Tasmanian waters have become the newest training ground for the Royal Australian Navy


Off Tasmania’s coastline, Royal Australian Navy personnel have started to get acquainted with their newest allies.

The Navy and the Australian Maritime College (AMC), based in northern Tasmania, struck a $4.7 million three-year autonomous marine systems training deal last August.

Under the deal, up to 80 Navy personnel will study in Tasmania each year and be taught by AMC staff how to use autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), also known as aquatic robots, to enhance the country’s war fighting efforts.

The deal is now one year in and training has ramped up.

The latest Navy team to complete its training at Beauty Point, right near the top of the island state, was a hydrographic one.

Damien Guihen is teaching Navy personnel how to use AUVs.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

The AMC’s autonomous marine system specialist Damien Guihen said the team would use the device to help map the world’s oceans.

“So they use it for mapping out areas maybe around beaches or places where they might need to bring ships,” Mr Guihen said.

“Using a robotic platform such as an AUV, it allows us to make measurements where maybe you don’t want to send somebody or it allows us to get closer to the seabed, so it makes operations generally safer and it allows us to free up people to do other tasks.”

Two people stand on a boat pulling an autonomous underwater vehicle on board.
Learning how to use AUVs is one way the Navy is helping bolster Australia’s war fighting efforts.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

‘It’s finally made them cool’

The training is also helping the navy find more underwater sea mines.

Chris White, who is the AMC’s Defence and Autonomous Systems manager, used to be a Royal Australian Navy diver.

A man stands on a dock in front of a ship.
Chris White says using AUVs helps reduce the risk to Navy personnel when searching for mines.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

He said the Navy had recently started using AUVs as part of its mine countermeasures — in other words, finding underwater mines.

“They’re using that technology to either remove the risk from the operator or the person or make it faster,” Mr White said.

“Certainly as a diver, the ability of that technology to search or go and look at large areas underwater is 10 to 20 times faster than what an actual human diver could do.

“Autonomy isn’t going to remove the people. You still need the people to understand the technology and that’s really what AMC is trying to help the Navy with.

“It’s getting those skills, knowledge and experience to use those new systems safely, effectively and reliably.”

Two Navy personnel bring an AUV on board a boat.
Learning how to use AUVs will help the Navy search underwater faster.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

It is unclear exactly how many sea mines planted during world wars and other conflicts are still out there.

“They’re probably inherently safe because they’ve been sitting on the bottom and batteries will have run down, but autonomous technology allows you to go and look for those safely without needing to expose people to extra risk,” Mr White said.

“Obviously there’s still the need for the human to deal with it once it’s been found.”

The $4.7 million training deal has helped the AMC secure four jobs.

Reuben Kent, who is one of AMC’s trainers, said it was good to see other agencies using the devices.

What makes Tasmania the ‘ideal’ AUV training base?

Apart from Tasmania having the country’s only maritime college, Mr White said the state’s topography and diversity of waters helped with AUV training.

The main AUV training grounds used by the AMC and Navy this year have been at Beauty Point, Lake St Clair and Macquarie Harbour, on the west coast.

“The ability for us to access things like high tidal flows, like in the Tamar River, or deep waters up in Lake St Clair or the central highland or stratified waters, which is like layered water over on the west coast — you just can’t get that anywhere else in Australia, so Tasmania is an ideal training environment,” Mr White said.

View of Lake St Clair
The deep waters of Lake St Clair are an ideal training ground for the Navy.(Supplied: Charles Chadwick)

Royal Australian Navy Commodore John Stavridis said the Navy had been working with the AMC for some time and first worked together with autonomous systems in 2017.

“They are at the forefront of advances in this technology, so we’ve been able to work with them and they actually teach us the basics and more higher capabilities for what robotics can do,” Commodore Stavridis said.

Five people stand around a computer looking at data.
Up to 80 Navy personnel will learn how to use AUVs in Tasmania each year.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

He said the Navy was moving more toward autonomous devices to enhance its capabilities.

