The Sydney Morning Herald: Ten ways to make the most of the last free Opal weekend

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on September 1, 2016



This weekend is the last chance for Opal card users to take advantage of free trips.

For 19-year-old student Emma Lucas, it means from next week she might not be so quick to tap on and tap off.

From Monday, cardholders who have reached the eight paid trips in one week will have to pay half-fare for Friday and the weekend instead of it being free.

Ms Lucas said that she’ll be less likely to use public transport once free Opal trips stop.

“If I want to do something on the weekend like go to Manly, I normally wouldn’t because of the ferry costs, but if I’ve got free trips I’m encouraged to do those things,” she said.

“I’m pretty aware of my carbon footprint, so the last thing I want to do is use my car, but cancelling free Opal trips means that I will use my car more or not go out as much. It takes away the encouragement to use public transport.”

A uni student with a part-time job two days a week, Miss Lucas reaches the eight trips quota just getting to class.

She said that once free trips stop, she’ll be too worried about how much she’s spending to take extra trips.

“I’ve got auto top up as well, so it takes the money straight out of my account. I won’t want to use my Opal as much because I want to save money on it,” she said.

“It’s going to be a much bigger thing to worry about on the minds of people who don’t have a car or a full time job.”

This weekend is the opportune time for Opal travellers to get out of town and explore outer-Sydney for free.

Boundaries of Opal travel extend as far South as Bomaderry, as far west as Bathurst, and as far north as Dungog, so cardholders could in theory travel through most of NSW without paying a cent.

These are our top 10 destinations for cardholders to visit for free this weekend, according to the locals.

1. The Blue Mountains (two hours from Central Station)

The Blue Mountains is one of Opal card’s top four most-frequented destinations for weekend travel. Ramon Rathore, owner of UpBeet Juice and Espresso, attributed this to the uniqueness and beauty of the place.

“We have some of the most pristine wilderness within region view of pretty much everywhere in the mountains,” he said. “It’s unique on every front – spiritually, visually, geographically, everything.”

The train journey is especially stunning when there’s snow on the mountains. Visitors can follow one of the many walking tracks to see breathtaking views of the Three Sisters, or stroll through the town of Katoomba – a man-made oddity in the centre of bush. Mr Rathore is afraid that Opal travellers who frequent his cafe will stop coming once they no longer have free trips.

“Anything that is going to effect the efficiency of tourism up here does have a direct effect on our business,” he said.

2. Manly Beach and North Head (approx 45 min from Central)  


Catch the ferry over to Manly from Circular Quay. The seabreeze is always pleasant and passengers get a great view of North Head’s sandstone headlands. Once visitors arrive at Manly Beach, they can amble up to the headlands on a number of walking tracks. The paved Fairfax walk is ideal for taking along the kids. It starts at the end of North Head Scenic Drive and loops around the top of North Head, passing Q Station – a quarantine station active in 1833 – and other historical sites. All the sites are marked by information boards that give insight into North Head’s past.

Deb Randell, a tour guide at Q Station which is free for the public to enter, said that North Head’s history, scenery and close proximity to Sydney set it a part from other places.

“Q Station’s third graveyard is up at North Head. It’s the only graveyard out of our three that still has all its headstones, so it’s very much intact,” she said.

“The whole place just comes alive once you start to hear all the fascinating stories that have gone on here and some of the characters that have passed through over time.”

3. Terrigal, The Central Coast (approx. 2 hr from Central)

Take a trip on the Central Coast train line and view the Hawkesbury River, bobbing boats, oyster farms, ocean and bush. Hop on a bus from Gosford Station to Terrigal, where you can walk from the end of Terrigal Lagoon, along the beachfront, and up to the Skillion lookout across from Terrigal Haven.

Mardi Love, a patrolling member of Terrigal Surf Club for 14 years, said that Terrigal is always a great destination for visitors, regardless of the weather.

“Of course the beach is the best thing about Terrigal, but there’s also a number of coastal walks that are gaining in popularity,” said Ms Love.

“You can always find a nice little place to dunk in the water or play on the beach. One of the other great attractions is the food and cafe culture.”

4. Kiama and The Blowhole (approx. 2 hr and 15 min from Central)


Kiama may seem like a bit of a trek to most Sydneysiders, but Ray Thorburn, 81, has lived in the area since 1975 and said it’s well worth the trip.

“I would suggest that it is better than Sydney,” said Mr Thorburn.

