Australian East Coast Narrowly Avoids a Widespread Blackout – Thanks to Coal

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Australia’s policy of shuttering of dispatchable power sources in favour of unreliables finally appears to be biting into the stability of the Australian electricity grid. One of the coal plants which saved the day is scheduled to be closed in 2022.

New South Wales dodges widespread blackouts during heatwave

By Chris OKeefe • State Political Reporter

5:33pm Jan 8, 2018

New South Wales has escaped widespread blackouts as the energy network faced its first big summer test with temperatures hitting 47.3 degrees in Penrith.

There were localised blackouts yesterday as Ausgrid lost power to 4000 homes on the Central Coast, and 3000 in Sydney.

Cherrybrook, Lane Cove, Chastwood, Gladesville, Bankstown, Punchbowl and Padstow were blacked out during the hottest part of the day.

Ausgrid said the increase in homes running air conditioners was a significant issue, as well as problems with some underground cables.

Some equipment turns itself off automatically when it hits a certain load.

“Of our 1.7 million customers, 31000 experienced outages. Four outages were caused by overload on the network,” Stuart Donaldson from Ausgrid said.

Just before 3pm yesterday afternoon black coal was the resource providing the lion’s share of power with Snowy Hydro, gas, solar and wind also contributing to the network.

Read more: https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/01/08/17/27/nsw-dodges-widespread-blackouts-during-heatwave

The NSW Opposition leader was less than impressed with the outage.

Ausgrid can’t power all NSW all the time

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley on Monday took aim at the government for failing to diversify its energy base.

“This state government, alone of all Australian state and territory governments, hasn’t prepared for heatwave conditions,” Mr Foley told reporters.

“Most of the other governments have delivered new storage and new energy capacity.”

Mr Foley said it was lucky the extreme heat that Sydney experienced on Sunday, with some areas exceeding 47C, occurred on a weekend when much of industry was not using energy.

The government’s only plan seems to be that heatwaves occur on weekends,” he said.

Read more: https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/01/08/17/07/ausgrid-can-t-power-all-nsw-all-the-time

The spare coal capacity which saved the day during the heatwave will soon no longer be available.

Energy giant AGL plans to shutter its NSW based Liddell coal plant by 2022. They have so far refused federal government entreaties to keep the plant open. AGL plans to divert future investment towards government subsidised renewable projects.

The Australian Government operated Australian Energy Market Operator warned in September that 1000MW of new dispatchable power will be required to replace the Liddell coal plant, and that Australian government policy incentives are not delivering enough flexible dispatchable power to ensure the stability of the grid.

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The chickens are gradually coming home to roost in all those countries (states) that are closing dispatchable power stations and embraced highly-subsidised and expensive intermittent renewables.

paqyfelyc

I wouldn’t bet on it. These gov people LOVE scarcity, it gives them leverage to rule, control, tax, and get high pay, power and consideration for coping with the problem they created in the first place etc.

chadb

Once again – please see ERCOT. The grid obtained almost 20% of its electricity from (almost entirely) wind and (a little bit of) solar last year. Only UK, Spain, and Germany have more coming from wind and solar. Yet ERCOT maintains adequate reserves and low prices. Over the next couple years more wind will be going in along the gulf coast since the timing is well matched with grid demand and the particular nodes in that region have higher than average price points. Also solar will be going in due to its good match with high price events. My bet is that by 2025 ERCOT will be generating minimally 35% of its electricity from wind and solar while still maintaining some of the lowest grid prices in the world.

pbweather

Chadb….There is only one reason ERCOT prices are low and that is Natural Gas. It has nothing to do with renewable energy. http://aect.net/documents/2017/AECT%20Wholesale%202017.pdf

I refer you to page 8. ERCOT produces 48% of it’s power from Natural Gas. Coal 28%, Wind just 12% and Nuclear 11% (Do not confuse capacity with output).
The USA average power mix is just 33% Natural Gas.
USA Nat Gas prices are the lowest in the world and this is why ERCOT prices are low not expensive renewables.

