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Mount Gambier jockey Geoff O’Loughlin stages surprise comeback at 48


Geoff O’Loughlin weighed 56 kilograms and had just 2 per cent body fat when he “struggled” with his weight not being light enough.

He’s not crazy. He’s a jockey.

Things could have been different had he chosen to take growth hormones and play professional soccer in England as a child. Instead, he kept his height and set his heart on becoming a jockey.

O’Loughlin, based in Mount Gambier in South Australia, rode 431 winners in his 22-year career.

Had he weighed less, he could have recorded more wins — a common story in the industry.

“My weight was just spiralling between race rides because you don’t race consecutive days … it got too hard towards the end,” he said.

A man wearing a black riding helmet and high vis jacket sits on a horse in a stable.
Geoff O’Loughlin says he retired from racing when the sacrifice outweighed the reward.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

When O’Loughlin retired in 2010, he weighed 56 kilograms. At the time, the top weight allowed in handicap races was 57 kilograms, leaving the Mount Gambier jockey a narrow window within which to compete.

Now a decade later and a couple of kilos lighter, the 48-year-old made his return to competition racing last week at the Penola Racecourse.

No-one was more excited than his wife, trainer Belinda O’Loughlin.

When the two raced together they achieved a success rate of 23 per cent winners and 43 per cent placegetters, one of the best strike rates in country Australia.

“I’ve put a lot of jockeys on since Geoff retired … (but) Geoff… he’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever had,” Belinda said.

A woman stands with a horse smiling, a man in a bright green jockey racing shirt stands next to her.
Geoff O’Loughlin was an apprentice and Belinda a strapper when the couple first met.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Boiling baths, long runs, one meal a week

Belinda recalls the decades in their relationship when Geoff would eat just one meal a week.

They would go for dinner with friends before a race and Geoff would ask to be picked up 5 kilometres down the road.

“And he would jog three quarters of the way home wrapped in great big thick jackets,” Belinda said.

The jackets were to help Geoff sweat more weight off before race day. There were lots of ways he did that.

“Public holidays made it hard in the country because the gyms would close so then you’re restricted to having hot baths to lose the weight,” Geoff said.

“I got to the stage where I thought I best … join the real world and get a job.”

A young man in a yellow racing jumper rides a horse around a grass track.
Geoff O’Loughlin on a winner in 1998.(Supplied: Geoff O’Loughlin)

Older, wiser and lighter

Geoff still has a three-days-a-week labouring job while he eases back into racing. He credits his job with helping to get his weight down.

“It’s constant movement, you’re just on the go all day,” Geoff said.

Belinda added: “He’s lost a fair bit of muscle bulk being older (as well) … he’s still able to maintain a reasonable diet.

“Hopefully this time around it will be a lot better for his body, it won’t be as stressful.”

The biggest stress is the nervous energy associated with getting back on the track.

“There was a fair bit of ribbing at first,” Geoff said.

‘I’ll have to prove myself again’

Although Geoff retired as a jockey, he always remained in the industry.

On top of full-time labour work, he has been helping his wife train their horses most mornings.

“There’re days where it’s hailing … and he’s soaked and he has to go in those wet clothes to work and then work an 8-hour day,” Belinda said.

“He’s never not worked for me, he’s been tireless.”

But, while he enjoyed his time “on the other side of the fence”, something was missing.

A large commentary tower stand next to a white set of stands next to a country racecourse.
The stage for Geoff O’Loughlin’s first race since returning from retirement, Penola Racecourse.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“There’s no better feeling than going full throttle on a thoroughbred in amongst a field; it’s a thrill that only a jockey’s going to get,” Geoff said.

That said, he is not expecting an easy ride as he returns to the racetrack.

“I’m by no means at my age thinking I’m going to step back in and all of a sudden I’m riding five or six days a week,” he said.

A silhouette of a woman walking a large horse in paddock with a cloudy sunrise behind them.
Belinda O’Loughlin almost gave up training when her favourite jockey, her husband Geoff, decided to retire.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

‘I missed him so much’

No-one is more excited about Geoff’s return than his wife, because she wants to “be able to share it with him again”.

“I got into training because it’s something Geoff and I did. I’m glad that coming back to race riding he’s got a chance to get those rewards back.

The sun rises over a quiet dirt race track, spreading colours of pastel blue, pink and orange.
Geoff has continued to help train Belinda’s horses most mornings, often before heading off to work.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Their relationship aside, Belinda appreciates the determination Geoff brings to the sport.

“If he’s made a mistake, he’ll take that blame upon himself … he’ll own it,” she said.

