Australia’s leading Jewish community organisation has broken a week-long silence on the case of the death of Australian-Israel dual national Ben Zygier.
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In a statement issued today, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry welcomed announcements by the Australian and Israeli governments of inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the death dual Israeli and Australian national Ben Zygier, who died while in high-security custody in Israel in December 2010.

”We welcome the fact that the Israeli Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Subcommittee for Intelligence and the Israeli State Attorney’s office, part of the Ministry of Justice, have both announced that they will be conducting investigations into the circumstances surrounding Ben Zygier’s death,” Executive Council President Dr Danny Lamm said in a written statement.

”We also welcome the inquiries being undertaken by Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the fact that he has invited the Israeli authorities to have an input into those inquiries.”

Australian Jewish community leaders have been reluctant to speak publicly about the death in Mr Zygier, a former Melbourne lawyer, which was disclosed by ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent program last week.

Mr Zygier, who reportedly served with the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad, was arrested in Israel in February 2010 and died in prison 10 months later.

Jewish community sources told Fairfax Media that hesitation in making public comment arose from respect for Mr Zygier’s family which, apart from a brief expression of loss and grief to the Australian Financial Review, has not spoken publicly, and because community leaders had no information on the case other than what had been reported in the media.

However, the announcements by Senator Carr of an internal inquiry by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade into the consular aspects of Mr Zygier’s case and the Israeli government and parliamentary investigations provided an appropriate opportunity for comment.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has said he saw no reason for any inquiry into the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s involvement in Mr Zygier’s case.

It has been reported that ASIO was investigating Mr Zygier’s alleged involvement in the use of Australian passports to provide cover for Israeli intelligence operations and that ASIO tipped off a Fairfax journalist who contacted Mr Zygier shortly before he was arrested by Israeli security authorities.

Reportedly charged with ”national security”-related offences, Mr Zygier was not tried or convicted of any offence before his death.

”We look forward to the official inquiries publishing concrete information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ben Zygier in the hope that it will put further rumour and speculation to rest and bring some comfort to his still-grieving family and friends,” Dr Lamm said.

Australian Jewish community leaders were privately highly critical of what they considered to be an overreaction by former prime minister Kevin Rudd and then foreign minister Stephen Smith to allegations that Israeli intelligence used Australian passports in an operation to assassinate a militant Hamas leader in Dubai in January 2010.

Following the Government’s decision to expel a senior Israeli intelligence officer from Israel’s embassy in Canberra in May 2010, Mr Rudd and Mr Smith attempted to defuse tension by inviting six Jewish community representatives, including then Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot, for discussions at a private kosher dinner at The Lodge. The meeting was also attended by Labor MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus.

It is believed that no mention of Mr Zygier’s arrest and detention was made at this gathering.

”None of us knew anything about [the Zygier case], and neither the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister said anything about it,” one of the community representatives who attended the meeting told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

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TurnbullStuck on slow copper in a suburb with cable? Malcolm Turnbull is happy to leave you in the lurch under his NBN vision.Australia’s Hybrid Fibre Cable rollouts of the 1990s were a hotch potch mess, with Telstra and Optus chasing each other down one street and then skipping the next street completely. Many homes in the so-called HFC areas are still struggling to get a reliable 5 Mbps over copper DSL and must rely on satellite for limited pay TV. Meanwhile their neighbours are enjoying 100 Mbps thanks to the latest cable upgrades.The HFC rollouts created a digital divide within suburbs and even within streets. It’s not just multi-dwelling units that were overlooked. In suburban Melbourne, my next door neighbour has access to 100 Mbps Telstra cable, but I struggle to get 4 Mbps over a dodgy copper connection. It’s a common story.There seems to be this myth that everyone on ADSL2+ in the ‘burbs is now happily pulling down 20 Mbps, but the reality is very different. Many DSL fringe dwellers are struggling to get a reliable 5 Mbps even though a HFC cable is hanging in the next street. It’s as much to do with the deterioration of the copper as the distance to the exchange. But no amount of pleading with Telstra and Optus will get them to roll out another inch of cable. Even getting them to fix a dodgy copper line is a painful experience.While it’s a frustrating scenario, at least I know the NBN fibre will roll down my street in the next few years and I’ll be on equal footing with my neighbour. Yet it could be a much longer wait if the Coalition has its way.This morning Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull discussed the Coalition’s HFC plans as part of his address to the Kickstart technology conference on the Sunshine Coast. He reiterated the Coalition plan to put the NBN on the backburner for areas covered by HFC cable.”As far as policy is concerned, what I’ve said about HFC is that we are going to prioritise the areas that are poorly served,” Turnbull said.”So areas that do have very good broadband, or very good broadband relative to the rest of Australia and that would include most of the HFC areas, would not be the highest priority. I’ve have not said that we won’t overbuild, in fact our intention is to continue as planned to overbuild it. In the HFC areas ADSL is a very active competitor on price generally.”DSL might be a competitor on price, but it’s certainly not a competitor on performance. When this was pointed out to him, Turnbull added;”This is the point you’ve got to remember. A lot of people are prepared to accept lower performance at a lower price. One of the challenges that telecom companies have is that they invest a lot of capital to upgrade services to have the capacity of 1 Gbps or 100Mbps. Then they struggle to get people to pay for it or pay any sort of meaningful premium for. Many people they can do everything they want to do at a lower tier — that might be 50 or it might be 25 Mbps.”Turnbull’s idea “a lower tier” such as 25 Mbps is still a pipe dream for every ADSL2+ customer, even if they live next door to the exchange. I don’t begrudge regional users getting priority, as even my 4 Mbps is an unattainable dream for many people. But to class those of us stuck on deteriorating suburban copper as the lucky ones because we can see the cable in the distance could leave us in the lurch for many years to come.Are you stuck on copper in a cable area? Is it a “very active competitor”?FOLLOW UP: Fibre to the Basement — an acceptable NBN compromise for units?
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There was Bill Shorten on ABC radio the other day, desperately trying to spin cutting back research and development tax deductions as a job creation plan, when he dropped General Motors Holden in the muck as a trade cheat.
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Shorten said one of the things the government was doing to save AWU membership numbers was cracking down on dumping. OK, he didn’t quite say that – it might have been manufacturing jobs rather than AWU members, but we know what he means with an election in the offing and even some of the rusted-on votes flaking off.

