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June 21, 2012

Please visit my new website at where you can contact me, view my CV and read some of my recent articles.

My first two articles in The Australian

August 11, 2009

Outbreak contained as infected pigs on the mend

Etan Smallman | August 04, 2009

Article from: The Australian

It's no piggery-jokery

AN outbreak of swine flu at a central NSW piggery has been contained.

However authorities have urged farmers to remain alive to the danger posed by the highly contagious disease.

The 2000-animal piggery at Dunedoo, in the state’s central west, was quarantined on Friday after tests confirmed that several pigs had caught the A H1 virus, believed to have been transmitted to them by staff.

But the disease has not spread outside the farm in Dunedoo and the health of the pigs diagnosed with the disease is improving, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

None of the Dunedoo animals has entered the food chain.

A telephone conference was arranged yesterday between state, territory and federal representatives from the health and agriculture sectors. It was decided quarantine measures at the farm would only be reconsidered when the pigs were no longer suffering the flu and after they had recovered fully for seven days.

Alan Sharrock, a veterinary surgeon at the affected farm in Dunedoo, said an overreaction among the general population had done the pig industry harm as people inevitably link swine flu with pork.

But he quoted a colleague who said:

“I’m safer kissing a pig than kissing my wife.”

Federal Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry spokesman John Cobb yesterday highlighted concerns over Australia’s feral pigs, calling on the NSW government to begin an immediate surveillance program to ensure they “do not become a reservoir for the A H1 flu virus”.

Mr Cobb urged the NSW government to undertake an immediate feral pig control program in the Central West, including shooting, baiting and trapping, to prevent the disease coming back “as a meaner, nastier, deadlier virus”.

Neil Franks of Aztec Farms Piggery, who keeps between 6000 and 7000 pigs on his farm in Myall Park, near the southern NSW centre of Griffith, said swine flu remained a concern for pig farmers across the state.

“We are closely monitoring the situation with our staff and making sure that they are fit and well,” he said.

Mr Franks’s wife, Merilyn, said they had been taking precautionary measures for the past two months — ever since cases of swine flu were first reported in the local Griffith community.

The farm always has a closed herd, whereby no stock is taken in from any other property, but in response to swine flu, staff have been instructed to minimise their contact in the wider community and not to travel by air.

“We’re a bit scared about airports, sports events and picture theatres,” she said.

Mrs Franks said sales had been affected as a result of fears among the population.

The farm’s processors have reported a fall in sales of 10 per cent, despite experts confirming that there is no danger from eating pork products.

– Click here to view PDF

Anzac flag thief urged to salute

Etan Smallman | August 07, 2009

Article from: The Australian

Flying the flag

The historic banner was the first flag carried ashore by Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. It was carried by Australian troops of the 9th battalion, 3rd brigade, throughout the campaign in Turkey from 1915.

The homemade mauve and grey banner bears the signatures of several historical figures, including Albert Windsor, who became King George VI.

It was noticed missing from Anzac House, in Sydney’s CBD, on Monday, but could have been stolen at any time after July 15.

The flag was being held in storage while renovations were carried out on the war memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park, where it was usually on display. State RSL president Don Rowe said the item was insured for $25,000, but its historical and sentimental value made it irreplaceable.

No worries mate…. Oh, you’re an intern! … #*@~*

August 11, 2009

I have been marvelling at the laid-back Aussie temperament ever since I landed. I have also been revelling in being treated like a proper journalist. Not just the pesky work experience kid in the corner, fighting for a desk, sharing an email address and lucky to have access to that most modern of communication instruments – a telephone.

no worries mateWell, it didn’t take long for either of my illusions to be ripped asunder. It just took a modicum of journalistic endeavour for the laid-back Aussie character to break.

Researching a story about an ill-advised move by a TV personality (who I shan’t name, since for some reason the story never made it into the paper) who joined a racist Facebook group, I was firmly put back in my place. I had already confirmed with the personality’s agent and it was the real deal, not some cyber-imposter. I then wanted to call the company he works for to get a statement from them. After a lot of buck-passing and question-dodging (and a man on the end of the phone who said he could not give me even his first name just to chase up the enquiry) I was put through to a different gentleman who also refused to divulge his name.

“I’d be careful what you’re saying because that’s not the ‘real’ [Mr x],” he said before asking: “Are you an intern at The Australian?”

