Archive for April 2019

Bathers’ Way: One step at a time

NEWCASTLE’S beaches are wonderful things.
Shanghai night field

White sand, consistent waves, kilometres of rocks for climbing and exploring and crystal clear water (for those old enough to remember the smell of the city beaches before the deep ocean outfall of Burwood Beach).

But beach infrastructure? Well, that’s been another story altogether.

For years on end, little seemed to change on the Newcastle coastal strip, with the crumbling seagull home that was the original Surf House standing (only just) as an image of our seaside inertia.

The new, modern building that has arisen in its place has become one of the go-to destinations for locals and visitors alike.

Now, after five years of planning, Newcastle City Council has the bit between its teeth and is now working feverishly – or as feverishly as a council can, anyway – on its Bathers’ Way project.

As part of a coastal improvement program costing $36million over 10 years, Bathers Way will provide a shared-use pathway from Merewether Baths to Nobbys Beach.

When the plans were adopted in August, the council estimated the the path would cost $15million but a short section being worked on at Merewether will cost $3million. Council officers were reluctant this week to put a firm figure on the total cost.

‘‘It’s impossible to accurately predict the cost until we get the full detailed design,’’ senior council strategist Jill Gaynor said.

By the Herald’s calculation, a $15million total would work out at about $2500 a metre.

In general terms, the plan is to work from the south to the north.

There will be exceptions – a need to stabilise the cliff at Bar Beach is one example – but essentially the council and its contract partners will work their way north from starting now at Merewether, and heading toward Nobbys.

Some of the cost will be borne by a 5per cent rate rise or ‘‘special rate variation’’, and the council will also seek federal and state government.

Money raised from surf club kiosk rents will also be set aside for coastal works.

In recent weeks, the area around Merewether surf club has been something of a war zone, with cyclone fencing and street closures making weekends, especially, a difficulty for the public.

The disruption has alienated some in the immediate area, and the Herald has heard from various Merewether locals who are unhappy with the changes.

Some of the distrust surrounds changes in traffic planning and parking. Roads that had been two-way, at the Merewether and Nobbys ends of the stretch, are being cut back to one direction to make way for the widened path.

Obviously, it is too early to tell how successful or otherwise the changes will be but the council has hired experts on the road changes. The council says the changes will be beneficial.

Another angle of concern arises from the decision to put the various beach-front kiosks to tender, and the way those tenders were handled.

Council officers made recommendations then councillors awarded the tenders in a confidential session in the last weeks of the previous council.

In the Herald on August 31, council general manager Phil Pearce said: ‘‘The current operators of Merewether and Bar Beach kiosks have secured the lease for Bar and Nobbys beach; the current lessee at Newcastle Ocean Baths will also operate from Newcastle beach. Finally, an existing CBD business owner will operate at Merewether. All revenue raised will be spent on coastal projects.’’

Behind that innocuous announcement lies a lot of disquiet.

Long-standing family-run businesses were ousted from Nobbys and Newcastle Beach.

Mark Prince, who brought coffee to Merewether with his Swells Cafe, lost that tender to another enterprising businessman, Peter James, with his expanding Juicy Beans brand.

Prince said he was not in a position to complain, having kept Bar Beach and added Nobbys, but he was unhappy that the council tender process did not recognise any goodwill for the business he had built at Merewether.

He said the same went for the family-owned businesses that he and Maitland-based Hudson Caterers had ousted from Nobbys and Newcastle beaches respectively.

Hudson Caterers manager Julianna Luxton said the council had made it clear they wanted the kiosks run by professional businesses, and the era of the ‘‘mum and dad’’ fish and chip shop was over.

Council papers say the kiosks had previously been run using ‘‘fixed’’ rents, and these had been converted to ‘‘turnover based rents’’. The new terms mean the more the kiosks earn, the more the council gets.

Luxton said businesses had to make a profit and she believed the council’s insistence on the kiosks staying open all day every day (except Christmas Day) would prove onerous in winter, especially.

‘‘If it’s raining, we’re still supposed to be open under the terms of the lease until 4.30pm or 5pm in the dead of winter, paying someone $20 an hour to stay open,’’ Luxton said.

‘‘Nobody is going to make any money in those conditions.’’

She said Hudson had nine businesses across the Hunter and did event catering to 20,000 people at a time.

‘‘To me its a normal business lease, if you lose one you work out how you lost it and you try to get it back in five years’ time and even though Mark has other businesses too, Merewether was his cafe and he lost it, and I can see where he is hurting,’’ Luxton said.

