Sarah Snook stars in The Dressmaker

Sarah Snook at the private Parliamentary screening of n film The Dressmaker. Photo: Melissa Adams Sarah Snook (centre) alongside co-stars Judy Davis and Kate Winslet after her character’s “classic ugly duckling to swan” transformation in The Dressmaker. Photo: Supplied
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Rosalie Ham’s surreal moment

“The ubiquitous Sarah Snook” was how the actor was introduced at a private parliamentary screening of her latest film The Dressmaker.

And it’s easy to see why.

In recent months it seems like she’s everywhere.

In August there was the film adaption of novel Holding the Man, this month she’ll be seen in ABC TV mini-series The Beautiful Lie and in November will return to the big screen in the much-anticipated biopic Steve Jobs.

The night before the Canberra screening, ahead of the film’s October cinema release, she’d been at the Sydney premiere of family film Oddball alongside one of her co-stars from The Dressmaker, Shane Jacobson.

All the roles seem worlds apart but, despite the genre-hopping, Snook says all have the same thing at their core – great acting ensembles.

“It’s a strange kind of time because it’s 18 months of work that’s all coming out at the same time and usually that doesn’t happen” she says.

In The Dressmaker, Snook shares the screen with Kate Winslet and Judy Davis among a cast that reads like the who’s who of n film and TV including Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth.

While she admits working alongside the screen giants was daunting at times, it was also a valuable learning experience.

“It’s an amazing n cast and working with and meeting Kate was really wonderful,” she says.

Likewise the talent behind the scenes, including writer-director Jocelyn Moorhouse, co-writer P.J. Hogan, and cinematographer Don McAlpine, have had a hand in some of ‘s most iconic films including Muriel’s Wedding and Moulin Rouge!.

Snook believes The Dressmaker has the potential to join them.

Adapted from Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel, the film follows Tilly Dunnage’s (Winslet) return to the dusty fictional outback town of Dungatar where she spent her childhood, far from the fashion houses of Paris where she has carved out a career as a dressmaker.

She’s there to look after her elderly mother Molly (Davis) and find out the truth about her past, but soon finds herself an in demand fashion designer for the local ladies.

As you would expect from a film with 1950s couture at its heart, the costumes are almost another character in themselves.

Snook likens the unlikely mix of flamboyant frocks in a quintessentially n landscape to The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

“It’s delicious to wear all those gowns … I think my favourite outfit was the wedding dress because I got to throw myself around in it, rolling down hills and jumping out windows and throwing myself off things, it was very fun,” she says.

But wearing a dress, corset, stockings and all the trappings on a shoot in central Victoria had its downside as summer neared.

“Kate [Winslet] was probably more under pressure because she was wearing all of that and also in the middle of a football field having to look ​glamorous,” Snook says.

“She does make it look easy though.”

Snook says her character Gertrude Pratt undergoes a “classic ugly-duckling-to-swan moment” when with the help of Tilly’s dressmaking transforms from a “dowdy much-overlooked store owner’s daughter” to attract the attention of the most eligible bachelor in town.

But there’s a twist on the old tale.

“What’s great with Gertrude is she doesn’t remain humble or remain true to her previous self, she turns out to be just as bad and greedy and foul  as the other townsfolk,” Snook says with a laugh.

While she admits it can be hard to play a book character on screen, mostly she focused on making sure Gertrude fitted in with the ensemble.

“[She] is a little bit crazier in the book than in the screenplay so I tried to infuse a little bit of that into the film,” she says.

After The Dressmaker hits the screen, the Melbourne-based actor will be next seen in Steve Jobs.

She hopes it brings more opportunities in the US.

“I’m not sure about moving [there], but if I need to I will,” she says.

“I’m just trying to balance my time with here and over there at the moment.

“It’s just about building relationships in both countries and challenging myself to take some risks.”

In the meantime she’ll round out the year in a play at the Old Vic Theatre in Britain.

“I haven’t done stage for a couple of years and it’s been something I’ve wanted to get back to for a while,” she says.

“It’s so daunting but that’s part of the excitement as well.”

