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Local News - Victoria

Couple offer stranded Aussies use of house in south-west France


But under this offer, occupants will pay $50 a week, to cover landline rental, cleaning and local taxes.

The village, population 2000, has bars, restaurants, a mini-mart, a weekly market and a 14th century church.

The house in Montreal, south-west France, that owners John and Jayne Stewart are offering rent-free to Australians stranded in Europe.

The house in Montreal, south-west France, that owners John and Jayne Stewart are offering rent-free to Australians stranded in Europe.

It’s a 20-minute drive to the fortified medieval city of Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an hour or two to the Pyrenees ski-fields and hot springs.

The Stewarts, now home in Clarkefield, 46 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, spent most of last year in their French abode, returning to Australia in November after spending much of 2020 trying to get home.

They will select applicants in financial difficulty, who are currently in southern France. The visitors would stay for a negotiated period, such as until vaccines and flights are available.

Their gesture has won praise. Comments under their post on the Facebook page Aussie’s Abandoned Abroad (sic), include: “Wonderful people” and “What an amazing couple you truly are.”

The view of the Pyrenees mountain range from the Stewarts' house.

The view of the Pyrenees mountain range from the Stewarts’ house.

Mr Stewart said up to eight people can stay at a time. “I think one family would be the ideal,” he said.

Mr Stewart, 67, a retired TAFE teacher, and Mrs Stewart, 64, a retired midwife, arrived in France in November 2019, planning a two-year stay.

As COVID-19 case numbers escalated, they sought to return to Australia to reunite with their two adult children.

But they had four booked flights cancelled, and in April, Mr Stewart missed the funeral of his sister, Patricia, who died of cancer.

A lane near the Stewarts' house in the village of Montreal, in south-west France.

A lane near the Stewarts’ house in the village of Montreal, in south-west France.

In late November last year, they flew on an Australian government repatriation flight to Canberra, where they spent two weeks in quarantine before a friend drove them home to Victoria on December 11.

The couple’s hearts go out Australians still struggling overseas.

“People younger than us have lost their jobs, or resigned from their jobs thinking they were going home, then were bumped off flights, and kicked out of accommodation,” Mr Stewart said.

“They’re just horror stories. You empathise with them.

“There’s not much I can do, but this is something I can do. We’ve got a house, it’s sitting there, it’s empty, and we thought, why not just offer it to someone if they’re in strife and they need somewhere to live.”

Living room of the Stewarts' house in Montreal, France.

Living room of the Stewarts’ house in Montreal, France.

The Stewarts fell in love with Montreal and the house, particularly its stunning mountain views, when they rented it from its British owner in 2013. They bought it in 2017.

There are concerts in the town square and the area is famous for wine and sunflowers. “It’s a very nice little town,” Mr Stewart said.

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Local News - Victoria

Father in serious condition after three girls and their mother die in Glen Waverley house fire


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Mr Kikuchi, who is listed as the director of a Japanese restaurant in Richmond, is in a non-life-threatening condition at The Alfred hospital, and investigators hope to speak to him in coming days.

Forensic investigators will remain at the “complex” scene until at least Thursday.

“We will speak to the survivor, the 50-year-old male. Hopefully, he may or may not be able to shed some light into how the fire commenced,” Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill said on Monday.

“It is a scene that I’m told did have some materials in terms of inflammable liquids that were part of a legitimate business that I understand the surviving party was involved in.

“We will be in dialogue with family members of the deceased to understand whether or not there was any history of conflict between the parties concerned. But … it is purely speculation, and that is not part of our business at this point in time.”

Hiroyuki Kikuchi tried to put the fire out by filling his recycling bin with water.

Hiroyuki Kikuchi tried to put the fire out by filling his recycling bin with water. Credit:Facebook

Next-door neighbour Rahul Malhotre said he was woken by a blast before he heard a man shouting “please help, please help”.

“I ran out from my house and saw fire in the garage. The man was putting water in bins,” he said. “My neighbour called the fire brigade and within five minutes they were there.”

