HISTORY: Painting a bigger view

LASTING RECORD: Mitchell Library curator Elizabeth Ellis in Newcastle Art Gallery with the 1821 watercolour panorama of the city of Newcastle by Edward Close. Picture: Dean Osland

GO online and you’ll soon find a remarkable piece of, well, digital magic.

It’s a computer-generated aerial tour of Coal River (Newcastle) reconstructing our infant settlement in the 1830s.

While this clever 3D fly-through, prepared for Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party and first previewed by the Herald late last year, is very impressive, it is still a work in progress.

But be prepared to be amazed. Maps, paintings, survey records and sketches were used to show what our early settlement looked like as it gradually graduated from being a convict outpost to a major Australian city.

For example, Nobbys is not yet connected to the mainland and Nobbys beach simply does not exist. Instead, this once solitary nob of Coal Island sits in the ocean flanked by treacherous rocky reefs.

Harbour sandbanks threaten and there’s really only three town streets. The main one is George Street (now Watt Street) plus Church Street and Scott Street. But the latter is a lot closer to the water because today’s modern foreshore and railway line didn’t exist back then.

A little inland, viewers can also spot a remote windmill where the obelisk now points to the sky above King Edward Park. See the four-minute video produced by Eddie O’Reilly here.

Video design contractor Charles Martin, from EJE Architecture, is hopeful that with help from future sponsors, bigger town details can be added by referring to paintings of convict artist Joseph Lycett and especially Edward Charles Close.

In the words of Coal River Working Party chairman Gionni Di Gravio: “The next stage is to use the original artwork by Edward Charles Close to give the street detail, the fence posts, everything.”

Could this be the same E. C. Close regarded as the “father of Morpeth”? Indeed it is.

For detailed landscape artwork was just another skill of the multi-talented Edward Close (1790-1866).

Soldier, settler, army engineer, magistrate, church benefactor and prolific artist. No doubt about it, Edward Close wore many hats in the lifetime.

Until a few years ago, though, it was not realised what an impressive range of art attributed to artist Sophia Campbell was actually done by her relative, Edward Close.

Another surprising fact to emerge was how Newcastle was once the unlikely setting for colonial Australia’s first spontaneous art movement.

Close’s 1821 watercolour panorama of old Newcastle, measuring about 3.6 metres in length, and once thought to be done by Campbell, is an extraordinary work.

This fascinating artwork shows the town’s original humble hilltop church with steeple (today’s Christ Church site), the obelisk site (with a windmill and natives) and stretches out over a cluster of whitewashed huts to Nobbys.

What made Close so famous and relevant both in Newcastle and Sydney in recent years, however, was the discovery of his long-lost art album, kept in a linen closet in the Scottish highlands before being auctioned in Melbourne in mid-2009. The State Library of NSW paid $915,000 for it.

Until then, a Campbell family tradition had it that this sketchbook album, circa 1817, was also the work of Sophia. This belief was soon overturned by a Sotheby’s art auction expert while a companion sketchbook already held in Australia was also verified as being done by Close.

A Peninsula War veteran, Close was a lieutenant in the 48th Regiment who arrived in Sydney in 1817 and was later posted to Newcastle.

He left the army in 1822 to settle on a land grant at Morpeth, which he called “Illulang” from an Aboriginal word meaning “green hills”, or a high, dry place. This gentleman farmer became famous for building St John’s Church of England, Morpeth, fulfilling a vow he made in battle during the Napoleonic Wars that if he were spared from death he would build a church in gratitude. He did and it was consecrated in 1840.

Close is also remembered in Morpeth for building a large, Georgian-style sandstone home in 1829 called Closebourne, which he later offered to his church. It became home to the Anglican bishops of Newcastle until 1911.

Earlier, Close had been busy at the end of his military career in Newcastle, so it seems a bit surprising to learn how much he painted of old Newcastle for posterity.

Working under the command of penal commandant, Brevet-Major James Morisset, Close was the Newcastle penal garrison’s acting engineer of public works from 1821 to 1822.

He was responsible for putting down mooring chains for ships and removing hazardous shoals in Newcastle harbour.

According to Mitchell Library emeritus curator Elizabeth Ellis, Close “took to his position with alacrity”. She said he supervised the extension of the early breakwater to Nobbys Island and constructed convict barracks at the waterfront lumberyard.

As well, he created Newcastle’s first lighthouse, a coal-burning beacon on Signal Hill (today’s Fort Scratchley) to warn ships and built “a large stone windmill above Christ Church”.

“Close’s training as a military engineer included tuition in drawing, surveying and drafting . . . and he put these skills to both personal and professional use,” Ellis said.

He was also the final military officer/artist to depict Newcastle township in the Macquarie era.

She said between 1812 and 1822 an extraordinary legacy of artworks was created locally through the chance association of skilled convict painters, engravers and craftsmen and artistically inclined military officers like Captain James Wallis (of Macquarie Chest fame).

Speaking during the recent Treasures of Newcastle from the Macquarie Era exhibition at Newcastle Art Gallery, Ellis said Close was a particularly perceptive and confident amateur artist with a sharp, observant eye.

Ellis revealed that during the first 30 years of European settlement in Australia, the majority of artworks done in the colony of NSW were by convict artists, mainly ex-forgers, or by military and naval officers.

For example, a fellow officer of Close was Major James Taylor who became the best-known artist of the 48th Regiment in NSW, due to his popular Sydney panorama.

Ellis said Close’s ambitious 1821 panorama of Newcastle with its wide sweep of settlement was the grand exit to his military career.

“Each building is carefully identified as a triumphant record of the town and its builders as it ended this phase of its history and its time as the artistic centre of the colony.”

The historic 1821 panorama was briefly on loan to Newcastle Art Gallery. Today it’s long gone, but a colourful replica of the panorama (plus a modern comparison) can be seen outside the Newcastle Maritime Centre, at Honeysuckle.

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Christopher Esber wins Australian leg of the International Woolmark Prize

Sydney Fashion Designer, Christopher Esber. Photo: Marco Del Grande Immaculate construction and precision tailoring have won designer Christopher Esber the Australian regional final of The International Woolmark Prize.

