WITH the farewelling of Shawn Mackay complete, there was no more fitting person for his best mate, Morgan Turinui, to turn to than Mackay’s younger brother and fellow Randwick teammate, Matt.
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At Waverley’s Mary Immaculate Church in Sydney’s eastern suburbs yesterday, Turinui and Matt Mackay delivered eulogies for Shawn Mackay, who died in a Durban hospital last Monday week from a blood infection that followed surgery on injuries he suffered when struck by a vehicle on March 27.

As with Mackay’s uncle and godfather, John Hurley, who spoke earlier, and Brumbies coach Andy Friend, who read out the poem The Man in the Glass , emotion ran deep as Turinui and Matt Mackay spoke. In between, they embraced.

“Through every major moment of my life, he’s been standing next to me,” Turinui said of Shawn Mackay, whom he first met at kindergarten in Clovelly before forging a friendship that would endure the years of a journey with so much youthful hope, brazen ambition and wild adventure through Waverley College and their footballing careers.

With that journey over, it was fitting that Turinui and Matt Mackay led the team of pallbearers that carried Mackay’s coffin out to the hearse as Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me played.

With another heart-wrenching task over, Turinui and Matt Mackay again fell into each other’s arms – their emotions epitomising the sorrow shared by all in a gathering of close to 1000 mourners who gave him a champion’s adieu.

As Mackay’s coffin was driven through a 300-metre tunnel of past and present teammates, everyone who had filled the church to capacity for the service or stood outside to listen to it broadcast through speakers broke into applause. The Mackay family has been taken aback by the outpouring of grief and praise for their 26-year-old son.

As Hurley said in his eulogy: “We are only just realising what an impact he had on so many people.”

Yesterday’s funeral reinforced that. So many came to share the moment with Mackay’s family, which included his parents, John and Leonie, younger brother Matt, sister Kristy and his partner Trish Scott.

There were his Brumbies teammates who flew to Sydney from Canberra in the morning. There were the Waratahs with whom he played six games in 2006. Some came from the Western Force. Then there was past and present Roosters with whom he won a Jersey Flegg title; former and current players and officials from both codes.

Mackay’s footy ties were recognised with the placement on his coffin of the jerseys he wore – from Clovelly juniors, to Waverley College, the Roosters, Randwick, Melbourne Rebels, Australian Sevens and the Brumbies.

From Turinui, to Matt Mackay, John Hurley and even Fathers Nic Lucas and George Connolly, who shared the celebrant duties, all spoke of Mackay’s zest for life. They spoke of when he first laid a bet as a five year-old – “50 cents on the nose”, said Hurley. Of his favourite horses, which Turinui recalled were Sunline because it led from the start and Octagonal for the way it got out of impossible situations. Then of how he began footy aged six, won the CAS (Catholic All Schools) 1500m and 800m athletics titles and became known the “White Kenyan”.

Finally, his days with Randwick, the Australian Sevens team he captained and, according to Turinui, led “the same way that he led an 800m – from the front”, the Waratahs, the Rebels and then finally the Brumbies.

And, of course, there were the Wallaroos, Australia’s World Cup-winning women’s sevens team which Mackay so willingly coached in the Oceania qualifiers. The players said they would forever remember him as “one of the girls”.

As Father Lucas so profoundly said: “He might not have had a full life, but it sounds to me he was full of life.”

And John Worley said in his eulogy: “As we all know, rugby is the game they play in heaven and we know who will be the captain of the side.”

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WITH fewer than 200 adult southern corroboree frogs left in the wild, scientists have initiated an IVF program to try to bring the tiny black and gold amphibians back from the brink of extinction.
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The technique, carried out on the thumbnail-sized frogs in Sydney and Melbourne, involves injecting the males and females with a synthetic hormone under the skin.

Eggs are then collected by gently squeezing the females, and sperm are obtained by placing a catheter into a male's cloaca, or rear opening.

This was one of the trickier aspects of the method, said Phil Byrne, a biologist carrying out the IVF for the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.

“They're tiny little frogs,” said Dr Byrne, of Monash University. “It's better if you have small hands.”

To mimic natural processes during the frogs' “nuptial embrace” the sperm are then squirted with force onto the eggs in the laboratory.

Dr Byrne and his colleague, Aimee Silla, of the University of Western Australia, had initial success in a pilot study of IVF on corroboree frogs in Melbourne earlier in the year.

