Lendlease unveils double-digit growth

Lend Lease new offices at Barangaroo tower 3,in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Anthony JohnsonGlobal developer and infrastructure group Lendlease has unveiled a 13 per cent rise in net profit to $698.2 million, based on high residential settlements, the current construction boom and rising forward construction contracts.
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With its cranes dotting the skyline of most capital cities, the group has said it is well placed heading into the 2017 fiscal year with “financial strength and diversity, and visibility of earnings”.

Lendlease’s most visible development, the $6 billion Barangaroo project at Sydney’s Darling Harbour, was a major contributor to the residential settlements, which were up 7 per cent to 4,790 units.

Work has also started on the new Crown resort at Barangaroo, which sits near the three commercial towers and apartments on the site. Lendlease has also recently moved into its new offices at Barangaroo which still has some space to lease in the last office tower, still under construction.

Lendlease never give earnings forecasts, but analysts said, based on the figures released for the full year and the forward contracts, they are predicting about 7 per cent earnings growth for the 2017 financial year.

Chief executive, Steve McCann said Lendlease settled over 1,200 apartments with non-settlements at less than 1 per cent versus the historical average of closer to 3 per cent.

“The forward sale of three major commercial buildings, two at International Quarter London and one at Darling Square in Sydney, has further de-risked our development exposure,” he said.

The Australian construction result was robust with earnings before interest tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margins up by more than 1 percentage point to 3.7 per cent. The Investments segment, representing 37 per cent of operating EBITDA, continues to deliver solid recurring style earnings.

The construction backlog revenue of $20.7 billion was up 20 per cent and the funds under management of $23.6 billion, up 11 per cent.

During the year Lendlease boosted its unlisted funds business with a new $400 million managed investment vehicle.

The group’s overseas business results were mixed, reflecting the different speeds of the world’s economies.

In Europe, the EBITDA increased to $180.1 million from $129.5m, up 39 per cent on the previous corresponding period.

Brokers said positively contributing to 2016 growth was a 110 per cent increase in property development EBITDA from $66.3 million in June 2015 to $139.5 million in June 2016 due to the international quarter sell-down. This however was offset by reduction in EBITDA across infrastructure development, construction and investment management business units.

In the  Americas, EBITDA of $104.5 million was down about 33 per cent from the 2015 year of $155.4 million due to a material fall in construction earnings from $116.9 million to $56.4 million as a result of the roll-off of work in the military housing sector.

​Macquarie Equities analysts said operating cashflow of $853 million compares to negative $166.6 million in 2015 which is a good outcome and should go some way to alleviating concerns on settlement risk of apartment product. Cash flow has been a negative for Lendlease for the last few years given the high amount of production capital.

“Whilst enjoying a better re-rating of late, the Lendlease share price has lagged in the last 12 months reflecting fears of significant apartment defaults which will derail an otherwise very strong earnings and cash flow profile in our view. With today’s result indicating the cash is coming in and the stock still trading on about 11 times earnings,” the analysts said.

A final distribution of 30¢ per stapled security was declared, taking the full year distribution to 60¢ per stapled security, payable on September 14.

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Glebe Island must remain a working port, industry says

The NSW government plans to dramatically transform the Glebe Island precinct. Photo: Robert PearceGlebe Island should continue to operate as a working port even as the government develops the harbourside land around it, industry leaders said on Friday.
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The commercial future of Glebe Island, which is Sydney’s major berth for more than 1 million tonnes of construction materials each year, has been unclear since the government released its plans to transform the Bays Precinct into an innovation district in October 2015.

At a business forum on the future of Sydney Harbour, industry leaders were especially frank with their concerns that the government had failed to appreciate the economic value of the port to the city’s commercial infrastructure.

“We must keep port land in Sydney Harbour for working-harbour activities. It is the lifeblood of the city,” Grant Gilfillan, chief executive of the Port Authority of NSW, told the forum.

“There have been various statements made by ministers that it [Glebe Island] is derelict land. That it is ready for urban regeneration, urban renewal.”

UrbanGrowth NSW, the government development agency, has not said it wants to end Glebe Island as a working point, but is resistant to the idea of apartments existing within an operational wharf precinct, the conference heard.

“Our challenge is that Urban Growth have listed a range of assumptions around this which they say are incompatible. We simply need to see that tested and challenged,” Mr Gilfillan said.

Arthur Psaltis​, finance director at Metro Environmental Logistics, which wants to ship sand from Tasmania into the port, slammed the prospect of closing the port as “ludicrous”.

Mr Psaltis said Glebe Island was an entry point into the “heart of the market” for construction because 80 per cent of Sydney’s demand for concrete existed within a 20-kilometre radius of the CBD.

Shifting commodities to Port Kembla and trucking them into the CBD would add at least 160,000 return truck movements to Sydney’s roads, he said.

“If you think the roads are bad now, it will be catastrophic in terms of what will happen to traffic on our roads. The M1 is already gridlocked.”

Rather than closing the port and relocating freighting and imports to Port Kembla near Wollongong, Mr Gilfillan said the government should pursue a mixed-use model where residential and offices are built on top of the port.

“We believe there is a way to build a port that sits underneath in a subterranean environment, with appropriate sort of urban renewal on top.”

This model has already been successfully implemented in cities abroad, such as London, the conference heard.

