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Greens senator files defamation suit

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm has accused Sarah Hanson-Young of a “tepid whinge” after she filed a defamation suit against him alleging attacks on her private life.
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Senator Hanson-Young has filed the action in the Federal Court against Senator Leyonhjelm over comments he made on Sky News and 3AW radio in Melbourne.

“The defamatory statements Senator Leyonhjelm made and continues to make are an attack on my character, and have done considerable harm to me and my family,” the Australian Greens senator said in a statement on Thursday.

The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young and NSW senator David Leyonhjelm.

Senator Hanson-Young said she was taking action because such treatment was wrong.

“No woman, whether she be working behind a bar, in an office or in the Parliament, deserves to be treated this way, and it needs to stop,” she said.

“It was always my preference that Senator Leyonhjelm apologise and acknowledge how hurtful, defamatory and damaging his comments were, however he refuses to do so.”

Senator Leyonhjelm revealed in a statement on Thursday night he’d engaged Senior Counsel to “strenuously” defend the claim.

He labelled the lawsuit a “whinge”, and called into question Senator Hanson-Young’s crowdfunding of her legal fees.

“She and her supporters have to date raised more than $60,000, pledging to use the funds to advance the cause of the sisterhood by fighting intimidation, bullying and ‘sexist slurs on my professional reputation’ through court action,” he said.

“Yet the Statement of Claim I received (on Wednesday) contains no such allegations. Instead it is a tepid whinge that I have insinuated she is a hypocrite and a misandrist.”

Senator Leyonhjelm told Senator Hanson-Young on the floor of parliament to “stop shagging men” after he believed she said all men are rapists.

He then later went on television and radio to make further comments about her private life.

Senator Hanson-Young has said if she wins damages from Senator Leyonhjelm she will donate them to Plan International and the Working Women’s Centre SA.

Police swoop in Victoria Labor rorts probe

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is not commenting on police action involving the Labor party.More than 15 people are being questioned by police as part of a fraud investigation into Victorian Labor’s rorts-for-votes scandal.
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It is understood MPs are not among those arrested in Melbourne, regional Victoria, NSW and the Northern Territory on Thursday morning.

The arrests come less than a week after a criminal probe was announced into the misuse of $388,000 by 21 past and present Labor MPs in the party’s successful 2014 election campaign.

A former organiser of what has come to be known as the red shirts scandal told AAP he was arrested at his Melbourne home shortly before 6am for allegedly making a false document.

He was strip-searched and interviewed at the Melbourne West Police Station for an hour before being released but was told he could be charged on summons at a later date.

A total of 17 people were being interviewed in relation to the alleged misuse of parliamentary entitlements, police said, adding further comment would not be appropriate.

Premier Daniel Andrews’ office declined to comment.

The fraud and extortion probe was opened on Friday, after Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass in March found Labor MPs unknowingly used public money in breach of parliamentary guidelines by diverting electorate officers for campaigning.

The money was later repaid and the premier apologised.

Police declined to investigate the scandal in 2016 before reassessing it following a letter of complaint sent by Liberal MP Edward O’Donohue.

The opposition has been calling on the six cabinet ministers named in the ombudsman report, including Attorney-General Martin Pakula, to resign.

Days after the investigation was announced, Deputy Premier James Merlino wrote to police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton requesting an investigation into 18 current and former Liberal and National MPs.

He alleged they used electorate staff for political campaigning during normal business hours but refused to release details of the government’s claims.

The opposition denies any wrongdoing.

Gates ‘may not’ testify in Manafort trial

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s trial is underway in the US.US prosecutors have raised the possibility that an expected star witness may not testify against US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort even as the judge tried to rein in their portrayal of Manafort’s lavish lifestyle.
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The second day of Manafort’s trial, the first stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 14-month investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election, was overshadowed by Trump calling for an end to the probe with some Democrats accusing Trump of obstructing justice.

Manafort’s consulting work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine that earned him $US60 million took the spotlight in Wednesday’s testimony in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington.

Prosecutors questioned veteran political consultant Daniel Rabin about the work he did for Manafort and told the court it expects to rest its case next week.