The award was announced today during a lunchtime ceremony at the Sydney Theatre Company, the highly regarded Esber was a favourite to take home the $50,000 cash prize.

The international award recognises fashion design excellence using Australian merino wool and has served as a platform for emerging talent for almost 50 years.

Esber’s six piece collection was judged by a panel of style heavy weights including David Jones general manager of womenswear, Sophie Clark, Harpers Bazaar, Editor-in-Chief, Kellie Hush and New York based photographer and founder of The Sartorialist blog, Scott Schuman.

“Australians have the tenacity needed to compete internationally,” said Mr Schuman. “This award can help someone who has true vision execute their passion properly and commercially”.

The Sydney based Esber competed against seven of Australia’s best young designers including Michael Lo Sordo, Alaistair Trung, Haryono Setiadi, Kahlo and Strateas Carlucci.

He will now represent Australia at the international finals in February where winners from India, China, Europe and America vie for the prestigious title and a $100,000 prize.

“We provide opportunity for the great designers of tomorrow,” said Robert Langtry, Global Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Woolmark Company. “To help launch their careers and show true innovation.”

In addition to the cash prize, the global winner will have their clothes stocked at the best department stores in the world including Harvey Nichols in Britain, Bergdorf Goodman in the United States and Joyce in China.

Known for his restraint Esber’s signature aesthetic was prominent throughout the winning designs.

“Purity of construction can be fundamentally established by designing from the thread up,” said Esber. “Utilising the skills and knowledge of the Australian Weaver & Spinners Guild I developed unique and exclusive textiles for the collection”.

The finals, held in Milan in February, will be judged by some of fashions most influential names including Diane Von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham and Donatella Versace.

If Esber wins he will join an alumnus that includes Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. “I am so humbled” said Esber, “Today I’m one step closer to my dream.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Organisers of The Gum Ball host an offshoot of the outdoor music festival this weekend with a new winter event, Pigsty In July, to be held at the same venue at Dashville in Lower Belford on Saturday. The one-day event features performances from the likes of The Snowdroppers, Eagle and The Worm and Simon Meli and The Widowbirds. Pigsty In July kicks off at noon. Tickets cost $60 online at pigstyinjuly杭州夜生活m.au.


Open Day Saturday. Celebrate Yoga Loft’s first birthday by taking part in a free class, plus face painting for kids, lucky door prizes and fundraising. 8am to 6pm. Yoga Loft, Level 5, 50 Hunter Street, Newcastle.

Christmas In July Saturday and Sunday. Midwinter Christmas- inspired menu with a distinct Hunter style. $65 per person or $80 with wine match. Open for lunch from 12pm all weekend or Saturday dinner from 6pm. Bookings 49984666. Bimbadgen Estate, Pokolbin.

Savour The Flavour Saturday and Sunday. Indulge in a personal wine experience showcasing the vineyard’s most premium and exclusive wines. $47 per person. 10am, 11am, 12pm, and 1pm. Bookings 49383444. Wyndham Estate, Branxton.

Indulge Your Senses Saturday. Wine and chocolate master class. 2pm. Costs $15 per person. Bookings essential 1800 677 366. Wyndham Estate, 700 Dalwood Road, Branxton.

Canoeing on Ironbark Creek Sunday. Explore the canoe trail at the Hunter Wetlands. 9.30am. $30 adults, $20 child. Bookings 4951 6466. Hunter Wetlands Centre, Shortland.

Tallavera Grove Vineyard Tour Saturday. Meet at the cellar door for a guided walk through the vineyard followed by wine tasting. 2pm. $12 per person. Bookings essential 4990 7535. Tallavera Grove, Mount View.

Lake Macquarie Family History Group Saturday. New members welcome with experienced family history researchers available to assist. 10am to 4pm. Marmong Point Community Hall, Marmong Point.


Adamstown Markets Sunday. Produce, gifts, crafts and more, 7am to noon. Corner of Glebe and Brunker roads, Adamstown.

Newcastle City Farmers Market Sunday. Fresh produce, gourmet food, plants and more, 8am to 1pm. Newcastle Showground, Broadmeadow.

Hamilton Clock Tower Markets Saturday. More than 30 variety stalls, food, coffee and live music. 8am to 2pm. James St Plaza, Hamilton.

All Saints Anglican Church Market Saturday. China, glassware, clothes, toys, plants, books, records, sausage sizzle and morning tea. 8am to noon. Church Street, Belmont.

Raymond Terrace Markets Saturday. Variety market stalls, live entertainment, old farm machinery, jumping castle, face painting, hot food and more. 9am to 2pm. Riverside Park, Raymond Terrace.

Sacred Tree Markets Sunday. More than 90 quality stalls featuring entertainment, produce, artisan baker, massage, palm reading, healers, designer clothes, food stalls, interactive drumming school and kids’ craft. 9am to 2pm. New England Highway, Branxton.

Hunter Street Markets Saturday. Organic fruit and veg, plants, cakes, meat, fresh flowers and more. 8am to 3pm. Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle.

Lions Cub of Toronto Monthly Markets Sunday. More than 180 stallholders selling a variety of goods. 8am to 12.30pm. Lions Park, Toronto.


Charlotte’s Web Saturday. Adapted by Joseph Robinette from the children’s book by E. B. White. 2pm and 7pm. 4961 4895. Young People’s Theatre, at Young People’s Theatre, Hamilton.

Delectable Shelter Saturday. Comedy, with 1980s music, by writer-director Benedict Hardie. Critical Stages and The Hayloft Project. 2pm and 8pm. 4929 1977. Civic Theatre, Newcastle.


Composting and Worm Farming Workshop Saturday. Learn how to make top-quality fertiliser from your kitchen and garden waste. Take home a free compost bin or worm farm. (Newcastle residents only). 11.30am to 12.45pm. Bookings 4974 2863. Smart Grid, Smart City Centre, 19 Honeysuckle drive, Newcastle.


Art Systems Wickham istretch: Cormac O’Riordan. Isolation: Peter Abbott Until August 4. 40 Annie Street, Wickham.

Back to Back Galleries On the Edge: Vicki Hamilton. Until July 28. 57 Bull Street, Cooks Hill.

