Australian police have arrested six people in Victoria and New South Wales after the biggest seizure of crystal methamphetamine in US history.
Authorities say the 1,728kg (3,800lb) stash – the largest ever intercepted drug shipment to Australia – was found in January at a port in California.
The haul is said to be equivalent to 17 million doses and worth an estimated A$1.29bn ($910m; £705m).
Three of those arrested appeared at Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday.
Among the suspects are two Americans: a 52-year-old man and a 46-year-old woman. Australian Federal Police (AFP) say they were found with “hundreds of thousands of dollars of proceeds of crime” during a raid in Melbourne.
They are believed to be involved with a US-based crime syndicate that tried to smuggle the drugs in containers marked as carrying audio equipment.
“By stopping this, we have ensured criminals will not profit from the immense pain these drugs would have caused our community,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Bruce Hill told reporters.
The arrests are part of an ongoing joint investigation by local and national agencies in the US and Australia.
In 2015, Australia’s government established a national taskforce to tackle the growing use of crystal methamphetamine (dubbed “ice”), which has become the most common illicit drug in the country.
The move followed a report by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) that found crystal meth posed the highest risk to communities of any illegal substance.
Crystal meth is a powerful form of amphetamine and can be smoked, snorted or injected by users.
Victoria state – Australia’s second-most populous – consumes more than two tonnes of crystal meth every year, according to government figures.
The ACC says the price of crystal meth in Australia is among the highest in the world, driving the country’s organised crime gangs to trade increasingly in the drug.
Commissioner Hill said police believe Mexican cartels are targeting the country, but the identities of the cartels have not been disclosed.
The previous record for an Australia-bound crystal meth seizure was 1,300 kg in 2017.
Ten years ago, Australia experienced its worst-ever bushfire disaster when 173 people died across the state of Victoria. Immediately branded “one of the darkest days in Australia’s peacetime history”, Black Saturday has left a profound legacy. Sharon Verghis reports.
“It was like the gates of hell. There is no other way to describe it.”
For Tony Thomas, 7 February 2009 began as another ordinary day. It had been a summer of record-breaking temperatures, prompting days of safety warnings.
But Mr Thomas wasn’t overly concerned; they had had scorching days like this before.
In the lush, peaceful hills on the outskirts of tiny Marysville, about 90km (55 miles) north-east of Melbourne, he and wife Penni had carved out a fruitful life running a bed and breakfast on a 60-acre property.
His in-laws had arrived for a birthday lunch. It was a pleasant gathering, despite the suffocating heat. But in the late afternoon, they spotted smoke in the west. Going for a closer look, they saw fire.
“It came out of the forest behind us on the other side – at 100k [kilometres] it just roared towards us,” Mr Thomas tells the BBC.
At 18.45, the fire hit – “and pretty hard”. Mr Thomas’s family and the B&B guests ran for shelter in the house as he, his brother-in-law and an employee battled the fire. It was effectively three men with buckets and garden hoses against a roaring, wind-whipped blaze.
At 21.30, another wind change swung the fire towards the hay shed: “That threw flaming hay bombs at us for the next hour or so, massive embers and hay landing on us.”
“When you’ve got 20 to 30 metre-trees burning and the flames are well above that, like a huge ball…” his voice trails off.
“Why people say gates of hell is because everything turned from light to dark very quickly – the sun got blocked out by the smoke.
“The only thing you could see is the glow of the fire through the smoke. We were choking. We only had large tea towels which we were wetting down constantly and wrapping around our faces so we could breathe.”
Nearby, David Baetge was also fighting for survival on his property near the town of Buxton, directly adjacent to a large state park.
Armed with a comprehensive fire plan and previous firefighting experience, he had seen the smoke but chosen to stay. Like Mr Thomas, the decision would almost cost him his life.
At about 1830, Mr Baetge spotted fire on top of peaks about 3km (2 miles) away – with what he estimated to be 100m-high fireballs.
Even for a bushfire veteran, he was shocked at the speed of the fire as it raced towards him. “The sky was iridescent red with a deafening roar like standing next to a 747 jet,” he would later recall in his blog.
“It was like being inside a cocoon of smoke with a maximum visibility range of about 30m and the whole of this hemisphere in every direction was glowing cherry red.” He said it was “like being sandblasted – but with burning embers”.
All through this once-bucolic landscape, others faced similar struggles.
