Back to life

HMAS Otway in Holbrook parkThe 2003 fires devastated 70 per cent of the ACT, including much of the hills and valleys to our city’s west. However, 10 years on, and following a couple of wet seasons, the bush is bouncing back.
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While well-known recreation precincts, such as Cotter Reserve and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, have since been revamped, ?other areas remain something of a secret to virtually a whole generation of Canberrans.

You could spend every day for a whole year exploring the ridges, gorges, mountain peaks and rivers to our west and still not see it all. Today, I share my top three places to venture beyond Cotter and Tidbinbilla into our regenerating mountain country. You never know what you might find.

1. Land of the giants

Among the tallest trees growing in our mountains are Alpine Ash (Euca-lyptus delegatensis). Unlike many other eucalypts, which if burnt can regenerate from epicormic buds situated deep in their thick bark, fire kills Alpine Ash as they can only regenerate from seed. On the higher peaks of the Brindabellas, poking like giant totem poles above their regenerating offspring, are countless stands of Alpine Ash, all victims of the 2003 firestorm.

However, some of the most impressive trees in our mountains aren’t native at all. In the middle of last century, 34 arboreta were established in the ACT primarily ?to discover more about which species were potentially suitable for forest plantations in Australia. After the 2003 bushfires, the Bendora Arboretum was the only upland arboretum left standing.

Most of the 52 different species planted here are conifers, larches, spruces, firs and white pines, and by 1974, foresters had determined that the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) was the best species for most sites in cool, temperate southern Australia.

However, this hidden treasure trove of trees is also home to a small stand of the aptly named Big Cone Pine (Pinus coulteri), which produces the biggest (and heaviest) pine cones in the world. These monster cones can grow as big as footballs and are fortified with sharp talons on the end of each scale. If you see one falling, run.

The Bendora Arboretum also features several mature sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) that are native to north-west Mexico and western US and bear the world’s longest pine cones.

Want to go Bendora Arboretum is about a one-hour drive (partly on a gravel road) from most parts of Canberra. Access requires a 1.5-kilometre walk along Chalet Road from a locked gate near its junction with Mount Franklin Road. Allow an hour or so to stroll among the towering pines and other exotic species. Copies of an information sheet on the arboretum and a visitors’ book are kept in the adjacent Bendora Hut.

2. Faces of nature

Do you ever get the feeling when walking alone in the bush that someone is following you While it could be another bushwalker, it’s more than likely just the bush, in all its guises, keeping an eye on you.

Across the peaks of Namadgi National Park and the granite-strewn Tidbinbilla and Brindabella ranges are many “faces” and “forms” in nature, some of which have featured in this column’s semi-regular “Simulacra Corner”.

Some simulacra are the results of thousands of years of exposure to the elements, while others are created in the twinkle of an eye, such as when a branch falls off a tree and lands in a certain way on the ground.

Just as fire can destroy some simulacra (such as burning trees and causing rocks to explode), it can also create new ones by triggering regrowth and exposing rocks previously hidden under thick vegetation.

Rocks that resemble human or animal faces are the most common form of simulacra in our mountain country, the best of which include a giant face near Bendora Dam and this stone guardian near Orroral Hill in Namadgi National Park.

Want to go? Your imagination is the only limit. You might find some on the side of the road or others hidden deep in a rarely explored valley. If you find one, don’t forget to send it to my Simulacra Corner.

3. All creatures great and small

Like most swathes of bush, the ACT high country is home to a wide range of wildlife. While some species haven’t been sighted for decades, such as the rare and shy native smoky mouse (Pseudo-mys fumeus), others, such as the northern corroboree frog (Pseudoph-ryne pengilleyi) are hanging on to survival by a mere thread. And who knows how many more species lie in wet gullies or shelter on windswept peaks still waiting to be discovered.

The most recent species unearthed in the ACT was discovered by Canberra vineyard worker Stuart Harris while walking at Booroomba Rocks in 2008. Stuart was experimenting with a new macro lens for his camera and liked “the contrast between the foliage and brightly coloured markings of a spider”.

After his walk, he posted his images on a photo-sharing website to see if anyone might be able to identify the unusual spider. An expert from the US noticed his photo and suggested it might be a new species of peacock spider – so named because of the male’s courtship display. When a female approaches, the male raises its abdomen vertically. Side flaps pop out and are displayed like a peacock’s tail.

