Archive For 01/31/2019

Yes I can: meet the inspirational Dr Tan

By |

Never give up: Dr William Tan will modify his wheelchair for the trek. “This is about giving back and living a life of legacy”. Picture: Jonathan CarrollDR William Tanis poised tobecome the first person in the world to trek the Northern Territory’s Larapinta Trail in a wheelchair, as he attempts a “journey of gratitude” to support the University of Newcastle (UON).
Nanjing Night Net

Newcastle educated cancer survivor Dr William Tan shares why he wants to trek the Larapinta Trail in his wheelchair @newcastleheraldpic.twitter南京夜网/ft1fK0yvYb

— Helen Gregory (@HGregory_Herald) June 29, 2017

Singapore-raised Dr Tan, who graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine from UONin 2004, will join a group of 30 staff, students and alumni in August to traverse a 65 kilometre portion of the trail and raise funds to support Indigenous students and research into Indigenous community health issues.

“I come from a family where my Dad was selling fried bananas along the street to support seven children,” Dr Tan said. “How did I getthrough my transformative education? Through scholarships –and I feel very grateful that there was some source of help that enabled and empowered me to develop my talents and potential.”

Dr Tan contracted polio at the age of two and was paralysed from the waist down.

He dreamed from 11 of studying medicine, but was given the impression it was “just not possible” for someone with a disability to become a doctor. He studiedlife sciences instead and moved overseas to complete his master’s and PhD and become a brain scientist.

“I was working in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota when my dream was rekindled –Imet a man in a wheelchair who was the chief of neurology,” he said.

Dr Tan was encouraged by a visiting Australian brain surgeon to apply to universities down under and “the stars aligned”. He enrolled at the University of Newcastle aged40 and accepted scholarships to study cancer prevention at Harvard and health policy at Oxford, before graduating.

Dr Tan also became an accomplished sportsman, won three gold medals at the Asian-Pacific Games; competedin the Summer Paralympics, the World Games and Commonwealth Games; and setmultiple marathon records. He devoted himself to raising funds for the needy, collected more than $18 million for charity and refused to let a 2009 diagnosis of stage-four leukaemia slow him down.

But despite all of his accomplishments, he initially baulked at Larapinta.

“Even though I’d done marathons in the North Pole and Antarctica this was a race I was not so excited about because the nature of the terrain is very daunting,” he said. “I thought ‘I have a second chance at life –I don’t want to throw my life away’. Then I realised this cause was so compelling and worth all the effort, so I’d take a calculated risk [and necessary precautions]. Growing up with adversity taught me to be creative, to not see thingsas roadblocks, but stepping stones. I don’t see challenges, I see opportunities.”

Read more »

Strength in numbers for better health

By |

Funding: Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie, announced funding for health and medical research at HMRI on Thursday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.HEALTHand research teams from NSW and the Hunter have joined forces to becomeone of Australia’s first accredited Centres for Innovation in Regional Health.
Nanjing Night Net

The collaboration –known asNSW Regional Health Partners –aligns clinicians and researchers across the Hunter New England, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast districts of NSW.

It’s accreditationby the National Health and Medical Research Council recognises the strength of the alliance, a HMRI spokesperson said, and positions it to putresearch into practice for the benefit of rural and regional communities.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health,Dr David Gillespie,was in Newcastle on Thursday to make the announcement, and offeraseed grant of $225,000 to the health partnership.

The funding would come under the Medical Research Future Fund’s $10 million Rapid Applied Research Translation program.

“Making health care more effective for people is the aim of all health and medical research, and these developments ensure that the Hunter and regional NSW is right at the forefront of this trend,” Minister Gillespie said.

He alsoconfirmed that a one-off grant of $5 million in federal funding would go towardstheHunter Institute of Mental Health and The Black Dog Institute for the prevention of anxiety and depression.

Helen Christensen, director of the Black Dog Institute, said they would use the funding to roll out strategies to prevent depression and anxiety on a large scale.

