The Program For Sydney’s Brand New Winter Festival Has Been Revealed

If we’re looking for signs of nightlife and a return to normality in Sydney, then the brand new Sydney Solstice festival is a shiny bright star on the horizon.

Dreamt up by the NSW Government and Destination NSW in a continued effort to revive local tourism after the hardships of 2020, the festival was announced back in March. Today the full program of events and happenings has dropped, and well, let’s just say it’s big and it’s pretty damn exciting. 

Kicking off on Tuesday 8 June, the 13-day winter festival wraps up just before the actual winter solstice on Monday 21 June—hence the name. Designed to sing, dance, and shout about Sydney’s awesome food, music, art, and nightlife culture, the festival will pop up across the city in four key precincts, including the CBD, Darling Harbour, Oxford Street, and Newtown and the Inner West.

Big-time highlights on the bill include a debaucherous immersive feast at Town Hall, created by the party crew at Heaps Gay. Called “The Queens Feast” it’ll be a last supper type affair held on the Queens Birthday long weekend. Led by chefs and food legends Anna Polyivou, Sarah Tiong, Claire Van Vuuren (Bloodwood), and George Woodyard (Bart Jnr), the dress code is reds, blacks, leathers, lace, and it’ll be accompanied by an all-out art and music experience. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Wong will be hosting a one-off midnight feast; the house music heroes at Ministry of Sound will pop up at the Museum of Contemporary Art for a warehouse party; and Sydney’s first-ever country and western festival will be taking over various parts of the inner west, including sunny Sydney Park. The Metro Theatre, one of Sydney’s most beloved music venues will reopen its doors (at last) with “7 Day Weekend“—seven consecutive nights of epic live gigs. 

If you love stargazing (who doesn’t), winter is the best time to do it, and you’ll want to check out this Aboriginal Sky Dreaming cruise, led by a First Nations astronomer. During the tour, you’ll learn about Gugurmin or “the emu in the sky”, which is one of Australia’s most famous dark constellations and holds special meaning for our First Nations people.

Also on the water is this super special moonlight kayaking tour of Sydney Harbour—a spectacular op to see the city twinkle and sparkle from the sea. 

Finally, if you haven’t had the chance to suss out Sydney’s newest foodie precinct, South Eveleigh, make sure you hit up the South Eveleigh Solstice Festival, a two-day street festival showcasing the new spot’s best eats alongside performance, art installations, music, and more. 

Winter solstice marks the onset of winter with the shortest day on the calendar. So fittingly, this new festival is here to remind us that while our summer months are blessed with gorgeous weather, magnificent beaches, and long days in beer gardens, Sydney is still vibrant and full of excitement in the winter months.

Suss out the full program for Sydney Solstice right here

The Details

What: Sydney Solstice
When: Tuesday 8 June – Sunday 20 June
Where: Various locations throughout Sydney

Visiting Sydney or keen to make a night of it? Book a stay at one of Sydney’s best hotels. 

Image credit: Paul Carmona

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Allie and Val’s friendship spans decades-wide age gap in program tackling loneliness

Their age gap runs into the decades but Allie Carr and Valerie Widdowson’s friendship is as close as they come.

“We phone a lot, we discuss things on the phone and then she comes and she brings me avocados and all sorts of things,” Ms Widdowson said. 

They met through the Red Cross community visitors scheme, which pairs a volunteer with a participant who is either elderly, living with a disability or recovering from mental illness.

The two women initially bonded over a shared enjoyment of reality television. 

“I immediately felt like Val is the 90-year-old version of me,” Ms Carr said. 

“I don’t have my mum so for me it makes me feel like I’ve got that, so that’s a really special thing.

Ms Carr takes her friend shopping, buys her necessities and includes her in family celebrations.

Ms Carr said that participating in the program benefited her as much as it did Ms Widdowson. 

“Val’s a 90-year-old woman who’s lived this incredible life, but she’s still a woman,” Ms Carr said.

“We talk about men and sex and I feel like that’s really important, that when I’m older I don’t want to be treated like I’m a child, I want to be treated like someone who’s valued and had this incredible life and experiences.” 

Ms Widdowson said loneliness was a “terrible thing”. 

“It’s hidden a lot, you feel you can’t connect with people,” Ms Widdowson said. 

“But this type of thing is so good for us all.”

Research shows loneliness can contribute to poor health outcomes, such as sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression and even premature death. 

Evidence suggests people who are lonelier show poorer cardiovascular health indicators, such as elevated blood pressure, elevated levels of cholesterol and impaired cardiac function.

The Red Cross buddy program aims to combat the impacts of loneliness.

“We really see that loneliness in the older population,” Red Cross Hobart coordinator Nadia Reynolds said.

In 2017, then-aged care minister Ken Wyatt told the National Press Club that up to 40 per cent of people in aged care homes never get visitors.

