Practice run … Sydney University’s men’s eight team trains for Sunday’s boat race (see route on the map at right).WHEN Will Raven says without hesitation, ”I love to push the boundaries,” rest assured few who have ever rowed in the Sydney University coxswain’s crews would disagree.
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Likewise, there are many who have have found themselves on the receiving end of Raven’s steering ability in a coxed eight and lost by the narrowest of margins who would agree.

Just ask Alex Henshilwood, coach of the Melbourne University coxed eight beaten by an official margin of ”two inches” by Raven and his Sydney University crew in last year’s Australian Boat Race over a 4.2 kilometre course on Melbourne’s Yarra River.

In a thrilling race where the lead changed three times, Raven steered the shortest way to the line in the final 100 metres and – within the boundaries of match racing law – forced Melbourne University on to the disadvantageous shallow waters of the river near the finish.

”He did a good job, went up to the edge of what was acceptable and managed to get away with it,” says Henshilwood, who hopes to turn the result around in this year’s 4.3km race on Sunday that follows a north to south-east route on Sydney Harbour from Woolwich to Darling Harbour.

The Australian Boat Race, which has coxed eight match races for men and women’s crews, has gained in prestige and notoriety since its resurrection in 2010 after a 140-year absence when what began as an informal challenge between two universities in 1860 became a full-out intervarsity regatta from 1870 on when Adelaide University and others started to take part.

Last year’s race was thrilling, and left many who watched labelling it as the best they had seen.

The narrow margin was a testimony to the sheer courage and strength of both crews to fight it out head-to-head for twice as long as they would a normal 2000m six- or eight-lane race. But it also highlighted the importance of a coxswain’s often underestimated role in the outcome.

Henshilwood has responded by picking Marc Douez as Melbourne University’s coxswain. An Australian team member from 2002 to 2007, Douez, at 31, has 10 years on Raven, who is nonetheless a name to watch and steered the Australian under-23 coxed four last year.

Raven expects a mighty battle of wits on a course that, while protected by an exclusion zone from 8am to 9.40am, could still be affected by the tide, swell, or early harbour traffic wash.

”It will be a bit harder to push them around, so I expect them to have a bit more fight in terms of steering,” Raven says. ”There will be a few clashes of oars and things like that this year.”

Henshilwood concurs: ”On this course, it’s important to get the best calibre of cox. It’s not two-lane racing. In one-on-one racing, a lot more tactics comes into it. You need someone with lots more experience. If you had a choice for youth or experience, you would go the experience.”

Little wonder, then, that by Sunday’s start of the women’s race at 8.20am for the Bella Guerin Trophy and the men’s race at 9.20am for the Edmund Barton Trophy, the coxswains and coaches of all four crews will have carried out reconnaissance of the course in motor boats.

Chances are that all crews will also have tinkered with their boats to accommodate the rougher conditions than what they are used to by placing a splash guard at the bow of their eight and strapping tape between the riggers near the gunwale to stop water from entering the boat.

Raven predicts that the open nature of the harbour course, which will take crews past well-known landmarks such as Goat Island, Balmain, Barangaroo and under Pyrmont Bridge to the finish line in Darling Harbour, should allow for a larger winning margin than last year’s ”two inches”.

”This year will be a bit harder because the course will be more open, so it will be harder for us to get those little inches that we managed to get last year on the course,” Raven says.

There has been debate as to which crews are favourites in both the men’s and women’s races.

Henshilwood scoffed at Sydney University stroke Fergus Pragnell’s suggestion this week that Melbourne University were favourites because they had three Olympians in the mens eight and – unlike Sydney University – had trained and raced together as a full crew more often.

The Melbourne crew boasts James Marburg, a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, Cameron McKenzie-McHarg (2008, 2012) and Josh Booth (2012). Meanwhile, Sydney have Pragnell, who was a 2008 Olympian and a Games reserve in London this year, and Francis Hegerty (2008 and 2012) – although both only rejoined the crew this week as they live in Melbourne.

”I don’t really care too much about the favourite badge. It’s pretty easy to play the underdog, isn’t it?” Henshilwood says. ”It’s always a good tactic to try and set yourself up as that.”

