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Father dies after firecracker mishap

MELBOURNE – Victoria’s growing trade in illegal fireworks has taken a tragic turn after a Melbourne father was killed and paramedics had to treat at least a half a dozen others at New Year’s Eve celebrations across the state.
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Family identified the victim as Carlos Rodriguez, who had been hosting a backyard party in Melbourne’s west when a firecracker exploded in his face just as midnight struck and 2012 officially began.

”The man was unconscious and suffering significant head injuries,” senior paramedic Brett Parker said.

The 34-year-old was taken to hospital but died of his injuries a day later.

Police said his death was concerning as the sale of illegal fireworks was increasing – with reports of the explosives being set off in backyards, beaches and parkland across the state.

While police raided the grocery shop suspected of supplying Mr Rodriguez with the firecracker, officers have noted that the availability seems to be everywhere – and growing.

Since the Christmas season began, illegal fireworks have been set off in regional Victoria and primarily in Melbourne’s west, but in the central suburb of Flemington fireworks were also set off on several nights in the past two weeks.

Paramedics have been called to a handful of fireworks-related incidents too, including the case of a teenager who was thrown off his feet by a firecracker, causing suspected broken ribs and sending him to hospital in intense pain.

”They are explosives. They are dangerous. That’s why they are illegal,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said yesterday. ”My concern is that one person has lost their life this year. We’ve got to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Police aren’t sure why the trend is occurring, but Mr Walshe said he’d had reports of fireworks coming in from ”pretty well everywhere”.

It is still legal to purchase fireworks in the ACT and Northern Territory, but residents of Victoria have to be licensed pyrotechnicians to legally buy, store and use them.

Friends and family of the man killed headed to his Tarneit home yesterday to pay their respects. Many described him as a caring father of two and hoped his death would serve as a warning to others.

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Bridport campers shaken by out-of-control youths

SHAKEN Bridport campers were yesterday still coming to terms with the alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour they witnessed by drunken, out-of-control youths in the camping ground on New Year’s Eve.
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Police arrested 14 youths from across

Tasmania’s North, including Bridport, for incidents stemming from the over-consumption of alcohol.

Craig Bartlett, of Launceston, was nearly run over when a car driven by a P-plater slid around a corner on a dirt camping ground access road.

One disgusted onlooker estimated the car’s speed on the 5km/h track at 60 km/h.

”When Craig and I confronted the driver on his way back – it was a no-through road -he just drove his car at us,” the man, who asked not to be named, said.

”Then he slid back around the corner the

way he had come, just moments after a young girl had crossed the track – if she’d have been on the track, there’s no way he could have avoided her.”

Mr Bartlett said that he called the police to report the incident, but in his haste to avoid the car had not been able to correctly record the car’s registration number.

He also witnessed:

Young people smashing beer bottles against the nearby toilet block.

Foul language.

Under-age drinking.

Scuffles that escalated into all-in brawls with more than 100 participants.

”It’s totally out of control and very wrong – I had a beer bottle thrown at me and this appalling behaviour went on until three or four o’clock in the morning,” he said.

”Something has to be done about it before next year or families won’t come to Bridport anymore – I’ve already had people say to me that Bridport is no place for kids.

”You should be able to go to a caravan park and feel safe -you didn’t feel safe at Bridport on New Year’s Eve, maybe there should be maximum numbers for the caravan park and no one on the beach after a certain time.”

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Cole wins in close finish

Brendan Cole celebrates winning the Burnie Gift.ACT-based, Victorian runner Brendan Cole won the 2012 Burnie men’s gift yesterday in one of the closest finishes of the prestigious footrace.
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Cole, 30, trained by Canberra coach Matt Beckenham, beat the only Tasmanian runner in the final field – Highclere’s Edward Gates – by three one-thousandths of a second after judges studied a photo of the finish for several minutes to determine the winner.

Victorian Adrian Mott was third and Cole’s winning time was 12.13 seconds.

Cole ran from a mark of 5.25 metres, Gates 8m, and Mott 4.75m.

A specialist 400m runner and a five-time Australian 400m hurdles champion, Cole said it was a tense wait for the official result.

”I honestly finished and didn’t think I had won it,” he said.

”I saw green out in front and I didn’t think it was mine.