Ms Reynolds said the program had seen wonderful connections built between volunteers and older participants.

“They’ve gone from having little to no interaction with people who have common interests to having a lot of interaction with people who are happy to talk about the things that they love and enjoy,” Ms Reynolds said.

A national initiative called Ending Loneliness Together is aimed at reducing loneliness in Australia. 

The initiative released a white paper in November 2020 to get industry, government and academia to work together to gather more evidence about loneliness in Australia and increase community awareness and support. 

The white paper revealed that in surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, one in four Australians reported experiencing “problematic levels of loneliness”.

During the peak of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, one in two Australians reported feeling lonelier since the onset of the pandemic.

The chair of Ending Loneliness Together, Michelle Lim, says a national strategy to combat loneliness is essential. 

Dr Lim said there continued to be a stigma around admitting to being lonely, and that needed to change. 

 “We need to actually make loneliness a word that is no longer stigmatised and that’s commonly spoken about,” Dr Lim said.

Dr Lim said many countries were identifying loneliness as the next public health priority, with some such as Japan and the UK appointing ministers for loneliness. 

“What we’re trying to focus on is increasing our understanding of what this issue is within Australia, so we do have to build the evidence base of loneliness research within Australia, but also community awareness,” she said.

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Lockhart Ambulance Station to get refurbished under RAIR program | The Border Mail

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RIVERINA paramedics will soon be surrounded by a fresh workspace with a refurbishment project planned for the Lockhart Ambulance Station. The NSW Government’s $232 million Rural Ambulance Infrastructure Reconfiguration program will see the small town’s station upgraded with alterations and additions to staff amenities, plant room improvements, and an internal and external upgrade such as new carpets and repainting. IN OTHER NEWS: Health Minister Brad Hazzard said work is expected to commence later this year following a competitive tender process. “Our paramedics need the best possible workplace to provide emergency medical care, and the infrastructure improvements will make a real difference to their working environment,” he said. The refurbishment follows previous investments of more than half a billion dollars in the Wagga region, including a new ambulance station in Wagga, $50 million for the Tumut Hospital Redevelopment, the $250 million Griffith Hospital redevelopment, $431 million for the Wagga Health Service Redevelopment and $30 million for a new multistorey car park project at Wagga Base Hospital. The RAIR program is the single largest investment in regional NSW Ambulance’s 126-year history, with 24 new or upgraded ambulance stations already delivered or under construction as part of the $132 million Stage One program. A further $100 million worth of ambulance assets are set to be delivered across regional and rural NSW under Stage Two.


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Wild Horses Adopted Under a Federal Program Are Going to Slaughter

In a lifetime of working with horses, Gary Kidd, 73, had never adopted an untrained wild mustang before. But when the federal government started paying people $1,000 a horse to adopt them, he signed up for as many as he could get. So did his wife, two grown daughters and a son-in-law.

Mr. Kidd, who owns a small farm near Hope, Ark., said in a recent telephone interview that he was using the mustangs, which are protected under federal law, to breed colts and that they were happily eating green grass in his pasture.

In fact, by the time he spoke on the phone, the animals were long gone. Records show that Mr. Kidd had sold them almost as soon as he legally could. He and his family received at least $20,000, and the mustangs ended up at a dusty Texas livestock auction frequented by slaughterhouse brokers known as kill buyers.

When asked about the sale, Mr. Kidd abruptly hung up.

The Bureau of Land Management, which is in charge of caring for the nation’s wild horses, created the $1,000-a-head Adoption Incentive Program in 2019 because it wanted to move a huge surplus of mustangs and burros out of government corrals and find them “good homes.” Thousands of first-time adopters signed up, and the bureau hailed the program as a success.

But records show that instead of going to good homes, truckloads of horses were dumped at slaughter auctions as soon as their adopters got the federal money. A program intended to protect wild horses was instead subsidizing their path to destruction.

“This is the government laundering horses,” said Brieanah Schwartz, a lawyer for the advocacy group American Wild Horse Campaign, which has tracked the program. “They call it adoptions, knowing the horses are going to slaughter. But this way the B.L.M. won’t get its fingerprints on it.”

The bureau denies the allegations, noting that the government requires all adopters to sign affidavits promising not to resell the horses to slaughterhouses or their middlemen. But a spokesman said the bureau had no authority to enforce those agreements or to track the horses once adopters have title to them.

People who dump mustangs at auctions, the spokesman said, are free to adopt and get paid again.

It has been 50 years since Congress unanimously passed a law meant to protect wild horses and burros from wholesale roundup and slaughter and to ensure that they have a permanent, sustainable place on public land in the West. But decades of missteps, systemic problems and spiraling costs have put both the horses and the western landscape at risk.