The Sydney University coach Mark Prater knows Henshilwood well, and won’t read into anything that is said before the race, other than to be prepared for anything that happens at any time.

”What we have learned – not just in this race but all our other racing against Melbourne Uni in eights is to expect the unexpected,” Prater says. ”We have won from behind. We have won from in front. And we have lost in both cases as well. The guys are good at focusing on their job.”

For the Sydney University women’s crew, added motivation comes from the goal of avenging the pained memory of being beaten so convincingly by Melbourne last year, even if only one member of last year’s crew is back for Sunday’s race – a London Olympian, Bronwen Watson.

But Watson’s experience and that of Monique Heinke, a 2008 Olympian, could make a big difference, says the team coach, Debbie Fox. ”The biggest impact is psychological and not so much technique, but the amount of pressure they are prepared to put in themselves,” Fox says.

Twitter: @rupertguinness

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1. How can the Eels fit him under the salary cap?
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Folau is likely to be one of the highest paid players in the NRL – but not next year. For Parramatta to accommodate him, he will have to commit to a long-term deal as the club’s roster is largely settled for next season. By doing that, the Eels can back-end the contract so he receives more in the following seasons. Folau won’t be badly out of pocket as it’s believed he received a payout on the remaining two years of his GWS contract, which was heavily subsidised by the AFL. With English second-rower Gareth Hock also close to signing, Parramatta may have to release some players.

2. Which position would he play?

Before he switched to AFL in 2011 Folau was playing centre for Brisbane but wing for Queensland and Australia – the position he began his career at with the Storm. Ricky Stuart may choose to start Folau on the wing next season while he settles back into the game but the closer he is to the ball the better. While Willie Tonga is a specialist centre, Jacob Loko and Esi Tonga have played most of their careers on the wing.3. What does he have to do to adjust to playing NRL?

Folau will have to bulk up during the off-season as he has shed seven kilograms and changed his body shape to suit AFL. When he left the Broncos in 2010, Folau was 105kg but he is now about 98kg and has trimmed down in his upper body and legs. To cope with the physical contact in league, he will need to build back up in those areas through an off-season program focused more on weights than running.

4. Can he be as good a player as he was after two years in AFL?

Folau has lost none of the attributes that earned him a place in history as the youngest Australian representative and may even have a few more. Few will forget the stunning try he scored in the third game of the 2008 Origin series when he leapt above NSW winger Anthony Quinn to grab the ball, but Folau didn’t have a kicking game. AFL will have taught him that, while his aerobic fitness will be greater than it was previously due to the amount of running AFL players do.

5. Will it be an issue that his agent’s accreditation is suspended?

Folau’s manager, Isaac Moses, lost an appeal last week against a six-month ban imposed by the Rugby League Accredited Player Agent Committee and is not able to represent players or negotiate with clubs before March 28. However, another representative of the Titan Management team can finalise the deal with the Eels or Folau could do it himself, as has happened in numerous other instances. The most recent example was Scott Prince, who this week secured a release from Gold Coast and signed with the Broncos. Prince’s former agent Steve Robinson is no longer accredited as he is a Penrith director and acted as his financial adviser.

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Obeid partner … Rocco Triulcio, who with his brother Rosario, initially paid for the Honda CRV under investigation by ICAC. Photo: Tamara DeanTHE family of ALP heavyweight Eddie Obeid has been involved in tens of millions of dollars worth of real estate developments across Sydney and NSW over the past 20 years, including joint ventures with a major property group, a corruption probe has been told.
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Some of the developments, ranging from a shopping centre at Top Ryde to a huge subdivision near Port Macquarie, would have required extensive liaison with government authorities during the period in which Mr Obeid was one of the most powerful figures in the NSW Labor government.

Yet for the two decades that Mr Obeid was a member of the Legislative Council, the only revenue he declared was his parliamentary income.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption heard yesterday that Mr Obeid’s five sons operated distinct parts of the family empire. One son, Paul Obeid, confirmed he was responsible for its property development arm.

He also admitted the family continued to operate a series of waterfront cafes at Circular Quay and this was the responsibility of his brother Damien.

In May a Herald investigation revealed that, since 2003, the Obeids had deliberately hidden their ownership of these cafes and the fact they controlled the three state government leases from which these businesses operated, and they did so by using another man’s name on the paperwork.