M1 “missing link” released amid fears of gridlock

THE state government has released new plans for the ‘‘missing link’’ extension of the M1 motorway to the Pacific Highway at the same time as the NRMA warns that traffic congestion in the Hunter could soon rival Sydney if governments don’t fund improvements to the region’s road network.
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On Wednesday the NRMA released its annual survey of the state’s worst roads, again identifying the Pacific Motorway as the Hunter’s most hated, the fifth year in a row it has received the dubious honour.

Newcastle motorists also identified Newcastle Road, Lookout Road, Minmi Road and Maitland Road as among the Hunter’s worst.

Stretches of the Pacific Highway rated poorly among the more than 7000 respondents who voted in the NRMA survey, and in the Hunter NRMA President Kyle Loades said the federal government to come to the table with funding for the Raymond Terrace bypass.

“The NRMA urges the n Government to fund the missing link between the M1 Pacific Motorway, south of John Renshaw Drive and the Raymond Terrace bypass,” he said.

It comes at the same time as the state roads and maritime service released an updated plan for the extension, part of a $200 million campaign promise made by roads minister Duncan Gay before this year’s state election.

Roads and Maritime have spent $3 million allocated in this year’s budget to revise the original plan for the bypass, with the new plan now including a more northern road alignment and including a bridge across the Hunter River floodplain to ‘‘minimise and avoid environmental impacts to protected wetlands’’.

The changes also include a new interchange at Tarro to improve traffic flow and connectivity, and changes to the Tomago Road interchange design to improve accessibility to and from Tomago Road.

Those changes include a new link road behind Tomago industrial area connecting to Old Punt Road and Tomago Road.

The route for the extension is already reserved in the Port Stephens Local Environmental Plan, and the council’s general manager Wayne Wallis welcomed the revised plan.

‘‘This is a project Council has been advocating for since initial planning and investigations began more than a decade ago because of the potential it has to drive economic development in Port Stephens,’’ he said.

‘‘One of the many advantages of Tomago, Heatherbrae and Raymond Terrace to prospective new industries is their proximity to major transport links, in particular air and road.’’

Mr Loades said a greater proportion of the fuel excise needed to be put back into the building and repair of roads.

“The Hunter is one of the population growth centres of the nation, yet earlier this year the NRMA found that local councils faced a combined $360 million backlog,” he said.

Tourist captures moment China’s new glass-bottom walkway cracks

Tourists walking along the new glass walkway at Yuntai Mountain. Photo: Youtube Tourists walking along the new glass walkway at Yuntai Mountain. Photo: Youtube
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A dizzying experience: China’s glass bridge opens 

A group of Chinese tourists were left terrified after a glass pane on a new transparent walkway shattered suddenly.

One tourist posted images to Chinese social media, claiming she could feel the walkway shake under her feet when the glass broke.

The 68-metre, U-shaped platform – which opened in September – is perched on a cliff  at Yuntai Mountain, and suspended more than 1000 metres above sea-level.

According to the Daily Mail, Chinese authorities have confirmed the incident and closed the attraction for repair works.

A spokesman for the Yuntai Mountain Scenic Spot confirmed to China’s People Daily Online, that a piece of glass had broken on the walkway.

It is believed to have cracked after a tourist dropped a stainless steel mug on the walkway.

Only one of the three layers of the glass is reported to have cracked, and the spokesman claimed the tourists were never in danger.

The female tourist shared her experience on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo.

The image posted to Weibo apparently showing the glass cracking. Photo: Weibo

She posted images of what appeared to be a cracked piece of glass, with a message summarising what she witnessed.

“[I’ve] just witnessed history. The glass-bottomed walkway on Yuntai Mountain just cracked. When I was about to reach the end [of the passage], I heard a sudden bang and felt a shake under my feet.

“I looked down and saw the glass floor beneath me shattered. [I have] no idea why it happened, at that moment everybody was screaming.

“I yelled out loud “It cracked, it really cracked!”, then pushed the people in front of me to leave. [I was] terrified.’

The Weibo post has since been taken down because she felt it was bringing her “too much attention”,  the Daily Mail reported.


