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Flights of fancy

Pigeon fancier John Blackney has missed the thrill of racing his birds. Picture: Lucy Di Paolo About 150 of Felice Esposito’s pigeons have been wiped out by paramyxovirus. Picture: Marco De Luca
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Pigeon fanciers have been in lockdown since hundreds of their birds were infected with a deadly virus last year. As a statewide ban on races and shows lifted last week, some owners say they are still struggling to recover. Cameron Lucadou-Wells reports.

THE natural highs of pigeon racing are “better than sex”, says racing pigeon owner John Blackney. When the first of his racing pigeons returns from King Island or another race point 1000 kilometres from his Springvale home, he says he feels his heart flutter with excitement.

“It’s the biggest thrill you can get — you sit in the backyard. You’re waiting, you’re waiting and then you see a pigeon arrive in the sky. For seven seconds, your heart flutters. When that first flier hits your loft . . .’’

The thrill makes the many hours of training and caring for his 25 birds worth it, Blackney says. Some owners pay up to $10,000 for a bird, imported from Europe or the US — “it’s a drug that sucks you in’’.

The speed and stamina of the birds, as well as their uncanny homing instincts, are phenomenal. With a tail wind, they can fly up to 10 hours at 100km/h in race conditions.

But over the past seven months Blackney, like hundreds of other pigeon racers in Victoria, is missing the thrill of the comp. Pigeon racing, like pigeon shows and sales, has been on hold due to a statewide outbreak of pigeon paramyxovirus that has killed pet and wild pigeons across the state.

At least 76 lofts have been infected and 80 contaminated feral pigeons have been found in greater Melbourne.

Last September, the Department of Primary Industries slapped a ban on pigeon activities. It lifted the ban on March 25, months before trials of a vaccine against the virus are expected to be completed.

For some hapless pigeon breeders, up to 100 per cent of their flock have been wiped out.

Many of the birds die within three days of contracting the virus. Others are reduced to ‘headwobblers’ and have to be hand-fed because they can’t hold up their heads. If they recover, it may take up to 12 months of intensive treatment and hand-rearing by their owners.

World champion show pigeon breeder Felice Esposito of Sunshine had half of his 300 pigeons — and all but one young pair of his best, selectively bred English longface tumblers — wiped out by the virus.

It has taken vigilance and a cocktail of medications to save the rest of his birds. At worst, he was losing seven pigeons a day and nursing up to 30 at a time.

“They’re some of the world’s best pigeons. I’ve spent a lot of money on them. It feels like 20 years has gone down the drain.’’

Esposito can only guess how his flock caught the virus, despite never being let out to fly. “Hopefully, the one pair of my best birds can reproduce their bloodline.’’

Blackney, who is also president of Dandenong Racing Pigeon Society, says two of his club’s 25 members have lost birds to the disease. His club and other pigeon clubs have been told they can resume racing and shows if they ensure all competing birds are vaccinated.

Racers have been allowed to ‘range’ or fly around an owner’s loft in the meantime but the usual training — including ‘tossing’ out a bird kilometres from home — has ceased.

“We’ve been like a mother waiting for the past 10 months,’’ Blackney says. “It’s pretty boring.’’

There’s speculation but no proof that the virus may have landed on Victoria’s shores through a smuggled bird. The virus, prevalent worldwide for more than 20 years, had been managed with a paramyxovirus vaccine.

The vaccine has backing from the state’s Department of Primary Industries but it hasn’t been approved by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

So the department has recommended a four-week course of a vaccine used for treating Newcastle disease in poultry. The cost of a 1000-bird dose is about $200.

Inoculation is the way of the future, Blackney says. “The virus is going to be here for the rest of our days. Everyone is going to have to inoculate.’’

There is hope that shows and races in Victoria could resume if enough pigeons are vaccinated before the end of the racing season in July.

Pigeon clubs have funded a trial of the Newcastle disease vaccine as their members rush to inoculate their birds.

But vaccinations didn’t seem high on the agenda among buyers and sellers at MSK auction house in Dandenong last Tuesday.

The auction was abuzz, with more than 50 show and racing pigeons on offer as the house resumed its pigeon sales for the first time since the lifting of the ban.