“The message is that prevention is better than a cure,” Professor Christensen said.

“People may not realise, but you can actually prevent anxiety and depression.

“Even in school kids, if we can get the proper programs into schools, we can reduce depression and anxiety by 22 per cent, which is huge.”

Professor Christensen said small scale studies had shown that prevention worked.

With the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, they needed to show that it could work as a model for what could be done on a national scale.

”We’ve got ambitious outcomes that we want to achieve,” she said.

“We want to make a difference to kids, we also want to improve workplace mental health.

“We always talk about prevention of things like skin cancer, and the things we can do, this is about preventing anxiety and depression.

“We’re in that space of‘How do you do it’, rather than what we already know, which is that it is possible.”

The NSW Regional Health Partners is made up of Hunter New England, Mid North Coast and Central Coast local health districts, Calvary Mater Newcastle, the universities of Newcastle and New England, HMRI and Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network.

The “prestigious” accreditation as a Centrefor Innovation in Regional Health wasbased on the group’s achievements in health and medical research, research translation, research-infused education and training, and health care in a regional or remote setting.

Read more »

Port jobs boost as slipway revived

By |

MAKEOVER: French company Thales has unveiled plans to overhaul the former Forgacs slipway at Carrington. The investment is set to create 70 jobs. Picture: SuppliedFRENCH company Thales has unveiled plans to rebuild the former Forgacs slipway, promising 70 new jobs after a deal was struck with the state government to transform the area into a marine repair precinct.
Nanjing Night Net

Thales Australia director of maritime, Max Kufner, said the company and state government were investing $6 million into the rundown facility for small ship repair, with a new lift at the Fitzroy Street, Carrington, site expected to handle ships up to 55 metres and 1000 tonnes in size.

Having originally built the facility for a 1994 Royal Australian Navy contract, Mr Kufner declared it was “Thales coming home”.

He said the company planned to start work on the site next year.

And while he stressed this investment was only for commercial ship repair and support, not construction, Mr Kufner said the company was “all eyes and ears” for lucrative Navy contracts.

“We’re happy to talk to them,” he said.

The company expects other businesses in the supply chain to flourish as a result of the investment.

“It creates a lot of jobs. Not just the direct jobs but also the indirect onesas well,” he said. “Looking forward at the future phases of this project, it could be many more on top of that.”

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the “ripple effect” would see benefits flow to small businesses in the Hunter as the facility is “reberthed”.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Deputy Premier John Barilaro, right, and Thales Australia’s Max Kufner on Thursday.

Mr Barilaro admitted the announcement on Thursday was a long way from the industry’sheyday, when ships used to be built at the site, rather than maintained.

“You look globally there are not many countries that build ships,” he said.

“We don’t build trains any more, and as you know, we’re not going to be building cars in this nation. The reality is manufacturing in this country is transitioning.”

However, Mr Barilaro said ship maintenance was a “growth sector”.

“That’s why you’ve seen Thales with a significant plan of investment,” he said.

Port of Newcastle chief executive Geoff Crowe said the investment showed the port was still the lifeblood of the region.

“I don’t think people realise the capacity we’ve got in this port. This port is operating basically at half-capacity,” he said. “So the future is really rosy and there’s strong opportunity.”

Mr Crowe said he was confident Thales would continue to increase its footprint in the port.

Both the Hunter Business Chamber and Hunter Unions welcomed Thursday’s announcement as a win for jobs in a fledgling manufacturing environment.

Chamber chief Bob Hawes said it was a “major boost” for the region’s defence industry sector.

Read more »

Mental health drama

By |

LEARNING: Janette Dempsey talks to a group of high school drama students about supporting her son, Peter Cross (in the white shirt), who was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 13 years ago. Picture: Simone De PeakHole in suburb’s soulFamily calls for changeFarewell to ‘door man’Man in MemoriesCrying out to be listened toNO matter how hard he tries to stand, Nick keeps getting knocked down and pushed around. Figures appear like shadows and grabthe 16-year-old.
Nanjing Night Net

The Toronto High School student is not being assaulted. He and the others are workshopping a piece of theatreto portraywhat it is like to live with a mental illness.