About a dozen IVF embryos were obtained. “We got fertilisation, which was exciting. But the embryos failed during the early stages of development,” Dr Byrne said.

For the past fortnight they have carried out IVF with a further 38 corroboree frogs bred in captivity at Taronga Zoo, but no embryos had formed, Dr Byrne said yesterday.

A Department of Environment scientist, David Hunter, said the development of frog IVF was part of a multi-pronged strategy to try to save the southern corroboree species, which is found only in Kosciuszko National Park.

“Scientists believe its sudden and dramatic decline is due largely to the effects of a fungus known as the amphibian chytrid, which has devastated frogs worldwide,” Dr Hunter said.

Installation of 25 large plastic breeding ponds at five sites in the park began last month. Eggs collected in the wild will be placed in the ponds to grow in fungus-free water until the corroboree frogs are big enough to hop out.

In addition to the Taronga captive breeding program, there are three in Victoria, which release frogs back into the park. However, breeding rates are lower than in nature.

“IVF offers the prospect of improving our captive breeding success,” Dr Hunter said.

Dr Byrne said they want to test whether it is better to raise the IVF frog embryos on sphagnum moss, as in the wild, and will try to refine the hormone injections so the males and females release their eggs and sperm simultaneously.

“Timing is everything.”

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AUSTRALIA’S Casey Stoner, the 2007 world champion, began his campaign for a third Qatar MotoGP victory by setting the fastest time in practice.
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The Ducati rider, runner-up to Valentino Rossi in the world championship last season, clocked 1 minute, 57.053 seconds, dazzling his rivals beneath the floodlights preparing for tonight’s desert race.

Rossi, twice a winner here, was second fastest in 1:57.439 on his Yamaha, with Colin Edwards, also on a Yamaha, in third, 0.782s off Stoner’s impressive pace.

With all riders on Bridgestone tyres, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the pole-sitter here last year, took fourth just ahead of Honda’s Alex de Angelis.

"The bike is working very well," said 23-year-old Stoner.

"The settings that we found in Jerez seem to be working quite well here also, but we still need to improve a couple of things, like everybody.

"The track conditions are not perfect yet, though by the time we arrive [for qualifying] it should be fine."

Stoner added he was happy with his recovery from winter surgery on his wrist.

"There’s no problem with my wrist," he said. "I would like to be able to do more physical training but that is not an excuse and the wrist is not causing any issues.

"So we are looking forward to starting the season and we will see how things go."

Rossi said his Yamaha was improving all the time.

"This evening I am quite happy because at the test we were one second from Casey, but now the gap is much less," said the eight-time world champion.

"We had some ideas after the test to improve our pace and I am happy to say that they all seemed to have worked. I am fast, I have a good pace and I am happy with this opening session."

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Hamilton 400 in New Zealand, reigning V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup has declared he has unfinished business across the Tasman.

A year ago, the only black mark in an otherwise perfect campaign came for Whincup on the streets of Hamilton after he crashed out of the weekend during qualifying. Before hitting the wall, writing his Ford off in the process, Whincup had looked like the driver to beat after setting impressive times during practice and qualifying.

Instead, arch-rival Garth Tander went on to win all three races.

But Whincup said he was determined to make amends.

"Crashing out at the Hamilton was a big black mark on what was otherwise a fantastic year," Whincup said.

"At the same time, it was probably the event that really turned my year. We promised ourselves from there on in that we would do whatever it took to win the championship."

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The Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens’ arbour garden.LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE THE AUSTRALIAN GARDEN Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne
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NESTLED amid native bushland as surely as Versailles was carved out of French forest, the Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne is a highly stylised intervention. Landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean and plant designer Paul Thompson make no pretence of giving us the naturalistic or the wild.

Like their first stage of the garden (which opened in 2006), this second and final instalment is a formal, carefully resolved space that – with much artistic licence – interprets the diverse land types and plantings of Australia.

We get lakes, estuaries and the seaside. We sample forests and tree-lined avenues. We peruse the suburban backyard. But – and this is the really clever thing – such theme-park juxtapositions don’t come at the expense of unity.

Visitors will wander from the Melaleuca Spits up to the Weird and Wonderful Garden and through Casuarina Grove and cross no definitive dividing lines. Arid rock outcrops seamlessly descend into inland rainforest and coastal estuary. Such merging is largely through the ever-shifting textures and paving types: crushed shell gives way to super-smooth concrete, to gravel, to stone, mulch, steel-grill and (my personal favourite) pock-marked concrete.

