Two Paddington Queenslanders destroyed in massive blaze

Jun 20 2019

Fire has destroyed two Queenslander houses at Paddington on Sunday morning. Photo: Wendy Hughes Police closed Warmington St and some surrounding streets while the fire was brought under control. Photo: Wendy Hughes

The fire sent smoke across the city as Brisbane awoke on Sunday morning. Photo: Wendy Hughes

Fire crews were called around 5.30am to the blaze which engulfed two houses. Photo: Supplied

A Paddington cafe has set-up a donation jar for the local residents whose homes were destroyed by fire on Sunday morning.

Owner of Remy’s Dane Huitfeldt said the sister of one of his employees had been living in one of the Queenslanders and after the fire gutted two houses, he had started fundraising.

“Paddington is a fairly community-orientated suburb,” he said.

“We might organise something a little bit more official and maybe hold an actual fundraising event later if the family is happy for us to do that on their behalf,” he said.

“I’m one of the partner’s at a restaurant a few doors down and we will probably do a fundraiser there as well.” A cafe around the corner from the Paddington house fire have started a collection pic.twitter苏州美甲美睫培训学校/x4IIEARDxN— Casey Briggs (@CaseyBriggs) September 3, 2016

Queensland Fire Service was called to the fire which had started in a Warmington St house and caught onto the neighbouring house shortly after 5.30am on Sunday. Fire crews worked for an hour to control the blaze and prevent it from spreading to surrounding properties which were evacuated.

It is believed all occupants managed to escape without serious injury, but two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries, including a fire officer suffering heat exhaustion.

Acting Inspector Chris Ryan said the homes on both sides and at the rear of the two houses, numbers 25 and 25A, were evacuated. Twelve fire crews attended and brought the blaze under control at 6.39am.

One local resident said his girlfriend woke him up and alerted him to the fire.

“I was mortified – I couldn’t believe I had slept through it with all the fire trucks in the street.”

A Queensland Fire Service spokeswoman said both houses had suffered structural collapse.

Friends of the uninsured occupants of one of the houses started a Go Fund Me page to help them, and by 7pm on Sunday had already gathered more than $21,000 in pledged support.

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Curious case of MP Jai Rowell and the Wollondilly charity gumboots

Jun 20 2019

Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell hands over signed gumboots to the council on Friday. Photo: Supplied.It’s the curious case of the MP whose charity gumboots have shown up long after the rain’s dried up.

Once-in-a-generation floods ravaged homes and businesses in south-western Sydney’s Picton in early June.

In the weeks that followed, a “wellies for Wollondilly” campaign raised money at school mufti days, fetes and local businesses for dozens of storm-damaged businesses and homes.

Local MP Jai Rowell had a pair of boots resting on his desk in question time and had them signed by Premier Mike Baird, Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian and most of the cabinet, many of whom wore them for a YouTube video.

But those boots are now at the centre of a political storm – after the independent Mayor of Wollondilly Simon Landow says the MP never produced the boots as planned for the Big Day In Festival on July 31, featuring the musical stylings of Shannon Noll and a charity auction.

“It’s disappointing they weren’t there, there were some people who were really looking forward to bidding,” said Mr Landow. “They were one of the showcase items and if he’s kept them, well that’s disappointing. I haven’t heard back from him.”

Mr Rowell, a mini-Liberal powerbroker, is famed within the party room but not especially popular for moving between the party’s factions.

Some have questioned whether he was holding on to the boots for later political fundraising of his own.

“We’re all very confused,” one MP said.

But Mr Rowell has strongly denied there was ever a specific auction in mind for the boots.

He said he had always planned to hand them over to the council but had recently been sick with the flu for the past few weeks and was intending to meet them this month.

“There’s nothing untoward about a pair of $20 boots, I can assure you,” Mr Rowell said. “It’s my enemies trying to stitch me up.”

Mr Rowell notes his own fundraising efforts for the storm, affiliated with the local Lion’s Club, have raised more than $90,000.

But after taking a call and questions from Fairfax Media, Mr Rowell handed the boots in sooner than expected.

Within an hour he sent through a photo and video of him handing over the gumboots to the council’s appreciative general manager.