“I have friends who have been fighting depression, mental illness, so it’s close to my heart,” says 15-year-old Warners Bay High student Daniel.

The young actors are part of a group of high school students from across the Hunter participating in the week-long DramaWorks program in Newcastle, devising and performing pieceswith tutors.

In searching for a performance subject, drama tutor Michael Gallaway read the Herald’s story aboutBernie Sessions, Mayfield’s Man in the Doorway, whose death prompted not just grief but a public conversation about mental illness. Mr Gallaway also read about Newcastle man Peter Cross’ battle with schizophrenia and the support of his mother, Janette Dempsey.

Mr Gallaway decided to explore on the stage a subject that many are still uncomfortable talking about.

“We’re not trying to do a demon play, or a zombie play, we want to be truthful, and we want to get it right,” Mr Gallaway tells the students.

To get it right, Mr Gallaway wanted to invite along Peter Cross and Janette Dempsey, and Mr Sessions’ sister, Jenny Allen, who has been advocating for the mental health system to listen more carefully to patients’ carers and loved ones. A supervising teacher at DramaWorks, Michelle Gosper, had taught Jenny Allen at high schooland contactedher former student. Mrs Allen, along with Mr Cross and his mother, who is also Hunter president of carers’ support group ARAFMI, accepted the invitation.

“It’s not often that theatre-makers can speak directly to the source material,” Mr Gallaway says.

DRAMA: Students workshop their piece about Peter Cross’ struggle with schizophrenia, and his mother’s support. Picture: Simone De Peak

Sitting in a circle, the three talk to the group about their experience with mental illness. Sensing the teenagers aretrying to choose their words carefully, Mrs Allen assures themthey can ask anything, it won’t causeoffence, and “it’s okay”.

“It’s more offensive if we’re not talking about this,” she says.

Sixteen-year-old Shelby mentions wantingto avoid an “over the top” performance, like “a horror movie”, and 15-year-old Shae-Leesays listening to the stories helps ensure there are “no misconceptions”.

The group then performa couple of the ideas they have been working on for the trio.

“We’re not performing them for your entertainment but for your feedback,” Michael Gallaway says to the three onlookers.

The first, featuring Nick, is about Peter Cross’ story about the importance of his mother’s support to regainhis life. Janette Dempsey’s role is portrayed as a paddle, helping guide her son out of “shit creek”. After the performance, Ms Dempsey says she appreciateshow it showed “the emotional turmoil being stopped”.

“Carers are not just paddlers,” adds Jenny Allen. “We’re sails, we’re hoping to blow them [aloved one with mental illness] in the right direction.”

The second presentationportraysPeter Cross’pastfears in situations as ordinary as walking along the street.

“It’s bizarre watching something based on things I’ve said about myself,” Mr Cross later says, adding he thought the performance was very good.

DramaWorks regional coordinator and Belmont High teacher Renee Bergersays the experience has been enormously valuable for the young performers.

“Havingsomebody who has been impacted personally and they’re in the room right in front of you, it’s a powerful thing,” she says. “It helps theatre-making more powerful and impactful.”

The students are performing their workshopped pieceson Friday night to an audience of family, teachers –and Jenny Allen, Peter Cross and Janette Dempsey. But they hope the message reverberates beyond the stage.

“I think there’s still a lot of stigma,” says Daniel. “Say ‘mental illness’ andsome think padded rooms and straitjackets. Butlook at Pete. He’s normal.”

Jenny Allen says the students’ work helps removethe “taboo” of discussing mental illness.

“It’s wonderful to see that people are interested in not only telling Bernie’s story and Peter’s story,” she says,“but in talking about mental illness.”