Lucy Owen, from the Port of London Authority, said the prospect of living above a commercial wharf had been embraced by Londoners.

“In London there are some very interesting places to live and I imagine there are some people who are quite excited about living above an operational wharf.”

Mr Psaltis said the approach of favouring multi-storey apartments over commercial development was based on a short-sighted premise of financial gain.

“The reality is, future generations will condemn us if we close this port.”

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Woolworths tipped to report heavy loss on back of restructuring, Masters exit

Analysts says Woolworths’ turnaround under CEO Brad Banducci will take longer and cost more than expected. Photo: Louie DouvisWhen Woolworths reports its full-year results on Thursday, expect to see a loss of about $1 billion, analysts say, after restructuring costs and its exit from the disastrous Masters hardware business.
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Credit Suisse analysts say that with a restructuring charge of $960 million and its exit from the Masters Home Improvement business being treated as a “discontinued operation”, total impairments could hit $2.7 billion. That could leave Woolies with a statutory loss of around $1 billion.

Woolworths’ major shareholders have been impatient for Australia’s biggest supermarket chain to stitch up a deal for the disposal of its hardware assets. The company is expected to make some sort of announcement as part of its full-year results.

Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci in May unveiled a strategic review to turn around the company’s declining supermarket sales and stop it falling further behind rival Coles.

On Wednesday, Coles’ parent company Wesfarmers reports its results. Meat sales over the past 12 months have played a significant role in supporting the company’s broader fresh sales results but recent stock shortages will potentially hurt comparable sales growth in the first quarter of the new financial year.

Coles had been battling to get fresh food back on the shelves after more than 640 workers walked off the job at its stores earlier this month.

For both major retailers, the bigger threat is Aldi’s aggressive expansion. The German supermarket giant has managed to reduce Coles and Woolworths’ share of the lucrative grocery market from 75 per cent to closer to 70 per cent.

All up, 87 major companies are due to report this week – the biggest of the August profit season. Fortescue reports on Monday, Oil Search, Scentre Group and Healthscope on Tuesday, while on Wednesday Wesfarmers is joined by Boral and Westfield in giving result updates.

On Thursday, apart from Woolworths, expect profit figures from Amcor, Perpetual and S32, and on Friday the highlights are Harvey Norman and Coca-Cola Amatil.

AMP Capital head of investment strategy Shane Oliver said overall profits look to have fallen 8 per cent in financial year 2015-16 thanks to weakness in resource profits following a tough period for commodities markets.

But Mr Oliver was more optimistic on the coming financial year, saying the listed corporate sector was “on track for a return to growth in 2016-17 as the slump in resources profits reverses and non-resource stocks see growth”.

Investors will also likely continue to ponder the resilience of the Australian dollar, which eased last week but looks well supported by the global search for yield – Australia’s cash rate of 1.5 per cent, while historically low, remains relatively high across developed economies.

A key influence is the expected pace of monetary tightening in the world’s largest economy.

Over the past few weeks US Fed members have been talking up the odds of a rate hike, but thus far foreign exchange traders “remain unimpressed”, BK Asset Management currency strategist Boris Schlossberg said. “Few players [are] factoring a hike in December, much less September.”

Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief currency strategist Richard Grace believes the Aussie dollar, which fetched 76.25 US cents on Saturday, could lift as high as 78.4 US cents in the coming weeks, thanks to a “benign” Australian economic environment and as the terms of trade stabilises.

“However, by year-end another RBA rate cut and another Fed rate hike should bring [the dollar] back to 73 US cents,” Mr Grace said. 

Economists will begin piecing together the puzzle of how the domestic economy has performed over the three months to June, with quarterly construction work data due late Wednesday morning.

The June quarter national accounts are due on September 7. “Residential building approvals and commencements data suggest housing investment is likely to have pushed higher to a new record level,” over the three months, ANZ economist Daniel Gradwell said. But continued weakness in mining-related engineering construction is expected to drag overall activity lower again.

On Wednesday morning skilled vacancies figures are also released.

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UFC 202: Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz is just entertainment

All show: Nate Diaz will fight Conor McGregor in UFC 202. Photo: Ethan MillerThere is a fine, fine line between sport and entertainment. In fact, it could be argued the two concepts are so intrinsically linked that one could not exist without the other.
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But perhaps the biggest culprit of sport’s dependence on entertainment is the fight game.

Boxing, and now mixed martial arts with the rise of the UFC, have glorified in the subtle mix between sport and show.

Think back to the Don King mega-bouts that still live in folklore today: the Thrilla in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle. These fights matched the best of the best in the ring, linked hand-in-hand with the promotion of a major Hollywood studio production.

And while Muhammad Ali may have set an unreachable bar for press conferences, those that follow in his footsteps have continued the tradition of trash talking their opponents to entice fans to buy tickets, or watch on pay-per-view, in the hopes of lining their wallets in this most brutal of professions.

And who can blame them for that?

The problem is when the event no longer becomes about the sport, but rather is only about the show. And herein lies the fundamental problem with the UFC’s much-billed rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.

Back in March, Diaz shocked the fighting world when he dealt the brash Irishman his first loss in the Octagon. McGregor – who was lined up to fight lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos before he succumbed to injury 11 days out – was paired against Diaz, who took the fight on eight days’ notice.