Wild horses once roamed North America in the millions, but as the open range disappeared in the early 20th century, they were nearly all hunted down and turned into fertilizer and dog food. When they were finally protected in 1971, there were fewer than 20,000 left.

Once protected, though, the remnant herds started growing again — far faster than the government was prepared for. The bureau estimates that, left alone, wild horse herds increase by about 20 percent a year.

The bureau has tried for decades to stabilize numbers by using helicopters to round up thousands of mustangs annually. But the bureau has never been able to find enough people willing to adopt the untamed broncos it removes. So surplus mustangs — about 3,500 a year — have gone instead into a network of government storage pastures and corrals known as the holding system,

There are now more than 51,000 animals in holding, eating up so much of the program’s budget — about $60 million a year — that the bureau has little left to manage mustangs in the wild.

“It’s completely unsustainable,” said Terry Messmer, a professor of wildlife resources at Utah State University who has studied the program history. “I don’t think anyone who passed this law would be happy with how things turned out 50 years later.”

The bureau declined to comment on the record for this article.

Bureau leaders have repeatedly proposed culling the storage herds, but they have always been blocked by lawmakers mindful that a vast majority of voters do not want symbols of their heritage turned into cuts of meat.

Enter the Adoption Incentive Program, which is built on the idea that paying adopters $1,000 a head is far cheaper than the $24,000 average lifetime cost of keeping a horse in government hands.

The program nearly doubled the number of horses leaving the holding system, and the bureau called it “a win for all involved” that was helping “animals find homes with families who will care for and enjoy them for years to come.”

The bureau’s once-sleepy adoption events were transformed. “It became a feeding frenzy — I have never seen anything like it,” said Carol Walker, a photographer who documents the wild herds of Wyoming.

In February, she arrived at an event in Rock Springs, Wyo., and found a line of trailers a half-mile long. When the gates opened, people rushed to sign up for adoptions without even inspecting the mustangs.

“Those people weren’t there because they cared about the horses,” Ms. Walker said. “They were there because they cared about the money.”

To be sure, tens of thousands of wild horses have been adopted over the years by people who kept and cared for them as the law intended. Some became ranch horses, some work with the Border Patrol, and one became a world champion in dressage.

But the adoption program has hardly been selective. One man in Oklahoma was paid to take horses even though he had previously gone to prison for kidnapping and beating two men during a horse-slaughter deal gone bad.

The program has rules meant to discourage quick-buck seekers. Adopters are limited to four animals a year and do not get full payment or title papers for 12 months.

Even so, records show several instances where families like the Kidds banded together to get more than four horses. And numerous mustangs bearing the distinctive government brand began showing up at slaughter auctions after the one-year wait was up.

“We used to see one or two mustangs occasionally, usually old ones that someone had owned for years, but suddenly the floodgates opened,” said Clare Staples, who founded a wild horse sanctuary in Oregon called Skydog Ranch.

Ms. Staples said she had helped find homes for more than 20 adopted mustangs that were dumped at auctions, apparently after having been given little care. Many were emaciated, with unkempt manes and untrimmed hooves, she said, and they often had parasites.

The bureau has refused to provide lists of adopters. But an informal network of wild-horse advocates has pieced together what is happening by using donated money to outbid kill buyers at auctions. That way, they spare mustangs from slaughter and obtain title papers that detail the horses’ ownership history.

The papers show that many adopters who quickly resell live in stretches of the Great Plains where pasture is cheap and people often derive a living from several sources. These adopters often took the maximum number of horses and sent them to auction soon after their final government payments cleared.

Lonnie Krause, a rancher in Bison, S.D., adopted four horses in 2019, and so did his grandson. In an interview, he said he saw nothing wrong with sending the mustangs to auction and acknowledged that they would probably go to kill buyers.

“It’s economics,” he said. “I can make about $800 putting a calf on my land for a year. With the horses, I made $1,000, then turned around and sold them for $500.”

Mr. Krause said bureau employees had told him he wasn’t breaking any rules. “Once you get title, they told me, there is no limitation — you can do whatever you want with them,” he said.

Getting mustangs out of storage is critical for the bureau because its wild horse program is now in a crisis. The cost of storing horses has cannibalized the helicopter budget, and roundups can no longer keep pace with growing herds. There are now about 100,000 wild horses in the West — triple what the bureau says the land can support. If left unchecked, in another decade they could number 500,000.

Managers warn that the growing herds could graze public lands down to dirt, which would devastate cattle ranchers who compete for grass, and harm delicate desert landscapes and native species.

For decades government auditors and scientific advisers have warned the bureau to move away from roundups and instead control populations on the range through fertility control drugs delivered by dart and other management tools that don’t add horses to the holding system, but the bureau has never changed course, in part because the cost of storing horses has crippled its ability to do anything else.

