only travel on approved routes.

    Operators consider the larger trucks more efficient, but also say they are safer because fewer trucks overall end up on roads than if conventional semi-trailers only are used.

    ‘‘Super B-doubles’’ are permitted on major roads in the Hunter, but are restricted from using some bridges.

    The vehicles are dwarfed by B-triples, referred to as road trains, which are 35-metre giants.

  • Police must wait to interview injureddriver

    DETECTIVES are waiting for the alleged driver of a car involved in a police pursuit and crash that injured sixpeople at Millers Forest on Monday to recover from surgery before they can formally interview him.
    Nanjing Night Net

    Newcastle City local area command and the Newcastle Crash Investigation Unit will head a critical incident investigation into the accident, which occurred at the intersection of Turners Road and Raymond Terrace Road about 12.45pm.

    Detective Inspector Peter Mahon said all circumstances, including the actions of police, would be examined, but declined to comment on why the Holden, driven by a man and carrying three other passengers, initially came under the attention of police.

    It’s believed police attempted to stop the vehicle before a pursuit was initiated down Turners Road.

    Shortly after, police terminated the pursuit due to the dirt road and the vehicle’s ‘‘manner of driving’’. The pursuing police may not have witnessed the Holden and a silver Ford Fairmont collide and are believed to have come upon the crash site at the intersection to Raymond Terrace Road.

    The impact of the crash mangled both vehicles and flipped one onto its roof, with emergency services working to free at least four trapped passengers in the cars, with one rescue lasting more than an hour.

    All four occupants of the Holden - two men, aged 50 and 43, and two women, aged 41 and 46 - were taken to John Hunter Hospital on Monday afternoon.

    The alleged male driver of the vehicle had surgery on Tuesday.

    Detective Inspector Mahon said it was ‘‘too early to predict’’ when police would be given the green-light by hospital staff to interview him.

    All patients are listed as being in a stable condition, according to a Hunter New England Health spokeswoman.

    The two occupants of the Ford, a man and woman, were taken to John Hunter Hospital in a stable condition.

    Detective Inspector Mahon said the injured police officer, taken to Maitland Hospital for observation, had sustained a sore neck during the pursuit.

    He was discharged from hospital on Monday night and immediately went back to work, he said.

    The scene of a car accident on the corner of Turners Rd and Maitland Rd, Millers Forest. Picture by SIMONE DE PEAK.

  • MOVIES: Tracks – a desert journey

    TRAILBLAZER: Mia Wasikowska in the Australian film Tracks.IN today's over-connected world, many would probably envy Robyn Davidson's solitary trek across Australia.
    Nanjing Night Net

    With just four camels and a dog as company, writer and nomad Davidson's nine-month journey gained such attention back in 1977, it expanded from a National Geographic story to a book - and is finally finding new life as a film.

    Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska, who plays Davidson, says Tracks is just as relevant now, maybe even more - thanks to technology, where you always feel connected.

    "The feeling of that is heightened," she said. But even though the need is greater, Wasikowska admits it's a double-edged sword, because "it's now hard to get lost".

    For Davidson, who was 27 when she walked from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia, it's one of the sad things about today's world.

    "The tragic thing is that it's becoming impossible to actually do that [journey]," she said.

    "We're becoming so accessible and linked in everywhere that the very action of disappearing somewhere where you can just be you - it's becoming almost impossible to do."

    To see the continuing impact of her journey, some 37 years later, is astonishing to the writer.

    "This one little decision from one little person and suddenly it's all this," Davidson said.

    "I do find it very odd."

    Tracks first began life in the early '80s when Davidson sold the rights for the book.

    One thing she was certain about - she didn't want it to be a big Hollywood film.

    The other, which she discovered many years later watching TV series In Treatment, was that Wasikowska should play her.

    She initially thought the Canberra-born actor was American, so good was her accent. Over time it became more and more apparent that the 24-year-old was perfect for the part.

    "Not that she was like me or anything else but just that she was very, very good at what she does," Davidson said.

    Wasikowska has been in adaptations before but unlike Alice in Wonderland or Jane Eyre, she could actually meet her character in real life for Tracks, although initially she didn't want to.

    "It was so strange but obviously I did. I just had to get over having a panic attack about it," she said.

    "We met two weeks before we started filming, I did a camel training boot camp for a few days."

    Davidson was surprised at how quickly Wasikowska threw herself into it, walking straight into the yards and picking up the nose line for the creatures.

    The young actress immediately found the camels, her main co-stars, to be endearing and sweet.

    "You always think of a big animal as an elephant or a hippo or something you can't really approach.

    "They're like big dogs and just have really funny, distinctive personalities," she said. AAP