One breeder and seller, ‘Billy’ of Frankston, said he hadn’t vaccinated his 20-odd show pigeons for sale — “vaccination doesn’t help. There’s nothing you can do about the virus’’.

He knew of five owners whose birds had been killed by the virus. “They got medicine injections for the birds but it doesn’t help. The pigeons just lose their interest to live.’’

One buyer who parcelled up about a dozen racing pigeons into cardboard boxes said she knew nothing about the virus.

National champion show pigeon breeder ‘Jeff’, who breeds English longface tumblers and show-pen homers at his Frankston lofts, described the market sellers who didn’t vaccinate as “clowns”.

“They will kill their own backyard-flyer tribe out. They’ve got nothing to protect their birds.’’

Jeff, a member of Dandenong Fancy Pigeon Society, has been luckier than some — his birds have been spared the virus. But the breeder culled 100 of his birds a month ago because he couldn’t sell them or even give them away under the statewide ban. Now, with his birds vaccinated and ban lifted, he can at least shift his surplus birds.

The outbreak put a halt to pigeon shows nationwide. Show organisers have opted to shut down national shows of up to 4000 entries rather than simply ban Victorian pigeons.

Jeff says he is “finished for two or three years’’ as a national show pigeon competitor. “I won’t be able to take my birds interstate until a national vaccination program happens. I will be locked down and won’t be able to move my birds.

“If there isn’t a national agreement among states to vaccinate, a lot of people will leave the industry.’’

Bird veterinarian Colin Walker says there is no need for national vaccinations, since the disease hasn’t yet escaped state borders. “Even if a bird is vaccinated, it could still carry the disease and potentially carry it out of the state. The DPI is simply trying to stop the spread of the disease.’’

Department of Primary Industries chief veterinary officer Andrew Cameron said the disease was established, endemic and continuing to spread among feral pigeons in greater Melbourne.

He said the Newcastle vaccine should ensure a return to “degree of normalcy’’ for pigeon flyers and breeders.

“We’ve evaluated that it is likely to work.

“People would be foolhardy not to vaccinate their birds because the virus won’t go away.’’

He said rather than compel sellers at markets to vaccinate, it should be a case of ‘buyer beware’.

“I’d say it’s up to the buyer — they should not buy a bird unless the seller can prove they’ve vaccinated the birds.

“If they’re buying birds that aren’t vaccinated, they should keep them isolated before they’re introduced to their other birds.’’

Love of the cold and tribute to dad

Spin away: Marion Wheatland braved the cold, spinning woollen balaclavas outside Mawson’s Hut in Antarctica. Picture: Sam StiglecANTARCTICA remains a freezing, barren continent rarely visited, but Boronia’s Marion Wheatland is one of the few who have ventured to the cold south.
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She sought to pay tribute to Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, and set off to Antarctica on the 100th anniversary of his 1911 expedition.

Late last year, she took her prized possession, a wool spinning wheel, and began to make replica balaclavas of what Mawson and his team of 18 men wore, in the same icy terrain they once explored.

Ms Wheatland spoke about her trip to an eager group of locals at The Basin Community House, detailing her adventures.

She said she felt inspired to go to Antarctica after her father, a former history teacher at Boronia High School, died five years ago.

“My father gave me a love of history. I wanted to do something that he would approve of, to honour him.”

Ms Wheatland, a Canadian now living in what she calls her “adopted country” of Australia” has a natural love of the cold – “I have ice in my blood from Canada”.

Training for the trip included taking her spinning wheel to the top of Victoria’s Mt Hotham, and spinning woollen balaclavas that she now sells to fund the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, which each year sends a team of restorers, carpenters and other maintenance workers to preserve the huts.

“The Mawson’s Huts are archaeological sites, so their preservation is very important,” Ms Wheatland said.

She has been guest speaking for the past 12 months, and donates any money from this to the foundation, as well as money raised from the sale of the balaclavas.

She has donated more than $2000 to the foundation, which she handed over in a ceremony attended by Governor-General Quentin Bryce last December.