“Aesthetically, it’s so far away from Sydney that it isn’t funny, but it’s close enough to the smoke to really go up there whenever you need to. It’s the best of all worlds, I suppose you could say.”

Visitors can get off the train at Kiama Station and walk the 10 to 15 minutes up to the famed Blowhole, which is the largest in the world, and the Kiama lighthouse, which was established in 1887. Take along some hand reels and fish off the harbour.

5. Thirroul (approx. 1 hr and 15 min from Central)

If passengers are lucky, they’ll not only have the ocean to their left on the train ride to Thirroul, but mist rolling down the hills on their right. The seaside suburb of Wollongong features a one kilometre long beach that faces east and picks up swell from most directions, so it’s a good surf spot. Before heading to Thirroul Station, visitors can get off at nearby Scarborough and wander across to the Scarborough Hotel, then head upstairs to take in the stunning views of the ocean below.

Ellen Austin manages the Scarborough Hotel.

“We’ve got such a beautiful view here. There’s nothing else like it,” she said.

“It’s a really relaxed area and everyone’s really nice. I don’t think anywhere else comes close to here.”

Ms Austin recommends people walk the 10 minutes to Sea Cliff Bridge, the 665 metre highlight of Grand Pacific Drive. Other coastal towns, Austinmer and Coledale, are dotted along the road and are within a couple of minutes train or bus trip.

6. Windsor (approx 1 hr from Central)

Windsor is a town in Sydney’s west known for its heritage and historical value. Founded in 1810, Windsor still has its traditional country charm that attracts people away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Vicki Burns is a supervisor at Australia’s oldest pub, the Macquarie Arms Hotel, which was built in Windsor in 1815.

“There’s a lot of old buildings that are still standing. We’ve got a couple of old churches, and really old graveyards dating back hundreds of years,” she said.

“People like it because it’s a little country town. We have markets through the mall with all local produce on Sundays.”

Visitors can get off at Windsor Station, which is on the main street of the town – George Street – and amble past sites that seem frozen in time, including St Matthew’s Anglican Church (built in 1817) and Windsor Court House (built in 1822).

7. Richmond (approx. 1 hr and 15 min from Central)


Passengers enjoy the bucolic scenes from the train window as Richmond nears; farm animals are a welcome site outside the norm of urban life. Get off at Richmond Station and wander across to the old-style oval over the road. Buy a quarter chicken and fresh salad from a store opposite the oval and grab a coffee from the same strip on the way back.

Graham Smith, 78, was born and bred in Richmond and has lived there his whole life. Mr Smith said he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I wouldn’t like to live anywhere else. I’m very happy living in the area,” he said.

“If you lived in the city, I think Richmond is a lovely place to visit.”

Mr Smith named historic buildings, cafes, antique stores and the Royal Australian Air Force Base – where you can watch the planes take off and land – as main attractions.

8. The Hawkesbury River, Brooklyn (approx 1 hr from Central)

The Hawkesbury River offers some of the most pristine views in Sydney, and with the station right in the centre of town, the one hour train trip is definitely the best way to get there.

Catherine Pigneguy owns the local Riverboat Postman, which does day trips during the week and weekend cruises, and also runs the Teahouse at Brooklyn.

“It’s such a tiny little village surrounded by national park, so it feels like a town on its own but it’s still a part of Sydney,” said Ms Pigneguy.

“The cafes here are brilliant and the fish and chips are pretty much straight out of the river. It makes the perfect day trip that’s absolutely totally different from what you’ll see anywhere else.”

Like Mr Rathore from the Blue Mountains, Ms Pigneguy is concerned about what the cancellation of free Opal trips will mean for the town and business.

“The train relieves parking issues in small towns like ours, so if they reduce the incentive to use the train, people will just drive and make parking availability worse.”

9. Newcastle and Merewether (approx 3 hr from Central)


If you go from one end of Newcastle to the other, you’ll come across a whole range of scenes; from the urban jungle of the city, to the oddly industrial waterfront, to the nostalgic fronts of picket-fenced cottages, to the long stretches of beach. Visitors can get off the train at Hamilton, hop on a bus into town and peak into the trendy pigeon hole cafes, or head down to Merewether Beach.

Rebeccah Warwood, sales and events manager at Merewether Surfhouse, said that visitors love the place because it offers city, surf and suburbia.

“It’s a different, relaxed vibe out here compared to the CBD of Newcastle. It’s a good middle ground between all the buzzing areas,” she said.