“I’m definitely looking forward to him coming back and riding for me.”

Back in the saddle

Their horse Runbro may not have been a placegetter at Penola on Tuesday, but the O’Loughlins were not too worried. They have found the winning formula before.

Either way, Geoff is just happy to be back.



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Is it going to rain at the Bathurst 1000? Holden Racing Team set for final Supercars outing at Mount Panorama


The 2020 Bathurst 1000 will be a race like none other.

The iconic 3.2km Mount Panorama track has seen plenty of drama over the years, not least in last year’s thrilling edition.

However, while the on-track action will doubtless still excite, in this most unusual of sporting years, the ubiquitous, raucous throng of petrol-heads will be absent, save for 4,000 lucky ticket-holders.

But with 25 cars set to go bumper-to-bumper racing for over six hours at an average speed of 160kph, there’s still plenty to be excited about.

Holden’s final Bathurst outing. Kinda

For many Supercars fans, this Bathurst will mark the end of an era.

This edition of the great race marks the final race in which the Holden Racing Team will offer factory backing for its cars in the Supercar Championship, ending more than 50 years of Ford vs Holden battles in Australian touring car racing.

Holden will still be represented next year, after the pandemic forced a 12-month delay in the introduction of the new Gen3 era — which will now make its bow in the 2022 season — but without factory support.

The factory Holden cars driven by Shane van Gisbergen/Garth Tander and Jamie Whincup/Craig Lowndes will both sport the slogan #ThanksHoldenFans on their Red Bull cars this weekend, with the drivers telling the Supercars website that it was going to be an emotional weekend.

Two Red Bull Holden Commodore Supercars are parked in front of a pit garage
After this year’s Bathurst, Holden will no longer provide factory support to its Commodores in Supercars.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

“We want to go out on a high and thank everyone in the best possible way and that’s standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday,” Whincup said.

Triple Eight Racing will continue to use the current Commodores next year, but on Thursday confirmed they will drive the mean-looking Gen3 Chevrolet Camaros in 2022.

One last hurrah for Scott McLaughlin?

A SuperCars driver smiles as he sprays champagne over the crowd following his Bathurst 1000 win.
Scott McLaughlin (centre) claimed Bathurst victory last year.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

After breaking his Bathurst duck last year in the most dramatic of circumstances (more on that later), McLaughlin will be looking to spoil Holden’s farewell by securing a second consecutive victory in the great race.

McLaughlin has been the most dominant driver in Supercars over the past three years, highlighted by his third-straight Supercars championship victory, which he secured last week at Tailem Bend.

The New Zealander is the fourth driver to claim three straight Supercars titles and did so with a dominant performance over the course of a year in which he won 13 races, as many as the rest of the field combined.

He also secured a spectacular 15 pole positions, underlining that his sheer pace in a Supercar is unmatched.

Off that back of this near-domination, a virtual IndyCar win and a pandemic-enforced missed chance, the 27-year-old will be swapping his Supercar for an IndyCar next week, as team owner Roger Penske gives the flying Kiwi a shot in his IndyCar team at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg.

A blue car leads the field out starting a virtual IndyCar race, with the virtual stands packed.
Scott McLaughlin, (left), won a virtual IndyCar auto race during lockdown.(AP/iRacing IndyCar)

“He’s a special driver,” Penske said of McLaughlin in an interview with Autosport.

McLaughlin will add to the distinctly Australasian flavour in IndyCar on the grid in Florida.

Aussie Will Power has won two of the last four races while New Zealander Scott Dixon is leading the IndyCar championship having won four races.

What happened in last year’s Bathurst?

Where do we begin?

Last year’s race was one of the most exciting, tense and controversial races in Supercars history.

McLaughlin and Alex Premat claimed a breath-taking victory by just 0.68 seconds from a charging Shane van Gisbergen in a thrilling final-lap shootout.

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Co-driver Premat described the race as “stressful” a “gamble” and “crazy” in the immediate aftermath — but I’m not even sure that does it justice, to be honest.

There were eight safety car periods in the final 61 laps, one of which lead to the field being all together for that final-lap shootout, but it was an earlier incident that caused such a ruckus that it has resurfaced in the build-up to this year’s event.

Essentially, with McLaughlin leading the race behind a safety car — with overtaking not allowed — teammate Fabian Coulthard, in third, deliberately slowed the field, apparently under instruction from the pit wall, so McLaughlin could complete a pit stop and emerge at the front of the field.

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CAMS (the Confederation of Australian Motorsport) took a dim view of this, fining Team Penske $250,000 and demoting Coulthard, however McLaughlin was not penalised.