‘‘But everyone has to move forward and look on the bright side of things.’’

Merewether woman Glenis Powell, a retired school teacher whose latter day pursuits include a community newsletter called Making Waves, says the council has alienated a lot of people at Merewether with a lot of glossy pamphlets and ‘‘pretend’’ consultation.

‘‘The microcosm of the community has gone out the window,’’ Powell said.

Former councillor Aaron Buman – who had previously raised concerns about council tendering processes – said councillors were not told the identity of the winning Merewether tenderer beyond the company name, Alepohori Pty Ltd.

‘‘We didn’t know who that was, and I don’t think we needed to know,’’ he said.

He said the council shakeup of the kiosks and the other coastal work was ‘‘years overdue’’.

He knew the surf clubs were unhappy at losing control of the kiosks but the coastal reserve trust that the council had set up with Hunter Surf Life Saving chief executive Rhonda Scruton and former Newcastle MP Jodi McKay would hopefully return enough money to the clubs to improve their finances.

‘‘Newcastle people will complain about anything, but we have to get people out of their cars and give the beach and the foreshore back to the pedestrians,’’ Buman said.

The successful Merewether tenderer, Peter James, said he felt like the new kid on the block and was conscious of setting up shop in a very ‘‘territorial area’’.

‘‘I totally understand the situation because if it wasn’t for Mark [Prince] I wouldn’t have the opportunity to set up in an area that was created by him,’’ James said.

‘‘But Mark isn’t the only one. There’s a family at Nobbys had been there for 30years that isn’t there any more.

‘‘But it’s about us giving back to the community, because the rent I pay to the council goes back to be spent on coastal projects.’’

James said he was expecting things to be ‘‘very negative’’ when he arrived but he had been ‘‘totally overwhelmed’’ by the response from the locals.

He understood the complaints about disruption – his business had been impacted by a lack of access – but he was ‘‘looking forward to the next five years, not worrying about the next few months’’.

MAKING WAVES: Merewether’s Glenis Powell has criticised the council’s ‘‘pretend’’ consultation. Picture: Simone De Peak

TRAVEL: Eating the past

After being inspired to travel to Vietnam by a TV cooking show, it was no surprise much of our time in the country was spent discovering new foods.
Shanghai night field

But the unexpected boon of the trip was uncovering the long and often turbulent history of the people who so determinedly survived decades of conflict and the rich influence of the French on Vietnamese culture.

My partner and I spent about five days exploring Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). We arrived late at night and, like many Asian cities, Ho Chi Minh was just hitting its stride. As we were warned by our friends, the streets were packed with cars, people on scooters and bikes, all rushing from one place to another and happily beeping along the way.

We saw families of five packed onto a single scooter, couples with the ladies riding side-saddle in the scooter pillion and street street sellers who pack their scooter or bicycle to the hilt with wares for sale, be it flowers, bags or rice or even cages of puppies.

Despite the seeming lack of road rules for motorists (apart from near constant beeping), there are some rules worth following as a pedestrian. Wait for a slight easing in traffic and then walk steadily across the street. Don’t worry about the scooters whizzing towards you – they are well-used to pedestrians and will judge your walking speed and dodge around you if needs be. It does take nerves of steel the first few times you cross the road but soon enough you’ll be confidently walking into a moving wall of scooters.

We spent a few days exploring Ho Chi Minh on foot, walking to the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, post office and more.

The most impressive – and perhaps most bizarre – sight of our tour was the Reunification Palace.

The guide books aren’t kidding when they say time has stood still here since 1975. Formerly known as Independence Palace, the building was the site of one of the defining images of the fall of Ho Chi Minh, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through its gates on April 30, 1975.

Restored tanks and the odd jet are on display in the leafy grounds of the palace, but the real fascination lines within. Room after room displays modest yet opulent ’60s and ’70s interiors. There are war rooms, libraries, bedrooms, dining rooms as well as a bar and rooftop nightclub. In levels below the palace there are a myriad of tunnels and rooms lined with maps, phones, radios, tactical charts and even a bedroom for the president should conflict beak out.

A short walk away is the War Remnants Museum, the most moving part of the entire trip. Once you’ve dodged the fellow tourists checking out the tanks, jets and military equipment outside, you can head inside for heart-wrenching accounts of the impact of the Vietnam War on the country and its people. There are a few levels of in-depth information about jails, tortures, escapes and a section dedicated to the victims of Agent Orange.