It also revealed that Mr Obeid snr had interfered in the way his caucus colleagues had managed the leases, including efforts to seek a better deal.

Paul Obeid conceded yesterday that it was beneficial to be on friendly terms with powerful state politicians: ”Of course it would be handy to know decision-makers,” he said.

The ICAC inquiry is examining the circumstances surrounding the purchase of a Honda CRV – at a $10,000 discount – by the state’s former treasurer Eric Roozendaal.

The car was initially paid for by brothers Rocco and Rosario Triulcio – who own and run the Challenge Property Group, the property group with which the Obeids are partnered – before they were reimbursed through an Obeid family account.

The Triulcio brothers were grilled for hours in the witness box on Friday about the 2007 Honda purchase. Counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson SC, alleged the Triulcios’s involvement in the transaction was a ”sham” to hide a financial benefit the Obeid family had conferred on Mr Roozendaal, who was then the state’s roads minister.

Paul Obeid told the inquiry that his brother Moses – the most senior of the five brothers – had told him he had found a buyer for the car. ”He said it was Eric,” Paul Obeid said.

The inquiry was then told that, during a previous private examination by the ICAC Commissioner David Ipp, QC, Paul Obeid had conceded that Moses Obeid had sold the car to Mr Roozendaal ”to do him a favour”.

The Obeids paid $10,000 towards the new car, the inquiry established, but Mr Roozendaal failed to declare any such gift on his pecuniary interest disclosure.

Rocco Triulcio, who now drives a Ferrari but had previously owned a Mercedes CLS and a 7-series BMW, confirmed to the inquiry that, since he built a kitchen for the Obeids in 1990, the two families had become tight business allies on a series of developments, including those in Elizabeth Bay, Delhi Road at Ryde, Blackwall Point Road at Chiswick and Top Ryde.

Other ventures included a large-scale subdivision at Lake Cathie near Port Macquarie that the Obeids had been pursuing for more than a dozen years, and an Indonesian coalmining project, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry was shown financial records that demonstrated repeated and ongoing transactions between the Triulcio businesses and the Obeids. Earlier this year a court was told by one of the Obeid sons that Mr Obeid snr was a member of the myriad trusts that received the flow of money from the family’s businesses.

Do you know more? [email protected]南京夜网.au

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Laugh a minute … Paul Obeid, centre, leaves the ICAC inquiry yesterday.”LET me tell you, you shouldn’t be laughing,” warned the counsel assisting the corruption inquiry ominously.
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In the witness box, Paul Obeid was having a chuckle at the suggestion that over the years certain Labor ministers might have been able to do favours for the Obeid family, headed by his father Eddie, the well-known Labor powerbroker.

Paul Obeid was giving evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry examining how his family came to be involved in a ”sham” transaction whereby a Honda CRV was provided to the then roads minister, Eric Roozendaal.

Earlier in the day, the Obeid family’s business partner Rocco Triulcio was providing such entertaining answers about the car deal. Even Mr Roozendaal enjoyed a brief laugh.

The pugnacious, gum-chewing, Ferrari-driving Mr Triulcio said he had paid $44,800 to the Camperdown car dealer Peter Fitzhenry for a Honda for his sister, Nata Re. But because ”I didn’t like the way he [Fitzhenry] did the wheels” on his 7-series BMW, Mr Triulcio claimed to have cancelled the Honda deal and copped a $10,800 loss when it was on-sold to Mr Roozendaal.

Mr Triulcio was deeply offended when Geoffrey Watson, SC, counsel assisting the inquiry, had suggested that the Triulcios helped Moses Obeid and Mr Roozendaal disguise the provenance of the car by originally registering it in the name of Ms Re.

”The way he was acting towards me was very, I believe was very inconscionable [sic],” sniffed Mr Triulcio, referring to the wheel job. He was also unhappy Mr Fitzhenry did not offer a good enough price for

Mr Triulcio’s second-hand


Mr Triulcio was repaid $34,000 for the Honda deal and the Obeids picked up the $10,800 difference. Paul Obeid struggled to explain why it was that in his family’s accounts the $10,800 payment was recorded as repayment of a loan from the Triulcios. ”There is no falsehood here … there are just shades of grey,” he offered, claiming it wasn’t really a loan although it appeared in the accounts as a loan. ”I am sorry,” he said, ”I might not be a great wordsmith.”