Governments of both colours ramp up the anti-dumping rhetoric from time to time, but the rhetoric is much easier than the action. And all sorts of companies from all sorts of nations indulge in a little dumping from time to time. According to Bill Shorten’s definition, Holden is one such company.

Shorten defined dumping as dastard foreigners selling stuff here for less than they do at home. So in his opinion, Holden selling re-badged Commodores in the United States for $10,000 less than they can be bought for in Australia must be, er, dumping – that bad thing the government wants to stamp out when other countries do it.

And Holden, along with Ford and Toyota, is the happy recipient of substantial government subsidies of one sort or another. In the spirit of international trade law, that would make dumping worse.

It starts to look not just like a manufacturer with excess stock flicking it at a loss in some far corner of the globe, but a national policy to compete unfairly, subsidising uneconomic activity for domestic political motives. Cue tirade against Chinese state-owned enterprises.

So, again applying Shorten’s definition, Australian tax payers are subsidising American car buyers to very expensively preserve a few blue-collar jobs in Melbourne and Adelaide at the cost of a few blue-collar jobs in Detroit.

With Australians voting with their wallets by conspicuously buying fewer Commodores and Falcons, it seems a strange use of scarce public funds.

Of course the spirit and the letter of international trade law can be quiet different things and I’m sure those nice people at Holden and in Canberra are careful to arrange their subsidies and international sales in such ways as to be perfectly legal.

And there wouldn’t be any illegal transfer pricing or profit shifting either, the way there isn’t at Google and Apple and eBay and Amazon and all the others.

We learned a collective lesson last century about trade legalities when the Howard government was done over for subsidising the export of our beautiful Howe leather – Howe wasn’t how to do it. The government cheques for Holden aren’t export subsidies – they’re investments in painting cars green, or something.

Besides, just about everyone does it, one way or the other – but that is no excuse for expensive policy and clouds another issue about the government’s latest appeal to its heartland: what’s the big deal about creating or preserving blue-collar jobs, as opposed to collars of any other hue?

It will sound like heresy to some in the manufacturing lobby and trade unions, especially those who seem to have a hold on the Prime Minister’s attention, but there is nothing intrinsically superior about a manufacturing job compared with a services job or primary industry or extractive job or any other job. The idea that the only jobs that really count are the ones that make something you can touch is plain wrong.

Even within the total loop of manufactured goods, the actual manufacturing can be the least rewarding aspect, as previously illustrated by the Barbienomics story: breaking down the economic content of a Barbie doll, the Chinese manufacturer actually makes the least after the retailer, the wholesaler, the intellectual property owner (the brand name), the logistics chain and the packaging and raw materials have all had their share.

That’s not the case with all products and it is nice to have internationally-competitive manufacturers, as it is nice to have internationally-competitive anything, but if we want a country with high wages and high living standards, the colour of our manufacturing collars will be mainly white, not blue. (Or, more accurately these days, fluoro.)

The key justification for subsidising manufacturing – whether directly or indirectly by such things as suppressing gas prices – is that if it’s not supported, there will be nothing left here when our strong currency eventually weakens.

That is a simplistic view as the strong dollar is already pushing manufacturing further up the value chain and forcing manufacturers to become more productive, which they are.

Some can’t survive and their failure can be very hard for the people involved, even personally tragic, but the track record of protectionism is that it lowers standards and, perhaps counter-intuitively, the protectors end up paying substantially more than the protection is worth.

It could be a long wait yet for our dollar to substantially weaken – until sustainable fiscal policy replaces indulgent politics and bad management in the US, Europe and Japan. Falling for the protectionists’ siren song now could come at a very high price, whatever shade your collar.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor

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Bronwyn Lynch with daughter Brianna Gorfine Picture Jonathan Carroll . WINNER: Brooke Davey, senior national physical culture champion 2012.
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While these days you’re more likely to find people running off to a Zumba class in their lunch breaks, in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s it was physical culture luring them from their office cubicles to get moving.

Anyone with sisters, daughters, nieces, girlfriends or granddaughters are likely to have heard of physical culture – or “physie” – as it’s fondly known.

But as it incorporates a variety of dance styles, as well as gymnastics, marching and balancing, it can be difficult to describe.

“It incorporates a bit of ballet and gymnastics and calisthenics and jazz dancing,” says Fiona Way, of Waratah BjP Physical Culture Club.

A business women’s physie class believed to be circa 1940.