That lead to some serious grumbling in the paddock, including from Erebus Motorsport team owner Barry Ryan, who this week told News, “100 per cent [McLaughlin] should have [had the win] stripped”.

For his part, McLaughlin moved on pretty quickly, telling Fox Sports podcast The Loud Pedal last year that the speculation has ruined “the greatest week of his life”.

“We deserved to win that race. I believe we won it fair and square, it just sucks we have to deal with all this stuff and what probably should be the greatest week of my life.”

What is the Bathurst weather forecast?

Cars on the wet track at Bathurst.
The last wet race at Bathurst took place in 2017.(AAP: Brendan Esposito)

If you’re keen on some weather-induced carnage to spice up your motorsport viewing, the weather gods might just smile down on you this weekend.

The Bureau of Meteorology says there’s a 90 per cent chance of rain, with the chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon and evening on race day.

That could make things pretty interesting as drivers are forced to adapt to changing track conditions and could bring pit strategy to the fore.

What time is the race on Sunday?

The 161-lap, 1,000km race will start at 11:00am AEDT.

A number of cars approach and take a corner on a racetrack. A big crowd watches in the stands behind them.
The cars will set off for more than 6 hours of action at 11:30am AEDT.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

The race duration will vary from anything between six and seven hours, but that will depend on the number of incidents and stoppages over the course of the afternoon.

The shortest race time in the last 10 years came in 2018, when the drivers flew round in 6 hours 1 minute, 44.8637 seconds.

The longest the race has ever run (in the modern era) was in 2014 when a track break-up lead to a lengthy delay and a race that lasted almost eight hours.

Who is favourite to win?

McLaughlin is a hot favourite to go back-to-back based on his overall dominance this year, but anything can happen on the mountain.

A Supercars driver on the circuit at the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst.
Who can beat Scott McLaughlin on Mount Panorama?(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Whincup has been McLaughlin’s closest challenger this season in the Red Bull Holden, and has a more than capable co-driver to help back him up in Lowndes, who has stood on the Bathurst 1000 podium a record 14 times in his exceptional career.

Their Red Bull teammates Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander will feel that they can go one better this year, especially as some feel they have plenty to be aggrieved about after last year’s shenanigans.

Cameron Waters and Will Davidson are also looking good in the Monster Energy Ford, with Waters claiming a first win of a very consistent season at Tailem Bend, the last race before the teams came to Bathurst.

How do I watch Bathurst 2020?

You’ll be able to follow all the action from Bathurst in our live blog on Sunday, which will go live about an hour before the race is due to start, at 10:00am AEDT.

TV coverage will be provided by Fox Sports and Channel 10.



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Ford’s Cameron Waters takes Bathurst 1000 pole position after record lap in shootout at Mount Panorama



Ford’s Cameron Waters has smashed the Bathurst 1000 qualifying lap record to claim Supercars pole for Sunday’s great race at Mount Panorama.

Touted as a genuine contender to win the 161-lap race for the first time, Waters dominated the top-10 shootout on Saturday in his Mustang.

His time of 2 minutes 3.559 seconds eclipsed former Tickford teammate Chaz Mostert’s lap of 2.03.789 set last year.

It was Waters’ fifth career pole, setting him up for a tilt at winning with star co-driver Will Davison, a two-time Bathurst 1000 winner.

The 26-year-old Waters pipped three-time champion Scott McLaughlin, who has stamped his mark as one of the Supercars’ greatest qualifiers.

Mostert, who switched to Holden this year, was the fastest Commodore driver in third to start alongside Nick Percart on the second row of the grid.

Seven-time champion Jamie Whincup’s testing relationship with Mount Panorama continued as a mistake near the end of his lap saw the Triple Eight legend finish 10th.

Waters completed his first solo race victory at Tailem Bend last month and has carried that hot form into the season finale at Bathurst.

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“That was absolutely awesome. Knew the car had something special in it, but just had to put it all together,” Waters said.

“This is so special for all the boys at Tickford. They’ve earnt their piece in this whole period we have been away so this [pole money] will go towards beer Sunday night.

“I made a few little mistakes, but the car was just hooked up. The boys have done so well to give me something like that.”

Fords on the front of the grid is the last thing Holden supporters want ahead of the red lion’s last Bathurst race in an official capacity before the brand is retired by General Motors at the end of this year.

McLaughlin claimed his maiden Bathurst victory last year but that result ended a run of four-straight Holden wins dating back to 2015.

