Student attacked and killed while on FaceTime with sister

Police in Australia are hunting the killer of a 21-year-old exchange student who was attacked in Melbourne while speaking to her sister on a FaceTime phone call.

Aiia Maasarwe, an Israeli student who was visiting Melbourne as part of her studies at Shanghai University, had attended a comedy show and was walking from a tram stop to her accommodation in the suburb of Bundoora at about 12.10am on Wednesday when she was assaulted.

Police said Ms Maasarwe was talking to her sister, who was overseas, when she was attacked. Ms Maasarwe’s body was found at about 7am on Wednesday behind a hedge near a shopping centre.

Two other Melbourne murders led to an outcry about violent attacks against women. Last year, Eurydice Dixon (22) was killed, and in 2012 Jill Meagher, a 29-year-old Irish woman, was killed walking home from a pub.

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Stories We’re Watching Across the Indo-Pacific

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau chief. Sign up to get it by email.


I’m in Hong Kong this week for our annual meeting with New York Times editors and correspondents from all across Asia, and on the plane over I was reading Evan Osnos’s book, “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.”

It’s a fascinating read, far more about people than geopolitics (read our 2014 review), making it a strong introduction to some of the themes that many of us will continue to inquire about as the world grapples with China’s growing impact.

Some of the questions are almost existential: Has China proved that centralized authoritarianism works better for economic growth than decentralized democracy?

Others are more particular: How is China using technology to maintain and expand its power? How will China respond to the growing backlash to its policies forming in Australia, the United States and elsewhere?

These reporting targets, we hope, will yield interesting journalism throughout the year.

But our discussions in Hong Kong also covered the region. We have correspondents throughout Asia, reporting on politics, culture, business and technology; here are a few of the topics that led to robust conversations about our future coverage.

This is far from a comprehensive list, but consider it a bit of a preview for 2019.

Elections: India, the Philippines, Thailand — and Australia of course — all have elections scheduled for this year. Voters will be given stark choices about not just domestic policy, but also foreign affairs.

Demographics: India has to create a million jobs each year to keep unemployment from rising; Japan is desperate for workers; China is desperate for babies. There are also intriguing stories about South Korea’s aging populace, Australia’s immigration debate and China’s broader population dynamics — especially its overabundance of men.

Women: The role of women in the work force and in life, in Japan, in China, in Australia — these were all of interest to the group. What are the structures that maintain the status quo, how do they differ from country to country, and to what extent are they changing?

Trump’s world: Ah, the Americans — what an unpredictable lot! What many of us in the Indo-Pacific wanted to know is what the broader shift toward “America first” means for the world. To what extent will the American relationship with South Korea and North Korea change? To what extent will the United States-China trade war undermine the global economy or create new relationships and alliances?

These are just a few of the subjects you’ll see explored in The New York Times this year — and of course, in this newsletter, which aims to add a bit of perspective on Australia and the topics Australians care about.

Sign up to get it in your inbox each week if you haven’t already, and join us in our NYT Australia Facebook group for additional discussion.

Now here are a few of the stories that stood out for me this week, from Australia, Vanuatu and beyond.


Where Do We Come From?

“A faint aura of destiny seems to hover over Teouma Bay,” writes Gideon Lewis-Kraus, in this ambitious magazine story told from Vanuatu about old bones that have led to sweeping claims about human history and settlement throughout the Pacific.

Gideon brilliantly explains both the controversial science that’s transforming archaeology — and the risks that come from the perception of scientific certainty about ancient history.

If you read just one long story this week, read this one.

For those seeking a shorter way in, here are 5 takeaways from his report.


The Brexit Fiasco

Following Brexit’s ups and downs can be exhausting. For context, read this news analysis piece that explains how the Brexit fiasco “seems to be forcing a tectonic shift in how Britain is governed, as Parliament flexes its muscles and the prime minister struggles to force through her agenda — a dynamic more characteristic of America’s gridlock-prone system.”

You might also want to check out our graphic on what happens next (or at least what might happen next; certaintly eludes us all).


Glaciers: Going, Going, Gone

Sometimes global failure can be so… visually stunning.

Seriously. Check out this stunning exploration of the world’s disappearing glaciers.

They cover about 200,000 square miles of the earth’s surface and over the last four decades they’ve lost the equivalent of a layer of ice 70 feet thick.