Manafort, 69, is charged with tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report foreign bank accounts. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner who pleaded guilty to making false statements after being indicted by Mueller, was expected to be a star government witness.

US District Judge T.S. Ellis asked the prosecution if they will have Gates testify.

“He may testify in this case, he may not,” said prosecutor Uzo Asonye, a day after the defence told jurors its strategy centres on discrediting Gates as an untruthful embezzler.

When the judge asked Asonye for a clarification, Asonye said prosecutors are constantly evaluating the need to call a particular witness.

Prosecutors have portrayed Manafort as a tax cheat who hid money in offshore accounts, and lied to borrow millions more against real estate in a bid to maintain an extravagant lifestyle once the work dried up.

To hammer this home, the prosecution called Maximillian Katzman, of New York’s elite custom clothier Alan Couture, who said Manafort was one of his top customers and paid with international wire transfers.

Prosecution lawyer Greg Andres reviewed how much Manafort spent each year on clothing, including $US440,160 in 2013 alone. Ellis interrupted Andres to say, “The government doesn’t want to prosecute somebody because they wear nice clothes, right?”

With the jury out of the room, the judge complained about prosecutors’ efforts to show that Manafort’s life was luxurious and blocked them from showing one document on home renovations.

“Mr Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle,” Ellis said.

When questioning witnesses who provided services to Manafort, prosecutors showed invoices that appeared to have been falsified as they sought to document the fraud charges.

Ellis chastised both sides for using the word “oligarch,” saying it has negative connotations and could give jurors the impression Manafort was “consorting and being paid by people who are criminals.”

Trump repeatedly has sought to discredit Mueller’s investigation, which is also looking into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Moscow and whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

The Republican president wrote on Twitter, “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” adding that Mueller’s team is a “disgrace to USA.”

In another tweet referring to 1920s Chicago mobster Alphonse “Al” Capone, Trump wrote, “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing?”

Fenech toughens Dib for boxing title tilt

Billy Dib will fight Tevin Farmer for the vacant IBF junior lightweight title in Sydney on Friday.Tough lessons learnt in life and from legendary boxer Jeff Fenech have Billy Dib believing he can maintain his pristine professional record in Australian rings and upset American Tevin Farmer in their world title fight on Friday.
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Dib (43-4, 24 KOs) will fight in Sydney for the vacant IBF junior lightweight title after Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa was stripped of the title for failing a drug test in his win over Farmer last December.

The result was changed to a no contest, meaning Farmer (25-4-1, 5 KOs) remains unbeaten in almost six years and 18 fights since dropping four and drawing one of his first 12 bouts.

All of Dib’s professional losses were overseas and he pointed out Farmer has never fought outside the US in his time in the paid ranks.

The American is a strong betting favourite, but Dib has plenty of big fight experience to draw upon and has been steeled by adversity in and and out of the ring.

He was prepared to give up boxing after losing to the then WBC super featherweight world champion Takashi Miura in May 2015.

It was a third world title defeat in just over two years for Dib who lost his IBF featherweight crown and a rematch to Russian Evgeny Gradovich.

He also experienced tough times outside the ring with his first wife dying from cancer and a divorce from his second wife.

Dib rediscovered his passion for boxing and has changed things since teaming up with triple world champion and experienced trainer Fenech last November.

“He’s tightened up my defence, he’s worked on my punch output and more importantly he’s worked on my mental strength,” Dib told AAP.

‘He’s pushed me to points in training where I thought I was going to vomit.

“I’m ready and physically and mentally capable of anything.

“After everything that I’ve been through in life, I feel that I’m ready for anything that happens.

“Whatever Farmer comes with we’re going to be ready, we’ve worked extremely hard.

“The life lessons I’ve had will get me over the line in this fight.”

Fenech was impressed with the way Dib had applied himself in the short time they have worked together.

“The guy who came to me eight months ago couldn’t have done a quarter of what he’s doing today,” Fenech told AAP.

“His punching, his fitness, he looks young, healthy and strong.”

The undercard features two of Australia’s brightest prospects in bantamweight Brock Jarvis and middleweight Tim Tszyu.