”My coach told me that I was behind just before the finish line and just after but somehow I managed to dip on the line- so wow, it’s amazing.”

Cole said his Burnie Gift victory and $10,000 prizemoney was a great start to the new year, with his sights set on the London Olympics.

”We came down here for training and used the three carnivals to get some racing under our belts and we’ve had a big week.

”To finish it off like this is a dream – it’s awesome,” he said.

Cole said he nearly did not run in the 120m gift and had done little speed work in his training.

”I was going to focus on the 400m, which is my distance, and honestly I wasn’t going to run this morning,” he said.

He recorded two seconds and a fourth place at Latrobe and Devonport, with the Burnie Gift his first victory.

Gates would have been devastated to find the result went against him after looking the likely winner only metres from the finish line.

Coached by John McLaren, the 20-year-old has had five seconds before the gift and finished runner-up in the Devonport Gift as well.

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King Ralph’s reign: Memories of Judge Coolahan

A BLOKE was at Newcastle Courthouse one day supporting his wife who was attending an inquest.
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‘‘Ralph Coolahan still the judge here?’’ he asked.

‘‘Yeah, mate.’’

‘‘I knew him when we were kids,’’ the bloke said. ‘‘He and his brother did good. We were just kids growin’ up in the housing commission up at Shortland.’’

Ralph Coolahan was born at Wallsend on July 3, 1949. As a boy growing up in Shortland he dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot and it was the RAAF’s written examination that confirmed that young Ralph was very bright indeed.

However, it was a physical examination that ended the dream when it was revealed that Ralph was colour-blind.

Not to worry. His efforts at school were such that he was offered a scholarship to study medicine at Sydney University.

Even with the generous Commonwealth scholarship, his parents Clarence and Joyce were unable to provide enough funds to send Ralph to Sydney to live and study.

No, young Ralph needed a job.

His mother found him a clerk’s position in Newcastle and virtually submitted the application on his behalf.

He became an article clerk with the Newcastle office of the Public Solicitor where he would come across another young clerk doing similar work in Sydney.

Young Reg was raised on a dairy farm south of Gloucester and he and Ralph crossed paths while working for the Public Solicitor. Both men studied law and young Reg would later become Justice Blanch, Chief Judge of the NSW District Court.

Ralph was admitted as a solicitor in 1972 and was called to the bar four years later.

And thus began his ascension to what Newcastle Bar Association president Peter Harper described as ‘‘the absolute king’’.

He would later be nicknamed King Ralph by the courthouse staff for another reason. But we’ll come to that later.

He was a formidable advocate in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions and many of his victories were noted in the Newcastle Herald. He used few words in comparison to most of his colleagues, but the words he chose were often devastating: ‘‘Ralph was the master of less is more,’’ Harper said.

Outside the courtroom, Ralph Coolahan, barrister, was at the heart of a social scene where long lunches often evolved into late nights and chamber parties were frequent.

As Harper put it: ‘‘Paper cuts bled red wine.’’

On one occasion Ralph and a friend were settling in for a long lunch when the waiter came over to take their drinks order.

‘‘Do you have any Moet?’’ asked Ralph.

‘‘No,’’ said the waiter.

‘‘Do you have any Bollinger?’’

‘‘No,’’ said the waiter.

‘‘Two VBs then,’’ said Ralph.

He was a passionate sailor who earned the nickname Pulbah after his attempt to sail through Lake Macquarie’s Pulbah Island rather than around it.

He contested the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race including the treacherous 1998 race that claimed six lives. Ralph was navigating during the fatal storm when he abandoned all etiquette and custom to yell: ‘‘Go right!’’

He spent many hours on Lake Macquarie with his three children, Chris, Andrew and Sally, and their lakeside home became a sanctuary as well as a function centre.

Ralph often referred to his children as ‘‘the locusts’’ because he claimed they would arrive, eat and drink him out of house and home, then leave.

At Ralph’s funeral, wife Susie Mosman spoke of his ‘‘beautiful mind’’ that consumed knowledge and adored crosswords, and his daughter Sally told of a loving father renowned for his roast lamb and potatoes with not a green vegetable in sight.

