When the 180 Australian athletes returned home from competing at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, the sporting-mad nation could not believe they had not brought a single gold medal home with them.
Despite competing in 20 sports, the team brought home just one silver and four bronze medals.
It was in the face of the subsequent public backlash that the government of the day set up the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in a bid to elevate the nation as a leader in sport.
As the centre prepares to mark its 40th anniversary tomorrow, there are concerns that early vision for the institute has been lost and that the AIS has become little more than a “consultancy”.
The boss of the AIS disputes that critique, arguing the next phase of the institute is all about looking to the future and anticipating the complex needs of more and more athletes, while not duplicating the work being done by state and territory sporting bodies.
‘There was a national outcry’
Former world champion marathon runner Robert de Castella said the 1976 games were a turning point for Australia.
“It was the first time ever that Australia didn’t come back with a gold medal and there was a national outcry,” De Castella said.
A series of sport reviews called for a dedicated high-performance centre that was insulated and separated from national sporting organisations.
De Castella said a key aim of such a facility was to “create a synergy of culture between sports”.
“And that’s what the institute was,” he said.
Then prime minister Malcolm Fraser opened the sprawling and state-of-the-art Australian Institute of Sport in the Canberra suburb of Bruce on January 26, 1981.
“This complex, this National Indoor Sports Centre and the National Institute of Sport are a clear indication of our determination to reverse past trends.”
‘The AIS has a massive impact on my life’
Nova Peris had her first taste of the AIS early on in life, where she won a medal in long jump at the Australian Junior Championships in the under 12s.
Spending time at the AIS “was an inspiration”, she said.
“I aspired to hopefully being a part of the Institute of Sport one day.”
Peris’ sporting career would go on to intersect with the AIS for some years, as she progressed to the Olympic hockey team and, in 1996, became the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal.
Her switch to running, and ultimately to winning Commonwealth gold medals, also ran parallel to the institute.
AIS controversial in 1981 and still controversial in 2021
When the AIS was established in 1981, there was controversy over the plan to put so much money into the development of relatively few elite athletes.
Supporters defended that spend as necessary to see the success of athletes at the highest level.
At that time, the institute was filled with the rising stars of sport, honing their every skill to win gold on every sporting stage.
“It was an amazing period,” De Castella said.
He holds fond memories of the AIS, which was where he secured his first job, where he trained, and where he later held the top job and sat on the governing board.
The institute’s now quiet streets are painful to witness for the former champion.
Four decades on from its glory days, the centre is still controversial, but for different reasons.
“Having gone there, it sits there as a big white elephant,” Peris said.
De Castella sees the problems beginning when the AIS merged with the Australian Sports Commission in the 1990s, which he says diluted the singular aim of high-performance training to include a focus on policy and funding.
“It was a clash of cultures, and that was the beginning of the end,” he said.
Assessment ‘absolutely wrong’: CEO
Peter Conde has been the chief executive of the AIS since 2017, after running the high-performance program around sailing.
He flatly rejects criticisms that the AIS has lost its way.
He said the role of the AIS was to be “right for the times” of the needs of athletes.
“What we have to do now is create the AIS, continue to create the AIS that is right for now and right for the next four years,” he said.
“And it won’t be like it was in the 1990s. It shouldn’t be.
“[We had] 150 athletes from eight sports then, we now, as a network support over 2,200 athletes at any one time from 38 sports — it’s a different animal.”
The risk of a ‘devastated’ nation
In spite of the difference of views about what the AIS should be, into the future, one thing seems clear: Australians would not likely tolerate a poor showing at a future Olympic Games, like was seen in Montreal.
“I think we’d be a nation of devastation, in a way,” Peris said.
She said Australia was in danger of being left behind by the rest of the world.
“If we can’t be successful now, we really have to ask ourselves why?” she said.
Mr Conde said he saw Olympic success as very much being the responsibility of the AIS.
“We take our responsibility very seriously,” he said.
“We see it as inspiring the nation through international sporting success.
Eight minutes before the crash, a driver who saw Gray speeding and veering onto the wrong side of the road, rang triple zero out of concern he was going to cause an accident. “He’s dangerous, mate. He’s wild,” he told the operator.
