REVIEW: Madama Butterfly a stunning masterpiece

Madama Butterfly opening night fireworks, the wedding scene. Photos by James MorganOpening Night Fireworks (Wedding Scene) CRD JAMES MORGAN 8134.jpg
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Hiromi Omura as Madama Butterfly and Georgy Vasiliev as BF PinkertonHiromi Omura as Madama Butterfly and Georgy Vasiliev as Pinkerton CRD JAMES MORGAN EN4A4325.JPG

HEARTBREAKING is the only way to describe the feeling of watching 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San shuffle excitedly down a steep grassy hill – the profile of her face illuminated beneath a white veil – to wed a man who has just finished chortling about the likely short lifespan of their marriage.

Just a few minutes into Opera Australia’s presentation of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, the audience gathered at Mrs Macquarie’s Point is already throbbing with contempt for the slimy property developer BF Pinkerton subdividing paradise. It is a testament to Madama Butterfly’s ability to envelope its captivated audience into its spectacular waterfront setting that it elicits an emotional reaction ranging from sympathy, to hope, anger and heartbreak, before settling on an unshakeable sadness.

Puccini’s tragic and timeless classic set in Nagasaki in 1904 was first performed 110 years ago at La Scala in Milan and tells – in Italian, with English subtitles – the story of US naval officer Pinkerton, who marries a young girl for convenience and abandons her soon after their nuptials for three years, intending to take advantage of lax Japanese divorce laws once he finds an American wife.

Opera Australia, while respecting the foundations of this classic story of love, loss, exploitation and sacrifice, has given its engaging adaptation a contemporary edge by promoting the city of Sydney as one of its star performers, among a mammoth team comprising 626 cast, crew and musicians.

Spanish theatre company La Fura dels Baus has in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House created a sumptuous 1276-square-metre floating set shaped as a hill, covered in 1300 square metres of artificial grass, a real bamboo grove and spilling over the seawall towards the audience. Cars, a motorcycle and a boat are used along its borders to great effect, while conductor Brian Castles-Onion and the orchestra perform in a sealed and soundproof cavern beneath its surface.

A pair of cranes on each side of the stage peel away two billboards bearing the words Lost Paradise, signifying the start of the show at dusk. A series of servants in white and donning face masks arrive by van and start hurriedly setting up tables and chairs for the wedding that Russian tenor Georgy Vasiliev’s Pinkerton discloses to marriage broker Goro he might be entering on a whim.

The first pinch-me moment for the audience – and there are many – coincides with the arrival of soprano Hiromi Omura’s demure Cio-Cio-San at the top of the hill, as she meekly makes her way swathed from head to toe in an all-white diaphanous cocoon of Miyake-inspired pleats towards her betrothed.

When the audience of about 3000 returns from intermission, penniless Cio Cio San is living within the absent Pinkerton’s derelict urban fusion of East and West and refuting any suggestion that her husband is not returning.

She has given birth during her husband’s absence to their son, a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who she said was called Sorrow, until his father returned and he would be renamed Joy.

After hearing the cannon signalling Pinkerton’s ship returning to the harbour, she clamours to the roof, asking best friend Suzuki to decorate the house with cherry blossoms.

Butterfly stays awake all night, watching as a burnt orange orb floating on the harbour inflates to a glowing 12-metre diameter sun. A reflection of her radiating but misplaced optimism, it also signals Pinkerton’s arrival, gut-wrenching developments on the horizon and a moving finale to this utterly unforgettable masterpiece.

The writer was a guest of Destination NSW.

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SIMON WALKER: Delirious with joy in bush

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SIMON WALKER: That’s Life archive

There are many questions in life that are difficult to answer.

Such as why do people drive like maniacs on the way home from work?

How come seemingly incompetent people get so far in politics?

And when will people realise My Kitchen Rules is totally scripted?

But by far the biggest, I’d argue, is why do people put themselves in situations they don’t have to be?

And, of course, there is no answer to that question because, as this column attempts to prove each week, that’s life.

And last weekend that’s life had me navigating through snake-infested, stinging nettle-riddled terrain with nothing but a compass, topographical map and rapidly dwindling bag of lollies on a two-day bushwalk up the back of the Hunter Valley.