Karen Curnow was among them. As her house caught fire, she fled in her car with her old dog, hurtling over and around burning trees, guilt-struck at having to leaving her panicked horses behind.
Nearby in Kinglake West, local artist Michelle Bolmat was also making a mad dash to safety.
“The ash started to fall, and the darkness came… it became completely black everywhere,” she tells the BBC. A tree came down in front of her; but as the heat started to build, she revved her engine and drove over it. “I looked back and saw the fire coming.”
All four got through that nightmare night.
But when the sun rose the next morning, it was eerily quiet. The lush landscape was gone.
“Our world turned from beautiful colours to black and grey,” Mr Thomas recalls. “There wasn’t a spot on the property that wasn’t burnt and it was the same across the whole area.”
Kinglake suffered the heaviest toll, with 120 perishing. In Marysville, 39 people died – 34 of them locals – and the town was effectively obliterated.
“Probably 22 of those 34 were friends of ours,” Mr Thomas says.
After the final embers were doused (the Black Saturday fires continued to 14 March), the true scale of the fires was revealed.
About 400 blazes had burned, most sparked by faulty power lines and lightning, but there were also cases of arson.
A total of 173 people died – Australia’s deadliest ever bushfire event. It left several hundreds more injured, more than 2,000 homes destroyed, and more than 7,500 people displaced. The RSPCA estimated that up to one million animals died.
It was unprecedented – even for a country long used to bushfires.
Over the years, Australia has been hit with several deadly blazes. But the Black Saturday fires of 2009 were singular in their ferocity – equal to 1,500 atomic bombs.
So what made this event so severe?
Kevin Parkyn, a Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster, says it was a combination of record temperatures, unusually strong, howling north-westerly winds in excess of 100km/h (60 mph), and a tinder-dry landscape courtesy of a long-running drought. In Melbourne, the temperature reached 46.4C.
“That’s a record for Melbourne in 100 years,” Mr Parkyn says. “When you went outside, there was just this blast of hot air – it was like having a hairdryer to the face.”
No firefighting force stood a chance, especially when the blazes hit Australia’s highly flammable eucalypt forests, he says. Spot fires sprang up kilometres downwind of the main front.
Did climate change play a role? Mr Parkyn refers to his scientific training: he says it would be hard to say there’s no link given the record temperatures now being experienced in Australia in particular, and the frequency of extreme weather disasters internationally. He points to last year’s California fires, the US state’s deadliest, as one example.
The damage from Black Saturday was also exacerbated by urbanisation, he says. Risk Frontiers, a research centre, has estimated that nearly a million addresses in Australia are located less than 100m from bushland.
In the aftermath, a royal commission inquiry was announced, resulting in widespread changes in bushfire preparation and protocols. The inquiry put the financial cost of the disaster at A$4.4bn (£2.4bn; $3.14bn).
Survivors also secured a A$500m payout the biggest class action settlement in Australian legal history. But this didn’t account for the invisible toll.
The Beyond Bushfires report, which surveyed more than 1,000 people affected by the fires, found evidence of significant mental health issues including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe psychological distress. The rates were significantly higher than what would be expected in the general population, it found.
Lead researcher Prof Lisa Gibbs, from the University of Melbourne, likens the disaster to a fractured window: the cracks spread far and wide, magnified by the small rural populations. She has seen a measurable increase in domestic violence along with mental health issues.
Out of the embers, however, some good has also come. Australia is now significantly better prepared for fires, with new measures including redesigned building codes and improved warning messages.
Internationally, Australian researchers are now leading the way in many firefighting technologies – from tanker perseveration strategies to a world-leading electrical-fault study. The Beyond Bushfires report is now used internationally.
Regeneration and growth has taken place on a more personal level as well. Mr Thomas is amazed by the resilience of the locals. Communities have rebuilt, the bush has regenerated.
For Karen Curnow says it gave her a chance to start anew: “I don’t see myself as a victim or a survivor. I just consider myself a very lucky person.”
This week, solemn events have marked the anniversary of the tragedy.
But for many scarred directly by Black Saturday, there will be relief when Thursday is over and people can move on, Mr Thomas says. Marysville is slowly recovering but “it will never be the same town”.
“But as a community we stick together,” he says. “We’re still here. We’re still standing.”
Additional reporting by Simon Atkinson and Hywel Griffith.
A farmer in Australia has gone on trial accused of kidnapping and raping a Belgian backpacker in a shed during a two-day ordeal.