“We see dolphins and whales frequently, on most mornings, which is beautiful.”

Ms Warwood said that Newcastle is an ideal spot for Sydneysiders to take a break and relax over the weekend.

10. Moss Vale (approx 1 hr and 45 min from Central)

Sandra Menteith, 65, helps run the local Farmers Market in Moss Vale. She said that her favourite thing about living in a rural town is the country way of life, but new, ‘younger’ business is making the area a lot more interesting.

“In Moss Vale, you can see a lot more traditional things and the way of life living in a regional area, that are perhaps lost when a place gets too developed,” said Ms Menteith.

“There’s a lot of new business and activities emerging in the area – especially ones around food. It’s appropriate, because Moss Vale was traditionally the agricultural centre of the Southern Highlands.”

Ms Menteith said that if people from Sydney tasted Moss Vale’s local produce, they wouldn’t settle for anything less again.


The Sydney Morning Herald: Former politician Pat Farmer to run City2Surf for cancer

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on August 11, 2016


Pat Farmer was 18 when he knew he wanted to run.

Now a holder of several world records, he ended up running around Australia, through the Middle East, and in 2011, more than 20,000 kilometres from the North Pole to South Pole.

“It was, without a doubt, the most incredible feat of endurance I think anybody’s ever done,” he said about the trek, which took more than 10 months.

“I reflect on it now and I don’t even know how I did it myself. You’re in the moment, you plan these things for years, then you just get out there and give it your best shot.”

As a kid, he was inspired by Cliff Young, a potato farmer from Victoria.

Young, at 61, won what Farmer called the “toughest race on earth” – the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon – in the 80s.

“The wonderful thing about that was it showed me that ordinary people could aspire to doing extraordinary things, not just the elite,” he said.

“Cliff will always be the factor behind all my fundraising and everything I’ve done.”

Farmer dedicated his running career to charity from the word go, and has since raised millions for several organisations and causes.

“For me, it’s not even so much about the running, but what I can use the running to do,” he said.

“It’s taking the emphasis on me setting records, running and racing, and putting it on the needy.”

Farmer said that no matter what field he is in, whether it be sport, business or politics, he is always driven by a love of helping others.

Farmer was elected the Liberal MP for Macarthur in 2001, and served in Parliament as the secretary for education, science and training. He says he is disappointed by Australia’s current political climate.

“I think in my days [they] were certainly more focused on public outcomes than their own personal interests,” he said.

“Today’s politicians need to focus on the community that they represent rather than themselves. At the end of the day, you can talk as much as you like, but you really need to hit the ground running and show people what you’re made of.”

Farmer said that if he wasn’t kicked out of the Macarthur seat by his party in 2009 for living out of the electorate, he would still be in politics.

This year, Farmer is training and running alongside the Cancer Council Gold Team – 25 runners doing The Sun-Herald City2Surf, presented by Westpac.

The team hopes to raise more than $165,000 for the charity, and Farmer said they were well on their way.

“As you can imagine, for me, the distance is much shorter than what I would normally compete in,” he said. “But it’s an opportunity to support other runners to realise their best.”

“You’ll see in the City2Surf, ordinary people from all age groups, and even people with a disability, will complete the distance. To me, that’s a gold medal performance and they are the inspiration for ordinary Australians.”

The Sun-Herald City2Surf will be held in Sydney on August 14.

Register online at:

The Sun-Herald: 2016 Census: Bungy jump master tops the list of the jobs fewest people do

Published in The Sun-Herald on August 7, 2016


Boris Joy is a bungy jump master – a rare find in Australia, with only three recorded in the 2011 census.

The profession tops the list of the 10 least-reported jobs nationwide last time ahead of this year’s census, on Tuesday.

After 10 years in the business, Mr Joy thinks he has one of the best jobs in the country.

“I had been in banking for eight years and decided to do something I’d never imagined I would do,” he said. “I just answered a job for a receptionist, funnily enough, and there you go.”

Being a jump master means that Mr Joy controls the bungy jump deck and is responsible for equipment and the safety of jumpers who visit AJ Hackett in Cairns, Queensland.

He loves being able to engage with people and see how they handle stressful situations.

Mr Joy says there are so few bungy jump masters in Australia because there are only two companies that offer the activity.

“People are always surprised to hear that we’re one of the only ones,” he said. “It’s a difficult business to start up without specialised knowledge of the industry.