“It’s a really friendly form of dancing, and it’s age specific.

“It’s relatively low cost in comparison to other dance schools.

PIONEERING TEACHER: Val Connors at her home in Charlestown. Picture Jonathan Carroll

“It also lends itself to a competitive edge as well – you can compete as an individual or as a group for your club.

“But if you don’t want to go in a competition, you’re not compelled to. It’s optional.”

Competition starts mid-year, and those who make the national finals compete at the Sydney Opera House.

New routines are choreographed and learnt every year to suit the different age groups.

“There’s not a lot of sports around that can really be promoted as a mother and daughter sport, but physie is,” Way says.

“My mother started physie in the 1950s and she competed until she was in her 50s.

“I was about two when I started copying my older sister in the lounge room.

“I love learning the new routine and dancing to the music.

“I love competing in the team events and competing with the friends I’ve made throughout the years.

“You compete against girls you’ve known forever. Once you’ve got the bug you never really stop.”

Inspired by European and Scandinavian exercise styles, physie – pronounced “fizzy” – was developed by Danish-born Hans Christian Bjelke-Petersen in Hobart in 1892.

(If you’re wondering at the name, former premier of Queensland Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was his nephew).

The success of Bjelke-Petersen Bros. gym – which later became the Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture (BjP Physie) – spread to Sydney and Melbourne.

By the early 1900s, physical culture was taught in private city schools and some businesses.

“It started because more people were moving into sedentary jobs in offices and factories and as people moved into cities, it was a way to keep them active,” Way says.

“It was for men and women, but over the years it evolved into a dance sport for girls and women. They taught it at schools, and they would teach women in the city during their lunch breaks.

Charlestown’s Val Connors, 80, brought physie to Newcastle 50 years ago.

The milestone was celebrated with a reunion at Harbourview Function Centre in December.

“The DJ had probably never seen the dance floor so packed,” Way laughs.

Connors became a physie teacher after being rejected from teachers college on account of being left-handed.

“You weren’t allowed to be left-handed in those days,” she says. “And I started to stammer when they tried to change me, so I remained left-handed.

“But the Bjelke-Petersens ran a three-year course to train you as a PE and physical culture teacher, so I did that.

“Prior to that I’d only ever done physie at school, and I’d loved it.

“I was teaching in the private schools, then I took to teaching physical culture in the clubs in the evenings to make some extra money.

“My husband was a doctor and he took an internship at the Mater Hospital, so we moved to Newcastle.”

Introducing physie to Novocastrians wasn’t easy.

“No one had ever seen or heard of it,” Connors says.

“But I trained the teachers and they nearly all came out of Waratah club, and that’s how it expanded.”

About 700 girls and women continue to do physie in the Hunter Region today.

Connors retired from teaching four years ago.

She has collected many funny memories from the physie floor. She remembers telling the audience at a physie demonstration how learning physical culture would teach them how to move gracefully and beautifully, before promptly stepping back and falling into a hole on the stage.

“Another time, one of our teams went out and did their floor routine at a competition,” she says.

“Then when the music stopped they all got up except for this one girl who was still on the floor on her hands and knees.

“I went over to her and whispered, ‘What are you doing?’ and she whispered back, ‘I’ve lost my contact lens!’ So she and the rest of the team were crawling around the stage looking for the missing contact lens,” she laughs.

“There have been many funny moments and mishaps over the years.”

Many may still associate physie with big hair, heavy make-up and fake tans.

Some young dancers (circa 1980s) were even known to skip school the day before a physie competition so their peers wouldn’t see them decked out in hair curlers and orange-tinted tans in preparation. Fake tans weren’t nearly as subtle then as they are today.

But the sport has changed in that regard. Especially for the younger dancers.

“It’s like anything – some would go over the top,” Connors says.

“The children were allowed to have their hair teased, and then all of a sudden they became these huge bouffant styles – they were enormous!

“And little kids were wearing false eyelashes and glitter on their faces.

“They did away with all of that gradually about 15 years ago.

“They are children when it’s all said and done.”

Now, girls up to the age of 14 cannot wear face or body glitter, false eyelashes, fake tan, hair pieces, fake nails or heavy eye make-up in competitions. Their hair must be simply groomed, adorned only by a plain ribbon.

“I was very pleased when that rule came in. They were starting to look like the little kids in those beauty pageants,” Connors says.

“Now there is more of a positive message – it’s not about what they look like, it’s more about how they’re dancing.

“But the senior girls can do whatever they like – they all wear the fake tan, without a doubt.

“But the senior girls are beautiful, and really quite glamorous.

“They move so beautifully and they know how to present themselves.

“Their make-up is perfect, their hair is spot-on, they choose leotards and clothing that suits their complexion.”

The leotards were introduced in about 1967.

Prior to that, they wore tunics.

“They were horrified, they thought they’d never be able to walk out in a leotard,” Connors says.

Physie has had to move with the times and evolve.

More than 130 clubs are registered with BjP Physie, with numbers ranging from 20 to 250 members at each. It remains the largest physie organisation in the country.

Last year, some of its members broke away to begin APDA – the Australian Physie and Dance Association.

“Some people’s perception of physie was that it needed to be modernised,” APDA director Ronelle Wilson says. “A few of the teachers wanted to move it in a different direction.

“It’s still pretty much physie as people have always known it, but we wanted to bridge the gap between contemporary dance and physie.”