This last – weathered and covetable – is central to the Gondwana Garden, which also gets one of the new shelters designed by BKK Architects. This multi-purpose space has a roof like a leaf and airy walls composed from poles of timber and steel. It’s less angular and minimalist than some of the other new shelters but, like all of them, it is assiduously unobtrusive and blends the indoors with the out.

The indoor element is critical when the plants themselves cast little shade. For while there are plenty of trees that will ultimately lend height, few do so yet. It’s one thing to talk about the gardens now, only three weeks after they opened, but the really interesting thing will be to see how the mood shifts, and some of the hard edges soften, as the plants (even the highly manipulated ones, and there are many of those) grow.

At this point, however, the gardens are still largely dominated by the hard architectural elements. And how can a young plant compete with vast walls of rammed earth, expanses of Corten steel and towering shards of Castlemaine stone?

The Arbour Garden, for example, has a long line-up of wire-grid walls, all the better for showcasing the vigour of Australian climbers. Ultimately we can expect a series of green walls with a verdant tunnel for a pathway. But right now only the kennedias have really taken and there is more grid to be seen than green.

Similarly the formal avenues of Hill’s weeping figs (Ficus microcarpa var. hillii) are not yet lush and luxuriant in that Queensland forest way so that the chairs below them (Tuileries-style) aren’t as inviting as they might be when the trees fill out.

There is a playfulness to the Australian Garden though that doesn’t rely on the plants alone. Water forms puddles in dips in the gravel and – in the rain – cascades over a rocky outcrop into a lake below. Paths wriggle in crazy hairpin turns, a bridge takes the form of lily pads and pairs of thongs adorn the seaside area.

Like many of the spaces here the seaside garden does not differentiate between path and plant bed. For a central tenet of these gardens is that you get right up close to the plants and experience them in new ways. There is extensive labelling and a multitude of information panels, all the better for trying it out at home. But the theatre and ambition of the space mean the gardens will also appeal to those not intending to toil their own soil.

For while the new areas might not yet be verdant enough for lolling and lazing, they make the perfect outdoor art installation. There is also plenty on offer for the active, curious child. My own teenagers opted for the nearby indoor skate park instead.

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Retail power prices are on the rise.SO, VICTORIA is the place to be when it comes to electricity market reform.
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”Victoria in many respects has led the way,” was Martin Ferguson’s conclusion when he released the long-delayed energy white paper outlining the state and future of the Australian energy industry.

”The willingness of other state governments to take on these hard reforms will be essential,” the minister said. ”It will take political courage where others have failed.”

Victoria deregulated its retail electricity prices in 2009 and became a beacon for deregulation advocates in Australia and beyond.

The trouble is Victorian electricity consumers are hardly better off than their interstate cousins, copping much of the same 50 per cent rise in power prices over the past four years that has stoked anger from household and business users alike. And the near-term projections are, if anything, worse for Victorians.

The energy white paper relies on the same Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) numbers released this time last year, which forecast retail power prices between 2011-12 and 2013-14.

Victorians can expect retail prices to rise 31.5 per cent over the period, not far short of triple the average projected national rise of 12.1 per cent, AEMC said.

NSW and Queensland – ”gold-plating” central when it comes to excessive investment in those poles and wires by their state-owned power companies – will see retail price increases of just 7.1 per cent and 8.4 per cent, respectively.

Victoria is clearly leading the way on that one. But just where is something of a guess. The AEMC’s footnote to its table of price increases strikes this rather plaintive note: ”In Victoria, the entire retail margin is included in the retail component and should be treated with caution given the absence of access to data.”

That’s a polite way of saying, we only know what the companies want to tell us.

And what might be causing such runaway retail price increases? Competition, oddly, appears to be driving costs up rather than down even as wholesale prices slide.

Recent Victorian data suggest the annual churn of customers amounts to 28 per cent, and probably costs the retailers $200 for each client change. Think about that the next time you answer the door to someone hawking (on commission) the benefits of switching.

To be sure, Victoria does have one advantage over the other states that Mr Ferguson was keen to stress – the mandatory rollout of ”smart meters”. The meters provide two-way information that may one day provide the opportunity for consumers to respond to higher prices by reducing their consumption – and get rewarded for it.

More to the point, peak wholesale electricity prices, which apply for just 30 hours per year, account for 30 per cent of wholesale power bought for households and small businesses – a ratio that could sink if users can respond to price changes.

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