And as to Mr Roozendaal’s car bargain: ”Eric was at the right place, at the right time.”

Unfortunately for the Roozendaals, after having the car for a few weeks it was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Surry Hills. But it was Ms Re, who had never even seen the car, who received a phone call from the police asking her about the accident and why the driver of the Honda had driven off without making a report of the accident.

”And so what did you do about the fine?” Ms Re was asked. ”Nothing, nothing. I told him [her brother Rocco] about it and that was it.” It is not known who was eventually nominated as the driver and who picked up the cost of the fine.

The former minister Eddie Obeid is expected to give evidence on Monday.

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Setting the pace … Birchgrove has more postgraduates than the national average.AND the winner is Birchgrove. In the search for Sydney’s best-educated citizens, the inner-west suburb has come top of the class, with nearly 17 per cent of residents having completed a postgraduate degree.
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The proportion of postgraduates in Birchgrove is about five times the national average, census figures show.

Westmead, home to one of Sydney’s biggest hospitals, has the second highest proportion (16.4 per cent) followed by Waverton (15.3 per cent). St Leonards has the highest proportion reporting a bachelor’s degree (38.8 per cent) and ranks in the top five suburbs for postgraduate degrees, which cover masters and doctorates.

But the data on educational attainment levels exposes a striking knowledge divide across the city. Eleven suburbs in greater Sydney have no postgraduates and most of those neighbourhoods have only a handful with a bachelor-level qualification.

More than 100 suburbs have fewer than one in 100 residents with a postgraduate degree.

Phillip O’Neill, from the urban research centre at the University of Western Sydney, said the outer suburbs, including those in the Sutherland Shire and the northern peninsula, had tended to have lower levels of education. One factor was that well-educated people tended to move closer to the central business district to access skilled jobs.

“There are fewer opportunities for those with a higher education in western Sydney,” he said. “So if you do get through the higher education system you will probably migrate because the labour market forces you to do that.”

Western Sydney’s employment base had to be transformed to provide more opportunities for well-educated workers, Professor O’Neill said.

Half of Sydney’s 20 best-educated suburbs are on the lower north shore and the Balmain peninsula. There is also a strong correlation between high educational attainment and high incomes. Birchgrove, for example, had Sydney’s sixth highest median personal income. Nearly 70 per cent of Birchgrove’s workers are either professionals or managers. Other suburbs with a high proportion of postgraduates, including St Leonards, Waverton, Kirribilli and McMahons point, also rank in the city’s top 20 suburbs by median personal income. There are 112 suburbs where more than one in 10 residents has a postgraduate degree.

Claymore, in the south-west, and Wallarah, on the central coast, are among the suburbs with no postgraduate residents. In Airds, near Claymore, and Birkshire Park in western Sydney, the proportion of postgraduates is only 0.2 per cent.

A striking feature of the 2011 census figures released by the Bureau of Statistics this week is a 52.8 per cent increase between 2006 and 2011 in those with a postgraduate degree. In Sydney, the postgraduate population jumped from 135,000 to almost 200,000.

Overall in Sydney, 5.6 per cent have completed a postgraduate degree, 1.6 per cent a graduate diploma or certificate and 16.9 per cent a bachelor’s degree. Men hold 53.6 per cent of the postgraduate degrees but that proportion is shrinking. Women hold 53.7 per cent of the bachelor-level degrees, a percentage point higher than in 2006.

Nationally, 3.6 per cent of the population have a postgraduate degree, 1.7 per cent a graduate diploma or certificate and 13.54 per cent a bachelor’s degree.

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Back to the wall … NSW Valuer- General Philip Western has been criticised over quality control lapses.THE NSW Valuer-General, Philip Western, has been criticised by a parliamentary committee over ”a serious lapse in quality control” in his office, which determines how hundreds of millions of dollars worth of land tax and council rates are levied each year.
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The investigation was launched in April after Mr Western supplied the committee with information about private land valuation contracts.