Cessnock Regional Art Gallery Dheo-Ka: Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Group exhibition. Until August 11. 16 Vincent Street, Cessnock.

Cooks Hill Galleries Winter’s Dance: Jenny Green, Alasdair Groves, James Kearns, Philip Stallard, Lucette Dalazzo. Until July 29. 67 Bull Street, Cooks Hill.

Curve Gallery Super!: Twenty artists from The Roost. Until August 3. 37 Watt Street, Newcastle.

Forsight Gallery Shooting Lines: Melisah May. Until July 28. 33 Union Street, Cooks Hill.

Greenway Gallery Viva: Ileana Clarke. Until July 28. Swan Street, Morpeth.

Inner City Winemakers Nick Warfield. Until August 28. 28 Church Street, Wickham.

John Hunter Hospital Arts for Health Emerging Images: Debbie Andrew, Robyn Selem, Clare Weeks. Coastline: Gwendolin Lewis. Land and Sea: Mel Young. Until August. John Hunter Hospital.

Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery Made in China, Australia: Sixteen Chinese-Australian artists. Australia Now: William Yang. A Case Study: Anne Zahalka. Until July 28. First Street, Booragul.

The Lock-Up In Hiding: Madeleine Cruise. Road Trip: Brisbane-based emerging artists. Until tomorrow. 90 Hunter Street, Newcastle.

Lovett Gallery Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Until August 10. Newcastle Region Library, Laman Street, Cooks Hill. (Saturdays until 2pm)

Maitland Regional Art Gallery Artexpress. Until July 28. Mosaics and Related Works: Margo Lewers. Showcase : High school student artwork. This Exhibition has been Suspended: Michael Garth. Flowering Heads: Tony Ameneiro. All until August 11. Pochoir. Until August 4. 230 High Street, Maitland.

Nanshe Rooth and The Cheeky Dogs: Ruth Robertson. Until tomorrow. 148b Beaumont Street, Hamilton.

Newcastle Art Gallery Illumination: Philip Wolfhagen, A twenty-year survey. Until August 11. Showcasing Works from the Collection: The Power of Landscape. Until August 4. 1 Laman Street, Cooks Hill.

Newcastle Art Space Three Dimensions: Peter Lewis, David McBride, Josh McGregor. Until July 27. 246 Parry Street, Hamilton East.

Timeless Textiles Diversity: Twenty Ten Group. Until August 11. 7 Beaumont Street, Islington.

University Gallery Working Newcastle: Brett McMahon, Peter Gardiner, James Drinkwater. Last day. University Drive, Callaghan campus.

Watt Space Student Gallery Mid-Year Graduation Show. A Multitude of Marks. My Symbols. Endlich/Unendlich. Until tomorrow. Cnr King and Auckland Streets, Newcastle.


5 Sawyers Saturday, DJ Sean Andrews. Sunday, DJ Tone.

Adamstown Club Saturday, Two Up. Sunday, Cabaret Jazz Wobbly Boot with Shane Peters.

Bar Petite Saturday, Anna Milat. Sunday, Little Black Book.

Belmont 16 Footers Saturday, The Jungle Kings. Sunday, Rich & Famous.

The Bradford Saturday, Blaze of Glory – Bon Jovi Show.

The Brewery Saturday, Freetones Duo. Sunday, Sundays Record.

Cambridge Hotel Saturday, Benjalu. Sunday, Bleeding Through, Make Them Suffer.

Dashville – Lower Beford Saturday, Pig Sty In July feat. The Snowdroppers, Eagle & The Worm, V Tribe, Jackson Firebird, Simon Meli & The Widowbirds, Pow Wow, Fish Fry, Dashville Progress Society.

Delany Hotel Saturday, Uptown.

Exchange Hotel Saturday, Flying Mare.

Fox Bar Maitland Saturday, Michael Peter.

Grand Junction Hotel Sunday, Pig St In July Recovery Party feat. V Tribe.

Harrigan’s Pokolbin Saturday, Howard Shearman, Kellie Cain, The Core. Sunday, Adam Eckersley Duo.

Honeysuckle Hotel Sunday, Freetones Duo.

Kent Hotel Saturday, Jenny Morris Band. Sunday, Blues Bombers.

King Street Hotel Saturday, Ivan Gough. Sunday, Indian Summer.

Lambton Park Hotel Saturday, Kristy James & Band. Sunday, Kristy & The Doctors.

The Landing Bar & Kitchen Saturday, Timmy Coffey. Sunday, Matt Meler, Skoob.

Lass O’Gowrie Saturday, Unfit for Human Consumption, The Way Out, Snelvis & the Rancheros.

Lizotte’s Newcastle Saturday, Mike McClellan. Sunday, Mark Seymour, Josh Rawiri.

Murray’s Brewery Saturday, Matt Purcell. Sunday, Brien McVernon.

Northern Star Hotel Saturday, Josh Callaway.

Pippis At The Point Saturday, Kim and Mik. Sunday, Damien.

Shoal Bay Resort Saturday, Gian, Overload. Sunday, Just Jace, Phonic Duo.

Terrace Bar Saturday, Scattered Order, Men64, Transcendental Headache, Saturday Got Soul DJs (downstairs). Sunday, Newcastle Jazz Collective (downstairs).

Warners At The Bay Saturday, Loose Bazooka.

Wests Leagues Club New Lambton Piano Lounge: Saturday, Warren Hunter. Marble Bar: Saturday, Gen-R-8.

Wickham Park Hotel Saturday, Method, Kirsty Larkin Trio. Sunday, Wards Xpress, Nick Raschke Duo.


Before Midnight (MA15+) Director Richard Linklater revisits distant lovebirds Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) in Greece, nine years after being reacquainted in Before Sunset (2004) and almost two decades since they first met on the train in Before Sunrise (1995). (Tower Cinemas Newcastle)

In The House (MA15+) French, school room mystery-thriller from writer-director François Ozon (Potiche, Swimming Pool) co-starring Kristin Scott Thomas, based on a Spanish play by Juan Mayorga. Best Film winner at the 2012 San Sebastián International Film Festival. (Tower Cinemas Newcastle)

The Conjuring (MA15+) Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorised by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

The Sound of Music (G) In 1930s Austria, a young woman named Maria is failing miserably in her attempts to become a nun. When the Navy captain Georg Von Trapp writes to the convent asking for a governess that can handle his seven mischievous children, Maria is given the job. (Scotty’s)

We Steal Secrets (M) A documentary that details the creation of Julian Assange’s controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in U.S. history.