His Honour was partial to Henny Penny. Sally, Andrew and Chris each have memories of their father suggesting they drive to Henny Penny to pick up some chicken and chips on a Friday night.

Ralph was often furious with the service if they were kept waiting in the drive-through area or if the staff had mucked up their order.

On one occasion, fuming, he muttered that Henny Penny should at least erect a movie screen to keep them entertained while they waited. On occasion he left the car, entered the store and chastised the staff.

Chris, Andrew and Sally believe that a young man was specially assigned to deal with the Coolahans on Friday nights.

‘‘He must have been a hostage negotiator,’’ they joked.

During the mid-1990s Ralph began working as an acting judge of the district court, then in 1999 he was sworn in as Newcastle’s full-time criminal judge.

Two of his last cases as a barrister were two of his most famous victories.

One was the successful defence of a Killingworth man sued by Lake Macquarie City Council after a woman had fallen into a drain near the defendant’s property; the other was having conspiracy to murder charges against Lionel Desanges dismissed at a committal hearing.

(Note: The Director of Public Prosecutions later had Desanges indicted despite the magistrate’s ruling. He was acquitted by a jury.)

One of the first things to strike Judge Coolahan in the early days of his judicial career was the relentless workload.

The responsibility was enormous.

He agonised over sentencing and had sympathy for both victims and offenders.

One of the most traumatic cases he presided over was the trial and eventual sentencing of truck driver Gimmi Morabito who caused a triple-fatal accident on the Pacific Highway near Bulahdelah in 2004.

Two of the victims were Rebecca and Jessica Campbell, aged nine and eight respectively.

His Honour was faced with the task of sentencing an old man, 71, for the deaths of two children and their grandmother.

His Honour knew what it was like to lose a child, having lost son Richard to SIDS, and yet there was compassion for the man whose reaction to a car slowing in front caused him to turn sharply and career to the wrong side of the road, crashing and incinerating three people.

Morabito was jailed for a minimum of 15 months. The Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the sentence as fair and not excessive.

His Honour extended mercy to many others including one self-represented appellant who was more than grateful for one last chance. His Honour made the appellant promise that he’d stay off the grog and get a job to which the appellant replied: ‘‘Yes, Your Majesty.’’

King Ralph was crowned.

There were other lighter moments and opportunities for His Honour to exercise his wit, but there was also an ever growing scourge that plagued his court.

Judge Coolahan’s career coincided with the reign of a populist state Labor government determined to lock up as many people as possible for as long as possible.

The result was a budget blowout for the Department of Corrective Services as it expanded some jails and built new ones.

At the beginning of Judge Coolahan’s career it was estimated that the average cost of housing a prisoner for one year was $70,000 to $80,000. Many assume that number is now six-figures.

Budget cuts had to be made and they would be inflicted on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice and Attorney-General despite the relevant Labor ministers claiming that budgets for these departments had actually increased.

Even the Department of Corrective Services was forced to find savings including cutting staff while it continued its capital works program.

The result for Newcastle was a mix of frustration, embarrassment and disgust.

The courthouse continued to decay, prisoners got lost and weren’t brought to court and audiovisual equipment broke down and stayed down until it was somehow fixed by the boffins in Sydney.

All the while, the government expected His Honour to conduct trials and hearings in a timely manner.

Someone needed to do something, say something and His Honour did.

When his courtroom and chambers were engulfed by the stench of decaying rat and pigeon corpses His Honour let fly. When prisoners weren’t brought to court despite His Honour’s orders he threatened to issue a warrant for the arrest of the Commissioner of Corrective Services so he could explain to the court, the victims and the offenders or accused what the problem was.

But it was during another potential crisis where His Honour was at his most cranky yet cunning.

In 2009 a Crown prosecutor relayed to the court that due to budget constraints the Director of Public Prosecutions would not be able to supply prosecutors or brief private counsel to lead trials at upcoming sittings at East Maitland and Armidale.

A spokeswoman later told the Newcastle Herald that witnesses had been told not to attend and jury panels cancelled.

When that appeared in the Herald the next day, Judge Coolahan was furious.

The director, Nicholas Cowdery QC, was effectively using East Maitland and Armidale to demand more funding from the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos.

They had opposing views on a number of issues and both put their views on the Crown prosecutors’ crisis in the Herald.