Play the macarena

Musical holidays: Jon Madin will bring his quirky instruments to the Knox Community Arts Centre these school holidays.CELLOS that echo, bicycles that play music and a 1.8-metre-long xylophone lookalike are all part of Jon Madin’s musical workshop next Tuesday.
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The school holiday program will be held at Knox Community Arts Centre and participants don’t need to have any musical talent.

“It’s about having fun. A lot of people think that when you play music it’s about getting it right,” Madin says. “But there’s no getting it wrong in this class.”

The musical guru will bring along some of his echo cellos, marimbas and other unusual instruments. Children will play the marimbas in groups of three and the musical notes are written on the keys. There will be popular songs like We Will Rock You and Macarena to play, plus some of his quirky, original tunes.

Many children, and even adults, who come along to the workshop fall in love with music, Madin says. “They’re often inspired to take up a musical instrument after the class because they have so much fun.”

If you’re intrigued by what it’s all about, type Madin’s name into YouTube and take a look at his videos.

During the school holidays, KCAC is also hosting a workshop called Go Loopy at which children can create their own digital music.

Digital Learning Hub manager Peter Wakefield says children will enter the “travelling lab” and choose their own style, like hip-hop or classical, then select, layer and manipulate loops at different speeds to create a song.

Adults are also encouraged to join in. Wakefield says he often sees families working together to make the big musical decisions.

The marimba workshop is at KCAC next Tuesday, with hour-long sessions at 9.30am, 11am and 1pm. The Go Loopy workshop is at KCAC on Thursday, April 12 with the same session times available. Details:

SEABL: Knox Raiders in big comeback

KNOX Raiders men conjured another memorable comeback in a win over rivals Kilsyth Cobras at Knox Stadium in the SEABL men’s competition on Saturday night
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The Cobras held a 34-19 quarter-time lead over the Raiders and maintained a double-figure advantage at half-time before the Raiders stormed back in the second half, taking a late lead behind the play of CJ Massingale (27 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and John Phillip (21 points, 10 rebounds).

The Raiders tied the game at 62-62 at three-quarter-time before taking their first lead with Lester Strong basket early in the final term.

From that point, the game see-sawed before a running-jump shot from Massingale with 50 seconds to go gave the Raiders the lead for good.

The Cobras did get one final chance to put the game into overtime as Garfield Blair (18 points) had a three-point shot that missed, followed up Tim Lang (22 points, 10 rebounds), whose desperate three-pointer was also wide.

Phillip said the Raiders had stuck to the task in the second half following a half-time “rev up” from coach Graham Longstaff. “We are a veteran team and we know what each player can do, especially in late game situations,” he said.

The win was even more impressive for the Raiders as star guard Mick Hill was held out of the match due to a calf injury.

Hill warmed up but was deemed not fit enough to play as emerging guard Justin Aver (13 points, five rebounds) took his place in the starting line-up and made several key plays. One was an offensive rebound in the final minutes that all but killed off the Cobras’ comeback hopes.

“Justin was amazing out there,” Phillip said. “He took some big rebounds. We don’t see that too much at training so he must have brought it out special for this game. He stepped up and took his opportunity.”

Cobras guard Zach Malvik (13 points) said his side was disappointed to drop the match after such a good start.

“We went away from what we were doing in the first quarter,” he said. “We are disappointed but we will look to the next few games to get some more wins.”

The Raiders women also beat their Cobras counterparts 69-54 in the SEABL competition on Saturday night.

Raiders star Odette Andrew continued her great start to the season with a game-high 16 points. The Cobras were led by Hayley Moffatt (14 points) and Chantella Perera (12points).

The Raiders also won the Cystic Fibrosis Cup, an annual trophy played between the two clubs.

EFL: From ‘burbs to Borough

Moving up: Dean Grice has found a place in Port Melbourne’s senior VFL side. Picture: Cyan Sporting ImagesYOU could count on one finger how many Eastern Football League division 3 players could go straight to the Victorian Football League seniors.
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That player is Dean Grice. The former Boronia midfielder left his beloved Hawks late last year after VFL premier Port Melbourne offered him a chance to do the preseason.

He has played the first two games of the VFL season in the Borough’s senior side, playing on the wing and in midfield as the club extended its league record-winning streak to 23 wins.