Other sights worth checking out on a walking tour of Ho Chi Minh include the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon Opera House) and the nearby Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Hotel de Ville de Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee headquarters). Both have beautifully decorated facades and are worth seeing by day and night.

Even just wandering the streets and alleys of Ho Chi Minh offers an insight into Vietnamese life, so driven by the capitalism borrowed from the West but still permeated by the influence of the government (as seen in the numerous propaganda-style posters littering the streetscape).

Make time to visit the bar at the famous Rex Hotel where the US military command held a daily conference (dubbed ‘‘The Five O’Clock Follies’’ by cynical journalists) and the famous rooftop bar. Though a little expensive by Vietnamese standards, the cocktails are delicious and the views from the rooftop well worth the price.

Other rooftop bars popular with tourists include Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle, Shri and the newest kid on the block, Chill Sky Bar. Chill Sky Bar offers some of the best views over the city but it is packed with tourists rather than locals as is the nearby Le Pub.

Another tourist must-see is Ben Thanh market, even if you just stroll through to get a feel of the place. Yes, it has row upon row of fake handbags, sunglasses, tacky T-shirts, liquor with snakes and scorpions and more, but it’s a quintessential part of the Vietnamese tourist experience. Delve into the less visited alleys of the market to get a better taste of real Vietnamese markets.

PETAL POWER: A flower seller in Ho Chi Minh while blooms frame Hotel de Ville de Saigon.

Visit the fresh food area and check out the freshly cooked food, fruit, meat, fish and flowers. If you’re game to eat street food (as we were) tuck into some pho, banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) or a juice made from freshly-squeezed sugar cane.

Pho stalls also dot most street corners so check out which stalls are popular with locals and dive in. If in doubt watch the food being prepared by the vendor. Often they are used to the enquiring eyes of tourists and will be able to give you some kind of description of the dish. Bear in mind it’s best to eat food cooked in front of you and avoid ice unless you’re at a westernised establishment (you can’t drink tap water in Vietnam) but generally we dove into street food opportunities without too many consequences.

Also keep your eyes peeled for patisseries in Ho Chi Minh (a remnant of the French occupation of parts of the country) which can be a quiet and usually airconditioned stop from the chaos on the streets. Be sure to also make time to relax at a coffee house. Even if you’re not a caffeine addict, take a punt and try the local brew. The coffee houses serve ca phe da or cafe da (Vietnamese iced coffee) and Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk.

SO FRESH: In Vietnam, trying new street foods is thrilling. PICTURE: KATE TARALA

Israel launches airstrikes on Gaza

An Israeli man and child wait for a bus to leave town on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images An Israeli soldier lies on the ground as missiles are fired from an Iron Dome anti-missile station near the city of Beer Sheva, Israel. Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images
Shanghai night field

An Israeli soldier lies on the ground as missiles are fired from an Iron Dome anti-missile station near the city of Beer Sheva, Israel. Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Missiles are fired into the air from an Iron Dome anti-missile station near the city of Beer Sheva, Israel. Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

An Israeli soldier lies on the ground as missiles are fired from an Iron Dome anti-missile station near the city of Beer Sheva, Israel. Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

A plume of smoke rises over Gaza during an Israeli air strike, as seen from Sderot in Israel. A rocket attack on an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi, Israel earlier claimed three lives, some 24 hours after the IDF targeted nearly 200 sites in the Gaza Strip, killing Ahmed Jabari, a top military commander of Hamas, in the process. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

An Israeli woman and children sit inside a bomb shelter in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli stand outside a bomb shelter in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

An Israeli woman and children sit inside a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

An Israeli woman sits inside a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli children sit in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli children sit in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israelis stay in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israelis stay in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israelis watch TV in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israelis watch Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on TV in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israelis watch Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on TV in a bomb shelter on November 14, 2012 in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli children sit in a bomb shelter in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli children play games at a bomb shelter in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli children play games at a bomb shelter in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israelis watch TV in a bomb shelter in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

People wait for a bus to leave town on in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

An Israeli man and child wait for a bus to leave town on in Netivot, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The power of one: Luis Palau

EVANGELIST Luis Palau vividly remembers the death of his father. He was just 10, his father 34. The successful businessman was struck down by pneumonia.
Shanghai night field

‘‘There was no penicillin in Argentina in those days, at end of World War II,’’ recalls Palau on the phone from his home in Portland, Oregon.