Gray played poker machines with friends in the hours before he drove, was under the effects of ice and GHB and had slept about four hours over the previous two nights. The P-plater was driving to Mount Martha to work as an apprentice carpenter on the day of the crash.
The 22-year-old was on Friday jailed for nine years and four months, to serve five years and eight months before being eligible for parole, after he pleaded guilty to culpable driving causing death and three charges of conduct endangering life.
County Court judge Kevin Doyle said Gray was clearly in no state to drive because he was “grossly intoxicated and affected by your lack of sleep” and that his actions were extremely erratic and dangerous.
“The gravity of your offending lies in the combination of drug use before driving, sleep deprivation and protracted appalling driving involving speeding, remaining stationary at traffic lights long after the lights had changed, weaving in and out of traffic and repeatedly veering onto the wrong side of the road in traffic,” Judge Doyle said.
“A serious collision was inevitable.“
In the minutes after the crash, as people hurried to help Ms Kelly, Gray sat in the gutter of the road and became distressed when he learned she was critically injured.
“What have I done?” he said.
“Have I hurt anybody?“
An off-duty police officer said Gray rolled on the ground and wailed when he learned Ms Kelly had died.
Police later found an empty syringe in Gray’s ute and a plastic bag with three tablets inside his wallet.
Ms Kelly’s husband, Christian, earlier told the court he couldn’t remember a time when his “only love” was not standing beside him, and now found himself second-guessing himself and struggling to cope with his loss.
“He finds it harder to cope now than in the first few weeks after his wife’s death because he knows she isn’t coming back and somehow they have to continue living,” Judge Doyle said.
Mr Kelly was also worried about his son’s future.
“He misses his mother every day and he wants to tell her about his day and his basketball wins,” Judge Doyle said of the boy.
“He knows she loved him but wishes he could see her face, hug her and tell her he loves her.”
The other drivers were struggling with a combination of sadness, guilt and distressing flashbacks, the court heard.
Judge Doyle acknowledged Gray’s early plea of guilty, which spared witnesses giving evidence, that he wrote a letter of apology to the court and was remorseful.
Gray first began using drugs in his teens, was a weekend binge drinker and had a history of psychological problems. But Judge Doyle found he had made efforts to rehabilitate and had good prospects for rehabilitation.
Gray has already served 45 days of jail time.
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Adam Cooper joined The Age in 2011 after a decade with AAP. Email or tweet Adam with your news tips.
One hundred UooUoos, an imaginary cross between a wombat and a dugong, have alighted on beaches, parks, laneways and landmarks across Melbourne and Geelong.
The colourful mythical creatures, each designed by a Victorian artist, have arrived in the two cities as part of an art trail to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Melbourne artist Justine Millsom, also known as Juzpop, titled her rose- and dragonfly-adorned UooUoo (pronounced you-you), which has taken up residence at Royal Park’s nature play playground, Tammy’s Donor.
Her cousin Tammy Cipriano, who was born with cystic fibrosis, had her life saved seven years ago when a donor was found for her double lung transplant. The condition is often referred to as “65 roses”.
The Federal Court documents are part of a statement of claim filed by the businesses who are now suing Development Victoria. The agency says they do not represent an agreed chronology, are not complete, and concern matters that are in dispute.
The records show Development Victoria had been warned as early as 2011 that the pier was considered a “high” risk. The cost to keep it operational to 2026 was estimated to be at least $25 million.
Then, in 2017 and 2018, engineers and construction experts updated their advice, telling the agency that past repairs had been “grossly incomplete” and it was likely only a “complete rebuild” could bring the pier up to safety standards. This put the cost at about $50 million.
In October 2018, 10 months before access to the structure was suddenly closed down, Development Victoria general manager Simon Wilson told his agency’s senior management and board that, “The previous ‘high’ risk has been increased to extreme”.
“The impact of failure is now in the extreme category as the structure continues to deteriorate despite rectification works,” he wrote in an email.
A month later, engineering firm KBR — which had been responsible for monitoring the structure since at least 2013 — sent an explicit warning to Development Victoria about the immediacy of the threat.