Initially the move cut Grice deeply as the Boronia resident was desperate to help his emerging side to a senior EFL premiership. Grice had played at the Hawks since he was nine years old.

Instead, the offer to try big league football was too good to refuse.

“I got a phone call in mid-November from the general manager asking me to come and train,” Grice said. “I’ve had offers in the past but just blown it off because I want to win a flag at Boronia.

“But this time I thought I would do it. Worse comes to worse I would come back a lot fitter. Then after a few sessions they wanted to sign me up, so I thought, why not? I didn’t want to die wondering.”

Grice played three preseason games in the Borough’s development side and was shocked to receive a late senior call-up in round 1.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “I was put on the ball straight up so I couldn’t get any nerves on the bench. I was straight in there.

“I’ve got to play my role more than chasing the footy. I let older guys get under the ball and play a more defensive role.”

Despite being just 24 years old, Grice won his third division 3 league best and fairest award last season and was still content to remain at his home club after the Hawks fell short in last year’s division 3 finals. Grice wanted nothing more than to help the Hawks to the premiership.

Grice is still based in Boronia and works full time as a tradesman while training three times at week in Port Melbourne and playing matches. “It’s been pretty hectic. I certainly don’t get to head out with my mates any more, but it’s been worth it,” he said.

Hawks president Tim Currie said Grice had left with the club’s blessings, although he had started drawing supporters away.

“We played a practice match last weekend and there were more people in the clubrooms watching Dean on ABC than watching the match,” Currie joked.

Grice said he was awed by the support of his home club. “In my first match about 30 people from the club came and watched. A few Port Melbourne people labelled it Grice’s pocket,” he said.

While Grice does miss his home club, the chance to play elite football is a huge step in his career. “We have a really good chance of going back to back, so to be part of that would be outrageously good.”

FFV: Anniversary special for Mooroolbark

MOOROOLBARK opened its golden jubilee league season – the club was formed in 1962 – with a home fixture against Sandringham at Esther Park on Saturday.
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The Barkers started well, with a good one-two down the left between Yannis Christoforou and Doug Shields supplying Brechan Adams, who turn smartly and shot just wide.

On 17 minutes, Nhlanhla Dube won a tackle and found Craig Kerr. He delivered a lovely cross-field ball to Christoforou, whose first touch took the ball too close to the Sandy goalkeeper.

The breakthrough came just before half-time. The Barkers had a free-kick in midfield, Liam Swaine put a good ball in to the near post, where Shields was waiting with a well-taken header to open the scoring.

Almost immediately, Adams skipped clear of the defence and lobbed Sandy keeper Adam Chesterton, but the ball went narrowly wide.

Following a short spell of Barker ascendancy, the home side now got careless. A game of pinball in the Barkers half saw the ball finally fall to Chris Leeming, in space about 20 yards out. He hit a lovely curling shot beyond the dive of Erik Deichen to equalise.

With just under half an hour to go, the home side produced the move of the match.

Mergs Topali, in attacking midfield, found Dube on the right wing. Some very neat interplay between the two ended with Dube crossing beautifully for Adams, whose deft glancing header gave Chesterton no chance – it will be surprising if Barkers score a better goal all year.

However, this brilliance was almost undone five minutes later, as a fine half-volley from Fitzpatrick brought a superb save from Deichen, diving low to his left.

The Barkers’ nerves were finally calmed when in stoppage time as Christoforou squared to Holly in space.

Alex Holly’s shot was stopped by Chesterton, but the substitute followed up and netted the rebound for his first senior goal to seal the win.

Barkers reserves also grabbed the three points with a 2-1 win, the goals coming from Keegan Coe and Trent Hardcastle.

EFL: Finding winning form is the common goal

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Coach: Peter Bennett

Ins: Craig Folino (East Ringwood), Jess Moore (Ferntree Gully), Ryan Henderson, Lachlan Mckernan (both Vermont).

Outs: Dean Grice (Port Melbourne).

Chances: The Hawks will again shape as a premiership contender as long as they can put their best side on the field. Midfielder star Dean Grice is a major loss but Folino is as good a replacement as you could find. The Hawks will be competitive once again and with a young midfield could challenge for the flag. Moore is another key signing whose height will be valuable to the Hawks.