The real victims, of course, were the defendants, complainants and witnesses waiting patiently for their cases to be heard.

Judge Coolahan executed two deft moves that no doubt had a number of public servants in Sydney scurrying.

The cancelling of jury panels and instructing witnesses not to attend court could amount to perverting the course of justice, His Honour said.

‘‘I may have to make the trip out to East Maitland next Monday myself,’’ he said.

What was this mad judge in Newcastle capable of, they must have thought in Sydney.

Would he dare issue a warrant for the director or, worse, the Attorney-General? Would he seriously recommend that the director be charged with a criminal offence?

Cowdery kept blaming the government for not funding his office adequately and Hatzistergos kept blaming the director for not managing his budget properly, but within days some funds magically appeared.

There were many other incidents and memorable cases heard in courtroom 4 over the years. The child sex and drugs trial of former MP Milton Orkopoulos and the sentencing of celebrated paramedic David Higgins for attempted murder are among the more notable.

The gentleman who grew up with young Ralph at Shortland never did stick his head in courtroom 4. If he had, one wonders what he would have made of seeing his old mate decked out in his robes sitting on the bench. (Judge Coolahan rarely wore his wig).

Had he looked closely he might have noticed that the robe was frayed in a few places and the red and purple had faded.

He might have thought: ‘‘There sits my old mate Ralph. A kid who wanted to be a fighter pilot, could have been a doctor, wound up a judge.’’

Not bad for a kid from Shortland.

Written with the assistance of extracts from eulogies delivered by Justice Reg Blanch, Peter Harper, Susie Mosman and Sally Coolahan.

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Give me my own bank

I AM no fan of rampant consumerism as a way of running our society. Easy money got the world into its present financial mess. Having said that, the big four banks in this country seem to get away with the equivalent of daylight robbery – again and again and again.
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Their margins and profits beggar belief and their excuses for outrageous fees and those margins and profits are just tiresome rubbish. Treasurer Wayne Swann encourages us to look around and shop elsewhere. Well, while the Aussie taxpayer was protecting the big four during the GFC, they were buying up most of their competitors. Perhaps the government should revisit the idea of a people’s bank to provide some competition to the big four. Wasn’t that the idea of the Commonwealth Bank when the government – that is, us – owned it?

Lachlan Beed, Kotara

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Record reward tests loyalties for Malcolm Naden

REWARD: Naden is the first man to have a bounty on his head since Jimmy Governor, who became famous in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, was hunted down outside Wingham in 1900.THE new heat being applied to fugitive Malcolm Naden has pundits predicting that the expert bushman may throw in his solitary life and turn to friendly contacts for help.
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As teams of heavily armed and camouflaged police continued to track the state’s most wanted man through thick bush north of Barrington Tops yesterday, senior police were quick to convince Police Minister Mike Gallacher to introduce the nation’s largest bounty ever placed on a criminal – $250,000.

Desperate days: The famous fugitive file

In an exclusive interview with the Newcastle Herald yesterday, Mr Gallacher said the ‘‘dynamics had changed’’ since Naden showed he would do anything but surrender after shooting an officer in the shoulder on Wednesday morning.

It also meant that the 33-year-old fugitive, who has been suspected of being aided by supporters intermittently while on the run, may start to rely more heavily on their goodwill as more and more police jump on his trail.

Police computer imagery showing what Naden could now look like.

And the $250,000 carrot for information that leads to Naden’s arrest may also change the mindset of people whom he once considered allies.

‘‘The environment that he controlled 48 hours ago has changed because he is now being hunted,’’ Mr Gallacher said. ‘‘If he tries to contact people, and that is a real chance, then they should be alerting authorities.’’

VIDEO: Fog clears on Naden hunt

Naden has been on the run since 2006 after he became a suspect in the murder of Kristy Scholes, the disappearance of Lateesha Nolan and the sexual assault of a girl.

He has criss-crossed a large section of remote bushland from Barrington Tops to Kempsey, staying a step ahead of authorities by breaking into remote properties and stealing necessities.

Naden is the first man to have a bounty on his head since Jimmy Governor, who became famous in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, was hunted down outside Wingham in 1900.