Gene Charles Bristow, 54, has pleaded not guilty to attacking the 24-year-old woman in rural South Australia in 2017.
Prosecutors say she was chained up in a pig shed and repeatedly raped after going to the farm believing she had been given work. She was later freed.
Mr Bristow’s lawyers have called the allegations “an invention”.
On the first day of the trial, the District Court of South Australia was told that Mr Bristow had contacted the woman after she wrote on classifieds website Gumtree that she was seeking work.
He then arranged to drive her to his farm in Meningie, 150km (90 miles) south-east of Adelaide, the jury was told.
Prosecutor Michael Foundas alleged that Mr Bristow threatened the woman with a fake gun after they arrived at the farm, before trapping her in an “old, dirty pig shed”.
The jury was told that the woman was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the shed, which was located out of sight from a house that Mr Bristow shared with his family.
“This was a premeditated and thought-out plan,” Mr Foundas told the court in Adelaide.
“A plan to lure a young female backpacker to his farm where the unlucky victim would be held against her will and sexually abused by him,” he said.
The court heard that the woman managed to break free at one point and use her laptop to send messages to relatives and police, who began a search.
However she then re-shackled herself because Mr Bristow had threatened to kill her if she tried to escape, Mr Foundas said.
Prosecutors said Mr Bristow released the woman the next day, driving her to a town, because he was spooked by police search efforts. She was later found by authorities.
The defence team said it did not contest that the woman stayed overnight at the property, but rejected that the woman was held against her will. Mr Bristow also denies that any sexual assaults occurred.
A forehand winner down the line brought up two championship points, Djokovic taking the second when Nadal clubbed a backhand long.
Djokovic, who was the top seed, fell to his knees after sealing another triumph on Rod Laver Arena, smacking the court with both hands and screaming towards the sky.
The reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion claimed his 15th Grand Slam title, moving him outright third ahead of American Pete Sampras in the all-time list, closing in on Switzerland’s Federer (20) and Nadal (17).
Djokovic has now won 13 of his past 16 meetings with Nadal, who has not beaten the Serb on a hard court since the US Open final in 2013.
He leads 28-25 in their record 53 meetings between two male players.
Djokovic continued his fine record of going on to win the tournament every time he has reached the semi-finals, while Nadal lost for a fourth time in the Melbourne showpiece.
The result meant the 2009 winner was unable to become the first man in the Open era to win all the Grand Slams at least twice and was the first time he had lost a major final in straight sets.
Djokovic’s dominance stuns an expectant Melbourne
Djokovic said his clinical semi-final win over French 28th seed Lucas Pouille on Friday was one of his best performances on Rod Laver Arena.
Two days later, he surpassed that against the man with whom he shares what many consider to be the greatest male rivalry.
Most expected a much closer encounter between the pair, whose previous meeting at Melbourne Park had been the epic 2012 final, which lasted five sets and almost six hours.
Quickly it became apparent that a repeat was unlikely in front of a stunned crowd.
Djokovic was as close to flawless as he could have been – dominating on serve, controlling the rallies with crisp groundstrokes, rarely making a mistake and showing incredible athleticism around the court.
His tally of 34 winners and nine unforced errors highlights how high his level was.
The Serb made a fast start by breaking in Nadal’s first service game and, although that was the only break in the opener, the gulf between the players felt much wider.
He took his first set point after landing a first serve which Nadal could only bat back into the net, wrapping up the opener in only 38 minutes.
More pressure came on Nadal’s serve immediately in the second set, Djokovic eventually going a break up in the fifth game and, after surviving Nadal taking him to deuce in the following game, broke again to leave him serving for a two-set lead.
Djokovic then underlined his dominance by firing down three aces to leave him one set away from the title.
Another break for a 2-1 lead in the third put Djokovic on his way to a comfortable win, before he fought off a break point in the sixth game and then sealed victory on the Nadal serve.
Nadal sees positives despite being outclassed
Nadal had not dropped a set on his way to the final but, having come into the tournament without competitive action since September’s US Open, he was nowhere near the level required to cause problems for an in-form Djokovic.
The Spaniard looked like he lacked belief as he made a slow start, winning only one point in the opening three games.
Nadal particularly struggled to make an impact on Djokovic’s serve, not managing to win a receiving point until the ninth game and with more than half an hour on the clock.
Nadal continued to toil in the second and third sets, although a rare error from Djokovic brought up a first break point for the Spaniard after one hour and 46 minutes.
