Gallery: Iditarod dog sled race

dogAlaska is so warm this year, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had to have snow brought in to Anchorage to make the ceremonial opening race happen.

The Alaska Railroad is hauling 300 cubic yards of snow from Fairbanks to Anchorage on Thursday for the opening ceremony on Saturday.
Even with the 15 truckloads of imported snow, the route for the ceremonial kickoff race was shortened to 3 miles, as opposed to the usual 11 miles. (The course for the race itself is about 1,000 miles.)

City of Anchorage personnel tried to figure out a way to keep the full 11-mile course, but with the warm weather lingering, it wasn’t possible this year, Stan Hooley, CEO of the Iditarod Trail Committee said in a news release.

“A persistent ridge of high pressure over Alaska in January and February has kept snow totals low and temperatures warmer than normal across much of the state,” CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said.

Snow fell on just one day in February, making the total snowfall just 1.8 inches for the month. Anchorage had the fourth warmest February on record this year. This season, Anchorage has only picked up 27.6 inches of snow compared to a seasonal average of 60 inches, according to CNN affiliate KTVA.
This is the third year in a row that the lack of snow has disrupted the Iditarod. In 2014, low levels of snow on parts of the trail caused injuries to mushers. Last year, the low levels caused the race to move 225 miles north to Fairbanks.

Cody Strathe, a musher in the 2016 Iditarod race, told CNN that the lack of snow is not stopping him from participating in the 1,000-mile race. Since moving to Alaska in 2001, he said, winters have changed drastically and training and racing sled dogs has become more difficult.

“A smart musher will train on all conditions throughout the year and know how to handle low snow conditions,” he said. “Sled dog racing will have to adapt to this trend of low snow and warmer winters.”

Organizers are expecting 85 teams with more than 1,000 dogs to participate in this year’s race.

Posted in Story | Comments Off on Gallery: Iditarod dog sled race

Pokies critics hit the jackpot

Len Ainsworth quietly sips a cup of tea in the austere boardroom of Ainsworth Game Technology.

The 92-year old pokies king has just engineered a near $500 million jackpot after selling his majority stake in the company he founded two decades ago to Austria’s Novomatic. And he’s clearly feeling pleased with himself.


“It’s not a bad result for an amateur,” chuckles Ainsworth.

Given Ainsworth’s status as the world’s oldest pokies magnate, there have been no shortage of suitors lining up over the years with offers to buy his stake.


While Ainsworth steadfastly refused to budge, the privately-held Novomatic played a masterful long game.

The Vienna-based gaming giant, the second largest poker machine maker globally, started its pursuit of Ainsworth in early 2013.

Worried about the growing problem of gambling addiction, politicians in Austria and Germany had started to impose new regulations on pokie and casino operators forcing Novomatic to look offshore to keep growing its revenues.

Johann Graf, Austria’s fourth richest man, dispatched his son Thomas Graf and gaming executive Jens Halle to Sydney to Ainsworth’s modest Silverwater headquarters to test the waters for a possible sale.

Ainsworth immediately agreed. Graf, dubbed “Deus ex Automatica” meaning God of the Slot Machines by his staff, had been enormously successful in conquering large swathes of Europe with a mixture of pokies, casinos and lottery terminals.

But Ainsworth knew he had a winning hand.

“They realised they had no chance of getting into Australia by themselves given Aristocrat and ourselves dominate sales here. But they made their intentions known.”

The talks were constructive, but momentum stalled. Ainsworth Game Technology was making a big push into the US market and corporate consolidation was shelved.

It’s not a bad result for an amateur.
Len Ainsworth

By late 2014 Halle had moved on to join Novomatic’s rival, the Gauselmann Group, and Ainsworth assumed that spelt the end of the buyout discussions.

It took another poaching – this time from right under Ainsworth’s nose – for Graf’s Novomatic to get back into the game.

The Austrian billionaire swooped in November 2015 to hire Ainsworth’s British boss Robert Dijkstra.