“It’s basically as per a need basis. If we need more, then more will get trained up.”

Mr Joy thinks that people may be deterred by the dense Bungy Jumping Code of Practice and complicated insurance process for businesses.

This may explain the remainder of the top 10 most unpopular jobs in Australia – five are in the adventure sports industry.

2. Hunting Guide – four people

This job requires employees to be properly licensed hunters. Hunting licences are difficult to obtain, and guides are mostly required to work out of fully-licensed outfitters who are responsible for staff and insurances. Potential business interests are deterred by complicated processes and hunters often work independently without the assistance of a guide.

3. Mountain or Glacier Guide – 16 people

These guides have the task of leading groups or individuals through mountain ranges and glaciers, where they often partake in high-risk activities such as fishing and hunting, climbing and whitewater rafting. They are responsible for equipment and the safety of participants.

4. Trekking Guide – 24 people

Their work requires them to lead groups or individuals over long walking distances, often through hazardous terrain. Trekking guides must assess the risks involved in a trek and ensure the safety of patrons.

5. Whitewater Rafting Guide – 28 people

Guides, usually employed by licensed outfitters, are responsible for ensuring the safety of participants during this hazardous activity. The adventure sport also relies on a specific natural environment to work; rapids that are particularly dangerous may pose too many risks to customers.

6. Plastic Compounding and Reclamation Machine Operator – 51 people

Operators control mixing and grinding machines to prepare powders and liquids used to make plastics. They are also responsible for the recycling of materials. Machine operators are now largely redundant as most Australian manufacturing is done by machinery.

7. Deer Farmer – 56 people

Deer farms serve as hunting attractions or for the production of livestock. There is relatively little demand in Australia for venison in comparison to other meats such as lamb, beef and chicken. Hunting is generally done on larger grounds, and deer farms only provide limited game.

8. Electrician (special class) – 62 people

Special class electricians service and repair intricate or complex circuitry. They are typically called upon when tasks exceed the capabilities of general electricians.

9. Clinical Haematologist – 72 people 

Haematologists are concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders. As this is a specialist field, demand for these practitioners is less than general medical personnel.

10. Paediatric Surgeon – 76 people

These surgeons deal with fetuses, infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. Although general surgeons are equipped to operate on most younger patients, there are some cases where paediatric surgery is ideal or necessary.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Jetstar brawler ‘sorry’ for bloody flight punch-up

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 23, 2016



Apology: Bradley Beecham arrives at Sydney Airport.

Bradley Beecham, one of six men who brawled on a Jetstar flight to Phuket on Wednesday, has apologised for the group’s behaviour.

“I’m sorry to everyone on the flight but there are certain things you can only try and prevent the best you can to help people,” he said.

Mr Beecham, Brett Eldridge and Lynmin Waharai were spoken to by police on Saturday morning when they landed at Sydney Airport.

A spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police said that no arrests have been made, but inquires into the matter will continue.

Their flight was due in at 6:15am, but Mr Eldridge and Mr Beecham didn’t emerge for over an hour after they disembarked.

Mr Eldridge was hooded and made a run for the doors without comment.

 Mr Waharai’s family were on standby waiting for him at the arrivals gate, but left after they saw Mr Beecham chased down by press.

Police later informed Fairfax Media that Mr Waharai had left the airport and managed to escape media attention.

The others involved in the brawl, Ricky William, Mark Rossiter and Michael Matthews, arrived at Melbourne Airport on Friday night at 10:10pm.

They were also interviewed by police and didn’t emerge until over two hours after their plane landed.

Mr Matthews, who sported a black eye after the fight, refused to comment.

The group had a “massive” and bloody “punch up” according to a witness’ friend, which caused Jetstar flight JQ27 to Phuket to be diverted to Bali on Wednesday night.

The only explanation the group have provided to police for the incident is that they were “drunk”.

Footage has now emerged of the group drinking cheerily at a Sydney Airport bar prior to their departure.

The men were escorted off the plane and held in custody by Indonesian police, before being passed over to Jetstar security staff for the flight back to Australia.

In a statement, Jetstar described the men as “extremely disruptive”.

The remaining 309 passengers, including seven babies, continued on their journey to Phuket, Jetstar said.

The flight took off from Sydney at 2:25pm on Wednesday afternoon and did not arrive in Phuket until 11:15pm, two hours later than scheduled.

