Brilliant career keeps coming up for heir

Breathing a little easier: Jessica Fox, whose three-month tour of Europe, included a scary moment and great success. Photo: Anthony JohnsonJESSICA Fox is upside down, grasping desperately for her paddle. She is quickly running out of breath as the white water churns around her. She fights the urge to panic. It is July. Fox, 19, and the K1 silver medallist at last year’s London Olympics, is at Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia, for the under 23 world championships. The first outing in a new canoe for the C1 event she is dominating has just met a disastrous and desperate end.

Natural courses can be more dangerous for canoeists and kayakers with obstacles such as trees and rocks, against the “well rounded bollards and softer features” that Fox says characterise man-made courses such as this one where water levels and force can be controlled, or hands-on help – as she may soon need – can be a rope’s throw away by attendants.

But capsizing as she has while “surfing” a stopper – a wave that will “pull you back in and hold you” – can still be frightening.

“I was dizzy and couldn’t breathe,” Fox said this week at home in Penrith of the moment that led her to think “if I don’t get air in the next two seconds” she would have to unzip from her canoe and face the heavy rush of water that would make the situation “worse before it gets better”.

But after 30 seconds, Fox said she fought the fear, pushed “up from the bottom and got a bit of air” and was suddenly flushed to safe water.

Fox not only handled the ordeal well, but won gold in the C1. It was but one part of a terrific season.

In the World Cup, Fox won the C1 in four rounds. At Tacen, Slovenia she also became the first woman to win the C1 and K1 at a cup round. Then last weekend, she won gold in the C1 at the world titles in Prague, and a second in the C1 team event before her one main setback – not making the K1 final.

But considering her three-month tour was her first with so much racing against opposition 10 or more years older, it was invaluable experience.

“You can’t learn unless you have that racing,” Fox said. “It is when you are on the start line of a final that you know what it’s like.”

Fox, who is studying social science and psychology, has also put plenty of energy into her call for the C1 event to join the K1 on the Olympic program for the 2016 Games. But until the International Canoe Federation ticks off a change in the 4-1 ratio for men’s and women’s events for the C1’s entry, the International Olympic Committee can’t act.

“It’s been a hard battle,” she said. “A lot of people are missing the point why we are pushing it. It’s an event that I’d love to compete in at the Olympics but Australia is pushing for gender equity because it is the right thing to do. It is for the benefit of the sport. It’s for the benefit of women … to get more women involved.

“Some federations say ‘women are not at the level of the Olympics. We are not going to support them until they get to this level’. Some girls have been brainwashed to think they are not good enough, don’t deserve to be in the Olympics. But it’s not about that any more, it’s about equal opportunity.”

Supporting Fox in her campaign and pursuit for white water success are her parents Richard and Myriam who are former Olympic paddlers. Richard, a 1992 Olympian and five-time world K1 slalom champion for Great Britain, is Canoeing Australia’s national performance director. Myriam, from Marseilles in France where Jessica was born and lived until the family moved to Australia when she was five, was an Olympian in 1992 and 1996 – when she won bronze – and a two-time K1 world champion. She coaches Jessica and her 16 year-old sister Noemie.

Jessica’s first sports were swimming and gymnastics but at 12 she took to the white water when advised by her physiotherapist to paddle for rehabilitation from a broken arm in a gymnastics fall. Soon, Fox found “going down rapids was much more exciting than swimming”.

“For a long time I heard ‘You are the daughter of Richard Fox. Are you going to be as good?” Fox said, laughing. “At my first junior worlds in 2010 at France the speaker was saying, ‘Is she going to equal her mum? She was the queen of the water. Is Jessica going to be the princess’?

“I just decided I am my own person. I am different, that is what I told myself. Then when I won the junior worlds. Well, mum never won at junior level. So I am a step ahead.”

Twitter – @rupertguinness

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Thomas Kelly’s mother recounts his final hours: ‘He suffocated in front of us’

Revealing her torment: Kathy Kelly.The mother of Kings Cross assault victim Thomas Kelly has recounted in detail the final 48 hours of her son’s life, in a speech that left much of her audience in tears.

“The one thing they don’t tell you about when they finally do remove life support is how a person dies,” Kathy Kelly said at the launch of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation.

“They took the ventilator away and Thomas suffocated in front of us. His heart was beating as strong as an ox and it just got slower and slower until he passed away.”

Mrs Kelly told a packed room at The Star on Wednesday that she knew when the phone rang on July 7 last year that the call had something to do with her son, who was 18 and on his first night out in Sydney when he was king hit in an unprovoked attack.