Governor was shot and arrested in bushland that is only about a day’s walk from the small campsite where Naden was staying when police approached just after dawn on Wednesday.

The increase in the reward has been criticised by some landholders, who fear an increase in bounty hunters believing they can make a successful arrest.

But Mr Gallacher warned against amateur sleuths, with risks including coming across switched-on specialist police who know their target will shoot at them.

‘‘The last thing we want is for police to come up against people while they are looking for this man,’’ he said.

‘‘This is about providing information that will lead to his arrest, not taking it upon yourself to arrest him.

‘‘It is about bringing this person to justice before more damage is done, damage to the community and damage to individuals.’’

And Mr Gallacher also warned against elevating Naden’s reputation because he had been able to use his supreme bush skills to elude capture for so long.

‘‘This guy is wanted for murder, child sexual assault, the disappearance of another person and the shooting of a police officer,’’ he said.

‘‘We should not, for one moment, entertain any suggestion of glorifying this man as anything but what he is – a violent, desperate criminal who needs to be caught.’’

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Oh baby, what a wonderful New Year’s gift

CHLOE May Griggs may be oblivious to it now but she will forever be known as Tasmania’s first baby born in 2012.
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Born at the Launceston General Hospital at 12.15am and weighing 3.22 kilograms, Chloe was four days late but mum Melinda Clifford and dad Ben Griggs, of Riverside, were only too happy to welcome her at the start of the new year.

”We were expecting her on the 27th (of December) so she’s a bit late but she must have decided she wanted to arrive on New Year’s Day because I was in labour with her for a while,” Ms Clifford said.

Chloe is also very special as she was born on the seven-year anniversary of her parents.

She also shares a birthday with her great aunt Judy Gonsal, who was one of her first visitors at the hospital yesterday.

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Victorian double as Hilditch storms to easy win

Victorian Laura-Jane Hilditch salutes after storming to victory in yesterday’s Burnie Gift.LAURA-JANE Hilditch made it a Victorian double recording a comfortable victory in the women’s gift at Burnie yesterday.
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The 22-year-old Victorian university student from Altona coached by John Henry, ran from a mark of 9.25 metres and crossed the line ahead of Canberra Australian 100m sprint champion and backmarker Melissa Breen (0.25m) with Latrobe Gift winner Carmen Oakley third from 10m.

Hilditch’s winning time for the 120m event was 13.74 seconds.

She finished third in the Latrobe Gift and was Victorian Athletic League sprinter of the year for 2010-11.

She won the Bendigo 400m Gift last year and was second in the Queanbeyan Gift.

“It was really good and I just got out and ran fast and hoped they wouldnt catch me,” she said.

“The false start didn’t affect me and I didn’t get a good start the first time so I was glad they called us back.

“I was really happy with the race _ I came second at the big gift in Canberra and this has been my goal after that so it’s good to succeed in my goal.”

Hilditch said she enjoyed the atmosphere of the Burnie Carnival with a vocal crowd and rated the victory as “up there with my best” in her first taste of Tasmanian carnival running.

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Romney `boost’ as Iowa vote nears

Mitt RomneyATLANTIC, Iowa – Republican presidential hopefuls made eleventh-hour pitches to Iowa voters, seeking a decisive “boost” over their rivals on the eve of the first contest of this year’s US election campaign.
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Mitt Romney – who portrays himself as the strongest candidate to beat President Barack Obama in November elections – has retaken a thin lead in the heartland state before Iowans cast the first ballots of the Republican nominating process tomorrow.

“I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing,” the former Massachusetts governor said after chatting and shaking hands with scores of people in a packed diner.

“But I do believe that I’m going to have a great deal of support.”

But with four in 10 Iowans telling pollsters they could still change their minds, veteran Texas Representative Ron Paul stands within striking distance of Mr Romney. “I may come in first, I may come in second. I doubt I’ll come in third or fourth,” Mr Paul, known for anti-interventionist and libertarian views, told CNN.

And firebrand social conservative Rick Santorum’s support was surging as Iowa’s evangelical Christians, a critical Republican bloc, seemed to be rallying behind the former senator from the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

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$250,000 reward for information on Naden

MANHUNT: Heavily armed specialist police search for Malcolm Naden in Nowendoc yesterday. – Picture by Nick MoirThe reward for information leading to the arrest of fugitive Malcolm Naden has more than doubled to $250,000.
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Police minister Mike Gallacher announced this morning that the reward for information leading to the capture of Naden had more than doubled.