Back then, it made sense for the fight to go ahead. There had been much promotion around McGregor’s move up in weight divisions (he was the featherweight champion) after his spectacular knockout of decade-long champion Jose Aldo, and with UFC196 ready to go, a stand-in fighter was desperately needed to save the day.

Diaz did just that, but then went off-script when he won by submission in the second round.

A rematch was talked up immediately after that non-title fight and, despite a McGregor feud with UFC president Dana White escalating, the bout was locked in for UFC202.

Now, McGregor is facing Diaz again, but this time, there is very little logic behind the fight.

They are not fighting for a title. They are not fighting to earn the right to a title fight. If anything, they are just fighting.

The McGregor-Diaz II fight hurdles over that thin line separating the sport from entertainment, and is now just the latter.

If McGregor wins, then what? Has he proven himself at welterweight so he is worthy of a title bout?

You would argue that he hasn’t. He has fought a good fighter (who is traditionally a lightweight), but he is not fighting a champion or former champion. He has only proven he can win a fight in the division.

The growing feeling is this is the UFC’s attempt at a do-over. McGregor, one of their most marketable athletes, needs to regain his attraction and pull by besting his new nemesis. There is no consideration what will happen should he lose.

Meanwhile, Diaz only has a pay cheque to gain. He has already beaten the Irishman. And despite suffering an early round of shots, he was comfortable in that fight. What more can he prove?

If he wins, it doesn’t represent anything in the wider context of the lightweight or welterweight divisions and, if he loses, it hurts any future prospects at a title fight in his division.

There is enough anger – feigned or genuine – between the pair that this should be a good fight. But it is just that, a fight.

It would seem the UFC are choosing the show over the sporting relevance.

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GWS Giants forward Jonathon Patton emerges as AFL star against Fremantle Dockers

Jonathon Patton reached the light at the end of a horrific injury tunnel after booting a career-best six goals for the Giants in Saturday’s thumping win over Fremantle.
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And co-captain Phil Davis warns the future will only continue to brighten for Patton as the two reconstructions it took to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee fade to a distant memory.

Saturday’s game was Patton’s 52nd at AFL level after being drafted at No.1 in 2011 and easily his best, with the 23-year-old kicking more goals off his own boot than Fremantle managed the entire game.

He’s played all but one game this year after completing an entire pre-season for the first time and the scars on his knee are all that remains of the seemingly endless months he spent shrouded in the darkness of long-term injury.

“Everyone has bad thoughts whenever they get injured,” Davis said.

“It’s obviously an extremely challenging aspect of footy, long-term injuries. The great thing about Jonny was how he attacked it, in particular that second one, it was amazing.

“He’s pretty special in terms of how he went about it. You’ve got to talk to him, I’ve had a few long-term injuries as well and lent advice during that time.

“[Quitting] wouldn’t have crossed his mind. One thing about Jonny is he’s extremely competitive and he’s really driven.”

Patton has had to draw on every scrap of that competitive spirit to haul him back from the depths.

Before his AFL career even began, Patton was sent to Stockholm requiring treatment for patellar tendonitis in his left knee.

He debuted in round 12 of 2012, but three weeks into season 2013 Patton went down with the first of his ACL injuries, writing off the rest of that year.

The second torn ACL followed in round 21 of 2014, and part of Patton’s rehabilitation sent him to the USA to work with Bill Knowles who had previously helped the likes of Tiger Woods and Frank Lampard.

“He’s had an unfortunate run of luck with his injuries but at the end of the day he’s just starting to get going in his career,” Davis said.

“Last night was a big step to kick six and how he kicked six, they were really impressive goals and impressive marks.

“He’s got an enormous future and it’s pretty exciting when you can just put it down his throat and he can make it happen.”

Patton started slowly against Fremantle before kicking a couple of goals in the second quarter and exploding to life roughly eight minutes after half time.

Up until then the Dockers had restricted the Giants’ rapid ball movement for lengthy periods, but a strong Patton mark and goal sparked an 11-goal-to-nil second half for GWS.

“I didn’t have a good start to the game at all and then after quarter time the delivery was really good and there’s not too much defenders can do when there’s connection between a forward and a mid like that,” Patton said.

“When your midfield’s playing well, your backs aren’t getting beat, it’s very hard for the opposition to score and I’m not sure if there was one player out there tonight that didn’t play their role.”

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Matt Giteau and Rob Horne ruled out for rest of Rugby Championship

The Wallabies are searching for a new centres pairing after their Bledisloe Cup hopes took another major blow with Matt Giteau and Rob Horne ruled out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship.
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And Michael Cheika is preparing to be without another playmaker in Matt Toomua for the second Test in Wellington after he was taken from the field in the first half of his side’s biggest-ever home defeat – a 42-8 loss to the All Blacks – due to a head knock.

For Giteau, 33, his Wallabies future is hanging by a thread after suffering a syndesmosis injury in the opening exchanges on Saturday evening.

It is an even tougher pill to swallow for the 103-Test veteran after making the trek back from club duties in Toulon knowing full well he faced the risk of being financially worse off.

“He’s done a pretty good job on his leg,” Cheika said. “He’s disappointed but he’s also very realistic. He’s a pro, he still knows he’s got to get himself right to get back to his club commitments later in the season so that’s what he will be doing.”

On a night where three centres were taken off for different injuries, Cheika did not use such bad luck as an excuse for his side’s uninspiring performance.