Consistency and competition the key to Melbourne City success in A-League, says Patrick Kisnorbo

Melbourne City’s Bruno Fornaroli (left) and Robert Koren celebrate a goal. Photo: Getty-ImagesFor Melbourne City skipper Patrick Kisnorbo, it’s the C-words that will determine whether his team can build on its fourth-placed finish from last season and snare a championship and Asian Champions League place, the club’s ultimate aims this A-League campaign.
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Consistency and competition are the words that encapsulate City’s future, the centre-back believes: if the club can find the first it has the personnel to deliver on the pitch.

If the squad strengthening that has taken place in the off-season leads to greater competition for places, and thus improved on-field performances, then City will be well placed to improve on its 2014-15 efforts, he says.

“The expectation is always high, but for us it’s about improving the consistency game by game from last year to this year. We did well last year but it left a bit of a bad taste in our mouth the way we finished [a 3-0 semi-final loss to cross-town rivals and eventual champions Melbourne Victory]  so we really want to go better.

“We have had another year together, we have been working on our consistency a lot in training and I think with the signings we have brought in it shows which path we want to take this year. It’s a strong pointer to the way Melbourne City wants to go.”

Coach John van ‘t Schip has presided over a huge change and brought in virtually a new team of players, including the likes of Premier League veterans Thomas Sorenson, an experienced Danish international goalkeeper, and Aaron Hughes, a Northern Ireland international who, in the twilight of his career, is close to making the European Championship finals with his country.

Their addition, along with a host of others headed by Uruguayan striker Bruno Fornaroli, will lead to much greater competition for places.

Kisnorbo will have to fight off the challenge from Hughes and youngster Connor Chapman to seal a starting spot, but he argues that while it makes life uncomfortable at times it is to the overall benefit of the team.

“The coach has brought in competition in every place and that makes us work harder as a squad. Individuals want to keep their place in the team and that has to be good for the playing group and the squad as a whole.”

While some have raised eyebrows at the signings of Hughes and Sorenson, Kisnorbo, who spent a decade overseas, much of it in the Scottish Premier League and the English Championship, says such views are wide of the mark.

While players of their ilk can contribute on the pitch they can also offer a huge amount off it as well, something that is essential if City wants to iron out the in-and-out nature of the performances which cost them so dear last season.

“They are natural-born leaders who played in the biggest league in the world. They have vast experience and that definitely improves our squad. We put pressure on ourselves as a playing group, and to set standards for ourselves as a club. We want to bring a winning culture, and we are doing that step by step. These sorts of players come from that background, they are mentally strong and can help the younger boys develop that.”

He is also looking forward to the contribution that can be made by Fornaroli, who has played in his native Uruguay, Argentina, Greece and Italy before moving to .

Last season City used Josh Kennedy as their main target, but the tall Socceroo striker struggled with injury and the demands of the game finally took its toll and he retired.

Fornaroli is an all together different player, smaller, quicker and more mobile.

“We have to adapt to what we have up front. Bruno is not the tallest, but we will be doing our best to accommodate him and play to his strengths. There are others there who he can play off like Aaron Mooy. Mooysy has been great in the past year.

“But we have a squad that allows him to do that. Hopefully that continues. We have got a great work ethic amongst our squad, people like Mooysy and Robbie Koren are given the scope to express themselves and score goals.”

City played Sydney away in their first game last season too – a 1-1 draw in which David Villa scored the equalising goal – so Kisnorbo is well aware of the challenge Graham Arnold’s team offers.

“Sydney have brought in some big signings themselves. It’s always a difficult start when you are away in the first game of the season. Both teams will have hopes and expectations high. We just want to focus on our performance and hopefully the result will then come and we can get off to a good start. We will definitely improve as the season goes on as our injured players get back to fitness.”

Anti-corporate political activism holds big business to account

No Business in Abuse executive director Shen Narayanasamy speaks at a rally outside Transfield’s head office last month about human rights violations in immigration detention centres. Photo: Eddie JimAnti-corporate activists are much like minor parties, in that they see their role as stirring up the major corporate businesses just as minor parties stir up the major political parties. One recent case of such activism, an adjunct of broader refugee and asylum-seeker politics, has been the campaign against Transfield Services, the company which has the $1 billion contract to manage government detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
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The activists, led by No Business in Abuse, an offshoot of GetUp!, have had some recent success in pressuring superannuation funds to divest their investment – that is, sell their shares – in Transfield. Some industry super funds, like HESTA, have announced their intention to join the movement to divest.