Encouraged by the prospect of discovering a new species, Stuart spent 150 hours over two years searching for a live specimen. In October 2011, he finally found a specimen, which was subsequently described by scientists as a new species. In honour of Stuart’s efforts, the spider was named Harris’ Peacock Spider (Maratus harrisi).

Want to go? Booroomba Rocks is about an hour’s drive from Civic. Drive south of Tharwa into the Namadgi National Park. Turn right on to Apollo Road. Follow this sealed road for about 9 kilometres then turn right on to an unsealed road (2WD accessible). Follow this road for about 3 kilometres? until you reach the car park, where there’s a 2.5-kilometre return walking track to a lookout at the top of the rocks. I can’t guarantee you’ll discover a new species, but if the weather is fine, you’ll get sweeping views of Canberra’s southern suburbs.SPOTTED

This week, Sharyn Payne was shocked to notice hundreds of insects crawling over her deck and windows, describing the scene in a frantic tweet as “apocalyptic”. The culprits are Plague Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus lugub-ris) and Payne’s deck isn’t the only place where they are in huge numbers. A spokesperson for the Australian National Botanic Gardens, where they can also currently be seen in large numbers, says “the beetles swarm during the mating period, sometimes in such large numbers, they weigh down the branches of some plants”.CONTACT TIM

Email: [email protected]上海夜网m or Twitter: @TimYowie, or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Playing the waiting game

TODAY a nation will be on tenterhooks. Today a nation will hold its breath. Today Bernard Tomic will take on Roger Federer for a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Can he do the unthinkable?
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Can he flatten Fed?

Australia has spent the past four years watching Tomic and waiting, waiting for the moment he looked likely to step into Lleyton Hewitt’s shoes and make his way to the top of the rankings via a grand slam trophy or two. And Australia is still waiting. Australia had better get used to the idea that it could be waiting for quite some time.

Now, this has nothing to do with Tomic’s talents (many) or ambition (great). Rather, it is a result of the recent trends in men’s tennis: old blokes do better than boys.

There is nothing professional sport likes better than a good stat and as the first round drew to a close at Melbourne Park, the WTA, those guardians of the women’s tour, trumpeted their latest factoid: of the 18 teenagers who began the tournament, 11 had lived to fight another day. That was the best showing by the adolescent ranks since 2009 when 13 teenagers won a match at the US Open. Cue fanfares and hurrahs.

Back in the men’s ranks, there is not a teenager to be seen in the world’s top 250. Taro Daniel, at 19 years and 11 months, has climbed his way up the greasy pole to No.?282 but no further. Tomic, at 20 years and three months, is the youngest man in the top 200 and the youngest man to get into the main draw by right (Luke Saville is younger but he needed a wildcard to claim his ticket to the Open).

Of course, there was a time when a big, young lad could make a name for himself. Back in 1985, Boris Becker bounded over Wimbledon’s centre court like an overgrown puppy and, aged 17 years and seven months, beat Kevin Curren to win the title. Blimey, we thought, that was impressive, but the following year – now aged 18 years and seven months – he came back and beat Ivan Lendl to win his second Wimbledon crown. Four years later, Michael Chang beat that record by beating Stefan Edberg to win the French Open. He was just 17 years and three months old.

Those days, though, are long, long gone.

As Andy Murray waited patiently (and most of Britain waited less than patiently) to win his maiden grand slam title, he was asked daily when and if he could win a major championship. The longer the wait went on, the more the pressure built and the more the doubters wondered if he had missed the boat. What? You are 25 and you still haven’t won a slam? No chance, mate.

But Murray stuck at it – he knew that the men’s game had changed dramatically in the seven years he had been on the tour.

“Beforehand, guys were breaking through when they were like 19, 20, 21 years old,” he said. “When I got into the top 10 for the first time, there was me, Rafa and Novak, three teenagers in the top 10.

“Tomic is probably the youngest one now in the top 40, 50. It’s got so physical now, the game’s changed. Guys are peaking at a different age and having their best results later in their career.

