University researchers score $11m

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JOHN MAYNARDTHE University of Newcastle has been awarded almost $11million in Australian Research Council funding for projects ranging from psychology and Aboriginal history to domestic violence.
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The outcome, which places the university ninth in Australia, will deliver funding to support 27 research projects.

Professor Daichao Sheng, of the school of engineering, secured the university’s largest grant, receiving almost $800,000 to undertake a study on the mechanics of hard soils and soft rocks and their influence on the stability and serviceability of buildings.

Professor Simon Dennis, head of the university’s school of psychology, was awarded $750,000 for a project to develop a model of episodic memory, the category of memory that allows people to recall specific experiences, events and times.

The project will apply the model to both adult and child development data, enhancing understanding of when episodic memory develops.

Indigenous historian Professor John Maynard from the university’s Wollotuka Institute attracted $600,000 to examine the history of the NSW Aborigines Protection/Welfare Board in 1883-1969. It will support understanding of the impact of the board, the legacy of which remains relevant.

Conjoint Professor Lyndall Ryan, of the school of humanities and social science, received $500,000 to generate insights into how intimacy and violence affected the development of colonial settler cultures, and the legacy of these cultures.

Dr Brett Turner received $570,000 for a project exploring the potential impact of climate change and sea-level rise on Australia.

Deputy vice-chancellor research and innovation Kevin Hall said the research funding was an excellent result given the strong competition.

“Today’s announcement … is testament to the exceptional quality and breadth of research at the University of Newcastle, and the excellence of our researchers,” Professor Hall said.

Racing critics told to get off high horses

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ANIMAL LOVER: Willow Park Stud owner Glenn Burrows. Picture: Simone De PeakTHE backlash over the death of Melbourne Cup horses Admire Rakti and Araldo has shaken the Upper Hunter horse industry.
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Willow Park Stud owner Glenn Burrows – a horseman of almost 35 years who lives and breathes thoroughbreds – has sympathised with the shattered teams who cared for the horses, and gone into bat for the industry saying that ‘‘no one wanted to see anything bad happen to them’’.

Cup favourite Admire Rakti ran last in the race and died afterwards in her stall of acute heart failure.

Araldo was spooked by a punter waving an Australian flag and became entangled in a fence, shattering his pastern bone.

Mr Burrows is ‘‘disgusted with the attitude of some people’’ who are lashing out at the industry and claiming that it is full of cruelty and animals that are mistreated.

He said the negative comments on social media showed the people who wrote them obviously ‘‘knew so little about the whole industry’’.

‘‘They are just blindly having these radical comments without any foundation,’’ Mr Burrows said.

‘‘If they fully understood the industry, then fine, have an opinion. But until such time, shut up.

‘‘The horse industry is not a job, it’s a lifestyle – because so much time and effort goes into it.

‘‘A lot of the staff I’ve got here are on very average money and they’re doing it for the love of the animals.’’

ANIMAL LOVER: Willow Park Stud owner Glenn Burrows. Picture: Simone De Peak

Mr Burrows left school at 16 to work in the industry after becoming ‘‘besotted with horses’’ and said he would love to live the life of a racehorse.

‘‘If I died and got the chance to come back, I’d love to come back as a thoroughbred racehorse because we care and love them so much 24 hours a day, seven days a week,’’ he said.

Australian Racing Board chief executive Peter McGauran agreed the tragic deaths ‘‘understandably raised questions in the wider community’’. But assuming the annual death rate was 125, as claimed by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, the fatality ratio was only 0.07per cent out of 189,259 starters in 19,511 races.

He said the fatalities were ‘‘unpredictable despite the care of stable veterinarians and regulatory veterinarians on duty at every race meeting in Australia’’.

And most autopsies found there was ‘‘no detectable pre-existing condition’’.

He said the industry was ‘‘amongst the most regulated and accountable industries’’ in the country and the board was ‘‘proud of our animal welfare standards’’.

The coalition protested at Flemington after the deaths, saying the industry had extensive animal welfare problems.