This great global melting contributes to sea level rise. It affects production of hydroelectricity. It leads to disasters like rapid, catastrophic floods and debris flows. It alters rivers and ecosystems, affecting the organisms that inhabit them.


The Tennis

We have several reporters at the Australian Open. You can follow day-to-day coverage on our tennis page, but for a few more thoughtful reads, don’t miss these features:

• Serena Williams Is Back at Australian Open, for Tennis and So Much More

• A Male Tennis Pro, a Female Coach and Shrugs for Anyone Who Thinks It Won’t Work

• John Isner (One of the Tallest Players in Tennis) Is Always Looking for Extra Leg Room

• 2019 Australian Open: Players to Watch



It’s not just tennis; we have a few other bits of summer fun to share as well:

• With Beaches, Wine and Buzz, Is This Australia’s Next Hot Place? The remote Margaret River region has beauty, vineyards and an annual food and wine festival called the Gourmet Escape that is increasingly putting it on the map.

• The Best Restaurants in Melbourne’s Little Italy Are on Opposite Sides of the Street: Besha Rodella contemplates the value and mystery of The Olive Jar and Capitano.

• An Australian Brings Americana to His New York Bar: Peppi’s Cellar is the first bar in the city from Jason Scott, whose enthusiasm for the United States shows in his Sydney bars.

• A Movie Star With a ‘Weird Relationship With Confidence:’ The Australian actor and director Joel Edgerton has carved his own path through Hollywood, with the help of a band of filmmaking brothers.

• The Gay Penguins of Australia: Two male penguins are raising a baby whose gender is unknown.


… And We Recommend: We Want Your Love

Tiny Love Stories, a new column from the New York Times Styles section, features reader-submitted “miniature Modern Love essays” of no more than 100 words.

And now, it’s expanding and going global. We hope to showcase voices and perspectives about love around the world in a series of special columns, starting with Australia.

So if you live here (or once did) and have a short personal story about the ties that bind — and sometimes break — go to and write “AUSTRALIA” at the start of your entry.

The best submissions will be selected and published … and shared widely, we hope!

Damien Cave is the new Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. He’s covered more than a dozen countries for The Times, including Mexico, Cuba, Iraq and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.

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‘We’re not gypsies, we’re not Irish’ – family at centre of New Zealand beach video issued deportation notices

The family at the centre of a viral video in New Zealand have hit back at claims that they were abusive to locals after footage emerged of rubbish left on a beach.

The group, who Auckland native Krista Curnow claimed to be Irish, became involved in a heated conversation with locals after noticing the mess the family were leaving behind on Takapuna beach.

Ms Curnow shared video footage of the litter strewn across the grass banks near the beach, alongside a clip of one of a young boy saying he would “knock your brains out”.

The drama kicked off on Sunday when Ms Curnow claimed the family became “violent” when asked to pick up everything before they left the beach.

“We approached the family to ask them if they can please not leave without picking up their rubbish, their response was basically if we have a problem then we can pick it up and that that’s what the council is for,” Ms Curnow said.

“I approached the family to ask again if they could not disrespect our country while visiting and pick up their rubbish. They turned violent and even grandma and the child got involved saying they wanted to punch my head in.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff branded the group “a bunch of a***holes” and “leeches” and an online petition was signed by over 3,000 locals to “deport the unruly tourists”.

However, speaking for the first time to the NZ Herald, the family have clarified that they are from Liverpool in England and described themselves as a “respectable family”. 

John Johnson told the NZ Herald that his eight-year-old nephew was attacked near the water, with locals telling them they were “Irish scum”, and that seeing the camera on them sent him “over the edge”.

“So there’s two sides to the story. We did leave a mess and they’re saying we’re gypsies, we’re not gypsies,” he said.

“We’re English citizens and we were attacked on that beach, we left and they videoed the mess and then put it on Facebook, you see what I mean?

“People are trying to say we were in Australia, we were never in Australia. We come here for a holiday. We are not gypsies, we are not Irish.”

He said his grandfather was the “10th richest man in England” and that they were in New Zealand to visit Hobbiton in Matamata, the movie set from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. 

“All he did was spoke up for himself and that’s it and I think, God, give everybody the right to speak for themselves. At the end of the day it was just absolutely ridiculous what happened.