As Maxwell Smart might say, “and loving it”.

Actually, the love came and went, depending on the exertion.

The constant was the question, WHHHHHHHHHYYY?

Why didn’t I sleep in? Why did I get up at 5.30am? Why did I suspect the heavy fog on Hexham swamp was an omen for the horror movie to come?

Actually, the reason I didn’t sleep in was I lay awake all night waiting for the alarm to go off (don’t you hate that), dreading what the weekend had in store.

But I was in no doubt about that either, due to the training manual we’d got. The main meal on the menu was hard yakka.

What sane person would sign up for that? Me, as it turned out. Oh well, no pain, no gain, I guess. Or was that brain?

Anecdotal evidence from the car park in Wollombi, where we assembled for final insertion up country, suggested I wasn’t the only one who rode this emotional roller-coaster the night before.

From a brief chat with our experienced bushwalking facilitators, I realised there were two types of people in this world: those who’ve conquered (insert exotic mountainous overseas location) at altitude, with heavy packs, snow monkeys and maybe a touch of scree (look it up).

And those whose bottom lip starts quivering when they talk to such people.

The good thing about hanging out with experienced bushwalkers is you learn stuff.

Like how to master a compass (not to mention quivering lips).

A compass is not, as you first think, the lost piece from your Ouija board. But it can put you in contact with the dead if you don’t read it properly.

When the Duke of Ed student from up the road lent me hers with the words, “I love this thing”, I’d thought HSC stress had really kicked in.

But now I know what she means.

A compass is an amazing device steeped in antiquity that gives its user an unreasonable sense of righteousness about which gully to stumble down in the bush.

It’s also really handy if you have to stumble back up that gully and start again.

It’s amazing how group dynamics work in this situation. Consensus is essential. And the one thing I found the group can agree on is that pain is bad.

Consequently, if you send your group down the wrong gully, you can safely assume your turn as group leader is over.

Effective conflict resolution may see you get a go on the radio. And if spirits are still flagging after that, have a mintie.

Given what’s at stake (getting lost), you start paying very close attention to all those red squiggly lines on the topographic map. They represent pain.

They also reflect the ageing on your face.

You certainly need your wits about you.

Generally to work out if the map is upside down.

Mental effort is also required to get a tent up. Particularly after six hours making like a very sweaty wombat in the undergrowth.

In retrospect, putting a tent up would have been a challenge without the delirium. But delirium helped with sleeping in it later that night without a bath.

A bath was never going to happen anyhow because any water available was drunk.

Being drunk might have helped, now that you mention it, to take your mind off the storm that brewed that afternoon. And yes, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to set up in a riverbed.

But being drunk wasn’t going to help next morning when you had to pack up and do it all again. Only this time, up steeper hills.

Yes, these are the mantras of hardcore bushwalking – uncertainly, fear, discomfort. Don’t forget venomation . . . I mean invigoration. Reality can bite, so carry a tourniquet. Otherwise you may find yourself in “da shit”.

Speaking of which, the “protocols” for these aren’t for the squeamish either.

Particularly over breakfast. I’ll never look at a “burrito” the same again.

Bushwalking is a great leveller. In fact, it will flatten you if you don’t prepare properly. Which in turn creates an appetite for knowledge (but not burritos).

And teamwork.

Oddly enough, exhaustion and sweat are a great recipe for camaraderie; camaraderie being a French word meaning “I can’t feel my legs”.

I can’t really explain why I put myself in this situation, but I reckon if I get the opportunity, I’ll go there again.

If I can work out the bearings.

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Sunken Stockton Bight military tanks fascinate

Stockton Bight Military Disaster of 1954. MAA diver Pauline de Vos examines the encrusted wreck of an Army tank 120 feet down in Stockton Bight (8/11/84). Contributor photo by Chris Paterson. Wreckage from one of eight amphibious vehicles which sank in one of Australia’s worst peacetime disasters has been found off Stockton Bight. 1/4/74. Wreck from Stockton Bight Military Disaster.
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Stockton Bight Military Disaster of 1954. MAA diver Pauline de Vos examines the encrusted wreck of an Army tank 120 feet down in Stockton Bight (8/11/84). Contributor photo by Chris Paterson.