“We take the unusual step of writing to you to express our serious concerns in relation to the continued use of parts of Central Pier despite our engineering advice that those parts of the Pier should have restricted access pending remedial works,” the firm wrote in November 2018.
“Due to the deterioration of the structural integrity of the pier, there is a significantly heightened risk to users including the general public from a catastrophic failure.”
“Although no structural failure has occurred to this point, the condition is such that a structural failure is likely to be sudden, without warning and catastrophic. The risk of injuries or fatalities in such an event is high.”
The letter warned that Central Pier’s condition was comparable to a jetty in Western Australia, which “experienced a failure exactly of this nature” in a collapse that injured an 11-year-old boy and two others just a month earlier.
For nine months after that warning, the hospitality businesses, including venues that could hold up to 3400 patrons, were allowed to continue operating on the pier. They say they were not alerted to the danger.
Development Victoria’s response was to commission minor repair works on parts of the pier and to instruct contractor KBR to inspect it every two months beginning in November 2018.
KBR ultimately forced Development Victoria to order the evacuation on August 28, 2019 when it said it was “an unacceptable risk to life” and refused to send its own staff to conduct further inspections.
“Based on the condition of the sub-structure and the rapid deterioration that we have witnessed to date, our view is that occupation of Central Pier is no longer sustainable,” a letter from KBR said.
Development Victoria ordered the evacuation and closure that night, acting on what it said was urgent new information. The public and businesses were told the future of the precinct would depend on the outcome of a comprehensive 15-week engineering assessment.
“The impact that the emergency closure has had on the hundreds of Victorians who worked on Central Pier has been devastating.”
Atlantic Group chief executive Hatem Saleh
The pier has never reopened. In January 2020, the agency announced the damage was so extensive it would be demolished.
Former tenants Alumbra, Austage Events, the Atlantic Group and the head tenant, Central Pier Pty Ltd, have now taken the matter to court, where each of them is seeking compensation for the shutdown and losses for the six years remaining on their lease.
Material tendered to the court also show Development Victoria chose to repeatedly veto or downgrade repair works because they were deemed too expensive but chose to keep secret the fact that the pier’s lifespan was limited.
“[T]o further reduce the repair and maintenance costs it is proposed to amend the design life scope of remedial works from 2026 to 2020. The rationale being that any maintenance works undertaken that maintains the structure beyond 2020 is unnecessary and are arguably abortive costs that need not be incurred,” an internal memo from December 2015 said.
“If the work is not undertaken, the structure is at risk of collapse with resultant potential injury or death,” Development Victoria informed the Department of Economic Development in a 2018 email.
A proposal to demolish and rebuild the pier, at a cost of $180 million, would mean it could accommodate a four-storey commercial development where “value creation and capture opportunities” would offset the pier replacement costs. It was apparently considering launching a “market proposal” in conjunction with the AFL and City of Melbourne.
However, the existing tenants made that difficult, the documents show.
“A lease is in place with an organisation that has indicated it may resist termination and/or seek compensation. Negotiations with the lessee may be accompanied by significant publicity and political pressure,” the email said.
Development Victoria had the option of terminating Atlantic Group’s lease without paying compensation provided it offered 24 months notice, but it did not act. Instead, the agency claimed, just before shutting down the pier, that Atlantic Group had technically breached a number of minor provisions in its lease agreement. This meant it was not eligible for compensation after the closure.
“The impact that the emergency closure has had on the hundreds of Victorians who worked on Central Pier has been devastating,” Atlantic Group chief executive Hatem Saleh said.
“The entire hospitality industry is doing it tough and my heart goes out to my friends and colleagues who are struggling, we’re just hopeful that we can find a fair and reasonable resolution and get our people back to work.”
The Group Head of Precincts at Development Victoria, Geoff Ward, said his organisation had undertaken inspections, investigations and monitoring across the pier since 2013, which had led to some areas of the pier being subject to restricted access.
“Since 2017, we have invested more than $7 million on rectification works on the Pier, and engineers have inspected the structure every two months since 2018.”
The engineering reports in late 2019 had “indicated a level of deterioration that occurred rapidly” and they made the decision to close it in the interests of public safety, he said. “As this matter is subject to proceedings in the Federal Court, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Mr Ward said.