The start time of Sunday’s race has been brought forward by 30 minutes to 11.00am AEDT with rain and storms predicted to descend on Mt Panorama.

AAP



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Toddler hit and killed by family’s 4WD on property in Mount Jagged, SA


A 17-month-old girl has died after she was hit by her family’s four-wheel-drive on a rural property in South Australia.

SA Police said the incident occurred on Victor Harbor Rd, Mount Jagged, about 55 kilometres south of Adelaide, at 3.45pm on Friday.

“The toddler was hit by the family 4WD,” police said in a statement on Saturday morning.

“Sadly, despite the efforts of paramedics at the scene, the 17-month-old girl could not be saved.”

Major Crash investigators went to the property and are investigating the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident.



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Mount Buller ski lifts close, Victorian ski resorts shut to visitors


Credit:Matt Golding

Businesses and residents on Mount Buller were advised on Thursday afternoon that increased coronavirus restrictions meant visitors would not be permitted on the mountain and all lifts would immediately be shut, despite bumper snow falls in recent days.

The Resort Management Board warned of significant fines for those who failed to comply.

Mount Buller and Mount Stirling had been the last to keep lifts operating, with Buller Ski Lifts general manager Laurie Blampied saying the decision to continue was “reached with the wellbeing and livelihoods of our employees, the community and our guests in mind”.

Vail Resorts, the US company that owns lifts at Falls Creek and Mount Hotham, closed them on July 9. Its chief operating officer in Australia, Peter Brulisauer, said the decision was based on Victoria’s stay-at-home directions.

“We are focused first and foremost on health and safety, following local health guidelines and doing our part to support efforts across Victoria to address the recent rise in coronavirus cases,” Mr Brulisauer said.

Buller Ski Lifts is owned by the Grollo Group, which also controls the Mt Buller Chalet, the Abom hotel, the local ski school and a string of hospitality and retail outlets on the mountain.

In recent weeks, the Mount Buller community has been abuzz with stories of Melburnians sneaking into the village late at night, some even chartering a helicopter to a base near the resort, in defiance of travel bans and the lockdown.

A Mt Buller ski services staff member displays the social-distancing measures the resort was using on its ski lifts.

A Mt Buller ski services staff member displays the social-distancing measures the resort was using on its ski lifts.

A Toorak hairdresser set up a pop-up store to cater to the A-list crowd, while apres-ski events were regularly hosted in private apartments, apparently oblivious to the pandemic.

One woman, who had contracted COVID-19 during a ski holiday to Aspen in March and refused to isolate on her return to Melbourne, was recently confronted on Mount Buller about her behaviour.

The rumours caused tensions with long-term residents and business owners, but most were reluctant to notify authorities and potentially jeopardise their lifestyles and livelihoods.

On July 28, Mount Buller Racing Club urged its members to contact police.

Day visitors build snowmen at the Mount Buller reopening in June.

Day visitors build snowmen at the Mount Buller reopening in June.Credit:Getty Images

“The rules are clear – if you live in a locked-down area, there are only four reasons to leave, and unfortunately coming up to the resort to join your family and have a ski is not one them.

“We have sought guidance from the authorities and we encourage anyone with information about people breaking the rules to lodge a report… this will enable Victoria Police to investigate. MBRC will co-operate fully with any investigations,” club president Simon Kelly said in an email.

Mark Bennetts, chief executive of the Mt Buller & Mt Stirling Resort Management Board, did not respond to questions about Melburnians flouting stage three and stage four restrictions to enter the resort.

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Mr Bennetts did confirm that one staff member had tested positive to COVID-19 on July 23.

“There are no, and have not been any, known positive cases within the resorts other than one staff member who tested as positive on 23 July — which we understand they contracted off-mountain,” Mr Bennetts said.

He confirmed that visitors were not permitted to enter the Mount Buller or Mount Stirling resorts from 5pm on Thursday for the duration of stage three restrictions that applied to regional Victoria.

The government has allowed a supermarket and takeaway venues to remain open, while people living within the resorts can continue to exercise outdoors, including cross-country skiing.

Projections in April anticipated the tourism industry, with a $32.5 billion worth to the Victorian economy, would lose $23.3 billion in visitor spend, Ms Mariani said.

The tourism chief said that figure would now be higher.

“The knock-on effect is businesses will not survive,” Ms Mariani said.

She said the industry would benefit from sector-specific plans to start mapping out what a reopening would look like.

“This isn’t about give us a timeline or tell us what date,” she said.

“We’re going to be living in this kind world for a couple of years, the industry is well aware of this and engaging them in a pathway out would give them something to work towards.”