“Why it’s taken six weeks, I cannot say,” Mayor Landow said. “I guess we’ll just put them on eBay now. We were just about to close the flood appeal, too.

“I hope the issue is still in people’s hearts”.

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Wait ends

Jun 20 2019

Bacchus Marsh’s wait for another shot at its first Ballarat Football League premiership is over.

The Cobras surged into their first grand final since 1999 with an emphatic 48-point win over Sunbury in the second semi-final at the Eastern Oval on Saturday.

IN CONTROL: Rhys McNay out-points Dwain Sanderson in this marking contest. Picture: Lachlan Bence

For the second week running coach Travis Hodgson and his players walked into rooms packed by frenzied supporterspost-match.

While rapt to be through to the grand final,Hodgson was quick to remind his players the job was not yet done.

Hodgson said the Cobras had written their own script to progress.

“Intwo weeks we’ll write the script again as to whether we get what we have been talking about all year.”

Bacchus Marsh set up victory with a sensational start –kicking seven goals in the opening 20 minutes of the first quarter.

The Cobras led by up to 41 points in the first and second terms, but Sunbury refused to give up the chase and 11minutes into the third stanza moved within 13 points, but that was a close as it was to get.

Bacchus Marsh’s two prize recruits Jarrah Maksymow and Damian Cupido, each signed after the start of the season, starred in attack.

Maksymow kicked seven goals and Cupido five.

Sunbury now plays Lake Wendoureein the preliminary final at the Eastern Oval on Saturday.

Lakers defeated a wounded Redan by 21pointsin Sunday’s first semi-final –11.14 (80) to 8.11 (59) –after trailing for most ofthe day.

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Africa safari driving tips: Why preparing for a holiday can be almost as much fun as doing it

Jun 20 2019

There was a moment of self-doubt, and it came while I was watching Top Gear.

There is a special episode of that British motoring series that was filmed a few years ago in Botswana, in which the old (and obviously far better) team of Jeremy, Richard and James are challenged to drive some cheap cars across southern Africa. About the middle of the journey they enter the Okavango Delta region, and attempt to drive to a place called Third Bridge.

And that is when the thought occurred to me: I’m going to be driving over there soon. In that same national park. On that same road. And that road looks very, very sandy.

See, I know just enough about driving on sand to realise that I don’t have any clue about driving on sand. It is a special skill in the four-wheel-driving world that involves reducing the pressure in your tyres, keeping the gear low, the revs high and your speed up as you attempt to cross the ultra-soft terrain without getting bogged.

That is the theory, but I have never put it into practice. And yet soon I will have to do exactly that, on those tracks featured on my TV, in a wildlife reserve filled with deadly animals that would be pretty happy to snack on me should I turn my back while trying to dig out my car.

Like I said: self-doubt. What was I thinking signing up for this?

The 4WD journey into the Okavango will be part of a month-long road-trip adventure that I am undertaking with my girlfriend through southern Africa. We are planning to drive through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, calling in at all the national parks and game reserves we can.

Sounds amazing, right? It also sounds challenging, and a little scary. I am not fond of the idea of becoming one of those quirky news stories: “Tourist attacked by lion while changing tyre”.   Fact: it’s impossible to see a lion in the wild and not get “In the Jungle” stuck in your head. A-wim-oh-way, a-wim-oh-way… #travel #southafrica #shamwari #africa #wildlife #lion #adventure #picoftheday #travellerauA photo posted by Ben Groundwater (@bengroundwater) on Aug 24, 2016 at 11:19pm PDT

Fortunately, I have plans to at least lessen the chances of winding up as a cautionary tale. I’m taking a 4WD course in Lithgow, NSW. I am going to a community college for a few days to learn the basics of engine mechanics. And I am doing a first aid course so I can at least provide some sort of assistance in the event of a lion mauling.

(For your amusement, see the “WikiHow” web page on surviving a lion attack. It includes such gems as: “Knowing what to expect can help you stay calm. For example, know that the lion is going to growl when it charges you. This can shake the ground beneath you, but know this is normal for a lion attack.”)

In undertaking these preparations for the great unknown, however, I have discovered something truly great: a holiday doesn’t have to begin and end with the time you spend away from home. When it requires extensive planning it becomes that much more exciting; you can extend the life of a month-long holiday to the best part of a year.