“We are at a make-or-break point,” said Celeste Carlisle, a member of the wild horse program’s citizen advisory board and a biologist for a wild horse sanctuary called Return to Freedom, which has pushed for alternatives to roundups. “We have to turn things around, or it will result in disaster.”

At the kill-buyer auctions, people who love wild horses are scrambling to respond.

One night last fall, Candace Ray, who runs a wild horse rescue organization near Dallas called Evanescent Mustang Rescue, was clicking through photos on the website of a nearby auction when she spotted 24 young, untamed mustangs. Within hours she was rallying hundreds of donors on Facebook.

Ms. Ray cajoled a young couple who give riding lessons on their nearby farm, Cody and Shawnee Barham, to drive to the auction and do the bidding.

The mustangs were all small and skittish. None had apparently ever been handled. Serial numbers branded on their necks showed they had been born free in Nevada, Utah or New Mexico.

The Barhams kept bidding for hours. By midnight they had spent $16,000 in donations and owned 24 horses. When they got the title papers, the names of the adopters who sold the horses had been blacked out with marker. But holding the papers up to a light revealed the names and addresses of the Kidd family.

The Barhams brought the mustangs to their farm, opened the trailer doors and let them run. The couple plans to train them to accept a halter and then find people who will give them “forever homes.”

Cody Barham stood one recent morning watching the herd nibble in one of his fields, a grease-stained John Deere hat on his head and a 9-millimeter pistol on his hip (for snakes). He watched his wife walk quietly into the pasture with her outstretched hand holding a horse cookie. One of the braver mustangs, a little black stallion, approached to sniff.

“Our goal is to get them to the point where you can just love up on ’em,” he said. “But after all they’ve been through, it might take them a while to trust people.”

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Artists employed in Victorian schools under COVID-19 recovery program

A new artist-in-residence program designed to employ artists who have lost their livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic is being rolled out in government schools across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

The Creative Workers in Schools program has been developed by a partnership between Regional Arts Victoria, the Victorian government through Creative Victoria, Working for Victoria and the Department of Education and Training.

Artists who apply through Regional Arts Victoria are matched with schools and posted for a six-month paid residency in schools that have no dedicated art teacher or creative-arts program.

“During COVID there was a huge amount of money released to support the arts industry and this is one of the streams of money that has come down,” said Sarah Atkinson, Creative Workers in Schools eastern area regional manager.

“We’ve often had in-residence programs in Victoria before, but never on this scale.”

The program will eventually see about 150 artists such as visual artists, performers, musicians, landscape gardeners, jewellery makers and set designers deployed to government schools including specialist schools.

Custom-designed school programs to date have included everything from hip-hop recordings to the creation of books, from teaching mathematics and anatomy through to colour.

Artists Lucy Parkinson and her Argentine-born partner Gonzalo Varela made the tree change from Fitzroy to Fish Creek two years ago with their young family.

Under the name Magic Lantern Studios, the couple facilitated workshops and puppet shows, as well as visual-art and public-art programs before COVID-19.

Ms Parkinson has been working at the Fish Creek and District Primary School as an artist in residence, while Mr Varela has been working at the Meeniyan Primary School in the neighbouring South Gippsland town.

“As adults, we need to understand that we are living in a crisis moment where everything is becoming very fast, electronic, cheap and cold,” Mr Varela said.

“These kind of activities give the kids an understanding of discipline, of what it’s like to work with time to enjoy something and enjoy the process. 

Witnessing a correlation between the stress of rushing to finish everything and anxiety, Mr Valera said he believed that investing time to develop a child’s interests and abilities was crucial to their confidence, happiness and mental health later in life.

“The kids are living in this beautiful moment before the stresses of the rational world come,” Mr Valera said.

“This is the moment when they need to work the imagination.

“After that there will be crises, looking for a job, paying the mortgage, and the crazy stresses of life.

“That’s why I’m very happy with this program to give the kids the possibilities to develop their imagination.”

Many artists that responded to the Regional Arts Victoria call-out last year and found placements in the first and second stream of the program have found the interaction with the children and teachers alike to be a mutually energising experience.

“You come in as artists and you have a different perspective to educators, but you work with educators,” Ms Parkinson said.

“The program is really to get children accustomed to the artistic process.”

After a year of disrupted routines and social isolation, Ms Parkinson said she had enjoyed engaging in philosophical conversations about relative perspective and cause and effect with the children, as well as answering any questions they had about our increasingly complicated world.

Ms Atkinson said children needed to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“That marriage between the arts and science, the arts and business, has never been more important.”  

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Boys to the Bush mentoring program makes a difference for disadvantaged youth

Matthew Evans says if the blokes from Boys to the Bush hadn’t knocked on his door two years ago, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.

Matthew grew up in Bathurst with his five brothers. When he was eight, they were taken from school and split up into foster care.