“The average age of the top 100 is 28. I would guess that is a couple of years older than five years ago. The game is changing, it takes guys longer to physically and mentally cope. You come out of the juniors and you are used to hitting clean winners and then you come onto the main tour and the ball is coming back with interest. You have to develop mentally much quicker to understand and appreciate how much the game is changing. It will, for sure, take guys longer to break through unless you get someone who is an incredibly gifted and talented athlete.”

The recent developments in string technology, giving more power to a chap’s elbow, coupled with the homogenisation of the court surfaces – the fast ones have been slowed down and the slow one speeded up – and the weight of the balls means that tennis is now a brutally physical sport.

Roger Federer has a lot to answer for, too. His sublime skills raised the bar in the men’s game and those who wished to challenge him had to come up with a new plan. Until Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray emerged to torment him, no one could match his talent with racquet and ball; all they could do was try to outlast him on court (if you can’t beat him, try to run through him). And when Nadal’s muscular game took a stranglehold on the French Open, everyone started to get fitter and stronger to give themselves a chance against him.

Now everyone can leather the ball but no one can blast an opponent off the court in the way that Becker or Goran Ivanisevic could in days of yore. Now, to win a major trophy, the blokes have to be ready and prepared to sweat and graft in order to survive for five hours and 53 minutes, as Novak Djokovic did here last summer. To do that, a man must be at his physical and mental peak – and teenagers, even fit ones, are years away from that. The average age of the men in the world’s top 10 is now 26.9 years.

“I played Wimbledon as a junior for the first time at 16 and my first tour event at 17,” Murray said. “Rafa played his first senior tournament at 16, Novak was young, too, and now you look at the juniors in the locker room and there is no chance they could compete yet. I practise with some of the young guys like Ben Mitchell.

“I practised with him the year after he had done well in the Wimbledon juniors [in 2010] and you see how much his body has changed in the last couple of years and only now is he starting to be able to compete. Before, guys were able to compete when they were 16 and 17 but now it is at least four more years.”

Back in the women’s game, the kids are thriving. Unable to generate as much power, pound for pound, as the men, the powerful racquets and strings mean that a teenager can happily go toe-to-toe with a 25-year-old and the difference in muscles appears to be minimal.

Alas, the glaring difference between them and the men’s tour is the lack of strength in depth. The gulf between the top women and the also-rans is so vast that if anyone from the lower reaches of the world’s top 100 ran full pelt into the likes of Serena Williams, they would bounce off without leaving a dent. On the men’s tour, even Djokovic, Federer and Murray cannot afford to take anything for granted and are on their guard from the very first round of every tournament.

On the women’s tour, the teenagers will continue to make hay, picking up their pay cheques and making their fortunes. Most of them will never threaten the Serenas or the Sharapovas but they will make a decent living. But back in Australia, the tennis-watching faithful had better be prepared for a long wait. At 20, Bernie is still far from the finished product but his time will come. And keep your fingers crossed for tonight, just in case.

CAPTION:

Instant success: Boris Becker (left) after winning Wimbledon in 1985. Ambitious: Bernard Tomic (right) is the youngest player in the men’s top 200.

PICTURES: AP, PAT SCALA

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Break out the big guns

Sand and deliver… James Packer’s Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach, property will be listed next month with $22 million-plus hopes. Gary Castles has sold his long-held Malo Road, Whale Beach, property for $4.5 million.
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Selling spree… Brett Blundy is hoping to secure $20 million for his Vaucluse house.

John Piven-Large’s Point Piper mansion is for sale.

The Queensland mansion of bankrupt developer Graham Spottiswood.

The Queensland mansion of bankrupt developer Graham Spottiswood.

Private party… Louis and Kay Cordony have sold their Avalon waterside property for an undisclosed amount believed to be more than $5 million.

Forget talk of market softness and the discounting of prestige real estate. Sydney’s heavy hitters are kicking off 2013 by listing some of the city’s best trophy homes. Heading up the list is James Packer’s former bachelor pad at Bondi Beach for upwards of $22 million. Privacy, security and views aside, the four-level compound will be redundant to the family of five now that work is nearing completion on their $40 million Vaucluse home. The Packers reportedly moved onto their super yacht, Seahorse, in December and moored off Vaucluse in anticipation of the move.