Horne received scans on Sunday for a shoulder dislocation and will more than likely require surgery.

For Toomua, he will be monitored throughout the week but has been rated little chance of lining up for the must-win game in Wellington.

“I would say he will struggle to be available for this week after he took a pretty heavy head knock,” Cheika said. “We’ll just go through the recovery protocols for the head knock and see how he stands.”

Cheika now has to sit down with the other coaches to best work out how to fill the void at No.12.

The obvious replacement would be Samu Kerevi, who started there in the first two Tests against England, however someone like a Quade Cooper or even Reece Hodge could do a job.

Although fullback Israel Folau slotted into second receiver at various points, Cheika said he was reluctant to move him into the midfield.

“I’ve always seen Israel in the fullback role and that’s been his main role and it’s probably somewhere I’d like to see him keep playing,” Cheika said.

Vice-captain Michael Hooper said the team were feeling for the injured trio, particularly Giteau who has worked so hard to stay within the Wallabies set-up over the last few years.

“It sucks for Matt and for the wider team,” Hooper said. “Hugely disappointing for himself. He’s such a vibrant character with him and Drew [Mitchell] and the other guys who come back. For him to go out so early in the game is really tough to take so it’ll be disappointing not having him at full fitness.”

Cheika disagreed that the Wallabies were in the midst of a post-World Cup hangover and yet again defended his decision to bring a number of older, experienced players back for the series.

“It’s four losses [in 2016] and that shows that we’re out of form and we need to get back in form quickly,” Cheika said. “We’re going to have a week where there’s going to be a lot of negativity around us and it’s going to be a chance to stick together as much as possible and build something out of adversity. We put ourselves there and now we’ve got to get out.

“It’s not like we’re in pension zone from the point of view of the average age of the squad.”

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Grassroots Healing: Good Life Farm helps troubled teens grow confidence

Roaming alpacas: What looks like a carefree day on The Good Life Farm is about something more. Photo: Eddie Jim The Good Life Farm is devoted to helping at-risk young people from Melbourne’s suburbs. Photo: Eddie Jim
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Lesley Porter says the farm teaches consequences: “No firewood, no fire, no lunch. It’s how life is.” Photo: Eddie Jim

Boys at the farm are required to do health checks on the animals and see to their needs. Photo: Eddie Jim

Mucking out: Streams of young people pass through The Good Life Farm each year. Photo: Eddie Jim

Although the horses are big and gentle, kids soon learn they can’t be pushed around. Photo: Eddie Jim

Many of the boys at the farm find themselves drawn to the horses. Photo: Eddie Jim

Lesley Porter wants to establish similar farms across the nation. Photo: Eddie Jim

If it’s pork tomorrow, the boys know it has come from a pig they might have fed last week. Photo: Eddie Jim

The boys attending the course still live at home with parents and family and attend school. Photo: Eddie Jim

Lesley Porter with her daughter Tennile, who also works on the farm. Photo: Eddie Jim

Kids and their therapists attend the farm course. Photo: Eddie Jim

Everyone gathers wood for the campfire. Photo: Eddie Jim

On the farm with dogs Bilbo Baggins and Beamo. Photo: Eddie Jim

Most courses at the farm comprise an equal number of boys and girls. Photo: Eddie Jim

Smoke curls around the figures of 10 boys on a Yarra Valley hillside in wisps and hangs among the trees.

Two horses, coated against the wintry air, drift by. A couple of dogs – Beamo, a border collie-kelpie cross, and Bilbo Baggins, a large-boned animal of indeterminate breed – slink between their legs.

Potatoes roast in the ashes of a campfire. Beans heat in a camp oven. Later the boys will toast marshmallows, sticking the confectionary on sticks. Laughter floats among the trees.

It could, with a tweak here and there, be a painting from the Heidelberg school. An impressionist’s view of a carefree day in the Australian bush.

It is something else altogether.

Those boys up there on the hillside – the one with the anxious eyes, the young fellow laughing too self-consciously, the big lad hunkered down in his hoodie, not looking at any of the others – all of them, one way or another, are askew within themselves.

With a bit of fortune, plenty of encouragement, a dose of prodding and the touch of the wet nose and the warm coat of a dog, a horse or a cow, they are learning to regulate the unreliable beat of their spirits and their moods, to operate in some syncopation with the team they are becoming.

This is The Good Life Farm, a Yarra Valley property at Chum Creek, near Healesville, devoted to helping troubled and at-risk young people from Melbourne’s suburbs to gain a measure of control, confidence and direction in their lives.

Lesley Porter, a no-nonsense woman with a heart the size of the sky, set up The Good Life Farm some years ago for a straightforward reason.

She wanted to save lives.

She wanted, she says, “to show kids that you don’t have to continually repeat the cycle of being emotionally or physically or spiritually disadvantaged”.

Lesley has an uncommon knowledge of what such words mean.

Aged five, she was orphaned when her entire immediate family was killed in a car crash in England. She was raised by a grandmother who, she says, brought her to Australia but didn’t want her.

“When I was nine, I was living in a caravan by myself outside a house owned by people who didn’t want to share their table with me, estranged from everyone,” she says. “I was sexually abused, physically abused, emotionally abused.”

And then, aged 11, she got a job mucking out the stables at a riding school at Healesville.