It has launched a ‘‘Horse Racing Kills Campaign’’ to highlight its position and called for two-year-old racing and whip use to be banned.

It reminded punters that the two deaths on Tuesday followed that of Melbourne Cup runner Verema, who died after last year’s race.

Newcastle rail: Conspiracy theorists remaining on track

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How serious is Labor when its says it wants to stop “greedy developers”?► Rail corridor bill looks set to fail
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►Planning hearing to open

I’M yet to hear of a more sensible measure to placate concerns about the truncation of Newcastle’s rail line emerging from the recent corruption inquiry into political donations – and to silence conspiracy theorists.

But Greg Piper’s bill to prevent development of the rail corridor for uses other than passive recreation, cafes and community spaces seems destined to go without the support it needs to become law.

One would think if removing the heavy rail and installing light rail along part of the corridor was not an elaborate ruse for handing over the rest of the land to developers to erect soaring apartment towers, then the Baird government would just back the independent MP’s bill.

And if Labor was serious about stopping the “greedy developers”, why not lend its support?

But in state politics, commonsense rarely applies.

Governments typically don’t like private members’ bills, as they tend to look foolish for not coming up with the idea in the first place.

And Labor, still campaigning against the removal of the rail, won’t want to lose one of its key arguments – that the government is cosying up to developers after a number of them filled the Liberal Party’s coffers with illegal donations ahead of the last election.

The ALP would also be reluctant to help Piper when it still hopes to take back his seat some day, even if his bill is aimed at protecting the community’s interests.

If the government won’t back the bill, we need it to explain what will happen to the corridor land, before it closes the heavy rail in less than two months.

And before we start listening to the conspiracies.

Sydney Kings import Josh Childress shouldn’t expect any favours from referees

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It’s an unwritten rule in the NBA that the big names get the superstar calls. Should Josh Childress expect the same treatment in the NBL? On the basis of evidence presented in the early rounds of the season, there’ll be no special treatment for the former NBA forward. On the floor.
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Let’s be honest, the Sydney Kings’ marquee import got off lightly off the court at the tribunal for his hit on Perth forward Jesse Wagstaff. A one-game ban and another match suspended plus a $7500 fine which will hardly break his bank considering he is receiving $7 million from the Phoenix Suns this season not to play for them.

On the court, the NBL referees have not given any extra leeway to Childress, or any of the several other NBA fringe players in the NBL this season.

It’s an impossibly fine line for the refs. They can’t be seen to be handing out preferential treatment to anyone, however the NBL won’t want the likes of Childress, Perth’s Toronto Raptors draftee DeAndre Daniels or Philadelphia 76ers’ Melbourne United loaner Jordan McRae, to be roughed up by some of the more physical teams in the league. That kind of word spreads. The NBL doesn’t want NBA team officials to think there’s an increased risk of injury if they go the Down Under option for players they’ve invested in.

And Childress was definitely targeted by the Wildcats in Perth. It looked like the Kings were dished up a hefty serve of home cooking in that game. It would be hard for refs not to be swayed by the fans at Perth Arena. It’s easily the most hostile NBL arena, with an intimidating crowd upwards of 12,000 fans for most games.

The Perth players know they can get away with more on their home floor. Who could blame them? It truly is a home-court advantage in every sense of the term and the other seven sides would kill to have that kind of atmosphere in their own building.

Childress was clearly frustrated after being pinged for an iffy offensive foul called when Wildcats veteran Damian Martin slipped in front of him at mid-court but it’s highly dubious that he had position before the Sydney star made contact. Then when Wagstaff flattened him while setting a screen and the refs swallowed their whistle, he sought retribution.

His act of revenge did two things – it showed the refs and opponents in the NBL that he would not be pushed around but it also showed rival teams he can be put off his game if confronted with physical play.

Ironically, the referees this season seem to have been doing a much better job of limiting rough play and allowing matches to flow. If Childress was in the NBL a few years ago he could have expected a far rougher time of things.