“This is just the advancement of technology rather than something new or a step change in what we’re doing,” Commodore Stavridis said.

“These robots and autonomous systems help us do our job as war fighters.

“The actual intent is to use robotic and autonomous systems largely to keep our sailors and our war fighters out of the minefield.

Mr White said as well as working with the Navy, the maritime college was also working with the University of Tasmania to provide short, undergraduate and postgraduate level autonomous marine systems course so the public could learn more about AUVs.

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Man arrested after NSW police officer bitten on face by dog during domestic dispute



A man has been charged with inciting his dog to attack after it bit a police officer on the face during an alleged domestic violence incident in Sydney’s south-west.

The NSW police officer will undergo surgery today after suffering serious facial injuries when he was bitten by the rottweiler outside the home in Georges Hall in the early hours of this morning.

Police were called to the Marden Street home around 1:30am following reports of a domestic-related dispute.

Officers found a 59-year old woman outside, with a 52-year old man barricaded inside a rear garage with a rottweiler.

Police allege the man verbally abused police before inciting the dog to attack.

After the man was arrested and placed inside the police van, the dog ran onto the street.

Police said the woman managed to secure the dog, but as a sergeant was speaking to her, the dog attacked him, biting his face.

The officer was treated by NSW Ambulance paramedics at the scene before being taken to Liverpool Hospital, where he remains in a stable condition awaiting surgery.

The man was taken to Bankstown Police Station where he was charged with several offences including common assault (DV), resisting arrest and two counts of set on or urge dog to attack, bite.

He has been refused bail to appear at Parramatta Bail Court today.

Council officers from the City of Canterbury and Bankstown have seized the dog and transferred it to a holding facility.

A council spokesperson said officers had been unable to scan the dog’s details as it remained aggressive and unsafe to approach.

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Farr: Latest rape allegation much too serious for Scott Morrison to spin




Political journalist Malcolm Farr says the latest allegation of rape to hit the Liberal Party – this time accusing a current member of Cabinet – is too serious for Government to try and spin its way out of.

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Federal government MP Nicolle Flint says she will quit politics at next election


Federal government MP Nicolle Flint has announced she will quit politics.

With pre-selections soon to close in her South Australian seat of Boothby, Ms Flint has informed Liberal Party members in her electorate that she will not recontest the seat.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has released a statement thanking the deputy whip for her “invaluable” service to the parliament.

The second-term MP has made no secret of problems she has faced since entering federal politics, including being targeted by a male stalker and having her campaign office defaced with graffitied words “skank” and “prostitute”.

Last year, Ms Flint posted a social media video detailing those incidents, while wearing a garbage bag to call out what she described as the sexist “rubbish” women in politics are forced to put up with.

It was a reference to ABC radio host, Peter Goers, who wrote a column criticising the glossy brochures issued by MPs, at taxpayers’ expense, to their constituents.

Mr Goers referenced Ms Flint’s “pearl earrings and a pearly smile” and “vast wardrobe of blazers, coats and tight, black, ankle-freezing trousers and stiletto heels”.

“How about a garbage bag to match your rubbish views,” she said in the video, while removing her black coat to reveal a grey bin bag cinched with a black belt.

She also criticised the election campaign against her re-election in 2019 by lobby group Getup.

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Federal MP Nicolle Flint hits out at “sexist rubbish’ in a Twitter video

The Prime Minister referenced her complaints in his statement.

Ms Flint’s said she intends to stay on until the next poll.

“It has been an honour to represent the people of Boothby over two terms and I am grateful to them, and to my Liberal Party members, for giving me this opportunity,” Ms Flint said in a written statement.

“I will continue to work hard to serve my local community until the election.”

Ms Flint said she would continue to campaign on issues she “championed” in Parliament like endometriosis, stillbirth, improved road and rail infrastructure, the arts and protecting Australia from foreign interference and predatory foreign investment.

In the week leading up to the announcement, the conservative MP had a public disagreement with a state colleague from the party’s moderate faction over plans to shift abortion out of the South Australian criminal code.