The first time she touched a strong, gentle horse, she knew what love felt like. It breathed salvation.

“Horses saved my life,” she says.

“That’s what I created this place is for. To introduce kids to animals. To save lives.”

It took years, and as a non-profit arrangement, the farm relies on donations, bequests and funding from schools and shires, though there never seems to be quite enough.

Nevertheless, The Good Life Farm has emerged as the only such organisation in Australia and Lesley dreams of establishing more farms across the nation.

“One of the big things missing in the lives of a lot of the young people who come here is boundaries – they’ve never been given or taught the meaning of boundaries,” she says, watching at the boys sitting around their campfire.

“I’m old-school. I’ll tell them how it is, and I’ll stick to it. They need to know there are consequences: no firewood, no fire, no lunch. It’s how life is.”

Everyone gathered wood; even the boy who first refused and sat on a log, staring at the ground, thinking about the deal for long minutes. Eventually, he became so enthusiastic he lit the fire.

Without quite knowing it, these city kids squelching around paddocks in rubber boots are learning about the beat of their own hearts. Grassroots Healing, it’s called.

They are surrounded by horses, dogs, cattle, pigs, chooks, turkeys and goats.

They are required to tend to the needs of the creatures.

None of it is sugar-coated. If they are to eat pork chops tomorrow, Lesley explains their meal has come from a pig they might have fed last week.

When Fairfax Media turns up a boy rushes up with the warning that “you mustn’t turn your back on the big brown alpaca. She’ll try to jump on your back”.

“If she comes at you, stand still and look her in the face,” says another boy. “Her name’s Rosa. She’s really nice, actually.”

Rosa turns out to be an inquisitive and gentle animal, forever following us around. Lesley tells us that four weeks ago, when this group of boys arrived, they were all terrified of Rosa.

They wouldn’t go near Stimpy, either, the old friesian-angus cow with big horns.

Now, the boys hand-feed her hay and comb her coat, mourning when they learn that she has lost her teeth and will, soon, be put down because she is losing so much condition.

The boys are required to do health checks on all the animals, and see to their needs.

“I tell them there are seven things that all living things need,” says Lesley.

“Food, water, sunshine, oxygen, shade, shelter and company. The kids have to make sure all the animals have all these things, and it reinforces the idea that they should check on themselves and their mates, too.”

Most of the boys have found themselves drawn to the horses. The animals are big and gentle, but those of the group who have been bullies soon learn you can’t push a horse around.

Though we have gained permission to spend a day with and photograph the boys, for reasons of privacy we are not to use their names in print. Trust is a big word around The Good Life Farm. Streams of young people with different names pass through these paddocks each year. The names are not as important as the stories of what this place comes to mean to them.

The 10 boys attending the farm on this day are in the fourth week of a 10-week course called “student well-being”, held each Wednesday.

Most courses at the farm comprise an equal number of boys and girls. But too few girls were put forward by their schools this time, and the farm had no wish to have, say, two girls among eight boys.

Those attending the student well-being course were recommended by their schools because of low-level social and behavioural problems – some bully or are bullied; some are frustrated by learning difficulties. Some are given to verbal outbursts, some push and shove teachers and other students. Some are withdrawn. Most are anxious.

“Most of these kids can’t regulate their emotions – they feel something, they let it out,” says Tenille Porter, Lesley’s daughter who is studying post-graduate psychology and who spends much of her time among the young people who come to the farm.

Those attending this course might have problems, Tenille says, but they still live at home with parents and family and attend school.

Other courses held on different days of the week at the farm are for much more profoundly-damaged young people who have few reliable moorings.

Many of them are homeless, are sent to the farm as a condition of probation from juvenile detention, are deep in drug and alcohol and legal problems, have suffered dreadful abuse as children, and have often altogether lost their way. The sort of kids who, in another part of Australia, might find themselves in a place like the Don Dale Detention Centre, of Northern Territory infamy.

Lesley’s voice becomes tender when she talks about these young people.

“They’ve never had proper childhoods,” she says, and tells of taking one group of tough tearaways off for a picnic.

“You know what they wanted to do?” she asks. “All they wanted to do was play hide and seek. They loved it. They’d never played it before.”

Donations to The Good Life Farm can be made through 梧桐夜网goodlifefarm.org.

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Only Daughter, Anna Snoekstra’s debut novel set in Canberra, is bound for Hollywood

Anna Snoekstra, whose debut novel Only Daughter, a thriller set in Canberra, has been picked up in the US by Universal pictures. Photo: Elesa Kurtz It all started with the sound of glass breaking in the dead of night.
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Someone had smashed Anna Snoekstra’s car windows outside her Melbourne home, and she couldn’t get back to sleep. Paranoid thoughts began crowding her mind; it didn’t help that she’d been thinking a lot about film noir, imposter stories and the creeping fear of the unknown. On this night, as a way of calming herself down, she started mapping out a story in her head, on involving a missing girl, and a woman who returns, years later, claiming to be her.

As it happened, no one was after Snoekstra – she had simply left her wallet in the car and someone had broken the window to steal it. But the germ of a genuine pot-boiler was already fermenting.

Three years down the track, her highly-anticipated debut novel is about to be released, and Hollywood is already knocking.