Points totals have been better than last season and the extra spacing has allowed the likes of Daniels, Breakers guard Cedric Jackson and Cairns hot shot Scottie Wilbekin to display their extraordinary athleticism, a crucial factor in the NBL’s attempts to boost crowds.

Childress, who it must be said has handled the adverse publicity like a seasoned professional and unfortunately had to put up with some cowardly attacks on social media, makes his return in Wollongong on Friday night against a desperate Hawks team which has slumped to a 1-7 record and last place on the ladder.

The Hawks racked up four wins from as many meetings with the Kings last season by employing a robust style of play which got under the skin of Sydney’s previous big-name NBA signing, Sam Young.

With the back-court combination of Kendrick Perry and Ben Madgen yet to click into top gear and a young front-court which wilted in crunch time last weekend in Cairns, the 1-3 Kings need their biggest name to get the job done against the Hawks and then back it up in Sunday’s home clash with Adelaide.

All eyes will be on Childress to see if he contains or maintains his rage.

Taking it to the poll … 

The NBA Eastern Conference poll  attracted more than 1000 votes with 35% of votes for Cleveland, ahead of Chicago at 32% with Miami a distant third with 9%.

The Western Conference poll had 1808 votes and delivered resounding confidence in San Antonio (36%) to win again with the LA Clippers at 14% the next best.

Bennett lure a factor in Folau’s future

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Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.
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Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.

Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.

Israel Folau, left, has given Michael Cheika his seal of approval as Wallabies coach.

CARDIFF: Wallabies fullback Israel Folau says he would love to be coached by NRL guru Wayne Bennett, admitting he faces an agonising choice over his sporting future in the next 12 months.

But Michael Cheika’s appointment as Australia’s Test mentor could sway the cross-code superstar, with Folau likening Cheika to a combination of Bennett and Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy.

The 25-year-old declared Cheika “exactly what we need” as the Wallabies prepare for their first Test with Cheika in charge on Sunday morning.

Folau’s ARU contract expires after the World Cup next year and he is weighing up opportunities in the NRL, Super Rugby and Europe as his next frontier.

Folau has ruled out joining former Parramatta captain Jarryd Hayne in a bid to break into the NFL and says he will not walk away from rugby until he believes he has conquered all his challenges.

He has been coached by some of Australian sport’s greatest minds in Bellamy and AFL legend Kevin Sheedy, but he is yet to team up with returning Brisbane Broncos leader Bennett.

“Everyone would love to play under Wayne, they all say good things about him and he’s certainly a great coach,” Folau said.

“But more so everyone says he’s a great person and always has time for everyone.”

Folau also said the Wallabies had moved on from Kurtley Beale’s off-field woes and he was “missed” in the Australian set up.

“I’m there to support him. If he needs a helping hand I’m just a good mate,” Folau said. “For him being a footy player probably comes second. I’ve spoken to him and he’s in good head space.

“It will just take time for him to get things right … the boys miss him in this team environment. I think the most exciting thing would be playing footy and just getting away from it. Hopefully he gets a chance to come over.”

Cheika was thrust into the Wallabies job when Ewen McKenzie quit two weeks ago.

The NSW Waratahs championship-winner has had just two weeks and a handful of training sessions to prepare the Wallabies for a gruelling four-Test spring tour of Europe.

But Folau has no doubts he is the man for the job as the Wallabies lay the foundations for World Cup success next year.

“[Cheika’s] a bit of both [Bellamy and Bennett], he’s definitely hard but fair,” Folau said. “The way he brings out his messages to the group is similar to coaches I’ve had in the past.

“Cheika’s a great coach and he’s got a different style, the intensity is good and the boys are buying into it. It’s exactly what we need.”

The ARU is desperate to retain marquee man Folau after an outstanding transition to the sport in less than two years.

Folau played against the British and Irish Lions last year, won a Super Rugby title and the John Eales Medal this year and is a certainty to play at the World Cup, barring injury.

He ruled out a chance to join Hayne in the NFL, saying he did not have the passion to learn the game.

But French rugby is circling with cash to burn, and the NRL is also a prospect for the former Greater Western Sydney Giants, Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm star.