The next election could be called as early as August 7, or as late as May 21 next year.

Her electorate is held by the Liberals on a margin of just 1.4 per cent.

Since Craig Kelly’s defection to the crossbenches during the week, Scott Morrison commands the slimmest majority of one seat — including the Speaker — in the lower house.

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Woman, 78, dies after Isabella Plains car crash | The Canberra Times


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An elderly woman has died after a car crash in Canberra’s south on Thursday night, bringing the territory’s road toll to three this year. Emergency services were called to a two-car motor vehicle incident about 8.50pm on Thursday, where a Nissan Pulsar and a Ford Ranger had collided at the intersection of Drakeford Drive and Noorooma Street. The 78-year-old woman, who later died, was extracted from the Nissan Pulsar she was driving and treated at the scene by ambulance officers, who administered emergency first aid. The woman was transported to hospital in a critical condition. She was assessed as having suffered a non-survivable head injury and died on Friday night. The driver of the Ford Ranger was also transported to hospital. The woman is the third person to die on ACT’s roads this year, following the death of two motor cyclists in separate incidents. Seven people died on ACT Roads in 2020. Road Policing’s major collision team attended the scene and will complete an investigation of the circumstances. A report will be prepared for the coroner.

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New officers to join the Hume Police District after attestation ceremony | Goulburn Post


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Three new officers will join the Hume Police District after attesting on February 26. The NSW Police Force welcomed 194 new probationary constables at the NSW Police Academy on February 26 at the first full ceremony since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. READ ALSO: While crowd numbers were still limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, family members watched on as Class 345 attested in Goulburn in a ceremony that once again featured the Police Band, Pipe Band, Mounted Unit and VIP cycles. Class 345 included 139 men and 55 women who will undertake a year of on-the-job training and complete the Associate Degree in Policing Practice by distance education with Charles Sturt University before being confirmed to the rank of constable. The return to a full ceremony was welcomed by NSW Police Minister David Elliott, who congratulated the recruits in Goulburn. “Over the course of last year, we have seen first-hand the crucial role our police officers play in protecting the community and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts,” Mr Elliott said. “I am pleased to welcome the latest recruits and offer my assurance that they have the full support of the NSW Government as they commence their law enforcement careers today. They should be proud to be choosing a career in law enforcement where they can serve the community and keep NSW safe. “These recruits will join a NSW Police Force that has been strengthened by investment from the NSW Government, including the delivery of 1500 additional officers over four years and the commitment to a $60 million upgrade to Goulburn Police Academy.” Commissioner Mick Fuller said the latest intake of probationary constables would hit the ground running. “I welcome Class 345, and their families and friends who have been able to join us here today,” Commissioner Fuller said. “I know from experience that this is a very significant moment in every officer’s career. “As our newest police officers start at their new commands on Monday, they can be assured that this is the start of a memorable and rewarding career in law enforcement.” The commander of education and training command, assistant commissioner Peter Barrie congratulated the new recruits. “It is tremendous to host an attestation with invited guests whilst still observing COVID safe protocols,” he said. “All new recruits deserve to be welcomed to the Force with a full attestation ceremony, and I am so pleased that we have been able to allow Class 345 to invite family and friends today. “I know this group is keen to commence duties, so I wish them all the best and hope they have a successful and fulfilling career with the NSW Police Force.” Sergeant Geoff Kendall from Coffs Clarence Police District received the Commissioner’s Valour Award for conspicuous merit and exceptional bravery in the line of duty for actions in Penrith. The then Detective Senior Constable Kendall was recognised for rescuing an elderly man from a burning house when he was off duty on March 29 in 2014. Commissioner Fuller said the Valour Award was the highest commendation he can bestow on officers for acts of bravery. “Today’s Valour Award recognises the incredible courage and selflessness displayed by Sergeant Kendell when faced with extraordinary circumstances,” Commissioner Fuller said. “We are glad we can finally present this award to Sergeant Kendell today and commend him for putting his life on the line.” Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:

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Weston Creek Children’s Centre director accused of defrauding business has bail refused


The director of a Canberra childcare centre accused of defrauding the business of as much as $500,000 has been refused bail.