Tour invitation extended

“Graf pinched him plain and simple,” Ainsworth laughs. Within weeks Dijkstra had re-established contact with Ainsworth and invited him to Vienna for a tour of the Novomatic business empire.

Ainsworth agreed to a visit, but on his terms. He was already planning to attend the ICE conference in London in the first week of February and would meet Graf immediately prior in the Austrian capital.

Ainsworth boarded a Singapore Airlines flight to London checking into the 5-star Hotel Sacher, filled with 19th century artworks and adjacent to the Vienna State Opera.

Ainsworth took in a whistlestop tour of Graf’s offices in the suburbs of Vienna followed by a trip to the Czech Republic where Novomatic assembles its machines.

Several lunches and a private dinner with Graf and a member of his advisory board laid the groundwork for a deal.

Ainsworth had no bankers or advisers with him on the trip, but stayed in constant touch with his long-time confidante Stephen Cohn, a former finance director of Aristocrat Leisure, who provides counsel to the pokies veteran on his investments.

“If Stephen said to me no don’t do it I wouldn’t have done it. Its very clear cut. I knew it was the right fit for me.”

While a handshake between the two gaming gurus indicated a deal was on the cards, details still needed to be flushed out.

Ainsworth relocated to London and his favoured Royal Garden Hotel in upmarket Kensington.

Graf along with Ainsworth and AGT chief executive Danny Gladstone ironed out the negotiations on the sidelines of the ICE trade fair.

Despite his private persona, Graf was hard to miss. “His booth was half a bloody acre, the biggest by far,” Ainsworth smiles.

Graf kicked off the tense takeover tussle with a low-ball bid of just $2.25 a share for Ainsworth’s 53 per cent stake. Gladstone immediately rebuffed the offer.

“Danny was with me and he promptly told Mr Graf that wasn’t good enough and he’d have to come up for some more,” Ainsworth recalls.

Plenty of free cash

With Novomatic spinning off plenty of free cash, both Gladstone and Ainsworth knew there was plenty more firepower available.

They eventually settled on $2.75 a share and the proviso that Ainsworth would retain its ASX listing, keep Ainsworth on as chairman in his hope the company, which bears his name, will remain operating for decades to come.

Ainsworth decided to keep the details private until AGT released its half year results on February 23.

While the deal has been three years in the making, Ainsworth reckons it may be another year before it is sealed for good with probity clearances pending in Nevada and New Jersey.

And there’s also the small matter of minority shareholders approving the share sale.

Ainsworth dismisses any angst by investors on the register to the deal arguing it will help the company grow and compete with rival Aristocrat and international giants including Bally and Scientific.

“There’s some fellow squawking about the fact that the minority shareholders might lose out. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Ainsworth retorts. “If this fellow had rung me I would have told him to take a Bex and have a good lie down.”

Gladstone will travel to Las Vegas this week to meet with Novomatic chief executive Harald Neumann where he will tour AGT’s new pokie production factory.

Ainsworth hopes that by year-end his share sale will be complete and he can turn his attention to philanthropic work.

Posted in Story | Comments Off on Pokies critics hit the jackpot

Perceptions of crime surveyed

The Department of Justice (DOJ) today published Research and Statistical Bulletin 1/2016 ‘Perceptions of Crime: Findings from the 2014/15 Northern Ireland Crime Survey’ (NICS). It is a National Statistics Publication.

crimeIn addition to describing respondents’ perceptions of causes of crime, recent crime levels and the extent of problems of anti-social behaviour in the local area, this bulletin illustrates three commonly used measures of concern about crime:

worry about crime and personal safety;
perceptions of the likelihood of victimisation; and
perceptions of the effect of ‘fear of crime’ on quality of life.
Key Findings
Drugs (73%), alcohol (62%) and a lack of discipline from parents (51%) were the three factors most commonly identified by NICS 2014/15 respondents as major causes of crime in Northern Ireland today. When asked which single factor they considered to be the main cause of crime, the most common responses, cited by 29% and 20% of respondents respectively, were drugs and a lack of discipline from parents.
Almost three-fifths (58%) of NICS 2014/15 respondents thought crime levels in Northern Ireland had increased in the preceding two years. Although this proportion remained on a par with NICS 2013/14 (57%), the NICS 2014/15 figure is 21 percentage points below that observed in 2003/04 (79%).
As in previous sweeps of the survey, NICS 2014/15 respondents continued to be more positive in their perceptions of crime trends in their local area than at the regional level with 28% believing local crime levels had increased in the preceding two years.
Based on a seven-strand composite measure, findings from NICS 2014/15 show that 8% of respondents perceived the level of anti-social behaviour (ASB) in their local area to be high, a statistically significant decrease (p<0.05) from 2013/14 (10%). The NICS 2014/15 figure of 8% compares with 11% in England and Wales (Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) 2014/15). Across the individual categories, ‘rubbish or litter lying around’ was most commonly identified as a problem in both jurisdictions (26% and 29% respectively).
Of the demographic and socio-economic groups examined in NICS 2014/15, those most likely to perceive ASB as a problem in their local area included: single parents (23%); people living in the 20% most deprived areas in Northern Ireland (21%); people living in social rented accommodation (21%); respondents who are divorced (20%); and respondents aged 16-24 (17%).
Despite a lower prevalence of crime in Northern Ireland, respondents to NICS 2014/15 displayed higher levels of worry about the crime types examined than their counterparts in England and Wales: violent crime (15%, NICS 2014/15 v 11%, CSEW 2014/15); burglary (15% v 10%); and car crime (11% v 7%).
For the crime types examined, the vast majority of NICS 2014/15 respondents believed it unlikely that they would fall victim during the coming year. Overall, 11% of respondents to NICS 2014/15 believed they would experience some form of vehicle-related theft, 10% thought it was likely that they would be the victim of burglary, while 7% perceived themselves to be at risk of violent crime.
At 69%, the majority of NICS 2014/15 respondents felt that ‘fear of crime’ has a minimal impact on their quality of life, a further 25% claimed it has a moderate effect, while the remaining five per cent stated their quality of life is greatly affected by their ‘fear of crime’.
Among those NICS 2014/15 participants most likely to state that their lives are greatly affected by ‘fear of crime’ were: residents in areas of self-perceived high ASB (15%); single parents (15%); respondents who are divorced (13%); residents of the 20% most deprived areas of Northern Ireland (12%); respondents with a limiting illness or disability (12%); and recent victims of crime reported to the police (12%).
Notes to editors:
This is the first publication to be drawn from NICS 2014/15, a representative, continuous personal interview survey of the experiences and perceptions of crime of adults living in private households throughout Northern Ireland. Previously conducted in 1994/95, 1998, 2001 and 2003/04, the NICS began operating on a continuous basis in January 2005. It generally mirrors the format and core questions of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW; formerly known as the British Crime Survey).

An alternative, but complementary, measure of crime to offences recorded by the police, the main aims of NICS are to:

measure crime victimisation rates experienced by people living in private households, whether or not these crimes were reported to or recorded by the police;
monitor trends in the level of crime, independent of changes in reporting levels or police recording practices;
measure people’s perceptions of and reactions to crime (for example, the level and causes of crime, the extent to which they are concerned about crime and the effect of crime on their quality of life);
identify the characteristics and circumstances of people most at risk from and affected by different types of crime;
measure public confidence in policing and the wider criminal justice system; and
collect sensitive information, using self-completion modules, on people’s experiences regarding crime-related issues such as domestic violence.
The bulletin refers to fieldwork undertaken during the financial year 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015, which involved 2,074 people aged 16 years and over giving complete interviews. This represents an eligible response rate of 72%.

National Statistics are produced in accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. They are also subject to restrictions in terms of pre-release access.

Posted in Story | Comments Off on Perceptions of crime surveyed

South Melbourne children pay price for schools shortage


Up to 220 new schools need to be built in Victoria in the next decade to cope with an explosion in student numbers, research has warned.