There are APDA physie clubs in Port Macquarie and the Central Coast, but none in Newcastle as yet.

“The first option for a lot of parents is to take their children to ballet or jazz classes,” Wilson says.

“Physie offers that anyway, but people might not think to go to physie.

“So we’re trying to bridge that gap even more, so that if you go to physie you get jazz ballet and contemporary dance all mixed into the one class.”

Everyone agrees on the benefits of physie.

The self-confidence it brings, the health and fitness benefits, and the good posture, flexibility and sense of rhythm it promotes.

You can start physie from as young as three, and there is no upper age limit.

Some women compete into their 70s and 80s.

“There’s an over-60s team event, and there was a team from Merewether who got a place in that section last year,” Way says.

Merewether’s Bronwyn Lynch, 38, has done physie non-stop since she began as a three-year-old in Wauchope.

As a junior, she won five of seven titles at the Sydney Opera House national finals.

Now she competes in the ladies category, and teaches physie.

“It gets in your blood and you just keep going,” she laughs.

The dancers are judged on their strength, control, flexibility, accuracy, expression and posture in competitions.

Lynch continued to do physie throughout her two pregnancies.

“It’s great to be able to do physie together, to do it as a mother and daughter thing,” she says.

“It’s that constant personal achievement to do something the best you possibly can.

“And the fear of getting into fishnets and lycra in November each year is enough to stop you eating too much rubbish, let me tell you,” she laughs.

Physie has changed a lot since Lynch began 35 years ago.

“It’s much more dance-oriented now, and the music is much more current.

“Years ago it was getting a bit daggy, but it has really come up to speed.”

There are seven physie clubs in Newcastle and surrounds. They are taking registrations for 2013.

To find your nearest club, visit physicalculture苏州美甲美睫培训.au.


Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart in Ten’s Mr & Mrs Murder. Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart in Ten’s Mr & Mrs Murder.
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NEVER mind splitting the atom. Who can make a show that truly harnesses Shaun Micallef?

It’s been promising to happen since he jabbed his smart brand of silliness into Full Frontal and The Micallef Programme.

The promise grew with Newstopia and the spontaneity of Your Generation, then faded a bit with the scripted Mad As Hell.

How do you get the most out of Micallef, who can have you in stitches with a raised eyebrow? Will he ever find that career-defining hit?

Mr & Mrs Murder, Ten’s laconic new murder mystery, may not be that hit. But there are plenty of reasons to watch it.

Wednesday night’s first episode introduced us to Charlie and Nicola Buchanan (Micallef, Kat Stewart), a husband and wife team of “trauma cleaners” who mop up crime scenes. They have a knack for solving murders.

If that all sounds grisly, it’s not. The blood is more alluded to than shown. And if the murder case of the week sounds like well-trodden terrain, Micallef and Stewart spend most of each episode plucking playfully at the strands of the detective genre.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Charlie tells a widow in next week’s second episode, before stopping himself.

“It’s a particularly empty expression and I apologise for using it.”

There’s a lot of Micallef in Charlie; that clipped, friendly way of a barrister on his third glass of red at a party you want to be at, and anyone who watched Newstopia knows that these two crackle on screen. The breezy Buchanans are an antidote to the hardened, jaded sleuths we’ve come to expect.

Nicola has a penchant for hugging crime victims and suspects, even if they’re not on board, and can conjure what Charlie calls her “Harriet the Spy” face.

With a convincing, likeable couple at its heart and a menagerie of guest stars like Vince Colosimo, Merick Watts, Alison Bell and Kate Ritchie, Mr & Mrs Murder is still at its best during the bursts of Micallef.

There are some sublime moments. Does it get better than Shaun Micallef trying to reason with a barking Rottweiler in German? Probably not.

Mr & Mrs Murder airs 8.30pm Wednesday on Ten.


The Block All Stars’ Dani and Dan show off their completed room. 35 St Vincent Place, Albert Park.
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35 St Vincent Place, Albert Park.

35 St Vincent Place, Albert Park.

Rumour places chef Jacques Reymond in Elwood.

Madeleine West

As every Melburnian knows, anything Sydney can do Melbourne does better.

But it’s a lesson that seems to have escaped Channel Nine, with the ratings of The Block taking a big hit since filming was moved to Sydney. The spinoff series All Stars – set in Bondi – has been getting trounced by Channel Seven’s My Kitchen Rules, which is pulling more than 2 million viewers a night compared with a little more than 900,000 for the reality reno show.

It’s a dramatic reversal for what was once a ratings juggernaut for Nine, at least back when the setting was Richmond and South Melbourne. In fact, Melburnians continue to tune in to the show at levels that well outstrip Sydneysiders, which just goes to show where the key demographic is.

And that’s certainly going to up the stakes when the regular season of The Block screens in a few months.

Producer Watercress is set to shake up the ageing formula in a big way this season, buying an entire six-storey apartment tower in South Melbourne to renovate. The contestants are already on-site and, judging by who Private Property has seen coming and going from the building, the ”couples” are well on their way to selecting the estate agents who will represent them.

Wisdom begets prestige

If a location on Albert Park’s prized St Vincent Place doesn’t make it notable enough, the exterior of this terrace might seem familiar because it featured as a setting in period film The Getting of Wisdom.

Numerous scenes in the 1978 classic were shot around the iconic ”Rochester Terrace”, of which this two-storey Victorian is one.