Coach: Steve Buckle

Ins: Michael Costello (Norwood).

Outs: David Want (Eastern Lions).

Chances: Heathmont will challenge sides in the division 3 despite it being their first season up. Expect a skilled, committed attack from the Jets, who will again look to stars Leigh Odermatt, Darren Sheen and Anthony Hickey to star.

Chirnside Park

Coach: Brett Davidson

Ins: Simon Fraser (Kyabram), Marcus Baxter (Lilydale), James Iacono (YVMDFL), Matt McNeil (break).

Outs: None.

Chances: Expect a much fitter and deeper Panthers side this season after Davidson spent the off-season building his side’s fitness. Fraser, Baxter and Iacono should all make the senior team better. Davidson said the Panthers’ depth from players six to 16 had improved significantly.


Coach: Matt Price

Ins: Jake Uslar (YVMDFL), Matt Lawrence (Lilydale).

Outs: None.

Chances: Club veteran Matt Price takes on the coaching reins this season and expects his club to push for a finals place. But with a young list, Price will also be patient and hope he can push his side towards a successful season. Lawrence and Uslar look likely to add quality to the Cougars’ midfield.

North Ringwood

Coach: Brett Moyle

Ins: Max Melzer (Balwyn), Tom Buckley (Bright), Josh Barrett (Lilydale).

Outs: Daniel Walls (retired).

Chances: The Saints expect to be thereabouts once again. Walls will be a loss after kicking more than 40 goals last season but Moyle expects Melzer to make an impact at division 3 level while Buckley and Barrett should add creativity and run to the Saints’ forward line.


Coach: Nick Tennant

Ins: Ryan Grinter (NFL).

Outs: Tom Gysberts (Kilsyth).

Chances: The Redbacks again want to press for a finals berth. Whether they get there remains to be seen but expect a young, skilled side in 2012. Grinter returns to the club from the Northern Football League.

Glen Waverley Hawks

Coach: Mick Gaul

Ins: Sam Zikman (Mulgrave), Karl Schoenmaekers (VAFA).

Outs: None.

Chances: With height up forward and strong ball-winners in midfield the Hawks won’t be pushovers.

Wantirna South

Coach: Matt Clarke

Ins: Chris Baker (Kilsyth), Harry Melzer (Balwyn), Jarryd Briscoe (Balwyn), Sam Bates (Nunawading).

Outs: David Edgcumbe (Vermont).

Chances: After two relegations Wantirna South is looking to happier days in 2012 and possibly a finals appearance. After pumping games into their teenage senior players last year, Clarke expects his side to be much stronger this term. Melzer and Briscoe should add much-needed muscle and experience to their midfield.

Templestowe, Warrandyte, Mitcham and Whitehorse Pioneers also play in division 3.


The Basin

Coach: Michael Glassborrow.

Ins: Clinton King (Keysborough), Clinton Jones (Vermont).

Outs: None.

Chances: The Basin was shattered to miss out in last year’s elimination final, so expect it to press hard for the finals although the finals race again looks tight.

Ferntree Gully

Coach: Bernie Ryan

Ins: Many.

Outs: Many.

Chances: New coach Ryan should have the Eagles up and about although he may need a season to get his side into line time before making a real push for the flag.

South Belgrave

Coach: Nick Cox

Ins: Dean Burnell (EDFL), Anthony Willenberg (Mulgrave), Marty De Luca (Mulgrave),

Outs: None.

Chances: Cox believes his side will start slower than last year as the Saints work towards playing their best football in the second half of the season leading into the finals. South Belgrave was heartbroken to miss out last year, so expect a more determined side in 2012. Willenberg and De Luca add size to their side while Burnell is tipped to make an impact and centurion goalkicker Lucas Appleby will go around again.

Park Orchards Sharks

Coach: Peter Nicholson

Ins: Everyone.

Outs: None.

Chances: Park Orchards has already notched a win over Ivanhoe Amateurs during the preseason and hope to add more victories to their maiden EFL campaign. Nicholson is pleased with his list but the realities of the first season could see the Sharks have some tough days.