The 4WD course in Lithgow will be part of my African adventure. I will travel to the bush for the day and get shown the ropes while I am mentally applying this new knowledge to African conditions. Same with the mechanics course, and the first aid course.

Even all the internet research, the emails and bookings have become part of this grand adventure. I have had to figure out where to hire a 4WD from in South Africa. I have had to decide on a rough itinerary, taking into account the condition of roads that I have never driven on before and that, in all likelihood, are not going to be the sealed, multi-laned beauties that I am used to.

I have had to work out how to gain access to national parks in three countries, how to book campsites in those parks, and where to buy food and petrol and other supplies along the way.

It has been a lot of work, but none of this is a chore when you are planning for the holiday of a lifetime. If anything, it adds to the excitement, to the anticipation. The more work you have to put in, the greater the reward.

So yes, I have some lingering doubt in my ability to tackle sandy 4WD tracks in the Botswana wilderness. I am also hoping we don’t break down and I don’t have to stare at the engine and pretend I know what I’m taking about, and that at no point will I have to put my knowledge of lion growls to practical use.

But preparing for that to happen, it turns out, is a huge part of the fun.

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​See also: 13 signs you’re too old to be a backpacker

See also: 15 lessons every traveller learns in their 20s

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Australian architect launches revolution with arrival of biggest ever 3D printer

Jun 20 2019

Dr Gardiner’s methods using the FreeFAB Wax system could resurrectthe use of waffle slabs, which are generally too expensive using traditional methods. Photo: Laing O’Rourke James Gardiner designed 3D-printed coral scaffold to encourage coral reef growth. His designs are part of an exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Nick Moir

James Gardiner design for an artificial reef.

The 3D wax mould process: 1) the mould is printed; 2) the wax mould is milled to give fine detail; 3) the concrete is poured; 4) the wax is removed for reuse; 5) the final intricate building component.

James Gardiner’s early design of a 3D-printed artificial reef eight months after it was submerged off the coast of Bahrain. Photo: Reef Design Lab

If architect James Gardiner is even half right, 3D printing is about to launch a digital design revolution.

Dr Gardiner believes it will transform our  world like the industrial revolution did in the 18th and 19th centuries.

His enthusiasm for the technology is infectious.

“Using 3D-printed wax moulds for concrete components, we will have a completely different paradigm. This is transformative technology,” he said.

A 3D printer uses technology like a traditional “ink-jet” printer but builds up layers in three dimensions using wax, concrete or plastics to create a solid structure or mould.

Typical construction uses uniform, mass-produced, prefabricated products; 3D printing allows for one-off, creative designs at a fraction of the price.

As well as changing the way we think about the built environment, Dr Gardiner wants to further develop his work on 3D-printed artificial reefs.

Some of Dr Gardiner’s designs for artificial ocean reefs are on display this month at the Powerhouse Museum’s exhibition, Out of Hand, Materialising the Digital.

“Most artificial reefs use simple, cheap materials that are simplistic and homogenous. They are not well suited for their purpose,” Dr Gardiner said.

“Real reef assemblage is complex and multifunctional.”

His designs are visually impressive, but do they work?

James Smith is a biologist at the University of NSW and an expert on artificial reefs. He took a look at Dr Gardiner’s designs.

He said while prefabricated steel and concrete reefs have proven cost-effective, he is interested in the development of 3D-printed reefs with fine-scale texture.

“The designed reefs we typically deploy lack much surface texture, and we notice that the marine life that colonises these reef surfaces can sometimes fall off,” Dr Smith said. “This could be reduced with more complex surface textures.

“The current prefab steel and concrete structures are likely to be the go-to for some time but I would love to see some more innovation of surface textures of these prefab reefs though, and 3D printing may be a great way to explore this.”

David Lennon runs the company Reef Design Lab. He worked with Dr Gardiner on his early reef designs.

“What I loved and was excited about was that James’ 3D-printed reefs allowed for a more organic and natural structure,” Mr Lennon said.

“The complexity of structure in a reef relates to the species diversity. But these structures aren’t just good for the fish and coral, the aesthetics of it are good for tourism, too.”