But despite the alarming statistics, for the first time in 15 years, not a single new state school will open its doors to students when class returns next week.

Victorian schools must absorb 190,000 extra students between 2016 and 2026, according to an analysis prepared for Fairfax Media by the Grattan Institute.

This will mean 7200 extra classrooms and teachers, and between 140 to 220 new government and non-government schools.

“To have no state schools opening this year is disgraceful,” Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said.

Many state schools are already feeling the squeeze and have crammed portables into their playgrounds to accommodate extra students. Others are turning away families, running classes in halls and storerooms and staggering lunchtime so there’s enough space for children to play.

Ms Peace said portable classrooms were being shifted across the state at an unprecedented and unacceptable rate. She said the Andrews government had made a good start by doubling the previous Liberal government’s spending on school infrastructure, but more investment was needed to keep up with the state’s ballooning student population.

Using 2015 population forecasts, the Grattan Institute found that more than half the extra students would live in just nine local government areas, with the crush felt most acutely in inner city suburbs and the outer growth corridor.

The City of Melbourne is facing the most severe schools shortage among inner-city municipalities, and is set to experience a 62.9 per cent increase in school-aged children in the next decade – or almost 7500 extra students.

It’s a situation that Denise Fung-Henderson – who is involved in lobby group City Schools 4 City Kids – knows all too well.

She moved to the Docklands eight years ago when her son was born, and hoped a school would be built in the area by the time he started prep.

But despite promises from successive state governments, there is still no school.

All other state primary schools in neighbouring suburbs are full so her children Will, 8, and Poppy, 6, attend a Catholic school in South Melbourne.

“We pay taxes, we pay council rates. Why are we not provided with the choice?” she said. “We should be provided with a government primary and secondary school.”

In Wyndham, the fastest growing Victorian municipality, 100 new classrooms will be needed every year over the next decade to accommodate almost 27,000 extra students.

The Grattan Institute’s Dr Peter Goss said successive governments had been caught “on the hop” by this population growth and good, long-term planning was needed.

“This is not just a temporary situation that will work through the system. It requires permanent solutions, not just ever more portables.”

He said a baby boom that started in about 2006 had already hit primary schools, and would impact secondary schools from 2018.

A spokesman for Education Minister James Merlino said the state government had dozens of new schools in the pipeline and was “working to address the issues created by the Liberals’ chronic under-investment”.

He blamed the fact that not a single new state school will open in 2016 on the former state government’s under-investment.

Fifteen new state schools are expected to open in 2017 and 2018, with the majority of these built under a public-private partnership and located in growth corridor suburbs including Point Cook.

Inner-city schools in the pipeline include South Melbourne (Ferrars Street) Primary School, Beaumaris High School, Richmond Secondary School, Prahran Secondary School and South Melbourne Park Primary School.

It is understood that Education Department data suggests that 50 new state schools will be needed in the next decade, with many existing schools able to accommodate extra students.

Cate Hall, a spokeswoman for Our Children Our Schools, an alliance of 22 public school lobby groups, said many parents were travelling great distances because they had no local state schools.

New schools should be provided according to need, rather than political expediency, she said.

Opposition education spokesman Nick Wakeling said the Premier had no plans to build for Victoria’s future education needs. “Victoria’s population is growing by 100,000 a year but the only new schools Daniel Andrews will be opening are those funded by the Coalition.”

Posted in Story | Comments Off on South Melbourne children pay price for schools shortage

Werribee Open Range Zoo

Join a wildlife safari, Melbourne style, and spot rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras and monkeys and kangaroos as they roam freely through the grounds of the Werribee Open Plains Zoo.Kangazoo

Open 9:00am to 5:00pm every day

Address: K Road, Werribee, Victoria 3030 

Phone: 03 9731 9600


Werribee Open Range Zoo

Posted in Story | Comments Off on Werribee Open Range Zoo

Healesville Sanctuary

What animal lover doesn’t love cute spring animal babies?