“As soon as they said it was St Vincent’s and Thomas had been assaulted I just threw the phone at [husband] Ralph … I don’t think we understood how serious the situation was. They were telling Ralph that we both needed to come to the hospital.”

When Mrs Kelly arrived with her husband, they found their son, “a beautiful young man, who was shy, independent”, lying in intensive care. A doctor told them it would take a miracle for him to survive.

“He was very cold, he had his head shaved and there was a very large bandage that said ‘no bone’ on the front of his skull. That’s a very confronting thing to see when your 18-year-old son is lying there and you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.

“We were told that we would have to turn off Thomas’ life support,” she said. “A lot of media said we made that decision but … we didn’t make that decision. It was made for us when Thomas was punched.”

Family and friends who came to the hospital left completely heartbroken, Mrs Kelly said.

“At the very final hours of the day, on a Monday, we gathered together, just the four of us, and we just said goodbye to Thomas in our own way. It’s hard enough for Ralph and I as Thomas’ parents, but for his brother and sister seeing their beautiful big brother die in front of them was a very difficult thing to face and I’m sure it will affect them for the rest of their life.”

The foundation aims to help curb the alcohol-fuelled street violence that robbed the Kellys of their son. It held the launch dinner to raise money for a package of programs to improve street safety at night.

The programs will be known as TK, for Take Kare (TK was also Mr Kelly’s nickname among his friends), and include additional CCTV cameras to be installed in the city and other areas after consultation with police, and the establishment of a “safe zone” in Kings Cross that will offer support services to drunk young people who may be at risk of crime as a victim or offender.

In his speech at the launch, Ralph Kelly said the judicial system also needed to change, to stop “hooligans and cowards” who king hit others from getting off with light sentences. The man who king hit Thomas Kelly that night, Kieran Loveridge, has pleaded guilty to his manslaughter.

Mr Kelly said he had attended a homicide victim’s support group meeting in June, at which 25 families were warned to lower their expectations of the judicial process.

“We were told that night we would not receive justice. If we could all walk away and know that we would be disappointed at the end of the process, then we would come out at the other end far better than we were that night,” he said. “To me that’s outrageous.”

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Father jailed for ‘vengeful’ killing of Brandon Siaa at Banktown train station

A young father who stabbed a teenager and told him “I run Bankstown, I own Bankstown” has been sentenced to at least 18 years in prison for a “cowardly, vicious, vengeful and premeditated attack”.

Mosa Julius Mbele, 24, armed himself with a dagger and a hoodie and went to Bankstown train station to confront Brandon Siaa, 16, on May 25, 2011, two hours after the pair had a heated fight about dominance in the Bankstown area.

At 6.48pm, Mbele approached Mr Siaa, slapped him across the face twice and produced a large dagger from underneath his jumper.

Friends tried to separate the pair but, after exchanging some angry words, Mbele stabbed Mr Siaa in the heart so severely that the blade snapped off and Mr Siaa died within minutes in front of his brothers, friends and shocked commuters.

In sentencing Mbele to prison on Friday afternoon, Justice Megan Latham accepted that Mr Siaa had racially taunted him by calling him a “nigger” but she said such provocation “was the consequence of the offender’s own aggression towards the victim”.

Two hours earlier the men, whose animosity arose out of being part of rival Bankstown groups, had traded punches and Mbele had warned that he “owned” the suburb.

Justice Latham rejected Mbele’s argument that he was acting in self-defence during the fatal encounter, saying that “at no stage did [Mr Siaa] threaten him in any way”.

Rather, he stood over his victim “menacingly” and deliberately assaulted and antagonised him because of a toxic mix of his own anger, immaturity and insecurity that Mr Siaa was much larger than him.

“This was a cowardly, vicious, vengeful and pre-meditated attack which was out of all proportion to the petty animosity that existed between them,” Justice Latham said.

She was scathing of Mbele in her judgment, saying that little of his evidence could be taken as credible and he showed no remorse or desire to undertake steps to understand what he had done.

Mbele’s South African parents had little idea of their son’s true character and believed him to be a non-violent boy, she said.

Justice Latham sentenced Mbele to 26 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 18 years.

Dozens of Mr Siaa’s relatives attended the Supreme Court on Friday and cried after the lengthy sentence was handed down.

“The court is acutely aware of the devastating effects on them,” Justice Latham said. “The violent way [in which Mr Siaa was killed] must haunt their daily lives.”