chadb

@ pbweather – I agree that low nat gas price is crucial to low electricity price in ERCOT. Gas is the marginal producer, and so sets the price. However I have three things I would like to point out
1) The price events are timed during summer early afternoon, times when the sun is particularly strong, Capacity in ERCOT is based on peak demand, and capacity is getting cheaper to add via solar than coal. Given that wind cannot be counted on for capacity calculations there are plans to add solar farms while simultaneously removing coal production. Is some of this tax based? Yes, but no more than 30%. So, if solar were to fall by 30% it would still be the case that coal would fall out while solar was added. If natural gas price increased solar would still be added.
2) The slide deck you point to has ERCOT wind at 12%, but is based on 2015 data. In 2016 the wind portfolio climed to 15%, and while results are still preliminary right now a report I saw for 2017 has the wind production at 17.4%.
3) Natural gas can be shipped anywhere in the world, and Combined Cycle Natural Gas plants really aren’t that expensive to build. California, New York, and even Australia could build Nat Gas and have roughly the same price point for electricity generation. That they don’t indicates that the driving force for the price difference is not the price of Nat Gas but public policy.

chadb

@ pbweather –
Also, I did not say that renewables cause electricity price to be low, far from it. I believe that after ~40% penetration any large grid is going to have substantial integration costs for more renewables. This drops out some places like Norway which have an embarrassment of riches in terms of hydro power, but in every other case the amount of overbuild required to maintain reliability and flexibility in terms of grid response is going to be enormous.
Rather, as long as wind and solar are not the marginal producers, and curtailment is below ~15% then I don’t think renewables has a substantial effect on market prices. I think what is hammering Australia is a poorly performing market that has been unduly hampered by regulation. The exact same resources are in play in ERCOT with similar power production, similar profiles, but the grid is stable and low cost. The difference is not the resources, not the technologies, not the commodity prices, its the regulations.

jim

chadb, forgive me but was is your point? OK Texas has a lot of sun, so for some of its needs an increase in solar may be efficient, although I would dispute all-in costs are lower than new fossil fueled plant. This may or may not be applicable in other countries/states. So what if Texas manages to run its system with 35% unreliables in 2025? It would definitely be able to run an efficient cheap system with a good mix of reliable fossil fueled plant in 2025. No need to ‘bet’. So, what exactly is your point?

chadb

Jim – a common theme here is that the cost of integrating any substantial amount of non-dispatchable energy is that the grid will become unstable and the cost will increase substantially. I forget where I heard it originally, but I like the phrase “Never argue about the impossibility of something that has already been accomplished.” While there are grid messes like Australia that suffer from instability, and places like Germany that have unreasonably high cost, there is still ERCOT. ERCOT is (mostly) disconnected from other grids so that it can’t hide instability through imports or exports, it doesn’t have lavish dispatchable hydro to even out supply, and it doesn’t have massive government meddling to force the grid one way or another. In ERCOT you now have a system where wind, gas, and solar are going on and coal is coming off. Additionally due to the high heat load and heavy industries you have one of the highest per capita use rates in the developed world.
It is both economically and technically feasible to build a large world class grid with substantial portions of the energy coming from non-dispatchable sources. In hot climates it may even be preferred since the generation profile is closely aligned with the use profile on the highest use days. If I were building a grid in an area like Australia, Nevada, or Texas I would absolutely build out enough solar so that the net peak (demand-solar) was pushed from daytime to afternoon or early evening. I would then build just enough wind so that I curtail no more than 15% of production. The remainder would be met via Nat Gas, Coal. I suspect this would lead to the lowest cost grid and have 35-50% of annual electricity supplied via renewables. However, this potential is not even considered by much of the readership here.

jim

It might be feasible, but why bother? Its going to be more expensive overall. Why try to have up to 50% ‘renewable’ ( whatever that really means)? Its still just CO2 mania wrapped up to look acceptable. Because we ‘can’ do something doesn’t mean we should.

Earthling2

So, I thought that 😂 1000 Gw super battery was going to keep the whole grid thing stable, in perpetuity. Were they still charging the thing up since it was installed?

BoyfromTottenham

If I remember correctly the SA battery was only 100 MW, which is 1 tenthousandth of the 1000 GW that you suggested. And yes, even at only 100 MW it would take many hours to recharge.

THat battery only has a capacity of 1.2 MWhrs, as I recall, enough to provide max output for
less than 2 hours.

ralfellis

Err, its less than that. The TesIa battery is 129 mw/hrs, and max consumption 3,000 mw/hrs. I make that 2.6 minutes of backup energy.