There’s no better time to visit Healesville Sanctuary than these spring holidays! With adorable ducklings, waddling baby wombats and Rascal the baby kangaroo joey, just for starters, you and your family are sure to be

And of course there’s a variety of other favourite exhibits and shows;

Spirits of the Sky show daily at 12pm and 2pm, showcasing magnificent birds of prey; eagles, owls and parrots in flight.wteagle

Tales from Platypus Creek is a show held daily at 11:15am and additionally at 1:30pm on weekends.  See Platypus in a unique riverside tank environment in their brand new amphitheatre. Observe Platypus as they interact with keepers, play in the water and even enjoy having their tummies tickled! As seats are limited it is recommended you arrive 15 minutes early.

Cool Conservation gives visitors the chance to see breeding programs in action for two of our threatened alpine species; the Mountain Pygmy-possum and Southern Corroboree Frog. To find this alpine conservation space you need to wander through an aviary with two of Australia’s most critically endangered bird species – the Helmeted Honeyeater and Orange-bellied Parrot! And if you catch the 11am Keeper Talk you can see them right up close as they fly down for a nectar treat!

With other highlights including Animals of the Night, Future Vets, Extinction Headquarters, Lunars Secret Forest and Nature Play.

A thoroughly enjoyable day trip to Healesville just over an hour out of Melbourne, with admission free for children under 16 all holidays, it’s bound to be a great day out for the whole family.

More information

Posted in School Holiday Activities | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Healesville Sanctuary

This months Business Coaching Feature, Part 2

Stuart Hayes Leadership
Stuart Hayes offers free business planning consultations to entrepreneurs looking to improve the performance of their business, particularly in developing functional and accountable leaders in your business. You can apply for a free two hour business coaching session on his website.

Stuart Hayes Leadership is locally based in Port Melbourne. Stuart is an ex CEO Mr Fix it for top business consulting firms where his role was to go into ailing businesses and get them profitable. This makes his background quite unique among business coaches. His coaching is known for its practical approach, which is tailored to the individual circumstances of each business.

Stuarts Google+ page
Stuart’s Facebook page

We recently interviewed Stuart as part of our feature on business coaching

We asked Stuart the following question: With economists forecasting uncertain economic times, the global economy still remaining fragile and the situation in China uncertain, what do you think are the top concerns business leaders should be considering?

Stuart: Based on my experience, I would say that one of the most important things business leaders should be considering is adapting to the changing circumstances of new market conditions. To do that properly business owner should be looking closely at the impact of economic conditions on the fundamentals of their business. If at all unsure about the impacts of coming changes, remember hope is not a strategy! A failure to adapt to circumstances is one of the most common reasons businesses find themselves in trouble. My advice is to reach out for help from someone you can  work with, someone independent, as quickly as possible.
The quality of the outcomes you achieve in business is always proportional to the quality of the questions you ask and the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Is my fundamental approach still the right one?” Ideally you should look for a mentor or coach you feel you can trust, someone who has stood in your shoes and can help you see what’s really going on and what you need to do next.

Stuart also runs a podcast on developing leadership skills in your career called Careers Unplugged and it’s one of the leading podcasts in business development in Australia.

Posted in Business Coaching | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on This months Business Coaching Feature, Part 2

An amazing good time in Ashcombe Maze

What can be more fun than a real life three dimensional hedge maze?
Adults and children alike enjoy the challenge of finding their way around the mazes at Ashcombe.

hedgemaze1Located in Shoreham on the Mornington Peninsula, Ashcombe Maze boasts the oldest hedge maze (over 40 years old) in Victoria and the fragrant lavender and rose mazes are equally delightful and surprisingly more challenging than they might first appear.

The Ashcombe Garden Discovery Trail is a self-guided tour that explores kilometers of meandering gardens. Ashcombe Maze is home to acres of Woodland Gardens with a number of features: the Orchard, the Rock Garden, the Scented Garden, the Herb Barrels, the Small Woodland,  the Lily Pond, the Koala Food Trees and Lake Ashcombe to name a few.

hedgemazeaerialThere are other activities ideal to help fill in the school holidays such as the Great Gnome Hunt where children are armed with a clipboard and a pencil and an answer sheet to record where they find the many gnomes and fairies. Everyone that has a go receives a small lolly prize.