Wreckage from one of eight amphibious vehicles which sank in one of Australia’s worst peacetime disasters has been found off Stockton Bight. 1/4/74. Wreck from Stockton Bight Military Disaster.

SIXTY years after a major marine incident occurred in Newcastle waters, the whole tragic episode continues to fascinate.

But strangely, it doesn’t involve any ships.

Even the area involved today is described by the NSW Heritage Branch as a “unique site”. But reading about it involves an ominous warning to divers there are likely to be corroded, unexploded shells among the wreckage.

Look a little closer and you find the government authority is referring to the events of the Stockton Bight military disaster of 1954.

On March 8, 1954, to be precise, one of Australia’s worst peacetime disasters happened on the Hunter’s doorstep.

It involved a convoy of 19 amphibious vehicles, including army “ducks” (DUKWs) and tanks with 184 men aboard setting out at 2am from Wave Trap beach (Horseshoe beach) near the then Camp Shortland (now Nobbys parkland).

The men were a mixture of regular army men, citizen soldiers and national servicemen.

The convoy set out in darkness going north in the open sea with a forecast of good weather towards the ominously named Cemetery Point. But by 4am, an unexpected squall blew up and the seas suddenly became monstrous.

Some 100 soldiers from the 15th Northern Rivers Lancers were pitched into the freak heavy seas infested with sharks.

The standard military exercise had gone horribly wrong. The swamped vehicles had either nosedived or had capsized into the deep waters of the bight.

Eight of the vehicles, including five amphibious armoured tanks and a landing craft (LVT4) nicknamed the “water buffalo”, simply disappeared, apparently forever.

Survivors later said most tanks had broken down and were being towed by the army “ducks” which were then pulled down in the choppy sea by the extra 16-ton weights.

Soldiers struggled to swim ashore, then faced churning surf. Three men died – it was a miracle the toll wasn’t higher.

The vessels were about 10 nautical miles from Morna Point and about two miles out to sea when waves pounded the flotilla, soaking radio equipment.

After the alarm was finally raised on shore, fireworks lit up the darkness as Very flare pistols and rockets were fired everywhere. The seas were so dangerous that not even the port’s professional fishermen had earlier dared to venture out in their trawlers.

Amid the chaos, the acknowledged hero of the day was Sergeant Donald McHattie, who later went on to become a well-known Newcastle auctioneer.

He was awarded the George Medal for displaying outstanding courage and leadership, completely disregarding his own safety to save at least nine men and help give artificial respiration to three others.

Soldiers said he swam for a long time, supporting poor swimmers and encouraging them to get to shore as they bobbed in the massive swell.

He’d been thrown into the sea twice, once when his original vehicle sank and later when a rescue craft, now carrying the crews of three vehicles, tipped over.

But Sergeant McHattie wasn’t the sole hero.

Others included people like Constable Bruce Wheeler, of Stockton police. He stripped to underpants and dashed into the water to rescue an exhausted army sergeant clinging to a kapok pillow about 80 metres out. He was suffering from exposure after being in the water for three hours.

Another soldier, the first rescued, had been unable to inflate his lifejacket and was taken to the beach, spitting blood and salt water.

The often officially forgotten heroes of the disaster were Stockton Surf Club lifesavers Harry Rowlatt, Frank Littlewood, Bill Arthur, Barry Jones and Colin Whyte.

They swam about 150 metres into darkness in four-metre waves to rescue soldiers floundering in a known shark hot spot.

Whyte said later the last soldier rescued shouted: “My legs, my legs”. Whyte thought he’d been attacked as the bight was “lousy” with sharks at the time. On reaching the beach, it was discovered the rescued soldier had severe leg cramps. A contemporary news report said after the tragedy the beach, littered with debris north of Stockton, “looked liked a wartime battle field”.

And 20 years later, there was an odd sequel to the disaster. Against all the odds, wreckage from one of eight amphibious vehicles was recovered by fishermen about one nautical mile off the middle of Stockton Beach in April 1974.

The tail shaft and two wheels of a lost, six-wheel sunken duck had become entangled in the net of the trawler Liawenee at a depth of about 15 fathoms (27 metres).