‘‘He died singing, clapping his hands and saying, in the words of Saint Paul in the Bible, ‘I’m going to be with Jesus, which is better by far’, and he was gone.

‘‘I said to myself, you know, this is the way people should die – singing and knowing where they’re going. That’s when I started thinking that I should help as many people as I can to meet God and to have the assurance of eternal life.’’

Now 77, Palau is upfront about his bumpy spiritual path which saw him rebel as a teenager while attending an Anglican boarding school in his birthplace of Buenos Aires.

‘‘We have a carnival week, you know, just before holy week begins, before Easter,’’ says Palau, whose responses are coloured by his Spanish accent and liberal use of the Americanism ‘‘you know’’.

‘‘You party like crazy because then you have to behave and repent. I was 17 and getting ready to goof off with some of my friends and I felt that if I kept going this way, too much partying, too much drinking, I was going to mess up my life. It was time to shape up once and for all.

‘‘I was at my grandmother’s home and I felt I should get serious with God. I knelt by the bed and I said, ‘God, get me out of this dance, this whole weekend, so I don’t stumble and do something really foolish’. He gave me the heart to change; I started over with God.’’

Palau, the founder and CEO of the Luis Palau Association – his 49-year-old son Kevin is the president – has now shared the gospel with more than 25million people in 70 countries. Before settling in the United States in 1972 with his American wife Patricia, whom he met while studying theology at Multnomah University in Oregon, Palau was known as the Billy Graham of Latin America.

His festivals attract thousands of people; as many as 425,000 at a two-day event in Guatemala City in 2009 and 80,000 over two days in Sacramento in June. More than 25,000 people are expected to flock to the Newcastle Foreshore this weekend for CityFest, a free event during which Palau and his son Andrew will preach.

‘‘He preaches the gospel just like I do, only he does it better,’’ boasts Palau of his 47-year-old son (he has four children, all sons).

‘‘To be quite honest, more people come to Christ when he’s preaching than when I am,’’ he laughs. ‘‘Maybe he learnt from watching not what to do. He is really gifted; this isn’t something you create, you don’t manipulate a person [to become a preacher].’’

Palau believes the ability to evangelise is a gift from God.

‘‘The Bible puts it that it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit,’’ he says.

‘‘You have a passion to reach out to people in need, and it takes empathy to understand people and to love them and not despise them just because of their behaviour. And you also then try to communicate deep truths but in a simple fashion. You have to be able to communicate with people of all levels, from the highly educated to children.

‘‘It’s also the ability to communicate the good news in a winning fashion to people who are not used to it. An evangelist stands at the door of the kingdom of God and says, ‘Come in, come in’.’’

Andrew Palau’s decision to become an evangelist echoes that of Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who also initially turned his back on his father’s crusades.

‘‘He [Andrew] just wanted to party, he wasn’t interested in spiritual things,’’ remembers Palau, who remains close to the ailing 94-year-old Billy Graham. The leader opened doors for Palau in the US.

‘‘Then at 27, we were having a festival in Kingston, Jamaica, and Andrew attended. He wasn’t there to go to church or Christian events; he was going to fish, play tennis, meet girls, and drink Jamaican beer. Then on the closing night, God spoke to his conscience and his heart and he truly repented and gave his life to Christ.

‘‘He was wild; he was in the world, as we say. Then his life turned around; he met a beautiful Jamaican girl and they married and have two boys and adopted a little girl from Ethiopia.’’

Palau has no doubt Andrew can fill his shoes and he has focused on ensuring that the Luis Palau Association will continue after his death. ‘‘If I should go down tomorrow, we feel the team can go forward,’’ he says.

‘‘My sons are developing their own relationships, building connections. We are at peace, my wife and I, that if we shut down our own work tomorrow, it will go on. I will start to slow down ever so slightly, which will please Pat. We’ve been married 51 years and we worked out we’ve been separated 17 years with all my travelling and working.

‘‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but you also have to be careful because you can grow distant.’’

Palau is full of praise for Billy Graham, who counselled US presidents from Eisenhower to Bush.

‘‘I met him when Pat and I were just married, way back in 1962. He was having one of his crusades in California and I volunteered with my wife. One day he had a breakfast when he was in town with all his team members and volunteers, and it just worked out that I sat smack bang in front of him. I didn’t request it, it just happened this way.

