It’s a total adrenaline rush

Alison Adams Sky diving for christmas story on what to do in th holidaysI’M sitting in the open door of a small plane 14,000 feet in the air with a thousand conflicting thoughts flying through my head.

For the last five minutes I have been asking myself why on earth I thought that taking a tandem skydive out of a perfectly good plane was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning.

But then Phillipe, my tandem master, says it’s time to go and all thoughts of foolishness are banished as we drop into the sky.

Two hours earlier I had met my new best friend for the first time at the Simply Skydive office which is based at Penrith’s International Regatta Centre.

I was one of three taking the leap of faith.

After a safety briefing which was, well, brief, we were in the bus and off to Camden Airport.

The tandem trio were all experts who had clocked hundreds of flights between them.

Their sense of calm had the desired effect on my slightly anxious mood and by the time we arrived at the airport I was ready to take to the skies.

Harnesses were climbed into and the procedure explained once more.

Phillipe and I would be the first out of the plane.

Before I knew it Phillipe was telling me to put on my goggles as we were about to jump.

The noise was incredible as the door was slid up and then we were out of the plane for a 60-second free fall, the feeling of which is impossible to describe.

It’s not like falling and you are hardly aware that you are actually plummeting towards the ground at 200 km/h.

It’s what you imagine flying must feel like.

The noise of the wind and the sensations on your body are incredible and the minute seemed to pass in seconds.

It was, in short, a total adrenalin rush.

Then the parachute opened and all was quiet and calm and we were floating down to Earth.

A sense of joy and relief flooded through me.

All too soon we were nearing the ground and it was time to lift my legs into a sitting position and hope my landing was graceful. It was.

My sense of achievement and, let’s face it, pride in myself, was incredible.

The beauty of tandem skydiving is that you’re merely a passenger who can rely on the expertise of the person strapped to your back, relax and enjoy the view, then congratulate yourself on ticking one major experience off that bucket list.

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Handmade dolls for comfort 

LESLEY Lawson’s New Year’s resolution is to comfort women in local refuges.

Knitting women together: “My original thought was women in shelters probably need some comfort,” Lesley Lawson said. Picture: Mike Sea

She plans to do this by making hand-crafted dolls for them — soft dolls they can carry in a bag within which there is a special motivating message, reminding them to remain strong and not look back.

“I hope it will make them feel they are not alone,” Ms Lawson said.

She said she got the idea for the doll from a magazine article she read about Operation Comfort Doll, a charity started in the US in 2007 which encourages crafters of all abilities to make these special gifts for women who flee violence.

“We think that this is a unique project that could appeal to many of the women in The Hills who knit, sew [or] embroider, who would be interested in using some of their spare time, and leftover scraps, to help other women less fortunate than themselves,” Ms Lawson said.

The dolls are very simple to make, she said.

In just two weeks she and her “sisters” from the Soroptomist International of the Hills made 50.

“This project fits into our objectives for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and White Ribbon Day (November 25).

“It also raises the subject of women’s shelters which is topical, given the closure of St Michael’s Family Centre [in Baulkham Hills].”

Ms Lawson said a Comfort Doll could be a doll, an animal or even a brooch — so long as it’s soft and less than 15 centimetres tall, “so it can be carried comfortably”.

“It’s a little encouragement [for women in shelters] and because it’s in a bag, no one has to know what it’s for.”

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Hawkesbury International Sand Sculpting Championship

Laura Kane, Troy Myers, Alan Eagle and Toni Ford Sand Sculptures HOH Head Quarters Hawkesbury International Sand Sculpting Championships. Pictures: Ben Rushton.

Hawkesbury International Sand Sculpting Championships. Pictures: Ben Rushton.

Hawkesbury International Sand Sculpting Championships. Pictures: Ben Rushton.

TALENTED, creative and eager sand sculptors from around the world will descend on Windsor to construct their most innovative and realistic sand sculptures yet.

The sand sculptors will arrive on January 10 to vie for the top title in the second Hawkesbury International Sand Sculpting Championship.

Last year the competition attracted thousands of people from across Australia.