Over the next decade, he lived in five different foster homes and eventually ended up at a group home.

After leaving the group home at 18 years old, Matthew says his mental health was at its lowest.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he said. 

“I was living by myself in Orange and I was really depressed. After a few months, I attempted suicide.”

At the time, Matthew’s younger brother was participating in the Boys to the Bush program and word got back to one of the co-founders, Adam Demamiel, that Matthew wasn’t leaving the house. So he went over to visit.

“First meeting, I told him [Adam] to buzz off but they just kept coming,” Matthew said.

“At first it was annoying because I’m not the kind of person who wanted help. After a while, I saw them as mates and that’s what made it easier.”

Now at 22 years old, Matthew is employed full time as a trainee program coordinator and mentor with Boys to the Bush.

He says the program has had a huge impact on his life from helping him get his licence, finding a place to live, stabilising his mental health, to making new friends. 

“I had never heard of this program before. I wish I had it when I was a little bit younger,” he said. 

“It’s what struggling kids need, having adults who are not acting like teachers but are like your mates.”

Boys to the Bush is a not-for-profit charity that was set up four years ago by three former school teachers in Southern NSW. 

The program is based in Albury, NSW, with services now running in Wagga Wagga, Forbes, Parkes, Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo.

Over the past four years, more than 1,000 kids have accessed the program with a 70 per cent return rate.

The program primarily runs camping trips during school holidays for boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In 2020, the pandemic put the camps on hold but that led to the acceleration of a formalised mentoring program.

“We were given a bit of advice to ‘put the tools down’ and ride this COVID thing out,” co-founder and chief executive Adam Demamiel said.

“But home isn’t great for a lot of the kids, so we sort of went against that advice and thought what could we do to see more of them?

“It started with checking in with regular Zoom meetings and then doing one-on-one activities.”

Adam says the mentoring is now the organisation’s core business and it is making a real impact. 

“We still do the camps but the mentoring program is where we are really having systemic changes with the kids,” he said.

The organisation has eight full-time staff in different locations working as mentors, including Matthew.

Mentors will regularly check in with the kids and plan activities based on their interests.

“If they are looking for work, then we help them find work or if they are younger then we teach them how to connect with the community,” Matthew said.

“Some of the kids, they are really interested in building, so I take them to the Men’s Shed to learn from the fellas on how to build stuff.”

Adam says the community involvement and donations of money and time keeps the program running.

“We lean on our links in the community — from tradies, business owners, farmers, rotary groups, CWA groups,” he said. 

The program sees close to 50 kids a week regularly accessing mentoring. 

Adam says providing consistency for the kids is the most important thing.

Sixty per cent of the participants identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, 85 per cent come from Out of Home Care Living Arrangements and 90 per cent do not have a male adult living with them.

“We have set up the business to be self-sustainable,” he said. 

“We don’t want to be another program that when the funding runs out so does the program.

“The majority of the kids that we work with don’t have a connection to much.

“They don’t play any team sports, school is not high on their agenda, and their attendance isn’t great.

“So for many of the kids that we engage with, this is their thing that they connect to.”

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Unique water safety program saving lives by teaching children with autism how to swim

Some children with autism have a fascination with water, a tendency to wander and little or no sense of danger, putting them much more at risk of drowning.

But a unique swimming program in Canberra — with a counterintuitive structure — has dived deep into the issue to turn the tragic tide.

Renee Zwikielberg has two children with autism — William, 9, and Sophie, 7 — and said she came frighteningly close to the tragedy of losing a child to drowning.

“We went on holiday about 18 months ago and William nearly drowned,” she said.

Ms Zwikielberg said they had tried many different types of swimming classes over the years from group settings to one-on-one lessons with instructors trained in teaching people with autism.

But she said it was not until William was enrolled in WaterAbilities at Black Mountain School that he made progress.

“At first, he didn’t even want to get in the water,” she said.

“He was afraid … and had a lot of anxiety about drowning given that it almost happened twice.”

William now has a better understanding of water safety and enjoys swimming lessons.(

ABC News: Andrew Kennedy


But William has since thrived in the lessons, learning strokes, safety and how to enjoy the water.

And that’s also given Ms Zwikielberg confidence that her son would be safe around water.

“It’s really changed my life. I can’t stress that enough,” she said.

Strengthening exercises key to swimming success

The program’s unique composition involves spending as much time outside of the pool as in it.

The unconventional strategy has used land-based exercises that strengthen muscles and movements used for swimming well before participants try to thrash against the water.

Young girl swimming under water
Sophie had fallen behind in mainstream swimming lessons but now has greater strength to float and swim.(

ABC News: Andrew Kennedy


Those strength-building exercises have been especially valuable for William’s little sister Sophie.

“Even at five, [Sophie] was what you would consider a floppy baby, but now her strength and her muscle tone has increased,” Ms Zwikielberg said.