Angelina Ballerina: The Nutcracker Sweet (G) Angelina is excited to perform the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Christmas showcase, but her sweet tooth may lead her to trouble. (Hoyts)

Despicable Me 2 (PG) Sequel to the villainous family animated comedy featuring returning voice Steve Carell as Gru, who is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to deal with a new super-criminal.

Epic (PG) A teenager finds herself transported into a tiny, undiscovered world that lives inside the forest.

The Great Gatsby (M) A Midwesterner now living on Long Island finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbour.

Man of Steel (M) When members of an alien race invade Earth, Clark Kent, aka Superman, finds the future of humanity hanging in the balance.

Monsters University (G) The highly anticipated sequel explores the origin story of Mike and Sulley, the two stars of Monsters, Inc.

Much Ado About Nothing (M) A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.

Mud (M) Fourteen-year-old Ellis lives on a makeshift houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents. He sneaks out early one morning to meet his best friend, Neckbone, and they meet Mud, a gritty, superstitious character who needs help.

Pacific Rim (M) Directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, this apocalyptic film pits giant robots piloted by humans against the monsters that rise up from the sea to attack mankind.

Satellite Boy (PG) Pete and his best mate get lost in the Australian outback. Starving and thirsty, Pete has to remember some of the old bush skills his grandfather taught him to survive. (Avoca)

The Lone Ranger (M) Johnny Depp stars as the native American warrior Tonto, who recounts how lawman John Reid (Armie Hammer) was transformed into the masked hero for justice.

The Heat (MA15+) Sandra Bullock stars as an uptight, friendless FBI agent who’s teamed with Melissa McCarthy’s brash, Boston cop to bring down a drug lord.

The Letter Writer (PG) When Maggy Fuller, a rebellious and troubled teenager, receives an old-fashioned letter in the mail from an unknown source, she can’t imagine who could have so many wonderful things to say about her. (Glendale)

The Playbook (PG) Steven Thomas (Mick Preston) strives to live a worthy life as a loving father and basketball coach. However, a tragic accident caused by a drunken friend sees Steven’s family torn apart. Steven struggles to come to terms with forgiving the person responsible and this causes him to lose a grip on those things most important to him. (Glendale)

World War Z (M) Brad Pitt stars in this blockbuster horror as a United Nations employee called upon to establish the origins of a zombie pandemic. As he travels from the US to Israel, Korea and Wales in search of answers, cities and nations fall under the onslaught of undead, leaving mankind’s slim hope of survival resting on his shoulders. Based on the best-selling novel, from the director of Quantum of Solace.


Sarah Blasko performs songs from her new album I Awake at Newcastle City Hall on Wednesday, July 24. Tickets $59.95 online at ticketek杭州夜生活m.au or by phoning 4929 1977.


The three-day 2013 Newcastle Home Show returns to Newcastle Entertainment Centre from Friday, July 26, with an appearance from Celebrity Apprentice star Mark Bouris on the Sunday. The homemakers show runs from 10am to 4pm daily.

Eagle and the Worm – playing at Pigsty in July, on Saturday

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Fudge builds 10% stake in AJ Lucas

One of Australia’s richest businessmen, Paul Fudge, has snared a 10 per cent stake in AJ Lucas, extending his spread of shale and coal seam gas interests to Europe in the process.
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Mr Fudge, through his privately held Pangea Resources, pocketed $660 million from the sale of a coal seam gas permit to Origin Energy in 2009. Since then he has extended his interests in the sector, as well as ploughing money into buying racehorses and establishing a stud on the Southern Highlands, south-west of Sydney.

Earlier this week, a Fudge-controlled entity, Belbay Investments, disclosed a 9.9 per cent stake in AJ Lucas, the troubled driller and contractor, which has its foot on potentially valuable coal gas and shale assets in Europe.

At Lucas’ closing price on Thursday of $1.20, Mr Fudge’s holding is worth $33 million. Prior to the recent placement and rights issue, Mr Fudge held about 2 per cent of the company’s capital.

Mr Fudge was an underwriter of the retail investor component of AJ Lucas’ $148.8 million placement and rights issue which was conducted last month.

That raising followed the sale of a 25 per cent equity in its potentially valuable Bowlands prospect in the UK to local utility Centrica, formerly known as British Gas.

That reduced Lucas’ direct and indirect holding in Bowlands to 43.5 per cent, with Centrica to fund the next round of exploration on the Bowlands prospect.

The funds raised have helped recapitalise the Lucas balance sheet, which was under pressure since its drilling and contracting arms are losing money.

After making his money in textiles, Mr Fudge was an early mover into coal seam gas in Queensland, where he still has extensive acreage, as well as in the Northern Territory and NSW.

His NSW acreage is adjacent to AGL tenements at Taree on the mid-north coast, but onerous government regulation has locked much of this land up for the time being.

The share issue was priced at $1.20, a steep discount to its price of $1.60 prior to the issue, although since the issue was completed the shares have traded around the issue price.

Mr Fudge’s emergence with a major stake in AJ Lucas comes as the UK Energy Secretary said this week shale gas could cut domestic gas prices by as much as a quarter.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Industrial relations tension flare

Tensions in Australia’s coal sector are threatening to flare again, with Swiss company Glencore Xstrata on a collision course with unions over a plan to change the workplace deal at its Collinsville mine in Queensland.
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The plan stems from Glencore’s decision to dump Thiess as the mining contractor at Collinsville, and continuing efforts to return the mine to profitability for the first time in more than a year.

The decision to axe Thiess and bring mining operations in-house takes effect on September 1, and Glencore is seeking to use the changeover to reset the existing workplace arrangements for staff.

It has written to mine workers, saying that ”flexible workplace agreements without restrictive work practices” were ”critical to the mine’s future viability”.

The company said it believed it could continue to employ people who were ”committed to our future vision for the mine”.