He said that Mr Kikuchi was shouting “please save my daughters, please save my daughters” and was trying to enter the building but police wouldn’t allow him.

Neighbour Hanish, who did not want his surname published, was also woken by what he said sounded like a “big blast which shook all the buildings”.

“I heard the guy shouting near the garage, ‘help, help’,” he said. “He was shouting so loud, top of his voice.

Hanish, who lives in a neighbouring apartment, witnessed the fire.

Hanish, who lives in a neighbouring apartment, witnessed the fire.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“I told him I called the fire services and to get out of the area. He wasn’t listening, he was in panic … He was trying to get inside from the garage, control the fire from the garage, and in a panic moment forgot [to tell us] about the kids. The stress, he was not able to think properly.

“And after a couple of minutes when the fire services came and said you have to evacuate, this guy started running and shouting, ‘my kids, my kids, my kids are upstairs’ and then he went … and tried to go inside the house.”

After about 30 minutes, the firefighters brought the father outside to the road.

“He was very desperate, in panic and his back was burned, his face was black with smoke and ash and the emergency services took him into an ambulance,” Hanish said.

Both neighbours said they seemed like a happy family.

Fire investigators attend the scene on Monday.

Fire investigators attend the scene on Monday. Credit:Paul Jeffers

“They were lovely kids, always jumping, dancing, doing something funny on the stairs,” said Hanish. “My housemate is so traumatised, he doesn’t want to open the blinds because every morning he would see this couple and the kids going past.”

Prior to having children, Ms Okano worked as an early childhood educator at a childcare centre in the city. Her former boss, Michelle Belli, said she loved her job.

“All she wanted to do was watch and see children grow and learn and live their full potential, always nurturing, and never had a bad word to say about anyone,” Ms Belli said.

“It came out with her children. They were so loved and so cared for … she never forgot her family overseas and wanted her children to have that connection with Japan and her family in Japan.”

Neighbour and friend Kelly Vu at a tribute to Kaoru Okano and her three young daughters.

Neighbour and friend Kelly Vu at a tribute to Kaoru Okano and her three young daughters.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Ms Okano’s friend, Kelly Vu, visited the scene on Monday morning. Ms Vu got to know Ms Okano and the three girls as they regularly rode their bikes past her home on their way to a nearby lake during lockdown.

She said they were a “beautiful family, beautiful children” and that Ms Okano was “a lovely mother that looked after the three girls very well”.

“Now and then I would invite them inside and make lunch for them, make cookies and let them play around my backyard,” she said. “The older one loved the garden and I gave her mother some plants.”

Kaoru Okano and her three young daughters were killed in a house fire in Glen Waverley.

Kaoru Okano and her three young daughters were killed in a house fire in Glen Waverley.

“She was a lovely lady. Very soft, very pleasant, we were able to talk a lot.”

Mr Kikuchi and Ms Okano had known each other for about 10 years before they had children, according to Ms Vu.

Ms Okano spoke to her girls in Japanese, Ms Vu said, and doted on them constantly.

“They were a happy family, [a] very, very happy family. It was too early for them to leave this world. They had a lot to offer this world, those beautiful children. I haven’t slept, I haven’t eaten,” she said.

“I look out the window on my balcony and say, ‘I can’t hear the girls’ voices anymore. I can’t see their bicycle riding anymore.”

Mr Kikuchi bought the Glen Waverley home in 2014, according to property documents.

Staff at the Consulate-General of Japan in Melbourne were in touch with Ms Okano’s grieving family in Japan on Monday.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or make a report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

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Local News - Victoria

Woman and three children killed after fire engulfs Glen Waverley house


A woman and three children have been killed in a fire that engulfed a Glen Waverley house in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined but police and arson squad detectives are investigating the blaze, which started in the Tulloch Grove property, just after 1.40am.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.Credit:Nine News

A man, believed to be in his 50s, was able to escape the fire and was taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The woman and three children, who were found deceased at the two-storey townhouse, are yet to be formally identified, a police statement said.



