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Canberra’s prison bookworms favour Game of Thrones, Muhammad Ali and cookbooks

The library inside the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Photo: Jay Cronan The Hume library’s collection at the Alexander Maconochie Centre contains about 5000 items. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The life of sporting great Muhammed Ali, the real-life hell faced by Australian soldiers during World War I and the gory violence of Game of Thrones have proved an acceptable form of escape for inmates locked inside Canberra’s jail.

ACT Corrections has shed light on the most requested books pored over by detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre library.

Fantasy fiction was the leading choice for male and female detainees from the Hume library’s collection of about 5000 items in 2015.

Prisoners were engrossed by American fantasy writer Peter V. Brett’s fear-laden The Painted Man, the first in The Demon Cycle series that features flesh-eating demons that rise at night and feast on humans.

The blood, power struggles and romance that fill George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, which inspired the hugely popular television series, were also sought-after.

As were books from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga, part of The Riftwar Cycle series, which follows an epic battle between human magicians set in the mythical worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan.

Inmates also gravitated towards fictional works with a tighter grip on reality, such as action thriller books by Australian writer Matthew Reilly and British novelist Lee Child.

Stories of real life featured prominently next to works of fiction in last year’s literary preferences.

Detainees commonly borrowed biographies and autobiographies, particularly of sports legends such as boxer Muhammed Ali, and stories of Australian history such as Gallipoli Diaries, about the Anzacs, by Jonathan King.

Yearly editions of Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, which detail bizarre items and events from around the world, were another hit.

Last year’s most popular items also included books focused on learning and practical skills for inmates who wanted to use their spare time productively.

Cookbooks were crowd-pleasers, particularly 4 Ingredients and books published by the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Inmates also favoured dictionaries, poetry books and volumes on art and drawing, such as How to Draw Animals.

Language books were well-read, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Asian languages the most favoured.

Indigenous inmates make up roughly 20 per cent of the ACT’s prisoners.

Surging detainee numbers have put significant pressure on the territory’s jail facilities in recent years and the AMC’s population reached more than 400 inmates on Christmas Day.

Detainees at the main jail and a 30-bed overflow facility at Symonston Correctional Centre can also browse regional newspapers, legal materials and magazines.

The most popular magazines in the past 12 months were motoring and science publications, including National Geographic.

Fantasy books by Raymond E. Feist and George R. R. Martin, as well as thriller novels by Lee Child, featured in last year’s favoured literary choices for Canberra’s jail inmates.

Prison memoirs had also been in demand.

Choices among the territory’s prison population appeared to differ from residents outside the jail walls, with Libraries ACT last month revealing its most borrowed book for 2015 was the thriller Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins.

That was followed by romantic comedy The Rosie Effect, a sequel to romantic comedy bestseller The Rosie Project, by Melbourne-based writer Graeme Simsion.

Journalist Annabel Crabb’s look at work-family balance in The Wife Drought, Marie Kondo’s The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organising and former prime minister Julia Gillard’s My Story rounded out the top five.

In 2010, the most borrowed book from the AMC’s then-new library was The Damage Done, the autobiography of convicted Australian drug trafficker Warren Fellows.

The book details the harsh conditions Fellows faced during 12 years in Thai prisons for his role in a heroin distribution ring.

White Lies, the musings of Damian Marrett, a former undercover officer with Victoria Police who helped bring down members of the Griffith mafia, came in at number two, followed by John Silvester and Andrew Rule’s Underbelly.

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Maeve O’Meara’s Food Safari Fire heats up world cuisines from all over Australia

Food Safari Fire presenter Maeve O’Meara.Maeve O’Meara gets so close to her subjects in her new series Food Safari Fire that she actually singed off a handful of hair.

“We were filming a wood-fired oven in Adelaide on a really cold day,” she says. “I just needed to stand right up against that oven to get as warm as I could, and I didn’t realise but I reached up [to her head] and thought, ‘Oh my god’.

“It wasn’t the flame, it was the hot air coming up outside that oven and it very neatly gave me a very different hairstyle.”

Fortunately that was the only hazardous incident on O’Meara’s six-month journey across Australia for the 10-part series that focuses on the most primal of cooking techniques.