”We have no set preference for any specific type of labour agreement but any agreement must be modern, flexible and without restrictions,” the company told workers in a letter.

The message drew a stern rebuke from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which warned Glencore not to make veiled threats to the workers.

CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said Glencore would need to renegotiate the workplace deal ”in the usual way” by talking to workers, if it wanted to changes.

”The industrial regulation at the mine will not be a matter of your preference. It is a matter of law and the law provides that the current agreement will apply,” he said.

The marginal nature of the coal industry is exacerbating an industrial relations atmosphere that was tense long before the industry came under financial pressure. BHP and Mitsubishi had strikes over the past few years at their joint-venture coalmines in Queensland, and unions remain far more involved in east coast coalmines than the iron ore mines of WA.

A Glencore official told a Senate inquiry in April that more than 30 per cent of Australian coalmines were unprofitable in the current economic conditions, although falls in the dollar since would have eased some of the pain.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Billabong debt holders threaten to pull plug

Billabong’s new chief executive, Scott Olivet, speaks to reporters in Sydney on Thursday. Photo: Steven SiewertBillabong’s senior debt holders are believed to have threatened to pull the company under unless it signed a deal that would involve a $40 million upfront payment.
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The US hedge funds Oaktree Capital Management and Centerbridge Partners, which bought a portion of Billabong’s debt from its senior lenders for a 10 per cent discount in the past month, put their competing proposal to the company on Wednesday. They submitted another plan on Thursday, which was also rejected by Billabong.

This was after the $294 million refinancing deal was signed with Altamont Consortium.

Insiders suggested it was inferior to the Altamont proposal and a plan from another suitor, the former US Billabong executive Paul Naude and the private equity firm Sycamore Partners.

”They didn’t even chase Billabong up the aisle, they knocked on the honeymoon suite,” a Billabong insider said of the Wednesday submission. The hedge funds were thought to have pressed Billabong to accept their offer or face the possibility of being cut off from accessing debt.

Billabong chairman Ian Pollard said Oaktree and Centerbridge’s proposal had a ”high level of conditionality” that the firm could not entertain.

”We had no piece of paper that had any numbers on it, let alone a proposal,” Mr Pollard said about the hedge funds’ earlier advances.

He said he would talk to Billabong’s lawyers about what responsibilities the board had to its shareholders if the pair were to submit another plan.

Billabong said late Thursday the second proposal was “not an offer that is capable of acceptance”.

Investors continued to cheer the Altamont deal, sending Billabong stocks 9 per cent higher on Thursday, to 36.5¢, after they soared 34 per cent on Wednesday.

Revelations about the last-minute scramble came as Billabong unveiled its incoming chief executive, Scott Olivet.

Mr Olivet, who was installed in the top job as part of the Altamont deal, said Billabong still had value in its brands. ”This has been a balance sheet story for too long,” he told a press conference in a Billabong store with Mr Pollard and outgoing chief executive Launa Inman.

”It’s time to turn this back to a brand transformation and a brand strength story, and a story of continuous business improvement. So it’s time to go on the offence.” Mr Olivet was coy about making changes to the company’s transformation strategy, which was rolled out by Ms Inman last year.

But the former Oakley executive said the new arrangement, which would see the consortium become about 40 per cent owners, would give Billabong the freedom it had been lacking to push through changes. He did not rule out further job cuts or store closures, but said most of the cost cutting would come from the supply chain side of the business.

Morningstar analysts said there was still too much uncertainty surrounding Billabong despite the refinancing deal.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Jobs to go as Aurizon looks to slash costs

Australia’s largest listed rail company, Aurizon, will strip more than $230 million in costs out of its business over the next two years, resulting in job losses and property sales.
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The company, formerly known as QR National, also announced that it would retain its small intermodal business that specialises in shifting container freight. Analysts had speculated that Aurizon would sell or close the business, which has struggled to turn a profit since it was established in 2007.

Chief executive Lance Hockridge sought to allay jitters about subdued growth in China – the final destination for most of the coal Aurizon hauls from mines to ports in NSW and Queensland.

”We certainly do not deny that there is a more subdued environment,” he told investors at a briefing.

”It is, in our view, a low-growth environment, but it is not a zero-growth environment. We just caution that while the world is more subdued … it certainly hasn’t come to an end from a growth point of view.”

Almost three years since it was floated, Aurizon will begin another round of cost-cutting aimed at shedding the last remnants of its past as a government-owned rail business.

The company would not put a figure on the likely number of job cuts, but revealed it would strip out $100 million in ”support costs” over the next two years – more than half of which would be from lowering its labour bill.

The cuts to its labour bill will involve a combination of laying off workers, not replacing staff who leave of their own accord, outsourcing work to third parties and reducing contractors.

Aurizon will also reduce real estate costs by up to $25 million, part of which will be done by selling property assets.

As part of the cost-cutting, Aurizon is aiming for more than $130 million in ”productivity improvements” over the next two years, including up to $70 million in labour savings.

The company has made clear that it is seeking greater ”labour flexibility” from renegotiating enterprise agreements over the next two years. All but one of Aurizon’s 19 labour agreements, which cover about 88 per cent of its 8000-strong workforce, will expire by the end of next year.

Shares in Aurizon rose almost 4 per cent to $4.55 on Thursday in response to the latest shake-up.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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O’Brien’s DIY nightmare

It was a masterclass in coming clean as Woolworths boss Grant O’Brien (pictured) finally confirmed the open secret in the market: the Masters hardware chain is costing a little more than Woolies anticipated. After stripping out earnings from its Danks hardware distribution unit, Masters losses this year would come in at $157 million. That’s a lot of nails, screws and paint. O’Brien happened to be overseas for the bad news, but we’re assured it was on business.Number’s up
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Even so, Woolies’ move into telcos was short-lived. The dial-in number handed out to dozens of fund managers and stockbroking analysts for the earnings update turned out to be a residential number in the suburbs of Sydney.