Why we must fight for the right to strike

Since January, hundreds of Hunter workers have joined the The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).
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I want to welcome them to a union with a proud history, and a movement that has won important victories for working people.

I first joined my union as an apprentice fitter at Tubemakers, now part of OneSteel.

I joined because I wanted to change the way apprentices were treated and being a union member gave us the strength to win better pay and conditions.

You don’t join a union so things stay the same.

We organise to create change, whether that’s better pay and conditions in your workplace or a better deal for working people in our society.

Across the country, the union movement is leading a campaign to end trickle-down economics and rewrite our workplace laws to give power back to working people.

The Change the Rules campaign is set to be the largest and most significant union campaign since Your Rights at Work.

Which is why I think it is time that our country has a conversation about the right to strike.

The simple fact is that the right to withdraw your labour, to go on strike or take other forms of industrial action, is the most effective way you can create change in your workplace, and our current laws are designed to prevent you from using it.

The debate about the right to strike is really about who gets to make the decision to take industrial action.

We believe that that decision belongs to the workers, not to a commission that is stacked against us and certainly not employers and their representatives in parliament.

Our current system takes that decision away from workers, instead giving them a bureaucratic system that strips workers of their rights.

Even when workers have gone through the appropriate steps to go on strike they can be overruled by the courts on the basis that they might “cause economic damage”.

The result of this system is that we currently have one of the lowest rates of industrial action in Australian history.

And while some may say that this is a good thing, especially employers and their friends on the conservative side of politics, there are larger consequences of preventing workers from going on strike.

Strikes are often inconvenient.

They are difficult, especially for the workers who decide to go on them.

But without them, workers never show employers how powerful they really are.

I think of strikes as a tool: a way that working people can shape the world around them.

More than that, they are a way for working people to think about the kind of world they want.

In most cases that will mean changes to their workplace: better pay and conditions, better safety standards or better job security.

And anyone who has gone on strike knows that it changes the relationship between you and your bosses, how they talk to you and how they treat you on the job.

That power has an effect that goes beyond your workplace, because strike action can create change outside our factory gates.

The 38-hour week for metal trades, won by the AMWU in the early 1980s, was won through strike action.

So was the eight-hour day, won by stonemasons in 1855.

So was long service leave, superannuation and just about all of the workplace conditions that we take for granted today.

Unions have even held strikes to support social or political demands.

Australian Unions have taken industrial action to support the end of nuclear weapons, enforce boycotts against apartheid South Africa, to defend public housing and historic buildings through the Green Bans, and for the universal healthcare system we now call Medicare.

This idea seems radical because we are told by many parts of the media that working people shouldn’t think or talk about the big picture, that it should be left to men and women in suits who went to the right schools and have the right jobs.

But that has never benefitted our working-class communities, only the very wealthy.

Workers have the right to think about issues that affect their lives.

They should be able to use their industrial strength to change it.

And if that appeals to you, you should join your union.

Steve MurphySecretary of the AMWU NSW and ACT Branch

Totally rubbish

BAG FLIP: The transition hasn’t been easy, but people need to move away from lining their bins with plastic shopping bags.The plastic bag apocalypse has forced me to learn origami.
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Like many Australians, I was in the habit of using my turtle-choking, single-use plastic shopping bags to line my bin. But that ended recently when Coles and Woolworths banned the bags. Then Coles bag-flipped and made them available again. Now I know why I pick Woolies.

Aldi too, if I’m gonna be honest, because they really broke me into the habit of reusable shopping bags. But reusable shopping bags don’t make goodbin liners. Probably because you have to pay for them. (Unlike the damage plastic bags do to the environment!?)

I didn’t say the psychology of consumer behaviour isn’t complicated, nor slightly scary. Anyhow,necessity is the mother of invention.

Confronted with a lack of plastic bin liners I discovered a new value-added application for journalism. The origami bin liner made of newspaper. In light of recent media mergers, some might say that’s appropriate. But that’s not the point. The point is, unlike journalism, the plastic’s gone, and the bin need’s lining. Or does it?