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Australian News

Fatal house fire destroys home


A woman’s body has been found after fire destroyed a home in Sydney’s southwest in the early hours of Sunday, despite the attempts of brave neighbours.

Emergency services were called to Magnolia Place, Macquarie Fields shortly before 1am on Sunday, where a single-level brick and tile house was engulfed in flames.

NSW Police said in a statement a 45-year-old woman had managed to escape the blaze and tell neighbours her mother was still inside.

“Two men attempted to enter the home by kicking in the back door but were unsuccessful,” NSW Police said.

The body of a woman, believed to be in her 70s, was found in the kitchen after the fire had been extinguished.

NSW Ambulance treated five people at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Authorities say the house was completely destroyed, and crime scene officers and fire investigators will examine the site Sunday.

A report will be prepared for the coroner.



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Perth man wanted for questioning after woman’s body found in house fire


A woman has been found dead after a blaze at a suburban Perth home and police are now seeking to question a man who may be riding a push scooter.

The woman, aged in her 30s, was found at a house on Ravenscar Street in Doubleview about 7.15am on Saturday after a fire broke out at the property.

Her death is being treated as suspicious, WA Police confirmed.

Police want to speak to Chudier Thowath Pal, who they believe may be able to assist with their inquiries.

Police say the 29-year-old has dark skin, is about 206cm tall, is of medium build, and has black hair and brown eyes.

They have asked anyone who spots Mr Pal to call triple-0 immediately and not approach him.

Detectives are also asking people to share CCTV or dashcam footage from Ravenscar Street or the surrounding area featuring a person who matches Mr Pal’s description, or anyone riding a push scooter.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.



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Children inside during alleged shooting at house in western Sydney


There were two alleged drive-by shootings of homes in western Sydney on Tuesday, with a man charged over one of the incidents.

Three children were inside one of the homes when it was allegedly fired at.

But there were no injuries from either shooting, a NSW Police spokesperson said.

About 7.30pm shots were fired at a Aubrey Street home in South Granville from a vehicle while two men were inside, police will allege.

About 9.50pm shots were fired at a Kirk Avenue home in Guildford while a man, a woman and three children were inside, police will allege.

Both homes were damaged, a NSW Police spokesperson said.

A 27-year-old man has been charged with shoot with intent to cause grievous bodily harm: accessory after the fact in relation to the first alleged shooting at South Granville.

He was arrested after being involved in a crash at Guildford between a Mitsubishi Pajero and a white 4WD, police will allege.

Shortly before the crash, witnesses allegedly saw several men getting into a silver Mitsubishi Pajero after setting a blue Audi on fire in Granville.

The burnt-out car matched the description of one seen fleeing the scene of the first shooting, police will allege.

A separate car — a white Audi 4WD — that matched the description of one seen leaving the scene of the second shooting was also found burned out by police in Chester Hill, it will be alleged.

“Police believe these incidents are linked and inquiries are continuing,” the spokesperson said.

“Members of the public who may have been in the area are urged to come forward with dashcam footage or to call Granville police station.”

Police also believe Tuesday night’s events could be linked to a previous shooting on Kirk Street at South Granville on Christmas Eve.

The 27-year-old man was also charged with common assault and traffic offences.

He was refused bail on Tuesday night to appear in Parramatta Local Court on Wednesday.

Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.



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Australian News

Sydney Opera House school holiday program: What’s on this summer


While a lot of us might be frustrated we’re stuck back at home again – don’t worry, the Sydney Opera House has you covered.

On top of their actual school holiday program – which is going ahead after events were cancelled during the peak of lockdown – the iconic venue is bringing the entertainment for kids to you.

Usually the Opera House’s creative Creative Play program is offered in the precinct so families seeing shows can stick around and lets the kids get involved in the action.

But with social distancing in play and hands-on activities a hygiene risk, the venue has turned to a unique offering.

Creative Play has become an at-home adventure – Feather Quest by Threshold – designed to extend the experience of seeing a show on their stages.

The offer is available to people seeing The Gruffalo’s Child and Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark.