Now Transfield soon to be known as BroadSpectrum, is fighting back by seeking the support of the wider business community for its position. The newspaper of the business community, The n Financial Review, has thrown its support behind comments by Transfield chief Diane Smith-Gander in asking for “the investment community generally to stand up against this activist warfare”. The military language echoes that of the previous Abbott government, which felt it lacked such business support on many issues, including budget reform.

Smith-Gander’s position is that activist criticism is both unwarranted and misplaced. If activists have concerns and want to change government policy on detention centres, she says, “they should engage directly with the government”. That would be futile of course, as Smith-Gander recognises, because the detention centre policy that Transfield administers has the support of the government and the opposition. The parallel with party politics is clear.

Transfield is interested only in the business case for the management of the detention centres and believes that the business should not be politicised in any way. Furthermore, Smith-Gander says her company has no influence, and apparently wishes to have no influence, over government detention policy. That is a line between politics and business, policy and administration, which is very difficult to draw, especially as Transfield is very close to the government through its previous chairman, Tony Shepherd. However, the Financial Review supports this view by saying politics and the market should not mix.

No Business in Abuse executive director Shen Narayanasamy, a GetUp! staff member, organised a protest against Transfield’s managing director holding a non-executive director position on the board of energy company AGL by having the issue raised at its annual meeting. That shows that this type of politics cannot be narrowly contained.

There have now been decades of activism against companies as part of wider political campaigns. Activists have fought for the right to speak at AGMs of big companies to have their voices heard. Ethical investment has become an industry in itself for individuals who don’t want to be associated with industries, like uranium mining and armaments manufacturing, that run counter to their personal beliefs. Such strategies have led to organisations like universities and orders of nuns taking an interest in work previously left to their accountants and business managers. Those managers had previously just been tasked with getting the best possible financial return on the organisations’ investments. Within many organisations those days have now gone, much to the surprise of the business and investment communities.

The argument often used by business, in this case Transfield, is that its activity is lawful, not just in a legalistic sense but in the active sense of working closely with the government, but this line has lost its persuasiveness. Cigarette and tobacco companies used the same argument for years. It proved to be ineffective. Armaments manufacturers do the same and operate under the protection of governments around the world.

It is also not enough to claim that business is apolitical when it clearly gets involved in politics when it wants to. Businesses winning government tenders have a conflict of interest in the politics of government policy in their field. They can’t wash their hands of the legitimacy of that policy.

Like minor parties, anti-corporate activists have the game stacked against them. They have some leverage and some financial resources. However, in the hyped-up language of warfare used by those who editorialise against them, they are vastly outgunned.

The main problem that these activists face is that the investment industry is a game for big players. That is why activists seek an entree through superannuation funds rather than directly through their own investments. Otherwise the managers of the big superannuation funds are totally removed from all those ordinary citizens whose lifetime savings they manage and whose interests they claim to represent.

The AGMs of big companies are usually as tightly controlled as the annual conferences of the major political parties. Anyone who is trying to inject an alternative view at a company AGM is as unlikely to succeed as someone trying to challenge the big factions from the floor of a party conference. They have next to no hope. Positions on boards in big companies are like safe seats in the major parties. They are all stitched up.

That is why talk of anti-corporate activists misusing corporate democracy is hollow. They are not playing the corporate game as those in control would like it to be played. Rather they have found some loopholes which enable them to make some noise.

Public opinion will be the ultimate guide. The status quo will generally prevail in politics and business because big parties and big business have the passive support of the majority of the community. But it still does them good to be held accountable for “business as usual”.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the n National University. [email protected]

Banks shares set to rise as investors dive in before dividend payouts

Macquarie says attractive valuations and historical outperformance in the lead up to ex-dividend dates could drive banks’ share prices higher. The big four banks performance pre- and post- dividend date. Photo: Macquarie Wealth Management
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The sharemarket valuations of the big banks are looking attractive after the recent sell-off and the usual buying that occurs before their dividend payouts could drive their share prices higher, Macquarie says.