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The secret lives of us

About halfway through our interview, Canadian actor/director Sarah Polley does a very curious thing. Out of nowhere she asks, ”Are you from Australia originally?” and then spends the next couple of minutes asking me about my own background with apparently genuine interest.

It’s unusual because, as a rule, interviewees are never interested in the interviewer (which is fair enough – it’s not about us, after all). But then Polley has long ducked conventional expectations and this quirky reversal makes perfect sense when one considers her fascination with families, their stories and how they are told and re-told.

Stories We Tell is an award-winning multi-layered portrait of Polley’s own family and the myth-making surrounding one key event in the past. The story is told in part through interviews with Polley’s siblings, her father, actor Michael Polley, and other family and friends.

At one point, her brother, John Buchan, asks: ”What would you say this documentary is really about?”

Curiously, this key question arises only near the end of the film. And, even now, Polley doesn’t have a neat answer.

”I think it’s something different for everyone,” she says.

It appears that, in a strange way, Polley is still relying on members of the audience to explain her own film to her.

”I feel I discover more of what it’s about by reading what people write about it and hearing people talk about it afterwards.

”I hear much more articulate explanations than I had at the time I was making it or even that I have now,” Polley says.

Stories We Tell is her seventh film as writer/director, in addition to her extensive television and film work. She first shot to prominence in Canada when she starred, aged 12, in 65 episodes of the popular show Road to Avonlea.

It is impossible to outline too closely the central event of Stories We Tell without spoiling it for would-be viewers, but it’s not revealing too much to say the narrative centres on Polley’s mother, who died when Polley was just 11.

Diane Polley was an actress and casting director who captivated pretty much everyone she met with her infectious appetite for life. The story is gradually revealed from multiple points of view through family interviews but also by a mixture of re-staged Super-8 ”home movies” and some genuine footage.

Like Diane herself, Stories We Tell is a film that resists being neatly placed in a category. Is it a documentary, a detective story, a memoir, a family drama … or all of the above?

”The way I thought of it while I was making it was as a hybrid between a documentary and an experimental film,” Polley says. ”I think lots of documentaries now push the boundaries of traditional documentary, so I don’t think this film is original in that sense. I think it fits into a lot of categories. But I find it interesting how so many people see it so differently. Some people see it completely as a documentary and some people don’t see it as a documentary at all.

”I did have a sense that I couldn’t find a model for what I wanted to do. It really excited me, as well as terrified me, that I didn’t have a reference point. I don’t think anyone ever creates anything completely original, but it was as close to original as I was going to get,” Polley says.

In part because of this ambiguity, and also because of the intensely personal and revelatory nature of the story, making the film became an agony of uncertainty for her. It is remarkable that, despite being constantly assailed by doubts over the validity of the project, she persisted with it.

”There was never a moment when I got completely comfortable with the fact I was making the film in the first place,” she says. ”It felt like a real mess to me most of the time. There were so many points of view and we had so much material to work with, it was a pretty bewildering and confusing process right until the end.

”I was telling my husband the whole time I was making it that there was a 98 per cent chance the film would never get finished,” Polley says.

”I just wanted to quit all the time. But I said there is a 2 per cent chance it will get made and I know I will be prouder of it than anything I have ever done, just because of the sheer difficulty of making it.”

A key theme of the film is how, when it comes to stories – big and small – in the lives of families, each family member has their own take on what happened and why.

”At the time I was making it, what was most interesting to me was this idea of storytelling and the many versions made out of the same story,” says Polley.

”And also why we have this attachment to creating a narrative out of our lives and how we deal with the bewildering nature of life by creating stories.”

Polley’s own memory of her mother is hazy, simply because she was so young when she died. But rather than try to establish a ”true” representation of her quixotic parent, she allows each player in the family drama to add their own layer of interpretation of the ”mythic figure”. ”I became really interested in what it means to try and recreate a person through so many images of that person.”

At a purely family level, Polley’s project also came at some personal risk. Old wounds could easily have been reopened. However, in the end, all but one member of the family was happy to take part in the film.

”I was surprised,” admits Polley. ”I think probably the potential risk would be what would attract them, rather than what would scare them away. In that way, they are probably different from a lot of families.”

Still, it was a nervous time for Polley when she finally showed them her work in a series of individual screenings.

”I wanted to hear what they thought and felt before I locked [the] picture,” she says. ”Strangely, nobody had any notes and they were all very supportive. They all felt it was not the story they would have told, but it was the story I was going to tell.