Police have charged Weston Creek Children’s Centre director Emma Morton with 23 counts of obtaining property by deception, amounting to $160,000 in stolen funds.

But, following a raid of Ms Morton’s home in Campbell this morning, officers said they believed Ms Morton may have taken more than $480,000 in total from the charity.

“Police expect to lay additional charges in the coming weeks and do not believe any other people were involved in this activity,” a statement read.

Director used centre’s bank account for personal purchases, police allege

In a statement of facts tendered to the court, police alleged Ms Morton made dozens of payments from the childcare centre’s bank account directly into her own.

Ms Morton, who has been director of the centre for more than 20 years, allegedly “disguised” $162,753 worth of payments as operating costs, for which she has been charged.

But police are continuing to investigate another $310,846 worth of possibly defrauded money.

Multiple transactions in the statement of facts describe personal purchases allegedly made by Ms Morton, including a purchase of almost $4,000 at JB Hi Fi, a $3,000 chaise lounge, and a stay at Hotel Realm in Barton.

Police also alleged Ms Morton made multiple transfers worth a total of $130,000 in March and April of last year into a “COVID account” opened in her name.

“The destination of these funds are unknown at this point,” the statement reads.

Ms Morton has been the director of Weston Creek Children’s Centre for more than 20 years.(ABC News: Ben Harris)

Police are liaising with federal regulators to ensure the childcare centre, which is a registered charity, can continue operating.

Facing the ACT Magistrates court today, Ms Morton did not enter a plea.

In seeking bail, lawyers for Ms Morton argued the likelihood of her tampering with evidence was low, as the alleged fraud was made up of “unsophisticated transactions”.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston refused bail, saying the amounts alleged were “staggering”, and he remained concerned Ms Morton may interfere with the ongoing investigation.

She will return to court in late March.

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Linda Reynolds’s future as Defence Minister is in her own hands


Defence Minister Linda Reynolds faces an agonising question. Should she say to Scott Morrison she doesn’t feel up to staying in what is one of the most demanding portfolios in the government?

Reynolds broke down in Parliament last week. On Wednesday she was hospitalised after feeling unwell. This was described as “a precautionary measure”. Her office said it followed “advice from her cardiologist relating to a pre-existing medical condition”.

Like any minister embroiled in a serious crisis over how they’ve handled an issue, Reynolds has been under immense pressure since the Brittany Higgins story first appeared on Monday of last week.

Morrison publicly criticised her for not informing him when the incident occurred in 2019 that there was a rape allegation. The opposition in the Senate pursued her relentlessly and this week she had to correct information she’d given.

She’s also personally anguished about her conduct given that, although she appears to have done the best she could for Higgins at the time, Higgins now says she did not feel supported.

The allegations by Brittany Higgins have prompted a surge of complaints from other women to federal police.(Supplied)

This is not the first occasion Reynolds has shown the stress the job can impose on her.

It was clear after the release late last year of the report on alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, which was followed by a row over whether a meritorious unit citation should be removed.

Reynolds found herself caught between backing the strong position taken by Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell and the more political stance of Morrison, who was listening to the predictable backlash from some veterans and their supporters.

Reynolds has been left politically weakened

Leaving aside the Higgins matter, Reynolds has plenty of critics of her portfolio performance. Now she is under fire, they have their own reasons for raising doubts about her future.

Her detractors describe her as a “nice person”, but a minister lacking the capacity or political authority to deal with the defence behemoth and its continuing problems such as the vexed submarine program.

A woman stands up in the Senate
Linda Reynolds apologised in the Senate for the handling of Brittany Higgins’s complaint.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Although she was formerly in the Australian Defence Force, and so had knowledge of its issues and culture, Reynolds had limited ministerial experience when she moved into this mega job. She was given the defence industry post shortly before the 2019 election, with the promise of taking over the senior portfolio after it. It was all about Morrison’s number of women.