“In regards to the mess, we are not like that. We are a respectable family. If we go on holiday we treat every country like our own country, no difference. I was brought up in London. I wasn’t brought up this way.”

A spokesperson for Immigration New Zealand (INZ) confirmed to the local paper that Deportation Liability Notices were issued to four of the individuals.

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    ‘They’re a bunch of a***holes’ – Auckland Mayor responds to video of ‘Irish tourists’ threatening locals

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Donors pay debts of jailed Aboriginal women

Campaigners in Australia have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help free Aboriginal women jailed for being unable to pay fines.

Western Australia is the nation’s only state that regularly jails people for unpaid fines, often on minor crimes.

Experts note the law disproportionately affects indigenous Australians, as well as poor and vulnerable people.

The state government says it plans reforms this year that will make it harder for people to be jailed.

In the meantime, campaigners have begun fundraising to pay for fines incurred by Aboriginal women, raising almost A$200,000 (£110,000; $143,000) since Saturday.

A government report in 2016 noted that Aboriginal women were the most likely to be imprisoned for unpaid fines, due to high levels of disadvantage.

“These are cases of very poor Aboriginal women, mothers living on the streets, in shelters,” said Debby Kilroy, from advocacy group Sisters Inside.

“They live below the poverty line so they can’t afford to pay off a fine.”

Ms Kilroy said they had helped free one woman on Wednesday who had been serving a 12-day jail stint because she could not pay A$2,300 in vehicle-related fines. The woman had previously been living in her car, the campaigner said.

How many people are affected?

Across all demographics, fewer than 10 people per month on average last year were jailed solely for unpaid fines in Western Australia, according to the state’s Department of Justice.

That is a significant drop from 2010-2015, when more than 800 people were imprisoned each year, according to the independent Human Rights Law Centre.

The reductions followed a backlash over the death of a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman in 2014, who had been placed in custody over an unpaid fine.

However, Ms Kilroy asserted that she was aware of 2,400 current outstanding warrants for unpaid fines across the state.

What is the campaign’s aim?

It is hoping to help clear the debts of at least 100 Aboriginal women who are either in jail, or facing incarceration due to such warrants.

The group has already settled three warrants this week using the donations.

“It has raised my hope in humanity in terms of people caring about Aboriginal women, who are the most marginalised in our country,” Ms Kilroy told the BBC.

What do authorities say?

The state government, elected in 2017, has said that by July it will change the law to allow only a magistrate to order jail time for unpaid fines. Currently, warrants can be issued by a fine enforcement agency.

The proposed change would ensure that imprisonment for unpaid fines “is truly a last resort”, said a spokesman for state Attorney-General John Quigley.

“This is something the government is committed to addressing effectively,” the spokesman said.

Last year, the Australian government’s annual report card on reducing indigenous disadvantage found improvement in only three of seven key benchmarks.

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Man Is Charged With Sending Suspicious Packages to Consulates in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia — A 48-year-old man was charged on Thursday with mailing suspicious packages to foreign consulates in Australian cities this week, which the authorities said may have contained an unspecified hazardous material.

The man, Savas Avan, was arrested on Wednesday night at his home in the city of Shepparton, about 120 miles north of Melbourne, the police said. He appeared Thursday morning before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, where he was charged with sending dangerous articles to be carried by a postal service.

The authorities did not offer a motive for Mr. Avan’s alleged actions. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In total, 38 suspicious packages were delivered to consulates and embassies this week in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, the capital, including those of New Zealand and the United States. The police have not said what the packages contained, but Australian news reports said some of them included messages suggesting that they contained asbestos.

The Australian authorities did not say which countries’ facilities received the packages, but footage broadcast on Wednesday showed emergency responders outside consulates of India, Germany, Italy, Spain and South Korea. Some consulates and embassies were evacuated.

The United States Embassy confirmed that it had handled a suspicious package on Wednesday “according to our standard procedures and in close coordination with local authorities.”

On Thursday, federal and state police confirmed that the intended recipients had been identified and that 29 of the 38 packages had been recovered. Forensic testing was being carried out to determine “the exact composition of the material” while investigators worked to recover the remaining packages, the police said in a joint statement.

“There is no ongoing threat to the general public,” the statement read.