With the discovery came a photograph, recently found by Newcastle Herald library staffer Paul Partridge. A related news clipping revealed the wreckage was in remarkably good condition.

The differential still had oil in it and one of the tyres was still inflated.

An even more remarkable and rare photograph then appeared in the Herald in 1987. It showed diver Pauline de Vos from a marine archaeology group, investigating the deep, encrusted wreck of one of the lost five tanks, or cans.

Known as LTV(A)4, or Landing Vehicle Tracked (armoured), the amphibious assault vehicle was built between 1941 and 1945. Officially, it is the only one ever found, inspected and recorded.

Diver John Riley was credited with finding and sketching it earlier in the 1980s. Others say diver Geoff Parker first found this bight tank half buried in sand, with barnacle covered shells and teeming with fish; a speck on his echo sounder.

Sadly, markers change and the wreck location was later lost. In 2009, the NSW Heritage Branch conducted a localised bight sonar survey with the help of the Newcastle Port Corporation.

The survey ended in success when the LVT(A)4 was located facing east on the sea bottom almost 32 metres underwater.

However the multi-beam sonar sweep detected no other vessels within a half-kilometre radius.

Since then, it’s been claimed recreational divers may have found at least three of the sunken vehicles resting on the bed of Stockton Bight. If they have, no one is talking much about it.

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Limousines, pole dancing: Michael Costa tells ICAC inquiry that AWH expenses were ‘out of control’

Former NSW treasurer Michael Costa leaves an ICAC inquiry into Australian Water Holdings. Photo: Edwina PicklesFormer NSW treasurer Michael Costa has told a corruption inquiry that pole dancing was among the “staggering” expenses charged by an Obeid-linked company to the state-owned Sydney Water.
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Giving evidence on Thursday, Mr Costa said Australian Water Holdings director Peter Canaway made it “very clear” the company was racking up huge administrative expenses.

Asked what sort of expenses had been discussed, Mr Costa said: “Limousines, I think he did mention pole dancing, I didn’t know what that was all about.

“It was clear that the expenses were out of control.”

Mr Costa was appointed chairman of AWH in November 2011, replacing federal Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos. He resigned a year later and is not accused of any wrongdoing.

The commission is investigating allegations that the family of corrupt former Labor minister Eddie Obeid had a secret 30 per cent shareholding in AWH, and that Mr Obeid inappropriately lobbied colleagues to favour the company.

Sydney Water had contracted AWH to manage the rollout of water and sewerage infrastructure in the north-west, and had agreed to cover administrative costs.

The public utility became suspicious about how the money was being spent but the company stonewalled requests to inspect its books.

Mr Costa gave evidence that Mr Obeid facilitated meetings with him and AWH when he was treasurer.

He told the inquiry that his view at the time was that AWH had “Buckley’s chance” of securing a PPP with the state government.

He was sypathetic to the views of Sydney Water, which was trying to break commercial ties with AWH.

Mr Costa said he was aware Eddie Obeid junior was employed by AWH, but the family did not tell him it had a financial interest in the company apart from a “loan” secured against shares.

Mr Costa agreed there was some bad blood between him and Mr Obeid senior upon leaving parliament in 2008, but he later agreed to join the board of AWH after a meeting with the former Labor powerbroker.

He said the meeting took place after Mr Obeid called to offer his condolences about a home invasion.

“I’m not a hater,” Mr Costa said.

But Mr Costa said he was “horrified” when he saw AWH’s books and took steps to rein in the company’s excessive costs, including cutting executive salaries almost in half.

He told the inquiry he was “annoyed” when he discovered the company’s directors, including Obeid associate Nick Di Girolamo, had back-paid their salaries when they received a deperately-needed financial injection in January 2011.

At the time, the company could not pay its tax.