In the past, Jetstar have sought costs from passengers who cause major disturbances, and have enforced flight bans of up to ten years.

The group now face the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines from the company, and potentially, police.

The Sydney Morning Herald Weekend: Jessica Watson: the girl who conquered the world going into uncharted territory

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald Weekend on July 23, 2016


Jessica Watson has a start-up yachting business.

Jessica Watson was just 16 when she became the youngest person ever to sail solo and unassisted around the world and now, at 23, she has her sights set on conquering what she expects to be an even greater challenge than her legendary voyage.

When the Queenslander sailed back into Sydney Harbour in May of 2010, she was on the high of her life.

“Of course I was very young. A 16-year-old is a 16-year-old, but the big thing was that there were so many years of preparation. I was ready when I left,” she said.

“I’d come off the boat and I’d spent years with absolutely all my focus on making this voyage happen, so there was a huge amount of adrenaline for quite a few years.”

When Watson returned from her 210-day journey, which took her over 23,000 nautical miles, she was one of the most recognised faces in Australia.

She went on an international book tour for her novel True Spirit, skippered the youngest crew ever to compete in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, was awarded Young Australian of the Year in 2011, and was honoured with an OAM in 2012.

Now, Watson is focusing on another big challenge.

“It’s funny, people want me to say ‘I’m sailing around the world backwards’ or to the moon this time, but the crazy thing is for me that that would almost be the easy thing to do,” she said.

“I wanted to put myself completely out of my comfort zone, which is still within the marine industry and what I love, and take on a completely different challenge.” is a venture that Watson said got her attention from the start, and as the communications manager, she is working hard to get it off the ground.

“It’s something that immediately struck a chord because as a sailor, as a boatie who is out on the water often, I could immediately see that there’s a need for this,” she said.

Watson described as, essentially, a marine TripAdvisor.

“Boaties” can review marine businesses, vessels, locations, products and services, or view others’ reviews on the site.

“Boating has this incredible word-of-mouth culture, they love sharing their recommendations and opinions and helping each other out,” she said.

“The marine industry still has these gorgeous guides, big thick guides of areas, but we want to give boaties that platform and community online.”

The first version of Deckee was actually launched over a year ago and it became an award-winning site, but Watson said the new site allows for greater possibilities.

“We’ve completely started fresh which is a pretty brave thing to do when we had an award-winning website,” she said, “but it didn’t enable us to scale up in the way that we want to.This new technology is going to give us this incredible ability to map out the boating industry and answer people’s questions in a sort of Google-like fashion.”

Watson is also doing her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) on the weekends between working full-time for Deckee.

“It’s a challenge because obviously there’s so much going on with Deckee at the moment,” she said.

“Studying is a bit odd for a girl who sailed around the world, but I managed to finish school and do my degree,”

Watson is expected to make an appearance at this year’s Sydney International Boat Show, which starts on Thursday, July 28.

The boat show is always a favourite with Australia’s marine community, and Watson said she’s keen to keep up the tradition.

“The show is something I’ve been involved in for years, right back before I sailed around the world,” she said.

“They were really supportive and I have really fond memories, so it’s exciting to be going back this year with a new project.”

The Sydney Morning Herald: Over 65s out-drink youth daily, NSW Chief Health Officer’s alcohol report shows

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 21, 2016 – co-authored for Kate Aubusson


Young people may binge drink, but over 65s are the biggest daily drinkers.

Michael Forno reckons he would rack up 10 to 20 alcoholic drinks when he’s out with mates, once a week at most.

“I drink to have fun with friends … it helps the conversation move and to get along,” the 23-year-old said.

Nicolette Barbas got her first drink – a Vodka Cruiser – from her mum when she was 16. These days the 21-year-old sips three to six during a night out.

“I know I’m sensible and I won’t go overboard … [but] everyone sort of does silly things when they’re drunk. It’s part of the fun,” she said.

Kahli Gifford’s mum also bought her first drink when she was 16. She averages about six drinks twice a week.

When young people drink they tend to go pretty hard, judged against national health recommendations.

But the latest NSW Chief Health Officer’s report shows 16 to 24-year-olds are the least likely to drink daily.

The biggest daily drinkers in the state are overwhelmingly over 65.

It’s a stark generational disparity often overlooked in Australia, where the short-term harms of alcohol can often take precedence over the health effects of long-term drinking.

It’s the difference between an intoxicated teen falling over and hitting their head, and a budding retiree with liver failure.