Child swimming with woman
Flynn is happy to put his head under the water after taking part in the WaterAbilities program with his mother Ele.(

ABC News: Andrew Kennedy


Ele Fogarty has seen a similarly remarkable transformation in her son Flynn.

The five-year-old happily and safely dived underwater for the first time last week after a sensory condition had meant he previously became distressed if water — even from a shower — washed over his head.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Ms Fogarty said.

“And he actually decided he’s going to do showers. They’re only small things but they’re massive.”

Drowning leading cause of death in children with autism

Carol Jennings co-founded the “holistic” pilot and said it was intentionally very different to mainstream swim schools.

“The whole team are allied health workers, so we draw on occupational therapy, exercise physiology, physiotherapy and early education, in addition to being swim school qualified,” Ms Jennings said.

According to Royal Life Saving Australia, children with autism are 160 per cent more likely to drown than those without.

And drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism.

Woman smiling
Cherry Bailey says there is a great need for a program like WaterAbilities.(

ABC News: Tahlia Roy


The ACT Government spent $15,000 on the trial, which was also supported by Royal Life Saving ACT.

Royal Life Saving ACT general manager Cherry Bailey said the disability community had been crying out for a solution like WaterAbilities.

“The demand was obvious and really important,” she said.

“We want these children to be experiencing the same types of program opportunities as children without autism.

“[The program] has provided really special connections for families and children in the water and provided focus points needed in terms of fundamental movement, development in the water and readiness to learn … water safety skills.”

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Doubts over readiness of Gen3 program grow as Cam Waters warns against a rushed product

Ford ace Cameron Waters has warned Supercars “can’t afford to stuff up” its Gen3 project as he expressed doubts over whether the new machines will be ready in time for next year.

As uncertainty over the progress of the next-generation Gen3 program grows, last year’s championship runner-up said the category had to make sure the project was done properly and didn’t “rush it through”.

But Supercars commission member and Triple Eight Race Engineering co-owner Jamie Whincup moved to ease concerns over the project’s 2022 launch, saying everything was moving “to make Gen3 happen next year”.

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Supercars chief executive Sean Seamer said at the start of the season the target was to have prototypes of the Gen3 cars ready to test by mid-year.

But as this timeline approaches, the only major reveal of the new Gen3 car has been the metal skeleton of the Triple Eight Race Engineering-built Camaro chassis last month.

Waters, second to Scott McLaughlin in last year’s title fight, said the lack of information over the Gen3 rollout had him doubting if it was going to happen in time for the start of the 2022 championship.

“I’m in two minds, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen or not,” the Tickford Racing star said.

“I think they need to make sure they do it properly and not rush it through.

“I’m not really sure where they’re at, no one has got any information on it to be honest.

“They just can’t afford to stuff it up.

“I am looking forward to the Gen3, as long as it’s done properly.”

Whincup, the seven-time Supercars champion who will take over as Triple Eight team boss next year, was confident the Gen3 cars would be on the grid for the start of next year.

“All planning and processes are in place to make Gen3 happen next year,” Whincup said.

“From Triple Eight’s perspective we are absolutely all guns blazing and doing absolutely everything we can to help Supercars make that achievable because it is important for the category for Gen3 to be racing in 2022.

“It’s further advanced, I think, than most people think it is. Because everyone is so busy making it happen, probably haven’t spent a heap of time on the communication of where it’s all at because we’ve dedicated that time into making it happen.

“I’m sure plenty of people would want to cruise along and do it over two or three years, but with that mentality, you end up falling behind the rest of the sports.”

Whincup expected the first Gen3 prototype would be ready to start testing mid-way through the year, but said the sport could still be fine-tuning the product as it raced next year.

“In an ideal world you would have 20,000km done on every engine and it would be all perfect squeaky clean before the first round,” Whincup said.

“Maybe we just won’t get anywhere near 20,000km tested on each engine, maybe there will be a bit of testing to be done in the first three rounds next year.

“But that’s not a bad thing from a spectator’s point of view, watching us all learn and develop the new car and do a bit of testing during races, that’s all part of the fun.”

Whincup said the sport could not afford to continue racing the outdated Commodore.

“The current product it’s (from) 2013, so it’s time for a new product to improve the racing, to be relevant, to add excitement to our whole fanbase,” the four-time Bathurst champion said.

“I believe it’s massively important to get that happening sooner rather than later.”

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Victoria Police looking to relaunch schools program in plan to bolster community ties

Victoria Police is pushing to bolster its presence in schools with a series of new programs more than a decade after the last strategy was officially scrapped, but experts are split over whether it will build community relations or is a worrying intervention by the police force.

Details of the strategy will be announced later this year, but the ABC understands it will not be as comprehensive as the police in schools program that was around roughly 30 years ago. 