Mr Costa quipped that he felt like Winston Wolfe, the well dressed clean-up specialist in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as he attempted to tidy up the company’s affairs.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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CRIME FILES: Hitman Sean Waygood’s untimely end

Story on sentencing of Anthony and Andrew Perish and Mathew Lawton. The shed (see pix) where Terry Falconer’s body was dismembered, which was later used as one of Australia’s biggest meth labs. The house is where the various crooks stayed when they were up at the property. Story Michael Duffy. Except for the TV screens, which are of interest only because they were hooked up to the cameras that covered the entrances and their remote-controlled machine gun and explosives. Girvan House 1.JPG Story on sentencing of Anthony and Andrew Perish and Mathew Lawton. The shed (see pix) where Terry Falconer’s body was dismembered, which was later used as one of Australia’s biggest meth labs. The house is where the various crooks stayed when they were up at the property. Story Michael Duffy. Except for the TV screens, which are of interest only because they were hooked up to the cameras that covered the entrances and their remote-controlled machine gun and explosives. Girvan Shed Int.JPG
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Story Michael Duffy. SHD Sunday Extra. 15 December 2011Terry falconer

Story Michael Duffy. SHD Sunday Extra. 15 December 2011Girvan property.JPG

BOUNCER…Sean Waygood, on the job.Pix by QUENTIN JONES:

Story Michael Duffy. SHD Sunday Extra. 15 December 2011Waygood’s guns.

Arrest at McMahon’s Point in relation to the Terry Falconer murder 19012009. Supplied by Police Media Unit

Story Michael Duffy. SHD Sunday Extra. 15 December 2011Waygood arrest.JPG

THEY say that most serious criminals either wind up dead or in jail. Sean Laurence Waygood achieved both. The man we dubbed the “Merewether Hitman” died recently following a lengthy illness. He had spent the first five years of his 20-year jail term in maximum security at Goulburn and the prison hospital at Long Bay.

Waygood died in a secured section of Randwick Hospital. He was 43.

Sean Waygood grew up in the northern Sydney suburb of West Killara, where he was classmates at Killara High School with former Australian rugby union player Cameron Blades and the former mayor of Hornsby Nick Berman.

Waygood dropped out of school before finishing his HSC to join the army.

By then he had earned a reputation among his classmates as an “army dude” who could handle himself, thanks to years of martial arts training.

He spent five years in 1 Commando Company doing everything from large-scale raids to airborne assaults before leaving the armed forces and putting his skills to work at the front doors of Sydney night spots such as the Bourbon and Beefsteak at Kings Cross and Jackson’s On George.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted in a feature story on Waygood in 1996: “He’s been the butt of death threats and had beer bottles thrown at him from across the street. He’s had a 32-calibre pistol drawn on him. He’s seen a large variety of knives. The most unusual implement he’s been attacked with is a shovel.”

Waygood was quoted as saying: “I’ve heard every insult under the sun, including ones about my girlfriend and mum.

“It’s not a job for everyone. My skin is about as thick as it can get. You have to be emotionally detached and have a lot of self-discipline.”

You would have to be emotionally detached to do what Waygood got up to next. He started a security business that flopped, before reinventing himself and some of his closest confidantes as underworld contractors performing what he called “black ops”.

Contract killings, high-yield, well-planned armed robberies and intricate break-ins were their specialities.

If he needed money, Waygood would knock over a business he knew was carrying lots of cash, including some of the businesses he was previously hired to protect. If a customer needed chemicals for drug production, he could get into fortified premises, find the gear and get out without a trace.

It was through these operations that he made friends with some of the nastiest hombres in Sydney’s underworld.

Waygood would later tell a court that he was in debt to some of these customers and that he could not say no to them out of fear, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

For a start, he invited some of them to his wedding at Honeysuckle in 2008, just months before his dramatic arrest in January 2009.

He was sipping coffee at a plush north shore cafe with one of those associates when tactical response officers came storming in.

Among his crimes, Waygood orchestrated the daring break-in of BOC Gases at Wetherill Park in 2002, so $25,000 worth of chemicals could be stolen for drug manufacturers.

He attempted to murder a Bandidos bikie boss in Sydney, but shot the wrong bloke. He helped abduct Terry Falconer, who died. He meant to shoot another bloke in the backside outside a Sydney pub, but again missed and got him in the back.

It would be easy to label Waygood’s performances as a hitman as incompetent, but given that detectives investigated several unsolved murders and disappearances with links to Waygood, he might well have had more blood on his hands than we will ever know.