‘‘He asked me questions, encouraged me and stayed in touch with me. He gave me opportunities to preach – as a young fellow I had no right to it – but God evidently wanted him to do it for me. He gave me superb advice. He’s a very transparent man; all of his life he’s kept above reproach, kept his nose clean financially, personally. He’s one of those men, you can’t point the finger at a single mistake. I have always tried to follow his lead; be as transparent and as honest as you can, don’t change your message, which should remain constant and strong.

‘‘I revere him.’’

Like Graham, Palau is determined to reach out to people from all walks of life. He will hold festivals – updated versions of Graham’s crusades featuring skateboarding and music events for young people – in Alaska next year and New York City in 2014. He has great affection for Australia and regards Newcastle fondly having preached here in 1979 and 1982. He also made a short visit last December to begin work on CityFest, which has united churches throughout the Hunter and enlisted the support of 750 volunteers.

‘‘I’m looking forward to meeting your new mayor Jeff McCloy,’’ says Palau after asking about the weather.

‘‘A successful business with a love for the community is a good combination.’’

While more than happy to meet politicians and world leaders, Palau remains tight-lipped about his own politics and believes that they have no place on the stage.

‘‘Being brought up in Argentina, where politics was very dangerous, I learnt very early on that a person like me should abstain completely from political activity.

‘‘I think clergy can speak about moral issues, but when you get into partisan politics then it’s certainly not for a person like me, and in my opinion any Christian clergyman, to speak publicly. You can be a believer in Jesus and vote for whatever party you want. I don’t have an answer from God about who should be president. You vote as your conscience dictates.’’

Our phone chat happens on the eve of the United States presidential elections and Palau, who has already sent off his postal vote, is eager to overturn the popular perception that being Christian in the US automatically means one is Republican voter.

‘‘The studies show that 55per cent of Americans who came to be followers of Jesus vote for the Democratic party; it has always been the party of the working man. There are 45million Latin Americans in the USA and they tend to vote Democratic, not because they aren’t conservative in their personal lifestyle, but because they feel the Democratic party serves their needs better than the Republican party.’’

He also abstains from commenting on social issues such as gay marriage. He says he doesn’t belong to one particular denomination, but ‘‘works with all of them’’.

‘‘I am asked often [to comment], but I truly feel that when an issue is politicised, I definitely must stay away. I want to draw people to God, I don’t want to alienate people. When issues get politicised, the emotions get very high, people can get angry before they hear you out.’’

Could his decision be interpreted as cowardly?

‘‘It’s not cowardice, it’s just wisdom,’’ he counters without a hint of tension.

‘‘A person in my position should not get involved in emotional issues; people can make their own decisions, they’re pretty bright. Read the scriptures for yourself and make your own decision.’’

This year, Palau and Patricia returned to the church in Buenos Aires where he was first encouraged to preach to help celebrate its 75th anniversary. The Rincon Church is interdenominational and was a pivotal factor in guiding Palau.

‘‘They took me in as a teenager looking for direction, baptised me and taught me. I learnt the Bible, I practised preaching on street corners.’’

Palau then joined forces with three ‘‘buddies’’ and started a daily lunchtime radio program.

‘‘We’d make comments on the news of the day, you know, if there’d been a plane crash, or world event, then give a little Christian application to it.’’

Palau was only 19. The young men then appealed to ‘‘three business fellows’’ in the congregation and asked them to buy a large tent that they used to host a summer of Christian meetings for children and adults.

His big break came while working at the Bank of London in Buenos Aires as a 25-year-old.

‘‘Two Americans came by and because I spoke English, I helped them. One had been a missionary to China and a prisoner under Mao Zedong and the other a minister in California. We chatted and they encouraged me to study in the US and got some business people to provide the cash. My mother said, ‘All right, go’ and I went to Oregon to study a one-year graduate course in theology and that’s where I met Pat.’’

The couple married and travelled as missionaries to Costa Rica for four years before moving on to Columbia and Mexico. Palau has always been keen to engage people through the media – be it TV, radio, and now Twitter and Facebook.

‘‘My team members who are younger do that job [social media], you know, I am an old guy,’’ he laughs.

‘‘It really is amazing; it’s kind of exciting, actually. It’s a new day and you’ve got to adapt to it and we’re learning, we’re learning, yeah!’’

CityFest is a free event this weekend at the Newcastle Foreshore. Kids’ activities start at noon. Luis Palau will preach from 7.15 each night. His son, Andrew, will preach tomorrow from 5pm. See luispalaucityfest上海夜网m.

CHARISMA: Luis Palau’s festivals attract tens of thousands of people.