So, with the kids, Indigo, Jackson and baby Emmanuelle, nicely out of the way, the Campbell Parade house is free for secret-ish inspections, for those willing to sign a confidentiality agreement. The 800-square-metre offering not only boasts lots of lock-up-and-leave appeal but space for eight cars, lift access, a gym, cinema, nursery, study, four bedrooms, six bathrooms (two en suites off the main bedroom), six terraces and a winter garden. By selling now rather than holding onto the property, Packer will nicely sidestep any capital gains tax.

He paid $2.25 million in 1995 for the former garage site. Perhaps a greater motivation is the recent success of the redevelopment of the Swiss Grand Hotel down the road. One apartment in the Pacific complex has sold for $10.5 million and another for $10.3 million. The Packer property is set to hit the market next month through Andrew Livingston and James Agostini of McGrath Estate Agents.

Selling spree

Retail bigwig and BRW rich list regular Brett Blundy is offering his waterfront home on Vaucluse’s Kutti Beach for $20 million. It’s a prime piece of Sydney real estate to part with only a year after he paid $17.75 million and $7.95 million for the adjoining blocks on Wharf Road and The Crescent.

This is just the latest in a long list of properties being sold off by Blundy, including the $2.65 million sale of his Pearl Beach holiday house in December and his Macquarie Street penthouse at Circular Quay for $12 million a year ago to the Manassen family. Agent Bill Malouf, of LJ Hooker Double Bay, wouldn’t confirm rumours that Blundy is selling his Sydney interests to move overseas. The five-bedroom Kutti Beach house with a tennis court and pool was built for the television identity Michael Willesee, who sold it in 2000 for $10.3 million.

Large stake

No one has yet agreed to part with $55 million for the palatial Point Piper waterfront pile Altona, but a few doors away the Edwardian waterfront home of liquor industry heavyweight John Piven-Large has also hit the market. After being architecturally redesigned in recent years, the five-bedroom mansion with a pool to go with the private tidal beach has been Piven-Large’s home since 1991 when it was a duplex. Records show he paid $22 million for one property and $13 million for the other.

No details were forthcoming from the agent, Elliott Placks of Ray White Double Bay, as to why he is selling up, and given the lack of comparable sales, pricing the unique offering will be tricky. Piven-Large isn’t aspiring to the same price range as nearby Altona, nor the $45 million-plus being sought for the waterfront home of accused murderer Ron Medich, but is said to be looking for closer to $40 million.

Andy acquisition

The head of investment banking at the New York-based Moelis & Co and the former executive chairman of investment banking at JPMorgan, Andrew Pridham, (although he is better known as the buyer of a dodgy Brett Whiteley piece) has bought a prime piece of Palm Beach real estate opposite Kiddies Corner. The 964-square-metre block on Ocean Road is a few doors away from Kahlua, which broke local records last year when the 1930s five-bedder on 5500 square metres sold for $19 million to retired car dealer Laurie Sutton.

Pridham’s block is a subdivision of a larger block that traded in 2008 for $12 million. In October Pridham forked out $4.5 million for the block, upon which Title Deeds assumes he plans to build a weekender for his three kids and his partner, Caroline. The adjoining, slightly larger block is set to hit the market this year for more than $5 million through David Edwards, of LJ Hooker Palm Beach.

Castles crusade

The well-heeled Gary Castles has finally sold his Whale Beach house. Thirty years after the shoe designer bought the four-bedder on Malo Road, Castles listed it in March with hopes of selling it for $6 million, but even with the quiet cul-de-sac, beachside address and northerly aspect, it failed to attract as much attention as Geoff Cousins’s property at the other end of the beach.

Businessman and environmental activist Cousins sold his south-facing beachfront house in 10 days for a local record of more than $13 million late last year. Agent David Edwards, of LJ Hooker Palm Beach, relisted Castles’s house in October for upwards of $4.5 million, and word on the beach is it sold for just that amount.

Private party

In nearby Avalon, the ink is still drying on the sale contract for the waterfront home of Louis and Kay Cordony, of the Cordony Hair family. The Mediterranean-style house on 1150 square metres with a private beach, jetty, boat facilities and Pittwater views was listed last year with price hopes of $5.8 million. Agents David Watson, of LJ Hooker Avalon, and Noel Nicholson, of LJ Hooker Palm Beach, won’t disclose the result but word is the figure is at least $5 million, making it the highest sale in Avalon in three years.