The Melbourne court ordered Mr. Avan held until March 4, the date of his next hearing. He did not apply to be released on bail.

Want more Australia coverage and discussion? Sign up for the weekly Australia Letter, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.

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Suspicious Packages Are Delivered to Multiple Foreign Consulates in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia — The consulates of several countries were evacuated on Wednesday in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Canberra after they received packages containing what the authorities described as potentially “hazardous material.”

VicEmergency, a government website that aggregates alerts from the state’s emergency agencies, reported that police and ambulance crews had been dispatched to at least 10 locations, and television news stations broadcast footage of emergency responders outside the consulates of India, Germany, Italy, Spain and South Korea.

The government of New Zealand also confirmed it had received a suspicious package. The Australian Broadcasting Company said the United States consulate had been affected, but because of the continuing government shutdown, consulate officials were not immediately available for comment.

It was not immediately clear which embassies were affected in Canberra, Australia’s capital.

“Police and emergency services have responded to suspicious packages delivered to embassies and consulates in Canberra and Melbourne today,” the Australian Federal Police said in a statement on its website.

The authorities did not confirm the contents of the packages, but according to local news reports, some parcels included messages suggesting they contained asbestos, a hazardous mineral that can cause cancer and other diseases when inhaled in large amounts.

Employees at the New Zealand Consulate opened an envelope that contained a small bag with the word “asbestos” written on the outside, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

State and federal authorities kicked off tandem investigations, looking into what appeared to be a coordinated effort.

The state police said in a statement that they did not believe the packages posed a broader threat.

“At this time we believe the matter is targeted and not impacting the general community,” the Victoria Police said in a statement.

The Argentine Consulate in Sydney was evacuated on Monday after the discovery of a white powder. After samples were tested, employees returned to work.

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Girl’s abandoned round-world yacht found

Almost nine years after being abandoned in the Indian Ocean, a yacht belonging to a teenage round-the-world sailor has turned up off southern Australia.

US girl Abby Sunderland was aged 16 in 2010 when she attempted to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe, but a storm crippled her vessel.

She was rescued more than 3,220km (2,000 miles) from the coasts of both Africa and Australia.

The yacht was spotted on Monday, upturned and covered in barnacles.

It was reported to authorities by a tuna-spotting plane about 10km south of Kangaroo Island, a popular tourist destination in South Australia, police said.

“My heart skipped a beat,” Ms Sunderland said in a statement reported by Australian media.

“It brought back many memories – good and not so good – but it was neat to see it after so long. It looked a little creepy but that’s to be expected after so long.”

Ms Sunderland had set sail from California in January 2010, but five months later her mast snapped in 9m (30ft) high waves in the Indian Ocean.

The teenager lost contact with her family for some 20 hours, during which time the yacht’s emergency beacons were activated.

A plane from Perth spotted the teenager’s stricken boat and made contact with her, prompting a sea rescue.

She was picked up by a French sailing vessel and taken to Reunion island, a French overseas territory near Madagascar.

Ms Sunderland had been attempting to beat the record set by her brother, Zac, who sailed solo around the world in 2009 at the age of 17.

At the time, her family rejected criticism from some over their decision to allow her to make the attempt, saying she was prepared and mentally well-equipped to deal with the challenge.

The record was completed by 16-year-old Australian sailor Jessica Watson in the same year.

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‘Orange pill’ warning after Australia death

Music festival-goers across Australia have been warned about a “dangerous orange pill”, after a young man died of a suspected drug overdose.

Joshua Tam, 22, became ill at the Lost Paradise festival in New South Wales (NSW) on Saturday. He died in hospital.

Police said attendees had made “sophisticated” attempts to carry drugs, such as stuffing them inside a barbecued chicken and jars of Vegemite.

Four people have died at music festivals in NSW since September.

In October, the state introduced laws that will jail people for up to 25 years if they supply a drug that kills someone.

The exact cause of Mr Tam’s death is not yet known. He and two people who fell ill but survived had taken an “unknown substance”, police said.

Following the incident, organisers of Falls Festival – a major event taking place in four states – issued a warning about a “dangerous orange pill that is currently in circulation across Australia”.


End of Twitter post by @fallsofficial

Three people were charged with supplying drugs at Lost Paradise, including two men who allegedly had at least 80 MDMA pills each.