“There’s no timeline [for a decision]. Sometimes you do get sick of asking the same question but it doesn’t affect whether I’ll make it quicker or later,” Folau said.

“I’ve played rugby league, that could be an option. Playing rugby in Australia or elsewhere … there’s options everywhere. I don’t know.”

A relaxed Folau will be hoping to end a five-Test scoring drought when the Wallabies play Wales in Cardiff.

For most players five Tests without a try would not raise eyebrows. But such is Folau’s uncanny knack to sniff out a five-pointer, the powerful fullback is determined to cross the line again.

Folau says he will not walk away from rugby if he feels he has unfinished business, whether that is his goals for team success or individual improvement.

“It’s more fulfilling my potential and ability to play the game, there’s a lot of improvement there,” Folau said. “Once I feel that’s fulfilled, I’ll look to achieve other goals. It’s not anything to prove, I just want to improve.”

Australia crushed in T20 series opener

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As it happened
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It did not have the lingering sting of a Test series mauling but Australia’s margin from victory was, allowing for the change in formats, nearly as wide as it was in the United Arab Emirates as its international season began with a Twenty20 mauling by South Africa.

Fringe batsman Rilee Rossouw, with a one-day average of 10.33 after six matches, benefited from Proteas’ policy of resting its elite players to earn selection.

On Wednesday night he also benefited from a dropped catch, from Nathan Reardon when he was on five, to exceed his entire one-day run tally with a commanding 78.

His lusty hitting, from just 50 deliveries, fuelled a century partnership with Quinton de Kock (46) that was the basis of the visitors to coasting past Australia’s skinny total of 6-144 with an over to spare in front of 26,370 at Adelaide Oval, to get on the board first in the three-match series.

That both set batsmen fell within deliveries straddling the 15th and 16th overs slowed South Africa’s march to victory but did never threatened it, winning by seven wickets with acting captain JP Duminy (4 not out) and David Miller (9 not out) at the crease.

Openers Aaron Finch and Cameron White gave Australia a healthy start with 0-27 after three overs but slowed, and then departed, in the second half of the powerplay.

White fell for 24 after Farhaan Berhardien’s spring from cover was just enough to prevent the ball sailing over the inner ring to the unguarded boundary. It was arguably the best of a handful of fine catches claimed by the Proteas fielders in the match.

The only time captain Finch struck the ball characteristically fiercely was his first delivery, which was technically a dropped return catch by the excellent Kyle Abbott (3-21) but more so an endorsement of his reflexes that eh was able his hands up so quickly.

Finch was one of two key batsmen to depart steering a catch straight to cover. His was in the fifth over for 14; the latter was Shane Watson for 47, in the 18th over right when Australia needed to accelerate sharply.

James Faulkner, with an unbeaten 41 from 33 deliveries, produced the only innings of substance beside Watson’s.

Debutants Ben Dunk and Reardon found the boundary on 80 occasions in the recent Matador Cup, form which sealed their international promotion. On Wednesday night the left-handers produced none between them, falling respectively for two and four.

The catch which claimed Reardon rivalled Berhardien’s for skill. The Queenslander top-edged an attempted glide through slips off Abbott, after which wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock overcame his lack of height by jumping and successfully thrusting his left hand into the air to pluck the chance.

The Proteas bowlers deserved credit for limiting the home team to only five boundaries after the initial six-overs powerplay.

The last came in the 16th over when Watson launched the third of his signature bombs over the mid-wicket fence. Australia’s inability to mount a late-innings surge was influenced by selecting only one specialist middle-order batsman: Reardon. Dunk typically opens while Faulkner and Ben Cutting (8 off 8) were, at six and seven respectively, were arguably batting a rung too high.

In South Africa’s innings Reeza Hendricks continued the dirty night for debutant batsmen – excepting Rossouw, who making only his Twenty20 debut – by edging the third delivery of the match, from Doug Bollinger, behind to Dunk, who caught smartly low to his right. Bollinger should have claimed another victim in his second over when Rossouw skied a cut towards deep point when on five, but back-pedalling Reardon was unable to get a hand on it.  Australia was made to rue that blunder, especially Bollinger after the left-hander thumped him for a six and two fours to start his third over, the fifth of the match.