Less than 1 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 drank daily compared to roughly one in seven people (14 per cent) over 65, the report released on Thursday found.

Over-65s also had two times the rate of hospitalisations for alcohol-related problems compared to the 15-24-year age group.

Alcohol risk awareness campaigns had predominantly targeted youth drinking, addiction specialist Adrian Dunlop said.

“But we’re trying to have a more meaningful dialogue about alcohol-related harms,” he said.

The findings among older Australians showed a “worrying trend”, especially when this group exceeded four drinks a day, he said.

“We need to think about the older populations a lot more and how alcohol is contributing to chronic disease [including] cirrhosis damage and alcohol-related brain injury,” he said.

The younger crowd still out-binged drink their elders, the report showed.

More than one in three 16-24-year-olds drank at levels that increased their long-term health risks compared to one in eight over-65s. Almost one in five 12-17-year-olds who drank reported doing so to get drunk.

Roughly one-third had been given their first drink by their parents and about three in five had their last drink under adult supervision, the report showed.

Excessive alcohol consumption is the leading contributor to illness and deaths in Australia for people up to 44 years old, costing the NSW economy more than $3.87 billion a year.

One in four adults drink at levels that put their long-term health at risk, a decline of 5.5 per cent over the past decade, the report showed.

It also found Aboriginal people were equally likely to abstain from drinking alcohol as non-Aboriginal people, though Aboriginal people who did drink were more likely to do so at risky levels.

But Australians’ attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol were clearly shifting.

Young people were delaying their first drink, and drinking at less hazardous levels than they used to, the report showed.

High school students who reported drinking in the past 12 months dropped from three in five in 2005 to two in five in 2014, and binge drinking was down from one in 10 to one in 20 over the same period.

The rate of 15 to 24-year-olds presenting at emergency departments with acute alcohol problems also declined from more than 3500 in 2007 to about 3000 in 2015.

“There are benefits to drinking aside from health. It’s part of Australian culture for many people. It’s how we celebrate birthdays and Christmases and socialise generally,” Dr Dunlop said.

Older generations needed to shed the misinformed belief that a glass of wine a day had any health benefit.

“That theory has been blown out of the water,” he said.

The tipping point between acceptable and risky drinking was also unclear for many people, Dr Dunlop suspected.

National guidelines recommend men and women drink no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related harms.

To reduce short-term risk of injury men and women should stick to no more than four standard drinks on any occasion.

NSW’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said it was encouraging to see decreasing numbers of adults drinking at levels that increase long-term risk of harm, but more needed to be done.

“[Excessive drinking] not only affects the drinker but can also contribute to relationship and family problems, public intoxication, and other criminal offences”, and increased the likelihood of aggressive behaviour, she said.

With Cassandra Morgan

The Sydney Morning Herald: Kidtopia Festival 2016: kids should do yoga in schools, Connect Kids say

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 20, 2016


Molly Levin does some yoga in Henley Park in Enfield.

Yoga should be made a mandatory part of the school curriculum, the founder of Connect Kids Yoga believes.

Cynthia Levin said the health benefits of yoga outweigh those of any sport offered in the public school system.

“If yoga was in schools, our kids would be so much calmer and they would be able to cope with all the stuff that they have to do,” Ms Levin said.

“There’s so much pressure on them in society these days that tells them what to do, what to wear, how to feel, how to think, and pressure from their peers and school. Yoga deals with all of that.”

Ms Levin said that kids should start doing yoga as early as possible.

“We teach kids from two, but there are opportunities for kids to be involved even younger than that,” she said.

“There are mums and bubs classes that are available out there as well. The more exposure kids can get, as early as possible, the better.”

US research suggests that yoga can also help kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The research claims it can improve core symptoms of ADHD, including inattentiveness, and hyperactivity.

Molly Levin strikes a yoga pose at Henley Park in Enfield.
Molly Levin strikes a yoga pose at Henley Park in Enfield.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

“What yoga gives students that no other sport offers is that their mind, body and soul are enhanced and grown,” Ms Levin said.

Connect Kids Yoga classes will be one of the main attractions at this year’s Kidtopia Festival at Parramatta Park, which will run in the next school holidays from October 7 to 9.

Ms Levin will be holding two classes a day, one for kids aged five to eight and one for children aged nine to 12.

“They just love coming to yoga,” Ms Levin said of the classes for children aged under eight.