The Ashcombe Maze Café features Ashcombe’s harvested lavender in a number of menu items all made on site; lavender scones, lavender ice-cream, and lavender tea blends (green, chamomile and black).
All menu items are home made on the premises – featuring produce from the Ashcombe culinary garden.
The Mornington Peninsula is one-hour drive southeast from Melbourne. 
This picturesque region is surrounded by sea on three sides, with Port Phillip Bay to the east, Westernport Bay to the west and Bass Strait to the south.

boyinmazeOpen daily, 8am – 5pm

15 Shoreham Road, Shoreham 3916 Mel Ref: 256 E4

Family 2 child (2 Adults & 2 Children) $52.00

Posted in School Holiday Activities | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on An amazing good time in Ashcombe Maze

Ice skating or circus? Why not both at once?

Get your skates on for lots of fun this spring holidays!

What could be more fun than an ice skating rink combined with

  • a big top,
  • clowns,
  • magicians,
  • face painting
  • plus games and prizes?

Well, I don’t know either, but it’s all happening this school holidays at Medibank Icehouse!

All the extra activities are scheduled for between 11am and 3pm every day in the holidays.

And if you haven’t learned to skate on ice yet, that’s ok, as an experienced ice ambassador will teach you all the basics you need to know in a 15 minute free skating lesson, including how to get moving, how to turn and slow down and also how to fall down safely.

All these activities plus skate hire is included in the cost of general admission,
Adults $26 and children 6-14 $22.

Only five minutes from the city, Medibank Icehouse is located off Footscray Rd, Docklands, and easily accessible via tram, train or car.

Posted in School Holiday Activities | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Ice skating or circus? Why not both at once?

This month we are doing a feature on Business Coaches

Melbourne is, along with Sydney, Australia’s leading commerce and business centres. We have produced some of the world’s best businessmen, including Rupert Murdoch (whatever you may think of him).

There is a strong culture of business and executive coaching in corporate Australia and this month we are going to review a few of the leading coaching firms. In our review we will look to tell you about what’s unique in their approaches, what kinds of training they offer and why you might want to check them out.

Executive Coaching – Gwyder Consulting Group

Gwyder Consulting is run by Kerry Little. He is an accredited coach with the Marshall Goldsmith Global Executive Coaching Organisation. Gwyder specialise in a form of executive coaching called behavioural coaching. Which features the Stake Holder Centred Leadership methodology made famous by New York Times bestselling author, Marshall Goldsmith.

In fact the effectiveness of Stakeholder Centred Coaching was categorically proven when a comprehensive study among 11,000 business leaders in 8 multinational companies on 4 continents concluded that 95% of leaders who consistently applied Stakeholder Centred Coaching measurably improved their leadership effectiveness.

Kerry Little recently released a free executive coaching report designed to introduce business leaders to some of the key distinctions that underpin Stakeholder Centred Coaching.

Speaking at the launch, Little said “The reason Stakeholder Centred Coaching works is because the focus is on identifying and measuring the effects a person’s leadership style has on the performance of their people, which is the single most critical influencing effect a leader can have on productivity. The key is shifting the focus onto the skills of leadership, rather than the skills of the leader himself.”

“The free online course I’m launching today introduces executives to this paradigm shift, via an easy to implement online program that they can complete in a relatively small amount of time, I’m talking as little as 20 to 40 minutes a week, over just three weeks” said Mr Little.

“This makes trying behavioural coaching a ‘no brainer’ because the time investment is so small, and there’s no cost, so there’s no barrier!”

At the end of the program participants get a comprehensive debrief to help them identify the key things they learned, and how they can easily implement them and become a more effective leader.

To register for the free course, or obtain more information about behavioural coaching or Stakeholder Centred Leadership, visit

Posted in Business Coaching | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on This month we are doing a feature on Business Coaches