The Proteas easily found the boundary more regularly the Australians – and did so with their biggest hitter, Miller, still in reserve until the game was all but won.

The sense that Australia had picked one bowler too many was reinforced by Pat Cummins, playing his first international in two years, and Cutting only bowling one over between them in the first 11 overs.

Hard time for justice in clogged Newcastle District Court

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THE wheels of justice have never creaked more slowly in Newcastle District Court with statistics showing that it has gone from being the best-performing district court in the state to among the worst in just two years.
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More and more cases are languishing for months, causing a backlog that has resulted in some defendants now receiving trial dates as far away as August next year.

Only 35 per cent of defendants had their cases disposed of within six months last year – a drop from 55per cent in 2012 and a state-best 68per cent in 2011, the NSW District Court’s annual review has revealed.

That six-month period does not include a case’s journey through the local court, which in itself can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

Across the state the figures are just as bleak with the percentage of trial matters finalised within six months dropping from 50per cent in 2011 to 47per cent in 2012 and 33per cent last year.

Criminal barrister Peter Harper said the court’s judges and support staff were working harder than ever, but an increase in the number of cases going to trial – instead of defendants pleading guilty – and the complexity of those trials was behind the delays.

‘‘I can assure the community that the Newcastle District Court is working at least as hard if not harder than previous years,’’ he said.

‘‘Judges are still sitting full days and inevitably taking work homewith them to complete overnight and on weekends.’’

Mr Harper noted that judges were constantly squeezing in sentencing hearings and appeals around criminal trials.

‘‘While judges prioritise trials over all other matters, the end result is that there is only so many hours in a working court’s week and completing these short matters means that trials must be interrupted,’’ Mr Harper added.

‘‘And it appears to me that as time goes on crimes alleged seem to be generally getting more serious in nature, meaning that often a higher proportion of matters can only be dealt with in the District Court meaning the queue is necessarily getting longer.

‘‘As a general rule, the more serious the matter the more complicated the evidence – for example DNA and crime scene investigation – and the more complicated the evidence the longer the trial.’’

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said the government was trying to reduce delays by increasing pre-trial discussions between prosecutors and defence lawyers.

‘‘The changes seek to reduce the length of criminal trials by encouraging parties to identify issues in dispute as early as possible,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Legal Aid NSW, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Public Defenders Office have set up a working group in Newcastle to explore the potential to finalise cases earlier.

‘‘Legal Aid NSW has also established an internal committals monitoring committee, which will aim to increase the number of committals dealt with in-house,’’ she said.

‘‘Matters dealt with in-house by Legal Aid at the committal stage have a higher rate of plea negotiation and guilty pleas.’’

Newcastle Bar Association president Peter Cummings SC noted these improvements, but said it was still obvious that the various agencies working in the criminal justice system needed more resources.

‘‘The statistics in terms of the downward trend in the percentage of trials disposed of in accordance with the criminal trial standards are alarming,’’ he said.

‘‘It is positive that a working party has been established between the public defenders, Legal Aid and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to attempt to address the delay. Ultimately, however, what is needed is greater judicial resources.’’

Coal operator convicted after worker crushed

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A HUNTER Valley coal operator has been convicted of a workplace safety offence after a miner was knocked unconscious and crushed between two pieces of heavy machinery.
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Bulga Underground Operations had pleaded not guilty to the offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after the incident at its Beltana coalmine on April 23, 2010.

The miner was knocked unconscious and was crushed between the toe of an automatically advancing roof support and the side of a continuous armoured face conveyor, the NSW District Court heard on Wednesday.

The worker was found semi-conscious on the ground with ‘‘severe’’ crush injuries and a large piece of roof stone lying across his thigh.

His helmet had been knocked off and he had no recollection of what had happened, Judge James Curtis said.

Just five weeks earlier another worker had been struck on the head and shoulder by a large piece of coal that was thrown towards him after it fell from the coal face while he operated a shearer.