“They haven’t got those inhibitions that the older kids have. They really throw themselves into it, it makes a big difference that they haven’t gotten to that age where they’re worried about what people are going to think.”

The Kidtopia Festival will also include attractions such as a circus school, science shows and a petting zoo.

Ms Levin said that preschool aged children will particularly benefit from the tools they learn in class.

“Yoga teaches them to be able to identify when they are feeling a little bit stressed out,” she said.

“The tools that are taught in class help them to calm themselves down.”

The Fairfax Kidtopia Festival is on October 7 to 9, 2016, at Parramatta Park
Tickets are available online at

The Sydney Morning Herald: ANZ Championships: NSW Swifts all stars reaching milestones

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 18, 2016


The Swifts’ star players are marking the end of an era as the last days of the ANZ Championships approach, and they plan to go out with a bang.

Captain Kim Green and defender Sharni Layton have been part of the ANZ competition since it started in 2008, and attacker Paige Hadley is hungry for the win after last year’s devastating grand final loss.

“My sole goal this year is to win,” said Hadley.

“Coming off the loss against the Firebirds last year, being within a minute or so of winning the title, you can nearly taste it.”

Hadley said it was back to the drawing board for her game in the 2016 season, but she believed the Swifts’ versatility could dominate in the next few weeks of finals.

“It’s awesome, people play multiple positions where they’re needed, so I think that’s a real asset for us,” she said.

“I’ve never won an ANZ title, so I definitely want to win one before the competition ends.”

Green is the only player on this year’s roster to have experienced the Swifts’ ANZ win back in 2008.

Green plans to farewell the series in the same way she started it, by taking home the trophy, but she admits the Swifts have a challenging few games ahead.

Heading into Monday’s match against the Firebirds, Green said the main focus had been on giving the four quarters their 100 per cent.

“We know that we need to put out a full 60 minutes, and I know that’s very cliche, but that’s exactly what happened to us in last year’s grand final,” she said.

“We learnt that we can’t play 57 minutes of a game then expect to win.”

If the Swifts beat the Firebirds at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, they’ll be crowned Australian Conference champions and will host the semi-final round against New Zealand on their home court.

“In terms of our training sessions, we go hell for leather out on court against each other because everyone’s vying for a position,” she said.

“No one’s sitting on the sideline going ‘I’m just going to be on the bench this week’, everyone’s pushing and that’s the best thing about our team.”

Green, a former Diamond, retired from internationals when she joined the comp in 2016.

After this season, she said she had no plans of slowing down, and her drive to compete professionally was higher than ever.

“I feel like this year I’ve played the best netball that I ever have in my whole career,” she said.

“To think that is on the back of a little bit of a break is really exciting for me. I have no plans of retiring any time soon.”

If the Swifts make it into the grand final, it will be Layton’s 100th ANZ Championship game.

The defender said the Firebird’s attacking end would be the biggest challenge for the Swifts on Monday night.

“Romelda [Aiken] is not as stationary as what she used to be, so that’s a real challenge because no other team is like that with a tall goal attack as well as a tall goal shooter,” she said.

“At the end of the day, they can throw absolutely anything out on us. They’re a phenomenal team, they’ve proven it and played great all year, so we’ll just be concentrating on what we can do to minimise them as much as possible.”

Layton was determined to win, but she said that even a finals loss couldn’t undermine what she’d gained.

“It’s the last year of the ANZ Championship,” she said. “It’s not going to be here next year.

“I just want to soak up every single moment I can with this group of girls because, if you’re not in the moment, you’re not going to win anyway.”

Australian Conference finals: NSW Swifts v QLD Firebirds at Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 7:18pm.

The Sun-Herald: ANZ Championship Australian Conference just the beginning for NSW Swifts rookies

Published in The Sun-Herald on July 17, 2016


The ANZ Championship is in its final days, but as the Swifts prepare to face the Firebirds in Monday’s Australian conference final, Sydney’s rookies are revelling in the final moments and planning their next steps.

Amy Sommerville, 23, Lauren Moore, 18, and Kaitlyn Bryce, 21, are all rookies in this year’s competition, and they’re loving every minute.

“You still kind of pinch yourself and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the team’,” Sommerville said.

“It’s kind of something that you believe will never happen. I’m just taking in as much as I can. I’m really lucky.”

Sommerville has represented NSW since she was 19, but her rise to netball stardom was stopped in 2012 by a knee injury.