R

Earthling2

I was only kiddding…I know what size it is. The question is whether it will maintain frequency long enough to start up the Nat Gas back up power within 15 minutes. I suppose if it does that, then it has some utility… no pun intended.

ClimateOtter

You would think the people running AGL would get the message: More coal, less ‘investment’ in renewables.

By the time 2022 arrives they may find themselves holding the bag.

RobR

If I was the AGL CEO I would be playing hardball with the State and Federal governments. Force a few small to moderate blackouts so that the politicians can’t hide from energy realities. Once it is clear to all that dispatchable power is in a state of under-supply then it would be time to offer to build new coal or gas fired plants with very long contracts. But hold the line on closure of the Liddell plant almost indefinitely. Make them squirm.

paqyfelyc

this is exactly the kind of thinking that would prevent you to become CEO, or get fired. A company never fight a government, it caves in or play judo. And that’s exactly what AGL CEO does: you want renewable, you subsidize them with money taxed from my coal plant? fair enough, give me my share of subsidies, while I close the coal…

D. J. Hawkins

@paqyfelyc
You have it exactly. If the CEO can do better for his shareholders by closing the station he would be derelict in his fiduciary duty if he didn’t do so.

Michael Jankowski

“…this is exactly the kind of thinking that would prevent you to become CEO, or get fired. A company never fight a government, it caves in or play judo…”

Enron made a killing toying with CA.

yarpos

Why would they?? their strategy is to pull the rug from under the grid, farm subsidies and extort max returns from peaking plants. They have no interest in low cost and stability.

The people running AGL are bagmen. They will never get the message as, being bagmen, they are naturally attracted to other bagmen like Global Warmistas, Elon Musk, Wind-Turbine salesmen, CAGW spruikers and self-funding ‘scientists’. However, when the depths of the cold cycle comes, they may well be left holding the commercial bag.

Bloke down the pub

Australians have also had this warning about their lack of a strategic fuel reserve. https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/australia-warned-it-risks-mad-max-world-without-strategic-fuel-reserve/

AndyG55

Luke Foley needs to push the NSW to built a new HELE coal fired power station.

If it weren’t for the Green, anti-science ANTI-CO2 agenda, it probably would have already been built and there wouldn’t be any issues whatsoever.

BoyfromTottenham

Andy, unfortunately unless the LRET (which subsidises renewable generators at about $85 per MWH, or out twice the current wholesale price) is repealed, it is simply uneconomic to operate a fossil fuel power station connected to the national grid. And repealing the LRET would expose the federal government to massive compensation claims by renewables generators because the LRET subsidy is guaranteed for several more years yet. We are screwed.

Griff

What they need is a Tesla battery… that is designed to respond very, very quickly to loss of power input to the grid.

No fossil fuel resource can be brought online to replace lost power as quickly. You could not fire up a coal plant.

Also, solar panels on Australian houses will provide power during most of the period of maximum aircon derived demand…

Coal isn’t a solution here.

observa

“What they need is a Tesla battery..”
We have one. The problem is we now have some of the highest power prices in the world and face having to pay for a lot more batteries to fix the existing unreliables with more in the offing. Are you offering the carbon credit Griff?

knr

For a very short period of time for a very limited number of homes.
anf foget any industry

rbabcock

Seriously? You can’t forecast the weather 12 hrs in advance?

BruceC

Just an FYI for you Griff, some of the power produced by NSW coal-fired power plants, recharges that battery in SA.

Another FYI for you Griff, solar panels on homes DO NOT WORK when there is a power outage. I lost power for 6 days a couple of years ago when an ‘east coast low’ caused considerable damage to Newcastle’s (Lake Macquarie) power lines ………………. I have solar panels fitted to my home.

Janus100

Did! Griff you are not an electrical engineer are you?
The instantaneous surges are controlled by

Rotating mass inertia (coal)
Spinning reserve (coal)
Pumped Hydro (not coal)
Other spinning mass (like all the el. Motors in the system)

This is done by many many years and Much better than with the battery…

Harry Passfield

Griff, you ought to know, coal is its own battery, far better and more efficient than a Tesla.

Thomas Homer

Griff: “You could not fire up a coal plant.”