Convention dictates you don’t chuck rubbish into an unlined house bin and then tip thatinto the wheelie bin and then clean the house bin. Because that’s a hassle, and hassle is garbage heresy, apparently. Total garbage if you ask me.

For some reason, possibly related to landfill, convention has dictated we line bins with plastic, mainly because it catches the gooey stuff. But now the plastic’s gone, we need an alternative.

Given I have a surplus of newspaper in our newsprint-subscribing household, and I no longer use it to line the kitty litter trays since the cats died once I read it, paper seemed a logical option.

So I went online and I re-discovered origami, and how spatially dyslexic I am.

Like religion, it origami takes practice.

But after after several attempts, I was semi converted.

It is possible to make a passably efficient bin liner out of five sheets of newspaper.

A small tabloid one, mind you.

Broadsheet would be better because it’s bigger but that’s another trend in media we don’t need to go into.

Ultimately, all your doing is making a chip wrapper for your rubbish on it’s journey from disposal to hopefully degradable.

Councils have known for ages, the smaller the bin, the less the waste.

So maybe it passes the logical test. There’s still the psychology of consumer behaviour to overcome. But no one said the war on waste would be easy.

There is a certain sense of satisfaction when everything folds up and holds together.

You might liken it to putting together an air-tight My Health privacy policy.

Not that the government’s come up with that yet.

But I’m trying hard to opt out of plastic bin liners. And if it means trashing my profession for all the right reasons –then ‘bin there, doing that’.

SIMON WALKER: That’s Life archive

Brisbane band Sheppard is top of the pops

HIGH HOPES: Brisbane band Sheppard has world chart domination in their sights. Picture: SuppliedBrisbane band Sheppard have mastered the art of writing a catchy pop hook.
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Brisbane band Sheppard is top of the pops TweetFacebookLet Me Down Easy in 2012, a song that took off on commercial radio in the US and at home. Geronimo followed andtopped the charts. Both songs have featured in television advertisements.

Sheppard performed live on Jimmy Fallon, Ellen and The Today Show in the US, supported the likes of Justin Bieber on tour and won an ARIA for best group in 2013. They were well and truly on their way.

And their latest single Coming Home picks up where Geronimo left off.

Coming Home – SheppardAmy Sheppard, whose siblings Emma and George are also in the band, says sophomore album Watching The Sky –which debuted at number one on the ARIA charts –has defined Sheppard’s sound.

“I think everyone was waiting to see what we’d do after Geronimo, which put us under a bit of pressure but we got there in the end,” she says, laughing.

“Now we know what the Sheppard sound is and Ithink that was what this album was really about. With [first album] Bombs Away I think we were still trying to figure that out and if you listen to the album back to front you can hear that –it wasvery eclectic.

“Now we’ve grown as writers and we know who we are. When we were going through the writing process we found that we’d throw songs away because they weren’t the ‘Sheppard’ sound. It took us a long time to get into the groove and move forward while still maintaining that sound that keeps it cohesive. Butwe’ve got a tonne of songs that we hope other artists might pick up some day.”

Sheppard are about to hitthe road on their largest tour to date, largely dodging capital cities in favour of regional centres, and will perform at Newcastle’s Cambridge Hotel on September 16. Tickets are on sale now.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve visited some of these places and with the album going to number one, we just felt that we needed to say thank you to the people who supported us,” Sheppard says.

“Wewanted to make a point of visiting places we don’t get to very often.”

It could be the last time fans get to see the band play live in Australia for a while, too. They are hoping to capitalise onComing Home’s popularity in Holland and Belgium and perhaps play a few European gigs.

“Anything could happen. That’s what I love about this job, it’s so unpredictable and no two days are the same,” Sheppard explains.

“We’ve got plenty to give still but we are thrilled with where we’re at. We have a full-time career in music, which is the dream. We’re not office-job people. As long as we’re writing music for a living we are going to be satisfied butwe’re going to continue pushing.”

As for the band’s public spat with fellow Aussie singer Katie Noonan when they refused an offer to perform at this year’s Commonwealth Games, it’s a case of water under the bridge. Promoter Michael Chugg is the band’s manager andjust last week told the Courier Mail he wanted to “shut this down once and for all”.