The company Dr Gardiner works for, Laing O’Rourke, is about to launch the world’s biggest 3D printer using Dr Gardiner’s innovations. It will make wax moulds for concrete construction components. He said this would allow architects and designers to think outside the box.

“No one thinks about making buildings like the Queen Victoria Building any more. The labour costs would be prohibitive. However, using printed wax moulds we make, architects can start to think about completely new designs.”

Most one-off bespoke panels for construction are beyond the budgets of most builders. He said his technology will bring these costs down.

“With 3D-printed architectural components we can incorporate aesthetic, structural, acoustic, thermal into a single design. It will bring meaningful change into the construction industry,” Dr Gardiner said.

“A process that would have taken days or weeks can be a two-hour process. And we recycle all our materials.”

The 3D printing and milling process can achieve high-resolution detail. “We could mill [Michelangelo’s] statue of David,” Dr Gardiner said.

The curator of the Powerhouse exhibition, Matthew Connell, said 3D printing is allowing designers across the board to think things anew.

“It allows for the role of the organic, for biomimicry, to return to design,” he said. “We are used to straight, Euclidean shapes, but 3D printing allows us to jump constraint of design.”

The artefacts on display at the Powerhouse are very diverse, including the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine and a Michael Schmidt-designed printed dress originally modelled by Dita Von Teese​.

The exhibition opened this weekend as part of the Sydney Design Festival.

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Ghosts of Biloela app conjures ghostly tale of girls exiled on Cockatoo Island

May 20 2019

Historical drama: (from left) Eliza Cook, 11, Bella Formica, 12, and Astrid Sealey, 12, from Manly Village Public School tried out the new app at Cockatoo Island on Friday. Photo: Peter RaeThe young girls were exiled from society on an island, abused by the school’s violent principal, accused of being evil, and often sentenced to solitary confinement in sandstone cells several metres underground. They were often left to rot, forgotten by the rest of society.

This is the plot of a new drama, Ghosts of Biloela, which was based on the historical testimony of delinquent and wayward girls sent to Biloela Reformatory and Industrial School for Girls (1871-1888) on Sydney’s Cockatoo Island.

Rather than unfolding on a television screen, the producers of a new smartphone app use geolocation to tie each spooky audio story to the island.

The cast includes well-known actors including Ashleigh Cummings (Puberty Blues, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries); Jada​ Alberts (Cleverman​, Wentworth), Sophie Hensser​ (Love Child, Underbelly), Nathan Lovejoy​ (Sammy J & Randy, The Code) and Marcus Graham (Secret City, Hiding).

Creative producers Jesse Cox and writer Que Minh Luu “fell in love with the girls” when they read their testimony at a Royal Commission into Public Charities in 1873 that resulted in Biloela’s closure.

“We wanted to present it as a high school drama but in the worst possible high school,”, said Mr Cox.

Although the girls suffered from the worst possible abuse and deprivation, the producers were impressed by the girls’ humour and agency – they smuggled food to each other, and drew graffiti on walls in protest. Riots were frequent, and when some girls gave evidence at the Royal Commission they had bruises and cuts on their bodies and faces from beatings by the superintendent George Lucas.

“Mr. Lucas came into the dormitory and saw some figures on the wall,” 14 year old Katie Solomon told the commission. “He was very angry about them, and caught me by the hair of the head and told me to rub them out. I said I should not. He then dragged me down, and put his foot on my back and stood on me. He knocked my head against the wall, and said he would take my hair to rub the figures out with it. “

The girls were often put in solitary confinement for two weeks in cold and rat-infested sandstone cells measuring about one metre by two metres.

Ms Lu said it was “outrageous” that orphaned boys who were living in the ship Vernon, which was moored off Cockatoo Island, were educated and treated far better than the girls. Often the girls were asked to mend the boys’ clothes.

When Ms Lu and Mr Cox tested an earlier version of the app, they found it was a bit too bleak and dark.

Now it is more ghostly and a bit more like Harry Potter, and little less like The Shawshank Redemption, said Ms Lu.

Bella Formica, 12, Astrid Sealey, 12 and Eliza Cook, 11, tested the new app on Friday. The girls, from Manly Village Public School, said it was a scary introduction to the history of Biloela.

“It was like woo hoo – ghosty and scary,” said Astrid Sealey. “It was pretty shocking to hear how they were treated, often beaten up for no reason.”