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Fears mount as aged care deaths rise


St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner in Melbourne’s north was the worst outbreak, with 84 cases among residents and staff.

Late on Monday night, the federal government’s aged care regulator threatened to revoke the licence of the aged care facility.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has issued St Basil’s with a Notice to Agree, citing concerns about the serious impact of the outbreak on the residents and staff, and the aged care centre’s response.

Under the notice, St Basil’s must not admit any new residents until it can demonstrate to the Commission’s satisfaction that the “serious risk” to care recipients has been effectively addressed.

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It must also appoint an independent adviser until St Basil’s is declared free of all positive cases of COVID-19 and is declared safe by the Victorian Government’s Public Health Unit.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson said the commission had developed concerns about the serious impact of the outbreak on the residents and staff, and the response of the approved provider.

“These concerns included ongoing challenges apparent in implementing an effective outbreak response in a timely manner, and in fulfilling responsibilities to provide timely communication relating to the care of individual residents,” Ms Anderson said.

St Basil’s said in a statement on Monday night that it had immediately implemented the requirements of the Notice to Agree.

The statement said St Basil’s was pleased to see many of its COVID-19 infected residents at the Fawkner facility were being transferred to hospital.

“We await the test results of our employees and as soon as they are cleared we are eager to return and continue in our mission of caring for our residents.”

Almost as bad at st Basil’s was Epping Gardens, where 77 people have contracted the virus.

Luci Larubina’s 85-year-old mother, Elsa, is in the home and has twice tested negative to coronavirus.

But Ms Larubina is furious over the lack of communication, saying she had been unable to get any real information on her mother for days.

“I have been trying to ring them from Friday night, and they don’t pick up their phones,” she said.

Her mother has dementia, and moved into Epping Gardens Aged Care home just two weeks ago – when there were no positive coronavirus cases.

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Two cases were identified last week, and the virus has since raged through the centre.

On Monday, after news of the rapid spread, Ms Larubina said she had had enough of waiting on the phone.

“I bolted down there to see what’s going on,” she said after managing to get some information about her mother.

The federal opposition released new figures on Monday from one of the first aged care outbreaks during the pandemic, western Sydney’s Newmarch House where 19 residents died.

Julie Collins, the federal opposition’s spokeswoman on aged care, said there were clear parallels between the lack of communication with families at Newmarch House in Sydney in April and what was unfolding in Melbourne.

Figures obtained from a Senate select committee on COVID-19 show the federal government provided only one social worker to work with families, some of whom did not learn of their relative’s death until days later.

Ms Collins said the federal government “must now step up and ensure the families … are provided with timely and correct advice about the status of outbreaks”.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the outbreaks in Victoria were “extremely concerning”, and that the situation inside homes where there were multiple cases was complex.”

He pointed to the Morrison government’s establishment of a Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, which will co-ordinate and expand resources to tackle the virus in homes.

The centre will bring together Commonwealth and state agencies at Victoria’s State Control Centre, he said.

“A highly experienced crisis communication team, supported by clinical staff, has commenced at St Basil’s to ensure that there is daily communication with every family specifically about their loved one,” he also said.

The body representing not-for-profit homes, Aged and Community Services Australia, wants any positive cases transferred immediately to hospitals as a way of tackling outbreaks.

“That gives the older person the best chance of survival and the best care, while allowing us to … protect what might be another 100 or more people living in the same space,” said Patricia Sparrow, the group’s chief executive.

Ms Sparrow said the vulnerability of residents in homes was so serious that unless immense resources were thrown into stopping outbreaks, “once it gets into aged care it can be disastrous – the scale of this is now so broad”.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, said on Monday that elderly residents who contracted coronavirus were at “significant risk of dying – where there are outbreaks in aged care the mortality rate is extremely high. We know that from European outbreaks in particular, where deaths in aged care made up almost half of all deaths.”

Professor Sutton offered one glimmer of hope, saying the government’s modelling indicated that Monday should be the peak of the state’s second wave.

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“Modelling, with our effective reproduction number that I have seen most recently, suggests that today should be the peak,” he said.

Victorian opposition leader Michael O’Brien also called for aged care centres to immediately transfer those who tested positive to coronavirus to hospitals.

“There is a real concern that this virus is getting through aged care in Victoria – that the measures that are being put in place are either not enough or have come too late,” he said.

“We can’t have a situation where people in aged care are left without showers for days and days on end. We need to make sure these people are looked after with dignity.”

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Mount Gambier loses another race meeting, reigniting anger about track issues


Millions of dollars have been poured into revamping Mount Gambier’s Glenburnie Racecourse, however a local trainer believes “we’re worse off now than before they started”.