The S&P/ASX 200 banks index tumbled to its lowest point since July 2013 at the end of a dismal third quarter for the sharemarket. The index has fallen 20 per cent since the market rout began in April, fuelled by volatility on macro concerns and industry-specific capital raising requirements directed by the n Prudential Regulatory Authority.

“With the sell-off that began in April the banks are currently trading at valuations not seen in years,” Macquarie Wealth Management wrote in a research note.

“While the market is primarily being driven by macro concerns at the moment, we view the upcoming dividends as a catalyst to drive outperformance as the dividends focus the market on the attractive valuations these companies are currently trading at.”

Westpac Banking Corporation, National  Bank, ANZ Banking Group and Bank of Queensland are all going ex-dividend in November and Macquarie said the buying in the run up could push their share price valuations back to more normal levels relative to the market. Commonwealth Bank of went ex-dividend in August.

Higher-yielding stocks, including the big banks and real estate investment trusts, tended to outperform the market in the lead-up to their ex-dividend trading dates, Macquarie said, because investors priced in the dividend before the ex-dividend date.

On average, the banks outperformed the market by 2 to 4 per cent in the weeks leading up to their ex-dividend date and then underperformed after that date, Macquarie said.  Run-up shifting earlier

“We also observe the run-up has been shifting earlier for the banks, with the peak often occurring well before the ex-date, with the banks then selling off in the final weeks just before their ex-date.”

The banks index fell to a low of 7620.8 on September 29, the day the sharemarket shed 4 per cent to plummet to less than  5000 for the first time in two years, but since then it has risen more than 5 per cent.

“The recent sell-off in the banks presents substantial opportunity,” Macquarie said.

ANZ was the most heavily sold-off stock in  August, and at the end of the third quarter was trading at a multiple of 10.2 times forward earnings, with a yield of 9.7 per cent. The last time it was trading this cheaply was in January 2013.

“We believe the upcoming dividend will act as a catalyst for investors to trade on the attractive valuations and as a result we expect ANZ to outperform in the lead-up to its ex-date,” Macquarie said.

Westpac was trading at a forward price-earnings ratio of 11.6 times earnings, with an earnings yield of 8.6 per cent. The last time Westpac traded at its September 30 price was in July 2013.

“With the dividend around the corner, our view is the market will become increasingly aware of these attractive valuations and we will see the run-up commence late and supported by a valuation tailwind,” Macquarie said.

National Bank’s valuation is at its cheapest since October 2014. It is trading at a forward price-earnings ratio of 11 times, with an earnings yield of 8.8 per cent. Macquarie also expects this attractive valuation to lead NAB to outperform the market in the lead-up to its dividend.

Solar and wind power just passed another big turning point

As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less, making them less cost-effective. Photo: Nicolas WalkerWind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the UK, even without government subsidies. It’s the first time that threshold has been crossed by a G7 economy. But that’s less interesting than what just happened in the world’s largest economy, according to a Bloomberg analysis. To appreciate what’s going on in the US, you need to understand the capacity factor. That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential that’s actually achieved over time. Consider a solar project. The sun doesn’t shine at night and, even during the day, varies in brightness with the weather and the seasons. So a project that can crank out 100 megawatt hours of electricity during the sunniest part of the day might produce just 20 per cent of that when averaged out over a year. That gives it a 20 per cent capacity factor. One of the major strengths of fossil fuel power plants is that they can command very high and predictable capacity factors. The average US natural gas plant, for example, might produce about 70 per cent of its potential (falling short of 100 per cent because of seasonal demand and maintenance). But that’s what’s changing, and it’s a big deal. For the first time, widespread adoption of renewables is effectively lowering the capacity factor for fossil fuels. That’s because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero-free electricity – while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed. The virtuous cycle has begun
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Wind and solar have long made up a small fraction of US electricity – about 5 per cent in 2014. But production has been rising at an exponential rate, and those two energy sources are now big enough to influence when coal and natural gas plants are kept running, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). There are two reasons this shift in capacity factors is important. First, it’s yet another sign of the rising disruptive force of renewable energy in power markets. It’s impossible to brush aside renewables in the US in the same way it might have been just a few years ago.  “Renewables are really becoming cost-competitive, and they’re competing more directly with fossil fuels,” said BNEF analyst Luke Mills. “We’re seeing the utilisation rate of fossil fuels wear away.” Second, the shift illustrates a serious new risk for power companies planning to invest in coal or natural-gas plants. Historically, a high capacity factor has been a fixed input in the cost calculation. But now anyone contemplating a billion-dollar power plant with an anticipated lifespan of decades must consider the possibility that as time goes on, the plant will be used less than when its doors first open. Capacity Factors Take a Sharp Turn