He certainly had everyone fooled in 2002 when he was contracted to kill a Bandidos bikie boss in Sydney.

Waygood tracked the target down to a pub in Haymarket and an accomplice, who was inside the pub, pointed the victim out. Waygood, from outside the pub, then fired eight shots through a glass panel, then ran away. Only three of the shots struck the victim, but he suffered terrible injuries and required surgery.

Waygood ran to a van he had parked in a back street, changed his clothes, then torched everything.

The victim, a Kiwi tourist, provided little assistance to police because a. he had no reason to think anyone wanted him dead and b. he was frozen with fear.

This prompted The Daily Telegraph to publish a front-page story months later with a security-camera image of a “mystery assassin” running through Sydney’s streets.

The story claimed the shooting was a contract killing on behalf of a Columbian drug lord.

They were wrong.

DNA extracted from the van matched DNA extracted from a car that was burnt out after businessman Michael Davies was executed in his Gold Coast home earlier that year.

Davies’s murder remains unsolved and is on a list of several killings in Queensland, NSW and Victoria linked to Waygood and his mates.

Waygood’s biggest claim to fame was his involvement in the murder of underworld figure and police informant Terry Falconer.

Falconer had been in and out of jail most of his adult life for drug offences. He was suspected of filling the coppers in on bikie activities and was believed to have information about the murder of an elderly Sydney couple in the early 1990s.

The grandchildren of that couple would go on to be major crime figures and they wanted answers.

Waygood and two associates dressed in suits, flashed police ID badges and drove into Wreck-a-mended Smash Repairs at Ingleburn about 3pm on November 16, 2001. Falconer was on day release from prison when he was “arrested” by the three fake officers and carted away. The men drove him to a home at Turramurra, drugged him and put him in a tool box.

They then put the tool box in the back of a ute and drove to Girvan south-west of Bulahdelah. Falconer died on the way. They took Falconer’s body out, strung it up on a block-and-tackle, then sawed it into pieces. They put the pieces into plastic bags and dumped them in the Hastings River.

Some of the pieces were later found near Wauchope.

Those involved have been dealt with by the courts, although many details remain suppressed by court orders for the protection of witnesses.

It is unknown when exactly Waygood moved to Newcastle. He was part of a group that kept low profiles and left little in the way of paperwork.

No Medicare, no tax returns, everything paid in cash – their anonymity was a major theme of the Underbelly: Badness television series that portrayed Waygood and his mates.

Waygood differed in that he had a crack at civilian life. He got a missus, a job, a nice place at Merewether and then enrolled at the University of Newcastle. He was an occupational health and safety officer at Goninans Broadmeadow, where he earned the nickname “Major Pain”. The contract killer was a stickler for workplace safety and he believed in giving young people a chance by teaching boxing at the Broadmeadow PCYC.

In 2008, he received his Bachelor of Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety. He moved his family into 26 Hickson Street, Merewether, among the millionaires and stored his toys in the two sheds on the property.

He loved his bicycles and motorbikes and other bits and pieces, while he kept the tools of his secret trade under lock and key.

Rubber face masks, wigs, 3000 rounds of ammunition, a bolt-action rifle, a rifle with a silencer already fitted, a Ruger mini rifle, a machine pistol, a .22 calibre pistol, a Luger pistol, a .38 calibre pistol, a silencer and 10 empty magazines were found on the premises when police raided it the day after his arrest.

He had two bullet-proof vests, one white and one navy, an extendable baton and utility belts.

Waygood could disguise himself as a member of just about any Australian police force, state or federal, thanks to four Australian Federal Police patches, 13 NSW police patches, one NSW police identification badge, an AFP badge and other state police force patches and epaulets.

He had blue shirts and hats.

Police had more than enough material to put him away for a long time.

Waygood cut a deal and got a 50 per cent discount for assisting authorities after pleading guilty to a raft of charges, including conspiracy to murder relating to the botched hit in Sydney and accessory to murder relating to Falconer.

He received 20 years’ jail with a non-parole period of 15 years and was diagnosed with cancer not longer after his sentencing.

A life led in the fast lane came to a slow and painful end.

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