From the 1970s to 2000s, Victoria Police officers were routinely part of sports clubs, while dedicated youth-liaison police officers went to schools, formed a “lecture squad” that regularly visited primary schools, and hosted Blue Light Discos.

The last formal program for police in schools was scrapped in 2005, although officers have continued with informal visits in the time since at the discretion of local stations.

The renewed push is a statewide strategy and comes as Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton seeks to bolster the force’s relationship with the community, particularly after a sometimes fractious 2020 that involved lockdowns and record fines for people breaching the state government’s coronavirus restrictions.

While some experts say the initiative shows the police are changing their image away from a “military style” of enforcement, lawyer Anoushka Jeronimus, who is the director of youth programs at WESTJustice, says the idea is terrible and shortsighted.

“We’re worried such a program would target schools identified as having kids labeled as ‘troubled’ and ‘at-risk’, and lead to unnecessary interactions with police,” Ms Jeronimus said.

“The police in schools program was reviewed and it was clear it should not continue and previous police commissioners have not supported it.”

She said it would be better to put funding into civil, legal and mental health education in schools.

“It’s confusing — they [police] can be friendly, but they won’t be your friend if you commit a crime, they will charge you.

“If the aim is to develop trust between police and young people, this would be better achieved through police being better trained to interact with young people like de-escalating conflict, unconscious bias and understanding the ages and stages and impact of trauma.”

Ms Jeronimum added there were other professionals that could be more beneficial to send into schools.

“Get the builders out there, the carpenters out there, engineers, people who can make these kids feel good about themselves and see their lives beyond the detention centre,” she said.

“That’s the aspiration you want to fuel kids across the state and there are so many ways you can do that, not with police in schools.”

Criminologist Richard Evans said while the formal police in schools program was pulled around 2005, senior sergeants in local stations had continued to bolster their relationship with schools on their own.

He said it was an old idea, but a good one.

“It has borne happy dividends over the years and this is particularly true in schools in disadvantaged areas where students are among potential young offenders,” he said.

“Overall, they’ve been a good thing and served to break down the suspicion and distrust between at-risk youth and police.

“The core principle remains the same — you have police acting as mentors and reaching out in particular to young boys and young men who are your likely offender.”

However, Dr Evans said there were different ways to approach the concept.

In particular, he would like to see an emphasis on female officers and officers from minority communities when the program was relaunched.

“Very much one of Victoria Police’s issues is it is very white bread. It tried to recruit from migrant and other minority communities without a great deal of success,” he said.

He also said the idea could serve as a way to change Victoria Police’s image from “military” and “warrior police” to “community”.

“I have grave reservations about some of the choices Victoria Police have made in recent years,” he said.

“The message sent by the current appearance is dreadful and intimidating. It makes you fearful, it even makes me fearful. I feel nervous about approaching them — it’s not an inviting, inclusive look.”

Ultimately, the issue was one of identity, according to Dr Evans.

“I don’t think Victoria Police knows what it wants to be: crime fighting and anti-terrorist or the friendly local copper,” he said.

“I’m pleased about this [police in schools] because it shows they are trying to engage more with the community than perhaps they have.”

Justice expert Rick Sarre from the University of South Australia said bringing police back to schools was likely a tactic to encourage more police reporting.

“It’s trying to engage young people with police in order to open up the lines of communication,” he said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of police solving crime is when they have information from the public, the idea that officers are running around dusting for prints is about 1 per cent of all good policing.

“So if you haven’t got those lines of communication because people think the police disrespect them or are nasty, communication breaks down, and then police struggle so they have to do things like stop-and-search.”

Professor Sarre said the strategy could change how people, particularly teenagers, perceive the police.

“Having a 13-year-old see police as human beings and as people they can trust is a stroke of genius,” he said.

Professor Sarre said the police in schools program was pulled when the police began to be perceived as too friendly and when crime was seen as “out of control”.

In turn, that led to officers “being seen as unapproachable, nasty and racist”.

But recent high profile court cases in the United States involving police brutality coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia and overseas has likely pressured Victoria Police into switching tact once again, Professor Sarre said.

“It’s a bit of a public relations exercise,” he said.

“A lot of it has to do with the growing multicultural nature of Melbourne, if not every city in Australia.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that they will have a Muslim police officer, a Sudanese police officer, young women police officers, they will not be fronting up with five white male 27-year-olds.”

A pilot program is already running in schools throughout the state and is expected to be included in the initiative. 

Blue EDGE [which stands for education, develop, grow, empower] is a health and fitness program run by the Blue Light Foundation and Victoria Police that sees officers volunteer two mornings a week to take part in fitness training and a group breakfast alongside students.

Corio’s Northern Bay College is the only school that’s part of the pilot in the Geelong region and although it had a rocky beginning, teachers and police officers say it’s been a huge success that’s had profound impacts on students’ lives in and outside the classroom.