The sculptors come from countries around the world including the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Britain and the US, as well as from Tasmania, Victoria and NSW.

Between them, the sculptors have won many titles at competitions and championships.

Some have been carving for more than 30 years, while others are new to the world of sand sculpting and this will be their first experience in a competition.

Each sculptor in the competition will have 20 tonnes of sand to work with as they carve their interpretation of this year’s theme — Fairytales and Fables — over a period of four days starting on January 10.

The event will be open to the public from 10am to 7pm each day from January 10, providing the perfect opportunity to see these incredibly talented sculptors as they showcase their work.

Tickets: $14 for adults, $6 for children aged three to 12 (under 3 are free), $30 for a family (two adults and two children). There are also special rates for groups of 20 or more.

Details: 1300 362 874 or visit the website sandsculpting苏州美睫培训.au.

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Much to see to be a tourist in your own backyard

Landscaper Kyle Hillhouse putting the finishing touches to the new Chinese Garden at Nurragingy Reserve. Picture: Natalie Roberts Animal keeper Rebecca Klarich with a baby joey Hamish (230 days old) who will live at Central Gardens after he’s weaned off the formula. Picture: Carlos Furtado

St Bartholomews Church, Prospect. The church contains the tomb of explorer, William Lawson. Picture: Peter Rae

Lennox Bridge in Parramatta. Heritage advocates are alarmed at a plan to drill holes in the side of one of Australia’s oldest bridges to make way for a cycleway. The bridge was built by convicts in the 1930’s. Picture: Edwina Pickles.

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Duck hunting does not cost the taxpayers

The wild inaccuracies in anti-duck hunting campaigner Laurie Levy’s letter to the editor cannot go unaddressed.

His attempt to link the funding of fire fighting services with the duck season is a poor attempt to paint his pet issue as current and relevant.

The truth is the Victorian Coalition government has spent far more on the Country Fire Authority than Mr Levy’s Labor mates .

Further, the Victorian duck hunting season does not cost the taxpayer “millions of taxpayer dollars for a dwindling number of duck shooters”.

The costs to manage duck hunting are almost entirely offset by season licence fees. As hunters travel to country areas, the duck season is a great driver of regional tourism, and game hunting in Victoria has been estimated to generate more than $96 million annually in economic activity.

Duck hunters have a long history of conservation in Victoria and worked with government to conserve some of the state’s most important wetlands.

They actively assist public and private land managers in controlling pest animals and restoring degraded game and wildlife habitats.


Deputy Premier of Victoria and Minister for Regional Development

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Stay cool over holidays

South Australians are being reminded to stay cool and keep well hydrated during the hot weather that has been forecast for the Christmas-New Year holiday period.

State Emergency Service (SES) State duty officer Andrea Geytenbeek said it was important for people toprotect themselves against the heat.

“There are a number of simple, commonsense precautions that people can take to ensure they stay safe,” she said.

These includedrinking plenty of water,dressing lightly,avoiding going outside in the heat of the day, andusing air conditioners and fans.

Ms Geytenbeek said people should avoid the hottest part of the day, usually between 11am and 3pm, if they needed to go outside.

“If you have to venture outside during really hot weather, we suggest doing so for limited periods of time, wearing a hat, light clothing, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen,” she said.

“Older people, children, babies and people who are unwell are most at risk from the heat.”

Other tips to beat the heat includeusing public airconditioned facilities such as shopping centres, cinemas and libraries,using blinds, curtains, airconditioners and fans during the day to keep your home cool andremember that alcoholic and caffeinated drinks increase dehydration

Children or pets should not be leftunattended in a car, andconsider the health of pets by ensuring they have plenty of fresh water and shade or, if possible, bring them inside.

More information about staying healthy is available on the SES the Extreme Heat Guide and associated factsheets

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Venture Tarkine mine a step closer

VENTURE Minerals is a step closer to mining in the Tarkine.

Resources Minister Bryan Green has granted the company a mining lease for its Riley iron ore project, near Tullah.

The company still requires environmental approval before mining of the lease can start.

That is a condition of the mining lease.