That’s an odd proclamation.

One thing a functioning coal plant can do is to ramp up production to meet demand, i.e. “fire up” more coal. And, that’s one of the major drawbacks of wind/solar is that we cannot decide to ramp up production from an existing facility.

“You could not fire up wind/solar” would be a more accurate statement, right?

Bryan A

Wind dioesn’t seem to have nay problem being Fired Up

Griff, Your statement what they need is a Tesla battery is a feel good statement without merits. It would be like saying that all they need is a giant dome over all the territory to protect the territory. Sounds good, but practically and financially not an option. How about a mixture of all the methods available to generate power? Cost analyses must be done, you cannot bankrupt your country to show how clean you are. Shutting down a coal fired power plant that is currently needed to produce power during unstable periods without specifically identifying and building a replacement is foolish.

Unfortunately as I see with the way we are going eventually we will get to a point of rolling brown outs and black outs and then measures will be taken. But, power plants are not built overnight and those old dilapidated abandoned inefficient plants will be called on to produce the power during the interim period. Old, inefficient, and with high maintenance costs plants will help us limp along until common sense returns. It will be a chaotic period.

How do you conclude Coal isn’t a solution here when in fact it is the solution that is keeping the grid up and running. Coal is THE solution that is currently keeping the grid stable.

Another point. Your statement that you could not fire up a coal plant shows a total lack of understanding of the issues by Griff. I have helped fire up coal plants all my career. They can be load following and generate power on an as needed basis.

What they are not designed to do is to be shut down and started up over an over. Natural gas plants have been built to take care of those type of load swings. They can be bought on and off line as needed.

Notice that neither coal or natural gas rely on environmental conditions to operate. The sun can be shining or cloudy, the wind could be blowing or not and those plants will keep on producing the needed power.

MarkW

With so called renewables, you have to pay trillions for solar panels and windmills. Then you get to pay trillions for batteries so that the grid won’t collapse while trillions of dollars in fossil fuel plants are brought on line so that they can take over the entire load.

Better to just build the trillions in fossil fuel plants and not worry about the other trillions.

Michael Jankowski

The Tesla battery is a very short-term fix. It does nothing basically other than keep power continuous until coal can be brought online to save the day.

The Financial Review estimated a Tesla roof at nearly $100k in Aussie dollars. And that’s without battery-storage/Powerwall. Conventional solar is cheaper…but be realistic. If coal has to carry most of the load on a hot weekend, you need a hell of a lot of solar to compensate – especially on a weekday.

They’ve got until 2022 to get a fix. You really think that many customers will be on solar by then? Fool.

Patrick MJD

Griff has no idea what he is talking about with regards to Australia, let alone England. More and more people (250,000 migrants to NSW alone last year) live in apartments that are managed and/or owned by someone else. There is no room on the roof to install solar for one apartment let alone the whole block. Simply not doable.

AndyG55

roflmao.

Tesla battery would last 10-20 minutes attempting to back-up the amount of power needed.

Waste of time, space and money

NSW problems would be solved with a single new HELE coal fired power station in each of NSW, Qld and Vic, and the removal of priorities for unreliables, and the removal of the RET.

“giffiepooed January 8, 2018 at 2:56 am
What they need is a Tesla battery… that is designed to respond very, very quickly to loss of power input to the grid.”

And just how Musk lithium will that require? And how many billions of dollars?

Right now, the Musk Australian battery is good for minutes. Perhaps just long enough to get A/C compressors working; not enough to cool/heat anything.

“giffiepooed January 8, 2018 at 2:56 am
No fossil fuel resource can be brought online to replace lost power as quickly. You could not fire up a coal plant.”

And just how long are you asking Australian citizens to wait?
A coal plant can be fired up far quicker than you are intimating. Certainly far faster than waiting days for wind to rise or for night to end.

Besides, any good grid operation should forecast needs and have electricity generation facilities ready to respond.

While cold weather is far deadlier, windowless or minimal window buildings without A/C is quite deadly. No CO2 blaming, it’s all man caused.

“giffiepooed January 8, 2018 at 2:56 am
Also, solar panels on Australian houses will provide power during most of the period of maximum aircon derived demand…”

A/C units for houses that run on solar panels?
Just how big are those household solar farms? As in how many acres or square meters?
How many hours of the day does it produce sufficient energy?