Coach: Simon Caldwell

Ins: Ton Gysberts (Ringwood), David Anderson (VAFA).

Outs: Chris Baker (Wantirna South), Adam Oxley, Jai Smith (both Wandin).

Chances: Kilsyth has focused on its young players in the off-season and will push its teenage talent into the seniors. Expect a young and exciting Cougars side. Caldwell said the spirit around the club has never been better. Hopefully, the results follow.


Coach: Chris Goodlet

Ins: Ash Froud (Vermont), Jake Straughair (break), Bryce Litchfield (Lilydale).

Outs: None.

Chances: The Cats plan on becoming a premiership contender. With high-powered recruits like Froud and Litchfield and returning stars like captain Mark Cullen, expect them to go close. Health and fitness will be the key areas for the Cats. If they are healthy come finals time, look out. Nunawading, Forest Hill, Surrey Park, Eastern Lions and Canterbury also play in division 4.

EFL divisions 1 and 2 will be previewed next week.

Plan now to save Lysterfield Valley, council urged

KNOX Council needs to spend money now to save the Lysterfield Valley from development, the Knox Environment Society says.
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Society spokesman Darren Wallace said it was pleasing the council had decided to look at creating a green wedge management plan in response to community concerns and expectations.

“A strategic plan would be money well spent. There’ll always be competing demands at budget time but we need to make the expenditure on this plan now.”


Several councillors have said a management plan should not be considered a priority for this year’s budget. Councillors Darren Pearce and Joe Cossari agreed the council’s 2012-13 budget would be extremely tight, with other things to take priority.

A report was noted at last week’s council meeting about the green wedge zone in the Lysterfield Valley, outlining the options to give land outside the urban growth boundary maximum protection from development.

The report also looked at the potential for a planning scheme amendment to rezone green wedge 2 land (four-hectare minimum lot size) to green wedge 1 zone (20-hectare minimum) to further protect the area.

A full strategic investigation into developing a management plan would cost about $50,000.

“We’ve got incredible budgetary pressures this year,” Cr Pearce said. “We can’t just up rates to accommodate it all, we need to find savings.”

He noted the carbon tax impact, operational issues and new preschool reforms as the reason for the tighter budget.

The minimum lot size was four hectares and owners “can’t just cut it up into quarter-acre blocks”.

However, Cr John Mortimore said the green wedge management plan was a priority and the council “cannot afford to take a risk with them [green wedges]”.

“You only get one chance to keep this land, so it’s important to protect the Lysterfield Valley.”

Knox boost forkinders

Still playing: Aiden, Julian and Jun at Riddell Road Kindergarten in Wantirna South. Picture: Rob CarewWHAT DO YOU THINK? SCROLL TO BELOW THIS STORY TO POST A COMMENT.
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KNOX Council says it ready to implement federal reforms that make it compulsory to offer access to 15 hours of four-year-old preschool every week.

The council last week endorsed two new session models for its kindergartens to introduce in January as part of Council of Australian Government reforms.

Federal Minister for Early Childhood Peter Garrett applauded the council’s effort to make room for the new rules without affecting any of its other services.

Mr Garrett said the federal reforms were based on the best possible advice from childcare experts. “All the experts tell us that a year of preschool before school is absolutely necessary .”

But many municipalities have expressed concern about the feasibility of implementing the new reforms without rate rises or affecting three-year-old preschool services.

Mr Garrett said Knox Council was “showing other councils how it should be done”. “It’s exciting to see a council like Knox get stuck into and serving the needs of the kids. They worked really hard to get the reform done.”

Across most Knox preschools, there will be two sessions types from which to choose – two seven-and-a-half-hour sessions a week or three five-hour sessions.

Council officers decided these were the most suitable models for Knox after a questionnaire was circulated to parents.

Mayor Adam Gill said community spirit would be needed in some circumstances, because there would be some changes.

Liberty Avenue Preschool now operates three four-year-old preschool groups, but only two groups will be offered once the reforms are introduced.

Some three-year-old services at West Gully Preschool may need to relocate to either Alexander Magit or Windermere preschools. The reforms to four-year-old preschool also means more staff would be required.