It’s not merely snags on the barbie – the show uses fire to link together cuisines from all over the world, from Japanese to Chinese, Mexican and beyond. Episodes are themed around topics such as street food, grilling, spit-roasting and smoking, with some of the nation’s most famous culinary faces sharing their fiery wisdom.

What is it about cooking with fire that makes it such an enticing, compelling process?

“It’s beautiful, it’s sensual and it’s challenging,” says O’Meara. “Even top chefs talk about how each time it’s different and, in a cooking sense, that’s fantastic. I also think cooking outside, you don’t feel as rule-bound as say cooking in a kitchen and being really strict on technique.

“For everyone that we filmed, men, women of all different ages, there’s some sort of DNA part that relates to fire that is deep within them and is so enjoyable.”

Marinades and cuts of meat make up only a small part of the picture. The intricacies of elements such as charcoal and different types of wood are investigated, for example. Chef Lennox Hastie from Sydney’s Firedoor demonstrates how fruit woods can be used like a spice to flavour. Elsewhere, Movida’s Frank Camorra and his parents, who moved from Spain to Australia, demonstrate the more social side of fire and invite O’Meara to their weekly family get-together in Geelong, cooking traditional Spanish dishes in a perol pan over fire.

Smoking, one of the big trends at the moment, is another subject tackled. “Smoking is really the new black in fire cooking,” says O’Meara. “Everybody is just excited by it because you’re cooking secondary cuts of meat, learning to use different flavour combinations, whether it’s a dry rub or cooking over a particular sort of charcoal, and it’s that low and slow cooking that is just about to boom here.

“The brisket and pulled pork revolution is well and truly on us and I think more and more people will want to have a taste of that and think ‘we could do this ourselves in our backyard’.”

O’Meara says 12-hour brisket is more the “advance class” of cooking, but the show does cover elements that are achievable for everybody. She says it’s possible just to do something as simple as getting a $50 barbecue from a Middle-Eastern store to use for cooking over charcoal.

O’Meara herself bought a tandoor oven from NSW potter Cameron Williams, which she says is a like a “terracotta R2D2”, and is mastering the art of cooking chicken, prawns and lamb cooked in that way.

The new series is the seventh season of Food Safari and is teamed with a book featuring techniques, information and recipes. O’Meara says she’s also going to be live tweeting while the show airs.

She says the new series carries all the hallmarks of what Food Safari fans know and love, plus a power from fire that drives it as well.

“The images are beautiful and I think that when you see drops of juice coming on to charcoal and spurts of smoke coming up, those moments are like, ‘Oh my god, I reallyneed to eat something’.

“It’s meant to be inspirational and practical, but really its strength is the people who cook and create, who are so fabulously disarming and loving what they do. Translating that to the screen is the real strength of Food Safari.”

She says her top dish is possibly Tetsuya Wakuda’s​ mackerel cooked on a small konro grill with miso and soy, but her favourite experience of the show is the people.

“I love my job and my life and I love going into people’s homes and capturing what brings them together and their culture. It’s like a great, big warm hug. Filming an extended Samoan family cooking an umu, a ground oven feast, was just something I hadn’t seen before.

“This is the suburbs of Sydney, the fact that it is there in the backyard next to you and it’s so different and interesting. It’s probably not something that everybody is going to be able to recreate but what joy to have that as part of our culinary mix in the backyards of Australia.”

WHAT Food Safari Fire

WHEN SBS, Thursday (January 7), 8pm. 

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Frances O’Connor talks about harrowing drama The Missing

Frances O’Connor, centre, and James Nesbitt, right, in the series The Missing.In The Missing, Frances O’Connor plays Emily Hughes, who faces every parent’s worst nightmare when her five-year-old son disappears on a family holiday. The stylish, chilling and highly acclaimed thriller drew a huge response when it aired in Britain and the United States, and now SBS is giving the series another look.

The Missing had a huge impact and became a real talking point. Did you expect such a big response?