The other claims are plain batty, however this one statement of yours clearly identifies how delusional you are, and just how blind you are to human suffering.

“giffiepooed January 8, 2018 at 2:56 am
Coal isn’t a solution here”

Coal is the solution.
At least, until Australia taps enough of their natural gas supplies.

Or are you suggesting:
A) Australia flood their basins and install micro-generators for pseudo hydro power?

B) Perhaps you want Australia to paper Australia and surrounding sea with wind turbines and solar panels? Sure decimation for Australia’s birds and bats; without fixing the grid or electrical supply problems.
Besides ruining Australia’s other land uses, such as farming.

C) Australia immediately begins a campaign to build dependable nuclear generating facilities? A great long term solution. Good luck convincing the eco-looneys.

Patrick MJD

“Griff January 8, 2018 at 2:56 am

What they need is a Tesla battery…”

While the comical experiment is underway in South Australia with the Tesla battery, given NSW is the biggest state in Australia, no NSW premier would consider shutting down coal/gas and installing a battery. It would be political suicide, and they know it.

While we have had a couple of days of hot weather, not a heatwave, followed by some terrific storms which I got caught out in yesterday and was drenched. Today 31,000 homes were without power due to the grid not being able to meet demand. This is AFTER the grid (Wire and poles) was upgraded over recent years (A point you have claimed is the reason behind Australia’s expensive energy costs).

State and federal politicians are beginning to see the error of their ways with regards to RET and renewables. Many will find their careers ending soon. Once NSW wakes up to the farce that renewables are the whole country will follow. NSW, Qld, WA and now less so Vic are not the least bit concerned with South Australia.

Australia is still the lucky country, if the recent Ashes is not sufficient proof, consider that the hottest heatwave last year in South Australia fell on Xmas day, and this recent thing fell on a weekend.

Sara

“black coal was the resource providing the lion’s share of power…”

What’s the problem? Is it that none of the green weenies in the gov’t down under have the common sense God gave a goat? Or is there more to it than that? If the coal-fired plant is going to be shuttered in four years, and this kind of shut-down takes place again (and it will), can anyone tell me exactly how the all-wise Greenbeaners plan to avoid such a shutdown?

I do like the Mad Max reference. That’s a giggle.

Ack

Ausgrid said the increase in homes running air conditioners was a significant issue, as well as problems with some underground cables.

Obviously they need to ban A/C

observa

“Obviously they need to ban A/C”

You’re right and our Green overlords need to set the shining example for us all and the PM proudly announce that forthwith no publicly paid official will remain airconditioned on his watch. Back to the grandparents’ day for the sake of the grandkiddies to the most rousing cheers of all those climastrologists and true believers in our sandstones who want to lead from the front and set the example for all those sweating in our factories, workshops and outdoors.

observa

The implorables leading the deplorables!

MarkW

Don’t give them any ideas.

John of Cloverdale WA
Bill P.

Just saw something on Reddit where enviros are crowing that the UK now gets the majority of its power from “renewable sources.”

Comments?

BillP

A complete fabrication, see http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/ for what the UK grid is doing.

As I post this it shows about 17% is from renewable, including 1.4% from the daft wood burning plant. Combined cycle gas turbines are the main generator at 48%.

Curious George

They want to believe their own lies.

Auto

There were a few hours – note, hours of sixty minutes only, each – during the 2017 summer, when ‘renewables’ – including hydro – did contribute a little over 50% actual delivered power.
Then the winds dropped – or, wholly unexpectedly, the Sun set . . . .
Guess what – Gas and Nuclear and – occasionally – coal came to the rescue and kept the lights on.

And some muppets expect that solar and wind will power us all 24/7/365.
(True if – as the watermelons want – we live in caves and have a global population of – perhaps – 750 million at MOST.

(By the way, I guesstimate that the Mighty Tesla will provide power for households in Adelaide (not ‘All of South Australia’) for about 6 minutes.
One tenth of an hour.
Negligible?
You decide.)