Margie Blok returns to Title Deeds next week.Around the Blok: in Queensland

Bargain hunters in the prestige market might like to head interstate for a good deal. Try Alston, the Queensland mansion of bankrupt developer Graham Spottiswood, which is up for auction on January 27, with hopes said to be well down from early expectations of $20 million.

The 3442-square-metre riverfront house in a dress-circle location in Southport on the Gold Coast is likely to trade closer to the price paid by cotton farmer

Tom Hadley when he bought his Nerang River property for $9.5 million in July.

Spottiswood’s six-bedroom, seven-bathroom property, with a wharf, gym, indoor pool and spa, and garaging for seven cars, was built in 2009. Spottiswood and his wife, Suzanne, bought the site in 1998 for $2.35 million.

Receivers have appointed McGrath agents John Natoli and James Ledgerwood to sell the opulently appointed property.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Fund managers bullish on shares

FUND managers are moving back into shares again as optimism grows about US and Chinese economic data, a global survey says.
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About 75 per cent of global fund managers were holding an overweight position towards equities in the first quarter of this year, an increase from 40 per cent in the last quarter, the HSBC survey released on Friday found.

No fund manager held a positive outlook for bond or cash, with more than 60 per cent underweight on cash as an asset class.

More than 30 per cent of fund managers were underweight on bonds, compared with 20 per cent in the fourth quarter last year.

”It’s a material shift in the overweight stance towards equities,” HSBC’s head of wealth management, Mike Danby, said.

”The Australian economy is so globally linked, that’s always good news. I’ve heard the negative slant, which is when the world sneezes, the Australian market catches a cold. There’s obviously the reverse of that and I think we’re seeing it.

”There’s no question any signs of improvement in the US’s and China’s underlying performances are going to drive a positive reaction here as well, and I think you can see that as an underlying trend.”

Last year, the sharemarket turned in its best performance since 2009, finished the year 14.6 per cent higher, as interest rates fell and investors chased higher-yielding stocks.

Mr Danby said fund managers were looking at stronger prospects in equities and selective fixed-income markets, based on valuations and following improving economic indicators in the US and China.

Within equities, 75 per cent of fund managers were bullish towards North America amid signs of a US economic recovery and despite uncertainty about further political wrangling over the debt ceiling.

At the same time, about half of those surveyed said they had a favourable view of greater China and European equities.

About 40 per cent of fund managers were also more bullish about equities in the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) group of large emerging economies.

The search for yield remained a factor for the respondents, with high-yield and emerging market bonds proving attractive. For the second quarter in a row, there were no fund managers holding a underweight stance towards Asian bonds in US dollars.

HSBC found that equity funds were an important contribution to the total growth of funds under management in the third quarter last year – about 46.2 per cent of the total increase, or $US78.4 billion. The top region for equity and bond investments for that quarter was North America, just ahead of Europe.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

TAFE offers reveal extent of cuts

THE number of TAFE courses available to students through the state’s admissions centre has dropped markedly, according to figures from first-round offers.
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An analysis of Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre figures showed at least 170 fewer TAFE courses were available this year.

However, first-round offers through the admissions centre make up a small proportion of students applying to study at TAFE.

Most people apply directly to the TAFE institutes where they want to study.

But Holmesglen chief executive Bruce Mackenzie said the decrease in courses through the centre suggested TAFEs were ”rationalising” after the government cut almost $300 million from the sector last year.

Many TAFE institutes revealed last year that they would withdraw from a range of courses.

The centre’s figures also revealed a 2364 drop in applications for TAFE courses this year, a 25.8 per cent decrease from 2012.

”February and March will be the time when institutes will need to look at what their financial projections were,” Mr Mackenzie said.

”We think the courses we put up will reflect what student demand will be.”

He said some TAFE institutes could increase the number of courses if private institutes left the sector because of decreased government funding.

Mr Mackenzie said about 20 per cent of Holmesglen’s courses were offered through the admissions centre, including diplomas and undergraduate degrees. But qualifications such as apprenticeships were not available to applicants through the centre.

According to government figures, 320,000 students were enrolled in TAFEs last year, but the centre managed only about 10,000 applications.

A spokesman for Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall said TAFE institutes might be choosing to handle a greater proportion of their courses directly rather than receive students through the centre.

”A more complete picture of training uptake in 2013 at TAFE institutes will not be available until later in the year,” he said.