The girls seemed most shocked by the poor food and the lack of toilets – the girls were locked up from 6pm to 6am with only a bucket if they were desperate.

“They only ate slop,” said Astrid, who that morning had breakfasted on eggs and croissant.

To download the app developed for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which manages Cockatoo Island, visit iTunes or Google Play.

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Playgroup a source of ‘advice and support’ for fathers

May 20 2019

Jonathon Smith takes his three-year-old daughter, Silver, to a weekly playgroup in Clovelly. Photo: Janie Barrett Playgroup is a “great source of advice and support” for Jonathon Smith. Photo: Janie Barrett

Attending playgroup with his daughter, Silver, began as a necessity for Jonathon Smith when he couldn’t get her into day care, but it has quickly become a favourite activity for both dad and daughter.

Mr Smith is part of a growing group of fathers who regularly take their children to the weekly gatherings held across NSW, which last about three hours and include free play, arts and crafts, organised games and morning tea.

After his wife’s job brought them to Sydney from London, he initially planned to look after his daughter for a few months before going back to work, but the hunt for day-care centres proved harder than he had expected.

“As I went to a few it started dawning on me that they’ve got waiting lists that are years long,” Mr Smith said.

“I started to get a little concerned. We didn’t know anyone and the main thing was I wanted my daughter to interact with other kids.”

At one of the centres, someone who had been in a similar situation suggested a playgroup across the road.

“It was brilliant,” Mr Smith said. “Our friends are mostly through the people we’ve met at playgroup.

“It’s a great source of advice and support. There’s no reason dads can’t benefit from that as much as anyone.”

Karen Bevan, CEO of Playgroup NSW, said fathers and grandfathers are now playing a greater care-giving role and becoming more engaged with the sessions.

“These last two or three years, we’ve started to see the impacts of paid parental leave and companies starting to give dads more time off,” Ms Bevan said.

“When dads are involved you see greater outcomes for kids, there’s pretty strong research around this.

“They’re also bringing to playgroup all the diversity we want children to see, whether that be gender or race.”

Despite playing a greater part in raising their children, fathers like Mr Smith who take on the role of the primary caregiver remain relatively rare.

Out of the 12,000 families that are Playgroup NSW members, only about 400 list fathers as the primary contact.

However, changing workplace laws and social attitudes have seen more fathers taking time off work to take care of children, according to research by Save the Children Australia.

Nationally, about 60 per cent of fathers with children who were under 18 in 2015 took up to two weeks off work after the arrival of their child, and 20 per cent took between three weeks and three months off.

In comparison, 50 per cent of fathers with children who are now over 18 took one week or less off, and only 16 per cent took more than one week’s leave.

For Mr Smith, going from a job in advertising he enjoyed to looking after a child was initially “a bit of a culture shock”.

“Your day’s suddenly structured around naps,” he said. “But I’m getting to watch my daughter grow up every day and I think it’s something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.”

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Protecting antiquities in Syria and Libya from Islamic State

May 20 2019

Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim has been tasked with protecting Syria’s rich history. Photo: Andrew Cowan The ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, was dubbed the “Venice of the Sands” before IS demolished its artefacts. Photo: SANA

Maamoun Abdulkarim remains hopeful of recovering Syrian artefacts from Palmyra. Photo: Andrew Cowan

IS fighters have reduced Palmyra to “the monumental ruins of a great city”. Photo: SANA

The Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, once the world’s largest standing Buddhas, were destroyed by the Taliban. Photo: Stephen Dupont

Just three hours before Islamic State entered Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra in May 2015, three big trucks fled in the opposite direction.

They were carrying priceless artefacts: hundreds of statues, glasses, ceramics – relics of one of history’s greatest cities, saved from the thievery and weapons of ideologues.

“But unfortunately, we could not move the site,” says Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, drily, sadly.

The destruction that followed made international news. Beautiful old monuments were reduced to rubble by IS’ spiteful explosives.

Nevertheless, Abdulkarim retains hope. In the piles of stones left behind by the retreating jihadists a year later he sees not dusty chaos but a plan for rebuilding: a Lego-bag of possibility, stones torn apart but intact, whose arcs of destruction can be reversed.