Most of the decline in capacity factors is due to expensive “base-load plants that are being turned on less because of renewables,” according to BNEF analyst Jacqueline Lilinshtein. Plants designed to come online only during the highest demand of the year, known as peaker plants, play a smaller role. In either case, the end result is that coal-fired and gas-fired electricity is becoming more expensive and the profits less predictable. The opposite is true of wind and solar, as well as new battery systems that can be paired with renewables to replace some peaker plants. Wind power, including US subsidies, became the cheapest electricity in the US for the first time last year, according to BNEF. Solar power is a bit further behind, but the costs are dropping rapidly, especially those associated with financing a new project. The economic advantages of wind and solar over fossil fuels go beyond price. Still, it’s remarkable that in every major region of the world, the lifetime cost of new coal and gas projects are rising considerably in the second half of 2015, according to BNEF. And in every major region the cost of renewables continues to fall. Bloomberg

Chinese $36.6m offer for Armour Energy too little, expert says

Armour chairman Nick Mather has told shareholders the Landbridge offer is inadequate. Photo: Robert ShakespeareThe battle for control of shale junior Armour Energy has heated up after a $36.6 million takeover offer by China-owned WestSide Corporation was deemed inadequate.
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The judgment by the expert hired by Armour to assess the offer lends weight to the shale explorer’s advice that shareholders rebuff the hostile bid

Armour’s shares are worth  22¢ to 37¢, according to BDO Corporate Finance. The mid-point of the valuation range is more than double WestSide’s cash offer of 12¢ a share, which itself was almost double the 6.8¢ at which Armour’s shares were trading before the bid.

Armour directors unanimously told shareholders to reject the “inadequate, unsolicited and opportunistic” offer and said WestSide, which is part of privately owned Landbridge Group, “wants to extract value at your expense”.

Shares in Armour, which is being advised by Morgans, rose 4.2 per cent to 12.5¢.

Shareholders, including Armour directors controlling 29.51 per cent of the stock, don’t intend to accept the offer as of Wednesday, the Brisbane-based company said.

Armour is asking shareholders to instead support a proposed $US130 million ($182 million) exploration venture with American Energy Partners, the company of US shale pioneer Aubrey McClendon, that would have AEP buy 75 per cent of the n player’s vast acreage in the McArthur Basin in the Northern Territory and western Queensland.

The investment would be Mr McClendon’s first outside North America in what some regard as a vote of confidence in the potential of Armour’s exploration acreage, despite the dive in oil prices that has caused other foreign investors to abandon shale exploration in .

Nicholas Mather, executive chairman of Armour who leads DGR Global, its biggest shareholder, said the offer from the Chinese group “is inadequate and does not reflect fair value for Armour shares”. He said it offers no value for the proposed value of Origin Energy’s idled oil and gas production assets on the Roma Shelf in Queensland.

Mr Mather said the AEP farm-out deal “values Armour substantially higher, on a non-control basis”, noting that a proposed equity placement to AEP at 20¢ a share suggests a $60.9 million valuation.

WestSide, which is being advised by JB North & Co, has yet to respond.

Wednesday, October 7

Compelling drama: The Principal.FREE TO AIR
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Caught on Dashcam, Seven, 7.30pm 

There’s voyeurism then there’s dashcam videos, a long-time internet favourite, particularly the Russian variety (they’ve been using dashcams for years, reportedly because insurance frauds are so rife there), which make up the bulk of this program. That’s right: brief videos from people’s in-car dashboard cameras (although there’s also a lot of mobile phone footage here) augmented by some truly awful ‘‘zany’’  voiceovers.  Caught on Dashcam should win an award for the least expensive series ever produced, if nothing else.