The spokesman said the centre’s data on offers did not provide an accurate basis to assess demand for vocational courses.

He said the government was investing $1.2 billion a year on training. ”We want taxpayers’ money to be directed to those courses that teach skills most needed by employers.”

Hospitality, business administration and events management were among the courses hardest hit by cuts in government subsidies, according to the Victorian TAFE Association.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

A precious little earner

Peter Jackson’s Tolkien franchise generates millions of dollars for New Zealand’s tourism industry, writes Garry Maddox.
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Having seen how The Lord of the Rings movies attracted tourists from around the world, New Zealand is expecting Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy to inspire another boom.

From 1999 to 2004, the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s first journey to Middle-earth contributed to a 47 per cent jump in spending by international visitors to $5.7 billion a year.

And though just 6 per cent of all visitors cited The Lord of the Rings as one of the reasons for their trip, that would still be a significant boost for a country attracting 2.6 million visitors a year if it happened again.

“If we grew our tourism numbers by 6 per cent, that would be worth between $NZ400 million [$320 million] and $NZ500 million a year,” says the chief executive of Tourism New Zealand, Kevin Bowler.

The tourism authorities say the single most significant reason tourists cite for visiting New Zealand – outside the Rugby World Cup, at least – is the landscape.

“The films really help in that regard because they beautifully showcase that landscape,” Bowler says. “The level of integration of New Zealand and the films through the marketing that we do, Air New Zealand does and others do has really got that connection quite strong now.”

Bowler says The Lord of the Rings movies sparked visits by hard-core fans, who knew lines from the films, where particular scenes were shot and who wanted to have their photo taken at filming locations around the country. These were the kind of fans who flocked to Wellington in costume for the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in November.

Less-rabid fans are interested in seeing filming locations as part of a broader experience of the country’s landscapes. “What a lot of the operators have done really cleverly, particularly around Queenstown, is they’ve said ‘we’ll take you into the back country, we’ll show you gold-panning, we’ll take you in a four-wheel-drive and we’ll show you some locations from the films’,” Bowler says.

After the release of An Unexpected Journey, The Lord of the Rings tours around Wellington and Queenstown are likely to be popular as they no doubt expand to include Hobbit filming locations. The next two film instalments are due for release on Boxing Day in 2013, then July 2014.

Also expected to appeal to tourists is the improved hobbit village where Bilbo and Frodo live in Middle-earth, on a sheep and cattle farm at Matamata, 175 kilometres from Auckland.

After the location was used for The Lord of the Rings, the sets were dismantled. But the Alexander family turned the site into a tourist attraction, with tiny plywood and styrofoam hobbit homes, that attracted more than 260,000 visitors in a decade. When Jackson wanted to use the farm again for the Hobbit movies, the family had one condition: it had to be rebuilt as a permanent village. So the knighted filmmaker and the Alexanders formed a joint venture to rebuild Hobbiton.

As well as 44 permanent hobbit holes complete with gardens, orchards, smoking fireplaces and washing lines dangling hobbit clothes, the filmmakers have built a replica of the Green Dragon Inn, which serves hobbit beer and cider.

Follow Traveller at twitter上海夜网m/FairfaxTravel.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Molik sees bright future after jumping into captain’s hot seat

ALICIA MOLIK will succeed her former coach David Taylor as Australia’s Fed Cup captain, with one of the three unsuccessful candidates, Todd Woodbridge, appointed to a mentoring role. Nicole Bradtke will remain as coach.
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The popular Molik, 31, was unbeaten in doubles and compiled a 12-15 win-loss record in singles over 22 ties from 1999. Now forging a media career, she is a two-time grand slam doubles champion and Athens Olympic singles bronze medallist, whose opening Fed Cup assignment will be both difficult and immediate, for the opening world group tie will be played against reigning champions the Czech Republic in Ostrava in three weeks.

”Dave has left big shoes to fill and I am really inspired by the challenge. It is an exciting time in Australian tennis and we have the talent in this team to produce some great results,” Molik said. ”Of course we go in underdogs [against the Czechs], but undaunted. These girls showed against Germany in Germany last year that they are capable of playing wonderful tennis and winning ties that no one expects them to win.”