Am I that obvious, I wondered. (But I think a quick Google of my name had flung up an entry from this very blog, informing him of my second-class journalistic status).

“Yes, I am,” I said happily.

“Well then I have absolutely nothing to say to you,” he raged, before hanging up the phone.

A second call had me on hold before I was again mysteriously left listening to a dial tone.

At a third attempt, and after it was pointed out that [Mr x’s] agent had confirmed it was the ‘real’ [Mr x], the man added: “Why do you keep calling here?! Stop calling! We have nothing to say from our perspective. If you carry on calling, we will be making a formal complaint against you. Clear?!” before again hanging up.

Crystal, thanks.

And you thought Russell Brand was bad…

August 2, 2009

Forget about Sachsgate. You ain’t heard nothing yet.

This scandal broke the day I arrived, but I only just got round to sharing! In the most ill-advised of live radio stunts, Kyle Sandilands, an Australian shock jock breakfast radio host and Australian Idol judge managed to make Brand and Ross look like serious journalists.

Presenting a slot involving a 14-year-old girl, a lie detector and questions about her sex life is probably not the wisest idea. But Sandilands (and co-host Jackie O) had the great luck to – albeit unknowingly – be playing this dicey little game on a rape victim.

The girl’s mother had initiated the stunt and posed the series of questions to her daughter on air – despite the girl saying to Sandilands in advance: “I’m scared … it’s not fair”.

As The Australian reported:

Her mother asked her daughter: “Have you ever had sex?” The 14-year-old replied: “I’ve already told you the story about this … and don’t look at me and smile because it’s not funny.”

After a pause, she raised her voice with frustration and said: “Oh okay, I got raped when I was 12 years old.”

It got worse. Sandilands persisted – with this:

“Right … is that the only experience you’ve had?”

before the mother admitted that she had “only” found out about the rape “a couple of months” earlier.

Cue big media furore and the pair’s indefinite suspension. Though, still not nearly the fuss that we had in the UK over Andrew Sachs’s answerphone.

– Listen to the segment here

UPDATE: Sandilands has been “dumped” from his judging slot on Australian Idol – and it’s leading the news bulletins.

Yes, I blog from home – and away

August 1, 2009

Photo: Semuthutan/Flickr

G’day all. The pommy has landed. I pashed Blighty goodbye on Tuesday and set off for Sydney to enjoy a one-month internship at Oz’s national broadsheet, The Australian – the reward for winning The Times Kate Alderson Prize, in memory of a former City student and Times reporter.

I arrived safely in Sydney late Wednesday arvo – and started at The Oz bright and early at 9am the next morning. Strewth, you might say. But fair dinkum – I’m only here for three and a half working weeks and was pretty keen anyway to get started. Jet-lag? No worries, mate.

I was in court yesterday before writing up a story about a double-murderer. Now I just can’t wait to have a barbie or two, savour the Aussie grog, make a few cobbers and not make too much of a galah of myself. Bonzer!

So, as my first post, here are five quick Aussie questions – answers on a boomerang….

  1. Are they actually as delightfully laid back as the stereotypes and guide books attest? (“No Worries Mate” isn’t just a fabled Aussie cliché – I got one as soon as I arrived at the airport)
  2. However, that was before I passed through the strictest customs in the world. My banana was promptly confiscated as I walked up to “Quarantine”. “Don’t bring any bananas here again – they’re not allowed.” But they didn’t touch my nuts! (Apparently cashews are perfectly acceptable). And are all their bananas home-grown?
  3. I went to the Sydney Opera House today – you know the one. But I want to know what on earth Sydney put on its postcards before 1973. It’s bothering me.
  4. Am I the only British tourist who keeps feeling as if he’s just walked on to a Neighbours/Home and Away set? The accents are awesome!
  5. Is my name really as stupefying here as the UK? The delightfully named Meldi, the ‘cyber’ trainer, just couldn’t cope and resorted to Mister E. Another Australian employee complimented me. Apparently I’m named after a very prestigious school.

Will be blogging as often as I can, so do watch this space… (Oh, and don’t worry, no more dodgy lingo – I’ve exhausted all my Aussie vocab).