Just who happened to be on the other end wasn’t picking up last night and the message bank was full. No doubt this was due to Australia’s finest retail analysts leaving their level-headed responses at not being able to get onto the conference call.Silver lining

While Masters’ sales had come in substantially short of its targets, one of Woolies’ hardware executives, Mark Burrows, was able to find a silver lining. For those who managed to get onto the conference call Burrows said the the Home Timber and Hardware brand – which is supplied by Woolies – has won the much-coveted Roy Morgan Hardware Store of the Year award.Pulling the plug

It was a big day for Woolies as the retailer finally lost its inner nerd. It officially severed ties with its Dick Smith business after Nick Abboud’s private equity play Anchorage Capital posted the remaining paperwork after last year’s acquisition of the electronics chain. Within minutes of the deal going through, Woolworths finance director Tom Pockett was reportedly seen sifting wildly through his desk looking for one of those medium-voltage-capacitor-fuses thingies.Options limited

Whoever prepares the ASX filings at Wilson HTM may not be too popular with senior management. Executives at the stockbroker will have to work that little bit harder to cash in on 2,600,000 share options after a paperwork glitch.

The stockbroker this week discovered the mistake in an Appendix 3B submitted in February, which wrongly said executives would be able to exercise the options at a share price of $0.31866. It should have said the ”strike price” would be $0.26886, in line with the offer letters given to staff. Despite the error, Wilson said it would stick with the higher strike price.On track

Aurizon’s fat controller, Lance Hockridge, caught the XPT from his base in Brisbane for a powwow with analysts in Sydney. Apart from announcing another round of cost cutting, Hockridge was quick to offer ”commiserations” to those nursing the Blues’ narrow loss to Queensland. For investors, the blow of another home defeat was softened by the promise of at least another $230 million in savings.Clash of titans

Spotted at ANZ Stadium for the State of Origin clash was Manly supporter Tony Abbott and chief cane toad Kevin Rudd. NSW boss Barry O’Farrell was getting privatisation tips from Lazard investment banker John Wylie.Locked in

Still on sport, CBD may have put a few offside on Wednesday with an item on new Lion boss, Scottish-born Stuart Irvine, choosing a team. Rest assured, your fill-in CBD columnist is a fan of the round ball, too, and has already locked in this year’s membership for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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FBT vehicles driven from the field

It is the end of the days of the fringe benefits tax system. Photo: Glen McCurtayne max-newnham_127x127
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There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth due to the final nail in the motor vehicle FBT coffin being hammered in. This is surprising, given previous income tax crackdowns have not caused a similar outpouring of grief. When the tax deduction for entertainment expenses was axed, which resulted in many restaurant failures, barely a whisper was heard.

The fringe benefits tax system was introduced in 1986 to tax salary taken as benefits. One of the most common benefits provided by employers has been the provision of motor vehicles used primarily for private purposes.

Employers have had a choice of two methods for calculating the taxable fringe benefit. The first is the operating cost method. Under this method, all costs for a motor vehicle are totalled. A private use percentage is established by keeping a log book for 12 weeks. The private use component is calculated by multiplying the total operating costs by the private use percentage.

The second is called the statutory method. The taxable fringe benefit is calculated by multiplying the cost of a motor vehicle by a percentage. Originally this percentage differed depending on the number of kilometres a car was driven in a year.

For cars driven less than 15,000 kilometres, the rate was 26 per cent. The rate decreased to 20 per cent for cars driven between 15,000 and 20,499 kilometres, 11 per cent for cars driven between 25,000 and 39,999 kilometres, with a lowest rate of 7 per cent for cars driven more than 40,000 kilometres a year.

Once the value of taxable fringe benefit is calculated, whether by the operating cost or statutory methods, it is grossed up to reflect the wages an employee would have earned before tax. For example, for a person to pay private car costs of $1000, at the top marginal tax rate, they would need to earn $1869 before tax. This taxable amount then has fringe benefits tax paid on it at 46.5 per cent.

Just as is the case with other tax savings schemes, many employees signed up for salary packaging of motor vehicles under the fringe benefits tax system and received no tax benefit. In most cases a benefit was only received for vehicles driven more than 25,000 kilometres a year, on cars costing less than $57,000. When the Labor government was finding it hard to balance the budget it focused on the leak in revenue due to the unfair tax advantages provided under the FBT system.

The first change to motor vehicle fringe benefits was announced in the 2011 budget. It involved the phasing out of the four-tiered statutory FBT method for vehicles. The change meant that by April 1, 2014, there would only be one rate of 20 per cent applying to motor vehicles.

This effectively meant that by having one high percentage to calculate the fringe benefit taxable value it would have not made it tax effective to salary package a vehicle.

It is interesting that this final change to the FBT treatment of vehicles was brought in as part of changes to the carbon tax system. There is an environmental argument for scrapping a tax advantage that increases the more a vehicle is driven. The decision to scrap the statutory method will mean employees provided with cars primarily used for private purposes will no longer get a tax benefit by packaging the vehicle.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Hardware’s a hard game for Woolies

Illustration: Kerrie Leishman.Since Woolworths announced it would take on the Bunnings juggernaut in 2010 by moving into the $42 billion home improvement sector, the company has taken a lot of stick.
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After Thursday’s long list of explanations for the ballooning losses to $157 million in its Masters home improvement business, it is likely to get a few more swings of the stick. The losses boiled down to misjudging the three essential parts of any retail business: sales forecasts, gross margins due to stocking the wrong product mix, and costs.

Given Masters chief Melinda Smith’s acknowledgement that five years ago, in preparation for Woolworths’ entry into this market, the company studied internationally renowned home improvement retailers, it didn’t inspire confidence to hear her comments: “We didn’t know a lot about this business when we set the budget for FY13.”

Her comments about the seasonal curve in relation to Masters joint-venture partner US-based Lowe’s also raised eyebrows. “We didn’t know a lot about the seasonal curve,” she said. “We’ve got a great joint-venture partner in America but when it’s Christmas time over there it’s also winter. Our Christmas time lines up with spring and Father’s Day, so it’s quite a different seasonal curve … we didn’t have the right stock in some instances.”

Against this backdrop, the company’s share price fell on a day when rival Wesfarmers, which owns the Bunnings hardware chain, and the broader market closed higher.

For more than a year investors have been trying to get information on how Woolworths’ home improvement business was doing, particularly after Merrill Lynch analyst David Errington started issuing reports questioning the strategy and potential drag on the overall business empire.