After four months, they say students have created a trusting relationship with the officers and the program has come a long way since it started.

Steven Lewry is a teacher at Northern Bay involved in the program and said “day one was horrible”.

“It was no good,” he said.

Leading Senior Constable Alecia Spalding said the officers were lucky if we could sit with them for breakfast.

She said now the kids recognised and chatted with the officers if they saw them outside school.

“I think from day one to now, the relationship has completely changed,” Leading Senior Constable Spalding said.

“Kids’ perception of us as police members was not good, because that’s how they’ve either been brought up, grown to know through the media, but they just think police are bad.

“But now, they’re actually getting that police are real people. They want you to sit with them at breakfast, they save you a chair.”

Goldsworthy campus principal Erin Prendergast said the program was adopted to try to change students’ perception of police after some had negative run-ins with officers.

“I’m highly conscious of not highlighting the cops are in and out of kids’ home around here all the time,” she said.

“There is a small percentage of our students that, for whatever reason, believe the police are against them and we wanted to jump on that and demonstrate that’s not the truth.”

Police say the trust these kids have in the officers has extended beyond the schoolyard.

One Year 7 student arrived at Corio Police Station outside school hours after being assaulted and asked specifically for an officer who had visited the school.

“If it wasn’t for this program, he wouldn’t have turned up,” Leading Senior Constable Spalding said.

The children at this school aren’t strangers to police, with some having encountered officers on their doorstep to arrest their parents.

They’ve seen friends and siblings arrested on the street and some are frequently visited by officers in response to family violence incidents.

“They’ve probably been on the outskirts of an incident, it might have happened at a stake park where they just see the police uniform rock up and separate or take people away and they think we’re all bad,” Senior Sergeant Janet Gleeson said.

“These kids need to know we’re not just about enforcement. They can come to us for advice and to learn life lessons. They can come to us for help.”

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GP denies he designed a corporate heart check program that led to Peta Hickey’s death

A New South Wales doctor has denied he gave medical advice about a corporate heart check program that led to a Melbourne woman’s death, an inquest has heard.

Dr Doumit Saad’s electronic signature was used to refer company executives to get CT heart scans, but he told the Victorian Coroners Court he had no idea he was the referring doctor, despite his name being on the medical reports he was paid to review.

Under questioning, he was accused of fabricating his evidence to “save his own skin”.

Dr Saad said he would never let a patient undergo the invasive procedure, which used contrast dye, without seeing them first, as the risks included renal failure, anaphylactic reactions, and harm to pregnancies.

Mother-of-two Peta Hickey died after suffering an allergic reaction during a coronary angiogram organised by her employer.

She was allergic to contrast dye used in the procedure and died eight days later in hospital.

The 43-year-old senior executive had no medical history of cardiac problems when she had the scan at the suggestion of her employer, Programmed Skilled Workforce.

The company offered the heart check after one of its executives had a cardiac arrest while working overseas in 2018.

It outsourced the corporate health program to provider Priority Health Care Solutions which, in turn, contracted JobFit, a company offering medical assessments for business, to review the heart scans.

The referrals for the scan contained the signature of Dr Saad, a medical director employed by JobFit to review the test results.

Dr Saad said Priority Health Care Solutions used his signature without his knowledge or agreement.

“I didn’t create any referrals for the executive,” he told the inquest.

“I was never asked to create any referrals.”

Dr Saad said he had previously given Priority Health Care Solutions permission to use his electronic signature for a “specific and limited purpose” for other work and had provided written permission for its use — something he said was not done on this occasion.

The inquest had previously heard allegations Dr Saad gave advice to both Programmed and Priority Priority Health Care Solutions about the design of the cardiac assessment and told them that a pre-scan consultation was not required.

It was a suggestion he denied.

“I would never refer a patient to imaging that required contrast without seeing them first,” he told the court.

Dr Saad was paid $5,000 a month to review the scan results, but he never noticed he was listed as the referring doctor, the inquest heard.

He said he reviewed 30–40 reports a day and he would go straight to the conclusion.

Under questioning, Dr Saad said he never checked who the referring doctor was on a medical report.

“I don’t check that detail, I go straight to the relevant findings,” he said.

“That simply can’t be true,” said Raph Azjensztat,  the lawyer for Ms Hickey’s family.  

“It’s the truth … I review about 150–200 files a week. I just don’t check who the referring doctor is,” Dr Saad replied.

Contradicting evidence from other witnesses, Dr Saad repeatedly denied he was involved in a 45-minute phone hook-up with Priority Care in October 2018 to give advice on how the health program should be set up and run.

Counsel assisting the coroner Deborah Mandie put to the doctor that he had contributed to the design of the cardiac assessment on the call.

“It did not happen,” he told the inquest.

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