The data showed a company Mr Western helped establish, Quotable Value Australia, had received 60 per cent of payments to private contractors for valuation work for rating and taxing purposes during his tenure.

But Mr Western later said the figures he supplied to the committee were incorrect and the correct figure was 16.6 per cent.

The parliamentary committee which oversees the office of the Valuer-General asked the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, to investigate.

The committee’s interim report, tabled in Parliament, reveals Mr Achterstraat has found the data supplied to the committee by Mr Western contained ”material errors”.

Mr Achterstraat’s investigation found payments attributed to Quotable Value were overstated by more than $26 million between 2007 and 2010.

”The errors … should have been obvious to preparers of the report, highlighting that a serious lapse in quality control over material coming to the committee has occurred,” the investigation report says. In his foreword to the report, the chairman of the committee, the Hornsby MP Matt Kean, criticised Mr Western’s performance.

”Those tasked with managing public money are obligated to do so with care and diligence,” Mr Kean writes.

”Given the size of the errors relative to the Valuer-General’s budget, they showed a disconcerting lack of understanding of the financial position of the office and disregard of his obligations to the people of NSW.”

Mr Kean also says he is ”troubled” that Mr Western has been unable to provide the committee with records of payments to private land valuation contractors between 2002 and 2007.

”This is a major area of expenditure for the Valuer-General and thus raises serious questions about the oversight of public expenditure.” The committee found that the Valuer-General ”does not maintain a financial management environment that can consistently answer questions relating to major areas of expenditure of public monies”.

It recommends development of ”appropriate financial reporting tools” and an independent review of quality control in the office.

The findings follow separate data tabled with the committee in March that revealed wealthy landowners had reduced their property valuations for rates and land tax purposes by billions of dollars since 2000 after objecting or taking court action.

The revelations sparked a dispute between Mr Western and the committee over the release of data.

Mr Western said the 2002-07 data was difficult to extract as it had to be done manually and the Auditor-General had also noted this. ”We are having a look at the recommendations and at how we might respond to some of them,” he said.

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IT’S taken 15 years but the $3 billion transformation of Victoria Park in Zetland is almost complete. The design of the last development, called Platinum, has just been released and within the next two years Sydney’s newest suburb will be finished.
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However, with an expected 10,000 new residents by 2014 there remain serious concerns that the area’s transport systems won’t cope.

The state Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Brad Hazzard, inherited the development from the former state government and is quick to point out a few unresolved problems.

”Certainly the Victoria Park/Green Square area has issues which we are seeking to address around public transport particularly and corridors for public transport,” he said.

”One of the lessons that the former Labor government didn’t seem to get was that you really do need to ensure that there is delivery of infrastructure at the same time as residential densities increase.”

With the population of Zetland to increase from 3812 in 2011 to more than 10,000 by 2014, it’s likely the transport and traffic issues that plague the area around South Dowling Street will worsen.

But resident George Geha, a sales manager, is not concerned. The self-described ”early settler” of Victoria Park bought an apartment in 2003 with a car space.

”I call it the 10-minute zone,” he said. ”It’s 10 minutes from the airport, 10 minutes to the city, 10 minutes to Bondi; it’s all very local for us. We attend the local Hillsong Church as well, which is just down the road so we can walk to church.”

Although residents like Mr Geha rely on their car, the developers at Landcom are promoting other modes of transport.

The senior development manager with Landcom, James Adcock, said: ”The whole design of Victoria Park makes it not a car-owning development.

”There are restrictions on car spaces per unit and there are also parking restrictions too so you can’t just leave your car on the street all day if you live there,” he said.

However, the 2011 census showed that 84.5 per cent of Zetland residents owned one or more cars. The heavy traffic on the Eastern Distributor has resulted in many residents opting to walk 15 minutes to Green Square station.

Although the privately owned station has been heavily criticised in the past for its high rail fares, its use by residents has increased since last year when the former state government subsidised the ”station access fee”. Car share schemes such as GoGet have also been introduced and there is talk of connecting Green Square to the light rail in the future.

As Mr Hazzard put it, ”we are looking at everything”.