When I read the script I was just excited because I thought, ‘God, this is such a great script.’ When we were filming it, [we knew] we had something special and we worked hard to try and make it authentic, but we didn’t realise that it would have quite the reaction that it did. Friends would say I just can’t watch any more and then would call me a few months later and say I ended up binge-watching the rest of the show. I think it just disturbed a lot of people, a small child disappearing at a swimming pool. It’s something that we’ve all had moments when our children have just gone missing for 30 seconds and that feeling of panic.

Was it hard being a parent [to son Luka, 10] and doing the role?

It’s very hard to kind of not go there because you’re doing those scenes. When we were establishing it in the first couple of weeks, I did go there in terms of substituting and thinking that that could happen. But then it very quickly just started to feel real in the moment, especially with Jimmy [Nesbitt, who plays the father, Tony]. He’s so good and we really started to believe in our characters and essentially really missing Oliver, the kid. It was a tough one but the script was so good we both felt really passionate about going there.

What is the most compelling aspect in the way the story is told?

I think because it’s not linear and there are lot of different time jumps, the audience are not really spoon-fed so they’re participating in putting the information together, and so that’s very thrilling for the audience and it’s also very thrilling for us. We shot in blocks, so we shot all of 2013 first and then we went back in time to shoot the summer where the child goes missing, so it meant you had a great continuity in terms of how you played your character and the history of what they’d been through. The good thing was Jimmy and I knew each other so well by the time we got to the summer when Ollie went missing, we had a great sense of intimacy and connection because we’d done all the other work first.

What were the demands on you personally?A British tabloid reported that you’d get home and burst into tears.

I never said that! I said there were times when you’d get home, and I was talking about it in context of being away in Brussels Monday to Friday [where it was filmed], sometimes you’d be a bit teary when you’d get picked up from the train station on the Friday, but just because you missed them [her family]. I guess what I was saying is that it could be emotional, I wasn’t saying I was a nervous wreck.

Why would anyone want to watch such a harrowing subject?

I think it moves pretty quickly off the experience of being in a situation where your child is abducted and moves on to the mystery of it. A lot of it is to do with who did it, and the way that it it tells the story. It doesn’t sit with the parents for eight episodes, it moves on to other characters and explores their motives and their reality, so in that way it is palatable. They do find a way of exploring the issues without dragging the audience through the mud too much. The truth was, people were coming up to me in the schoolyard and going, oh my god, did you see yesterday’s episode, can you tell me what’s going to happen?

You received a Golden Globe nomination for your performance, how did that feel?

It was nice. We were so happy with how the show went and we got so much out of working on it. It was just nice that we all got to go to LA and get dressed up and celebrate. The show got nominated, and Jimmy should have got nominated, he was so brilliant in it, but it was just really nice. We got to have a party and a glass of champagne, it felt karmically that we had deserved it after we’d finished shooting [laughs].

The Missing airs on SBS on January 6 at 8.30pm.

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Sydney New Year’s Eve 2015: Where to see fireworks on the Harbour and beyond

Front row seat: Jose Palacios and his family wait for the fireworks at McMahons Point. Photo: Cole Bennetts People camp out at Blues Point Reserve to secure a spot ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Early birds have found spots both comfortable and less so in Kirribilli. Photo: Nick Moir

New Year’s Eve weather

With road closures, price hikes and plenty of competition, catching the crackers on New Year’s Eve can be a struggle for Sydneysiders. Thankfully, there are plenty of outstanding locations where you can spend the night within sight of the fireworks display – and many are nowhere near the Harbour. Families

Balmain Peninsula

Balmain and Birchgrove are always popular destinations for families. Entry is free and there is a lot of green space to spread out a picnic rug and enjoy Balmain’s village vibe. There will be numerous road closures from 3pm onwards, so buses will have free rein. Catch a 444 or 445 down Darling Street straight to Illoura Reserve, or you can take the 441 to Mort Bay Park and Birchgrove Park. All parks and reserves in the Balmain peninsula worth spreading your rug on are designated as alcohol-free areas.

Parramatta Old King’s School

Parramatta Council will host a huge free event especially tailored to families along the Parramatta River foreshore, on the grounds of the Old King’s School. Live entertainment will feature an appearance from Curious George the monkey and some rocking soul performances to keep the parents’ enthusiasm piqued. Food, rides and roving performances will ensure the party mood endures until a spectacular fireworks finale at 9pm. The celebrations start at 4pm – get there early to ensure you are not turned away if the grounds reach maximum capacity. The event is alcohol-free.

