Here's a round-up of the Illawarra news stories that had us raising eyebrows, dropping jaws and shaking heads in 2013.
1. Port Kembla school destroyed in blaze
An arsonist was thought responsible for a fire that gutted the old Port Kembla primary school, putting in limbo plans to convert the site into a community arts precinct. The flames spread easily through the 97-year-old roof, which was built with materials including very old, dry timber. Angela Thompson reports here.
2. Balgownie Road swallows half the No 7 bus
A dramatic spectacle unfolded in Balgownie after a burst water main caused flooding, traffic chaos and left a bus balancing over a two-metre deep hole. The drama began when a broken pipe blew a huge crater in the bitumen at the busy corner of Balgownie and Foothills roads, shooting a stream of water into the air. Kate McIlwain has the details here.
3. Joke's on Wollongong as video goes viral
More than 81,000 people have watched S*it You'll Never Hear in Wollongong, a five-minute honeypot of regional in-jokes devised by Ben "Frenchy" French and his friends and uploaded to YouTube. While some Mercury readers got a kick out of it, others accused Frenchy of harming tourism. Angela Thompson mediates here.
4. Gong CBD splattered with white paint
Wollongong City Council faced a hefty clean-up bill thanks to a brazen vandal who went on a spree through the CBD. The attacker splattered paint across pathways, walls and cars, causing extensive damage and a headache for those trying to avoid the mess. Michelle Webster is on the trail here.
5. Cat saves man as 4WD ploughs through yard
Steve Buchan was hanging out the washing in his Thirroul backyard when he heard Shnookie the cat meowing at the back door. He stopped what he was doing and went to let Shnookie out. Seconds later, a four-wheel drive came crashing through his backyard, destroying the wall where he had just been standing. With her humble meow, Shnookie had saved his life. Read India Lloyd's account here.
6. A world first for Warilla Maccas
Would you like some crockery with that? McDonald's Warilla made international headlines when they became the first Macca's outlet in the world to offer plates, cutlery and table service with its dine-in meals. Franchisees Glenn and Katia Dwarte came up with the idea after Mr Dwarte started serving his parents and mother-in-law meals that way during their weekly visits to the restaurant. Greg Ellis gets the scoop here.
7. Condom wedding gown ‘shames region’
A wedding dress made entirely of condoms managed to cause quite a stir. Shoalhaven City Council hosted the dress, dubbed ‘‘Connie’’, in a bid to raise awareness of condom usage following a spike in chlamydia rates. However, Councillor Andrew Guile described the decision to exhibit the garment at the council’s entertainment centre as ‘‘an appalling lack of judgment’’. Michelle Webster faces the furore here.
8. A shark in Towradgi ocean pool
Experts were summoned from Sydney Aquarium after a member of the public spotted a wobbegong shark in Towradgi ocean pool. But when a valve that lets water in and out of the pool was opened, the animal - estimated at 1.7 metres long - answered the call of the ocean, slipping through the pipe to freedom. Ben Langford is on shark watch here.
9. Dapto hunter's strangest video yet
Youtube star Andrew Ucles gutted an emu and wore its carcass as a disguise in his most bonkers contribution yet to the world of wildlife documentary-making. In footage from an unidentified part of the Australian outback, the eccentric outdoorsman demonstrates a little-known use for emu roadkill - catching other emus. Angela Thompson scratches her head here.
10. Wollongong beach gets washed away
Wollongong's City Beach largely disappeared into the ocean, leaving behind a dramatic sheer sand cliff. The scarping was so severe a wooden walkway that usually leads beach users on a gently sloping stroll towards the waves dangled loosely at a steep vertical angle. Michelle Webster dares to tread here.