The circumstances of the decline and closure of Central Pier – and what Development Victoria and the state government knew about the risk – could also become the subject of a parliamentary inquiry proposed by Reason Party’s Fiona Patten.
“I’m concerned which is why I put up a motion to undertake a short and sharp inquiry to really get to the bottom of it,” Ms Patten told The Age.
“In a COVID year when businesses have been doing it so tough, we want to see the government has got small businesses’ backs. This is not how I would show that.”
Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.
A teenager who allegedly drove into a crowd of people on New Year’s Day in Melbourne was in a car linked to a dead underworld figure, a court has been told.
Luke Perry has been charged with reckless conduct endangering life, driving under the influence of drugs, drug possession and drug trafficking in relation to the incident on January 1.
The 19-year-old was granted bail on Friday in the Melbourne Magistrates Court despite police opposition on the grounds he was a risk of committing offences on bail and endangering the safety of the public.
“He used his car as a weapon, driving directly into the crows,” a police prosecutor told the court.
Two women were injured as a result of the crash.
Police allege the teenager drove into a group of around 10 people after a brawl broke out near the Port Melbourne Yacht Club and he was “swerving” at people.
Police were also concerned because he had links to “Middle Eastern organised crime figures”, the court was told.
Defence lawyer Rob Melasecca had previously told the court the car his client was driving at the time belonged to a son of slain underworld figure Nabil Maghnie.
It is not disputed Mr Perry was behind the wheel but there were “triable issues” in the case, the lawyer said.
“The significant braking is not consistent with a deliberate act,” Mr Melasecca said.
Magistrate Marita Altman granted the teenager bail under strict conditions and said she was taking into account his age, the involvement of youth justice and delay.
But she warned him not to breach them and said his mother had told the court she felt like he let her down.
“You cannot afford to let her down again,” Ms Altman said on Friday.
“I don’t think you’re the sort of person to do that to your mother.”
Mr Perry was ordered to obey a curfew, was not allowed to drive unless it was in relation to his work as an apprentice carpenter, must report to a police station three times a week and not contact witnesses.
The apprentice was also barred from using drugs, and his mother put up a $100,000 surety to secure his bail.
Mr Perry was also told there was no party or celebration worth risking jail for and urged him to remember the nine days he spent on remand.
“I hope that’s a memory you carry with you so when you come up with a harebrained idea you might breach any of these conditions, the physical memory of being in that place, of sleeping in that bed will come back and remind you that is not a very good idea,” the magistrate told him.
Doctors told Francesca Jones when she was eight that she would never be able to play professional tennis.
Francesca Jones has three fingers and a thumb on each hand and seven toes
Doctors told her she would not be able to play professional tennis due to her disability
Jones qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open for the first time
The now-20-year-old Brit was born with the rare genetic condition, ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, leaving her with three fingers and a thumb on each hand and a total of seven toes.
Jones has had to endure multiple surgeries and, due to her dominant right foot only having three toes, has struggled with balance throughout her career.
“The doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to play tennis due to whatever disadvantages they thought I had,” Jones told the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
“That was kinda my decision … because you’ve said that, I’m now going to go and prove you wrong.”
Prove them wrong she did.
Aged 10, Jones was accepted to the Sánchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, developing her game on the clay courts that nurtured the early career of her fellow countrywoman and 2016 Australian Open semi-finalist Johanna Konta, and former world number one Andy Murray.
On Wednesday, Jones beat the odds to qualify for the main draw of a grand slam tennis tournament for the first time.
Jones needed just over an hour to dispatch Lu Jai-Jing of China, 6-0, 6-1 in Dubai — her third win of the week — to secure her spot on Friday’s flight to Melbourne.
“I’m just playing the game with a different set of cards,” Jones told the BBC prior to the qualification tournament.
Those cards amount to a lighter racquet with a smaller grip.
Everything else is Jones’ own dogged determination.
“My mental strength is one of my biggest strengths, if not my biggest strength,” Jones said.
“I do have that edge against my opponents purely because of the experiences that I’ve gone through.
“I use it [the condition] as a positive and advantage in many ways. I’m not playing out of revenge.
“I’m playing to have a positive impact on people who read my story, and I hope people can take the positives from it and build on it.”