The Principal, SBS, 8.30pm 

SBS’s first original drama in years was created by producer Ian Collie (Rake), writers Rachael Turk and Kristen Dunphy (East West 101) and is directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) – and its cast (Alex Dimitriades, Aden Young, Mirrah Foulkes among them) is equally impressive. Dimitriades is Matt Bashir, the new principal of the notoriously rough (fictional) Boxdale Boys’ High School in Sydney’s west, an ethnically diverse school where the staff are burnt out and cynical and the students not much better. But Bashir is determined to turn the place around, instantly ruffling feathers with his inspirational platitudes and determination to instil self-respect among the worst students. This is no Heartbreak High though; The Principal is a hybrid school/crime drama set in a post-9/11 high school, where multiculturalism and radicalisation are bigger concerns than peer pressure or schoolground bullying. Newcomers Rahel Romahn as troubled student Tarek Ahmad and Tyler De Nawi as his brother Karim are standouts among the young cast in this compelling new drama.

Celebrity Apprentice  Nine, 8.40pm 

It’s bad enough that the ‘‘celebrity’’ spin-off of The Apprentice bears little resemblance to the original’s premise, but the producers of this n series haven’t even concerned themselves much with the ‘‘celebrity’’ part – the line-up is, frankly, bizarre and even those who have only reality TV experience to draw on (which is most of them) seem unable to even conduct  faux-arguments very well. Unless the producers poke these ‘‘celebs’’ into some proper in-fighting soon, there’s so little reason to tune in, it’s actually embarrassing.Kylie Northover


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies  (2014) Premiere Movies (pay TV), 8.30pm

The Battle of the Five Armies, one of the climactic events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, is essentially a background event, a big picture clash seen from a distance as the individual protagonists are caught up in the Middle Earth clash for the vast treasure of the felled dragon Smaug. It took three pages in the book, but it lasts a good part of this 144-minute film, the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s dreary trilogy where the economy and insight of his previous Lord of the Rings series is replaced by excess and indulgence. While it’s nice that Orlando Bloom got paid work, bringing back his elven character Legolas was just one of many sloppy inventions that marked Jackson’s preference for his own legacy over the source material, and the perpetual usage of digital effects turns the picture into a dull fantasy that lacks the physicality and endeavour of Jackson’s initial Tolkien adaptations. One of the elements added by the filmmaker, foreshadowing his Lord of the Rings films, was the return of the Dark Lord Sauron, but by the end of this ham-fisted, repetitive blockbuster the only threatening force looming over these films is Peter Jackson himself, battering his own legacy.

Pineapple Express (2008) Ten, 10pm

In a stoner comedy you have to believe  the leads know how to get high and do everything associated with the fuzzed-out state: that is talk rubbish, hatch grand plans, flip out without warning, and get a bad case of the munchies. In that regard Seth Rogen, as amiable process server Dale Denton, and James Franco, as his slacker dealer Saul Silver, have all the bases covered in David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express – fleeing to the woods at one point they even play leapfrog together. The film itself, one of many co-written by Rogen in the long period when no one would pay him to act, is actually more of an ’80s action adventure, albeit with a ludicrously warped sensibility. It has various criminal gangs, plus Rosie Perez as a corrupt cop, goons borrowed from the era of The Last Boy Scout and a massed battle for the finale. But it never surrenders to these impulses, remaining an improbable adventure between the mismatched Saul and Dale, with Danny McBride’s Red – one of his stream of overly confident American misfits – as their travelling companion. When the bullets stop flying they get breakfast together and laugh about their journey, bud(dies) forever.Craig Mathieson

Most isolated places in the world: Top 10 places to feel complete isolation

Torres del Paine mountains, Patagonia, Chile Photo: iStock Torres del Paine mountains, Patagonia, Chile Photo: iStock
Shanghai night field

Torres del Paine mountains, Patagonia, Chile Photo: iStock

Atacama Desert: The Atacama is the ultimate expression of the phrase “high and dry” – a desert 4000 metres above sea level, where only a couple of millimetres of rain falls every year. It’s also almost completely uninhabited, a place in northern Chile where you can see for mile after mile in the thin, dry air – but you still can’t see anything of note. There’s a beautiful stillness to the Atacama that will never be shattered. Photo: iStock

Torres del Paine mountains, Patagonia, Chile Photo: iStock

There’s getting away from it all, and there’s getting away from it all.