Mr Gallacher this morning met with Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to discuss increasing the reward.

Below, two computer-enhanced images, supplied by police, showing how Naden may now look.

For more pictures of Naden, his alleged victims and the police operation, click on the image above.

So as dawn broke on Wednesday, police must have felt their hunt was coming to an end as a small team set off on the final few metres to front fugitive Malcolm Naden as he camped just metres from a creek bed near Nowendoc, north of the Barrington Tops.

Bush experts claim Naden would have heard them coming ‘‘from miles away’’.

As he was cornered by the highly trained and heavily armed police, one Tactical Operation Unit officer was shot in the shoulder – some suggesting it could have been a ‘‘head shot’’ that missed its target – and their target was gone.

Locals estimate that, by this morning, Naden could have covered more than 100kilometres since he shot the officer. And his direction is anyone’s guess.

‘‘He could even be 150kilometres away and with the sort of terrain we are talking about, they will have Buckley’s,’’ one expert bushman, who would only be identified as a pig hunter, said yesterday.

Victim’s father’s long search for answers

Senior police now fear that they have missed their biggest chance to nab Naden, who has now shown he will shoot police if he is cornered after running on the only other occasions that he had been confronted.

It has caused many to theorise that if he is ever caught, it will not be alive.

‘‘The fear is that he knows he can now sit back and pick them off one by one,’’ one senior police officer said.

‘‘They will never get him out alive – he will either be shot or shoot himself, and there is nothing to suggest he wants to shoot himself.’’

Mick Peet, the father of missing mother Lateesha Nolan, wants Naden caught alive so he may finally have questions answered about what happened to the Dubbo woman nearly seven years ago.

‘‘We want him to have his day in court so we may finally be able to find Lateesha, the kids need to know, I need to know,’’ Mr Peet said yesterday.

Despite police denials, the Newcastle Herald continued to report last year that Naden was criss-crossing an area between Gloucester and Kempsey to evade police, identifying more than two dozen break-ins around the Barrington Tops that could be traced back to the fugitive.

He had stolen only what he needed: non-perishable food, camping equipment, warm clothing. And guns.

Although most targeted landholders have reported losing small-powered rifles such as a .22 calibre, which Naden could use to hunt without causing two much noise, the Herald understands some unregistered firearms have also been taken in the break-ins, including an SKS assault rifle.

Naden has also made countless camps throughout the bush, including what locals still believe was one on a ridge east of Scone despite police rubbishing their claims last year.

The pig hunter says they may be lucky to get close to Naden again.

‘‘He is literally a wild animal,’’ he said. ‘‘They have startled him now and he will head off and go missing again.

‘‘He could cover 30kilometres in 12 hours easy, maybe more considering the adrenalin that would be pumping through him because he knows the cops are on his tail.’’

Other landholders believe their concerns about safety have now been justified and have welcomed widespread warnings from Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to keep an eye out but not to approach Naden.

Poor weather yesterday grounded search helicopters and police were unable to access some rugged areas.

‘‘We are obviously assessing the validity of the operation regularly,’’ Assistant Commissioner Dave Hudson said.

‘‘If unfortunately we don’t locate him on this occasion, I’m quite confident in the future we will locate him.’’

Police could call off the search based on several factors, including the ‘‘threats to our officers’’. This is at least the seventh time they have tried to capture him.

Mr Hudson said officers were searching specific areas Naden is believed to have frequented instead of deploying a blanket approach.

‘‘He’s totally self-reliant and very well-crafted at living off the land,’’ Mr Hudson said.

Police are prepared to shoot if Naden again uses a firearm to escape.

‘‘That’s obviously a major concern after what happened,’’ Mr Hudson said.

Naden probably shot the bulletproof vest-wearing police officer with a rifle.

His appearance is likely to be very different from that depicted in old photos.

‘‘We believe that he is very unkempt,’’ Mr Hudson said. ‘‘He has lost weight from our last visual sighting of him.’’

There’s a $100,000 reward for his capture and conviction.

Video of the press conference

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