Ranked 241 in the world, Jones is now guaranteed a $100,000 pay day, which will double her career earnings.
The Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne on February 8.
Mr Michael said the pause placed on the return of office workers to the CBD this week showed the end of the pandemic was uncertain.
“It’s costing a fair bit to stay open. I’m going backwards at the moment,” he said
He felt “very emotional” and it was “extremely difficult”, but he had decided to operate online from now on.
The business was opened in 1916 as a gun and pawn shop by Mr Michael’s great-grandfather Emanuel Michael.
It became a pharmacy in 1925 that also sold photography equipment.
Mr Michael, 62, worked as a child for his father, Alan, counting pills, cleaning and delivering goods.
He sold his first big camera, a Minolta SRT 101 for $250, in 1971. He was 13
During and after World War II, the pharmacy was known for selling contraceptives, including a thriving mail order business.
An elderly woman told Mr Michael that she worked there in the 1950s, but never told her friends, such was the taboo around such matters.
From 1976, Michaels solely focused on photography, but its attitude stayed the same: “You care about the customer, you know about the product,” Mr Michael said.
Elton John once bought a Polaroid camera at Michaels. Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and John Farnham have all been customers.
Theft was a constant. Recently a man walked out without paying for four $200 cameras. He was arrested across the road.
Mr Michael would like to donate his museum of 10,000 items, which he believes is the largest private camera collection in the world, to an institution such as the Melbourne Museum, as “a lasting tribute to our family and our place in Melbourne”.
Pieces include a metal “birdie” of the kind that early photographers whistled into, while their head was under the cloth camera shade, to signify to photo subjects to look at the camera, or “watch the birdie”.
There are two telephoto lenses that were damaged in the 1986 bombing of the Turkish consulate in South Yarra, and a sleek 1928 green ladies’ pocket-sized vanity camera that includes a powder compact, lipstick and mirror.
Customer Adrian Roy, 65, of Glen Waverley, said he felt “shock and dismay” at the store closing.
A keen photographer, Mr Roy has has been coming to Michaels for over 30 years, often just to look at museum exhibits, such as photos taken using Leica cameras.
Mr Roy said, of the closure: “You’ve got to follow business realities, I know, and this COVID business has slammed everybody, tragically. It’s unfortunate.”
NSW’s top health expert believes the struggle to contain COVID-19 will go on for “many years”.
Speaking to a group of masked reporters in Sydney on Monday, NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said that a vaccine rollout in Australia was a “long way off”.
“I’ve indicated we’re going to be tackling COVID or living with COVID for many years. COVID may well become a bit like flu, but that will occur once we have the tool which is an effective vaccine,” Dr Chant said.
“So once we have effectively vaccinated the population, we then need to reset and readjust and recap our public health measures, but that’s a long way off.”
New Year’s Eve marked a year since the World Health Organization became aware of a cluster of infections from an unknown “viral pneumonia” in China’s Wuhan province.
The disease that turned out to be a new form of coronavirus first entered Australia, via Victoria, 25 days later.
Since then, COVID-19 has killed 909 people in Australia and more than 1.8 million people worldwide.
For NSW residents, 2020 ended in disappointment as a virus-free streak was broken two weeks before Christmas and an emerging COVID-19 cluster in Sydney threw December 25 and New Year’s plans into chaos.
That outbreak prompted the state government to take the long-anticipated step of mandating masks in public indoor settings.
Dr Chant said it was unclear just how long that mask mandate would be in place.
“I’m saying we’ll be wearing masks for however long we need to wear the masks. I don’t think I’ve changed my guidance about wearing masks,” she said.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday a contract with a COVID-19 vaccine provider had been finalised, and the country was on track to distribute all vaccines by October.
If it successfully passes approval processes, 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine would be made available in Australia – enough to vaccinate the entire population.
Mr Hunt said he was pleased with the pace of the process so far, with all vaccines set to be distributed by October.
Once the country has been vaccinated, the coronavirus will still cause hospitalisations and deaths if it’s anything like the influenza.
Prior to social distancing measures rolled out to stop the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of Australians died each year of the flu.
Australia experienced a record flu year in 2019, with 302,000 case notifications and over 800 deaths, according to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.