”I was terrified, because I don’t know what I would have done if they had had questions or notes. I don’t think I had thought that through. It was probably the most stressful three weeks of my life.”

In particular, uncovering what turned out to be a big family secret could have taken a severe toll on Polley’s father, Michael. In the end, however, it is he who provides the narrative device through his voiceover to drive along the drama. His response to the revelations is also extraordinary.

”I always knew he saw the world in really unusual ways and not like anyone else,” Polley says. ”But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how gracious and understanding and empathetic he was.”

■ Stories We Tell opens on September 26.

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Israeli destruction of Bedouin village puts strain on peace talks

The demolished village of Khirbet Makhoul in the Jordan Valley. Photo: Ruth Pollard Goats huddle in a temporary shelter in the demolished village of Khirbet Makhoul in the Jordan Valley. Photo: Ruth Pollard

The demolished village of Khirbet Makhoul in the Jordan Valley. Photo: Ruth Pollard

Palestinian village of Al-Zubeidat, overlooking farms located in illegally-built Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. Photo: Ruth Pollard

Mangled tin lies as if tied in knots on the dusty ground as pigeons try to nest in shattered coups and residents gather near two solar panels – the only structures still standing after Israeli soldiers demolished the tiny Bedouin village of Khirbet Makhoul this week.

Twelve families – more than 100 people – are now homeless and unable to herd their animals, residents say.

Conducted in the shadow of renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and just a day after the most recent visit to Israel by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the demolitions placed further pressure on a process already weighed down by decades of distrust.

The army came without warning at 4.30am on Monday, said resident Yousef Bisharat. “They didn’t even allow us to get our furniture out before our homes were destroyed.”

The Israel Defence Forces also knocked down and confiscated the emergency tents provided on Wednesday by the International Committee for the Red Cross, the 33-year-old herder said.

Describing it as a “despicable and ruthless act,” Mr Bisharat said simply: “We have nowhere else to go”.

The IDF declined to comment on the demolitions, while Israel’s Civil Administration said the structures were illegal because they had been built without a permit.

The demolitions took place after the village unsuccessfully applied to the High Court of Justice to prevent the destruction of homes, the administration told The Jerusalem Post.

But residents say they have the deeds to their land and that they have made repeated efforts to seek building permits from the Civil Administration, only to be denied every time.

It is a dilemma faced by many Palestinians living in what is known as “Area C” in the West Bank, which is under the civil and military control of Israel, human rights groups say.

Last week, Israeli forces raided the Jericho village of Fasayel and demolished residential and agricultural structures, while in the village of al-Zubeidat, Hassan Jerme’s date palms, planted on his land, are the subject of demolition orders.

It is all part of a plan to expand nearby settlements, the governor of Tubas, Rabih Khandakj, told diplomats and journalists in the highly contested Jordan Valley, the site of large swaths of fertile agricultural land and significant water resources.

It starts with a demolition notice, then there is military training, next your home is destroyed and a military camp is erected in its place, and finally, settlement construction begins, Mr Khandakj said.

For Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in the Israel-Palestine talks, it is a familiar pattern and one threatening the survival of the newly revived negotiations.

“I have never seen it [settlement growth] as intensive as I have seen it now,” Dr Erekat said, indicating that since July 30, settlements were growing at seven times the pace of housing in Tel Aviv.

Declining to comment specifically on the content of the talks, he said: “Is this the behaviour of someone who wants to reach an agreement? Is this the trust that is required to achieve the two-state solution?”

There are 37 Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley with an estimated income of $US612 million last year, Dr Erekat said.

He pointed to past comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he called for Israeli control of the valley for another 40 years.

Israel has always said the Jordan Valley was key to its military security. “It’s not about security,” Dr Erekat said. “It’s about stealing land and profiting.”

Dr Erekat’s claims were dismissed as “grandstanding” by senior Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

“All the construction that this government has authorised is in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs, areas where the Palestinians themselves have admitted in the past will be staying part of Israel in [a] final status peace agreement,” Mr Regev said.

“We have serious concerns about Palestinian behaviour. They have their demands but the way to move forward is in negotiations and not through grandstanding,” Mr Regev said.

Since 1967, Israel had severely restricted Palestinian development in the Jordan Valley, which made up 28.5 per cent of the occupied West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organisation said.

More than 90 per cent of the valley was off limits to Palestinians, the PLO said, forcing many to leave their homes and villages, leaving only 70,000 out of a population of 250,000 before Israel’s 1967 occupation.

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