Entitled Only Daughter, the book fits squarely in what’s been dubbed the Gone Girl genre, in that, like the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, it involves a female protagonist who is, ostensibly, in danger. It’s also part of the Girl on the Train juggernaut – the 2015 novel which rides on the back of Gone Girl. But what distinguishes this book from those two bestsellers – and the 30 or so titles that are riding on their coattails – is the fact that Only Daughter is set in Canberra.

Canberra is, says Snoekstra, the perfect setting for a troubled teenaged protagonist, living through one of the city’s hottest summers, and permeated with a sense of looming danger, both real – the 2003 bushfires – and unnamed, and therefore creepy. The daughter of the title, Rebecca Winter, goes missing, and 11 years later, a young woman, as a way of getting out of being arrested for shoplifting, claims to be her.

“I grew up here, so it felt really natural to be talking about someone’s childhood and being a teenager,” says Snoekstra, over lunch in Manuka. She spent her childhood in Canberra’s south, and finished her schooling at Narrabundah College, before moving to Melbourne to study creative writing and cinema. But, while her family have also moved away, she returns here regularly, and it has always struck her as a great setting for a psychological thriller.

“It just felt like a natural place to talk about being a teenager for one, and also a really safe place where bad things don’t happen,” she says.

“That’s how it was in my head, and also very suburban. And the other side of it is that really stark architecture, this is where all the politics happens.”

Backtrack to three years ago, and Snoekstra was working nights in a Melbourne cinema when she first struck on the idea of a novel.

“I thought about the idea for a long, long time before I actually wrote anything – months and months, just because I was working in the cinema,” she says.

“I felt like I should probably get a proper job, or a more regular job, and I knew committing myself to writing a novel was going to be a big thing to do, so I was going back and forth, because I really loved the idea, and I just wasn’t sure if that’s what I should be putting my time into at that time in my life.”

She had long been fascinated by the legend of Bluebeard – the ancient folk about a man whose wives disappear mysteriously, one by one. She loved imposter stories – The Changeling, and Anastasia – and psychological thrillers like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and George Cuckor’s Gaslight. It’s no wonder the car windows smashing in the dead of night had her spooked.

“I was interested in the idea of taking someone’s life, and two stories set in the same place but from two different perspectives,” she says.

But not once did the thought of publishing or marketing tropes enter her mind. Gone Girl had only recently been published when she began writing and besides, it’s a genre that has been around for centuries. She even wrote a Master’s thesis focusing on the Bluebeard genre – “one of the oldest myths in storytelling”.

So the fact that she’s being primed to join a current runaway publishing phenomenon is confusing, if not a little galling.

“I’ve read all of them, those kind of books. It’s good, but it’s also a little annoying because that kind of genre has been around for such a long time,” she says.

“Gone Girl was such a big hit, which is great – that kind of brought it to light, then everything’s ‘the next Gone Girl’, to the point where every female-based crime book is called ‘girl’ something. If you look in the bookshops, there are about 30 of them, and it seems a bit crazy that they’re just using that name and trying to make it into some phenomenon of girl books.”

Not that she’s complaining. She spent about a year writing the book, and began shopping it around in Australia. Not one agent was interested, so she went to the US. There, an agent picked it up straight away, and before long, she had a publisher. And then another and another: the book is now coming out in 19 countries, although interestingly, Australia didn’t pick it up until at least 10 other countries had got in first.

In the years since finishing Only Daughter – whose original title was The New Winter – she’s already sold her next two novels to Harper Collins – one of which is already finished, and has recently been exchanging emails with the translator of the book’s German edition, and the Australian voice artist who is reading the Audiobook version. Not to mention the fact that the film has been optioned by Universal Pictures – she has a vivid recollection of taking the call from a hyper-excited film agent while still in her pyjamas at 7.00am – and the screenplay is being written by the same person who did The Girl on the Train. Debut novelists don’t get huge advances for their work, but selling the film option meant Snoekstra could quit her job at the cinema for a bit and focus on writing.

So far, so surreal for a young writer with no profile and no knowledge of the publishing industry. Although, sitting in Manuka on a wintry day, just around the corner from the McDonalds branch where part of the book is set, she says things feel surprisingly normal for the moment.

“I think that’s because it’s been my reality for two years now. The movie stuff came up in probably a bit over a year ago,” she says. But, amid all the excitement about movies and scripts and speculation as to who might play the film’s lead (Emma Stone, a redhead like the book’s protagonist, comes irresistibly to mind), the book itself has yet to hit the shops. There have been positive advance reviews on some literary websites, but as for what’s coming, she has no idea what to expect. She’s no wiser, really, than when she first started out, although she’s clear-minded about the luck of timing involved.

“I had no platform, I had nothing really going for me. The only way I was going to really be able to do what I actually wanted to do was just to think of a really good idea and write something really, really well, and that’s the only way I could actually get people to take notice of me,” she says.

“I was just lucky that what I was interested in was what a lot of people were interested in. But I mean, it’s in that genre, domestic noir, it’s something that keeps coming back, so even if this thing hadn’t happened now, maybe it would have.”

And what of her beloved hometown – much changed since her teens? Amusingly, the international response to the Canberra depicted in the novel has focused on how damn exotic we all sound here.

“I was trying to get across in the book that whole thing about the city and the bush being pressed up against each other a little bit, which is something I think is so beautiful about Canberra and so unique,” she says.