It wasn’t a pretty picture – and he won few friends at the company – but Woolworths kept silent and the speculation intensified that its Masters and Danks businesses were struggling and Lowe’s was ready to call it quits.

Woolworths finally updated the market on Thursday with revelations that the homeware business suffered losses of $139 million, 71 per cent higher than its budgeted loss of $81 million. This comprised a $157 million loss from its Masters business, compared with a forecast loss of $119 million, and a lower than expected profit from its Danks business of $18 million instead of an expected $38 million.

Earlier this week it emerged that Lowe’s had extended a put option to sell out of the partnership until October 2014. Woolworths’ chief financial officer, Tom Pocket, said Lowe’s had been very accommodating and was committed to the joint venture.

The challenge for Woolworths is convincing the market that the losses will stop. It said losses would not “exceed this year’s level” but that it would break even in 2016, which is in line with its original target. But given the size of the losses this year and next and the number and type of mistakes that were made, the market isn’t overflowing with confidence.

To put it into perspective, the $157 million loss doesn’t include allocated rental costs. The joint venture between Lowe’s and Woolworths owns most of the stores, so if the result was lease-adjusted it would blow the loss out to an estimated $200 million on revenue of $529 million. This is equivalent to losing more than 35¢ in the dollar, which is huge.

Woolworths has committed to opening 90 Masters stores by the end of 2016. To date it has 31.

The theory is the more stores, the greater the economies of scale and therefore the more profitable the business. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Several factors need to work to make a business profitable, including having stores in the right location. Indeed, some industry experts would argue that home improvement over the past two decades hasn’t been a scale game but a model game and some hardware chains have been able to make a profit by having the right product mix, product sourcing, labour and location.

In a report in April, Errington estimated it would lose $135 million on its hardware business in 2013, $195 million in 2014, $235 million in 2015 and $265 million in 2016.

It also renegotiated a deal with private equity group Anchorage, which bought Woolworths’ Dick Smith business in 2012 for $20 million, plus a promise to give Woolworths a proportion of any future profit growth.

Woolworths said it had “released” Anchorage from this obligation in exchange for $74 million, which consists of $50 million in June 2012 and $24 million in 2014.

Anchorage would no doubt be doing high fives on this new deal. When it bought the business last year it was generating more than $1.5 billion in revenue and a pre-tax profit of $24 million. The price included all assets and off-balance sheet leases.

At the time it was speculated that the inventory tallied up to $250 million.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Tigers will no longer move ‘home’ games

Richmond, closing in on finals, boasting record membership and soon to be free of debt, say they will never again relocate home games for money.
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After winning the last of three matches that the club agreed to move to Cairns, chief executive Brendon Gale has acknowledged that the lucrative deal he struck for a struggling side in 2010 created ”hostility and vitriol” in many fans. The Tigers were beaten in two of those matches by Gold Coast.

While maintaining the agreement that had Richmond lose a home-ground advantage but earn more than $1.5 million over three seasons was ”the right decision for the club”, Gale was adamant it would not be repeated – or replicated – while he remains in charge.

”Not on my watch,” he said. ”Why? Because we’ve stabilised. I’d be loath to do that [again] because we’re a football club, and a proud iconic football club, that has a national footprint but we play our home games at the MCG.”

Richmond’s financial turnaround coincides with a jump in membership from around 39,000 to 60,000 in three years.

Asked whether the Cairns deal that prioritised financial imperatives was popular with the Tigers faithful, Gale said: ”Absolutely not … supporters are very passionate, and particularly when you lose games they voice that. Absolutely when we lost those first two games they were very bumpy times.

”It was a difficult decision internally to work through … and when you lose games there’s a lot of hostility and vitriol.”

In contrast, Suns chief executive Travis Auld wants his team to continue playing at Cairns’ Cazaly’s Stadium – attended by 11,197 last Saturday – but now requires a new rival willing to move home games to Queensland. Even with the obvious financial incentives that is a less attractive prospect for opposition sides than it was three years ago given the Suns’ improvement.

The Suns do not want to relocate any of their home games from the Gold Coast for several reasons, chiefly their agreement with Metricon Stadium. This leaves the AFL, which wants Cairns to continue to host matches for premiership points, looking for another club.

The Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, playing one home game each in Darwin this season, and Port Adelaide are considered the sides most likely to be lured into sacrificing true home-ground advantage in exchange for handsome compensation from the AFL.

Bulldogs chief executive Simon Garlick has previously indicated that negotiations had commenced with the Northern Territory government to have the Dogs extend their deal in the Top End beyond 2013, but he told Fairfax Media on Thursday the club was now open on the matter of location.

Hawthorn, North Melbourne and St Kilda are the three clubs that have ongoing arrangements to play ”home” games on foreign turf.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Swans, Eagles enjoying the Kennedy years

Number one: The Swans’ Josh Kennedy celebrates last year’s premiership triumph over Hawthorn. Photo: Paul RovereIf you could have one name playing for your club it would likely be Josh Kennedy.
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Even before Josh Kennedy headed home the winning goal that sent the Socceroos to the World Cup, his AFL namesakes had already gone a long way to ensuring 2013 would be a memorable year for the name with their efforts for their respective clubs.

Sunday’s clash between their teams is shaping as an occupational hazard for broadcasters as they are likely to spend much of the game having to differentiate between the pair.

Both are integral members of their teams and will have major, but very different, roles to play.

Sydney’s Kennedy will be in the engine room winning the hard ball for the Swans’ band of runners while the Eagles’ Kennedy will be catching the eye in the forward 50, not least for his comical, yet effective, goal-kicking technique.

The Swan is one of the leading possession-winners in the competition while the Eagle is sharing the lead in the Coleman Medal race. But which Josh Kennedy would you rather have at your club?

Both players are on track for All Australian selection this year. Should it happen it would be the first time since a pair of Jack Clarkes from Essendon and East Fremantle achieved such an honour in 1958.

Former Geelong premiership captain Tom Harley is a fan of both Kennedys but would happily take the Swans No.12.