Auto

bob close

We are not out of the woods yet for power outages this summer, we have just been lucky. Obviously more efficient new coal or gas power base load generators are required in the near future, as wind and bulk solar cannot fill the gaps in the long term, at least with the current technology. How is it that the major expanding and emerging economies in Asia who need increased energy can afford to push ahead with massive clean coal plants and us poor Aussies cannot or will not?
Are we going to sacrafice our remaining heavy industry on the alter of climate political correctness or are we going to see the light and ditch the Paris accord socialist BS, act in Australia’s self interest and look after our fragile economy and employment prospects for our children’s future?
As far as I am concerned none of our governments or opposition parties seem to understand the fundamentals of natural climate change or the minuscule part that humans have contributed to global warming particularly in Australia. This ignorance is not healthy or rewarding, we should act smarter, as Whitlam said it’s time, for a change in attitude in Governments and business particularly BHP who spawned our resource based wealth culture but now disown it for spurious global environmental reasons.
.

Ed Zuiderwijk

I am going to invest in manufacturers of portable generators. That’s what a few million Aussie households will buy to see them through the rolling blackouts.

Reading the report’s there is two parts to this.
First the outages were caused by grid overload and cable faults, not a shortage of generated capacity. That is, the carrying capacity of the distribution network was exceeded exacerbated by the cable faults causing rerouting overload.

The second point is that Liddell is shutting removing generated capacity in 2022.

There was no generated supply capacity problem on Sunday. And yes coal was a major part of that generated capacity.

Please correct me if I am wrong. NSW has had these problems for years and it is not unusual for the grid to be operating at near 100% carrying capacity.

observa

We have a peak summer aircon demand that’s been growing as aircon takeup has increased. So much so that in the southern states that are linked, Victoria and SA and to a lesser extent NSW (read Adelaide, Melbourne Sydney) about 20% of the grid and generating capacity are there for a few weeks of the year and have to be paid for accordingly.

In that respect there have been trials to reduce that cost with smart metering whereby you’d sign on to cheaper power if the supplier could rotationally turn off aircon compressors (say 15 mins/hour) to keep that overbuild cost down. It makes sense (why should the poor subsidise the comfy?) but consumers are naturally suspicious about that in the current environment.

Nevertheless you can see how the problem of unreliables slowly but surely bankrupting reliable thermal coal generators is first felt during peak summer demand. No base load coal stations have been built for decades and with current owners running them on sticky tape and string in order to extract the last drop of revenue out of them, all eyes are on summer blackouts for the obvious.

Naturally the Green overlords facing voter fury are rolling out diesel generators to forestall their day of reckoning and you can only imagine how that coupled with expensive gas peaking plants is adding to the world’s most expensive power bills already although they can hide it with taxpayer funding in the short run and in SA’s case roll out a unicorn Tesla battery to save face. In the long run all will be revealed.

chadb

Turning off for 15 minutes per hour is a stupid solution. What will happen: Next time you have to replace the AC unit you will install a larger unit so that in 45 minutes per hour you get all the cooling you need, even on the hottest days. Then you run at less than ideal efficiency.

observa

Actually you can see how rational smart metering here goes over like a lead balloon with consumers in an environment of rapidly escalating power prices. They’re immediately suspicious it’s all about rationing rather than sensible economics and the problem for the policymaker is any savings it accrues would quickly be overtaken by rising power prices to pay for all the batteries, pumped hydro, molten salt or whatever to fix the existing unreliables mess. Taxpayer funded diesel gennys and a token Tesla battery won’t cut it for long.

Ozonebust

Observa
I am familiar with the Australian electrical generation, transmission and distribution industry.

The point I am making is that renewables and the greenies had nothing to do with this particular issue on Sunday.

Reasonable Skeptic

” This state government, alone of all Australian state and territory governments, hasn’t prepared for heatwave conditions,” Mr Foley told reporters.”

This isn’t true at all. They have prepared for heatwave conditions, they just did that many years ago and recently they have decided to ignore those plans.

It isn’t like grids are a new concept, they have been around for 100 years. Sometimes people get so used to having something that they forget that there are important underpinning ideas that make it so easy.

Gerry, England

I think you will find that the 47.3C temperature from Penrith is fake news. The BOM think a reading lasting ONE second is valid as opposed to electronic noise in the circuit. The other claim was that it was hotter than 1939, which we don’t know since the Penrith station didn’t exist until 1995. Jo Nova has this nailed.

Bruce McKay

Australians…. could happen to a nicer bunch of people…