The name, Victoria Park, was taken from the racecourse, used for both horse and motor racing, that existed on the site for the first half of the 20th century. In 1950 it was bought by Sir William Morris, the 1st Viscount of Nuffield, to assemble Morris Minor and Morris Oxford cars. By the time Leyland Australia took control of the site in 1970 it was the biggest car plant in the southern hemisphere and operated as such for just five years longer before closing down.

Before redevelopment the large warehouses on the site had been used by the federal government as a naval stores depot.

Mr Adcock said overcoming the site’s industrial history was the first big task.

”We first did the master plan in the mid-90s … and it was a big thing at that time to prove that that area was a nice place to be,” he said.

”People knew it as dark streets overshadowed by warehouses.”

Today 40 per cent of the site is dedicated to open space, which is surrounded by designer apartments and townhouses ranging from $450,000 to $1.5 million.

The managing director of Martin Property, Jeremy Martin, has been selling property in the development for a decade and said demand is still ”really strong”.

”The area has become so popular because it’s close to everything but it’s still not at the price levels they are in Surry Hills and Paddington.”

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Aiming high … students Aimee Burke, Hollie Reed, Katelyn Ferderer and Yasmine Day.THE girls in the class of 2013 at Airds High do not tiptoe around their suburb’s image problem.
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”We have a bad name,” Aimee Burke said. ”We tell people that we go to Airds High School and they turn their nose up at us and give us this look like we’ve got nothing and we’re bad kids.”

Disdain, they said, was a powerful motivator. Of the 2400 people who lived in Airds, fewer than 40 had a university degree, according to last year’s census.

But for these four girls, who have just started their Higher School Certificate year, going to university after school is a way to step out of the shadow of statistics and stereotypes.

”I just want to prove people wrong; people who said that I couldn’t; I want to show them that I can,” Hollie Reed said. She wants to go to university and train as a teacher for PE or her strongest subject, maths.

Her classmate, Katelyn Ferderer, wants to study criminology at university. ”My next-door neighbour was a police officer. He’d always tell me stories; it really piqued my interest.”

Katelyn said she had been inspired by Anne Wadsworth, who completed her HSC last year, and gained a Band 6 result in English. She is now studying a double degree in teaching and English and history at the University of NSW.

Yasmine Day said she had never had to think about whether university was the path for her.

”In my family, it’s just been the best thing to do; to have a higher education.” She works in a law firm and hopes to be a lawyer.

For Aimee, aiming for university was a personal choice. ”I want to be the first person in my close family who’s gone,” she said.

She plans to become an art or special education teacher.

”Our teachers have encouraged us to strive for better, to prove the people who say we can’t do anything wrong.

”We work hard. We go to school every day. We’re good kids.”

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It’s their move … brothers Rowan Willathgamuwa, 10, left, and Kevin, 8 are Slovenia-bound to compete in the World Youth Chess Championship.THE end game is clear for eight-year-old Kevin Willathgamuwa – he wants to be a chess grandmaster. “And then I’ll probably stop there,” he says.
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His confidence is not without reason, either.

He is the national champion, and on Saturday he and his 10-year-old brother Rowan will board a plane to Slovenia to compete in their third World Youth Chess Championship next week.

Kevin thinks he can improve on last year’s 10th place with a top five finish. Rowan wants to reach the top 10.

It’s a long way from last year when Fairfax reported the brothers were shopping for a new school, after being asked to leave Sydney Grammar for taking unauthorised leave to compete at the world championships in Brazil.

The boys received offers from several private schools but settled on The King’s Preparatory School, which is happy to see the boys head overseas.

Taking on the gifted youngsters has been a great boost for the school’s chess team.

“They’ve brought enthusiasm and just the ability to inspire others to go further,” the chess co-ordinator, Catherine Pearman, said.

The North Parramatta school introduced after-hours coaching this year and about 80 boys have signed up.

“We also practise after school by going to tournaments, sometimes we play against each other and we analyse games with our coach who is a grandmaster,” Rowan said.

The brothers are gifted pianists and violinists, as well as A-team cricketers. And it’s no surprise their grades are outstanding.

The head of preparatory, Keith Dalleywater, says the school encourages students to celebrate the achievements of their peers. The Willathgamuwa brothers have featured prominently this year on the school’s website. “We want the boys to grow up to be very well-rounded people, so it’s very deliberate that there are all sorts of activities that cross the domains – music sports, performance, chess and of course academia,” Mr Dalleywater said.