It helps that she has used the 2003 bushfires as a vivid and atmospheric backdrop to the story, although there is a certain amount of personal pain underlying the narrative.

“I was a teenager when that happened here, and I just remember it so vividly, and when I was writing those chapters was in one of Melbourne’s hottest summers, 2013-14,” she says.

“I was in Melbourne [on Black Saturday] and also my grandparents died in the Ash Wednesday fires. So bushfires in my family has always been a real soft spot, a real fear, I think.”

And while the story itself is not based on any real events, she made the second character – the lookalike imposter who remains unnamed throughout – 25, the same age as she was when she was writing.

“She changed ages a few times in it, but I thought that it was something that doesn’t really get written about very often, that time where you realise that you’re an adult and that things actually matter and you don’t always know what you’re meant to be doing,” she says.

It’s safe to say that Snoekstra, now at the still-tender age of 28, knows exactly what she’s meant to be doing, even if it means carrying the burden of a much-hyped genre on her shoulders, at least for now.

Only Daughter, by Anna Snoekstra, is published by Harlequin, and is released September 15.  

The book will be launched on August 27 at the National Museum of Australia at 10.00am as part of the Canberra Writers Festival. Visit canberrawritersfestival南京夜网419论坛 for more information. 

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Kim Mahood returns to the Tanami Desert again and again in Position Doubtful

Artist and author Kim Mahood with her dog Pirate in her studio near Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares Artist and author Kim Mahood says words are the most powerful medium for her ideas. Photo: Andrew Meares
Nanjing Night Net

On the morning I meet the artist and writer Kim Mahood, she has driven her ute nonstop for 1000 kilometres on her way home to Canberra from the Tanami Desert in Western Australia, a journey she has made back and forth across the continent for more than 20 years with the compulsion of a migrating bird.

A small, lean figure with a dry sense of humour, unfazed by flat tyres and solitude, Mahood seems honed for no-frills survival. Cleaning out her vehicle after the long drive with her dog, Pirate, she found a wire used for digging out witchetty grubs, a tomahawk and remnants of cooked kangaroo tail. Yet her conversation and her creative work have the subtle eloquence of an urban intellectual.

Many readers remember with passionate respect her first book, Craft for a Dry Lake, a memoir published in 2000 and winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and the Age Book of the Year for non-fiction. Prompted by her father’s death in a helicopter crash, she wrote in earthy, glistening prose about her first trip back in 1992 to Mongrel Downs, the Tanami cattle station where she had been raised amid low spinifex country and lakes that dramatically fill and disappear.

Her long-awaited second book, Position Doubtful, tracks her itinerant life and work since then, exploring Australia’s complexity through her unusual position at the interface of cultures. The title, a term that appears all over maps of the region, also describes her restless love affair with the remote place that shaped her.

“It felt like there just weren’t enough voices out there that had both the knowledge and the capacity to make it accessible to a broader public,” she says of her decision to write again. “There’s this huge continent, most of which Australians don’t know about, and I happen to know a lot about a pocket that can stand for other pockets. Every tiny community in outback Australia has the stories around it that I’ve amplified in this book.”

Her original purpose was to trace in images and words her own connections to the palimpsest of geography, people and history. Over the years her work broadened into collaborations with the Aboriginal people to record their stories on beautiful hand-painted canvas maps that layer natural and traditional places with the names of missions, cattle stations and mines.

During her latest visit to her base in the tiny community of Mulan, she continued 10 years’ work with the Walmajarri people of Lake Gregory to create a calendar of seasonal plants and animals on a large circular ground canvas.

Mahood was only three weeks old in 1953 when her father was posted as acting superintendent to Hooker Creek, a Warlpiri community where she was cared for by a woman who gave her a skin name, a bush name and a dreaming. At school in Alice Springs, she says, “I had a natural affinity with the Aboriginal kids; I was this weird little outsider who didn’t quite fit in the classroom.”

By the time she was 10 her family had lived all over the Northern Territory for her father’s work as a stock inspector (though he wanted to be an artist) and settled on Mongrel Downs. In the 1980s the station would become the Warlpiri-owned Tanami Downs, which is now being liquidated because, despite being well managed, it can no longer support viable numbers of cattle.

Mahood led a “dual life, to-ing and fro-ing between the life in absolutely nowhere and Perth boarding school. I think that set up the dichotomy I still occupy between the intellectual nexus and this land-based knowledge”.

She began university but found “I don’t have an academic temperament, I kept getting absorbed in something not on the course”. At Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney she learnt the unfashionable formal skills that gave her confidence to work in experimental forms of painting and sculpture. With commercial shows, grants and teaching, she has mostly made her living as an artist.

It was only after keeping a journal about her first trip back to the desert and the art she made there that she began her first serious piece of writing. Some of it she recognised as “good enough” to become Craft for a Dry Lake.

The title and cover image for that book came from an old tin boat she found in the desert. She thought it was the boat she had sailed on with her father as a child and an artist friend, Pam Lofts, photographed her dragging the tinny across the sand. Later Mahood remembered their boat had been a wooden yacht and could not have survived.

Lofts’ death is one of many that punctuate Position Doubtful. Mahood’s mother dies “suddenly and without fuss”, her dog Slippers is hit by a car, and some of the older Aboriginal people succumb to illness.