“I definitely thought it was going to jeopardise my career,” she said. “In a way, those were silly thoughts I had in my head.

“It took me a little bit longer than most people to get back, but here I am four years later with the Swifts. Now I have lots to look forward to, but lots of hard work to do as well.”

Moore, from the Central Coast, is the youngest member of the team. She was still in school last year when she got the call from Swifts coach Rob Wright to tell her she was in the squad.

“I was in class when I got the call, but of course I took it,” she said.

“I was in tears when I told my family. I don’t even think they could understand what I was saying, I was crying so much.”

Moore was a replacement player for the Swifts last year.

She said she is honoured to be given the opportunity of an elite career at such a young age, but she won’t let her youth hold her back.

“I think it’s a real pleasure to be picked up so young,” Moore said. “It’s not often that you get called in straight out of school.

“Rob [Wright] sees me as a Swift, so my work ethic has to be at the same standard of the other players. He has high expectations for me to take on board everything I’m learning.”

Moore has looked up to star defender Sharni Layton as her biggest inspiration since she was a kid.

“We’re in the same position and we have a lot of personal characteristics that are quite similar, too,” she said. “She’s a free spirit and, similar to Kim [Green], she doesn’t just talk, she goes and does it.”

Bryce, from Nowra, came up through the NSW under-age club system as well.

She says it has always been her dream to be part of the ANZ Championship, and to play in the competition’s final year is a thrill.

“I remember when I watched the first season of the ANZ Championship in 2008; I used to watch them all on the telly on repeat,” she said.

“To actually be a part of it is something that I’ve dreamt of for 10 years now. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Bryce said that once the competition finishes she plans to go back to university and study but, in the meantime, her head is well in the game.

Moore said, and the other players agree, that the Swifts’ biggest advantage going into the finals is their depth and versatility.

“We’re unpredictable to the other teams,” Moore said. “They’re never going to know what hit them!”

Australian conference final: NSW Swifts v QLD Firebirds at Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 7.18pm (doors open 6pm)

Tickets available from Ticketek.

The Sydney Morning Herald Weekend: NSW Swifts MVP Caitlin Thwaites in it for the team, not the title

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald Weekend on July 16, 2016


Caitlin Thwaites may have one of the most vital roles in the Swifts leading up to Monday’s Conference finals, but she’s too humble to admit it.

The 188cm Bendigo-born goal shooter has one of the highest shooting averages in the game, 89.3 per cent and was the Swifts’ MVP of last year’s ANZ season.

“It was a bit of a shock to be honest,” said Thwaites.

“The year that we had and the calibre of players that we had in the team – to be considered amongst the people who would have that and who have won that in the past, I think it’s pretty special.”

Thwaites is going into Monday’s final against the Firebirds on the back of another MVP performance against the Vixens in May, where the shooter scored 35 goals from 39 attempts.

“I think the beauty of this team is that we actually share the shooting load more than any team between the goal shooter and goal attack,” she said.

“It’s always an entire team effort to be able to win these games, not only at the ANZ Champs level, but at the finals level it’s even more so that every person has to perform their role.”

Thwaites is coming up against Firebird’s Jamaican superstar Romelda Aiken, who at 196cm, has taken the role of goal shooter to a new level.

“I’ve had to adapt my game a little bit because I’m no longer one of the talls,” said Thwaites.

“Because I can’t physically be that, I’ve had to add a few more tools to my kit. To find that balance between having the versatility to move around as well as being that strong target and holding the circle is something I’m still working out.”

Thwaites said that even though she’s one of the best shooters in Australia, she still thinks there’s room for improvement.

“I don’t think that anybody ever has a perfect game, there’s always things that you can learn from and improve, and that’s what we do with our video analysis,” she said.

“Even in games that you win by a blow out, there’s always things that you can fix up.”

If the Swifts take home the Australian Conference title next Monday at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, they’ll be able to host their semi-final against a New Zealand team on home turf at Sydney Olympic Park where they’re yet to have a loss in the 2016 season.

Thwaites said that going into next Monday’s match, she’ll be thinking of the team rather than herself.

“Yes, we go out there to do our job for the team, but  it’s not for the individual accolades,” she said.

“The supporters that we have here in Sydney, our members and everybody, are so amazing. That’s a huge advantage for us, so it’s not a knockout final, but we’ll try to win so that we can have a home semi.”

Australian Conference finals: NSW Swifts v QLD Firebirds at Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 7:18pm.