“Oh, he’s a character, that’s for sure,” Sheppard says, laughing.

“He comes on tour with us and he’s so passionate and he’ll stand up for what’s right. We’ve got other things to focus on and I’m glad that’s behind us now.We said what we needed to say and we didn’t want it to keep going but sometimes you can’t help these things.”

Fund Aussie sport or say goodbye to gold

Australia should consider a national lottery to support rising sports stars, John Wylie says.Australians used to seeing their athletes punch above their weight on the world stage might have to settle for watching also-rans unless a new way to fund sport is found.
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The Australian Sports Commission, which has been rebranded as Sport Australia, is considering a national lottery to support rising stars, similar to the United Kingdom.

Sport Australia chairman John Wylie said the UK lottery was directly linked to that country’s rising success in world sport.

“There’s no doubt in the long-term, the Australian sporting system to remain as successful as its been in the past will need more funding,” Mr Wylie told ABC radio on Thursday.

Australian sport is also looking to charity to boost hopes of gold medals and podium finishes.

The Sport 2030 report, released on Wednesday, calls for Australian sport to more than double donation receipts within three years.

More than $44 million was raised through the Australian Sports Foundation in 2017/18, but the report calls for that to be $100 million in 2021 and $300 million in 2030.

Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie has committed to a business plan to revitalise the Australian Institute of Sport.

The announcement came a day after Australian marathon champion Rob De Castella declared the AIS was dead.

Mr Wylie noted the institute’s maintenance bill was $16 million a year but denied it was being hollowed out.

“It’s evolving into being a strategic agency for sport, a system leader for Australian sport,” he said.

The former investment banker warned of rising global threats to sport’s integrity, saying it was important to get on the front foot after a major report into the matter was released.

The review, led by James Wood QC, recommended setting up a new law enforcement agency to police match-fixing and doping in Australian sport.

Hodge gets first crack at Wallabies No.13

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika wants players to change opinions and demand Test selection during Friday night’s Bledisloe Cup trial, which will help settle many selection debates.
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Australia, keen to avoid a repeat of their shambolic start to last year’s first Test against New Zealand, have organised the hit-out against a Super Rugby Selection side at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval.

The All Blacks scored a record-breaking six tries in the opening half of last year’s Bledisloe opener, building the platform to extend their 16-year run of trans-Tasman dominance.

Cheika hopes Friday’s match will ensure there’s no repeat at ANZ Stadium on August 18, urging every player involved in the trial to show the sort of work ethic and physicality they would produce against New Zealand.

“We’re looking for guys to change opinions and make us say, ‘Yes, this guys has to play’. From both teams,” Cheika told reporters.

“It’s definitely an opportunity for some players to show how much they want to play on the 18th.

“You can’t warm-up into that game and that’s maybe something we’ve been caught up with over the last couple of years.”

Reece Hodge has been named to start the trial at outside centre, the spot likely to cause Cheika more consternation than any other given the injury-enforced absence of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani.

Cheika reiterated on Thursday his strong preference is to leave Isreal Folau, among the many NSW Waratahs who won’t take part in the trial because of their recent semi-final in South Africa, at fullback instead of shifting him to No.13.

“We’re going to see a few of the (outside centre) suspects on Friday night. Hodge will get some time there,” Cheika said.

“We might even let Jordan Petaia have a bit of time there.You might even see one of the wingers have a go there.

“Then once we get (Curtis) Rona and Israel back next week, we’ll have a look and make some decisions.”

Hamish Stewart, the uncapped 20-year-old from Queensland, will start at five-eighth but still appears some distance off being Bernard Foley’s back-up in the first Test.

Cheika cautioned Stewart has a “fair way to go around understanding the speed of the game”, while highlighting how Australia wanted Matt Toomua back in the squad as “quickly as we can”.

Toomau, who had been playing in England, signed a deal with Rugby Australia and the Melbourne Rebels this week.

“It opens up a new scope around our playmaking options. He’s obviously got a good track record for Australia,” Cheika said.