Recording Indigenous knowledge of the land is increasingly important to Mahood and she reproduces an English translation of the story told by a Ngardi woman, Dora, of her people’s travel on foot across the land, each place named and significant.

“Change is why humans are on the planet,” she says. “But I do feel that original way of being in the country, that evolved from people living in it for thousands of years and walking all day every day, produced a sensibility that is almost gone now.”

Mahood is affectionate but unsentimental about the Aboriginal communities, which she depicts as fraught with the constantly changing policies of kartiya (whitefella) bureaucrats and “the dastardly things people do in pursuit of their own agendas – I’m talking about blackfellas”. Much of the latter was left out but may appear one day in a fictional form.

She did struggle to write “a bad novel” after Craft from which she later extracted a short story, which won the Elizabeth Jolley Prize. She thinks there are more stories buried in the discarded manuscript.

“I’m interested now in the challenge of fiction, that’s the bone between my teeth,” she says. There she can further explore “the gritty ground full of all the stuff you’re not supposed to talk about; it’s so clouded over with obfuscation and people’s sensitivities and anxieties and prejudices that cut both ways. Within it are these really complex stories that don’t fit any stereotype and I find that totally fascinating.”

In order to do her own work, Mahood has to retreat from the chaotic communal life of Mulan to her “introspective, fairly introverted self” and her home outside Canberra, where she shares a large studio shed with friends.

Some of her new art will be sculptures on welded steel frames using old blankets and a swag cover from the Mulan tip. Some may be paintings that include text, such as the series of watercolours she painted to capture the long, low mountain range between Mulan and Balgo: nine postcards illustrate the story of her trying to leave Mulan, stopping to pick up a woman who then urged her to investigate distant smoke, which led them to some women who had run out of fuel, so Mahood gave them her fuel and had to stay the night at Balgo. On the last panel the passenger chides Mahood, “People shouldn’t go bush without enough fuel”.

However, she says, words are the hardest but most powerful medium for her ideas. She has learnt the craft by reading authors such as Alice Munro (“I felt a knife had been inserted in my brain and words inserted”) and V.S. Naipaul (“I counted about 10 things he achieved in a couple of paragraphs and I could manage four”).

“People imagine a book came out of your head onto the page,” she says, “and you feel you’ve grappled an enraged, rabid orang utan for about five years, losing more often than winning. A lot of the time I really hate writing, but it’s like a Rubik’s Cube and click, click, click, suddenly it’s all in place.”

Working from journals and notes scribbled over the years on scraps of paper, in her car logbook and whatever was to hand, she used the software Scrivener to organise the fragments into categories and then a linked manuscript, which took precise editing to produce what Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe praises as “chapters [that] unfurl like ribbons of red dunes”.

Position Doubtful is more outward gazing than her first grief-driven book and Mahood says she’s done with writing memoir.

“I couldn’t think of writing a book like Craft now; it’s someone else who wrote it,” she says. “I’m somewhat shocked that I wrote it, to have been so raw. I know that’s what gives it its power and it’s still the element that upsets some of my family – that’s the downside of having a writer in the family. Because I wrote it I now don’t need to write it.”

Position Doubtful is published by Scribe at $29.99. Kim Mahood will speak at Gleebooks in Sydney on August 23 and at Melbourne Writers Festival on September 4. And Another Thing

Mahood was able to finish Position Doubtful in the past year after receiving a $40,000 grant from the Australia Council in the only round that considered all art forms together before the Minister for the Arts, George Brandis, cut funding.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Iain Reid: books that changed me

Iain Reid, author of new thriller, I’m Thinking of Ending Things.Iain Reid is the Canadian author of two critically acclaimed memoirs, One Bird’s Choice and The Truth About Luck (named by Canada’s Globe and Mail as one of the best books of 2013). His new thriller, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Text Publishing), follows a young couple who take an unexpected detour on a road trip. Reid recently received the 2015 RBC Taylor Emerging Author award. He lives in Kingston, Ontario. One Man’s Meat
Nanjing Night Net

E.B. White

I found this book on one of the shelves at the farmhouse where I grew up. I knew White from Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, books I’d loved as a child, but it wasn’t until I read his essays that I started to fully appreciate White’s skill. Although most were written 50 years or so before I was born, it was thrilling to read (in such beautiful prose) about a small farm that seemed similar to my own.  Under the Net

Iris Murdoch

I read Under the Net, Murdoch’s first novel, after my brother gave it as a gift on my 21st birthday. I knew it was about a struggling young writer in London, and for some reason I kept putting it off. For the first few weeks of 21, other books felt more urgent. Once I started, though, I felt silly for having not read it immediately. There are few writers as funny and as smart as Murdoch.  The Loser

Thomas Bernhard

Funny, weird, and unsettling. I bought this special book for $2 at a secondhand bookshop and devoured it while living in Toronto, a couple of years after graduating university. I was, and remain, amazed at how often the book makes me laugh, considering the content. I enjoy returning to it once a year or so, as I always find something else that I appreciate. Intricate in the very best way.  The Notebook Trilogy

Ágota Kristóf

A trilogy of transfixing, disturbing novels by the Hungarian author, and unlike anything I’ve read. I read the entire trilogy over a long weekend while staying at a friend’s remote cabin in the woods. I was there alone and had planned on taking hikes and doing some chores around the cabin. I did none of that. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop except to sleep, which I did restlessly.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.