There was also evidence that another miner had suffered crush injuries during an incident in 2008.

Bulga Underground Operations argued that the risk to the miner in the 2010 incident was not foreseeable.

Judge Curtis disagreed.

‘‘Notwithstanding the matters raised … I have concluded that the circumstances in which [the miner] came to be injured were foreseeable to a reasonable person standing in the place of the defendant,’’ he ruled.

‘‘The defendant failed to mitigate the foreseeable risk by taking the reasonably practicable measure of employing the services of an additional miner in the crew, whose sole task was to observe the drum operators and stop the advancement of roof supports if the drum operator became disabled.’’

The mine will be sentenced at a later date.

Newcastle and Hunter linetrain schedule off the rails

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TRAINS on the Newcastle and Hunter line have only had a 90per cent punctuality rate four times in the past 15months.
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Data obtained from the state government shows February, May, June and August were the only months since July last year when punctuality reached 90per cent or more.

The system recorded 93.6per cent in February, 92.8per cent in May, 90.7per cent in June and 92.9per cent in August.

In March punctuality dropped to 78.2per cent – the lowest figure since March 2012 when trains were only punctual 76.5per cent of the time.

The data analysed trains that arrived in Newcastle CBD between 7.30am and 9.30am and departed between 4pm and 6pm Monday to Friday.

They were logged as ‘‘on time’’ if they arrived at the final destination within six minutes of the timetable.

Commuters were unable to access this publicly available data on the Sydney Trains website for more than seven weeks, leaving them unaware of the Newcastle and Hunter line’s performance record since July 2013.

It was the only line in the network where data had been omitted from the website.

The Newcastle Herald approached Transport for NSW in September to alert them about the issue and was told in a statement by a TrainLink spokeswoman that there ‘‘was an error with the Hunter line data on the website and that is being addressed’’.

But six weeks later the data had not been uploaded.

It finally appeared late last month after the Newcastle Herald again contacted the department and requested the data.

‘‘Unfortunately some of the recent data had been omitted, but [it] has now been updated,’’ a TrainLink spokeswoman said.

She said the service was ‘‘committed to delivering customers safely and on time’’ and commuters were kept informed when train services were disrupted through announcements at stations, on trains and via the internet and social media.

Save Our Rail president Joan Dawson has criticised the department for its failure to upload the information immediately.

She said the 78.2per cent punctuality recorded in March showed the government ‘‘was not committed to providing a reliable and punctual service’’.

Whiz kids James Punch and Flynn Starrettexcel in maths challenge

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WINNERS: James Punch and Flynn Starrett with their awards. Picture: Phil Hearne
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HUNTER whiz kids James Punch and Flynn Starrett have added their names to an illustrious list after taking out the top prizes of this year’s Newcastle Permanent Primary Schools Mathematics Competition.

James, a year 6 student at Tenambit Public School, and Flynn, in year 5 at New Lambton Public School, sat the 35-question exam along with 16,000 students from schools across the Hunter, Central Coast, Northern Rivers, Mid-North Coast, New England and Central West. The sections included problem solving with fractions, percentages and decimals, algorithms, numeration, Roman numerals and prime numbers.

Some of the questions were inspired by local or topical events, with queries about the change received from buying a Newcastle Knights hat, Lake Macquarie hosting the International Children’s Games in December and the score required to average 80percent in a mathematics test.

Newcastle Permanent chief executive Terry Millett praised the students’ hard work and presented them with a shield to recognise their achievement.

‘‘Both James and Flynn have done a tremendous job topping the Hunter and taking out the shield for their schools,’’ Mr Millett said. ‘‘It’s clear the students have a true gift for mathematics, I’m sure we will see great things from them both in the years to come.’’

The competition, which began in 1981, challenges students to do without using calculators, rulers or geometrical instruments.

‘‘Newcastle Permanent recognises mathematics as a fundamental life skill and the ongoing support from local schools also highlights the importance of numeracy and literacy,’’ Mr Millett said.