The news follows federal approval of Shree Minerals’ Nelson Bay River iron ore project at Circular Head during the week.

Both projects are opposed by environmentalists.

Resources Minister Bryan Green has granted the Venture Minerals a mining lease for its Riley iron ore project, near Tullah.


Tasmanian Minerals Council CEO Terry Long said the Venture lease was an important step towards making the mine a reality.

“The company wants to spend some $7 million dollars on preparatory works and to be shipping iron ore to the international markets by mid next year.”

He said the mine was underpinned by a 700-page environmental case which was with the state Environment Protection Authority.

The mine would require federal government approvals.

For the full report, grab a copy ofThe Advocatetomorrow.

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VIDEO: Vote for your favourite Christmas tunes

The festive season just wouldn’t be the same without a Christmas carol or two. Here, we have selected 10 of the world’s most-loved tunes for you to watch. Be sure to vote for your favourite in the poll at the bottom of the page.

All I Want For Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,Bing Crosby

Happy Christmas (War Is Over), John & Yoko

Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Michael Buble

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow, Dean Martin

Silent Night, Jackie Evancho

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Glee cast

Jingle Bells, Frank Sinatra

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Nat King Cole

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool. Christmas carollers sing for charity in London. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Man charged with child sexual-assault offences

A man will face court today charged with 13 counts of sexualintercourse with a person under ten-years-old, and three counts of aggravatedindecent assault against the same child.

Detectives from the Child AbuseSquad (Bathurst) have been investigating the incidents, which they will allegetook place in the Blue Mountains between January 2003 and February 2008.

It will be further alleged thatat the time of the first incident, the female victim was five-years-old.

As a result of their inquiries,detectives executed a search warrant at a residence in Tamworth about 1.40pmyesterday.

During the search, officersseized mobile phones and computer equipment for forensic examination.

A 46-year-old man was arrested andcharged with 13 counts of sexual intercourse with a person under ten-years-old,and three counts of indecent aggravated assault.

The man was refused bail andwill appear in Tamworth Local Court today.

State Crime Command’s ChildAbuse Squad is comprised of detectives who are specially trained ininvestigating crimes against children, including sexual assault, physical andemotional abuse and serious cases of neglect.The squad works in partnership with the Department of Family and CommunityServices and NSW Health, with specialised tri-agency teams based atmetropolitan and regional locations throughout NSW.

Detectives from the Child Abuse Squad (Bathurst) have been investigating the incidents, which they will allege took place in the Blue Mountains between January 2003 and February 2008.

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The secret to Kate Morton’s success

Kate Morton had written 60,000 words of a new novel, her third. The gob-smacking success of her first two books, The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden, may have sent her name to the top of bestseller lists in Britain and the United State but, unfortunately, inspiration can be a slippery sucker – here one day and gone the next.

Morton defied her publisher’s deadline and gave up.

“I was a fair way into writing my supposed third book when I decided it wasn’t working,” she says down the line from an Adelaide hotel in the middle of a promotional tour for her fourth book (more on that later).

Her voice is sweet, polite and theatre-polished, which could possibly be attributed to a Tamborine Mountain childhood spent in drama classes run by the former head of the Welsh BBC, Herbert Davies, who owned a bookshop in the Gold Coast hinterland, and his London repertory actress wife Rita.

“I knew the book wasn’t working the whole time,” continues Morton, “but I had a deadline so I kept going. Then I had a new idea and I thought, you know, I’m going to give myself a week’s break [from writing the failing novel] just to get these new characters out of my system. I did, and I realised that this was the book I had to write.”

She let go of the 60,000 words and set to work on The Distant Hours, which became another bestseller (her debut novel, The Shifting Fog, sold to 11 countries and attracted a deal worth close to $1 million). “It was great because I felt very inspired with it, but it was tough time wise because I had a deadline and a third book advertised on the internet and I was only just starting that book.”