Cr Gill said there would be no changes to fees except for the usual CPI rises.

Obstacle cause

Fitness instructor Heather Morgan puts Tough Mudder entrants through their paces. Picture: Daryl GordonGetting burnt, frozen and shocked has never been popular. But now it’s something almost 20,000 Australians pay for. Daniel Tran discovers why men and women put their bodies on the line for challenges like Tough Mudder.
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Rod Currie doesn’t like a shock. But this weekend the Langwarrin resident will have no choice but to face 10,000 volts of electricity as he takes part in the Tough Mudder challenge on Phillip Island.

Believed to be one of the world’s toughest events, Tough Mudder is a 20 kilometre obstacle course in which participants navigate their way through a field of fire, muddy trenches, curtains of live wires and more than a dozen other hazards.

Developed by Harvard graduate Will Dean, the course has an average time of about three hours and only about 80 per cent of participants are able to finish.

The first Tough Mudder was held in 2010 and had 5000 participants, but since then the event has taken the world by storm.

In Australia, about 20,000 people have already signed up. The goal is not to get the best time, but to finish the course.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would pay to have their senses assaulted by the elements, both natural and man-made. But for Currie, a Woolworths store manager in Glen Waverley, taking part in Tough Mudder is about making a positive change to his life.

‘‘For me personally, it’s turning my fitness levels around,’’ he says. ‘‘When I was younger, I used to be a lot fitter. I’ve let myself go. But this is the beginning of turning that around and just maintaining a good level of fitness.’’

In order to prepare himself for the gruelling event, Currie and his team of seven friends have been working with Heather Morgan from Seaford’s Health in Motion Fitness.

Twice a week the team gets together with Morgan, who puts them through their paces.

‘‘We’re all at various fitness levels. Most of us are a bit overweight and need to get fit. Heather’s been really good, she just knows what parts of the body to work and train to get certain goals. When we first started we could not run five kilometres or even think about it. But the body parts that she’s worked on has allowed us to build them up and lose weight. We’ve gone from running five kilometres now to running nearly 10 km,’’ he says.

Currie has already lost 15 kilograms and one of his team members has lost almost 20 kilograms.

‘‘If it was something we did individually, we probably wouldn’t have come as far as we have in such a short period of time. The team really drives you. You don’t want to let the other guys down.’’

Currie has no doubt the team will be finishing the course. ‘‘We’ve got determination,’’ he says.

‘‘The only part I’m worried about are the electrical wires. I think the rest of it — the ramps, the mud — we’ll get through. We’re a pretty tough group of blokes. If we get through this one, we’re also seriously considering the Sydney one in September and the Tough Mudder in Western Australia next year.”

But Kilsyth’s Jason Nichols is putting his body on the line for a much simpler reason. He just wants to see if he can do it.

‘‘It’s all about having a bit of fun and getting your teammates across the line,’’ he says.

Nichols, 41, runs the Sakura Karate Club and Tough Mudder will merely be a mental and physical test for him and his team.

‘‘We haven’t done anything like this before in terms of the obstacles and the running.

‘‘It’ll be true test of where we’re at,’’ he says.

‘‘Whether or not we do it in hours is another thing but I’m sure we’ll all get over the line at some stage.”

For Berwick’s Andrew Arnold, Tough Mudder is less about fitness and more about setting an example.

Arnold, 43, is a Cranbourne chiropractor. His entry into Tough Mudder is about being an example to his patients.

‘‘I talk about getting people to really strive, particularly when it comes to exercise and health. If I’m prepared to go there then I’ve got integrity when I ask people to do the same thing. I really wanted to show patients that I’m prepared to put my money were my mouth is.’’

Although Arnold has a strong background in fitness, he has also been turning up his training to prepare himself for the event. But even he is unsure that he’ll be able to complete every obstacle.

‘‘Some of the stuff is quite daunting, like going through a pipe submerged underwater. I’m going way beyond what I’ve ever done in the past.’’

Despite his apprehension, Arnold’s resolve is unwavering.

‘‘I think I should be ready to go. I could definitely do more but I think I’ll be ready. I’m going to be walking past the finish line.’’

Tough Mudder Melbourne is on March 31 and April 1.