It’s now being put under the hammer with an asking price in excess of $3 million. Home hunters should note that the horseshoe-shaped precinct encircling St Vincent Gardens is the most expensive and tightly held real estate in the city, with prices hitting as much as $13,590 a square metre.

No.35, which sits on about 300 square metres, offers four bedrooms, and formal sitting and dining rooms. Out the back is a two-storey self-contained apartment.

Marshall White’s Oliver Bruce is putting 35 St Vincent Place to auction on February 23.

House that Jacques bought

Legendary French chef Jacques Reymond is believed to be the buyer of a $2 million contemporary house in Elwood.

In a deal that’s shrouded in secrecy, Reymond is tipped to be the ”and/or nominee” who is set to occupy the two-storey, three-bedroom house at the leafy end of Ormond Road. The property features a library, study, pool and roof terrace.

Listing agent Kay & Burton denied Mr Reymond was the buyer and declined to comment on the sale.

Beasley books a sale

Who says the top end of the market is a ghost town?

The luxurious South Yarra pad of ex-bookie Simon Beasley has sold for at least $8 million, with the full-floor apartment at 155 Domain Road getting snapped up last weekend.

Kay & Burton agent Andrew Baines had been quietly shopping the place around off-market for a couple of weeks and three buyers put in offers before any kind of public sales campaign had to be launched.

Mr Beasley’s punt on the market has certainly paid off considering he paid $3.98 million for it in 2007. That works out to be about $20,000 a square metre.

West leaving east

Actor Madeleine West is set to auction the Richmond apartment she bought as she finished her run as Dione Bliss on Neighbours.

It’s the second pending property transaction in the past month for West, who is also selling the Kensington family home she shares with chef Shannon Bennett.

The two-bedroom, art deco-style apartment was bought for $297,000 in 2003. Thanks to Bennett’s role as an ambassador for Miele, the kitchen and laundry have top-flight appliances. The ground-floor unit also offers access to a large communal backyard.

Hocking Stuart’s Daniel Atsis is quoting $450,000 to $490,000 for 6/200 Lennox Street. The auction is February 23.

Since Neighbours, West has appeared in TV shows Underbelly and Satisfaction.

Bell tolls for elder digs

Annie and Andrew Bell are selling their grand classic house at 202 Kooyong Road, Toorak. It is known as ”Elder House” because it was owned for 40 years by Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort for its chief executive. It has been a tightly held property with just four owners. The second was a member of the Baillieu family. He sold to an interior designer, the late John Coote. The Bells bought the house in 1986, raised a family there and are downsizing. Mr Bell is executive director of stockbroking firm Bell Potter, and one of the Bell brothers behind Bell Financial and Agricultural Group Holdings.

The design is perfect for entertaining, and the Bells have apparently had some marvellous parties at the property, including one for which a piano was strung from the historic oak tree in the garden.

The light and airy house has a flowing floor plan of casual and formal living areas on the ground floor opening to a terrace and Paul Bangay-designed gardens with a luxurious pool. On the first floor are five bedrooms, bathrooms and a rumpus room. There is a study on each floor.

The property is for sale through Kay & Burton. Michael Armstrong and Gerald Delany are handling the expressions-of-interest campaign, which closes on March 8. They are quoting $5 million-plus.

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On the up… Adam and Joanne Woods, with daughters Hayley and Emma, at their Balmain home. Photo: Steve Lunam. The living area, post renovation.
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Outside before the renovation.

Adam and Joanne Woods have the kind of house-renovating tale that will raise the envy of the average punter. Their project at 86 Beattie Street, Balmain, enjoyed a dream run with the council, their architect and their builder and came in right on schedule. The budget, however, is a different story.

From the get-go, first-time renovator Adam had a clear idea of what the finished house would look like and the quality of the fixtures and fittings he wanted. As his ideas were costed, his initial budget of $650,000 spiralled quickly to $880,000.

Not prepared to compromise on his dreams, Adam dug deep to finance the property, which was bought for $810,000 in 2007.

”I had too many plans in my head and I was already committed to the design and finishes and wanted to go ahead,” he says. ”I was not doing the renovation to sell, so I did the house exactly how I wanted it.”

The result is a home with plenty of high-end inclusions that would never have made it into a renovate-for-profit project: a feature wall of impeccably restored sandstone, recycled from the old house’s foundations; bespoke cabinets throughout the house; a designer kitchen; engineered European oak floors and bathrooms with underfloor heating.

Adam has thoroughly enjoyed living with the luxuries. But with the family now including two children, Hayley and Emma, the Woods are moving to be closer to relatives and friends. Whether Adam and Joanne recoup their costs will depend on the outcome of their March 2 auction through Belle Property Balmain.

The house has a price guide of $1.7 million-plus.

Out with most of the old

Adam says the decision to retain and restore the facade so it remained in keeping with the streetscape and knocking the rest of the existing house was not a difficult one to make.

”It was old and it didn’t have any period features worth salvaging,” he says. ”It had a couple of extensions that had been done on the cheap over the years that didn’t add value.”

The sandstone foundations were one of the few exceptions and have been reused to great effect in the casual living room, alongside a wall of sandstock bricks and some floorboards recycled to make a feature door for the laundry.

”We tried to recycle old materials where appropriate without encroaching on the modern design,” Adam says.

One of the key benefits to ripping down the old house was being able to create a new third level with minimal excavation work.