With the help of computer modelling he is plotting how this ancient city may rise again from the desert, each stone lifted to its old place, restored to show future generations what was lost and rediscovered.

And within them, or near them, will sit the antiquities guarded from war by the dedication of a few hundred archaeologists led by Prof Abdulkarim: nerds, geeks, very un-Indiana-Jones types who have dedicated themselves to saving history. Hidden from war

Abdulkarim is not cast in a heroic mould – he is a modest academic who in the summer of 2012 was offered the unenviable job of director-general for the antiquities and museums of Syria.

He accepted on one condition: that every single museum in the country must close immediately, and every object within them come to Damascus, to be hidden from war.

As a result, 99 per cent of the country’s historical objects have been saved from the conflict that has claimed so many lives, and is still without sign of ending.

Small statues can be moved, archaeological finds can be saved. But buildings are harder to protect.

“I am the saddest director-general in the world,” Abdulkarim told last week’s international cultural summit in Edinburgh, where he gave a desperate plea for help.

“The dangers surrounding the Syrian archaeological heritage are growing beyond our capabilities and limited resources. The international community needs to be reminded that the Syrian cultural heritage is part of the world heritage of humanity and that the loss of any of its components is a loss for all humanity.”

He sees beauty and tragedy in the ruins of Syria, he says. The country is a mosaic of civilisation, with more than 10,000 archaeological sites that trace the rise of humanity from prehistory to the modern day.

“But all things have been damaged by this crisis,” he says. ‘Venice of the Sands’ crumbles

Aleppo is the latest tragedy, he says – it is one of the most significant heritage sites in the ancient world, now crumbling under the bombs of war.

Last year Palmyra was the focus. IS militants seized this ancient wonder dubbed the “Venice of the Sands” in May 2015 during a push to claim a strategically significant area on the road to Damascus and close to oil and gas fields.

UNESCO describes the site as “the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world”.

From the 1st to the 2nd century AD it stood at the crossroads of civilisations, a merchant-run, cosmopolitan oasis of art and architecture straddling the trade route between Rome and China, elegantly combining Greek, Roman, Persian and local influences.

Outside the walls stood an aqueduct and huge necropolises, houses of the dead. Within the town a grand, kilometre-long colonnade linked the great Temple of Ba’al with the market, theatre and other monuments.

Then came IS.

They smashed statues and sarcophagi, severing heads and defacing murals. The triumphal arch and the Temple of Ba’al were turned to rubble with explosives.

Palmyra is just one among many ancient treasures at risk. ‘Mafia thieves’ strike

Abdulkarim says more must be done to save such sites. He says the international community must work harder to protect them – by proactively working in war zones, and by pushing harder to end the international trade in stolen treasures, which thrives in wartime.

Gangs he calls “mafia thieves” bring bulldozers and in just a few months smash through layers of history that should take half a century to carefully peel back, he says.

“The war will finish, the crisis will finish, but all the destruction of your heritage will be for generations,” he warns.

The destruction of cultural heritage used to be a shame, but now it is a war crime.

In a groundbreaking case last month at the Hague’s International Criminal Court, former al-Qaeda militant Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty – and begged forgiveness – for leading a group that demolished nine Sufi shrines and attacked a 500-year-old mosque in 2012 in Timbuktu, Mali.

“It is with deep regret and with great pain I had to enter a guilty plea and all the charges brought against me are accurate and correct,” Mahdi told judges at the ICC. “Look at me like a son that has lost his way.”

His group had deemed the shrines idolatrous and deliberately planned their destruction.

His colleagues had burned the Ahmad Baba Institute, home to 800-year-old manuscripts. The local mayor told NPR “they’re my history, they’re documents about Islam, history, geography, botany, poetry. They’re close to my heart, and they belong to the whole world”.

This trial was a new step in a continuing push for the deliberate destruction of heritage to be prosecuted as a war crime – a push that germinated in the Balkan conflict with the shelling of the stunning old Croatian town of Dubrovnik and the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar – and gained momentum after the Taliban demolished the monumental Bamiyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan. International co-operation

Francesco Bandarin, assistant director-general for culture at UNESCO, says the loss of the Buddhas was a “major shock for international public opinion”, and has helped bring about a new world-wide effort to protect cultural heritage.