NEXT PLEASE: Kate Morton is ready to start on novel No.5. Picture: Gillian Van Niekerk.jpg

Morton’s decision to start again reveals something of the creative process, and also her approach as a writer. “It’s such a strange industry to work in and I have come to the conclusion the only thing I can hold true is to write what I love and believe in it at all times,” she says. “That’s all you have because you can’t pick what people will like or divine which genre is going to be popular.”

Her suspenseful historical sagas, which revolve around long-kept family secrets, don’t necessarily appeal to literary critics who tend to dismiss popular fiction, but the 36-year-old takes her writing very seriously. Even after selling 7 million books worldwide – making her the highest-selling Australian author internationally since Colleen McCullough – Morton relies on instinct over marketing reports. That’s why the 60,000 words had to be shelved.

Morton is an earnest researcher with a passion for history and whose “greatest quest” as a writer is to “disappear down the rabbit hole into another world and take readers with me”. The most satisfying feedback she can receive from a reader is that “they started the book and stopped seeing the black marks on the page because they were immersed in that world and it held them there”.

In her most recent novel, The Secret Keeper, which debuted at No. 8 on The New York Times bestseller list, Morton traverses World War II London, rural England in the early 1960s, present-day London and Cambridge, as well as Australia in the 1920s. At the centre of the plot is a crime witnessed by 16-year-old Laurel and involving her mother Dorothy and an unknown male visitor. Morton explores the mystery surrounding the man and Dorothy’s life before she married and had a family.

It is a theme that many readers will relate to. Laurel searches for “who her mother was before she was ‘ma’ “.

“There’s a moment in everybody’s life when they have that moment of realisation – it’s obvious but also surprising – when you understand that your parents lived an entire life before you were born,” the mother of two young sons says with a knowing laugh.

“One of my persistent themes as a writer is the idea of inheritance, whether it’s a material inheritance, a house or an object, or, more importantly, the type of people our parents are and how this influences how they raise us. The generations influence one another in those really intangible ways.”

Morton completed her master’s thesis on tragedy in Victorian novels – she is completing her PhD – and has long been fascinated by history. While writing The Secret Keeper, she tapped into her interest in the impact of World War II that had been fuelled in 2008 by a walking tour of London. She was struck by the “lived history” that dominated the city.

“You can see on the side of the Victoria and Albert Museum where the bomb blasts happened,” she says, “and buildings in Mayfair that I’d walked past before, suddenly the guide was able to point out a shadowy ‘s’ and an arrow pointing the way to the shelters down the side of the staircase on the outside of the building.

“I guess it’s a bit like theatre; it gives me that tingle of being in the same place as that historical moment, separated only by time. People were dashing down to the shelters and air raid sirens were going off and searchlights were lighting up the sky, and standing there in that moment I could almost see them. As a writer that’s very inspiring.”

She was also keen to explore war’s impact on “ordinary people, those who weren’t bearing arms and fighting on battlefields. That kind of history is more concealed, and I guess that’s why I write a lot of female characters because I think female history is less well known.”

Morton feels a responsibility to write accurately about the periods she uses as backdrops to her domestic dramas, but does her best not to be inhibited by it.

“I find as a reader I don’t want to be aware of the historical details standing out,” she says. “People living in that period would never signpost everything about their way of life. It’s like someone writing contemporary fiction and talking about ‘the information super highway’. We just wouldn’t say that, we’d just ‘Google’ something.

“A lot of my research helps in capturing what I think will pass as an authentic voice, so I read a lot of memoirs and fiction from that time so I can try and attain a lighter touch.”

She describes her recently published hardcover as “a very special book”. For the first time she felt comfortable during what can be a tortuous, roller-coaster experience (remember those lost 60,000 words?).

“It was like, OK, I can judge how this book is going and as much as a process like that can feel under control, The Secret Keeper felt good.”

When we speak, Morton is at the end of a five-week European and Australian publicity tour and she is relishing the opportunity to relax and enjoy the “wonderful, organic time” during which she prepares for her next book.

“I take the luxury of three or four months of scribbling in notebooks and reading quite randomly,” she says. “I let the idea come and strengthen over a period of months and only when I feel an absolute compulsion to go and start writing it down, do I know that I am ready.”

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is published by Allen & Unwin.