Going local

Adam says one of his best decisions was choosing a local architect who knew what to expect from Leichhardt Council.

”We did a pre-development application meeting and the architect was able to anticipate any issues,” Adam says. ”He knew what we could and couldn’t do, so we didn’t push the boundaries too far.”

It still took six months for the Woods’ applications to be approved, but Adam says there was no stress involved. As building began, the only obstacle in an otherwise painless process was Adam’s determination to get the floor plan just right.

Changes to the positions of the two upstairs bathrooms and to the open-plan living areas at entry level caused a few hiccups and added a few extra dollars to the final bill.

Family favourite

The finished house is quite the crowd-pleaser. With fabulous city skyline and Anzac Bridge views from the upper level, it has played host to several New Year’s Eve parties and many a birthday bash. But the house is not just for show: it’s also a practical home.

”I wanted a modern house with plenty of entertaining spaces but also very functional and with a design that’s not going to date easily,” Adam says. ”One of the things we wanted was lots of storage. Every place we’ve ever rented hasn’t had enough.”

There are custom-built cabinets in the lounge and dining rooms and in the main bedroom. A large cellar provides additional storage on the ground floor and there is also a shed in the back garden.

In a nutshell:

Time 18 months.

Land size 183 sq m.

Internal size 163 sq m.

Architect Brookes Associates.

Builder RW & P Brown Builders.

Interior designer Mackenzie Design Studio.

Green points

–  Recycled materials.

–  Top-quality insulation.

–  Solar-powered retractable blinds.

Favourite feature

It’s a brilliant house for people who like entertaining.

Insider’s tip

Woods says: ”Choose an architect who knows the ins and outs of the local council and choose a builder who is realistic about costs.”

What went right?

The building phase was virtually trouble-free.

What went wrong?

They overcapitalised because they planned to live in the house, not sell.

Costs:

Architect $27,500

Designer $27,500

Concrete $52,250

Stonemason $14,300

Custom bar $7700

Tiling $7150

Timber flooring $14,300

Stairwells $14,850

Kitchen cabinets $27,500

Kitchen appliances $12,100

Lighting $17,600

Windows $23,100

Bathroom fittings $12,650

Custom screening $3850

Custom cabinets $33,000

Multiroom audio system $27,500

Skylights $4400

Under-tile heating $2200

Plumbing $42,900

Electrical $29,700

Engineer $5500

Waste removal $16,500

Airconditioning $11,000

Landscaping $16,500

Timber/building materials $55,000

Carpet $3850

Labour $319,000

Rendering $8800

Painting $33,000

Insulation $3850

Glass balustrade $8250

Total: $883,300

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Ballarat and Penrith: A comparison. Lonsdale Street, Ballarat.
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Nineteenth Street, Warragamba.

When Domain went searching for high-yielding, freestanding properties under $300,000, it quickly became apparent the Sydney and Melbourne markets were two different beasts. While in Sydney it is possible to go to outer-ring suburbs such as Penrith and Campbelltown and find a 6 per cent yield, Melbourne’s outer suburbs are overloaded with new houses and new land releases.

”In Melbourne there is an oversupply of newly built homes in our outer suburbs,” says a director of Metropole Property Strategists, Michael Yardney. ”This will restrict not only capital growth but rental yields for the next few years.”

While this glut of properties is being absorbed, Yardney says beginner investors could evaluate Victoria’s regional locations if they’re looking for cash-flow positive prospects. Yardney says investors should be forewarned that while properties in these cities – and in the outer suburbs of capital cities – can have higher rental returns, they tend to have poorer capital growth.

In a regional centre such as Ballarat, population 93,000, you’ll find a strong local economy and a proactive council. You can buy a house for as little as $200,000, with a median rent yield of 5 per cent. Ballarat has recorded median price growth of about 6 per cent a year in recent times, with the median now $310,000.

The Penrith local government area is home to more than 200,000 people and house prices start about $300,000 with a median rent yield of 5.5 per cent and median price growth of 2.6 per cent a year. The current median house price in greater Penrith is $370,000.

Renters make up about 30 per cent of the population in both locations, providing investors with a large market of potential tenants.

In Victoria

210 Lonsdale Street, Ballarat $245,000

Snapshot:  A three-bedroom, vinyl-clad house built in the 1960s on a 600 sq m block. Last renovated in 2000, the property has adjoining living and dining rooms at the front, a separate timber and gas kitchen with a dishwasher and breakfast bar seating, and a modern bathroom. A covered deck overlooks a largely paved, north-facing backyard with double garage and additional carport.Rent $280 a week. Yield 6 per cent. Agent Ballarat Property Group, (03) 5330 0500.

Officially in the Ballarat suburb of Redan, this house is only a few minutes’ drive from the centre of Ballarat, a busy regional city 112 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. Ballarat’s traditional economic activities were based on goldmining and agriculture, but today the economy is quite diversified with manufacturing, health and community services, and retail trade sectors major employers in the city.

Express trains will have commuters to Melbourne’s city centre in the office in slightly more than an hour, with service reliability to improve with the delivery of the $5 billion Regional Rail Link (under construction). Other major cash injections include a $46.4 million redevelopment of the hospital and the $110 million expansion of the Stockland shopping centre.