For more information see the Parramatta City website.

Brighton Le Sands

You can get the best of the fireworks and water views in Brighton Le Sands with Rockdale Council’s fireworks released off barges on Botany Bay at 9pm. The foreshore parks of Cook Park and Lady Robinsons Beach provide the perfect new year family destination with great access to toilets, public transport and plenty of green space and sand for picnickers. Brighton Le Sands foreshore parkland is alcohol and glass free.

For more information see Rockdale Council’s NYE guide. Young ones

Coogee Beach

Even if you haven’t booked tickets to any of the parties in Coogee, you can still make an event of New Year’s Eve by heading to Gordons Bay in the afternoon for a dip before making your way around the headland to Dunningham Reserve, where Coogee’s fireworks will be released at 9pm. Secure a spot on Trenerry Reserve on the southern side of the beach to get a complete view of the display, and a little distance from the night’s revelries. The Coogee Bay Hotel and Coogee Pavilion will be thumping.

For more information about the Coogee Sparkles event go to Randwick Council’s website.

Blues Point

Blues Point is a Sydney sweet spot that’s worth getting to early. Smack bang in front of the Harbour Bridge and entirely free, secure a patch of grass here and you can be sure to start off the new year very smug. Simply catch the train to North Sydney station and walk down Blues Point Road. Bring a guitar and some snacks and usher in 2016 with perfect views. Non-alcoholic drinks and food will be available on site.

Parramatta River foreshore

Parramatta is pulling out all stops to provide a New Year’s Eve event that rivals the house music and hordes of young people on Sydney Harbour. While Paramatta’s youth-oriented event on the river foreshore between Lennox Bridge and Parramatta Wharf is strictly alcohol-free, a well-curated DJ line-up, hip-hop dancers and jet-ski pyrotechnics more than makes up for it. Enjoy Parramatta’s 9pm fireworks, then head to one of the numerous bars in the area to dance away the rest of your evening.

For more information see the Parramatta City website. Seniors

Dee Why Beach

The buzzing atmosphere and stunning views at Dee Why will bring you a New Year’s Eve to boast about. Crackers will be released at 9pm off a barge, showering Dee Why’s expansive beach. There are restaurants along the Strand, or you can bring a picnic to eat on the beach as you strain the sand with your toes.

For more information see the Sydney苏州美甲美睫培训学校 website.

Westfield Miranda

Westfield Miranda features the only fireworks display in the Sutherland Shire. The Shire community has come together to make this a luxurious evening with live music and a dedicated fireworks display at 8.45pm.

For more information see the Sutherland Shire’s website.

Nield Park Oval, Five Dock

This is an old inner west favourite that is easily accessible with nearby parking, toilets and a passable view of Sydney’s fireworks. While you won’t be able to see the Harbour Bridge, the city skyline will certainly be alight, and a short walk to Rodd Point will earn you water views across Iron Cove. Catch a 436 bus to Rodd Point and bring some snacks. Couples

Campbelltown, Koshigaya Park

So you were looking forward to all the extravaganza and romance of NYE with crowds, colourful entertainment and a brilliant firework display at midnight – but you haven’t booked anything. Campbelltown’s Koshigaya Park could be your salvation. Enjoy funky DJs with adult entertainment starting from 8pm onwards, fireworks displays at 9pm and midnight, and lots of food. Share fairy floss with your loved one and take a spin on the Ferris wheel. The park is within easy walking distance from parking in Campbelltown’s CBD and Campbelltown train station.

For more information see Campbelltown Council’s website.

Woolwich Peninsula

Couples who want to nestle in greenery with a picnic and unencumbered views of Sydney Harbour would do well to make their way to Clarke’s Point Reserve near Woolwich Marina. This reserve has a rich industrial history – a short stroll around the dock will provide a pretty interlude before sundown. Leave your car in Hunters Hill and catch the 528 down Woolwich Road. Parts of the reserve are steep, so leave your heels at home.