“Our gift to our audiences is having a theatre experience at home,” Sydney Opera House Head of Children, Families and Creative Learning, Tamara Harrison, said.

“These guys have become a bit of a hit of the COVID world in terms of children and young families.”

The Gruffalo’s Child, running from January 2 to 19, is for kids aged over three and is an adaptation of the best-selling picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, produced by award-winning Sydney based theatre production house CDP.

Comedy maestros The Listies’ Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark, which runs from January 4 to 22, will “bring the LOLs, with a stinky, silly extravaganza for ‘kidults’ aged 5-plus”.

The Listies twist the classic Shakespearean tale into a hysterical “badaptation” of the bard, with plenty of hilarious costumes, supersonic gags and expertly timed stage magic.

Ms Harrison said their pre-Christmas show, Diary of a Wombat, was sold-out and they expected crowds to return after Christmas, following a successful digital program offering during lockdown.

“We saw incredible numbers of people watching at home (during lockdown) having a dance and a sing along,” she said.

“There’s been an appetite out there still for everything. We’ve seen really good numbers coming back to the building so that’s exciting and such a relief.”

As a registered COVID Safe business, the Opera House is implementing a number of onsite measures, in line with NSW Health guidelines and its commitment to the safety and wellbeing of artists, audiences, visitors and staff. Full details here.



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Local News - Victoria

Two bodies found after ‘suspicious’ house fire in Melbourne’s north


“Wearing breathing apparatus, (fire crews) worked quickly to gain access to the house and to knock the fire down,” a Fire Rescue Victoria spokeswoman said.

“The cause has been deemed suspicious and will be handed over to Victoria Police once FRV crews have made the scene safe.”

Arson squad detectives are expected at the scene on Saturday morning to investigate the circumstances of the fire.

“The cause of the fire is yet to be determined and an arson chemist will attend the scene,” a Victoria Police spokesman said.

Anyone who witnessed the blaze or with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or make a report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.



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Australian News

Horror details over killer house fire


Police have been combing through the remains of a charred property on a sleepy street in Melbourne attempting to dissect the series of events that led to a horror house fire.

Arson chemists worked into the night and will continue this morning to probe if the fire was deliberately lit as police praise the “brave” efforts of neighbours who made heroic attempts to save a woman who was “gasping for air”.

Reports of “terrifying” scenes of desperation have emerged as neighbours frantically tried to save a woman trapped inside a burning home “engulfed” in flames that police say is a “traumatic scene” and are treating as suspicious.

RELATED: Baby body found after ‘suspicious’ blaze

Three people are now confirmed to have died in the devastating house fire in Melbourne’s west after the discovery of a baby’s body late on Wednesday. Questions now focus on who and how the terrifying fire occurred.

One neighbour told Nine he could see the woman trapped inside and “was looking at all of us. I don’t think she had the energy to scream, she was just trying to breathe”.

Another heroic neighbour tried desperately to rescue the trapped in the burning home in but was forced back by the ferocity of the flames.

Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Kennedy said one man grabbed a ladder to try to get upstairs but couldn’t because of the intensity of the flames.

“Sadly, they did their best but the fire took hold,” he said.

Emergency services were called just after 3.30am on Wednesday to reports a fire was spreading to nearby homes.

Police made the grim discovery of the child’s body after they found the remains of two adults in a blaze in Point Cook that destroyed the townhouse and damaged two others. The ages and identities of the dead are as yet unknown. The adults, who were upstairs, were discovered first.

The occupants were still not forensically identified yesterday afternoon but it is believed the adult pair were a couple.

When firefighters arrived the blaze was so intense it was “spreading to the units either side” and aerial and rescue units were brought in to help.

“FRV’s response was quickly escalated as firefighters wearing breathing apparatus commenced attacking the fire,” Fire Rescue Victoria said in a statement.

Witnesses have described harrowing scenes as they tried desperately to rescue those trapped inside, attempting to smash as window as they could see one woman “frantically gasping for air”.

“She was looking at all of us and we just threw an axe through the window and broke it hoping she would climb out and one of us would catch her, but as soon as we broke the window, she went quiet.” Jemil, who lives next door with his wife and five-month-old baby, told media at the scene.