Agent Andrew Ferguson says his agency has a vacancy rate of just 0.43 per cent. ”We are finding the rental market to be strong with high demand for quality homes,” he says. Ferguson says this Lonsdale Street property, which is a five-minute walk from shops and 400 metres from the nearest bus stop, has a good, long-term tenant in place.Penrith area

56 Nineteenth Street Warragamba $259,000

Snapshot: A two-bedroom, weatherboard cottage about 60 years old on a 436 sq m block. It has a full-width bullnose verandah, an airconditioned living room, a modern eat-in kitchen with gas cooktop and dishwasher, an updated bathroom and a semi-enclosed back patio. There are polished timber floorboards throughout and back-lane access to a garage. Rent: Estimate $300 a week.Yield: 6 per cent. Agent: Glenmore Park First National, 0419 650 947.

Most famous for being home to the Warragamba Dam, this small suburb is a 20-minute commute from Penrith city centre and 56 kilometres from Sydney’s city centre.

About 10 per cent of the population rent and there are only 400 homes in total, which limits opportunities for investors. That said, tenants who come to know the area are reluctant to return to the hustle and bustle of Penrith, preferring to reside within a close-knit, smaller community.

The median dwelling price for Warragamba is $295,000, with growth averaging 4.45 per cent a year.

Nineteenth Street is a leafy laneway within walking distance of bushland, schools, shops and recreational facilities.

The agency says that if the living areas and outdoor spaces were given a makeover, the cottage might attract a rent of up to $380 a week with a target market of young families.

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Not even two competing bids for Billabong International are enough to convince traders the surfwear maker will be able to seal a deal.
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The retailer has opened its books to two groups of suitors with preliminary offers of $527 million. Two other buyers abandoned higher proposals last year, and traders are doubtful either $1.10-a-share bid will be consummated.

Billabong was trading slightly higher at 97 cents this morning, more than 11 per cent below the latest offers, the third-widest gap among similar-sized deals in developed Asia-Pacific nations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“After all the failed attempts and the lack of confidence in management, there’s no confidence in the due diligence process,” Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets, said.

“The discount is pricing in the potential for the due diligence process to reveal some cobwebs. A lot of investors aren’t willing to take that risk.”

While the bids rank as the cheapest versus sales among apparel deals since 2007, Commonwealth Bank says the two groups – one featuring Altamont Capital Partners and VF Corp, and the other including director Paul Naude and Sycamore Partners – may pull their offers after evaluating Billabong.

Elevation LLC said there was also a risk Billabong’s largest shareholder, founder Gordon Merchant, would not sell, after he shunned a sweeter proposal last year.Reversal of fortune

Billabong spokesman Chris Fogarty declined to comment on the prospects for a takeover or the plans of Mr Merchant, who is also a Billabong director.

Michael Freitag, a spokesman for Sycamore in New York, declined to comment.

VF was pursuing Billabong as part of its expansion of brands affiliated with sports and outdoor activities, chief executive Eric Wiseman said last week.

“When you look at the surf space and think about iconic brands in the space, Billabong has to hit your radar,” Mr Wiseman said.

He declined to elaborate on the due diligence VF had carried out on Billabong.

Formed in 1973, when Merchant started making surf shorts on Australia’s east coast, Billabong’s market value reached $3.84 billion in May 2007, while its sales reached a peak of $1.7 billion in the year ending June 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The fortunes reversed as big clothing store chains introduced new surfwear brands and consumer spending slumped during the world’s debt crisis.Store closures

In 2012, Billabong said it would close as many as 150 of its 677 stores worldwide, cut jobs and sell control of accessory maker Nixon, considered at the time to be its most lucrative unit.

Meanwhile, sales are expected by analysts to fall to $1.3 billion this year, the lowest since 2007 and down 8 per cent from a year earlier.

Billabong, whose biggest market is the US, last year reported its first annual loss since a 2000 initial public offering. The company has cut its profit forecasts at least 10 times since the year ended June 2008, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

On December 19, Billabong reduced earnings estimates for the year ending June 30 by as much as 49 per cent. Chief financial officer Craig White left the next day.

“The earnings have been so poor, and trending worse, that it’s hard to justify a price much higher than what has been proposed,” John Maysles, a senior analyst at Elevation in Los Angeles, said. Investors are concerned about “any buyer’s willingness to make a higher offer, if any offer at all, after combing through the data”.

The two $527 million bids, excluding Billabong’s debt, represent a 63 per cent discount to the company’s sales through last June. That’s a lower revenue multiple than any purchase of an apparel manufacturer worth more than $100 million since the September 2007 takeover of Kellwood by Sun Capital Partners, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.Investors reluctant

Even as the list of suitors interested in Billabong grows, investors are reluctant to bet on a deal because Australia’s stock market has offered more certain profits in recent weeks, said Peter Esho, chief market analyst in Sydney at City Index, a London-based provider of trading services in bonds, stocks and commodities.

“When the market’s going up, nobody wants to be caught with another loser, another possible takeover which didn’t occur from a serial offender,” he said. “There are probably easier places in the market to make money.”

Other suitors The S&P/ASX 200 index has risen 16 per cent in the past six months, compared with a 2.5 per cent gain in the previous half year. The Standard and Poor’s 500 index, by comparison, is up 7.2 per cent in the past six months.