Cheika has named 13 players on an extended bench and, being a trial, rolling substitutions will be allowed.

“There’s a lot of guys who might be shifting around in positions,” he said.

Wallabies team: Tom Banks, Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, Billy Meakes, Jack Maddocks, Hamish Stewart, Will Genia, Caleb Timu, David Pocock (capt), Adam Korcyk, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jermaine Ainsley, Folau Faingaa, Scott Sio. Res: Tetera Faulkner, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Harry Hockings, Lukhan Tui, Liam Wright, Isi Naisarani, Joe Powell, Jed Holloway, Jordan Petaia, Sefa Naivalu, Jake Gordon.

Fiddes’ law for a melodic marriage

MUSICAL LIFE: Composer and pianist Ross Fiddes has balanced a legal career and a passion for music. Picture: Jonathan CarrollWHEN Ross Fiddes’song cycle Love Stories is performed at the Newcastle Music Festival on August 18, the composer himself willhear not just rhythm and melodybut also the sound of a matrimonial commitment fulfilled.
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Love Stories has been inspired by –actually, requested by –Jill Fiddes, Ross’ wife of 38 years.

“Jill said to me, ‘You’ve written all this music for other people, and we’ve been married a while. You haven’t written me anything’,” recounts Fiddes. “So I said, ‘Okay, well I better get on with it’.”

For the piece, Fiddes has composed seven songs set to the words of Australian poetJohn Shaw Nielson. Theworks for baritone and piano will be performed by Fiddes and Melbourne-based singer Michael Lampard at the festival.

It will be the first time Jill Fiddes has heard Love Storiesbeing performed. Although she didhearher husband playing the piano part.

“She said, ‘I don’t know what to think of it’,” Fiddes says.

“Is that a metaphor for the marriage?”

Helaughs and replies, “She’s gorgeous.”

Ross Fiddes has selected Paul’s Asian Affair in New Lambton for lunch. He likes the five-spice chicken.What’s more, the restaurant is close to his heart and home.

Ross and Jill Fiddes have lived in the suburb for about30 years, raising their four children here.And just down the road from the restaurant, Fiddes had his law practice for more thana decade.

For most of his life, Ross Fiddes has pursued both alegal career and his passion for composing, finding harmony in words and music.

Ross Fiddes, right, at lunch with Scott Bevan at Paul’s Asian Affair, New Lambton. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

ROSS Fiddes was born in Newcastle in 1944. He was a baby when the family moved inland to Gunnedah, because his father wasto manage a department store.

Fiddes grew up hearing music in the home. His mother, Una, played the piano and worked with choirs, and so her boy was drawn to the keys. He began learning piano when he was about seven.

“Mum taught me for two years, then I wouldn’t listen to her, so she packed me off,” Fiddes recalls, explaining he was sentto the local convent for lessons.

In his New England home, the schoolboy began playinghis way through the giants of European music:“Probably the standards like Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. And then when I got a bit older, I found Mahler and Prokofiev and Shostakovich.”

He also liked pop music – “for a bit of relaxation I used to go to the local radio station … and sit with the DJ”. Fiddes still has every album of rock band Pink Floyd.

“I was fairly eclectic,” he says.“And then I discovered Dave Brubeck and the Modern Jazz Quartet, things like that.”

More than being a musician, young Ross was a budding composer: “It was weird. I found I could do things. So I wrote them.”

He wrote his first composition when he was about 12–“Not as precocious as, say, Mozart at four. It wasn’t very good”. He can’t remember the music, only the title,Reverie.

Word of Fiddes’ playing talent travelled across the countryside. When he was 14, hewas “lassoed” by a piano teacher in Tamworth, an hour’s drive from Gunnedah.

“He had high aims for me,” Fiddes says of the teacher. “He’d already booked me in for the Con in Sydney. He made me make an LP, and that was sent over to Wilhelm Kempff, the concert pianist in Germany. “And he [Kempff]said, ‘Come over and audition’. So I was tentatively booked in there.

“But myfolks sat me down and said, ‘You know any musicians we’ve seen who look like they’re doing well?’”

COMPOSER: Ross Fiddes wrote his first piece of music when he was about 12.