Rowan and Kevin take lessons at the school once a week. They are also coached via Skype by Australia’s first grandmaster, Ian Rogers.

But their mother, Savi, insists chess is not the priority. “Sometimes they go a week or two without any [practice],” she said.

Next week the youngsters will take on about 200 others their age for the world title. Some of their competitors will arrive with entourages and have practised for hours on end.

But the Willathgamuwa brothers know on game day the only thing between them and checkmate is 64 squares and 32 pieces.

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IT WAS an unbearable high that lasted several days and ended in a naked, bloodied death.
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A central coast truck driver, Glenn Punch, 44, and his girlfriend, Rachael Hickel, 42, injected a drug while in the cabin of his truck one afternoon two weeks ago. They thought it would just be some fun.

But two days later, after further doses, they were in a deep psychosis. Suffering unbearable heat, both had shed their clothes. A naked Mr Punch had jumped a barbed wire fence in an industrial area near Newcastle and attacked a security guard before going into cardiac arrest.

He died in Prince of Wales Hospital two days later.

Ms Hickel, who was found with no top on hundreds of metres away, highly agitated and bloodied after falling from the truck, survived the intense high to bury her long-term partner on Friday near their Berkeley Vale home.

But this was not a normal drug overdose. The pair had done nothing illegal.

The culprit was so-called ”bath salts”, a legal synthetic drug that mimics the effects of cocaine and has quietly reached Australia after sparking widespread concern overseas.

The pair had bought a bag of nondescript white powder called ”Smokin’ Slurrie” from the Nauti & Nice adult shop in Rutherford. It was labelled ”not for consumption” but marketed online and in forums as a legal high.

Mr Punch’s death was the first bath salts fatality in Australia but the commander of the state’s drug squad, Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, has since revealed that the mysterious product is ”flying off the shelves” in adult shops, tobacconists and online, prompting a parliamentary inquiry into the rapidly emerging synthetic drug market.

Manufacturers tweak the composition of the substances so they circumvent illegal drug classifications yet can still trigger many of the same effects of amphetamines. In NSW, the powder has become astonishingly easy to buy and users boast of their exploits online.

”I was up all night and the next day and I had only gone through about .5 grams. Teeth grinding and hard to sleep the next day,” wrote one forum user.

A new psychoactive drug enters the European market every week, far outpacing efforts to legislate against them, yet no figures on consumption exist in Australia because the substance is so new.

A Brisbane lawyer representing several sellers, Patrick Quinn, said the products were becoming ”huge”, particularly among miners because they were not detected in urine tests.

”There’s a lot of money to be made and my clients make no secret about what they do,” Mr Quinn said. ”The profit margins are incredible and they are intent on selling a legal product.”

Nauti & Nice refused to comment and the distributor of Smokin’ Slurrie, who gave his name as Brett, hung up on Fairfax. A woman earlier said he couldn’t talk because he was dropping his children at school.

The director of the National Drug Research Institute, Professor Steve Allsop, said authorities needed to take seriously what was happening around the world.

”I think we need to be concerned,” he said. ”We’re not clear on prevalence in Australia because all people have to do is click a couple of buttons and the substance comes through Australia Post, so that makes it hard to detect. It’s a new challenge.”

Several synthetic cannabis blends were banned in NSW last year but manufacturers can simply tweak recipes, causing further confusion.

Eight ”families” of synthetics were scheduled by the Commonwealth but enforcement has to be implemented in state legislation, something a state parliamentary inquiry is exploring. The committee finished hearings two weeks ago and will draft recommendations over Christmas.

Detective Superintendent Bingham has suggested copying New Zealand, where legislation has placed the onus of proof about safety on the manufacturers. He said Australian sellers were willing to foot the bill for testing, which topped $1 million in New Zealand.

NSW’s Young Lawyers group has cautioned the committee against knee-jerk, blanket legislation without proper research.

Yet, poignantly, on the same day Detective Superintendent Bingham gave evidence to the inquiry on the urgent need for action, Mr Punch was rapidly losing his battle in a hospital a few kilometres away.

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