On the other hand, Reynolds has defenders. Neil James, of the Australia Defence Association, says her comparatively limited ministerial seniority is a handicap at times, but maintains:

“We can see no reason to move her as long as her health holds up, and it’s hard to see anyone in the party who could do a better job. New ministers require six months to read into the role — and we can’t afford six months’ further delay now.”

Morrison says he has confidence in Reynolds and looks forward to her coming back. Whatever he thinks, in all the circumstances — not least that she’s a high-profile female — it would be difficult for him to push her out of defence in the immediate future.

So, at least at this moment, her future rests in her own hands. And it is a painful choice.

If she stepped away from the defence job, it would be seen as conceding to her attackers (or to Morrison’s criticism).

A close up of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he is wearing a suit and pinned Australian flag broach.
Morrison publicly criticised Reynolds for not informing him that there was a rape allegation in 2019.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Also, she has been in this portfolio less than two years and it would be galling to leave when, she might argue, she’ll have more runs on the board with more time.

But this fortnight has left her politically weakened, and the question of her health will hang over her. She is from Western Australia and the travelling for ministers from that state is particularly gruelling.

A different, less gigantic portfolio would better suit Reynolds’ abilities and situation. That, of course, is assuming her health is robust enough for her to continue in politics.

The wheels of justice have started turning

One mentioned successor for defence, if Reynolds left it, is Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Dutton this week was himself drawn in by the tentacles of the Higgins matter. After Higgins re-engaged with the police on February 5, the Australian Federal Police alerted Dutton on Thursday, February 11. This was proper under the protocols for what are defined as “sensitive” investigations.

Peter Dutton, framed by a round window.
Before the December reshuffle, Peter Dutton trailed his coat for the defence portfolio.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Dutton says: “I took a decision at that time that I wasn’t going to inform the prime minister because this was an operational matter.”

But then:

“…as a courtesy to the Prime Minister’s Office on the 12th, when there were media inquiries, we provided some detail to him, just that the AFP had an interest in this matter and I wasn’t provided with the ‘she said, he said’ details of the allegations. It was at a higher level and that’s the basis on which we provided information to the PM.”

This information went from Dutton’s chief of staff to John Kunkel, Morrison’s chief of staff.

We previously knew the PM’s press office worked from Friday February 12 through that weekend on questions from a journalist about the Higgins matter — without telling Morrison. With Dutton’s disclosure, we now know the most senior PMO staffer was also informed on the Friday — and didn’t mention anything to his boss.

The information didn’t raise a red flag for Kunkel, apparently because it was vague. Those who argue the silence was driven by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach ignore the fact that would be counterproductive when someone was obviously going to “ask” very soon, and the PM would be caught short.

Before the December reshuffle, Dutton trailed his coat for the defence portfolio, when there was quite a push against Reynolds. If he does eventually get the job (whatever the timing), one question that exercises the bureaucracy is whether he could take with him his present departmental head, Mike Pezzullo (maybe with a lag, while the successor settled into home affairs).

Pezzullo, a hawk and lead author of the 2009 defence white paper when he was in the Defence Department, is the toughest senior operator in the public service. Some say he’d be just what defence needs; others say the military and some defence officials would be apoplectic.

The reverberations of the Higgins affair for the government will continue rumbling for some time. But in the most positive development of the week, with Higgins laying a formal complaint against her alleged assailant, the wheels of justice have started turning, albeit nearly two years after they should have.

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.

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Australian news sites reappear on Facebook after Government agrees to amend media bargaining laws



Australian news is back on Facebook after the social media giant agreed to reverse a block on Australian content.

Facebook pages for news outlets including the ABC, Herald Sun, Seven Network and Sydney Morning Herald were restored in the early hours of Friday morning.

The move came a week after Australians were blocked from accessing news in their Facebook feeds or sharing news content.