The teenagerlet his dream of composingand playing music for a living drift off.

“I probably didn’t have a massive drive at that stage. I was just fiddling around with composing, which I was enjoying.”

Around that time, a locallawyer phoned Ross’ father and said he was looking for an articled clerk. At the age of 16, Fiddes veered into a law career.

For years, Fiddes fitted in his music around his job, performing with local singers, helping run eisteddfods and founding and directingthe GunnedahMadrigal Choir.

Amid the voices he found the love of his life. It was the late 1970s, and Jill Leitch, a young teacher, was in the choir.

“Was it her voice that attracted you?,” I ask.

“No, she was a damn good looking woman,” Fiddes replies.

The relationship was bornwhen he fell over her at a party:“There was a blackout. I tripped over her. Landed on her. And that felt quite nice, so I thought, ‘I’d better ask her out’.”

Ross and Jill married at the end of 1979.

“I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without her,” he says. “The support, encouragement, criticism sometimes.”

In 1987 the family moved to Newcastle:“Bigger pasture. I thought more and better music, better education [for their children].”

While workingfor the law firm Harris Wheeler, Fiddesbegan exploring Newcastle’s cultural landscape.

“I went along to a couple of concerts and wondered whether I should move back,” he recalls. “We did better back up in the bush.”

Rather than just sit back, Fiddes involved himself in the local music scene.In the early 1990s, he was the artistic director and principal conductor of Opera Hunter and the Novocastrian Arts Orchestra (now Orchestra Nova).

CONDUCTOR: Ross Fiddes, centre, with members of Orchestra Nova in 2003.

His works were also finding a home and building his name. An opera he had written in the 1980s,The Proposal, which had been workshopped by The Australian Opera, was performed in Newcastle. Fiddes composed an acclaimed opera,Abelard and Heloise, with the libretto by University of Newcastle academic and poetPaul Kavanagh –“As it turned out, he lived 20 doors down the road from us.”

With a day job and four children, Fiddes would work on his music early in the morning and late at night. But when he started his own legal practice in the mid-1990s, he stopped composing.

“I was too busy being a lawyer,” he explains. “I still played but it wasn’t regular.I was missing not being involved in music.”

After a break of about 12 years, Fiddes returned to composingwhen an American singer, Jennifer Wilson, contacted him saying, “I’ve heard some of your music. Will you write a little opera for me?”

The notes flowed once more, including composinga song cycle for a Turkish-Australian singer to commemorate the Gallipoli campaign centenary in 2015. Fiddes loves working with words, particularly poetry, and writing for voices.

“They give you not just rhythmbut a sense of what you want to do with the music,” he says.“They give you drama, joy. Whereas if you’re Beethoven, you can create all those things without words.”

These days, Fiddes has more time for composing, as he has cut back on his work as a lawyer. I wonder if he regrets not taking the music route when he was a teenager.

“Can’t call it regret,” he replies. “You could say ‘what if’. What if I’d done that, would I be somebody who could live off composing?’

“You’re lucky if you can make a living from what you enjoy, but I’ve always enjoyed law. Being able to live bothlives, if you like, has been very fulfilling.”

He practises the piano at least an hour a day, but he’s been playing more lately:“There’s this piece this damned composer wrote calledLove Stories, and the piano parts are pretty taxing. I’ve cursed him a few times.”

Composer and lawyer Ross Fiddes with Scott Bevan. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

More than having acreative role atthe Newcastle Music Festival, Fiddes isone of its founders. The festival grew out of a conversation he had with local conductor and music educator, David Banney, in late 2015.

Now in its third year, the festival, which is on until August19,allowsmusic lovers, from near and far, tohear what Newcastle is capable of.

“I don’t know of another festival that involves the locals as the primary attribute, if you like, as much,” he explains.

It’s time for Ross Fiddes to leave. He’s preparingLove Stories, ready to wow an audience. Especially one audience member who has been waiting so long for her songs.

“I do hope –I can only hope –she will love it,” says Fiddes of his wife. “Because it is genuinely for her.”

Go to newcastlemusicfestival.org

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