The other applicants were Rennae Stubbs and Nicole Pratt, with Stubbs – the most capped player in Fed Cup history – another to have broad support. Woodbridge, Tennis Australia’s head of professional tennis, will also travel with the team. ”Alicia has a wealth of experience at the top level and in Fed Cup and will be a great leader for this team,” he said. ”Alicia’s strong and recent involvement with the tour and Fed Cup give her a great perspective for the captaincy and her personality and leadership style will be an asset for the team.”

Meanwhile, former Davis Cup captain John Newcombe admits to the odd flashback to his chilly relations with Mark Philippoussis as incumbent Pat Rafter deals with the challenge that is Bernard Tomic.

”It’s a little bit similar,” Newcombe said on Friday when asked about the parallels with the Philippoussis and Tomic situations. ”Probably in some degrees it’s the same, so Pat had a look at it as part of the team [when he was a player], and now he’s getting it on the other side.

”It’s never easy on the other side, but I’ve obviously been talking to Pat through this and Pat feels that unless he can build a strong culture, he’s wasting his time. And it’s good to see everybody supporting him, because if he feels the culture isn’t right at the top, what chance has he got of creating the culture amongst the young ones?”

While backing Rafter’s firm handling of a situation that has been criticised by the likes of Paul McNamee, Newcombe said it was in Tomic’s best interests to heal his rift with Rafter, who overlooked the world No.43 for next month’s Davis Cup tie for attitude reasons. Tomic responded by declaring himself unavailable for the April fixture.

”He’s only 20 years of age,” Newcombe said. ”I think it’s very important for his future that he patches things up with Pat and that he becomes a part of the team atmosphere. If he embraces that and continues the way he’s going, he’s going to make a heck of a lot more money out of endorsements in the future.”

Tomic has been the shining light in a grim summer for the host nation, with the fact that only Tomic, Sam Stosur and James Duckworth reached the Open’s second round constituting the worst Australian result in the open era. ”I think in many ways this is taking a long time to regroup and rebuild, and it just shows you that the first half of the last decade how things weren’t right,” Newcombe said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Greens push to ban drug company perks for doctors

DRUG companies will no longer be able to pay for doctors to travel to conferences under new laws proposed by the Greens to get rid of a multimillion-dollar gravy train believed to be contaminating medical practice.
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As concern mounts about the influence of drug and medical device companies’ largesse on doctors, Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale said he would introduce a bill to the Senate to clean up the pharmaceutical sector’s interaction with health professionals.

The bill would ban payments for doctors to travel or attend education seminars and conferences domestically and overseas, as well as the sponsorship of educational meetings intended for Australian doctors overseas. It will also ban gifts and promotional items and require companies to report the names of health professionals and the fees they are receiving for services such as speeches or consulting.

In Australia, drug companies are spending about $65 million a year on hosting doctors at more than 35,000 educational events and some believe it is polluting medical practice with commercial interests.

”The public expect that when they are seeing a healthcare professional, they are getting advice based on the best evidence available and not on whether their doctor has been flown business class to a golf resort to provide particular information about a product,” said Senator Di Natale who has previously worked as a medical practitioner.

He said the bill would be introduced to the Senate in February so a committee can be created to hear submissions on the matter.

However, chief executive of Medicines Australia Dr Brendan Shaw said the bill was ”jumping the gun” as his organisation was working on greater transparency measures as part of the industry’s code of conduct due to be renewed in two years.

Last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asked the group to improve transparency of payments and sponsorship made by companies to health professionals. A working party has been set up to do this.

President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Steve Hambleton said he wanted to examine the Greens’ proposal before commenting, but said ”engaging with pharmaceutical companies was an important form of education” for doctors who rarely experienced lavish hospitality.

However, several scandals have caused a worldwide push for greater transparency in recent years. Last year, a US government committee found medical device company Medtronic was heavily involved in shaping the content of medical journal articles written by doctors who were paid about $210 million over 15 years in fees, royalties and other payments. Critics say this influenced information being given to doctors about its product. Medtronic has disputed this.

In Australia, a former drug company representative last year spoke out about doctors receiving thousands of dollars in speakers’ fees and first class travel to attend conferences. On Tuesday, Fairfax Media reported a Geelong doctor had ”blown the whistle” on Pfizer flying one of his colleagues and his family business class to a conference in New York. The whistleblower believed this was influencing prescribing at Geelong Hospital and putting patients at risk.