Police also took action against 50 people for drug possession.

“On one instance, certainly someone was quite determined… [they] inserted drugs into the stuffing of a barbecue chicken,” said Supt Rod Peet from NSW Police.

Calls for pill testing

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian has vowed to shut down another festival, Defqon.1, following the deaths of two people in September.

She has resisted calls to allow pill testing, arguing it would effectively encourage people to experiment with dangerous substances.

Advocates for such a move have pointed to examples in countries where drug testing is common, saying it makes people safer.

MDMA forms the base for ecstasy, before it is mixed with other chemicals to form a tablet. It is distinct from MDMA powder, which is swallowed or snorted.

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Ill cricket fan is Australia captain for a day

Around Christmas last year, seven-year-old Australian cricket super-fan Archie Schiller was lying in a hospital bed, breathing through a tube as he recovered from his third heart surgery.

But this year the seven-year-old was able to forget, just briefly, the troubles of his congenital heart disease.

On Wednesday, he strode onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground as honorary co-captain of the Australian cricket team as they took on India.

He was captain for the Boxing Day Test – his country’s biggest cricket match of the year.

Thousands of spectators watched as the little boy shook hands with the Indian captain at the coin toss, signalling the start of the match.

“He was just on top of the world to be out there with the team, I’ve never seen him smile so much,” his mother Sarah Schiller told the BBC.

For the young cricket fan, he was granted his dream “to captain Australia” by Cricket Australia and the Make-A-Wish Foundation charity.

He joined in warm-up drills prior to the match and struck up friendships with the players.

“He said he felt included in what was going on and he loves this sport so much. He sleeps now with his baggy green [cap] on – he would sleep in his team blazer if we allowed him to,” Mrs Schiller said.

“He handled the day absolutely beautifully. When he got there, he just put on his whites and said, ‘See ya Mum and Dad, I’m with my mates now'”.

Ms Schiller said the entire Australian cricket team engaged with him and “that was just a big thing for him, to have him go there and spend time with people he idolises.”

Archie was diagnosed with a heart condition at birth, and underwent open-heart surgery at three months and he has undergone 13 surgeries in total.

He has missed months of school as a result, and in his daily life, finds it hard to keep up with his schoolmates.

“He’ll try his hardest, he’ll go and go and go, but he just isn’t able to get up and run like the other kids. But he just wants to be a part of things,” Mrs Schiller said.

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She added that Archie had previously only travelled to Melbourne from his home in Adelaide for operations.

“He can’t quite believe that he doesn’t have to go to the hospital this time,” she said.

“Last Christmas, we thought we wouldn’t get back home from the hospital so to be together this year as a family, it’s just perfect.”

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Murder charge in Australia podcast mystery

Australian police have charged Chris Dawson with the murder of his wife, whose disappearance in 1982 has been featured in a popular crime podcast.

The 70-year-old arrived in Sydney to a media throng on Thursday after being extradited from Queensland.

Mr Dawson has previously denied killing Lynette Dawson, the mother of his two children, saying she abandoned the family for a religious group.

A podcast, The Teacher’s Pet, has brought global attention to the case.

Mr Dawson appeared in Sydney’s Central Local Court via video link on Thursday, where he was denied bail.

His lawyer said he would make a formal bail application at a later date.

Police arrested the former high school teacher on Wednesday, following a three-year reinvestigation into the case.

Mrs Dawson’s family told local media they felt “absolute massive relief” over the arrest.

No trace of Mrs Dawson has ever been found since she vanished from her Sydney home 36 years ago.

Two separate inquests since then concluded that she was killed by a “known person”.

One inquest in 2003 found that her husband had sexual relationships with teenage students during his marriage.

However, prosecutors had previously said there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.

On Wednesday, New South Wales police said a reinvestigation had led to the arrest.

Supt Scott Cook said new evidence including witness statements, had helped investigators “tie pieces of the puzzle together”.

Australian media reported that some of the testimony came from one of Mr Dawson’s former schoolgirl lovers.

The 16-year-old girl had moved into the family home days after Mrs Dawson’s disappearance. The pair later married, but have since separated.

The case has attracted intense interest in Australia and internationally, largely as a result of The Teacher’s Pet podcast.

The series, produced by The Australian newspaper, has attracted more than 27 million listeners since its debut in May.

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