Jemil explained he woke when his own fire alarm went off and was confronted with a “terrifying” scene when he saw his next door neighbour’s house.

“You could just see through his window massive flames coming out through the house,” he said.

“We tried to go out the front door but we saw our front yard was just in flames so we had to come out through the rear. It was bloody horrifying.

“We did try to do everything we could to get her out, me and a few of the other neighbours.

“But we smashed the garage door in, we opened the garage door leading into the house it was just engulfed in flames.”

Police revealed on Thursday afternoon that they are still yet to establish the exact cause of the fire, however they are treating it as “suspicious”.

Overnight Victoria Police told news.com.au the trio were still yet to be identified and could not release further details until next of kin were adequately informed.

“Arson chemists” spent the day forensically examining the property and “the investigation remains ongoing”.

Forensics were delayed in entering the house after a “long and involved” process to secure the premise but Sergeant Kennedy told reporters authorities will “endeavour to occur how this fire occurred and why this fire occurred”.

It is believed the fire began in the middle of the house and is regarded as suspicious due to the intensity of the inferno as emergency services arrived.

“It was fully engulfed, the townhouse was raging particularly at the front and upstairs,” he said.

“With accidental fires that doesn’t normally occur so we are treating it as suspicious at this early stage.”



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Melbourne Council ordered to pay woman $400,000 after tree cracks house


A large crack in Dr Angela Livingstone's West Melbourne home.

A large crack in Dr Angela Livingstone’s West Melbourne home.

But last week, a County Court of Victoria judge found the tree was the sole cause of the cracks and awarded Dr Livingstone $435,510.08 in damages.

The psychiatrist said she felt “pure relief” at the verdict, but added that it shouldn’t have taken eight years to be resolved.

“I feel deeply annoyed with the council for firstly dismissing my concerns,” she said.

“I felt at all stages that I was just being put off in the hopes that I’d go away.

“I don’t think anybody else in this strip of houses, which have been affected [by the trees], would have had the resources to fight a case like this and they [council] were more or less banking on it.”

The cedar tree out the front of Dr Angela Livingstone's home.

The cedar tree out the front of Dr Angela Livingstone’s home.

Dr Livingstone, who lives in the home with her husband and two children, said the cracks were so wide, sunlight shone through them in the afternoon. She had been so concerned the roof would cave in that she put the contents of the two bedrooms in storage.

Dr Livingstone said she was happy the tree had been planted at first, hoping it would provide shade, but as her house began to crack she rang the council to complain.

The court judgment quotes a conversation where a council worker told Dr Livingstone that the council might need to demolish her house if she kept calling.

The council’s installation of a tree root barrier in 2015 did not fix the problem.

Cracks in Dr Angela Livingstone's home's interior entrance, hallway and front and middle bedrooms have been getting wider each year.

Cracks in Dr Angela Livingstone’s home’s interior entrance, hallway and front and middle bedrooms have been getting wider each year.

“Had somebody with the appropriate qualifications come over and had a look, they would clearly have seen what was going on and been able to mitigate things at very low cost to themselves,” Dr Livingstone said.

Judge Peter Lauritsen found the more than 130-year-old house’s condition was an underlying weakness, but that the tree was the true cause of the cracks.

“[The] defendant ought to have known that damage would arise from the planting of this tree so close to an old building where the foundation soils are clay and highly reactive,” he said.

Dr Livingstone, who wants to rebuild the house next year, said she hoped the verdict would set a precedent that made it easier for other residents with house damage due to council planted cedar trees to be paid out.

Cracks at the entrance of Dr Angela Livingstone's home prevented her from opening the front door.

Cracks at the entrance of Dr Angela Livingstone’s home prevented her from opening the front door.

A City of Melbourne spokeswoman said the council had been made aware of the outcome and indicated it was preparing to take further action.

“Trees are an important community asset and provide a range of environmental, social and economic benefits,” she said.

“Council lawyers are looking into potential next steps. At this stage, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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