Billabong ended trading yesterday at 96.5¢, or 12 per cent blow the $1.10-a-share bids. Only Perth-based iron ore miner Sundance Resources and Brisbane-based coal-seam gas explorer Westside are trading further below their pending takeover offers, among deals worth more than $100 million in the developed Asia-Pacific region, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Another potential barrier to a deal was Billabong’s founder Merchant, said Mr Maysles at Elevation. Mr Merchant owns more than 14 per cent of the company, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

TPG Capital, the Texas-based buyout firm owned by David Bonderman, pitched four different offers to Billabong last year, ranging from $3.30 for each share down to $1.45.

After Mr Merchant’s lawyers said in February last year he wouldn’t sell for less than $4 a share, TPG’s lowest bid five months later included an offer to Mr Merchant to ring-fence his own stake.

TPG walked away in October without giving any reasons.Stake builders

An unnamed bidder, which people familiar with the matter identified as Bain Capital LLC, dropped an offer in September after carrying out due diligence.

“What are investors supposed to think?” said Mr Shamu at IG Markets. “Is there something preventing all these bids from going through? No one really knows what’s in these books. There’s definitely a lot of scepticism.”

Not everyone is dismissing Billabong. TIAA-CREF, owner of the fourth-largest US life and health insurer, holds a 6.2 per cent stake after buying shares between October and February. The group’s TIAA-CREF Investment Management unit and Teachers Advisors acquired shares for between 84¢ and $1.05 each, below the latest takeover bids, a February 6 filing shows.

VF’s Motives VF, the largest US clothing company and owner of The North Face, Wrangler and Reef labels, is mainly interested in the Billabong brand for its actions sports business.

Mr Naude, a former professional surfer in the 1970s, is bidding with Sycamore Partners, a New York-based private equity firm that focuses on retail investments.

Mr Naude, who leads Billabong’s US business, was granted access to Billabong’s books on December 24, and VF and Altamont followed on January 14.

Altamont says it prefers complicated targets that are falling short of their potential, even if they soak up time and resources.Crunch time

Billabong said on January 14 it might take six weeks to determine whether an acceptable proposal could be agreed to with either suitor.

“Both groups bidding for Billabong, and in particular the VF Corp group, stand a good chance to turn Billabong around,” Albert Saporta, an analyst at Makor Capital, a securities business with offices in London, Geneva and Tel Aviv, said.

He expects an agreement at $1.10 a share or higher.

Still, investors hadn’t forgotten the collapse last year of proposals from TPG and Bain, said Jordan Rogers, an analyst at Commonwealth Bank. If due diligence failed to yield a bid, Billabong would face pressure to raise cash by selling stock, probably for less than 70¢ each, he said.

“The issues at Billabong are significant,” Mr Rogers said. “There is a risk that after you do due diligence, you decide you’re not even going to try.”

Bloomberg

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LUNCH TIME: Staff at brownsugar boast superior pastry skills – try their chocolate or lychee tart. PICTURE: JONATHAN CARROLLYou have to wonder whether this place is keeping up with the demographic trends of the district or just following food fashions. There aren’t many restaurants where lunch offers the full dinner menu and a light lunch option.
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So it is surprising there aren’t more here today until you remember it is 45 degrees outside and the airconditioning is struggling.

However, the window seats are filled this lunchtime and the double glazing not only keeps some of the heat at bay but also deadens the traffic sounds from the main road and roundabout outside.

The light lunch offers the house salad (won bok, Spanish onion, bean shoots, herbs, cucumber and cherry tomatoes) with char-grilled chicken, Thai beef, or pan-seared salmon, various toasted Turkish bread sandwiches, an avocado panna cotta with prawns, beer battered perch and a semolina gnocchi with goat cheese salad.

For $25 you can order one of these plus a cake from the refrigerated display cabinet, an Aladdin’s cave of house-made and brought-in dessert cakes.

My companion chooses the entree, main and dessert route. If I share his dessert, I can always take my cake home.

In the entrees, a mini wok holds a tangle of salad leaves sauced with a mellow lemon, garlic and oregano dressing; just enough acidity to partner the generous quantity of octopus, which has been first slow cooked then grilled to reheat and give a smoky edge to the supple flesh. A great dish to share.

The avocado panna cotta comes with a nice wobble and holds up well enough to make a perfect spread for the toasted Turkish bread.

If you are bread-challenged, or holding out for that cake, you will like the accompanying fresh king prawn salad with lemon aioli in a Chinese spoon.

There are two fish of the day options, Atlantic salmon or hapuka. The hapuka fillet’s firm, moist flesh is topped with a crisp skin and two char-grilled plump scallops, and perches on a corn and bacon salsa.

Three salt-crusted potatoes and drizzles of salsa verde complete the picture. More fresh corn cobs come with the broccoli florets and pistachio butter in the seasonal green vegetable side.

Memories of the standout “cheesecake” on the last visit makes the peanut butter version with sesame crumble and plum jelly a possibility for dessert.

But I have that slice of cake to choose so we go for the lychee tart to share.

Someone in this kitchen has decidedly superior pastry skills. The crust on both the densely dark chocolate tart and the lychee tart is fine, crisp and buttery but with enough texture to support both fillings.

Fresh lychees, halved and seeded, completely cover a passionfruit creme patisserie. Strawberry slices and shredded mint provide the garnish and a small smooth ball of raspberry basil sorbet threatens to melt before we can demolish this dessert. The chocolate tart’s richness is cut by a side of tangy berries.

While this place holds its own as a function venue, don’t discount it for a special midday lunch or a celebratory dinner.