Sunday’s scheduled meeting was transferred to Bordertown — a two-hour drive north — because of wet weather leading up to the event.

It was meant to be the first races welcoming spectators back to the track following COVID-19 restrictions.

Local officials said the Mount Gambier track was still “young” after a $3.3 million rebuild and the surface needed to be conserved for the long term.

But Michael O’Leary, who has been training in Mount Gambier for 40 years and is a winner of 1,500 races, including six Gold Cups, said not being able to race at Glenburnie significantly increased the time and effort it took to prepare the horses.

“We had to start earlier [Sunday] morning and [weren’t] finished until about seven, but if we were in Mount Gambier, we would be home by about 5:30pm,” he said.

About a dozen jockeys racing horses on a grass track
More than $3 million was spent trying to solve water-logging issues at the track.(ABC South East SA: Isadora Bogle)

Track’s troubled history

O’Leary said the issues started in 2001 when development on the track began to prevent water-logging; in 2018, more than $3 million was spent addressing drainage concerns.

After racing there in early December, a number of scheduled meetings were transferred to help the new track consolidate.

“They promised us lots of things last time and we never got them,” O’Leary said.

The trainer said he now had to travel around the state’s south-east to properly train his horses.

“You can’t consistently be doing that because it knocks the stuffing out of your horses.”

A group of about 10 people stand, with a man towards the left holding a trophy
Michael O’Leary with his wife and team after winning the Gold Cup in 2011.(ABC News: Tash Impey)

Time to grow

Thoroughbred Racing South Australia said its decision to transfer Sunday’s meeting was in the best interests of all parties.

Chief operating officer Vaughn Lynch said it was too risky to race on the Glenburnie track after the wet weather.

“We’re steadfast in our desire to put the safety of horse and rider at the forefront of our decisions, and it was decided that it was in the best interest of everyone to not risk racing on that track.”

He said the track just needed growing time.

“Nothing much will grow in the depths of winter down there in Mount Gambier … but once spring starts, we expect the track to really bounce back.

“We’ve got the basics of a good track and we just need it to grow and settle into itself.”

Mr Lynch said racing officials would visit the south-east in the coming days to develop a way forward.

“[We’ll] meet with the local clubs, the local trainers and try to work out a pathway forward that helps everyone,” he said.

“We’re working on it and we will get it right; this time next year, I’m confident that we’ll be able to race all winter in Mount Gambier.”



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Victorian issues first interim protection order over Aboriginal cultural sites at Mount Arapiles


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The Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, which represents traditional owners at Mount Arapiles, will work with the government to determine the best way to permanently protect the site.

The corporation’s chief executive, Michael Stewart, said advances in mobile technology had helped identify the rock motifs at the site last year.

“As technology has advanced you can now do preliminary surveys on your phone,” he said.

Mr Stewart said the site’s significance should be celebrated and the council would seek ways to share its cultural value with the broader community where appropriate.

The council applied for protection over the site once it was identified. While it was closed to the public in December, Mr Stewart said some people had ignored the closure signs.

“There was clear evidence that people had been on the site,” he said.

Long-time rock climbing enthusiast Keith Lockwood, who lives in nearby Natimuk, said the large fines were a punitive measure to protect the site.

He argued the government had paid little attention to the views of climbers.

“There’s more than one side to an argument,” he said.

He said climbers cared for the environment and wanted to respect Indigenous culture.

Rock climbers have been banned from other sacred sites in the Grampians in recent years following accusations they damaged ancient rock art with climbing equipment.

Mr Stewart said it was distressing for traditional owners when people disrespected sacred sites.

“It is a very emotional thing for traditional owners when sites get impacted on.”

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Interim protection orders allow traditional owners to determine the best way to protect their heritage, he said.

“It feels like there’s a certain amount of control afforded to traditional owners to decide the best outcome for their heritage. That provides a level of comfort.”

This is the first time the government has issued an interim protection declaration since the Victorian Aborginal Heritage Act was introduced. It allows for the immediate protection of important sites.

However, two permanent protection orders were issued in 2011 and 2013.

The interim protection order will be reviewed in three months.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams said the government took protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage very seriously.

She said it was essential for the whole community to protect, celebrate and respect Aboriginal history.

“This declaration gives traditional owners time to consider what safeguards they would like in place in the long term to preserve the cultural significance of Dyurrite 1.”