ADVICE: Janette Dempsey, Peter Cross and Jenny Allen watch the drama students perform pieces based on the trio’s experience with mental illness.

Read more »

The golden years of curious television

By |

Scientific: Dr Deane Hutton and Dr Rob Morrison hosted The Curiosity Show. Topics was delighted to hear this week fromDrRob Morrison.
Nanjing Night Net

Rob hosted The Curiosity Show, along withDrDeane Hutton.

We wrote on Tuesday about the program, which was originally part of the Here’s Humphrey show. It later became a show in its own right.

The Curiosity Show theme song. Rob and Deane were known as the “jumper- and skivvy-wearing scientists”.

“I was the main skivvie culprit, while Deane is recalled for his collection of rather glittery large-collared shirts,” Rob said.

“Both of us confess to a passing involvement with flairs.”

Rob found skivvies to be “a useful bit of kit when you didn’t want a collar and tie”.

“They were very useful when colour TV came in, as they allowed you to be colourfully clothed in an appropriate fashion.”

Rob no longer wearsskivvies, given the current fashion scene. We recall Steve Jobs was a fan of skivvies. We’re surprisedthe Apple founder’sfamous black turtlenecks didn’t spark a revival. Fashion does go in cycles, though.We’re not ruling out a comeback.

But that’s enough about fashion. Science is the main game here.

Rob, now 74,said working on the show was “a constant joy, although hard work”.

“Deane and I enjoyed the golden years of Australian TV (‘70s and ‘80s),” he said.

“The times suited us bothand we drew heavily on our pre-TV childhoods, which gave us both the make-and-do philosophy for which the show became known.”

Some of the inventions on the show, including amousetrap racing car and paddle-wheeler, are now regularly made in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] classes.

Some of Rob’s best memories of the show involverare wildlife.

“Having a crocodile egg hatch in your hands, holding a newly-hatched kiwi, being alone in a cave with millions of bats, holding a numbat when WA had so successfully helped them back from the brink,” he said.

“Wildlife has been my life’s pre-occupationand I was privileged to get close to some of the most wondrous aspects of it and bring them to others. One of my segmentson the dingoes at Uluru (a few months before Azaria was taken), ended up as evidencein the Chamberlain trials.”

Nerds are CoolOver the years, scientists have approached Rob to thank him.

“It’s a bit daunting when some middle-aged, bald bloke comes up and says ‘you were a great influence when I was young’,” Rob joked.

Seriously though, he said,“who would not be grateful to have their work recalled after 35 or so years?”

“Kids interested in science were called dorks, nerds anddweebs and I suspect that many disguise or drop the interest because of the fear of ridicule and peer pressure.”

As we all know, nerds ended up takingover the world. Now it’s cool to be into technology and scientific stuff. Rob and Deane did it before it became cool. Plus, skivvies were pretty cool back then (we think).

People often say to Robthat the showdid a good job of turning kids on to science.

“But in my experience almost every kid starts that way. What kid doesn’t love volcanoes, dinosaurs, animals andexplosions. But something turns them off. If we helped some not to be turned off, that is fine by me.”

Rob and Deane acquired the rights to the series’ 5000 segments. They created their own YouTube channel, hoping to attract a new audience.

“One recent segment titled“Self-starting siphon”went viral and sits at 730,330 hits – while the channel itself has nearly three million hits, growing dailyafter only a couple of years,” Rob said.

“Most of the audience is in the USA and India. There still is a lively audience for science – especially making-and-doing science.”

The Dark Side A Darth Vader mask attached to a Central Coast Council truck.

We spotted this Darth Vader mask attached to a Central Coast Council truck.

Is this some sort of commentary on council mergers being part of the “dark sideof the Force”? The merger of Wyong and Gosford councils seemed to be one of the only amalgamations that went through in NSW in the recent hullabaloo on the issue.

But what’s with the yellow eyes? Shouldn’t Vader have red eyes?

Read more »