For some people, just leaving their home city is enough of a break. Maybe relaxing on a beach with a few other people will do it. Or climbing a mountain and breathing in some clean air. It recharges the batteries. It makes you feel alive.

However, if you really want to get away from it all – if you want to experience total and utter isolation, the feeling that you’re the only person left on the entire planet – then you need to visit these places. Mongolian steppe

Ulan Baator is pretty horrible. The Mongolian capital is polluted and cramped, and not a lot of fun. However, drive just a few hours in any direction and suddenly you’re in the most perfect, complete wilderness you’ve ever seen. The Mongolian steppe is a seemingly never-ending series of rolling plains, of treeless valleys and hillsides dotted with just the occasional white blob of a ger. The silence is eerie. Especially compared to UB. Antarctica

When the nearest gathering of human civilisation is an entire ocean away; when the nearest point of interest is just a notional spot somewhere over the snowy hills that marks the end of the Earth; when your only friends are penguins and seals – then you know you’ve achieved isolation. Antarctica is the perfect place to be if you’ve grown weary of the worries of the world. The Red Centre

ns don’t have to go far to be in the middle of nowhere. Out in the centre of this great land lies a fairly big patch of absolutely nothing. When you’re wandering the Red Centre you could very easily imagine that the rest of the world has ceased to exist. And when it gets dark, and all those stars come out, you’ll become obsessed with worlds much further away. Lake Uyuni

During the day, this huge salt pan in central Bolivia is isolated. It’s an endless stretch of bright white merging with a shimmering horizon that dips and swirls and fools you into thinking you know where you’re going. But even still, during the daytime you’ll see other people, other tourists, other 4WDs. At night it’s another story. Camp out on the lake, and all those other people disappear. It’s just you and the howl of the wind. It’s a little scary. And very cold. The Yukon

You’re not completely isolated in northern Canada. You’re not the only one around. That is, if you count the bears, the blacks and the grizzlies, the coyotes, the cougars, the beavers and even the hares. If it’s humans you’re thinking about, however, there aren’t any. You can be helicoptered in to some of the most beautiful, remote places on Earth in the Yukon. French Polynesia

While islands like Bora Bora and Moorea have been well and truly colonised, there are still places to get away from it all in French Polynesia. Try the Tuamotus, an hour-long flight from Tahiti. This group of atolls and islands is paradise of the classic kind, palm-tree-lined beaches stuck in the middle of the Pacific, where barely another soul has walked. It’s another world, and it’s a serious adventure even getting there.  Patagonia

Silence. That’s what you notice most in Patagonia. When you’re out on the steppe, hiking rugged mountains, passing rivers, looking down over glaciers, the sound you hear is silence. There’s no one else and nothing else around in the south of Argentina and Chile. If you’re trying to get away from it all, then this is where you want to be. Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park

Do a rafting expedition in this patch of south-west Tasmanian wilderness and you’ll come to know isolation. This is world heritage-listed beauty we’re talking about, a place strictly controlled for preservation, where you’ll come to realise that your rafting party makes up just about the only human presence for miles and miles around. Purros, Namibia

Purros, officially, is a town, but it doesn’t look like any town you’ve ever seen before. It’s more just a collection of a few shacks and a dusty campground, a place that takes days to reach by 4WD from the nearest thing you could refer to as civilisation. This is the home of the Himba tribespeople, although only a small number of them exist. It’s also as far from anything you know as you’re likely to have ever been. Atacama Desert

The Atacama is the ultimate expression of the phrase “high and dry” – a desert 4000 metres above sea level, where only a couple of millimetres of rain falls every year. It’s also almost completely uninhabited, a place in northern Chile where you can see for mile after mile in the thin, dry air – but you still can’t see anything of note. There’s a beautiful stillness to the Atacama that will never be shattered.

Where would you go to feel cut off from the rest of the world? Where’s the most isolated place you’ve been?

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