Before now, efforts were mostly confined to patching up damage once a conflict ended, he told the Edinburgh summit.

“The problem is that today we see not a war here and a war there, we see 10 conflicts,” he said. “We see an extended, unmanageable front of destruction in the Middle East, in Africa, in central Asia – this seems to become a very critical and unfortunately widespread phenomenon.

“This brought us to some reflection. We certainly saw that the tools that we have available, [international] conventions and other tools were really not sufficient to address the issue.”

UNESCO is adopting a new strategy, he says. They want to try to prevent damage to heritage sites in the first place – working with locals on the ground to support those who want to protect history.

They are also educating UN peacekeepers – already those in Mali and Congo, and more in the future – on making the protection of cultural and natural sites part of their missions’ mandates.

But UNESCO’s efforts are not universally praised. Dr Ramadan al-Shibani is the head of the technical department at the Tripoli Archaology Directorate.

He says the situation in Libya is “really not too different” to Syria. Radical groups are destroying a lot of Islamic sites in the belief that artefacts inside the mosques are “prohibited”, he says. They are wrecking tombs and shrines.

“I’ve been to many conference with UNESCO and most of the attention was applied to Syria, to Iraq and Mali,” he says. “But UNESCO is contributing very little to Libya.” Government involvement

The body made a terrible mistake by allying itself with just one of the three groups that effectively govern the country, he says. Outside the eastern part of the country they have no influence.

But in those areas are some world-class heritage sites, he says. With some pride, he points out that the “black mummy”, a 5600-year-old mummified child found in a cave in the Libyan desert, is arguably proof that this region exported mummification to ancient Egypt.

Islamists are not the only problem. Without an effective government locals can destroy archaeological sites by accident, by building without planning permission. “They build on a lot of archaeological sites, they just don’t care,” al-Shibani says. Other times, they rebuild homes by raiding stones from ancient monuments.

And some treasures are lost from simple graffiti, left unguarded in the chaos of a lawless state. In the south of the country, 10,000 year-old cave paintings have been sprayed over – ruined after surviving millennia.

As in Palmyra, many of the great civilisations have left their mark in Libya: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Phonecians, and of course Islam.

“These sites are very important to humanity, to the world,” al-Shibani says.

Prof Abdulkarim agrees. “The time has come to take action before it’s too late,” he says. “To protect our heritage not just in Syria, also in Libya, in Yemen, in Iraq, Mali, Afghanistan.

“We must protect our common heritage. It’s a disaster that is painful for all of us.”

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Malcolm Turnbull’s dole cuts will hit older Australians the hardest

May 20 2019

The number of older Australians on the dole is rising rapidly. Photo: Mayu KanamoriThe number of older Australians on the dole is rising rapidly, raising fresh concerns about the Turnbull government’s plan to cut unemployment benefits.

New figures from the Department of Social Services show there are now 241,000 people in their 50s and 60s collecting Newstart – up by more than 40,000 in just two years and more than 100,000 since 2012.

That means 31.5 per cent of the 768,000 Australians on Newstart are aged over 50, when long-term unemployment is much more common due to changes to traditional industries and the barriers to retraining.

The number is also going up proportionally, from 25 per cent of over-50s in 2012 when the overall figure was 138,000.

The growth rate is dramatically higher than the growth in the number of over-50s in the general population.

The ballooning numbers raise new concerns about Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s bid to axe a supplement – introduced by Labor – for anyone who applies for Newstart after September 20.

Critics say cutting the clean energy supplement will create a two-tiered system in which the newly unemployed will be paid a record low of 32 per cent below the poverty line. The $1.4 billion cut was announced in this year’s budget going against the advice even of business groups.

The base Newstart rate for singles is $263.80 – a paltry $37.70 a day. The supplement adds $4.40 a week.

Ian Yates from the Council of the Ageing, or COTA, strongly opposes the cuts because “Newstart is so appallingly low anyway.”

“When you live well below the poverty line on Newstart then $4 per week is a lot of money. It means one less meal,” he told Fairfax Media.

He says over 50s suffer from significant age discrimination so they often find it very difficult to get back into the workforce.

“Many people live on Newstart for years before going on the age pension so of course they have had no capacity to save for retirement, and indeed have usually run down their previous savings because you can’t live on Newstart.”