Facebook said the move was in response to the Federal Government’s proposed media bargaining laws.

A number of non-news pages were initially swept up in the ban, including community organisations, charities and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The code is structured so that if Facebook and Google do not sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets the Treasurer can “designate” them, and force them to pay for access to news content.

Facebook agreed to reverse the ban after the Government said it would make amendments to the laws, including giving Facebook more time to strike deals.

More to come.

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Commonwealth Games a motivator for young guns in Australian ODI/T20I cricket squad to tour New Zealand



The Australian women’s cricket team will be busy over the next couple of years competing in two World Cups and helping T20 cricket debut as a sport at the Commonwealth Games.

The selectors have made it clear they are already preparing for those future tournaments, naming two surprise additions to the squad heading to New Zealand next month for three ODIs and three T20Is against the White Ferns.

The national side is proving extremely hard to break into, considering the ongoing dominance the team has had in recent years.

However, teenagers Hannah Darlington and Darcie Brown have been able to force their way into the mix, after impressive performances in the Women’s Big Bash League.

Both 19-year-old all-rounder Darlington and 17-year-old fast bowler Brown have won the WBBL young gun award, in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The young gun award has been won by regular Australian players Ash Gardner, Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham in the past.

Speaking with the ABC, Darlington and Brown said they were “shocked” to be selected, even though they knew they were already on the extended list of 25 players being considered.

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Still coming to terms with the announcement, they say it hasn’t stopped them dreaming about the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

“I guess this selection now puts me in good stead for a tournament like that … and having those kinds of opportunities available in the near future is really motivating me to stick within the squad.”

As someone who had an “obsession” with the Commonwealth Games as a child, Brown says she looked up to eight-time medallist Dawn Fraser because of her “carefree attitude”.

“I used to enjoy reading books about it in the library,” she said.

Representing country and culture

Darlington, a proud Kamilaroi woman, has now played two seasons with the Sydney Thunder, lifting the trophy in 2020 and finishing second on the wicket-taking list (19) with best figures of 3/19.

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Aside from her skill with the ball, her leadership qualities have also appealed to Australian selectors, given the fact Darlington has had more experience as a captain than most young players; leading underage representative teams regularly since she was 13.

Darlington was given a new role as NSW Breakers vice-captain this summer, in just her second year in the Women’s National Cricket League — and today made another step up into the captaincy in a match against Tasmania, in Alyssa Healy’s absence.

Her advanced leadership skills have also seen her take on a prominent role in the push for more Indigenous representation in cricket, participating in barefoot circles before WBBL matches and captaining First Nations exhibition teams.

So, the fact she could become the third Indigenous woman to play in the green and gold — after Faith Thomas and Ash Gardner — is definitely not lost on her.

“Seeing the pride that my NSW teammate Ash gets in representing Australia and the work she has been doing in Indigenous cricket has been inspiring,” Darlington said.

Missing 18th birthday party for Australian honours

Darcie Brown will turn 18 on March 7, right before the Australian squad heads across the ditch, and has had to postpone her coming-of-age birthday party as a result.

The South Australian quick was also due to start her first year of university studies in animal science around that time — hoping to use the degree as a pathway to become a vet in rural areas.

She hasn’t quite worked out yet whether she’ll need to defer or take her studies on tour.

“It could turn out to be a stressful month actually,” she laughed.

“But oh well, going to New Zealand will be cool, it’s an amazing opportunity.”

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Brown was forced to learn how to bowl fast early on, with two older brothers who would “whack” her slower balls all over the park.

The national team have been looking for players who can consistently bowl around 120 kilometres per hour, and alongside Tayla Vlaeminck, Brown definitely fits into that category.

“In the WBBL games I played that were on the telly, it said I was bowling 125kph every now and then, but not all the time,” Brown said.

As the youngest player in the squad, Brown is hoping she might get a chance to pick the mind of Ellyse Perry, who made her debut for Australia at 16.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to learn a few things off her and how she dealt with it all the pressure so young,” she said.

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