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William Callaghan ate McDonald’s chips, nuggets and slept well after ordeal lost on Mount Disappointment


“They found footprints and then the shoes,” field organiser Peter Campbell from Bush Search and Rescue Victoria said on Thursday. “Some footprints were pointing in a certain direction in soft earth and then the shoes gave us the direction of travel.”

Will was “perhaps inadvertently” leaving his rescuers clues, he said.

“Once they found the shoes we thought, ‘He’s not going to go far without shoes’,” Mr Campbell said. “When we find a clue like that, that means we had reasonably high level of confidence he was in the vicinity.”

Will Callaghan, in his stepfather's arms, after being found. His mother Penny follows close behind.

Will Callaghan, in his stepfather’s arms, after being found. His mother Penny follows close behind.Credit:Justin McManus

Teams of searchers were diverted to the area. As they made their way there, a call came through at 11.55am from experienced bushwalker Ben Gibbs. He had found the boy and requested helicopters leave the airspace as the noise was alarming him.

Mr Gibbs spoke calmly to Will about Diesel, a character from his favourite program Thomas the Tank Engine. He gave him chocolate, his jacket and his socks, and was able to return the teen into the waiting arms of his parents.

“I just think we are all greatly appreciative he was able to be there,” Mr Campbell said. “At the end of the second day, we were getting more concerned about [Will’s] welfare so we were very hopeful we would find him on that day and we did.”

Will’s mother Penny Callaghan on Thursday thanked search crews. She said her son had eaten four large serves of McDonald’s hot chips and some chicken nuggets and had gotten a good night’s sleep.

Will may have a broken foot and could need a cast, and also likely has an insect in his ear, she said.

“This is a massive ordeal for him, but for him it was probably just an adventure as well,” Ms Callaghan said.

The teen, who is non-verbal, doesn’t like to be touched and communicates by tapping his chest.

“He obviously can’t tell me what has happened … But it was quite amazing that under pressure he can find ways to communicate and he has often surprised me that way with his ability to let me know when he is struggling…

“He has demonstrated what an amazing person he is,” Ms Callaghan said. “What probably surprised me about him is he stayed in the area – he was off the track but didn’t go too far. He was waiting to be rescued and I want to give him a million hugs but he won’t like that. I managed steal a kiss or two.”

Ms Callaghan said a special thank you to Mr Gibbs.

Ben Gibbs, who found Will in the bush.

Ben Gibbs, who found Will in the bush.Credit:Justin McManus

“I can’t wait to meet him, he clearly did all the right stuff, what an amazing guy,” she said. “I would love to give him a hug and I’m incredibly thankful.”

The search for Will, one of the biggest in Victoria’s history, included more than 450 volunteer and professional searchers on foot, horseback and motorbikes. It involved about 200 SES volunteers and staff from more than 25 units, from Craigieburn to Moorabbin.

William Callaghan with his mother shortly after being found.

William Callaghan with his mother shortly after being found.Credit:AAP

It required specialist equipment including marquees and lighting trailers, communications equipment and satellite phones, to be hauled up the mountain.

The theme tune of Thomas the Tank Engine was played through the loudspeakers of SES and police vehicles and locals were encouraged to cook onion and bacon on their barbecues to entice the hungry teen – just some of the many more unusual tactics searchers employed.

“It’s not usually the things we have done, but it was a good opportunity to learn a little bit more,” said Jodie Griffin, the SES regional commander for the search.

SES volunteers searching for Will on Tuesday.

SES volunteers searching for Will on Tuesday.Credit:Chis Hopkins

“Generally searchers are calling out for people, for example, but this is an opportunity to see the diversity of the population, and see the different techniques and learn new ones for the future.”

The SES are involved in about two searches a week in metro Melbourne, but this was “certainly the biggest search in a couple of years and one of the most high profile searches”, she said.

It’s still unclear how William managed to emerge from his ordeal relatively unscathed despite the cold and lack of warm clothing, Mr Campbell said.

“It is remarkable [he survived] considering he didn’t have a tent or much in the way of warm clothing, so it is surprising he was in such good shape.

“It was a pleasant surprise for everybody. The advice is he had kept moving, and by doing that kept himself warm, and he is in good shape. If he stopped moving and tried to huddle down he would have got cold.”

Acting Inspector Christine Lalor, who led the search effort, said it was “hard to know” if Will would have survived another night in the bush.

“Obviously as time goes on, the risk increases but Penny and myself and the team were all quite optimistic we should find him and for some reason, whether it was wishful thinking, I just had a feeling we were going to find him that day,” she said.

Police and SES searching for Will in the forest surrounding Mt Disappointment on Tuesday.