Figure show close to half of over-50s on Newstart stay on it for two years. About 20 per cent of them stay on it for four years.

Younger people generally move off it much more quickly.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert says her party will be standing firm against the cuts.

“It still staggers me that the government is happy to chip away at payments to some of the most vulnerable members of our community to plug up the budget,” she said.

Newstart is available to unemployed Australians aged over 22 who are looking for work and meet an income and asset test.

The supplement was introduced by Labor to compensate households that paid no tax for the impact of the carbon price.

The government argues with the carbon price gone the compensation should be cut too, however the middle class tax cuts associated with the tax are not being touched.

Labor is now internally divided on the cut, which is contained in the $6 billion “omnibus” savings bill introduced last week.

The supplement was the only real increase to Newstart – which goes up with inflation rather than wages growth – since the mid-1990s.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s lifeline for sufferers of rare diseases: early access to life-saving drugs

May 20 2019

Australians with rare cancers and other diseases will be given early access to experimental and potentially life-saving drugs under major Turnbull government changes. Photo: SMH Gary Packer, who is suffering from a rare form of lung cancer, with his granddaughter Mackenzie. Photo: Andrew Darby

Gary Packer has a rare form of lung cancer and he’s going to die.

The only question is will he spend his final years working, travelling with his family and playing with his young granddaughter Mackenzie? Or will he spend them sick and bed-ridden, his body battered by chemotherapy and radiation?

The first option just became a little more likely as a result of a Turnbull government decision to give Australians with rare cancers and other fatal diseases early access to experimental drugs as part of major changes to the medical approvals system.

“My instant response is that’s bloody wonderful. It’s a marvellous result,” says Mr Packer.

Health Minister Sussan Ley will release the government’s long-awaited response to an independent review of the regulation of medicines and medical devices this week, Fairfax Media can reveal.

One the review’s main recommendations – that the government speed up access to new miracle drugs even if they haven’t gone through the usual testing and phase III clinical trial stages – will be adopted.

Mr Packer, a 61-year-old accountant and business-owner who lives near the Victorian town of Mildura, was diagnosed with stage 3B terminal lung cancer three years ago. He’d never been a smoker; rather his affliction came from a rare genetic mutation.

He’s been through severe chemo and radiation, an experience that left him drained. He was subsequently put on a less severe drug called Crizotonib.

​”It was put on the PBS late last year – about the same time it stopped being effective for me,” he says.

He’s since managed to get access to an even better drug called Ceritinib, which is only available in Australia through clinical trials. It has enabled him to go back to work and to be a normal contributing member of his family. Without it, he would need constant care.

Under the government’s changes, more people will be able to get access to drugs just like it.​ Drug companies will be able to get their most promising products into the hands of desperate or dying patients without going through the full Therapeutic Goods Administration approval process.

Thousands of the 25,000 Australians diagnosed with rare cancers every year could benefit from the change, which would let them access drugs up to two years earlier than normal. The guiding principle for the new process will be simple: “Does the potential benefit to the patient outweigh the risks?”

For Mr Packer, it could also mean that when Ceritinib stops being effective for Mr Packer, he may be able to get access to the current gold standard treatment: Alectinib.

“It’s a wonder drug compared to these other drugs because there are no side-effects,” he says. It could also help extend his life by years.

Under the current system, people with rare diseases often find it hard to get access to the drugs they need because the patient base is so small, making it hard to recruit for the required TGA clinic trials.

Richard Vines from Rare Cancers Australia says the government’s move is a really positive step that will bring hope to thousands.

“Everybody needs hope, no matter how bleak your situation is – and this will help,” he told Fairfax Media.

Currently some Australians are forced to sell everything they own and head overseas to access promising drugs. They often end up in dodgy or unregulated clinics where treatment can end in tragedy.

“That’s what happens when you deny hope and opportunity,” Mr Vines said. “People to do some pretty risky things.”

Medicines Australia Chairman Wes Cook has also welcomed the development: “Anything that accelerates access to new and innovative medicines for Australians in an important step.”

The independent review led by expert Lloyd Sansom was commissioned almost two years ago and made 58 recommendations. It has taken the government more than a year to formulate its response.

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