Based in Sydney through his role with AFL NSW, Harley has seen the Swans play more often than the Eagles but it’s what the Kennedy wearing red and white does in big games that pushes him over the line. Not only did Kennedy star in Sydney’s September campaign last year, he was a runaway best-and-fairest winner in a premiership season.

”There are so many individual awards in the AFL, whether it’s media, Brownlows or MVPs, but if you want a true gauge on how good an individual year is I think best and fairest in a premiership year is about as good as it gets,” Harley said.

”Given it’s a premiership year you’ve played in a lot of big games and more often than not contributed significantly. On that basis I’d say [that I’d take] Josh from the Swans again.”

He rates the Eagles’ Kennedy highly and believes he is well placed to collect his first All Australian jumper at the end of the season but stops short of describing him as a ”dominant key forward” just yet.

”That’s not downplaying his influence on the comp but I think Josh Kennedy from the Swans can mount a case he’s in the top half a dozen players in the comp and top two, three or four midfielders in the competition,” Harley said.

What Harley admires most about Kennedy is his consistency – a trait upon which Swans coach John Longmire recently remarked.

The Sydney ball magnet leads the league for contested possessions, is second for clearances, averages 27 disposals a game this year and has had fewer than 20 possessions in just two of his past 43 games.

”If you put his form line on a graph it would be flat line with the occasional earthquake tremor heading north but he’s been a phenomenal player,” Harley said.

”He never loses his feet. He’s a classic big-bodied midfielder who a lot of clubs would love. Sure key forwards are a point of difference but how many clubs have a six-foot-three, 94-kilogram midfielder who can run all day, use the ball well and move forward and kick goals?

”I put him in the class of Jobe Watson, Ryan Griffen. Once you throw out those names it reinforces his standing in the game.”

Harley can remember playing on West Coast’s Kennedy before he was traded to the Eagles in the deal that netted Carlton Chris Judd and it did not take long for him to identify the then Blue as a player worth keeping an eye on.

”He had unbelievable athletic ability,” he said.

”You think people would be foolish to judge Josh Kennedy and make comment on him purely on his goal-kicking technique because it’s become a bit of a comedy. But he’s deadly accurate and takes contested marks and kicks goals. When I played on him you got the sense of his athletic ability but didn’t get the sense of the fact he’d dominate the competition or be an extremely good key forward in the competition because he was so young.”

The Swans, with their depth of tall stocks being tested, would dearly love a forward of Kennedy’s calibre but not at the expense of their reigning club champion.

”I’m happy with ours but I like the other bloke, too. Can I have two?” Longmire said. ”I’m sure both coaches are happy with their Josh Kennedys.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Politis backs Pearce

Roosters supremo Nick Politis has hit back at critics of Mitchell Pearce and urged NSW powerbrokers not to put a line through his name for future Origin matches.
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The biggest talking point after the Blues’ eighth straight series loss – excepting perhaps Wati Holmwood’s streak across ANZ Stadium – is whether Pearce should be given another chance in NSW sky blue.

With yet another series on the line, the Roosters halfback failed to seize the initiative in what many are predicting will be his last interstate game. His performance and place in the team have been dissected across social media and talkback radio since full-time, with most pundits calling for his head.

However, long-serving Roosters chairman Politis, who also serves on the NSWRL board, said Pearce was an easy target and should not be ruled out of future Origin campaigns.

”He’s a champion,” Politis said. ”We’re 100 per cent behind him. He’s a great player and a great bloke. I’m sure he will be there next year. At the end of the day it’s a very close game and it’s not fair to blame ‘Pearcey’.

”They lost by two points. You can go through the whole game and find 20 ‘what ifs’ – what if this player did this or that. It’s not like they were killed. They had plenty of opportunities to take a penalty. If they did, then it could have been different.”

Before Origin III, Pearce conceded he was almost certain to be blacklisted if the Blues did not end Queensland’s winning streak.

”He’s very honest and that honesty is coming back at him,” Politis said. ”As expected, if they lost, he was going to be the one to cop it because of what he said before.”

Former Blues halfback Greg Alexander suspected those pre-game comments played on Pearce’s mind when the game was there to be won.

”He put a lot of pressure on himself by saying that if he doesn’t aim up in this one it would be the end of the section,” Alexander said.

”I thought it showed. You don’t like to criticise someone because they all gave their guts, all of them. But I thought he lost his nerve in the last 15 minutes after he turned that ball over on the grubber when they were only 10 [metres out] out.

”A couple of his decisions after that, and his execution, were off. Maybe what he said before the game got into the back of his head. He tried hard but he put a little bit too much pressure on himself with that statement.”

Roosters legend Brad Fittler, a member of the NSW coaching staff and Pearce’s former club coach, said there was no need for selectors to declare their hand given the next Origin series was almost 11 months away.

”I think Mitchell realises the situation he was in, that things didn’t go his way,” Fittler said. ”He tried hard.

”There’s a few things he’d wished he’d done better.”

Asked if the criticism of the 24-year-old was warranted, Fittler said: ”It depends on how he takes it. And who is giving it. I’m not going to sit here and bag him. He knows he didn’t have his best game

and that his position is under threat. Simple as that.”

On his Phil Gould Show – which is available in full on smh上海夜生活m.au – NSW’s most successful coach said he believed there was ”something frantic” in Pearce’s decision-making.

While Gould praised Pearce’s courage and commitment – and said he would not be surprised if the Blues hierarchy persevered with him – he said it was time for Pearce to show the control his Queensland counterparts displayed.

”There were a few occasions where he got the ball and you could see that he had half a dozen things on his mind – usually, if he gets the right one, it’s a fluke,” Gould said. ”Whether he can gather that at this stage of his career, I don’t know. I’m sure it will come with age. He’s had 12 Origin games now – you would have thought that the penny would have dropped.”

Pearce is NSW’s most capped halfback after making his 12th appearance on Wednesday night. His Maroons counterpart, Cooper Cronk, again outplayed him, and after the match the Storm star offered some kind words.

”I’m not aware of the specifics that have happened, the criticism and things like that, but Origin football is the toughest arena to play,” Cronk said.

”He’s a very good player, he’s been a part of NSW for a long time and good players are a part of Origin. It was a tough night for everyone out there.

”He’s a good player and he’ll continue on.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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