Police and SES searching for Will in the forest surrounding Mt Disappointment on Tuesday.Credit:Chris Hopkins

The officer of 30 years said telling Ms Callaghan they had found her son was a career highlight.

“I kept going, ‘Are we sure it’s him? Are we sure it’s him? Can we tell Penny and the family?’ And letting them know was probably one of my career highlights. It was so exciting to deliver that news,” she said.

“It’s a great news story. It’s given everyone a little boost, it’s been a tough three months, from bushfires to COVID.”

Mr Gibbs found Will about 20 minutes from a single walking track, not far from the summit.

He found Will, standing in the thick undergrowth, barefoot, with his hands over his ears to block the noise of a helicopter searching above.

“He was really angelic, just standing there,” Mr Gibbs said.

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William Callaghan, teen missing on Mount Disappointment, released from hospital; Victoria news


The mother of an autistic teen who spent two nights lost in dense Victorian bushland says his rescuer should have a mountain named after him.

William Callaghan spent the night in hospital after being lost on Mount Disappointment for two nights.

Despite temperatures dropping to near zero degrees, the 14-year-old avoided hypothermia and managed to walk away with a suspected broken foot, and some cuts and bruising.

William Callaghan is hugged by his mum at the base camp at Mount Disappointment. He was found alive after two cold nights in Victoria's bush
William Callaghan is hugged by his mum at the base camp at Mount Disappointment. He was found alive after two cold nights in Victoria’s bush (AAP / James Ross)
William Callaghan survived two nights of bitterly cold temperatures, wearing just blue tracksuit pants and a hoodie. Here he is seen in a blue jacket, being carried as search party members look on
William Callaghan survived two nights of bitterly cold temperatures, wearing just blue tracksuit pants and a hoodie. Here he is seen in a blue jacket, being carried as search party members look on (Victoria Police)

He may also have an insect inside his ear, hospital staff said.

Will was found yesterday morning by local volunteer Ben Gibbs, who ventured out of the designated search site and stumbled across him.

Will’s mother Penny Callaghan addressed the media this morning, saying Mount Disappointment should be named after Mr Gibbs for his heroic efforts.

“I would love to give him a hug, I’m incredibly thankful,” Ms Callaghan said of Will’s rescuer.

“It was incredible to hear his family connection to the mountain. I would prefer the mountain to be named after him.”

The 14-year-old, who is non-verbal, disappeared about 2.20pm on Monday. (Nine)

As the family walked towards the summit, Will raced ahead and became separated from them.

Emergency crews were called in immediately to help find Will, who is non-verbal due to his condition.

It was a race against time as temperatures dropped to near zero degrees.

Yesterday, shortly after a public plea from Ms Callaghan, Mr Gibbs found the smiling teen and offered him food until emergency crews arrived.

Police said Will was found at 11.55pm about 1.5kms from the Mount Disappointment base camp and 10 minutes from the main bush track.

“I can’t imagine what he has been feeling and going through,” Ms Callaghan said after being reunited with her son.

Penny Callagan (left), mother of William Callagan and partner Nathan Ezard. (AAP)
William reunited with family after a three-day search for the missing teen. (Nine)

She said he was “as well as can be expected” and indicated to her via hand signals that he was “confused” and “scared” from the ordeal.

After being assessed at the scene for minor cuts and abrasions, William was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Royal Children’s Hospital emergency registrar Dani Bersin said William was “relatively unscathed” after spending two nights by himself in the thick scrub where he had just tracksuit pants and a hoodie in the extreme low temperatures.

Mr Bersin said he suffered from a few minor abrasions to his feet and face but did not have hypothermia.

“He’s walking around … he’s interacting well. His temperature is normal,” he said.

“It’s quite incredible to survive the elements for two nights in the cold, we heard that it was almost zero degrees up on the mountain.”

More than 200 volunteers and about 150 police and emergency services took part in the search for William.

Volunteer Ben Gibbs has found the missing teenager. (Nine)

Mr Gibbs, who lives in Research, told reporters he found the teen after walking slightly further past a search area which had earlier been tagged by rescue crews.

“I was just wandering through the bush, it was quite thick, so just breaking my way through it,” he said.

“He was about 15 metres from me just standing there. He was really angelic, just standing and looking.”

Mr Gibbs said he talked to William about Thomas the Tank Engine, a favourite of the teen’s, and then gave him some chocolate.

He also put some socks on the teen, who was not wearing shoes.

According to his mother, William’s first food request was McDonald’s after going hungry for days.

She said William wanted “hot and salty food”.

When asked about her plans once Will was well, she smiled and said she wanted to take him on a holiday.



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