“Notes from an award-winning blog: the Brit who scooped the European prize”

June 23, 2009

This was first published on

Photo: Flickr/antaldaniel

Photo: Flickr/antaldaniel

For a country that is sneered at by almost all of its European neighbours for its remote, aloof and imperious attitude towards the European Union, I, a humble Brit, was pretty proud (not say totally shocked) to be crowned the winner of the first ever European blogging competition at its finale in Rotterdam this week.

Take that, De Gaulle. Up yours, Delors. What a turn-up for the books.

What’s more, I was by no means the only Brit to triumph at the awards ceremony of ‘Th!nk About It,’ a competition that aimed to get young people talking about the European elections that took place to almost no other fanfare at all earlier this month. In all, four out of the five British participants took home awards – not bad for a country that was derided as ‘ignorant’ at the very same event.

When I sent off a brief email in December to apply to take part in the first project of its kind – a pan-European contest that I dubbed ‘the blogging world’s Eurovision song contest’ – I had very little idea of what I was letting myself in for. Five months, and 39 self-penned blog posts later, to my surprise and delight, I have won the entire competition, beating 80 other competitors from all 27 EU member states – and collecting a top of the range Mac laptop for my efforts.

Photo: Flickr/ejcnet

Photo: Flickr/ejcnet

In January, we all assembled in Brussels for a free trip to meet each other and launch the contest – organised by the European Journalism Centre (EJC), and part funded by the European Commission. They weren’t doing things by halves, with speakers including the BBC’s venerated Europe editor, Mark Mardell, and the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, Tony Barber.

Four-and-a-bit months on in Rotterdam, there was a mood of celebration. Wilfried Rütten, director of the EJC, said that the competition had achieved so much, he was embarrassed by its success. The EJC said it did not have any expectations at the outset and that the project had helped engage young people in European politics.

But aside from the back-slapping and self-congratulatory Euro-love on display in Rotterdam, how successful has the project actually been? This is where it gets tricky. The hard numbers are certainly impressive; these are a few that have been bandied about:

  • Blogging in Rotterdam (Photo: Flickr/antaldaniel)Nearly 600 blog posts
  • Around 5,000 trackbacks from external websites
  • Over 2.7m hits
  • 14,000 Google links

However, the original figure of 81 bloggers taking part is actually one of the most damning. Despite a higher than 1 in 3 chance of coming away with a prize (ranging from iPhones to laptops and Flip cameras) – and two free trips on offer – a significant minority lost interest as soon as they returned to their home countries. Is that a desperate indictment of the EU and its ability to relate to its citizens? I’m inclined to conclude that it is more of a comment on the level of interest and commitment shown by some, who failed even to complete the minimum of one blog post per month to remain in the competition.

Turnout at the EU elections was horrendously low; but even the most ardent new media enthusiasts would be unlikely to claim that blogging should have changed that. A more important question is how many people from outside the Euro bubble actually popped their ear up against out blogging wall. My fear is that we were just an echo chamber; albeit a large, active and impressively innovative one.

However, compared to numerous EU inititatives in the new media arena, Th!nk About It was a roaring success. Its 2.7m or so hits in four months compare extremely favourably to the EU’s public flop of a European television station, EUTube, which notched up a dismal 2.2m viewers in the two years since its launch.

think etan pic

Charlie Beckett, director of media think tank POLIS, criticised the project several months ago: “Irrelevant of new media, I don’t think it is fair to expect bloggers talking in different languages in different media markets to cross boundaries and change political climates,” he said.

th!nk square logoThat is perhaps true, but nonetheless, actually getting representatives from every EU country talking together – and about the EU, of all things – is undoubtedly an ambitious start. And it does seem that this is only the start, as a quick glance at the current website will attest.

The site has undergone a quick re-brand since the awards ceremony, and the competition is now branded: ‘Round #1′. This could be just the beginning…

I managed to scoop the Indy, the Mail and the Guardian … by two months

May 10, 2009

Kirstie's lost property

Very strangely, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Guardian came across TV hot property Kirstie Allsopp’s tale of her lost ring a couple of days ago.

I say strangely, because it was a story that we at the Hackney Post reported a whole two months ago.

And sadly, Kirstie still doesn’t know the location, location, location of her 33-carat diamond surrounded spinel.

If you have any news, give her a ring. [Every last awful pun intended].


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