Rowland Reserve, Bayview

Rowland Reserve is a secret hideaway from the hot mess that is Sydney on December 31. Enjoy fireworks displays at 9pm and midnight, intermingled with the sound of waves lapping on the sand of this protected bay. Yachts, dinghies and bush in the background only make Rowland Reserve more picturesque. Alcohol is prohibited. Road closures and restrictions

Sydney Harbour Bridge will be closed from 11pm to 1am. Anzac Bridge, Victoria Road and the Western Distributor will be closed from 8.30pm to 9.30pm and from 11.30pm to 1am.

There will be road closures in the CBD and other areas such as Balmain, Birchgrove, Parramatta and North Sydney. Check council websites for specific streets and times – using public transport is recommended.

Additional bus services will be travelling to and from the celebrations. Some ferry services end as early as 5.39pm, so plan your trip ahead.

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Opal heralds end to most paper tickets for NSW public transport

Long-time transport ticket collector Noel Farr is sceptical Opal will help reduce fare evasion. Photo: Nic Walker The sale of most public transport tickets will cease in NSW on New Year’s Day. Photo: Nic Walker

The new year marks the end of the line for the vast majority of NSW’s magnetic-striped paper tickets for public transport.

Long a part of daily life for millions, they are about to become relegated to the collections of people such as Noel Farr, of Camperdown in Sydney’s inner west.

Mr Farr, 61, who has collected about 10,000 transport tickets since the 1970s, said the move signalled the end of an era for paper tickets.

“It is a progression. We have gone from Edmondson ticketing to the magnetic-striped tickets and now to Opal,” he said.

“If it’s an improvement in the system, I am all for it. But I am a bit doubtful that it is an improvement.”

As part of the switch to the state’s Opal electronic ticketing system, 57 types of magnetic paper tickets will no longer be sold to commuters from New Year’s Day, including MyBus Travel Ten, MyMulti Weekly and Pensioner Excursion.

Mr Farr is sceptical about suggestions Opal will help the government reduce fare evasion, because only about 16 per cent of train stations have gates.

“When they bought out paper tickets they said it would eliminate fare evasion and reduce cost,” he said. “Now they are saying that about the Opal cards. Unless you put gates on every station, it will never happen.”

However, Transport for NSW said a recent survey showed fare evasion across the state’s transport network dropped from 11 per cent in 2012 to 5.2 per cent this year. About 70 per cent of passengers pass through stations that have gates.

Another collector of NSW travel tickets, who wanted to remain anonymous to safeguard his collection, said the state risked watching history “slipping through its hands” because the concept of archiving old tickets was foreign to many in government.

Although the sale of the vast majority of tickets will end, single and return adult and concession tickets for buses, trains, ferries and light rail will still be sold as part of efforts to cater for tourists and infrequent users of public transport.

More than 4.7 million Opal cards are now in circulation in NSW. About 700,000 Gold Opal cards have been issued to pensioners, senior commuters and war widows; the card caps their fares at $2.50 a day.

The NSW government has spent $1.4 billion on the electronic ticketing system.

About 100 top-up machines for Opal cards have been installed at train stations, ferry wharves, light rail stops and major bus interchanges, and transport officials expect 350 to be in operation early next year.

The government has said it will give commuters “plenty of notice” of the final date they can use paper tickets that will no longer be sold from January 1.

Whereas tickets such as the Family Funday Sunday will become a relic of the past, fares will be capped at $2.50 for travel on Sundays for Opal card holders.

Opal also gives cardholders unlimited free trips after they have notched up eight paid journeys in a week.

At one of Australia’s largest train museums, Trainworks at Thirlmere, staff have spent the last year cataloguing a large collection of the state’s railway tickets from the past century.

It includes more than 17,000 Edmondson tickets donated by former NSW station master Ken Ames, who now lives in Tasmania.

The drawcards include nine-carat gold “life passes” issued to parliamentarians and governors-general for free journeys on the state’s public transport system.

Etched on each of the gold passes is a coat of arms and the recipient’s name.

Not everyone, however, is enamoured of paper transport tickets.

Mr Farr admits his wife, May, doesn’t share his passion for collecting thousands of tickets, including Edmondson cardboard tickets. “She doesn’t quite understand … “

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