However, the hospital’s medical director, Professor Tom Callaly, rejected this as a ”smear campaign” and said an investigation had found no evidence of unsafe prescription of drugs.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Gillard hits back over gun imports

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has hit back at claims by the Liberal Party that her government has failed at protecting Australia’s borders from illegal gun imports, saying that only 1 per cent of guns in Australia come from overseas.
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Speaking to Fairfax Media on Friday morning, Ms Gillard said that her government had ”more than doubled” the number of interceptions of illegal packages – that includes drugs and firearms – since 2007.

This followed criticism this week from the Coalition and the NSW government that Ms Gillard had asked Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare to investigate ways to reduce suburban violence. Ms Gillard told Mr Clare to explore the limits of the federal government’s legal and constitutional responsibilities in combating crime, in the wake of shootings in Sydney’s west and south-west and unrest in Logan, south of Brisbane.

The NSW Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, accused Ms Gillard of ”gross hypocrisy” over the announcement, which was made at the launch of the federal government’s new cyber-safety program on Wednesday. He said the federal government was failing ”dismally” to protect Australia’s borders from illegal gun imports.

On Thursday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott suggested the bid to reduce crime in the Sydney area was ”an election stunt”, with half of Labor’s 10 most marginal seats being in western Sydney or on the central coast.

Mr Clare is the federal member for Blaxland, which is based in the area and is considered under threat in this year’s election. On Friday Ms Gillard said that while Australia did not have a gun problem as bad as the US, there was still a problem that needed to be tackled.

”People live in communities, they just go about their business, they do the right thing every day.

”And I don’t think that it’s right or fair or can be tolerated that they sit there wondering whether that’s the night that a bullet’s going to come somewhere in their street,” she said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Popovic to hit player market after losing Minniecon

THE fairytale return of Tahj Minniecon to professional football is over – at least for this season – after the Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder was ruled out with a foot injury.
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While the news comes as a frustration to coach Tony Popovic, who threw Minniecon a career lifeline and oversaw the 23-year old’s dramatic recent weight loss, he is now preparing to dip into the transfer market once more.

Fortunately, the arrival of Rocky Visconte from Brisbane gives a ready-made option in left-midfield but that hasn’t dampened Popovic’s disappointment at seeing one of his ”project” players sidelined.

“Tahj Minniecon looks like he will be out for the rest of the year with a foot problem and he may need surgery,” he said after training. “We are still looking [for new players], we would like to add one more. There is another opportunity to add another member to the squad and if we feel there is someone out there that may bring something to the team and the squad then we will certainly do our very best to bring them in.”

While Popovic has so far been conservative on Visconte’s fitness, he is looking increasingly likely to figure in at least some capacity in Sunday’s match against his old club at Suncorp Stadium.

”He is certainly in the squad this week and we will have a look at him today and tomorrow and see whether he will feature on the weekend,” Popovic said.

While Visconte is battling with Shannon Cole and Mark Bridge for the position in left-midfield, Popovic praised the Adelaide-born winger for making a swift transition to life in Western Sydney.

“He is getting there and he is getting used to new surroundings and a new environment and a slightly different way of playing and he has adjusted well and fitted in well with the group,” Popovic said. “He is a very good young professional and is very ambitious and he wants to get to the highest level he possibly can. So we will do our very best to help him get there.”

Suncorp Stadium will be an eternally special place for the Wanderers, for it was there that they recorded their first win, a 1-0 victory over the league’s two-time defending champions in round four.

“We went there without a goal and just one point and we got a very good victory,” Popovic said. “We go there as a confident outfit all over the park and we have to be well prepared against a dangerous outfit. We don’t take any opponent lightly and especially not the reigning champions.”

Club skipper Michael Beauchamp reckons his side – considered a $10 long-shot heading into that match – are a world advanced from the one that claimed that historic win. “A lot has happened and for us personally and I think we are getting better and better,” Beauchamp said.

“In saying that, Brisbane Roar has been playing some good football but unfortunately has not been getting the results. They are still a tough team, especially up there in their own stomping ground and we are going up there looking forward to a tough match.”

There’s also a chance that Dino Kresinger could return from a knee injury but Popovic is unlikely to make too many changes to the side that triumphed 2-0 over Wellington last week.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.