However, a backhand into the net left Nadal grimacing and looking up the sky in frustration as the chance – and the championship – slipped from his grasp.
The Spaniard won 53 points compared to Djokovic’s 89, and took only 13 receiving points.
“I have been going through tough times over the past year. I only played in nine events and had to retire from two, and I was not able to play professional match since the US Open,” said Nadal.
The Spaniard, who cut short his 2018 season with an abdominal muscle problem and to have ankle surgery, retired injured in the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year.
“Even though tonight was not my night, it was very important for me in coming back from injury,” he said.
“I believe I played a good two weeks of tennis and it is a great energy and inspiration for what is coming.
“I will keep fighting and keep practising to give myself better chances in the future.”
Can Djokovic overtake Federer’s tally?
Australian great Rod Laver, watching in the arena which bears his name, said before the final he felt Djokovic would eventually overtake both Federer and Nadal in terms of Grand Slam titles.
On the evidence of this victory, and his performances over the past six months, few would disagree.
Djokovic was ranked outside the world’s top 20 in July after coming back from elbow surgery.
But he showed he was back to his best with victory at Wimbledon and followed up that performance with another triumph at the US Open in September.
Now Djokovic, who reclaimed top spot in the rankings in November, will go to the French Open in May aiming to hold all four major titles simultaneously for the second time.
Victory over Britain’s Andy Murray in the 2016 French Open final meant Djokovic became the first man since Laver in 1969 to hold all four Slams at once.
“I’m trying to contemplate on the journey in the past 12 months. I had surgery exactly 12 months ago,” Djokovic said.
“To be standing now here, in front of you today, managing to win this title and three of the four Slams is truly amazing.”
Novak Djokovic claimed his 15th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Sunday
BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller
This was one of the great Grand Slam final performances by Djokovic. He simply knocked the stuffing out of Nadal.
The offensive side of Nadal’s game, which had been so eye-catching in earlier rounds, was snuffed out by Djokovic. The world number one took all of Nadal’s time away and forced him on the defensive from the very first ball.
If he wins Roland Garros in June, he will hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously for the second time in his career. This might just be the best chance Djokovic has ever had to win all four Slams in the same calendar year.
Nadal will have a lot to say about that – especially in Paris. The Spaniard felt four months away from the Tour caught up with him here: as he says, he was just not able to find the higher gear required to make the match competitive.
He is, though, optimistic things will look a lot brighter in a couple of months’ time: just as the clay-court season looms into view.
An extreme heatwave in Australia has led to the deaths of more than 90 wild horses in the outback, authorities say.
Rangers found dead and dying animals in a dried-up waterhole near Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, last week.
About 40 of the animals had already died from dehydration and starvation. Surviving horses were later culled.
It comes amid record-breaking heat, with temperatures hitting 49.5C north of Adelaide in South Australia.
The mercury rose to 47.7C in the city itself on Thursday, breaking a record set in 1939.
How hot is it?
Australia has experienced a fortnight of extreme heat,
that has broken dozens of records across the nation.
More than 13 towns in the state of South Australia have seen heat records eclipsed.
Emergency services in more than 13 districts are on alert for fear of possible bushfires.
Meanwhile in Alice Springs, near where the horses were found, temperatures have exceeded 42C for almost two weeks – more than 6C above January’s typical average, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.
WARNING: Readers may find some images in this article disturbing
How have animals been affected?
Rangers came across the horses after their absence was noted by a remote community, said local authority Central Land Council (CLC).
A local resident, Ralph Turner, also visited the site and posted photos online, describing the scene as “carnage”.
“I was devastated. I’d never seen anything like it – all the bodies,” he told the BBC.
“I couldn’t believe something like that had happened.”
Another local, Rohan Smyth, told the ABC that water was “normally there” and that the horses “just had nowhere to go”.
The council said it had organised a cull of the remaining horses because they were found close to death.
They also planned to cull another 120 feral horses, donkeys and camels “dying from thirst” in a neighbouring community, said CLC director David Ross.
“With climate change well and truly upon us, we expect these emergencies to occur with increasing frequency and nobody is truly prepared and resourced to respond to them,” Mr Ross wrote in a press release.
Several other wildlife species have also suffered, with reports of mass deaths of native bats in New South Wales.
Up to a million fish have also been found dead along river banks in the drought-affected state.
The government has launched a review into the fish deaths.